When Multiple Threads Converge

Usually the next step in life unfolds in a way that is almost impossible to miss if your eyes are trained to notice.

When something you’ve been intrigued by and reading and thinking about gets brought up by a friend in one context, a colleague in another, and a totally disparate interest also intersects with it all within a few weeks or months, it’s usually pointing somewhere you should probably go.

As the threads layer thicker and thicker, the path becomes clearer. Where there is only a single thread or single interest or idea or relationship, and pursuing it does not results in multiple others weaving in, it’s probably a dead end.

Categorized as Commentary

Everything Good is Built on Sacrifice

Animals to not build civilizations.

Plato might say it’s because they lack the capacity for speech. Language is what civilizes man. That may be true, but don’t think it’s complete.

Sacrifice is what builds good things. