Poor Little Things

Objectifying people is wrong. Most everyone knows and agrees with that. There has been an amazing movement in our society toward becoming more aware of how we objectify women and limit their freedom of expression. We’re also beginning to understand how social media objectifies people and turns them into consumer products. We sure have a long way to go to view all people as subjective beings, but I think we’re headed in a great direction.

However, there is a certain objectification that happens within American Christianity that I believe we are completely unaware of. These thoughts of mine are still in development, but like most of what I write about, I’d like to inspire discussion so we can see if any of these ideas have validity. My hypothesis is that we in American Christianity can tend to objectify the poor, the starving, and, in general, the poorest of the poor in the third world. And we do this in a few different ways:

 

How we view spiritual needs versus physical needs

We are extremely comfortable in America. We complain about our jobs, airline food, and reality television because we literally have nothing else to complain about. Our phone batteries die too soon. Our McDoubles weren’t brought out to us quick enough. There’s a speck in my water! So with all of our physical needs provided for, we still have to have a reason for religion.

In the ancient world, the reason for religion was clear. People would sacrifice to the gods because they believed that if they didn’t please the gods, they wouldn’t have a harvest of crops, and they would die. So keeping the gods happy was important. The ancient Israelites were in constant threat of extinction, so they made sacrifices to God because they wanted God to help take out their enemies, and not to dinner.

In Jesus’ time, the reason for the Jewish religion was so that God would bring about justice to the world and God would finally establish his kingdom and glorify his people who have gone through thousands of years of adversity. Religion was always about God providing for his people. But Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of God was one that said that God’s justice is for all people in this world.

Today in America, where we have little need for God to supernaturally provide for our physical needs in this life, we believe God’s provision is about our individual spiritual needs, and that means forgiveness of sin. But that thinking doesn’t really apply to the poor whose physical needs are more pressing than their spiritual needs. But we still stress the importance of forgiveness of sins for those people when that isn’t what they’re looking for. We create a dichotomy between spiritual needs and physical needs when God’s provision addresses both at the same time.

 

The American narratives that we perpetuate

Consider some of our Christian buzz phrases: “God will never give you more than you can handle;” “God has a plan to prosper you and he has a purpose for your life;” “Bless the Lord, and he will bless you.” That last one’s a little less common and accepted, and the first one is on it’s way out. But while many people are wondering where their next meal is coming from, we Americans are telling our kids to follow God’s plan for their lives. (The Christian way of saying “follow your dreams.”) These ideas of prosperity and good plans don’t seem to apply to the poor third world. At least, not in this life where they’re not always sure if they’ll even live to see tomorrow.

How fortunate we are to even be able to think about longterm goals! How fortunate we are to have time to pray, read the Scriptures, and build a relationship with God so that he can apparently reveal those longterm plans to us. How can we say we have to listen to God to find out who we’re going to marry, which college to go to, which job to apply for if for many other people, they have to live like they might lose everything at any moment? If God isn’t telling them every specific detail about how he wants them to live their lives, how can we say that it’s because their not connected to God enough?

If we convert a poor person to Christianity, are we going to tell them the same things we tell more prosperous people? They have to get plugged in with a faith community now, and they have to become a member and serve in the church, and they have to tithe to the church. Of course we’re not going to tell them that. But for us American Christians, getting involved with a church and tithing to it are vital. If it’s vital for Christians to do those things, why isn’t it vital for everyone? The things we believe and narratives we perpetuate cannot be so black and white.

 

Our view of the afterlife

The traditional view of the afterlife is one that suggests that we go somewhere after we die. We either go to heaven or hell after we die. This thinking isn’t unique to Christianity. Many people who aren’t even necessarily religious think there might be some kind of afterlife. For American Christians, the afterlife has become a priority. We ask evangelistic questions like, “If you were to die tonight, do you know where you’d go?” So with much of the focus on the afterlife, our purpose becomes making sure everyone ends up going to the right place after they die.

