Wednesday, December 15, 2010

In the Clutch.

Forgive me for stating the blatantly obvious, but this semester has been a learning experience for me. I have learned more than I thought I would about the subject matter covered in my classes, and I have discovered a few things here and there about myself and my faith as well. Even with all this learning, it seems like there is still one more lesson for me to take to heart.

My grades this semester have been decent except for one class. I have loved learning about the course content, but for one reason or another what I learned has failed to show up when I need it to, namely the test and projects thus far. Without going into specifics, I need to do much better on the final exam than on the midterm to get a grade sufficient for the class to count towards my degree. Perfectly doable, but it will take a lot of hard studying before next week Monday to make it happen.

If you know me at all you probably know that this is a situation I have never found myself in. In all my previous classes I have been able to game the system (not cheating, but just squeaking by on understanding very general concepts and putting things together when I need to) on tests and projects to the point that I could avoid doing any serious amount of studying and still come out alright. I do not particularly enjoy this feeling.

The strange thing though, is that I am finally starting to realize that this is a good thing. This is a large part of why I came to grad school in the first place. I may have been prepared to jump into a job from a skills standpoint, although probably not exactly the kind of job I would really want, but mentally I was nowhere close.

People always talk about the great sports figures and how they always seem to step up in big games. He or she could have had four or five dismal performances, but when the season or the championship is on the line he or she takes a deep breath, intensifies focus, and does what is necessary to win.

I, like so many others, have seen that happen. I, from the comfort of my couch, usually with a sleeve of Chips Ahoy! and a glass of milk, have asked myself whether I could step up like that. Obviously I am completely incapable of leading a football team to victory, pitching a shutout in the World Series, or hitting two clutch freethrows to win an NCAA basketball tournament, but why is my situation now so much different?

If I plan to be a valuable employee, manager, or executive one day, this is something I need to learn to do. I can see the challenge, I know the consequences of failure and the rewards of success, and there is nothing to do now but come through in the clutch.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Focus.

Sometimes (though not very often) I wish I had decided to go to to med school. There is no way I would have survived, and I know for a fact that I would be a horrible doctor, but I do wish I understood the human body a little bit better.

One thing that I find fascinating is the link between our body and our mind, and how overpowering that connection can be. Stress leads to muscle tension, nervousness leads to nausea, excitement leads to jitters. It can be hard to wrap my head around the fact that those relationships are based completely on chemical reactions.

As we get older, it gets more and more important to know and understand how we are affected by these types of things and how to deal with them, along with being able to recognize the physical symptoms and determine that maybe some of it is just in our heads.

The reason I was thinking about this in the first place is my inability to sleep when I have a lot on my plate. Granted, I am nowhere near the busiest person around, but I am busier than usual with a few high-priority projects that need to be finished up in the next week and a half or so. The physical manifestation of this, for me anyway, is a bit of head pressure and an inability to focus on just one task. Unfortunately, this compounds the problem as I am unable to do anything well without a complete focus on it.

My usual solution, and one that I would highly recommend, is to take a few moments to acknowledge that I am getting overwhelmed. A two minute pity party to calm myself down, and another few minutes to decide exactly what it is that I need to laser-focus on first is almost always all it takes to get myself back on track.

The great part (or a little sad I suppose) about grad school is that I have very little outside homework to worry about. Hopefully my strategy works just as well when I have real, grown-up responsibilities as well.

How do you cope with being overwhelmed? I am always on the lookout for new ways to deal with my insanity, so let me know

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Christian Fandom

In response to my request for writing topics several days ago, my cousin Michael suggested that I take some time to put into words what I believe faith has to do with (or should have to do with) many of our commitments to various sports teams and athletes. Specifically, how does a Christian fan differ from a non-Christian fan. I'll try to put my conclusions on the issues in blockquotes so you can skip through my logic if you prefer.

Full disclosure: it will be impossible for me to be completely objective, or anywhere close to it, about this subject, but I'll try my best.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about Christian fandom over the past four years or so, not necessarily because I find the topic fascinating (though at times I do), but because I am fairly certain that I am awful at it. Examples of my failure in this arena are numerous. Some highlights (lowlights?) include:
  • Spending time before bed that I used to try to reserve for devotions scouring mgoblog.com for even the smallest tidbit of new information
  • Carving several hours out of every Saturday in autumn to watch football instead of doing the homework I should be working on
  • Spending hundreds (literally this year) of dollars on sporting events and merchandise
  • Praying for a win before the 2007 OSU game
While I do not find myself to be an awful person because of these things and others like them (well, except that last one...), they show an inversion of priorities that I am not particularly proud of.

Money:

One of the easiest, most tangible aspects of this issue to tackle is financial. How much money is too much money to spend on sports?

My first answer to that question was "whatever you want, as long as you can afford it." Of course, affording it includes being able to tithe in addition to taking care of one's car insurance and feeding his or her family. This issue can be applied to any purchase though. Should I buy this new laptop? Is it irresponsible to buy this house? Is it an indication of bad stewardship if I splurge on that car I have had my eye on for months even if I can afford it? I remember coming away from a sermon series on stewardship a bit miffed about it all. Several points came to mind as our pastor implied that buying a used car was a more responsible use of of one's funds than buying new.

First, if no one buys a new product, where do used products come from? If that is the case, it is a good thing there are morally depraved people out there to buy the 2010 model so I can pick up their dilapidated 2006 version.

Second, what happens to the jobs of those who work to make those new products? If we are all buying old products, who is going to make new stuff?

This is diverging from the original topic, but my point is that these questions apply to sports as well. Sports, in proper context, are a great thing. They teach teamwork, leadership, character, and a multitude of other lessons. In order for organized sports to survive there must be money coming in, and I see no reason why being a Christian should restrict our support of such organizations as long as it is within our means.
A Christian fan will always be sure that the money he or she spends on sports is not only available, but properly prioritized to allow for tithing and other expenses. Sports purchases are a luxury expense, and should be treated as such.

Time:

Luckily, most of the points made about money apply directly to the management of time resources as well. I can avoid going through it all again for your sake and mine, and jump straight to my conclusion.
A Christian fan is willing not only make adequate time for family, friends, and service opportunities, but will give up the time they have dedicated to sports immediately if the need arises. The big game is never more important than some things.

Energy and Emotion:

The final resources that can be dominated by sports are energy and emotion. Once again, the same arguments apply, but this is where most Christian sports fans, including myself, are a bit lacking.

Compartmentalization is a habit that a lot of people would say is a bad thing. Separating some parts of yourself from others can lead to some pretty sticky situations when they eventually come into contact.

When it comes to aspects of our lives like sports, though, it can be appropriate or even necessary. This is something I have worked very hard on in the past, and actually do a pretty good job of these days. It is impossible to not have my mood be affected at all after a tough loss, but the most important thing is being able to avoid taking that frustration out on others. (But heaven help you if you dare say, "Don't worry, it's just a game." I'll shield you from my wrath as long as you don't bring it up.)

Using sports as a metaphor for life is useful as well, and is one of the reasons sports exist. Learning to take defeat with honor and success with grace is as important in every other sphere of life as it is in sports, and being a responsible fan requires that acknowledgment. It is always interesting to me that making friends with opposing fans at sporting events is as simple as giving credit where it is due, and that strategy works just as well in personal and business relationships.
Being a responsible, Christian sports fan requires that we take to heart the fact that while we would never dare utter the words aloud, it is, in fact, just a game.
I know I'm missing a lot of things here, and I may come back and add to or expand on this at some point, but all comments are welcome.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Arguing.

This topic is something that I've always experienced but never could state explicitly. Hopefully I'm able to express it adequately. If not, hopefully your attention is returned to you no worse for the wear.

Arguments intrigue me.

Friday night I got into a small argument with a friend. The topic of discussion was relatively inconsequential, and the only reason it ballooned into anything larger than a passing comment was the fact that there was really nothing else to do. I tend to take arguments very seriously, regardless of whether I actually care deeply about the subject or even whether I actually think I am correct. Something about winning an argument is highly satisfying. (This is one of my character flaws, and I am constantly working on it. I do a better job now than I used to of not being contrarian for no reason.) The head-butting was never completely resolved, but I can live with that. Someday I am sure we will have the chance to hash it out further.

So that was the jumping off point for my train of thought on this subject. What I find most interesting about arguments in general is that while they are something that everyone has partaken in on numerous occasions, there are few people that truly understand their unwritten rules. (I certainly have a lot to learn about arguing yet.)

A few examples:
  • Many people fail to recognize that one should actually stick to the original argument. This is a rule that can be twisted by cunning individuals to derail a discussion that is clearly not going to end favorably with respect to his or her chosen position.
  • Dragging someone down with personal attacks is a great way to ruin an argument. Nothing turns a disagreement into a fistfight (literally or figuratively) more quickly than calling someone or his or her views "stupid" or "ignorant." If you find someone using that move on you, I would highly suggest you take a step back to 1) avoid the spit that may currently be flying towards your face and 2) take a look at your argument to see if it actually is stupid or ignorant. There is nothing worse than getting halfway through a heated argument and realizing you are hopelessly wrong. Which brings me to the next rule:
  • It is completely legal to join your opponent's position over the course of an argument. Admitting your miscalculation and agreeing with the person you are arguing with can be terrifying, right up until the point where you do it. It never ceases to amaze me the kind of reaction I get when I admit that someone has made a good point and I was wrong from the get go. If you are unwilling to do that, what makes you think the person you happen to be arguing with will do it?
All of these things might sound pretty obvious, but they can be very difficult to actually follow. I hope I take my own advice on occasion.

The last "forgotten rule" I want to mention is the one that prompted me to write this in the first place:

In order to have a productive argument, there must be some sort of agreement or common ground between both parties.

While in the midst of an argument I constantly find myself searching for points that I know for a FACT my opponent will agree with. I never realized why I did that, at least not consciously, until the last couple of days. There is a reason you will hear the phrase "building a case" on Law & Order constantly, and that is because it really is a good analogy for what lawyers do. They lay down facts, hopefully indisputable in nature, that serve as a foundation for their view of a situation or crime.

So next time you find yourself trying desperately to convince someone that they happen to be horribly wrong about something, take a moment to find something you can both agree on. Once that has been done, the rest is easy (assuming your argument is not stupid or ignorant or just plain wrong).

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Reconnect.

I had the opportunity to attend another close friend's wedding last night and had a blast. It was a fantastic service, and the reception was great. The groom was courteous enough to schedule it for Michigan's bye week, and the bridal party entered to The Victors, so I felt right at home.

One of the biggest reasons I enjoyed the wedding was just the ability to reconnect with all the friends I am unable to see while I go to school in Ann Arbor. It had been at least a couple of months since I had seen most of them, and even longer for others.

Being who I am, I have a lot of devices that rechargeable batteries. I can pull the plug for a while and the gadget will function just fine, but eventually the cells start to run dry. The warning beep sounds. I get a little red pop-up window on my laptop saying that it is "running on reserve power." That is when I need to bust out the power cord and find the nearest wall socket. Once it has been plugged back in, though, it runs just like it had before.

Solid friendships are similar. With many surface level friendships, being disconnected for a little while is really no huge problem, but after some time they go stale. That is what happens when you see someone in the grocery store that has been absent from your life. It is awkward. Great friends are different. Reconnecting brings both parties back to their last encounter, and conversation flows.

That was my experience last night. I had so much fun learning about where all of my friends are in either their education or their new careers, along with all of the other things going on in their lives. It was great to fill them in on my situation and plans as well.

Most of all, the evening put in perspective how blessed I am with good friends, both those that were at the wedding and all of the others as well. Many people have more friends than I do (mostly because I'm horrible at introducing myself to someone new), but the quality of the ones I do have is unmatched.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

A Thin Line.

It has been an incredibly busy week for me here in Ann Arbor, which is a little unfortunate since Monday and Tuesday were technically fall break and class was cancelled yesterday. I recall a few times when I thought about something I wanted to jot down here but completely forgot what they were. Evidently they were relatively unimportant. I have some time now before a discussion section though, and figured it would be a good time to write something.

The reason I have been so busy this last week is that out of my three classes, two have projects due today and the other has a research project that is just getting started. My Artificial Intelligence project was fairly easy and only took an hour or so to complete. (Still not sure if that counts as a project... felt more like a homework problem.) My Operating Systems project, on the other hand, has been a little more intense.

After spending seven hours in the library with my team on Monday, another five or six there on Tuesday, and probably another ten or fifteen hours on my own in my apartment working on it, that project is finally complete to a point where we feel comfortable handing it in. (We have a few more tweaks to do, but as of now our grade is guaranteed to be over 90%, probably closer to %95. I'll take it.) This is as good a place as any to express my extreme thanks for my teammates and their hard work. It feels great to work on a project and have everyone pulling their weight or more.

One interesting thing to me throughout the process though was how incredibly thin the line between frustration and elation can be.

Fixing the little problems in our software took a long time, and most of that time was spent staring at code that looked 100% correct to us but was clearly flawed. Then, after pounding our heads against the wall for hours, we would finally see something; a missed line of code, an extra one, or an incorrect function call. It is often hard to believe such a small error can mess things up so severely.

This is a phenomenon that is not unique to software development. Tiny mistakes cause huge problems all the time. Ever tried to shift from 3rd to 4th and gotten reverse instead? Run a chemistry experiment and added two mL of acid instead of one? Written an email and misspelled a critical word?

We live in a world on the edge of chaos. Things go wrong at the slightest provocation, but that fact happens to be what makes things so awesome when they go right.

That is why after pacing around my apartment talking to myself, walking myself through every line of code, and air-drumming along with whatever music I happened to be listening to at the time for what seemed like two hours, I went a little crazy when I found the bug. (It was actually more like 20 minutes. I know because I put in a pizza just when I was starting to go crazy and fixed the problem just as it was finishing up. Nothing like the aroma of cooking pepperoni to encourage productive thinking.) Proof of my insanity is preserved in my twitter account. I usually refrain from posting things like "WOOODEBUGGINGISHARDBUTFUNWHENYOUFIXSOMETHING!!!" I sent out texts to my team members that were entirely comprised of capital letters and exclamation points as well.

The feeling of frustration before a breakthrough is why people quit. The feeling of elation is why people don't.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

He's Unconscious!

This is something that has been on my mind for quite some time now (years even), and have yet to make any real sense of it, so if you have any advice or insight, please do not hesitate to leave feedback here, on facebook, via email, or whatever. I would love a little bit of conversation on the topic.

I watched another Michigan football game yesterday, and am still basking in the afterglow a bit. Sure, our defense is just plain not very good, but that Denard Robinson kid, well, he does his best to avoid putting out performances that can be confined by words. Too much fun. I have been looking for an illustration for my current topic for a while, and Denard's play seems fitting, though any other athlete playing at a high level is as well. (This will all hopefully make sense in a moment.)

Ever since Sunday school I have been told by adults, pastors, Bible study leaders, and so on that as Christians, we should live in such a way that we honor Christ. We should consider the question "What Would Jesus Do?" in all situations. Sounds simple. Think again.

It becomes so easy in our daily lives to forget to consider whether our decisions and actions are God-honoring that we can go hours or even days at a time without giving it a second thought. God could not possibly care less what I eat for breakfast, God is not interested in whether I spend another half hour watching TV, and God does not notice when I litter. That is the mindset I have on most days. Clearly it needs fixing, but how?

Great athletes hold at least part of the answer to this question. One phrase that is often used to describe the play of an athlete on a particularly outstanding day is, "Wow. He's just unconscious out there right now!" I have said this about Denard Robinson in the past few weeks on numerous occasions. He apparently lacks the need to take the time to think about his next action. Take the snap. Look left. Look right. Checkdown. No one open. Run left. Follow blocker. Defender coming, juke right, avoid safety. Run. Run. Run. Does he think through each of these steps and mentally check them off? Nope, that would be impossible. There is just not enough time for that type of thought process. It must be instinctual; each of his reads must be internalized so that he can avoid thinking and focus on playing.

It is the same way with our day to day Christian lives. There will be times that we need to press pause to thoughtfully and prayerfully consider what our next action should be, but for the most part we need to have internalized God's word and will to the point that our natural, instinctive, reflexive actions align with them.

The question then I suppose is, how can we get to that point? I have yet to find the full answer to that question, but I am sure it includes frequent study of the Bible and constant contact with God through prayer. Both of those are things I struggle with on a regular basis, but am trying to work on.

Thoughts, suggestions? I would love to get some feedback on this one.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Snippets.

The last couple of months I have been reading "The Four Loves" by C.S. Lewis for my devotions, and since there is often a severe lack of engagement as I read, I tried to highlight passages that I felt expressed something important. My intent now is to copy some of them over so I can expand on them a little bit. There are quite a few, so I will try to spread them out over a few posts. This process is mostly for my benefit, but hopefully some of the quotes strike you as interesting. I covered my feelings on C.S. Lewis's writing style (and the first of my highlighted quotes) in a previous post, so feel free to go back and check that out.
love ceases to be a demon only when he ceases to be a god
This is actually a quote from the author M. Denis de Rougemont that Lewis uses to put his treatment of the concept of love within the book into context. This line makes little sense initially, but there is actually a lot of truth to it, though not necessarily a truth we want to believe. I spend as much time thinking about "love" as a concept as anyone else, often to the point of placing it on a pedestal above my relationship with God. It is easy to view love as the highest honor. Romance and brotherhood and friendship seem to be infallible ideals, concepts that cannot be wrong and must be protected at all costs. The human loves are good, but not purely so, and it is important to realize that at some times they stand in the way of more important things. Lewis reiterates this fact when he says:
The human loves can be glorious images of Divine love. No less than that: but also no more
Lewis breaks up the human loves into four categories (hence the title of the book): affection, friendship, eros, and charity, but he also categorizes different types of love as need-loves, gift-loves, and appreciative love, which he describes as follows:
Need-love cries to God from our poverty; Gift-love longs to serve or even to suffer for, God; Appreciative love says: "We give thanks to thee for thy great glory." Need-love says of a woman "I cannot live without her"; Gift-love longs to give her happiness, comfort, protection--if possible, wealth; Appreciative love gazes and holds its breath and is silent, rejoices that such a wonder should exist even if not for him, will not be wholly dejected by losing her, would rather have it so than never have seen her at all.
I find it interesting how each part of those types of love is good, and provides pleasure, in its own way.

One final passage, which actually does not talk about love at all, but expresses something I have always known to be true without being able to put into words:
If you take nature as a teacher she will teach you exactly the lessons you had already decided to learn;
The temptation to look at a beautiful sunset or landscape or flower and search for some specific insight is a fruitless exercise. Lewis expands on this idea saying:
Say your prayers in a garden early, ignoring steadfastly the dew, the birds and the flowers, and you will come away overwhelmed by its freshness and joy; go there in order to be overwhelmed and, after a certain age, nine times out of ten nothing will happen to you.
I spend too much time urgently looking for meaning and inspiration, causing me to miss all of the meaning and inspiration that constantly surround me.

That is all I have for now. There are another dozen or so passages I have highlighted, so I will get to those as I have time. Questions, comments, concerns? Feel free to leave me a note.



Tuesday, September 14, 2010

It's Rare.

If it bothers you when I talk about Michigan football, even just a little bit, most of this post will likely make you sick to your stomach. I make no apologies for that, however. You have been warned.

Also, on a completely unrelated not, I normally make a point to try to avoid contractions (Thanks Mrs. Wierenga!) in my writing because it's technically a bit more professional and contractions indicate laziness. (Which I possess in great quantities, but would prefer not to put on display.) That doesn't work quite so well when I'm in full-on stream-of-consciousness mode, so I'm throwing it out the window for this post. I do apologize for this.

I have been watching Michigan football for quite a while. I don't know exactly when I started, but I do know it was probably before I was potty trained. I wish I could recall more of the great games and performances of the past, along with the players that have been enshrined in Michigan lore.

I remember vaguely watching the 1997 national championship game (I was in Arizona visiting family during Christmas break of 4th grade) and how I was confused about how there could possibly be two champions at one time (Pro-tip: there can't. We won. Sorry Nebraska.), but I can't for the life of me recall anything about Charles Woodson's dismantling of Ohio State that season.

I remember leaving to go trick-or-treating with Michigan down two touchdowns to Michigan State, only to discover through garbled Nextel Direct Connect messages from my dad that Braylon Edwards was doing the unthinkable. I got back to a friend's house just in time to catch the third overtime and the umpteenth miracle play of the game. I was elated.

I remember Mike Hart playing through pain and defenders, refusing to stop moving forward, refusing to let go of the ball, until he had gained enough yards for a first down or a touchdown.

When these things happened, I felt happy. I never have figured out why, but maybe that's the point. I'm hooked. Michigan football was dangled in front of me and I bit. I didn't get snagged through the lip, I swallowed the hook whole. Sports are strange like that, and it's not explainable and I don't care.

This season is different though, and for once, I can pinpoint exactly why. It's not the fact that I'm a student, although that helps. It's not that we've won a couple of games, though that also helps. It really all comes down to Denard Robinson. Shoelace. Number sixteen. Dilithium incarnate.

In an email exchange with my Dad this morning, I passed on the following link: http://umichedme.blogspot.com/2010/09/all-wine_14.html. If you're a Michigan fan, read it. If you're a football fan, read it. If you're a creative writing fan, read it. Really, if you're a fan of anything, read it. Whether the topic is your cup of tea or not, you'll understand. It was hard for me to get through because the author says exactly what I feel, and in a way I am completely incapable of.

Over the last few weeks, we've seen Denard Robinson do a lot of things. He's run a lot. He's thrown a lot. He's been on NBC and CBS and BTN and ESPN and a dozen other acronyms. School children and grandmothers and college athletes and businessmen know his name.

But what he hasn't done says more about him than what he has. He hasn't gloated or called for praise. He doesn't like to be interviewed, and he certainly doesn't want to hear your Heisman predictions.

I concluded that email exchange with my Dad by saying: "I have never been so purely happy for someone I've never met than I am for Denard Robinson right now." That's the truth.

The closest I've ever come to this feeing before was also related to Michigan football, but didn't involve a player. When I saw Lloyd Carr carried off the field after defeating Tim Tebow and the Gators three years ago, I was happy. I was happy because he was happy, and that's how I feel now.

The thing is, a person like Denard Robinson is rare. He wears his faith on his sleeve without being pushy. He kneels in the endzone after a touchdown without making a show of it. He doesn't taunt the opposing fans or players, he goes and finds them after the game to congratulate them on a good fight. He deflects questions about himself in order to praise his teammates. His heroes are his offensive line, his receivers, his running backs, his defense, and anyone else on the team not named Denard Robinson.

He says things like: “I mean, uh, when they call my number, and the offensive line is blocking like that, and it’s God willing, and God engineering, I mean, I can do whatever.”

Who knows if he'll stay healthy all season, or if he'll win the Heisman, or if Michigan will win 10 games? All I know is that Denard Robinson and people like him are what sports should be about, and it makes me proud to be a Wolverine.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Comfort Food.

I have only been in Ann Arbor for a short time, so I am just starting to learn my way around and meet a few people. While I have avoided homesickness, I still enjoyed going home last weekend and going to my own Church and having dinner with my family. This past week has been a little more hectic than most as I get settled in all my classes and start to figure out exactly what will be required of me, who I need to talk to for help, which students will be in my project groups, and so on and so forth. My roommate decided to head home for the weekend to spend some time with his fiance (fair enough) but I decided to stick around and maybe get some things done (which I have absolutely failed at so far...).

Yesterday was a blast, even though my head cold was still nagging me, due to the thrilling Michigan win over Notre Dame. The phone calls and texts I received during and after the game were fantastic. I have never heard my Grandpa so out of breath in my life, and he told me he was strong and refrained from turning off the TV in disgust after Notre Dame's go-ahead touchdown with a few minutes left! It will always be those little things that make me feel connected to home even though technically I am "away" from it. Much like a home-cooked meal, those moments snap me right back to Cutlerville.

My other "comfort food" moment came during Church this morning. I attended the Campus Chapel with a couple of friends, and it was amazing to me how similar services can be regardless of where they are held. The Campus Chapel is a reformed ministry right near the university's central campus, and the pastor is a graduate of both Calvin College and Calvin Theological Seminary. This means that all of the nuances of a CRC service remained intact, regardless of the fact that the building is much smaller, the congregation almost entirely consists of students, and it is located in a city that is completely different from Grand Rapids. (Ann Arbor is like one gigantic Eastown.) I felt entirely comfortable as I recognized the following service elements:
  • A bulletin, complete with asterisks indicating to the congregation when they will be expected to stand
  • A slightly awkward pause as the liturgist decided unilaterally that one asterisk had been neglected and the congregation suddenly had to decide whether to trust him or the bulletin
  • Singing that starts incredibly soft as the congregation feels out the room and gauges what the final, "acceptable" volume will be.
  • And many more
Each of these aspects of a CRCish church service are relatively inconsequential, and I cannot say whether they are good or bad, they just are. They are the quirks that make me feel at home.

I look forward to checking out at least one or two more churches in the area to see which ones fit with the worship and preaching style I find most engaging, but I know that if I ever need to feel completely comfortable, there is at least one church that can accomodate me. (I have heard that Ann Arbor CRC may be even MORE similar to my home church, but we shall see about that.)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Complaints.

This post won't just be me whining for 2000 words. In fact, I won't be whining at all. Thought I should let you know that before you decide to leave.

I spent a little bit of time as I registered for my three CSE classes this semester checking out my professors on RateMyProfessors.com.

My professor for Introduction to Artificial Intelligence had no reviews, but he is my academic advisor, and his father taught at Calvin some time ago, so I'm sure he's a nice guy. I have heard he is a bit dry, but I can handle dry as long as his grading is fair and the workload avoids being over the top.

The professor teaching Microarchitecture had only one rating, but it was generally positive. I think that should be a pretty interesting class regardless of who teaches it, but hopefully he turns out to be a positive force in the classroom rather than an obstacle to be overcome.

That brings me to my final professor, teaching Introduction to Operating Systems. Reading through his reviews, it quickly became evident that students have really appreciated his style and his desire to help them learn.

At this point I ran across several reviews that caught my eye. Both mentioned that their single complaint with this professor is that he talks about Christianity and his faith in class. Needless to say, I am thrilled about this complaint on a personal level. It will be exciting to see how he manages to work his beliefs into the curriculum.

There is another issue at hand, however, and I am still undecided on exactly what my stance is. The University of Michigan is a public school, and we have all heard about the separation of Church and State at some point. What is, or should be permissible for a professor to do or say as an employee of the state within a classroom setting? Maybe it is helpful to look at some possible actions to attempt to determine where the line between what should and should not be allowed.
  • Forcing any kind of religion on students - obviously a bad thing. It should never affect someone's performance or grade in class.
  • Conducting prayer time, devotions, etc. before class probably falls under this umbrella as well. I would be incredibly uncomfortable if someone with religious beliefs different than mine did this.
  • Bringing up your beliefs and mentioning your faith is fine, as long as it isn't presented as "course material."
It should be interesting to see how much this professor brings up the subject of his Christianity and how he does so. I look forward to chatting with him about it at some point and picking his brain about how he decides what to say and what not to say. I have never experienced a public school environment, so it would be difficult for me to gauge how tough it is to walk the line between witnessing by example and being pushy.

One thing I do think is very important is the fact that he at least mentions that he is a Christian. This disclosure opens the door for his actions, regardless of whether they are strictly religious or simply actions indicating how he conducts himself on a daily basis, to be a witness and a positive force.

Classes start tomorrow morning at 9am, so I need desperately to get some sleep (spent Saturday night on the floor and Sunday night on a couch). Time for all of this to get shockingly real!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Gettin' Started!

Alright, so I've been in Ann Arbor since Saturday, and it's been really slow with a few interesting moments thus far. Since I'm stealing (with permission) some internet from friends in an apartment across our creek until ours gets installed, which won't happen for two more weeks (dumb.), I'm going to just throw together a quick-hits bulleted list to get the details down.
  • Ann Arbor is awesome. Our apartment is pretty sweet as well. Out of the way enough that I don't have to go through any ridiculous traffic to get to it, but close enough that I can bike anywhere on campus in a reasonable amount of time. It should take me about ten minutes to get to classes on my bike, but I'd really be booking it.
  • Getting my MCard was a bigger hassle than I expected. The process was straightforward, but since I ordered it online and it was pre-printed, I had to go all the way to central campus to pick it up. Once I got there it was all ready for me though, so that was nice.
  • I won't have campus network access until next week Tuesday. I guess that's not a huge deal since I don't have classes until then anyway, but it would have been nice to be able to go hang out on campus and have internet access there.
  • Peter finally arrived, which is great. I was planning on him getting here Saturday, but since he's engaged now he had a bunch of wedding planning stuff to work out and didn't arrive until last night.
  • Since he wasn't here and I didn't have a car, I lived off of Wendy's and brownies for three days. That was awful. We went to Wal Mart last night and now I'm stocked up. Feels nice to have food in the house. I've already eaten a bunch of healthy things like grapes and whole wheat sandwiches and pizza.
  • I met with my advisor today. His dad taught at Calvin, so he was familiar with my engineering background, and he was very friendly and helpful. I was a little nervous about getting some jerk, but it worked out great.
  • My advisor said my three semester plan looked "very well planned out" (Hey thanks, I did it while I was in Wendy's yesterday!) and as long as I get into the classes I was wait listed for, I should be right on track.
  • He also thought that the reasoning behind which classes I'm taking was solid, so that was a huge relief. Now I just need to dominate them and get out with a good GPA and I should be all set to join the real world!
That's about it. Once I have more consistent internet access and some stories to tell I'll check back in.

Also, GO BLUE! BEAT UCONN!

Friday, August 27, 2010

We're So Close

I wrote this post on MGoBlog last year with nine days to go before the start of the season. It's rough, it's sensationalist, it's 100% hyperbole, but it still applies almost perfectly except for the part about where I'll be watching the game. Obviously I'll be in the student section. This will be my first season of watching the Wolverines AS a Wolverine. Here's hoping that we witness some magic on the field.

I don't know if you've noticed, I know it snuck up on me, but the Michigan football season is only nine days away. Nine days isn't that long, but it depends on how you look at it I suppose. Using simple math, Usain Bolt could run approximately 9,000 kilometers in that amount of time (neglecting fatigue). Maybe ten days is an eternity.

It seems there must be a single word in the English language that completely describes the feeling in my, and every other Michigan fan's gut leading up to this first gameday of the [2010] season, but maybe not. If it does exist, it could be found by way of triangulation from the words anticipation, desperation, and ecstasy. I'm sure Horatio Caine could run that through some sort of futuristic literary tracking system and come up with the term.

This season isn't like the others I've experienced though. While I've been a fan since the first time I watched my normally reserved father scream like a little girl after a touchdown in our basement, dancing as well as any pale skinny dutch man can, it has never meant as much to me as it does this time around. The Wolverine faithful have been forced into the undesirable position of being apologists for a team that most love to hate. There has been conflict. Fans argue with other fans. Boos still echo within the Big House, rattling restlessly among the bleachers. Michigan has been brought to a knee, and now it gazes at us with a proposal.

All that is asked of us is our undying commitment. We are not asked to follow blindly and unquestioningly, but we must be patient.

I haven't decided where I'll be next Saturday yet. If some ticket options pan out I may be sitting on a bleacher seat in the Big House, otherwise I may watch the game with family, or by myself. Wherever I am, I'll be nervous. My knees will bounce, and my teeth will serve as an interim nail-clipper. I'll be silent, mostly. Breaths will be short and seldom, and I wouldn't have it any other way. I will cheer in the same way I have always cheered: without words, except for the occasional "GO GO GO GO GO!" (I'm a Wolverine Shia LeBouf, obviously...) Beyond that, it's all going to be guttural noises signifying disgust and yelps of pleasure, sprinkled with a (hopefully more than) occasional joyful scream.

I wouldn't have it any other way. Each and every week during the season, we collectively remove our hearts and offer them to the team for protection. Occasionally they are dropped and trodden over, but we do not pull them back to ourselves even in the event of cardiac arrest because we know there will always be one play, one moment, one image that will rub the paddles together and scream "CLEAR!" bringing our pulse back in a single adrenaline fueled instant.

So stand by me Michigan fans, and bravely sing The Victors in the face of our adversaries. More importantly, stand by our team, as they attempt to bring back what we have all fallen in love with using only their bare hands and fatigued bodies. Join me as I pound the air with my fist, proclaiming on behalf of these players, the keepers of our dreams, "HAIL! HAIL! To Michigan, the Leaders and the Best."

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Syntax

Of course language is not an infallible guide, but it contains, with all its defects, a good deal of stored insight and experience.
--C.S. Lewis, "The Four Loves"

Every time I pick up a book by C.S. Lewis I find myself captivated. The way he seems to pick words solely by intuition is a trait I admire and covet. One of my professors at Calvin, Paulo Ribeiro (who spent the first fifteen minutes of each class period reading or reflecting on C.S. Lewis's writing), once mentioned that according to a colleague or student of Lewis's claimed that even his first drafts were publishable insofar as their lack of errors and elegance of word choice.

As I said, I often find myself jealous of that ability. Every once in a while I will type out a phrase and think, "Hmm, that says exactly what I want it to say, and just how I want it to," but even after many revisions, I rarely end up with prose I'm entirely satisfied with. Reading C.S. Lewis makes me want to try again, though.

I began reading "The Four Loves" tonight, and was struck by the truth and conciseness of many passages. The passage quoted at the start of this post was written in reference to the usage of, not surprisingly, the word "love" in certain circumstances. While it most definitely applies in that specific situation, it also applies in a more general sense as well.

We cannot simply toss words around without considering their history and connotations.

Often people, including myself on countless occasions, claim ignorance or social injustice when defending their word choice, and I'm beginning to realize that those excuses are simply not appropriate. When called out for using a racial slur such as the pervasive "n-word," responding by saying, "If they can use it, why can't I?" is at best ineffective. Using such a retort ignores the fact that this word actually does carry a huge amount of baggage, and should be treated as such.

Needless to say, this is something I need to work on as much as anyone (not that I've been tossing around racial slurs or anything...), and I plan to at least try to be more cognizant of my word choices.

There are about a dozen other short passes in the introduction to "The Four Loves" that caught my attention, and I am sure I will have written about a few of them by the time I finish the book. It is not long, only 100 pages or so, and if the introduction is anything like the rest of the book (or any of Lewis's other works for that matter), I would highly recommend picking it up.

I'm sure I'll have plenty of other topics to write about in the near future as I move to Ann Arbor, start classes, explore the city, and do all the fun stuff that comes along with that. I'm nervous, but I can't wait to get settled and into a groove over there.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Waiting and the Little Things.

Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.
-- Colossions 3:23-24

A couple months ago, my brother gave me a CD with a pretty wide variety of songs on it. It's got everything from Sleigh Bells to Jack Johnson, MGMT to Kings of Leon. I've spent a lot of time listening through it, and I've picked up on a few new favorites of mine. "Roll Away Your Stone" by Mumford & Sons is absolutely fantastic, and there were a few surprises that took a few listens to get used to as well.

One song keeps drawing me in though, and not because I think the music is all that fantastic. It's a great song, but not what I would consider a perfect fit for my tastes. It's the lyrics.



I haven't spent enough time thinking about the lyrics to try to figure out exactly what Colin Hay is trying to get at, what his ultimate meaning is with this song, mainly because I get stuck every time I hear the title.

"I'm waiting for my real life to begin."

That's sad, isn't it? Maybe I just find it sad because of how close to home it hits for me. I spend a lot of time thinking about the future. I don't think that's a bad thing in and of itself, but I tend to forget that, for now at least, I don't live in the future. My life is happening here. Now.

I heard myself say in a conversation today that someone shouldn't worry too much about something that's going to take up a significant amount of time because "it's really just a means to an end." That's wrong though, isn't it? (Coincidentally, that's why I'd rather email than talk on the phone most of the time. So I don't give stupid advice or say something I actually don't think is true. I'm also horribly awkward on the phone. Don't believe me? Call me sometime...) We really have no idea what the end is going to be, so we really should be focusing on what we're actually doing. I've got a lot of "plans" and things on my "to-do list" that may or may not come to fruition, but for that to happen, I need to be doing something about it now. There are certainly things we don't want to do, or jobs we feel like we just need to get done so we can go back to living our lives, but that ignores the fact that those experiences are part of our lives as well.

I'm sure this philosophy should lead to all sorts of changes in how I approach my down-time, mundane tasks at work, and how I plan for the future, but I'll do that on my own time. This is your life, and I'm not going to waste it with that stuff.

Living in the now (Wow. That sounds horribly cliche.) also requires us to focus in a little bit more on the details of life than the big picture. There's a time and a place for both, but I've been trying to recognize the impact of little things more lately. It's astounding sometimes how big that impact can be.

Once again, I'm going to use a work example. Tune out the next paragraph if necessary.

I spend the last week and a half at work debugging some code. It was a strange problem because the code worked perfectly in one situation, but blew up in my face somewhere else. From what I could tell, both situations were identical. I poked and prodded and talked to my boss and made zero progress for a week or so. After getting frustrated to the point where I was ready to go work on something else just to clear my head for a bit, I glanced back through the code and noticed one subtle difference between two lines that should have been the same. One referenced a student ID number, while the other referenced a record ID number. After swapping in the word "record" for the word "student," everything ran beautifully.

Anyone who's done any programming, or even filled out an Excel spreadsheet with a formula or two can attest to the fact that computers are very picky, and don't give a whole lot of grace when you don't give them the correct instructions.

The same is true in a lot of other things, though. One small, absent minded insult can ruin a relationship. One glance from the road to a text message can cause an accident. I see situations like this every day, and even more frequently now that I've begun looking for them. The rubber hits the road when you begin to realize that you control these little things, and can start something pretty impressive just by being conscious of your actions.

And you can only do those little things right now. Wishing you'd done them does no one any good. Planning to do them doesn't count.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Topics and a Wedding.

Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable--if anything is excellent or praiseworthy--think about such things.
-- Philippians 4:8

Writers block isn't something I've normally run into; there's usually something on my mind that I think is worth jotting down a few words about. Lately, though, I've tried to be a little more selective and consider which thoughts are worth preserving. Most of the time, I "reject" a topic because I just don't have enough to say about it to flesh it out into something worth reading. Every once in a while, I'll get the urge to make a long bulleted list of short thoughts, but it doesn't happen all that often.

Where I'm running into trouble now is just a shortage of topics in general. The list of individual things on my mind is pretty short. I've got work, grad school, Michigan football, whatever the last sermon I heard was about, and music. That's about it. Other things come and go, but never command my attention for long enough to demand transcription from thought to written word.

I have had the opportunity to write a few things lately, though. Scribing long emails is something I greatly enjoy (if you'd ever like one, just ask), and I've written several in the past couple of weeks. I like covering a lot of topics in a short period of time, and trying to make them as fun to read as possible, often with mixed results. I also was asked to write an evaluation letter for a professor. Depending on the professor, that could be a good thing or a bad thing, but in this case it was fantastic. She was one of the best I had during my time at Calvin, and it was fun to go back over in my mind all of the ways that she helped me. It was an English professor, so I had to be very careful that I didn't slather her in compliments while making simple mistakes. (I did notice one blatant error in subject-verb agreement. In my defense, I had it right and Word decided to correct me. I was in a hurry and didn't look it over well enough to catch it before sending the letter. It will haunt me for years, I'm sure.)

(Side note: I'm either stalling at this point--typing until I stumble upon something worth writing about--or I'm teetering on the edge of a ramble. Let's hope it's the former, because the latter would be a waste of everyone's time.)

One thing I can write a little bit about is an experience from this past weekend. I had the honor and privilege of being a part of a close friend's wedding. I've known Chris since we were in early elementary school, maybe longer, and I can't express how awesome it was to see him and his fiancee of five years enter into married life. I couldn't help but think throughout the ceremony and reception how perfect they are for each other, and how incredibly unprepared I would be for that type of commitment at this point.

Chris has never been the kind of guy to get nervous or worked up about anything, and his wedding day was no different. The groomsmen gave him the requisite ribbing about how he "could still get out of it if he wanted" and "Canada is only a few hours away!" He just gently smiled. When asked by the pastor if he was nervous at around 15 minutes before the ceremony, he answered, "Not at all," without a hint that he might be bending the truth even a little bit. Clearly he's done a bit of growing up since the summer during high school when we became movie gluttons and took in 80 or so over the course of a few months.

I said this at the reception, but it bears repeating: I look up to Chris. I pray for only the best for him and his new bride. I hope someday I stumble across a love like the one they've found.

I've got a lot of maturing to do before I'm ready to be in that situation, though. That's a topic for another time.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Decisions and the Little Things.

Slight disclaimer: there will be a lengthy portion of this post dedicated to a situation I encountered at work today. It will get semi-technical, and I will not be offended in the least if you skip over it. I'll clearly indicate where it begins and ends to accomodate those who have no interest in my web development exploits.

I've been subjected to a lot of discussion about tradeoffs this summer. Many people around me are making big life decisions, and not many of them have been afforded a clear-cut "correct" choice. Friends are deciding where to live and work, family members are making career decisions, and relationship conundrums are popping up occasionally. Well, that's life I suppose, and at some point we need to get good at buckling down, praying about an issue, laying out the pros and cons, and making an informed decision. It's still possible to choose incorrectly, but most of the time even making an educated guess will help someone avoid royally screwing him or herself.

These types of decisions have always fascinated me, probably because I haven't encountered very many of them (I'm the one who told people in sixth grade I was planning on going to Calvin for a degree in computer engineering, maybe a math minor, and continuing on to Michigan to get my masters degree. For better or worse, I've had things planned out for a while.) and they still retain a bit of their novelty. At some point, I'm sure I'll get sick of them and just hope I can relax and keep doing what I'm doing for a while, but who knows if that will ever happen. Life is fluid, and attempting to keep it static is futile at best, maddening at worst.

I don't have time to dive into how I think people should make life-altering decisions, mostly because I don't really know. What I do want to talk about is something to consider when making little decisions that have seemingly small tradeoffs.

If you have no interest in programming, now is the time to stop reading. I'll let you know when it's safe to rejoin the conversation.

Since I have this little pet fascination with tricky decisions, I find that when I run across miniature examples in my daily life, be it at work or somewhere else, I spend an inordinate amount of time pondering them.

My example for today has to do with a grade-entry tool that I put together in the last month or so for the seminary. Previously, when a professor wanted to enter the grades for a class at the end of the semester, he or she was required to log into an outdated system, worm through several layers of worthless clutter, and finally punch in the appropriate grade for each student. Then, IT had the privilege of passing that data through two other systems, making sure that all of the grades came out unchanged, so that students could view their grades online. The tool I put together is simply a website that a professor can go to, click on which class they want to enter grades for, and quickly enter them directly into the system at the last stage of the previous process. It's fast, it's easy, and it removes not only a couple of steps for the professors, but the entire IT process as well.

Cool huh? I had a blast putting that thing together.

Now for the teensy tiny predicament. When putting together the grade entry webpage, I originally used text boxes. If a teacher wanted to give a student a B-, he or she could type "B-" in the textbox. Simple enough. However, my boss wanted to make sure no one entered a "P+" or a "SDFV," so I threw in a little bit of code to validate the entered grade against a set list of possible grades.

Just as I got this working, my boss turns to me and asks, "How hard would it be to use a drop down list instead?" I thought for a few moments, and figured it wouldn't be tough. Sure enough, a little while later, we've got drop down lists (populated with a list of valid grades) that professors can use. There's no longer any possibility that a professor can enter an invalid grade.

Pausing for a moment here, I just want to explain that this example is 100% EXACTLY what gets me excited in a work environment. The back and forth of "How hard would be be to do X?" "I'm not sure, let me find out!" is what intrigues me about user interface design. There are always improvements that can be made, and ironing out those little details can make a huge difference to the end-user. Little frustrations add up to produce a pretty pissed off person, but the tiny victories (such as software performing as expected) can really brighten someone's day.

Anyway.

I "finished" that web page last week at some point, and figured I was all done until my boss turned to me again today and said, "Hmm, it's a little frustrating that if I punch in a 'B' on the keyboard it automatically chooses 'B+' instead." If you've ever used a drop down box to indicate your state or country, you know exactly what he's talking about. Punching in 'M' won't bring you right to Michigan, it'll bring you to the highest selection starting with 'M.' In this case, 'B+' is above 'B' for obvious reasons, so to get to the 'B' you either need to type an extra down-arrow or move your hand to your mouse to choose the correct entry. (Although I'm sure some students would like it if their grades got bumped up accidentally every once in a while.)

That's interesting! There was a tradeoff moving from the text box to the drop down list. We lost the ability for a professor to just type in exactly what he wanted to grade to be and trust that that was what would be entered into the system. Tomorrow I need to try to see if I can code in there a way for the drop down list to go to the 'B' rather than the 'B+' right off the bat, so we'll see how that goes. If I can, I'll have avoided a decision altogether by getting the best of both worlds.

Ok, sorry about that, feel free to start reading again if you haven't already gone back to poring over Facebook photos.

I mentioned it a moment ago, but I'll repeat and expand on it for those just jumping back in. For most people, their mood when they get home from work or go to bed almost never is the result of some gigantic, earth-shattering incident. Rarely do people go to bed happy because they won the lottery or they fell in love that afternoon. Conversely, people usually don't go to bed angry or depressed because someone ran over their dog or they found out they have a terminal disease. On most occasions, it's because their emotional scale that weighs the little victories against the little defeats has tipped in one direction or the other.

I don't have any great advice for making big life decisions that hasn't been said a thousand times already. However, if you happen to be making a (sometimes incredibly minor) decision that someone might have to deal with on a regular basis, try to consider how you can do your part to provide them with a few extra little victories.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Which Medium?

Every once in a while, I have something I want to share. Maybe I just thought of (in my opinion) an incredibly witty quip, or maybe someone I know has been especially helpful to me and I'd like to tell them. Humans communicate about everything, and I think it's interesting to take a look at a few of the ways we do that and why some are more appropriate in certain situations.

Appropriateness of medium is a little strange if you really take the time to consider it. If I need to tell someone "I'm sorry," why should the message be different depending on whether I tell it to them in person or over a tweet? Why is a love letter so cherished and stored for years, while the text message "I luv u XOXO" is much more easily discarded? I've heard many times, often regarding breakups, the line "I can't believe he/she couldn't say that to my face." All examples of mismanaged media.

There are a few reasons I want to touch on, along with a couple of my personal favorite media options, and I'll wrap up with what I think is the underlying differentiator between different types of media.

The first reason some methods of communication are inappropriate for certain situations is effort.

Telling someone I'm deeply sorry for their loss in person at a funeral carries much more weight than a Facebook message partially because it just takes more effort. There's a much greater chance that I'm sincere if I got dressed up, drove to a Church, and waited in line to express my sympathy than if I rolled out of bed without combing my hair and pecked out my condolences on a keyboard before my morning shower.

A second reason is effectiveness.

Someone is bleeding profusely on the sidewalk! Quickly, how do you contact the proper help? If you answered "write an urgent letter to the hospital, asking for assistance, post haste!" you're either living in the 1800's or you need to think a little bit about how effective your communication is. That might be a ridiculously silly example, but it gets my point across. Some situations are better resolved through one medium than another. Desperately trying to get a hold of someone for an address while they're in a meeting at work? A text message might be your best option. Wishing your Grandmother across the country a happy birthday? A phone call is probably optimal (unless you have the resources to fly over to her for a birthday hug, of course). Simple enough.

Now more difficult: need to let a friend know that you were hurt by something they did? It's probably time to assess the situation to make a decision. You could talk to them in person, confronting them about their actions. You could call them to talk about the issue. You could write a carefully worded email expressing your feelings. A lot of it depends on who the person is.

My favorite method of communication is email. If you've known me for any significant period of time, there's a decent chance you've gotten at least one from me. I often write emails when a face to face conversation would be more appropriate, a phone call would be more convenient, or a text message would suffice.

This is because, frankly, I'm not great at face to face conversation, I suck at using the phone, and I'm a little long winded and punctuation dependent for texts. Email gives me the opportunity to sit with my thoughts for as long as I need before committing to them for public consumption. I've had foot-in-mouth moments more times than I can count, but I can honestly say that there aren't any emails I would REALLY like to have back. What I have had is emails where I've read through my first draft and thought, "Wow. That would have been an awful thing to send." before editing (and on a couple of occasions, re-editing over and over for a week or so) them. My mind has a decent filter, but it's often incredibly slow. Being able to parse my thoughts and choose my words carefully gives me the chance to make sure I'm saying exactly what I want and need to say.

This brings me to my final point, and the one that got me started on this whole subject in the first place. The main difference between types of media is vulnerability.

Putting ourselves in vulnerable situations is one of the most convincing signs of sincerity and respect. There's a reason kneeling is a sign of submission. For all of the good things that come along with writing an email, it still allows me to hide behind the wall of the internet. Posting something on someone's Facebook wall is different than sending them a private message because a private message implies private content, which can expose motives. Talking to someone in person is different than talking to them on the phone because you're forced to acknowledge their facial expressions and body language, just as talking on the phone is different than email because you pick up on inflection and emotion more easily.

I don't really know where to go from here, so I'll just leave it at that. Hopefully it's a little bit of food for thought as you consider all of your communication options.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Changes.

After a fantastic week of hanging out with friends, going to the beach, Seadooing, playing cards, watching movies, and resting (and working I suppose), it's starting to sink in that this probably won't happen ever again after this summer. I'm not anticipating losing contact with all of my friends, but from here on out it's only going to get more and more difficult to get everyone together in one place. As I move on to grad school in Ann Arbor, everyone else moves on to their next step as well.

I'm not all that nervous about grad school beyond the requisite uneasiness about how hard classes will be, who I'll meet, and how I'll eventually pay for it, but I'm disappointed that the current phase in my life has to end. Between saying goodbye to old friends, new friends, and acquaintances it's finally hitting me that this is actually happening, and it sucks. For the moment I don't want anything to do with more responsibility, more freedom, and growing up in general. I want to go to the beach and throw a football around instead.

