“The most wretched people in the world are those who tell you they like every kind of music ‘except country.’ People who say that are boorish and pretentious at the same time. All it means is that they’ve managed to figure out the most rudimentary rule of pop sociology; they know that hipsters gauge the coolness of others by their espoused taste in sound, and they know that hipsters hate modern country music. And they hate it because it speaks to normal people in a tangible, rational manner. Hipsters hate it because they hate Midwesterners, and they hate Southerners, and they hate people with real jobs.”—Chuck Klosterman, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs (via thrumminginthemixture)
Five years ago, when I became a man, it struck me as an interesting exercise to keep a record of every book I read and every movie I watched from my 18th birthday* onward. I don’t know how the idea occurred to me. I had followed my big brother’s lead in keeping movie ticket stubs for most of high school, and that meticulosity had paid off when it helped me win an argument with a girlfriend about who got to pick the movies we went to see. Mostly, I think I just saw the adulthood pivot of the 18th birthday* as significant enough to merit the construction of some kind of monument, and a monument to all the major ideas and stories I consumed as a man seemed as good as any.
Along the way, I also experimented with tracking my attendance at plays and concerts, or my completion of seasons of TV shows. These spurs were all dead-ends, though. I just ended up being uninterested in the results, and I went to too few performances to get in the habit of recording that data consistently.
In the five years since I turned 18, I have finished 146 books and watched 205 movies. This means that, on average, I finish one book every 12.5 days and I watch a movie every 9 days. The only year that I read more books than I watched movies was 2010, which I credit to the “52 in 52” challenge.
26 books. In 2011, I completed my own “4 in 4” challenge, reading a book of over 1000 pages for each season of the year. My four books were Boneby Jeff Smith, Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, and The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins.
29 movies. I also watched ten seasons of TV in 2011—during study abroad, I read a lot of books, but I also OD’d on screen time.
19 books. In 2013, I started using a spreadsheet instead of a word document, and I started tracking start and completion dates of books, along with page counts. The average book in 2013 was 281 pages and took me 44 days to read from start to finish.
11 books. The average book in 2014 was 268 pages and took me 30 days to read from start to finish.
14 movies. Marriage has shifted me away from movie-watching and toward TV series.
My takeaway from all these data is that reading can easily fall through the cracks if I don’t have intentional challenges to keep me on pace with it. As I finish up 2014, my goal is to fix my ratio for the first time since 2010: I want to read more books than I watch movies. Fortunately, I’m not that far behind!
*Strictly speaking, it was on my 19th birthday that I turned 18 years old, since on my first birthday I was a newborn of zero years old. Fighting this semantic crusade has never seemed worthwhile enough to alter my own speech and composition, but it’s my 24th birthday dangit and I’m going to point it out.
Today, the second Sunday of Lent, is a stormy and cold day in Tulsa, Oklahoma. NPR even gave a nod to our state’s thunderstorms on Morning Edition while predicting a blast of wintery weather for the mid-Atlantic states. Dreary weather be damned, spring is coming—the correspondent was insistent on this fact. There will be 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness on Thursday, and there’s nothing that a few (more) inches of snow can do about that. Aslan is on the move.
Even though I rail against Daylight Saving Time, it too contributes to that building excitement that winter will die and we will all eventually thaw out. I may feel like a zombie at the pre-dawn 6:00 AM alarm clock, but I can go for a run after school with sunlight aplenty for my hungry, winter-whitened skin. Little buds are popping up on the branches of trees. There is a scent of something other than freezer burn on the air. And so the pagan, sun-worshipping homunculus inside of me gets extraordinarily hungry for vitamin D that is obtained by means other than oral ingestion at the bedside table every morning.
And this is where I think that Christianity (or at least, her calendar) must have the slightest bias in favor of the global north, because up here the theological celebration of resurrection and new life coincides with the deliverance that spring offers from winter’s clutches. My doctrinally orthodox head sings in harmony with my primal, sun-starved heart, and the resultant chorus enthrones Easter as the queen of all holidays in my affections.
And as I wait expectantly for the celebration of the Resurrection, my soteriology undergoes a temporary scramble of priorities. Although I, as a Theologically Circumspect and Proper Reformed Evangelical Protestant, hold to penal substitutionary atonement (in brief: Jesus becomes a juridical sacrifice and receives the sentence and punishment we deserve so that we criminals can be declared not guilty in God’s heavenly courtroom) as my primary understanding of Christ’s work on the cross, Easter the past few years has pushed other theories of the atonement to the forefront of my thinking. Around Easter, my soul is quickened by thoughts of Christus Victor and Jesus my Ransom.
The ransom theory of the atonement is probably most familiar to English-speaking Evangelicals through the allegory of the Stone Table in C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. In that story, young Edmund has, through his own folly, become the legal captive of the White Witch, and his release is only secured by Aslan offering himself as a ransom in the boy’s place. Ransom theory imagines us, not as the accused criminals of God’s courtroom so much as the enslaved property of sin/death/Satan—the only ransom that will be accepted for us hostages is the even greater prize of Jesus himself. In Mark 10 and Matthew 20, Jesus lays the foundation for this idea, saying that the Son of Man came to serve and “to give his life as a ransom for many.” In 1 Timothy, Paul reiterates that Jesus gave his life “as a ransom for all.”
Christus Victor, as an understanding of the atonement, is a little different, but it pairs well with ransom theory. The Latin phrase communicates the idea as Jesus the warrior with the two-edged sword coming out of his mouth, the triumphant King who slays our sin, destroys death, and annihilates the devil and his armies. This is Aslan whose roar scatters the forces of the White Witch after cracking the Stone Table and returning to life. Christus Victor is he whose might “breaks the pow’r of cancelled sin” and “sets the prisoner free.”
The one hymn that I think every member of my family most associates with Easter is “Up From The Grave He Arose”; during homeschool mid-morning Bible class, we would crouch down and murmur the somber verses in a hushed sotto voce only to spring up and bellow “UP FROM THE GRAVE HE AROSE” each time the chorus came around. The lines that follow that one are very much Christus Victor:
Up from the grave he arose, With a mighty triumph o’er his foes! He arose the victor of the dark domain, And he lives forever with his saints to reign! He arose! He arose! Hallelujah, Christ arose!
The other major influence on my Easter atonement sentiments comes from my affinity for the maybe-but-probably-not-Biblical idea of the “Harrowing of Hell,” the notion that in between his crucifixion and his resurrection, Jesus descended into hell, kicked some —-, and took some names. “Therefore it says, ‘When he ascended on high he led a host of captives, and gave gifts to men.’ In saying, ‘He ascended,’ what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth?" (Ephesians 4:8-9). I was so taken with this idea at fourteen that I wrote a poem about it, and if the doodles that I draw in my Field Notes during sermons are any indication, the way that I still imagine (stick-figure) Jesus is wearing a crown and wielding a sword, maybe kicking down the door of a dungeon where, “Long my imprison’d spirit lay, fast bound in sin and nature’s night.”
Rejoice greatly, O daughter of Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; righteous and having salvation is he, humble and mounted on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will cut off the chariot from Ephraim and the war horse from Jerusalem; and the battle bow shall be cut off, and he shall speak peace to the nations; his rule shall be from sea to sea, and from the River to the ends of the earth.
As for you also, because of he blood of my covenant with you, I will set your prisoners free from the waterless pit. Return to your stronghold, O prisoners of hope; today I declare that I will restore to you double.
A year ago today was the last time I visited Grandma Criss before she died. I was back in Little Rock, ostensibly for a recruiting trip aimed at potential TU students, but principally because I was solicitous to see Grandma as much as I could before her failing health finally resigned. Making the visit more pressing was a small item of jewelry ensconced in my pocket, a white gold band inset with a diamond. A year ago today, I got to tell Grandma that a year ago tomorrow I was going to ask that nice girl who had visited at Christmas to be my wife.
Grandma relished telling the story of the time that she gave me her gold PT Cruiser for my 16th birthday (gold, because dirt and dust would be less noticeable and she’d have to wash it less, she would shrewdly confide). “It was the only time I ever saw him speechless!” the story always went, her delivery a perfect, twinkly-eyed crow. Well, the time I showed Grandma that little diamond ring was the only time I ever saw HER speechless, I could now retort. But that day, true to form, her silence didn’t last too long.
Grandma was a great giver of advice, and meritoriously so, as an eventual nonagenarian. She was a great giver of many things (see, for example, my aforementioned birthday speechlessness), but telling stories and giving advice were her first and favorite ways to show you love. In out final face-to-face conversation, I know we talked at length about love, marriage, and family. I don’t remember everything she said: that weekend is a blur of good memories. But I remember the last thing she said, and I remember talking with Katie about it at Grandma’s funeral three weeks later. “Be good to each other,” she told me. I trust we have. She was always so good to us.
[An aside: over a quarter of the books I read in 2012 were about love, relationships, and friendship, so there’s that.] Shortly before the fall semester began, I was journaling about how tired I was of wrestling with God over my singleness. I wrote out the lyrics to “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah.” I wanted to trust God’s timing and provision, to not be disconsolate by the three rejections I’d received in the past year or so, to not desire, like the Israelites had, for the “melons of Egypt” that God had taken away from me to give me something better. After my brother’s rehearsal dinner, I had been taken by a sudden and powerful sorrow over a relationship that by then nine months cold. I didn’t understand why something that I was “over,” that I had long since put to rest in my brain, that no longer had a grip on my heart, could still overwhelm me with a self-pitying grief, and why I seemed incapable of living without nursing a crush for some girl or other. It was not a month later that we were singing “Guide Me, Oh Thou Great Jehovah” in my church back at Tulsa that I realized that the past two nights I had journaled to God about how free I felt in my singleness, how grateful I was for it, how much I understood why it was good for me right then and there. I was floored and happy. And then, of course, my eyes lighted upon another girl. The summer weather lasted forever. I wore shorts and sandals a lot. I ran barefoot around campus multiple times a week. I found the “homework zone” in my new SA President office. I liked all three of my classes, and I put off my senior project until the last month of school, and it somehow all worked out anyway. I wanted more adventure. We slept out under the stars on “The U” three times; it was magical. We took a road trip to Ames to see TU lose its first football game to Iowa State. We drove to Fayetteville to see TU lose another game to Arkansas. We drove to Houston to see TU curb-stomp its old rival. We drove to Edmond to see a high school band concert and The Hobbit. We sang and danced in the car a lot. I wound up giving a paper at a Philosophy of Education conference at Columbia. I was younger than everyone and my paper was a lot more concrete and I felt out of place but I got to see Newsies on Broadway and eat well with my sister and brothers, so it was yet another adventure. The semester’s motto was “Work hard, play hard.” It was hard. I felt a lot of stress and by the end of the semester I was just desperately trying to finish everything and not mess up or let anyone (myself included) down. But I head-banged at the Mountain Goats concert and danced for hours at the cheesy, poorly-attended “Magical Winter’s Eve” ball and at the best Jay-Z’s birthday party thrown by someone other than Jay-Z. I found out I was accepted to the Teach For America (Oklahoma Corps) about an hour before our CMA Awards watch party (we like parties dedicated to odd themes). My sweet friends had bought champagne. All my summertime dreams of moving to Denver had been scrapped in favor of a desire to stay in Tulsa. Little Rock felt less like home than ever, even though I still loved to see my parents and climb Pinnacle Mountain. TU won the conference championship in football (which Tim and I painted ourselves completely blue for, and made the paper), so a gang of us made the trip to the Liberty Bowl and cheered like crazy for the revenge we dealt to Iowa State. For the first time in nine years, I didn’t host a new year’s eve party. There were only a few high school friends that it was still important for me to see, so I stayed in Memphis with college friends and rang in the new year on Beale’s Street in the rain and cold. I didn’t pay a single thought to resolutions, and I was mostly surprised that 2013 had stolen in so quickly. For the first time in five years I didn’t publish a “Top Ten Albums of 20XX” list, either. I hadn’t listened to enough new music. I got exhausted just thinking about trying to keep up with music this year. I still enjoyed a lot of music, though, so don’t worry about that. Over the course of 2012, I learned what I would spend the next two years doing, and I got over some heartaches, and I kept struggling with legalism and perfectionism. I felt very loved by my friends and family. I went on a lot of road trips. I went for a lot of runs. I danced more than I had expected to. My plans were no match for God’s sovereign surprises. I was caught off guard by new friendships, by adventures that presented themselves suddenly, by a very quick answer to the question, “What am I doing after I graduate?” I still don’t think I’m doing enough as SA President. I have a stack of unread books that I’m meaning to get to. I don’t feel ready to teach at an inner-city school. What I need to remember is how much God took care of me in 2012—with that as my witness, the prescription for 2013 should be more trust, and not more scheming. It was a good year.
The two semesters of 2012 bookended my third—and probably final—summer working at New Life Ranch. My mom worked at NLR in the 1970s. Most of my siblings and I went as campers, my sister worked there, and I felt called to be a counselor in 2010 as early as March of 2009. It’s always been a special place for me, and God protected me from the temptation of internships and “real” jobs to keep me right where I needed to be each summer: playing in the sun, teaching kids about Jesus, growing close to fellow Christians, learning about leadership and passion and my identity. I was an SAL—a Summer Activity Leader—this summer, meaning that Abbie and I supervised the whole Jr. Camp (3rd-6th graders), and along with Jessica and David, emceed and organized all the other all-camp activities. I had wanted to do this job since I started working at camp. It meant that I got to write skits for the Morning Camp Party. It meant that I got to use my role as an organizer to tweak little things that had bothered me as a staffer. It meant that I got to take care of things behind the scenes and run things in front of the scenes. I was fond of the homesick and irascible campers that got taken to me to help. There were easily a dozen times when I was doing my job—running an errand on the Gator or something—and the feeling "I have the best job on earth" whelmed up inside me unbidden. I got up early for the Summer Solstice and went for a walk with a friend and saw the sunrise. I’d be a sun-worshipping pagan if I didn’t believe that Jesus created the sun and was greater than it. There was one night—after the stress of Family Camp, after a fun Small Group date that had fallen apart in its final hours, with a huge group of campers arriving the following afternoon—that I finally didn’t want to be in charge of things anymore. My nature tends to leadership; I feel comfortable with authority (having authority, that is—not the concept of authority in general). But I just didn’t want things to fail and didn’t want everything relying on me all the time and resented God for getting the credit (“glory”) when things went well while I took all the blame when my sinfulness ruined things. I thought that the whole world depended on me, but it doesn’t. I thought that God was a harsh taskmaster, but he isn’t. My small group (Team X) prayed for me and encouraged me. I started to feel better. My grandma got a feeding tube put in and I cried bitterly. My brother got married and I cried joyfully. I sat around a few nights and mourned unrequited love with a girl friend whose crush was as insensible to her affections as my crush was to mine. We were sad, but it was good for me to extend and receive compassion that wasn’t just trying to fix things. Impotent sympathy is not my instinct, I’d rather root out the problem, but this was pure and powerless commiseration. Tim worked at camp for the first time, and I don’t know how I ever worked there without him. Late one night I learned—sort of—how to drive stick shift on the housekeepers’ cart. I drank a lot of milkshakes. I started shaving with a safety razor. I danced my heart out to “Take A Walk” and went for a weekly run in the blazing hot afternoon with “Love Lifted Me” turning my exhausted suffering into an unlikely quiet time and refreshment. Summer wound up and on the last day of camp we had “The Reckoning” (my idea) and used up all our water balloons and shaving cream attacking the campers at the waterfront. I drove back to Little Rock in silence—no music, no podcasts—after the SAL end-of-summer retreat. I thanked God for how much he used New Life Ranch to bless me and teach me things and cause me to grow. I thought about what this summer had meant to me, and how sad I was that it was over, but how fittingly it was done, how fully it had run its course.
I started 2012 at the eighth annual Lepine new year’s eve party with my old high school chums. As per tradition, we went down the park in our neighborhood to drink sparkling grape juice and pray and talk. It was not long after that I joined my new camp chums at a farm in Green Country, OK to chop wood and think about the future and pray and talk. I was still very sad about my girlfriend breaking up with me in October, but I was talking about it less and with fewer people; I had used up all the sympathy I thought was fitting for such a short relationship that had ended many months ago. I went back to school early to spend time with other camp chums. I hosted a dinner party. I got more excited for summer. Spring 2012 was not the most academically inspiring. I cut class at an all-time high. There was one Education class—a night class taught by my favorite professor—that I enjoyed and did most of the reading for. My two economics classes were unchallenging and dull and repetitive and scattered, their only saving grace that I was taking them with good friends. My Geology class was easy and I was above the curve by almost always managing to stay awake in it. My calculus class was laborious and uninteresting, a timesuck not necessary for my degree. A book told me once to Do Hard Things, but in this case the hard thing that I had to do was let myself put a W on my transcript and give my time to things I cared about more. The night I closed my calculus textbook for good is pictured my dictionary next to “relief.” I traveled a fair bit. I went to Texas with some acquaintances to awkwardly lead a small group for high schoolers at a Presbyterian youth conference. There was a Team X reunion, an SAL training weekend for camp, and roadtrip to Auburn, AL for the Austrian Scholars Conference that I had wanted to attend for years. There was the camp work weekend, immediately followed by an RUF strategic retreat that I slipped away from early to cheer my brother on in his last high school play. There was also the spring break, which was spent in Little Rock, and most memorably at a little TV-tray desk that I set up in the garage so I could sit shirtless in the sunshine and read and write a term paper. It was there that I processed the sudden and unexpected healing from the long winter of the broken heart. I realized how desperately I had been trying to control everything in my last relationship, how much I was blaming God, or Emily, or my own failure to do everything exactly right for my great disappointment, how unbearable my perfectionism must have been to someone dating me. It was perhaps the most liberating realization I ever had. People qua people became more important to me. I took a long lunch twice a week with economics friends that I hadn’t prioritized for a long time. I didn’t try to convert or re-convert any of them, I just tried to love them. I’m not saying you shouldn’t try to convert anyone, but I figured that that shouldn’t be my motive for hanging out with them because they would smell a rat. I watched Hamlet with Lindsay and spent a lot of the last half of semester being in love with and very worried about and considerate to “Amie.” The love affair with country music only got worse. I danced to “Your Love Has Lifted Me Higher” by Otis Redding as an Easter song. I clung to “Two Hands” by Townes Van Zandt when I was sad over Amie. Tim & I left our apartment for “The Hostel,” a townhouse on campus that has been functioning as a tiny, tiny frat house since 2008. The semester ended and I stayed in town for the Board of Trustees meeting (because oh yeah I was elected SA President—without opposition), but Housing did not acknowledge my request for an extension on spring residency, so I hid in my townhouse without a key and with the doors unlocked, hoping desperately that the Gestapo wouldn’t come inspect and find me squatting and kick me out. I threw out duplicate tupperware and foodstuffs that expired in 2009. That was the first third of 2012.
I started keeping track of what books I read, what movies I watched, and what performances (concerts, plays, &c.) I attended when I turned 18. In 2010, I did the 52 in 52 challenge with my sisters. I read 52 books that year; I only watched 31 films. In 2011, I picked another reading challenge that I called 4 in 4: four books of over 1,000 pages in four seasons. I did not actually read a book per season—I studied abroad in the spring semester and read three of my four books in Europe. The last one I devoured over Thanksgiving break to finish the challenge up. All told, I read fewer books and watched fewer movies that year, 26 and 29 respectively. I might have actually read more pages that year than in 2010, but I didn’t start tracking pages counts until 2011, so I can’t compare the numbers. In 2012, I tried to do a 12 in 12 challenge, but I didn’t finish a single book in January. It was a small failure of a legalistic, defeating winter. I read just 19 books over the course of the whole year (and watched a record 39! movies), and I realized in December that aside from three Batman anthologies, they were entirely non-fiction. Now, I like non-fiction, be it exposition or narrative, but I don’t like the idea of completely eschewing fiction, so I borrowed David’s copy of The Perks of Being a Wallflower and gobbled it up in about 25 hours. I wonder if the lack of a reading challenge let me get away from fiction, and so I only could justify to myself spending time on reading non-fiction. I also didn’t have any campers to read stories to in 2012, and C.S. Lewis was a big help in completing 52 in 52 the summer that I had a lot of younger cabins. I’m currently munching on The Fountainhead (and reading it as a filter, not a sponge, just like Charlie’s teacher tells him in Perks), trying to get in some more fiction before the scholarly reading of the semester begins again. I don’t think I’ll do a reading challenge this year. I’m not against them; I don’t think they make me read legalistically, even though goal-setting can sometimes turn me into a rule-worshipping, performance-driven machine. But I’m glad that I’ve started keeping Google Docs of my reading and movie-watching habits. They help me remember what the year was like. They alert me to imbalances like my accidental fiction fast in 2012. They encourage me to not leave books half-finished. If I have any readings goals for 2012, they are these: Don’t stop reading. Read different kinds of books about different kinds of subjects. Read the assigned texts for my last college classes; get the reading done before class. Read the Bible more. Read joyfully and not guiltily.
For a lot of people, their neutral mood face is a smile, or at the very least, nonthreatening. For a lot of INTJs, it’s the Death Glare (this affectionate name is courtesy of a old INTP friend of mine, who brought mine to my attention many years ago). Instead of exerting the effort to smile or frown, we seem to take the efficient route of doing nothing at all, looking rather unpleasant in the process. The typical INTJ Glare seems to consist of a grim mouth, furrowed brow, and most importantly, a harsh piercing gaze.
But of course there are others who wear a neutral face when they aren’t exceedingly emotional- why is it that the INTJ Death Glare stands out? I believe it may be more noticed because we are already recognized as severe individuals, or perhaps because we aren’t easily cowed into averting our gazes and it makes others uncomfortable. Maybe we wear it while we think, and it gets a lot more use than our smiles or frowns. Maybe all that time spent reading and on the computer is making us go blind, and we squint like we’re angry when we’re focused. In all honesty, I’m not sure.
What I do know is that, despite its unpleasant appearance, the Death Glare means nothing more than we’re not overwhelmed with emotion. We may look angry, but we probably aren’t. Constantly being asked if we’re upset about something is often perplexing, since we may not even realize we are using a Death Glare. Many times, we’re in a quite good mood, it just doesn’t show.
So next time you see somebody you suspect to be an INTJ wearing a distinct Death Glare, keep in mind that they may not be in a foul mood or be an unpleasant person- they might just be lost in thought or absorbed in whatever activity they’re partaking in at the time.
This is more or less what I'm saying to honor my brother at his pre-college send-off brunch this morning.
When I think of my younger brother David I think of a picture of my family on the Eye of London, a magnificent Ferris wheel on the Thames with enclosed cars that a dozen or two folks can stand in. My older brother, James, was 14 and about done growing at the time the picture was taken, and he is about five feet eight inches. I was near eleven and David was almost eight that summer, but there were more years between us in age than inches in height, and neither of us could have been over five foot. Being the two siblings with dark brown hair, we were used to being asked in the grocery store, “Are you two twins???”
"No," my soul muttered, "No we’re not. I’m threeyearsolder than he is.”
We worked at the same camp this summer, David and I, and on at least a weekly basis some counselor or other would, without even realizing he did it, address me as “Mr. David.” Our haircuts are different, his complexion is by far fairer, and I’m no longer clean-shaven, but the comparisons persist. They just don’t bother me like they did back when I was a pre-pubescent shrimp.
But aside from our shared appearance, David and I shared a lot growing up. We were both homeschooled about three years later than our older siblings had been, which meant that we had a lot more time together as kids. Our Lego collections were equally vast, and we spent hours assembling forts and cars and whatnot while listening to cassette tapes of Adventures in Odyssey, our favorite radio drama. We shared many of the same friends, a point of chagrin for me after a while when I wanted my baby brother to get his own life. And we were constant playmates in everything from Beanie Baby wars to custom mixtapes with our own theatrical commentary between songs.
I was older, which would have naturally cast me as the leader of our two-man troupe, but that is not exactly what I remember. To be sure, I was probably the bossier of the two of us. I don’t think David even knows what “bossy” means. But David had a tendency to go through phases: a Spider-Man phase, a drawing phase, a Star Wars phase, etc. And he was always so passionate for whatever his particular muse was at the time that I couldn’t help but get sucked in. Much of my appreciation for comic books started because David fell head over heels for them a decade ago. He also started collecting soda cans as memorabilia one summer, and he has to this day an abiding appreciation for artisan colas and carbonated treats made with pure cane sugar of course. It is an appreciation that I share, but only because he got into it first.
David may not know what “bossy” means, but as agreeable as he is, he’s not the type to be bossed around. He is unwaveringly independent, and that is what makes his passions so infectious. He likes what he likes and that’s that; you’re free to join him, but he doesn’t need the crowd’s approval if he thinks something is right or good or worthwhile. Don Miller says in Blue Like Jazz, “If you believe something, passionately, people will follow you. People hardly care what you believe, as long as you believe something. If you are passionate about something people will follow you because they think you know something they don’t, some clue to the meaning of the universe.” I followed David so often because he was passionate, and we continue to mutually (at least I think it’s mutual) egg each other on in every weird passion from barefoot running to old-fashioned shaving to healthy, organic eating.
This is a sign of grace in David’s life, and it has changed me for the better. So I raise a coffee mug to David this morning: to the independence that he has that every freshman needs, and to the grace on which he is ultimately dependent, for his character, for his passions, and for his bright, scholarship-winning brain.
This is more or less what I'm saying to toast my brother at his rehearsal dinner
I’d like to say a few words on behalf of the Best Men, that is, my younger brother David and me. It is a great honor to have this special position of support for our older brother, especially after everything he has meant to us and modeled for us as we’ve grown up.
I’ve known Jimmy my whole life. [hopeful pause for laughter] He is my favorite big brother, and his example has always meant a lot to me. All you older brothers out there, listen up: your little brothers are watching you, and what you do and say—and how you treat them—is going to be huge in their lives. It was in mine.
Now, Jimmy and I are different in a couple ways, but this was especially true when I was a nerdy eighth-grader fresh out of homeschooling and he was the popular guy who played in a band, and starred in musicals, and had the deepest voice in the school choir. He also knew how to dress and listened to cool music, so over the next two years I started borrowing clothes from his closet and buying CDs by the Shins and Bright Eyes, because when that sort of thing started mattering to me, I knew I couldn’t go wrong by following Jimmy.
Also when I was in eighth grade and he was in eleventh grade, Jimmy and I each took a liking to girls we had met at school: I to a girl in my first-hour P.E. class, and he to a girl that he had study hall with. Things didn’t work out with my girl and me, and I remember one night in April of 2006 that I was talking about this with Jimmy and his friends at the Wendy’s on Rodney Parham Road. I felt very special that Jimmy would let me spend time with his friends—the cool, talented seniors. I also felt special that he would listen to my problems and give me advice. He told me that there were other fish in the sea, and as trite as that saying is, it was exactly what I need to hear, because I was still afflicted by the tunnel vision of first love. Jimmy’s advice meant the world to me.
But the funny thing is, Jimmy and I must have been fishing in different seas, because there was only ever one fish that he wanted to catch over the next six years. The girl from study hall, the girl who sang in the quartet in Sound of Music, the girl who picked me up at 6:45 to go to See You At The Pole in tenth grade: E.A. Wade. Jimmy told me that there were other fish in the sea, and he was right, but that little proverb never sunk in with him, and boy how glad we all are that it didn’t.
So I raise a glass to Jimmy and E.A.—to the brother that I’ve looked up to for years, to the woman who was always sincerely friendly and warm to me—and to the self-sacrificial, forgiving, stubborn, and tender love that they have for each other.
“We’re asking educators to deliver better outcomes, but we haven’t given them the flexibility and authority they need to meet high standards.
The problem is that we’ve built an education system based on our distrust of educators, and we didn’t rethink it when we embraced accountability.”—Wendy Kopp, CEO of Teach For America: "How Micromanaging Educators Stifles Reform" (The Atlantic)
“Jobs leaves us a template we can follow if we are willing to throw out the old rules of conventional education, where adding incremental knowledge becomes a mind-numbing, year-upon-year march toward a normative notion of intelligence.”—Geoffrey Orsak, incoming President of the University of Tulsa
My dad speaks of “the expulsive power of a new affection” as one of the surest remedies for a broken heart. It’s not necessarily a rebound crush, although that would probably work too, but love has its curative properties and this seems to be one of them. Honestly, it’s little comfort to someone going through relational turmoil that “Oh, it’ll all be fine when someone else comes along,” but I found Dad’s words ringing in my ears over the past few weeks when a cute girl—call her Amie—caught my eye.
Now, I had learned my lesson a little about the legalistic tendencies of my own heart, especially as regards relationships, and so I really tried not to be the controlling perfectionist that I was on the last go-round (“scheming” is how I describe my heart when it tries to take over story-writing responsibilities from God). Ditching perfection turned out to be not so hard, because whereas with my last girlfriend I could’ve talked your ear off about how we were just right for each other and why she met every relational benchmark I had and then some, things with Amie were a lot messier. I knew that it would be wiser to get to know each other more as friends first. I knew she had just come out of a long-term relationship. I knew that on paper, the timing was ill-advised in pretty much every respect. When I sat down to tell the story to my mentor, I could only throw up my hands and laugh about just how chaotic, confusing, and unpredictable the whole thing was.
It became clearer and clearer that my interest in Amie was unrequited. I could feel the old controlling instincts and sense of entitlement rearing up in me, and I hated them. I prayed. I wrote. I talked to Tim, and he prayed too. Amie and I had a few long conversations, to the delight of my insatiably analytical nature. And I ran—a lot.
It was the first running I had done since my jubilant, guiltless runs over Spring Break. I ran completely barefoot, and there was no trace of obligation as I blasted my music, soaked up the sunshine, and dodged little pebbles on the sidewalk and cigarette butts in the grass. But I was absolutely running for stress relief most of the time, and my faced screwed up into all sorts of emotional contortions as I acted every inch like the strung-out endorphin junkie I am.
Today, I literally ran an errand and did a longer, harder route that would take me by the grocery store. My old injury showed up for a visit on the way back home; I’m writing with ice on my knee. I don’t worry that this is the end of running for another couple months, but as I walked the last half mile back to campus, I thought to myself, “Well, you pushed yourself too hard. That run was too long and the terrain was too tough and if you just hadn’t overdone it, none of this would’ve happened. You better not be turning back into a legalist about running!”
And then I laughed at myself for being a legalist about legalism. I had almost started believing that legalism caused running injuries, and that if I could just obey the “rule” against being a legalist about running, then everything would go well for me. I imagined some Wormwood or Screwtape trying to get me to hold that absurd contradiction in my mind and God chuckling as I blinked the scales out of my eyes like backwards contact lenses.
It was the same with Amie. I hadn’t exactly given up on “scheming,” and my heart still desired to be in control. I was more willing to admit that I couldn’t achieve relational success on the basis of how perfect the relationship looked, but I wonder if some part of me thought, “Okay, not being a legalist is the way to get what you want—that’s the trick!” I believe there was some genuine surrender and humility going on throughout the whole journey, and I’m not saying I’m against plans and preparation and hopes and dreams. But God’s graciously reminded me that I’m always looking for ways to manipulate him, even if my plan is to manipulate him by not manipulating him.
There! I figured out what you were trying to teach me, God! Now can I have a girlfriend?
I started running seriously again in the spring of 2011. Especially after a dreigh winter, the Scottish spring can be enchantingly beautiful: the sun comes out, sometimes the temperature is in the 60s (Fahrenheit), and it looks like God has turned the Saturation filter way up high on his photo-editing software (as Tim describes it).
I ran to soak up sunshine. I ran to keep from going stir-crazy. I ran jubilantly, with a mad grin on my face and grace pouring down my ears in the form of fast-paced songs. I started running barefoot in the park for stretches of 10 minutes or so, because I’d heard it would keep me from injury (shin splints, my old nemesis) and because taking off shoes felt like I was removing the chains on my feet.
Back in America that summer, I was a camp counselor. That July in Oklahoma was the hottest month anywhere anytime in US history. I didn’t do much running for a couple months.
Towards the end of that summer, I started running again. I had to. Almost every day during the last week of camp, I woke up a half hour early and ran a few big circles around the ball field. It was introvert time, time away from my campers, time with Jesus; my body and soul thanked me, even though I got less sleep.
Also toward the end of that summer, I fell in love with a girl that I had always considered out of my league. Our dates went swimmingly. I was beside myself.
Camp ended. I kept running. I kept in touch with the girl. There was one run I remember where I was so happy that I flung my arms wide, breathlessly panting a praise and worship song and smiling as I sprinted the last hundred yards. There was one surprise visit I made to see the girl that couldn’t have done more to confirm my attraction to her, my pleasure with the relationship, my confidence in our compatibility and mutual encouragement in Christ.
I did more barefoot running, and bought a pair of minimalist shoes so I could move my paths out of the boring safety of the college campus. I wrote letters to my girl, called her on the phone, sent her flowers once. I had never enjoyed running more; I had never felt more lovestruck.
Things got rocky. The girl and I started having some miscommunication. I didn’t realize it, but I was trying so hard to be the perfect boyfriend that I had stopped trying to be the kind of boyfriend she wanted or needed. When reality didn’t correspond to my plans for a perfect relationship, I became disappointed, insecure, maybe even resentful. I can only imagine that it was unpleasant and stressful to be my girlfriend. We broke up, and I was bewildered and bitter for months, because I had done nearly everything the “right” way.
I kept running. I needed the endorphins more than ever. I drove miles to a park to go trail running. I ran a long circuit to the heart of Tulsa’s downtown. I thought about doing a half-marathon in March. And then, in early December, my left knee started stiffening up when I would go running. I wanted to power through it, but the tightness couldn’t be ignored, and I was afraid I’d only make things worse. I had a miserable, cold run to downtown, and on the next one I gave up a third of the way through and walked painfully back to campus.
I finally had to quit after a short experimental run on campus. My knee hurt, my stamina had gone way down, I couldn’t do the distances I used to do, and I didn’t even like running anymore. But it was so hard to give it up—running represented health, joy, relaxation, being fit (and hence being good looking, and hence being desirable). And, after all, I’d done it “right”—I’d landed on my forefoot, not my heel; I’d had short strides; I wore correct shoes.
It was a brutal thought that I couldn’t run anymore, that I didn’t have the girlfriend I’d liked so much, that things were in general not turning out how I’d expected or wanted. I had also had to give up my two-year tradition of completing "reading challenges" because I had no time and little inclination for pleasure reading in January. In short, I was failing all over the place and my springs of happiness were successively running dry on me.
For months, I ran because I enjoyed it and it felt good and it brought me closer to God. For months, I dated camp girl because I liked her and it was fun and it pointed me more to God. And somewhere along the line—maybe when I started to feel dependent on running or on the girl, or maybe when it looked like she was starting to pull away from me and I was going to have to stop running—running and romancing became things I could succeed or fail at. Especially in defeat, I became a legalist concerned with performance, not joy.
It is good to do hard things. It is good to challenge yourself and not grow complacent. It is good to strive for a healthy, affectionate relationship. But I so easily switch my motivation for doing those things from a desire to please Jesus and live by his Spirit to a desire to be in control, to have success, to fashion the kind of life I want for myself. I won’t say I’ve learned my lesson, but I understand my legalistic tendencies a little better now, and I see God’s grace and forgiveness and patience as more wonderful than I saw them before. Praise God for the sanctification of sore knees and broken hearts!
I’ve gone running three times in the past week or so without any knee pain. I want to keep running, and I may even set running goals or challenges at some point, but this time—joy, not achievement. God’s glory, not mine.
“What madness for a fleeting being like man always to look far into a future which comes so rarely and to neglect the present of which he is sure.”—Jean-Jacques Rousseau, calling me out for daydreaming
“'Propose what can be done,' they never stop repeating to me. It is as if I were told, 'Propose doing what is done,' or at least, 'Propose some good which can be allied with the existing evil.' Such a project, in certain matters, is much more chimerical than mine. For in this alliance the good is spoiled, and the evil is not cured. I would prefer to follow the established practice in everything than to follow a good one halfway. There would be less contradiction in man. He cannot pursue two opposite goals at the same time.”—Jean-Jacques Rousseau (Emile) giving voice to every idealist who’s been naysaid time & again.