However, that doesn’t make much sense in light of how we talk about the poverty-stricken in the third world. Many of us cannot physically present the gospel to the third world because distance is a factor. So we donate to charities that give them fresh water and food and clothes because that’s what Jesus told us to do and that’s how we become more like Christ. Could that be a form of exploitation, though? Doing good things makes us look more like Jesus, but if we only do good things just to make us look more like Jesus, that’s very individualistic and egocentric. Our view of the afterlife is so prominent, but the third world isn’t necessarily aware of their need for a savior from their sins. In American Christianity, doing good things for the third world isn’t about ushering in the Kingdom of God on earth. It’s about our individual Christlikeness. And so the third world people become objects that we use to make ourselves more Christlike.

The Kingdom of God is not just about an afterlife. It’s not just about God forgiving individuals of their sins. It’s about God removing the sins of the entire world and bringing about justice so there are no more tears and no more pain. We cannot view the world through the lens of American culture and comfort. We cannot impress spiritual needs on people as if they are separate from physical needs. We must remember that God is the good provider for all and that he can use his Church (if we’re willing), not to call them out of the world, but to bless the world for the sake of the world. And then one day, we can see God’s Kingdom come in this world and we’ll see justice for a Church of all tribes and tongues.

The Space in Dichotomy

In February 2014, Bill Nye and Ken Ham debated at the Creation Museum about whether or not young earth creationism is a viable alternative to evolution science as an explanation of origins. The Science Guy has recently commented that even if he goes to hell, he still wouldn’t accept young earth creationism as truth. Christians are meant to respond to this in one of only a few different ways. Some say, “Pray for Bill Nye.” Others respond with, “He’ll eat those words.” But what about a different response? What can we learn from Bill Nye?

Christians are very good at created dichotomies. There’s us and there’s them. Christians versus the world. There’s Christian music and secular music. We have Christian movies and secular movies. You either love God or hate God and probably everyone else. There’s creation science and evolution science. Everything is either black or white, and one thing is right and good but the other thing is wrong and sinful.

But there is a danger in dichotomies because they make the assumption that one perspective is absolutely right and any challenge to it is absolutely wrong. Either you’re all in or you’re all out. There is no spectrum, no space for good questions, not really even room for logic and critical thought.

So when Ken Ham and Bill Nye have a debate, there is an assumption made that everyone watching must agree with either Ken Ham or Bill Nye. There’s no in between. And this is bad because it means that there’s no place for questions and doubts and even scientific discovery in Christianity.

Obviously, most Christians allow for questions and doubts, but mostly those questions come from emotional doubt. People are allowed to question why a good God would let bad things happen. They’re allowed to wonder if God really loves them. They’re even allowed to get angry with God sometimes. But there are times when intellectual questions and doubts are unacceptable in the church. Emotional doubt is easier to deal with according to the way Christians approach it. They just require counseling. But intellectual doubts require debate and defense, and intellectual questions are considered more offensive and instigating than thoughtful.

So when Bill Nye thinks that he must accept young earth creationism in order for God to not punish him for all eternity, there’s a huge problem with that. I don’t want to generalize, but many intellectual atheists close themselves off to the gospel simply because they think if they accept Jesus, they’ll have to accept everything our culture has grouped with Jesus. They think they have to believe the earth is only 6000 years old, they have to believe that the entire Bible is dictated by God, they have to believe that there are no errors or contradictions in the Scriptures, they have to vote Republican, they have to watch Christian movies and listen to the Fish, they have to shop at Lifeway bookstores, they have to listen to “good” celebrity pastors (Francis Chan and John Piper) and avoid “bad” celebrity pastors (Joel Osteen and Rob Bell), they have to believe that some of their family and friends are going to burn in hell for all of eternity, and so on, because we give off the impression that if they deny one aspect of our American evangelical culture, then they’re rejecting it all.

In Galatians, Paul is addressing the Jewish Christians and their belief that in order for Gentile Christians to join God’s people, they must be circumcised and they must follow the Law of Moses. They either have to be all in with Jewish culture, or they can’t be in at all. Paul writes in Galatians 3, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” These dichotomies break down under Christ. There is a spectrum of beliefs, but they are all unified in Christ. Under Christ, there is room for questions, and there is space in between the dichotomies where we can still encounter God and each other in amazingly new and fresh ways. But what does unity look like?

I believe we can all unite around the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. Even most non-Christian people would say these are all very good things. So why don’t we unite around these virtues? Godly love is the kind of love that desires growth of the Fruits of the Spirit in all people because these things are good. Beliefs are incredibly important, but if your beliefs inhibit you from expressing good things, then perhaps you need to reexamine those beliefs. If we, as Christians, are focused on the Fruits rather than self-preservation, then I believe that God will use us to bless this world with a love that endures.

If you want to hear some good opinions on unity I urge you to listen to the latest Liturgists Podcast.

Technology and Relationships, Part 4 — Oversharing

When it comes to these blogs, I’m realizing I’m all talk. I do a lot of thinking, a lot of writing, and a lot of talking, but not a lot of doing. In fact, I end up taking pride in the things I’m not doing because it’s a lot easier to not do easy things than it is to do hard things. For example, I like that I don’t look at my phone all the time or really look at it at all when I’m hanging out with friends. I like that I don’t overshare things on social media or post passive aggressive thoughts.

But I’m not doing the things that I say we all should do. I’m not sharing encouraging words with people when I should be. I’m not meeting new people or engaging with them. I’m not relating with my family or my neighborhood like I think I should. That’s because these things are harder than we think they are, but they are so, so important. It’s important to treat people like people, give them the gift of a conversation, and challenge them outside their comfort zone. Maybe the reason we don’t trust each other is because we just don’t talk to each other. I’m getting preachy, but it’s okay when I’m preaching to myself, too, right? I know inspirational words aren’t all that effective. Sometimes you just gotta do it. Getting started is the hardest thing to do.

All this to say, I’m a hypocrite. This post is about identity and how we create false external identities online, but the irony is that these posts are my version of doing the same thing. Maybe we can figure out together some solutions to the problems I’m presenting.

I mentioned oversharing and having phones out when with other people. I had a discussion with my dad the other day who observed a family out to dinner. The mother was struggling with their children while during the entire mealtime the father had his phone out taking photos, posting on social media, playing games or whatever he was doing. He might have been a little disconnected, but at least he was taking photos of his family, right?

In this day and age, we can very easily document things. Just snap a photo, or take a video, and post it to Facebook or Instagram. And that means we’ll document everything. Every meal we eat, every concert we go to, every friend we hang out with. Everything must be documented. But why? When people post videos, are they posting them for posterity? So they can go back in a few months or years to see it again? To relive that moment at that concert? I don’t think so. It would be a little cumbersome to scroll all the way back down on a Facebook timeline just for some nostalgia. No. It’s so other people can see that they ate that meal, or went to that concert, or hung out with that friend. It’s all about letting people know that they are the kind of people who would do those things, and letting as many people know as possible.

I remember reading an article about a teenager who almost committed suicide because he couldn’t take the perfect selfie. I don’t know how true the article was, but it made the point that selfies and social media can become addictive. The reason behind it is that it gives us the illusion that all eyes are on us. When we post that video, all of our friends can see it, and to us that might mean that everyone did see it. We feel rewarded when we get likes or favorites. Our self-image relies on what we post, and our self-worth relies on how people respond. It’s almost like our very identities have a simple rating system.

So the kid who almost killed himself was sent to social media rehab where they asked him to walk down the street without his phone. He quickly realized that not every eye was on him. No one cared how he looked and no one was judging him. How differently can we relate with others when we’re not so concerned with our external appearance or how we portray ourselves on social media? We are not images. We are stories.

Relationships and Technology, Part 3 — Awkward

I was once having a conversation with a friend’s preteen daughter.We were talking about smartphones and how I take an obnoxious amount of pride in having made it this long without owning one.

I explained to her that I have enough to distract me in life. I definitely don’t need to carry around my distractions in my pocket. Always having Facebook with me kind of ruins its novelty, right? Whatever that means.

“But what if you’re at a party and you’re by a group of people you don’t know?” she asked. “You don’t have a smartphone to play on. It would be awkward.”

“I’d go and introduce myself,” I responded along with the mandatory ‘duh’ tone and ‘you crazy whippersnappers’ mentality.

“No!” she squealed (as preteen girls tend to do in recounted tales). “That’s so creepy!”

Now I know I’m young, but as a run-of-the-millennial twenty-three-year-old, I can pretend I’m entitled to believe I have the whole world figured out. And it just seems like it would be a scary world to live in where it’s considered creepy to introduce yourself to someone.

