Sunday, May 22, 2011

Comfort Zones.

I've officially been here for over a week now, so I'm starting to get a little bit of a feel for what the rest of my summer will be like. (Except for the mass exodus of interns that will be coming, evidently while I'm in San Diego with my family, to spice things up.) Even after a week, I'm already finding myself outside my comfort zone enough to feel some growth beginning to happen.

I always find it interesting how just being stretched and mildly uncomfortable (not necessarily in a bad way) in one area of my life has the potential to force me to rethink most of the others. Simply getting on a plane and flying five hours west has put me in a situation where I'm thinking a lot more deliberately about my faith, my professional goals, my social skills, and so on.

The biggest thing I've been thinking about was brought up in Church last week, and is the idea of being "in the world, but not of it." (If you remembered that I mentioned I would talk about this in my last post, double brownie points!) Getting out of the Grand Rapids/Calvin College bubble has put that on my heart in a huge way, and it's a subject that, while incredibly important, really has no easy answers.

If I had to take a shot at what the best way to approach being a light in the darkness of society, my answer would be three-fold:
  1. Be an example as much as possible without getting in people's faces about it. Being very outspoken all the time is a great way to turn people off to the gospel. Do as much right as you can, with the Spirit's help, and allow your actions to speak louder than your words.
  2. Jump on opportunities to share your faith when they arise.
  3. Pray.
Certainly different situations call for different approaches, and being more forward and demonstrative can be necessary at times, but often those types of obvious displays of piety can cause more harm than good.

This morning, I was unable to make it to Church due to my current housing situation (had to change rooms at 11am), but I listened to a sermon from Mars Hill a couple weeks ago about works righteousness vs. gift righteousness, and came away convicted. A lot of the time, we think about our actions, how right they are, how good a job we're doing, and how great a job we're doing at being cities on a hill. Unfortunately, that attitude is destructive as well. Looking down on people is never the answer.

So that's what I've been thinking about. Questions? Comments? Concerns on my worldview? Do share!

Monday, May 16, 2011

Great Reminders

The past couple days have been gigantic blessings, to the extent that I find myself in awe once again. I'd love to pen some epic oration that expresses my wonder at the providence of the Lord, but I'm already getting a bit tired (8:30pm here... I'm a lame-o). So, in lieu of that work of art, here's another list (I know, lame.) that will hopefully get some of my gratitude. So without further introduction, here are just a few of the blessings that have been heaped upon me.
  • Sunday morning's worship service at Michael and Sarah's church was fantastic. Their pastor preached on the importance of being "in but not of" the world, and made a lot of great points that I think have been skipped over in other sermons I've heard on the topic. I always thought I understood that passage, but he brought it to a whole new level. So many nuances to that passage that really need to be teased out before you can fully catch what's going on. I'll try to remember to write up my specific thoughts on that sometime soon.
  • Michael and Sarah were once again incredibly gracious in taking me on a walking tour of downtown Palo Alto, introducing me to the tri-tip sandwich, and giving me my first taste of California froyo. All great things.
  • I was also provided with an extra measure of comfort and patience this morning as I was told the room I thought was reserved for me was, in fact, not. But, one large payment for 16 days of a hotel/motel/dormish room later, I'm safely settled in, and should be able to find a room mate (and the 50% reduction in room cost that comes with that) within the next week or two. Normally in situations like that I find myself panicing, especially since I can't just go crash at my parents' house this time, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that my blood pressure hadn't gone through the roof after getting everything sorted.
  • Finally, after wondering for most of the day how long it would take me to walk to the grocery store so I could stock up on a little bit of food, Michael and Sarah offered to take me home for dinner once again, and even took me to the store. (I was not blessed with Michigan grocery prices though... California is expensive in every way, shape, and form.)
It's strange, and a little disconcerting, to be this far from home, but everything so far has either worked out as well as I could have imagined, or at least been sorted out in a way that all of my creature comforts are taken care of, even if it is costing me a bit more than I expected.

I'll also try to give a little bit of background on the types of work I'm doing, at least as much as I'm allowed to say, some time soon as well. There are lots if intriguing projects going on here, so it's going to be fun getting my hands dirty on some real world stuff here pretty soon.

Also, if anyone wants to skype at some point, let me know and we'll set it up! The internet in my room now appears to be reasonably quick and reliable, so I think it would work fine.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Adventureland

This blog is probably going to morph into something more like a journal over the next few months as I use it to document what I'm up to for family and friends to keep track of. If you have a problem with that, feel free to ignore everything I write from now through the beginning of September.

Yesterday was a long day. Got up at 4:45am ET, finished a little bit of packing, and headed on over to the airport. Both of my flights were on time, and I got an exit row seat on the first, so I was good and stretched out, at least for the start of the second leg of the trip. The first flight took me from Grand Rapids to Minneapolis, and the second dropped me off in beautiful San Francisco. (Technically just south of it.)

The weather yesterday could not have been much better, at least until it started to drizzle in the evening. High 50's, some sun, and a light breeze: pure bliss. The forecast is a little shakier for the next couple of days, with the possibility of some thunderstorms, which I'm told are very rare here, but that's fine. It looks like I brought a little bit of Michigan along with me.

After Michael (my cousin) picked me up at SFO, he took me over to Stanford's campus (gorgeous place) for an event being held by BUILD, which is where Sarah (Michael's wife) works. Great organization that helps to teach high schoolers about how to run businesses. At the event, teams were participating in a business plan competition as well as setting up small stores to sell products they had created, such as water bottles, phone holsters, and t-shirts. Very cool to see them all so excited about their projects.