If I were writing an essay for a class, now would be the time when I would flip the mood of this post on its head and describe how the thought of Michigan football games, engaging classes, and a tidal wave of new friends is going to make all of my cares float away on a cloud as I'm left with the glorious euphoria of the unexplored future.

Meh.

I'll write that post later. None of it would be true at the moment.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Push/Pull Stewardship

In my Church's July Stewardship Team meeting, we discussed something I'd thought about before, but hadn't really expanded upon much. Many of our discussions and goals thus far have focused on stewardship of time and spiritual gifts. It's tough to try to come up with ways to promote spiritual maturity through volunteering and other channels. Our Church does a great job with this, but there's always room for improvement. In this meeting, though, we dove into what most people think of when they consider stewardship: giving money.

If you're looking for a fun experiment, try this:
  • Go out and find as many Dutch folks as you can. (They might not even need to actually be Dutch... almost anyone affiliated with the CRC will work.)
  • Ask each of them how much they make in a year.
I'd be willing to bet that 9 of 10 would turn a little bit red and decline. Some might even raise their voice at you.

It's this attitude about money that makes discussing monetary stewardship so difficult in our Church and others like it. It's just not something you do using specifics. The pastor might say "You should give 10% of your income or more to the work of the Lord," but it rarely gets more specific than that. Vague ideas are thrown out, ideal scenarios and rarely much more. It's more comfortable for everyone that way. The pastor doesn't have the luxury of telling each member what is specifically expected of them in dollars and sense because a) he would get a serious tongue-lashing from the more salary-sensitive members of the Church and b) it's different for everyone. Some members are capable of giving 50% of their income and still living comfortably. Others are low-income, have hospital bills, and are struggling to get by.

At some point, our council determined that if every member gave 6.5% of their income to the general fund, all of the bills of the Church would be covered, and the remaining 3.5% can be donated at the member's discretion. So do they have the right to demand that kind of money from the members? Running a Church is expensive, and it provides almost all of its services to anyone that walks through the doors free of charge.

So on to my main points.

First, I don't think it's out of line for the Church to discuss specifics on monetary issues, as long as that happens with an understanding and sensitivity to those with much less who may not be able to give.

Second, tithing is really a matter of the heart. If giving your 10% is like pulling your own teeth out with a rusty pliers, you may as well not do it.

Third, there can be some sort of balance between push giving and pull giving. Push giving is when a member is prodded by someone to give. Having the pastor of a Church get behind the pulpit and explain what is expected of his congregation is legitimate and necessary if the Church is to function properly. Pull giving is when an individual feels called to give to certain causes. This type of giving is what often gets people excited, as donating a goat to someone in Haiti is much more interesting than paying for the AC in the sanctuary during services. (Something my Church could stand to do a little less of. It's FREEZING in there on Sunday mornings, regardless of season.)

I guess that's it. Questions? Comments? Suggestions?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Humility.

Many apologies for the fact that this is incredibly disjointed and, at times, almost incoherent. This post is entirely about me getting a lot of thoughts out that I've encountered over the last couple of days. Maybe you'll get something out of it too, but that's not my primary goal.

Often times, if we take a moment to reflect on some event in our lives we can see God working gently and mysteriously in the background. He seems to have a way of taking situations that might not seem ideal at face value and work them out for the benefit of our relationship with Him in one way or another. I think it's fair to say that often (or even most of the time), God works in deliberate, but very subtle ways.

Occasionally, He doesn't.

The last week fall under the "incredibly obvious" category for me. What began with an instant message from my brother asking if I might be interested in flying across the country on a Wednesday to drive some high schoolers back on Friday from a Young Life trip resulted in what has been one of the more powerful experiences I've ever had.

That instant message conversation took place last week Friday, and my initial reaction was to respectfully decline, citing the loss in pay from missing two days of work as my rationale. It just didn't make a whole lot of sense for me to pick up and go. I told him that if no one else was available and the situation was urgent I might be able to reconsider.

Sunday morning I attended Church in the morning with Tyler and received a sermon that was supposedly about unity within the Church, but in actuality was focused on the sin of pride (as one of the primary reasons for lack of unity). Though the delivery wasn't entirely to my taste, the message was powerful. Pride kills. It eats at you from the inside, and it doesn't let go easily. I came away humbled and introspective about the fact that pride is something I struggle with constantly. It's not a week by week, or even day by day, struggle for me, but minute by minute. I see myself as a pretty good guy and tend to judge others accordingly.

Monday morning brought the call I had an inkling would be coming: there really was an urgent need for another person to help drive kids home. (I won't go into deep detail for many reasons, but I discovered that one of the leaders on the South Christian Young Life Wilderness trip in Colorado was no longer available as a driver for the return trip. The entire situation begs for prayer, both for the South Christian community and for the individuals and families involved.) I was informed that we could fly out Thursday afternoon so I would only miss a day and a half of work, and we would meet up with the group in Cheyenne, Wyoming on Friday to begin the 18 hour drive home.

I agreed, seeing a unique opportunity not only for few free plane rides but also a potentially fun road-trip and the chance to help out some people that clearly needed it at the time.

It wasn't clear to me until we met up with the group how much we were actually needed, though. The students were upbeat, but several of the leaders, being closer to the situation concerning the missing driver, had obviously been wrestling with the tidal wave of information that had been unleashed upon them over the course of the previous week. They were tired and worn out, emotionally, physically, and especially spiritually.

It was at this point that my true lesson in humility began.

In my mind, I was doing an honorable thing. I was taking time out of my (admittedly not very busy) schedule to fly to Wyoming and help drive the eighteen hours home less than a day after my arrival. I was a little bit tired, and my long body wasn't exactly comfortable in the driver's seat for three or four hours at a time. If ever there was a time for me to feel good about myself, this is it, right? (For the record, I'm not implying that it was a bad thing for me to agree to help out. I am saying that my attitude was all wrong.)

In the midst of this situation though, in talking to some of the students and leaders, I began to realize that I was completely out of line. Not only had this group spent the last few days dealing with what was an incredibly gut-wrenching situation with someone they all knew and loved, but they had been sleeping in tents for a week, hiking during the day, and putting themselves into some of the most uncomfortable positions possible, not to mention the fact that they had ridden in the vans for a full three hours before Timm and I even joined them. What right did I have to be proud of the sacrifices I was making?

My lessons didn't stop there. I was constantly bombarded with offers to make myself more comfortable. I was given a purse, a backpack, and several articles of clothing to use as makeshift pillows during the leg of the trip where I attempted to get some rest. I was asked if the music was too loud for me to sleep. The list goes on, and each offer came with a smile. All from folks who, in my opinion at least, had every reason to sulk and complain for the entire duration of the trip. I only hope I was able to help lighten some of the burden every once of them must have been feeling.

All in all, I had a blast. It was a great group of people, they helped to teach me a priceless lesson, and I hope I'm at the top of their list of people to call if they need someone to fly out to Cheyenne and help drive them home on short notice.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Water.

For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, --Matthew 25:42

Living as Christians in the United States, we often think of water as a metaphor. Pastors tell us to consider "living water" and how it paints a picture of grace and salvation. Community leaders explain that new funds will act as renewing water, bringing life back to an area that has gradually transformed into a rough or poor part of town. The list goes on and on. We see water as a symbol of purity, of beauty, and of nourishment.

The strange thing, to me at least, is that most people in the world, when pondering water and its qualities, think of just one thing: H2O. The clear, wet stuff you get from a lake, a creek, a well, or the sky. It is something to be obsessed over, simply because it is so rare. This isn't strange because it's odd to consider water literally, but because we so rarely do. Sure, we think to ourselves once or twice a day, "Hmm, I'm thirsty. I could go for a glass of water." or "I should really turn on the sprinklers, the grass looks a little brown." but rarely "I need water right now."

I went golfing over the weekend in Wisconsin. Tyler's dad got us a reservation at Blackwolf Run, one of the nicer courses in the country. (Need proof? They're playing the Women's PGA Championship there soon.) Besides the wind that conjured up a sandstorm or two, which I wouldn't have had to deal with at all had I avoided a hundred yard long bunker, it was fantastic weather. The sun was shining, and the thermometers topped out at around 90-92ish degrees. Some holes went well (I had a birdie and a few pars), and others not so well (I had a 10, an 8, and way too many 7's), but one theme remained constant throughout the round: incredible thirst.