Years ago, I don’t really remember awkward as being a thing. I mean, it may have been because of my limited vocabulary (something that still really, really plagues me to this day and makes me super-duper mad), but the word awkward wasn’t thrown around like it is today. Most tweets in 2011 started with the words “That awkward moment when … ,” and girls are dropping that word like it summons Zac Efron (albeit three years late). Ever since Zooey Deschanel came out of the manic pixie dream girl closet, she’s become the spokesperson for awkward. Hipsters wear awkward as a fashion and now people are nerdy on purpose. It’s wild! Get off my lawn!

Why the sudden obsession with awkward? Why has awkward become so relatable, and even marketable? I think it’s because we now have a way to avoid it.

Like most bloggers my age, I don’t have any research to back up my claims, but perhaps it’s something I’ll look into more as my credentials start to include a little more than a credit card my parents co-signed. But consider this: now that we have our little rectangle awkward shields always with us in our pockets and purses, doesn’t it make sense that we’d become more prone to complaining about those awkward moments. I mean, think about how many “awkward moment” stories can start off with “So I didn’t have my phone with me …”. The line is almost required exposition to a story that ends in “It was soooo awkward!”

But what if we stop complaining about awkward or wearing it around like it’s the new trend? What if we stop thinking that every moment of silence must be filled? What would happen? In the pilot episode of How I Met Your Mother, Ted accidentally tells Robin that he loves her on their first date. It’s awkward and weird and silly and I told you about my limited vocabulary, and Robin rejects him. Sends him packing. After apologizing and it being made mutually clear that they’d probably just stay friends, Ted turns back to her and drops this blogable gem:

“You know what? I’m done being single, I’m not good at it. Look, obviously you can’t tell a woman you just met that you love her, but it sucks that you can’t. I’ll tell you something though, if a woman, not you, just some hypothetical woman, were to bear with me through all this, I think I’d make a damn good husband, because that’s the stuff I’d be good at. Stuff like making her laugh and being a good father and walking her five hypothetical dogs. Being a good kisser.”

Needless to say, she didn’t go running into his arms after that one. It’s not the most convincing argument, but maybe Ted’s right. Maybe we rely too heavily on first impressions and put too much pressure on people to not be awkward. Maybe now that we have the ability to bury our faces in our phones, we’re scaring ourselves away from having meaningful relationships. And perhaps the awkward encounter is worth the cost of a possible lasting friendship.

Really Wanna Stick it to Fred Phelps?

Fred Phelps, the founder of Westboro Baptist Church, just died yesterday and social media has blown up, as it tends to do with news like this. There’s talk of long-awaited peace, jokes about Phelps’s eternal fate, and plans to picket his funeral. So in the wake of a million other opinions in the forms of blogs, tweets, and Facebook updates, this is the last thing I’ll write about WBC. And you’ll find out why.

If you’re not familiar with WBC, you will be very quickly after a Google search. Just search images and you’ll find tons of pictures of those “GOD HATES FAGS” signs that I’m sure you’ve already seen on the news many times. So it’s no surprise that the death of the church’s founder is a reason for many to rejoice. There are families of soldiers who have had to endure their picketing at funerals, homosexuals who have had to listen to more messages of plain intolerance, and Christians who have felt very misrepresented by their hopeless rhetoric.

But there is practically no one besides WBC that agrees with WBC. Almost everyone would look at that group and say they are radical, disgusting, and wrong. They receive backlash no matter where they go. People are angry at them, and rightly so. So how do we stop a group like them? Do we hold up signs that say “WE HATE WBC”? Do we picket against them responding that “GOD LOVES EVERYONE”?

So you really wanna stick it to Fred Phelps? I propose the best protest against WBC is to do absolutely nothing. Don’t picket their picketing, don’t argue with them, and especially do not give them media coverage. They thrive on the attention, positive or negative. If they see a huge group of people coming out to protest against them, they must be thinking about how awesome it is how many people came just because of them. They’re practically celebrities. So let’s turn things around and not give them the time of day.

I know that’s easy for me to say considering I haven’t been personally affected by the group. I’m not saying that people who argue with WBC aren’t fully justified and I completely understand those who lash out at them. If someone disrespected my loved one’s funeral, I would probably react the same way. But let’s not react. Let’s take a breather, respond, and be the bigger man. If a child is crying, you don’t get them to stop by screaming at them. Don’t feed the troll. Don’t indulge the attention seeker.

In all honesty, this talk of picketing Fred Phelps’s funeral terrifies me. Protests at that funeral are exactly what they’re expecting, I’m sure. If WBC’s goal was to get attention, they’re succeeding. If it’s to spread hate, then they’re definitely succeeding. The truth is that we are just as worthy of love as WBC is. Their message is that nobody is capable of being loving, so let’s prove them wrong. What if we give them water when they’re thirsty? What if we choose not to disrespect their hero’s funeral despite how much they’ve disrespected our heroes’ funerals. It’s easy to build an army against them, but consider this: perhaps we enjoy hating WBC a little too much. As a society, lately we’ve been bonding over the things we hate. Let’s learn to love and teach to love.

Like I said, this would be the last thing I’d say about WBC. I wanna avoid giving them any more attention so they can stay out of our history books, we can just forget about them, and we can make them an inaudible voice of bitterness amidst a sea of voices shouting love.

Relationships and Technology, Part 2 — Risk and Reward

I want to clarify some things about these series of blogs I’m writing. These posts may seem a little technophobic, and maybe it’s because working at a historical farm has made me appreciate the 19th century a little more than I did before. But I swear I’m not a Luddite. In fact, I’m probably a little more addicted to social media than the average 22-year-old, and that’s saying a lot.

These blog posts are more so we can sort of take a step back and see how our society is influencing and being influenced by new technology. I’d love to spend more time looking at how cultures and languages change, and with the Internet, I can only imagine that change has been happening faster than ever. The things that are worrying me right now may not even be a concern for anyone ten years down the road because we may be so immersed in that technological culture that we can’t imagine any different. And that may be the case for us even today. We may be so consumed by our culture that we’re not concerned with thinking about it critically.

So that’s what I want to try to do with these posts: try to see what affect technology has had on how we relate with each other. Since I’ve been raised in this society, I’m more inclined to see the negative. Enjoy!

Less risk, more (or less) reward

I once got addicted to a game called Cookie Clicker. The concept starts out pretty simple: you click on the cookie, you get a cookie. (Not a real cookie. Sorry folks.) Over time, you can start spend cookies to buy grandmas to make more cookies, or factories to produce cookies, or alchemy labs to turn gold into cookies! Soon enough, you’re producing over a billion cookies per second! IT’S WILD!

If you don’t mind a little geek-speak, this is coming from a former crazed Nintendo fanboy. (Now, I’m just a nostalgic Nintendo fanboy.) Go back and play Super Mario Bros. It’s pretty challenging, and if you lose all your lives, you gotta go all the way back to the beginning. The original Japanese version of Super Mario Bros. 2 was so hard, they didn’t even release it in America at first. There are parts of the game that punish you for trying to short-cut (which is why I’ve never played that game again). Now, games give you a checkpoint every thirty seconds. The reward is way too great for the risk.

Ever played Flappy Bird? My high score is four. Not much risk involved in the kinds of games you play on your phone, but the reward is worth the few seconds you may waste. Cigarette addicts know cigarettes are bad for them, but instead of quitting, they might rationalize: “Eh, what’s just one more?” What’s just one more meme? One more tweet? One more second on Facebook? But we know seconds turn into hours, and now sitting and enjoying a good book is impossible because we have to wait until the end for the reward. Why put in the effort when I can get a reward every 140 characters?

So what does this have to do with relationships? Think about it, when you’re texting, it could take you an hour to communicate something that would take you a few minutes to say with a phone call. Also, texting lacks a majority of what makes up clear communication: body language and tone of voice. So then why text? Why’s it practical?

It’s because you’re risking less. What can you do while you talk to someone on the phone? Not a lot. You really just have to pay attention to the person on the phone. But texting makes it easier to multitask. You can listen to music or a podcast, watch TV, read a book, update your Facebook status, drive a car, have an entire Thanksgiving dinner with your family, etc. all while having a text conversation with someone. You could be texting with multiple people at once. And suddenly the person you’re talking to isn’t a priority. They’re a consumer product.

From this little technical advancement that was designed to make our lives simpler, we’ve learned to put little effort into relationships to get what we want: someone to text when we’re bored. Friends have become objects of entertainment, and relationships have been reduced to (abbreviated/misspelled) words on a screen. Just think of all of the new technology that has been designed to help us cut down on human interaction: self-checkouts, ATMs, those touch screens at Sheetz, among other things. That’s because human interaction is messy, challenging, and risky. It slows us down. But maybe we’re missing out on one amazing reward for the risk.

Relationships and Technology, Part 1 — Instant Gratification

In Spike Jonze’s latest film Her, Joaquin Phoenix’s character falls in love with an operating system named Samantha. Now, while it may seem reasonable that anything with the voice of Scarlett Johansson is worthy of love, Her is an exploration of human emotions and technology. It’s a cautionary tale that’s much more subtle than Orwell’s 1984 or Pixar’s Wall-E, but it could be just as unsettling: at some points in the film I would think to myself, Well, what’s so wrong about a guy loving his computer anyway? The film asks questions that may or may not be rhetorical, and in post-modern fashion, the viewer is allowed to interpret a response. And my response is that humans are emotional, reactive, and can’t get along, but desperately need each other. But our technology, as of late, seems to be stifling healthy relationships in people, and here’s how:

Instant gratification

This one’s easy and it’s what people have been talking about since the invention of the microwave. If you’ve seen American Hustle, you might remember the scene where off-brand Jason Bourne gives Bruce Wayne a brand new microwave. Wayne takes it home to his wife, 2013 Oscar Winner Katniss Everdeen, to whom he says, “Don’t put metal in the science oven.” Since the microwave doesn’t run on District 12’s coal, Katniss doesn’t know how to use it, and she ends up making her aluminum wrapped dinner explode.

Comedian Louis C.K. once told a story about when he was flying when they had just introduce in-flight wifi. During the flight, the wifi broke down and the guy sitting nearby started complaining about it, to which Louie thought, “It’s ridiculous how quickly the world owes him something he only knew about for the past ten minutes.”

Our technology has given us what we want when we want it. Before the Internet, if you were watching a TV show and couldn’t remember what other movie you saw that one actor in, you had to just deal with not knowing who it was. Now, we can just pull up IMDB on our phones to find out that the guy who was Kramer on Seinfeld wasn’t in Rain Man.

Like with the new invention of the microwave, we had to learn how to navigate this world on instant gratification. And instant gratification has flowed over into our relationships with people. We are owed a happy social life because it’s so easy to get to. Just make a social media account, and there you go: you know everything someone wants you to know about them. Just text someone to get information out of them. Maybe they’ll be more inclined to give it to you without the boundaries caused by human emotive responses. We want our relationships now and we don’t wanna have to work for them.

My grandfather doesn’t know how to work his cable box because his generation grew up in a more mechanical world of technology. If he can’t get his cable box working, his mindset is he’s gotta unplug the TV, adjust an antenna, do something with his hands. We had to learn and follow the rules of the new technology (no metal in the science oven), but the rules are such a small price to pay for the reward. Which leads me to my next point, which you can read about once I get around to posting it, you entitled whippersnapper!

Impure Thoughts

It seems that just about every time I enter a new workplace, all the married adults talk about how they wanna set me up with someone. But they’re never very specific because, just as I have a problem meeting girls my age, so do they. It’s not that I’m necessarily bad a talking to girls. I just tend to find myself in general locations that they avoid. For instance, I spent my summer in Florida, home to zero women over eighteen and under thirty. Now, I’m living at home in Ohio, and I assure you there are no women my age living at my home. Nor do they live at my work because I couldn’t imagine a rubber factory full of sweaty, dirty dudes appeals as a stomping ground to young single ladies.