The other main reason for stopping by there was the fact that they had food, and I hadn't eaten for 9 hours. Huge sandwiches were provided, so I was covered.

From there Michael took me on a driving/walking tour of Palo Alto and Mountain View with Andrew (Michael and Sarah's 1 year old son). I got to hang out and read some books with Andrew while Michael got his eyes checked, although he was more interested in banging a water bottle against the table than paying attention to the books. Can't blame him, he's good at it.

The final activities of the night were dinner at In-n-Out (double double animal style), which was delicious, and a viewing of The Informant over a bottle of Anchor beer. Got the whole story behind the Anchor brewery, and while I don't consider myself a beer connoisseur, it does taste just a little bit better when you have some sense of a specific beer's history.

Unsurprisingly, my body decided that despite the 21 hour day yesterday 6:30 would be a good time to wake up, so now I'm hanging out until heading to church with Michael and Sarah, grabbing some tri tip sandwiches (I have no idea either, but supposedly they're fantastic), and relaxing before I start work tomorrow morning.

I'm also quickly building up a list of "must-sees" in the area, so if you can think of anything that should go on there, be sure to let me know. I don't have a car, but I'm sure some of the other interns will have them and will be looking to see as much of norcal as they can as well.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Paradox of Service

I'll be honest, I sit around altogether too much. I've been doing better lately (or at least it seems that way) as I've been busy working on school, taking care of errands, and trying to keep myself in some sort of decent shape. One thing I don't do enough of at this point is serving others. Serving can take a ton of different forms, and occur in numerous settings, but it can be difficult for me to find things that I "can fit in my schedule" and that I really want to do.

Both of those excuses are matters of the heart. As many wise people have said,
If you want to know where someone's priorities are, look at where they spend their time.
Another similar proverb says the same, but substitutes money for time. Both are equally true. Look at someone's calendar or checkbook and it is easy to see what he or she values.

That's not the main topic I want to address now though. In considering what types of service I should be doing, all kinds of past sermons and lessons come flooding back. Most of these seem to center on one of two things:
  1. You should be focusing on serving where your gifts will be used to the fullest.
  2. Here are some causes that need help, and you should help them even if it makes you uncomfortable.
The problem is that these can contradict each other in many situations.

For me personally, certain areas of service are highly unappealing. A lot of situations make me uncomfortable, regardless of whether that feeling is rational or not. Service opportunities that involve a lot of person to person contact make me cringe. It's not that I don't want to help people, it's just a part of who I am. (More on this in a moment.)

On the other hand, service opportunities that let me be more "behind the scenes" are great. I was blessed to take part in my Church's stewardship committee for several months, and thoroughly enjoyed every minute of it. I love donating money and other resources when I have them available. These types of "safe service" are essential, and they get me excited.

So the question I'm left with is, "Is that enough?" Is it enough to remain behind the scenes instead of going out onto the front lines of service? Is it ok to look at a potential need and come to the conclusion that someone else is probably a better fit for that specific situation, so I'll leave it to them, while focusing on the things that I do best?

The answer is certainly somewhere between the two, but it's something I struggle with a lot. Stretching ourselves is vital, but so is using our gifts to the best of our abilities. Maybe the key is to focus on service that takes advantages of our strengths, occasionally make an effort to take on a challenge that we know will make us uncomfortable, and allow our focus to evolve as those challenges open new opportunities for us.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Is Impossibility Possible?

One of my best friends requested that I write on this topic about a week ago. I thought about just sitting down to pound it out, but I figured it would be a better idea to take some time to actually think about what I actually believe and why.

The question was:
Is it possible for something to be impossible?

There are two different sides to this question. There is the strictly physical, mathematical side, as well as the metaphysical, spiritual side. I'll start with the former, as it is a little easier to tackle.

The word "impossible," at its core, requires a level of certainty and proof that human beings are incapable of providing. I read not long ago science, at its core, is wholly incapable of showing certain black-and-white facts to be true, but incredibly adept at proving opposing facts to be false.

Take gravity for instance. General knowledge says, "Gravity causes anything with mass to fall to the ground." Science says, "In every recorded trial, something has caused anything with mass to fall to the ground." (Obviously simplified, ignoring buoyancy, etc.) It cannot say anything more. There is no way to say with absolute certainty that the NEXT trial will not be the one that sees a block of steel float in the air, against conventional wisdom and thousands of years of science.

What science can say, without hesitation, is that there is no physical law that will cause that block of steel to float in opposition to what we have named gravity all of the time. If you have a hard time believing this, hold something heavy over your foot and try to tell me that you have mathematically proven gravity does not exist. The chances of that object resisting gravity are as close to zero as we can comprehend.

So my answer to whether something can be impossible in the physical world is yes, even though we may not be able to determine with perfect certainty what those things are. For all intents and purposes, there is a zero percent chance that you will fall through the center of the earth at any given moment and end up in Asia unharmed.

The metaphysical side of the question is where you will get different answers depending on who you talk to. (There may be some dispute over the physical world definition of impossibility, but probably not a whole lot.) It really all comes down to what you believe. As a Christian, I am compelled to believe that at any moment, God is in control of every single minute detail of the universe. Miracles have happened and continue to happen, and they are, by definition, impossibilities made real.

As a scientist and engineer, this can be a tough pill to swallow. Miracles are not easily found, and are impossible to conclusively classify as such. However, the Christian faith requires miracles. Without miracles, there is no resurrection, and there is no salvation.

Such is life with the knowledge of an omnipotent God. So is it possible for something to be impossible? Yes, in the absence of divine intervention.