“Basically, here’s how it works: Students are given a weekly grid and must select at least three daily activities from a “menu” of 10 categories. Those include pleasurable reading (such as books, magazines, recipes, newspapers); physical activities (walking, biking, skating, swimming, playing sports); hobbies (sewing, gardening, photography, caring for pets); art projects (painting, drawing, collage, dioramas); and community service (mowing a neighbor’s lawn, playing a game with an older person, picking up trash).”—the kind of homework that should be assigned (via squishynotslick)
Kurt Braunohler:I do have a theory now. I do have a theory about if I do get married in the future. What I think I would want to do is have an agreement that at the end of seven years, we have to get remarried in order for the marriage to continue. But at the end of seven years, it ends. And we can agree to get remarried or not gTet remarried.
Ira Glass:I don’t know what I think of that. Because I think, actually, one of the things that’s a comfort in marriage is that there isn’t a door at seven years. And so if something is messed up in the short-term, there’s a comfort of knowing, well, we made this commitment. And so we’re just going to work this out. And even if tonight we’re not getting along or there’s something between us that doesn’t feel right, you have the comfort of knowing, we’ve got time. We’re going to figure this out. And that makes it so much easier. Because you do go through times when you hate each other’s guts. You know what I mean?
(via wesleyhill, see blog.marriagedebate.com/2012/02/what-i-did-for-love-this-american-life.html)
“Our cause is never in more danger than when a human, no longer desiring, but still intending, to do our Enemy’s will, looks round upon a universe from which every trace of Him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”—
Screwtape, C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters.
I have to have read this book a half dozen times by now. It never gets old.
“Soon it became clear to me that quietly and en masse, French parents were achieving outcomes that created a whole different atmosphere for family life. When American families visited our home, the parents usually spent much of the visit refereeing their kids’ spats, helping their toddlers do laps around the kitchen island, or getting down on the floor to build Lego villages. When French friends visited, by contrast, the grownups had coffee and the children played happily by themselves… One of the keys to this education is the simple act of learning how to wait. … Delphine said that she never set out specifically to teach her kids patience. But her family’s daily rituals are an ongoing apprenticeship in how to delay gratification.” – Pamela Druckerman, Why French Parents Are Superior
“For most privileged, professional people, the experience of confinement is a mere brush, encountered after a kid’s arrest, say. For a great many poor people in America, particularly poor black men, prison is a destination that braids through an ordinary life, much as high school and college do for rich white ones. More than half of all black men without a high-school diploma go to prison at some time in their lives. Mass incarceration on a scale almost unexampled in human history is a fundamental fact of our country today—perhaps the fundamental fact, as slavery was the fundamental fact of 1850. In truth, there are more black men in the grip of the criminal-justice system—in prison, on probation, or on parole—than were in slavery then. Over all, there are now more people under “correctional supervision” in America—more than six million—than were in the Gulag Archipelago under Stalin at its height. That city of the confined and the controlled, Lockuptown, is now the second largest in the United States.”—from Adam Gopnik’s essay on mass incarceration and criminal justice in America (via wesleyhill)
"Therefore, so that I would not exalt myself, a thorn in the flesh was given to me, a messenger of Satan to torment me so I would not exalt myself. Concerning this, I pleaded with the Lord three times to take it away from me. But He said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness.’ Therefore, I will most gladly boast all the more about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may reside in me. So I take pleasure in weaknesses, insults, catastrophes, persecutions, and in pressures, because of Christ. For when I am weak, then I am strong.”
Wow. How often do I take pleasure in catastrophes? Apparently not enough.
Then, as my gift and thine own acquisition Worthily purchased take my daughter: but If thou dost break her virgin-knot before All sanctimonious ceremonies may With full and holy rite be minister’d, No sweet aspersion shall the heavens let fall To make this contract grow: but barren hate, Sour-eyed disdain and discord shall bestrew The union of your bed with weeds so loathly That you shall hate it both: therefore take heed, As Hymen’s lamps shall light you.
As I hope For quiet days, fair issue and long life, With such love as ‘tis now, the murkiest den, The most opportune place, the strong’st suggestion Our worser genius can, shall never melt Mine honour into lust, to take away The edge of that day’s celebration When I shall think: or Phoebus’ steeds are founder’d, Or Night kept chain’d below.
Another big change I made in 2011: I started listening to country music. At first just because it felt like the “right” thing to have on the radio in a hot Arkansas summer after five months abroad. But country music is fun, and memorable, and predictable, and simple. I found I could enjoy it honestly and without effort, just sinking naturally into the plain world presented in the song. As soon as I let my condescension and conceit go, there was nothing holding me back.
Katie has written eloquently about why she loves new year resolutions and how she makes hers: not an “an extensive list with lofty, impossible to achieve wishes,” but goals that are a product of reflection, appropriately done at a time of year when we stop and notice how things have changed (one year ago today, I landed in Edinburgh for a five-month adventure under the guise of “studying”).
Amy’s “Directions in Which to Lean in 2012” are not the kind of thing you have to do every day: eating less meat, watching less TV, beginning to compost, etc.
What daunted me about new year resolutions as a child and kept me from the practice was the notion that resolutions had to be made on 1 January, and if you didn’t stick to them every single day, you failed. Intimidated as I was by resolution-making, I stayed away from the business and missed out on what could have been some healthy introspection and intentional efforts at growth.
The reading challenges changed everything. With Amy & Katie, I read 52 books in the 52 weeks of 2010, and then four 1,000-page books in the four seasons of 2011. Finally—a resolution that I didn’t have to worry about every single day, and that I could gradually decide on as January went on. Plus, the books I read were generally rewarding, and there were several that I wouldn’t have read without the challenge (like Les Miserables, the only book that has ever made me cry).