The other day, it was outed at the factory that I’m single, so as expected, one of the guys let me know he was making it his mission to find me a helper fit. Now on the inside, I’m like, I could use all the help I can get. I mean, I’ve never been set up with anyone, so what could go wrong? But on the outside, I have to pretend like his offer to help me doesn’t interest me. That’s because when you’re single in this society, it’s way uncool to not wanna be single. But I never know how serious these people are when they say they wanna find me a wife. He started asking me specifically what I want in a woman, and since answering great singing voice, pretty face, and nice legs sounds like I care too much, I had to play it off with a joke: “She’s gotta have naturally pink hair.”

His wife works at a hospital, so he let me know that’s where he’d be pulling potentials from, which is great because, as we can clearly learn from television, ugly people don’t work at hospitals. This coworker of mine also knows I’m a Christian and knows she’s gotta be Christian.

The relaxing part of being a Christian guy in pursuit of a lady is that she won’t think you’re just trying to get into bed with her … yet. I mean, sex is in the picture, but not until after marriage of course. And after you’ve had some children together. Christian dates should never end with the guy walking the girl to her door. That’s a little too close to her bed. In fact, Christian dates should always end as abruptly as possible because we are meant to maintain our purity.

I’m not digging at purity. It’s a really good thing, and we gotta look out for it and look out for each other. But the truth is that not everyone has maintained their purity by today’s standards. Actually, considering purity doesn’t always have to mean sexual purity, no one at all has maintained their purity. It seems like the only kind of purity we can’t get back once we give it up is sexual purity. So I suppose people who have had sex before marriage are doomed to be impure for the rest of their lives? Is that what we’re saying?

Nah, God’s mercies are new every morning. There isn’t much I could say about this, and I’m probably the worst person to talk to about sexual impurity, but I do know God’s making us new creations every moment. Sanctification is constant re-creation all building up to something perfect. Maybe we weren’t pure in that previous moment, but we confess, learn, move on, and choose this moment to live in purity. All kinds of purity.

Don’t Listen to Your Mom

After being away from home for a weekend, I hadn’t seen my parents yet until after I got off of work.

“What’s on your face?” Dad asked.

After graduating college, I put my Youth Ministries degree to good use by working at a rubber factory as the shipping and receiving clerk. Each day, I’m covered in a new layer of carbon black. Dad was asking about that, but Mom seemed more interested the small amount of stubble that was growing on my upper lip. “It’s a mustache,” she said.

I never grow facial hair on purpose. It’s never a part of my daily agenda to specifically not shave. Nor am I ever one to participate in No Shave November. Part of the reason for this is because I don’t particularly look great with facial hair. I’m sure if I had the patience to grow a beard, I may be able to pull it off. It would certainly detract from my not-so-prominent chin. I tend to resent guys with large chins who grow beards, as if facial hair is a nonrenewable resource and they’re using it all up. What are they trying to add to?

For a play in high school, I was once asked to wear a felt beard for my role. It’s probably safe to say that would have looked more natural than my actual facial hair. So when I have facial hair, it could be for any one of the following reasons: (1) my unkempt nostril hair is playing tricks on your eyes (though, from a distance); (2) I missed a spot while shaving; or (3) I haven’t shaved in a day or two. In this case, it was reason number 3.

“It’s cute,” Mom added. Many words are appropriate to describe a mustache. Mom used one that isn’t found on that list, but she’s my mom, and it’s part of her job description to compliment my lack of motivation and interest in impressing people.

I often consider how it’s possible for terrible movies to be made. I mean, somewhere along in the production of the film, there’s gotta be at least one dude who’s like, “Guys, this really isn’t good. I’m not suggesting we give up. I’m just saying there are some things we gotta tweak before this flops on the Hallmark channel.” The only conceivable reason I can think that these movies would continue in production is because everyone involved has their mom over their shoulder telling them they’re doing a great job. It’s really cute. And who wants to disappoint their mother?

Moms are pretty remarkable in that even when you are ugly or boring or just a complete lame-o, they still love you, think you’re handsome or beautiful, and just don’t get why you’re still single. The fact is that your mom’s opinions of you don’t even matter. If they did, we all would be a lot more confident and ads that negatively affect your self-image would be obsolete.

Pop culture would like you to think that the best motivators are the haters. (Or haterz, right? Is that still cool?) Our sole motivation is our desire to prove people wrong. But in reality, you just suck at some stuff, and those people you call haters might actually be right and might actually care and are worried for you. “Listen man, you can do that drum solo if you really want, but it will sound bad and it might embarrass you.”