I'm not going to claim that I was on the verge of extreme dehydration, but I took advantage of the water coolers at alternating holes without fail, and often multiple times. It was shocking to me how thirsty I could get within the 20-30 minutes it took us to play two holes of golf.

While having a little pity party for myself, trying to keep my spirits high, while waiting for my turn to take a whack at my ball I realized that the slight dehydration I was feeling is what many in this world feel at best over the course of a day.

This isn't the first time I've thought about the problem of water scarcity, or even the first time that I've decided I should play a part in alleviating its effects, but I'm going to make a mental note now that I plan to actually try to do something about it at some point. I am in a position now where I can contribute monetarily a bit through my tithing, but someday I will do more than that. I'd appreciate it if someone could give me a call or shoot me an email in 5-10 years and ask how I'm doing with that commitment.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summertime.

My summer is turning out like most of my summers recently. Lots of huge plans at the beginning, transitioning into an 8-5 workday that leaves evenings for whatever sounds good at the time. Unfortunately, I'm not dedicated enough to my big plans to follow through on them when the rubber hits the road, so many of them never come to fruition.

Lots of the activities I planned to partake in over the summer have been done, though. I've played beach volleyball a few times, explored Grand Rapids a bit, and begun to check out some of the restaurants around the city that I didn't even know existed just a couple months ago.

I took a quick look at iPhone development, though Objective-C is completely foreign to me and it'll take a long time before I'm comfortable enough with it to make anything useful. That's one of those things I want to do, but am not in the mood to do when I have the time.

There have been a couple weddings already this summer that I've had the privilege of attending, and they were both fantastic. It's great to see friends make that kind of commitment to each other, and it should be just as great to watch them to continue to grow together. I also have the incredible privilege of standing up in a great friend's wedding in six weeks or so, and I can't wait. I still need to work on my speech a bit, though... it's gotta be perfect!

The rest of my time has been spent watching The Wire and playing Ken Griffey Baseball '93 on SNES. My apologies for being so disjointed, but that's kinda the way things have gone lately.

As far as things of actual importance go (I'm not trying to imply that marriages and The Wire aren't important), I've heard a few great sermons lately. This morning's was about Elijah passing on his ministry to Elisha, and a lot of points were brought up that I never would have picked up on. Many small details that require a knowledge of the time and culture.

More poignant, however, was my pastor's challenge to look at who in our lives is training us and grooming us to be his or her successor, and who we are grooming to be ours. I have a whole laundry list of people that have helped me, and continue to help me, grow in my faith. What I don't have yet is anyone that I consciously try to help in that way. I always tend to think that that type of relationship will come later on in life, but as my pastor mentioned, we really only need to be a step or two in front of someone in their faith journey to be a resource for them. I hope I can fill that role for someone at some point.

Hope everyone is having a wonderful summer!

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Slowing Down and Big Choices

Things are just starting to settle down after a ridiculously hectic couple weeks. In the last ten days I have:
  • Finished college
  • Left a job
  • Started a new job
  • Moved out of a house
  • Moved "into" an apartment (sortof... my stuff is there except for my bed and clothes, and I'm staying at home until my family gets back from Maine)
  • Helped some others move
  • Ordered a new computer
  • Fixed a computer
  • Helped take the roof off a house
  • Moved my senior design project to the fieldhouse
  • Attended an open house
  • The list goes on.
It's been busy, but I spent today sleeping, mowing the lawn (until I ran out of gas... I'll have to fill up in the next couple days and finish off the other side of the front yard), washing my car, watching TV, and sleeping a little more. It feels good.

As I mentioned above, I also ordered a new computer. I'm always excited for this kind of thing, but I'm especially excited this time. It's been about three and a half years since I got my laptop, and since my second battery is already kaput (lasts no longer than 5 minutes unplugged) I'm looking forward to being able to use my computer without being tethered to the wall.

I may have gone off the deep end a little bit, but I decided to go with a MacBook Pro. I will admit, part of the reason is that they're just so undeniably gorgeous, but I have a few of what I consider to be legitimate reasons for spending so much money on a computer.

The first is that I want to have the option of using Mac OS X. I'll be working towards my masters degree in Computer Science & Engineering this fall, and I'd like to be able to test out my skills on iPhone/iPod (and iPad now I guess...) apps. Unfortunately that's impossible to do in Windows, so it was a choice of either not having that option at all, or spending the money on something like a Mac Mini later on, which I would see as a complete waste.

The second reason is the battery life. According to Apple.com, the 15" MacBook Pro gets approximately 8-9 hours of battery life. While I'm sure that's not the case under normal usage, even at six hours it's still two or three times that of any comparable notebook. I want to be able to take it to classes, meetings, etc. without having to worry constantly about whether there will be a place to plug in near my seat.

Also, the screen was a huge factor for me. While I'm sure there are other laptops out there with comparable (or better) screens, I've heard nothing but good things about the upgraded high-definition matte screen I opted for. If I'm going to be staring at something for a few hours every day for the next few years, I'm going to make sure that it's not going to act like a mirror.

Finally, the build quality and the feel of the MacBook Pro is superb. The touchpad is a dream, and the keyboard is fantastic, although it may take some time to get used to.

I do have a few gripes already about it even though I haven't received it in the mail yet. (I should get it next Thursday...) The first is the hard drive speed. If I'm spending this much money on a laptop, the least Apple could do is throw in a 7200 rpm drive. It wouldn't add that much to the cost, and it would speed things up quite a bit, albeit probably at the expense of some of that precious battery life. The second is the surprising lack of ports. I could use more than 2 USB ports, thank you very much. I know some people have complained about the lack of Blu-Ray support, and I guess it would be nice, but I don't watch many rented movies on my laptop now, so I don't see it being all that big of an issue. My biggest complaint though, is the lack of a VGA or DVI port. I understand that Steve Jobs thinks the MiniDisplay Port is the be-all and end-all of display ports, but almost nothing uses it currently, and it's ridiculous that I should have to buy a $30 adapter just to be able to connect my laptop to a monitor.

Any thoughts you might have of me turning into some sort of Apple fanboy can be put aside, as I'll be installing Windows 7 on it as quickly as possible. I'm just not ready to give that up yet, and I probably never will be. Anyway, I'll probably end up writing my own review or something once I've used it a bit, but we'll see.

It's almost dinner time and then I'm off to a movie. If you've got any comments on my laptop of choice, please share!

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Data.

Just a few things I want to get down on this beautiful Sunday morning.

The first thing relates my graduation yesterday to the sermon we had in Church this morning. Our pastor preached on Godly leadership and how important that is in our lives. As a new college graduate, even though I'll be continuing my education, I have been put in a position that will someday allow me to lead others. That realization has been weighing on me more than most as I make a transition in my life, and I really don't feel like I'm quite ready for it yet. I have a lot to learn about discernment, asking for advice, making wise decisions, and taking on the responsibility of people that I might be leading, and I need to make a very conscious effort to develop and grow those abilities within the next few years especially.

Next, I just wanted to mention a little "aha" moment I had while singing in Church this morning. In a conversation last night I spent a lot of time discussing how I need my faith to be based in logic and strong conviction rather than a whole lot of emotion. I have a hard time getting extremely emotional in Church because often I see that as something that clouds my judgment (which can be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on the situation). I never want to be in a situation where my faith is so based on the good feelings I get from worship that when things get rough it falls apart. God took me aback this morning with a little revelation on this very subject. We were singing the song "The Solid Rock," which includes the following line: "When darkness seems to hide his face, I rest on his unchanging grace." That's awesome.

Emotion is great, and when things are going well, or even when they're going poorly, feeling close to God is one of the greatest ways that our faith can be strengthened. However, when God seems to be far away, we can still have comfort in the fact that our faith is firmly grounded in God's grace.

My final subject is something that I've discovered about myself just in the last few weeks or so. I suppose I knew all along that it was true, but was never able to really nail it down specifically. I've come to realize that I am fantastic at finding data, processing it, and producing a tangible result, but I'm awful at preserving that data mentally for use at a later time. For instance: if a professor gives me a test, I can usually do a good job of taking the information provided in the question, apply the processes and techniques I've been taught, and come up with a solution. If you came back to me later on and asked me what the numbers were or what exactly I did to get to my solution, I'd probably have a relatively difficult time recalling.

I'm still not quite sure to make of this, but I think it's at least something good to know as I start to think about what kinds of jobs I might be good at in the future.

That's all for now. If you're from around here, enjoy the fantastic Michigan weather this week. Low eighties without a cloud in sight.