So this year, I’ll be doing 12 in 12; I don’t know what its parameters are yet. Right now it’s 12 “substantial” or “worthy” books in 12 months. It remains to be decided whether or not I’ll introduce a floor on page numbers or genre-specific goals (e.g. 2 Christian, 2 economics, 1 biography, 1 mystery, 1 graphic novel, 1 Shakespeare, etc.). For now, I’ll be reading Jacob’s Room by Virginia Woolf with Annie Paige (it’s free for Kindle).
With 52 in 52 and 4 in 4, I never bothered with making sure that each book corresponded to a particular week or season. With 12 in 12, I will. That way I don’t get a bunch of reading done over spring break and then ditch books for a few months because I can.
I’m thinking about other “directions in which to lean in 2012”—I’ll post them once my thoughts have coalesced.
The great modern enemy of friendship has turned out to be love. By love, I don’t mean the principle of giving and mutual regard that lies at the heart of friendship. And I don’t mean what Saint Paul meant by love, the Christian notion of indiscriminate and universal *agape* or *caritas*, which is based on the universal love of the Christian God. I mean love in the banal, ubiquitous, compelling, and resilient modern meaning of love: the romantic love that obliterates all other goods, the love to which every life must apparently lead, the love that is consummated in sex and celebrated in every particle of our popular culture, the love that is institutionalized in marriage and instilled as a primary and ultimate good in every Western child. I mean *eros*, which is more than sex but is bound up with sex. I mean the longing for union with another being, the sense that such a union resolves the essential quandary of human existence, the belief that only such a union can abate the loneliness that seems to come with being human, and deter the march of time that threatens to trivialize our very existence.
The centrality of this love in our culture is so ingrained that it is almost impossible to conceive of a world in which it might not be so. And this is strange in a society in which the delusions and dangers of such love are all around us: the wreckage of many modern marriages, the mass of unwanted pregnancies, the devastation of AIDS, the social ostracism of the single and the old. Even those sources of authority that might once have operated as a check on this extraordinary cultural pre-eminence have caved in to the propaganda of *eros*. The Christian churches, which once wisely taught the primary of *caritas* to *eros*, and held out the virtue of friendship as equal to the benefits of conjugal love, are now our culture’s primary and obsessive propagandists for the marital unit and its capacity to resolve all human ills and satisfy all human needs. Far from seeing divorce and abortion and sexual disease as reasons to question our culture’s apotheosis of *eros*, these churches see them merely as opportunities to intensify the idolatry of *eros* properly conducted and achieved. We live in a world, in fact, in which respect and support for *eros* has acquired all the hallmarks of a cult. It has become our civil religion.
It’s been a good long while since I updated you on this year’s reading challenge (4 books of 1,000+ pages in 4 seasons). After a strong start—finishing Bone, Les Miserables, and The Lord of the Rings before the summer solstice—my schedule filled up and I didn’t have as much time for lengthy reads. Study abroad was perfect for 4 in 4; regular life isn’t.
But like so many this year, I picked a week (Thanksgiving break) to get ensnared by the Hunger Games trilogy, and devoted many an hour on the long drive between Little Rock, AR and Upland, IN to finishing what I will consider the fourth thousand-page book. If the 1,069 pages of the Lord of the Rings trilogy counted, then why not the 1,176 pages of the Hunger Games series?
The writing style was decent. Though Collins is a gripping storyteller, her prose is merely adequate, and her narration often made me less sympathetic with the protagonist, not more. That said, I couldn’t put this series down, and I found in it a more realistic picture of war, revolution, romance, and heroism than the typical action story of the 21st century. For that, it is to be highly commended.
All in all, I ended up reading half as many books this year as last (the year of 52 in 52): still a pretty good record in my “book” (GET IT????). What’s next year? Maybe 12 in 12?
1. The Art of Manliness by Brett & Kate McKay, 274 pages (4 Jan) 2. True Grit by Charles Portis, 215 pages (13 Jan) 3. Bone by Jeff Smith, 1332 pages (13 Jan) 4. All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison, 308 pages (13 Jan) 5. Generous Justice by Tim Keller, 230 pages (25 Jan) X. The Fellowship of the Ring (2 Feb) 6. Friday Night Lights: A Town, a Team, and a Dream by H.G. Bissinger, 367 pages (10 Mar) 7. Austrian Macroeconomics: A Diagrammatical Exposition by Roger W. Garrison, 36 pages (12 Mar) 8. Les Miserables by Victor Hugo, 1330 pages (11 Apr) 9. The Trip of a Life by James Lepine, 105 pages (17 Apr) 10. Anarchism: A Very Short Introduction by Colin Ward, 98 pages (18 Apr) X. The Two Towers (23 Apr) 11. King’s Cross by Tim Keller, 238 pages (29 Apr) X. The Return of the King (30 Apr) 12. The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien, 1069 pages (30 Apr) 13. Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes by Kenneth E. Bailey, 426 pages (23 May) 14. A Good Man Is Hard to Find and Other Stories by Flannery O’Connor, 7:35:09 (8 June) 15. Out of the Silent Planet by C.S. Lewis, 160 pages (11 June) 16. Nine Stories by J.D. Salinger, 198 pages (12 June) 17. Slave Ship Captain by Carolyn Scott, 92 pages (25 June) 18. The Runaway’s Revenge by Dave and Neta Jackson, 141 pages (1 July) 19. Forgotten God by Francis Chan, 208 pages (? Sep?) 20. Spousonomics: Using Economics to Master Love, Marriage, and Dirty Dishes by Paula Szuchman and Jenny Anderson, 352 pages (9 Sep) 21. Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superatheletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Ever Seen by Christopher McDougall, 304 pages (26 Sep) 22. Once A Runner by John L. Parker, Jr., 274 pages (19 Nov) X. The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, 374 pages (20 Nov) X. Catching Fire by Suzanne Collins, 404 pages (23 Nov) X. Mockinjay by Suzanne Collins, 398 pages (26 Nov) 23. The Hunger Games Series by Suzanne Collins, 1176 pages (26 Nov) 24. Finally Feminist by John G. Stackhouse, 141 pages (8 Dec) 25. Batman: Year One by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli, 96 pages (26 Dec) 26. The Reason for God by Tim Keller, 281 pages (26 Dec)