But of course, the lovers can be dangerous, too. For many of you, your mom loves you, and I’m sure she really means it when she compliments you, but consider the “your mom”s of society that love you without any real cause. At rare times, I can be a witty charmer, and in some moments I can get people to like me and roll with whatever I’m doing. But they might not know I can easily crash and burn. Lovers are dangerous because even you’re at your worst and even when you’re doing what you shouldn’t be, they’re behind you 100% and are down with whatever you’re doing.

It’s cool in our world to fight adversity to the top, but that’s not usually how it happens. Take time to be humble. Ask for help. Listen to criticism and discern whether the compliments you receive are truly positive feedback or just passing emotional comments.

Anyway, my mom’s birthday is soon, and I don’t want her to think this post is her present. Love you, Mom.

Being Human

Some people are bad with faces. Some people are bad with names. But most people are good with at least one of those two. Being good with faces is especially helpful.

“Oh hey, Debbie!”

“Um … it’s Mike.”

“Sorry. I’m bad with names. But I never forget a face.”

At least you get points for remembering a face, right? But I guess all you can prove is that you recognize people you’ve met before. Big deal.

Well for some like me, it kind of is a big deal. I’m one of the few unfortunate people who is bad with both names and faces. At least, at first. When I worked as a day camp counselor a few summers ago, on the first day of each week, I tended to make a mental note of the clothes the kids were wearing to distinguish them. Because to me, seven-year-olds all look alike. I’m exaggerating, but still on the second day when they were all wearing different clothes, I’d have to defer to their name tags. And that’s when I’d realize the importance of how their faces look.

The other day, I went to the mall with my brother-in-law Justin who had to stop by the Apple store. The Apple Store tends to give me the creeps. I was once there when suddenly all the employees started clapping. Then, people shopping in the store started clapping. And the employees who I assume were locked up in the back room and hadn’t seen daylight in months came out and started clapping as they guffawed and limped under their hunchbacks. I presume. I didn’t get a good look. I thought about it, but I couldn’t get myself to clap until I knew why. I never found out for sure, but I assume a girl bought her first iPhone or something, and in our society, reckless spending on overpriced products deserves a standing ovation. Which is why I still want an iPhone.

Anyway, since I don’t like suffocating and drowning in a sea of Apple users, I went elsewhere to sit down and read a book I had just bought. I was sitting in one of two chairs separated by a table and considered that these seats would work better for couples because who would sit so close to a complete stranger? The Hispanic young woman who sat down moments later would. She was talking loudly on her cellphone, alternating almost every word between English and Spanish, and I considered how someone might translate that. Would you just invert it? To me, it sounded almost like gibberish. Would it sound the same to a Spanish-speaker? My 22 years of experience in English and 5 years experience in Spanish weren’t helpful in eavesdropping. So instead, I became frustrated that she was talking so loud while I was reading. The nerve of her being so loud while I’m trying to enjoy a book in the middle of a noisy mall. I left shortly after considering that people walking by my mistake us for a couple and deciding whether or not I cared

When I returned to the Apple Store to wait for Justin and got a closer look at the employees, I noticed that they all looked like their enjoyed their job. And that all the men had some kind of beard and all the women looked like girls I could enjoy a Coen brothers movie with. I theorized that they were all robots because I don’t remember meeting anyone who personally knows an Apple Store employee. While imagining watching No Country for Old Men with the robot girl working at the iPads table, a few people I thought I recognized walked by and made eye contact with me. But I didn’t say hi to them, and worried that they thought I was being rude for ignoring them. But to be fair, they didn’t say hi to me either and could have been worrying about the same thing.

The thing is that you never get used to seeing people out of context. I’m sure those cyborgs in the Apple Store have personal stories that would deeply humanize them to the friend and family groups outside of work that they were built to function in. What if the Hispanic girl who sat down there eventually did become a friend of mine. I mean, it wouldn’t have been a result of that day, but sometime down the road, any number of the strangers we pass by on a daily basis could be friends in the future or at the very least people we accidentally pretend to not recognize in the mall. And what would happen if we all were more intentional about being humans with the humans we encounter each day?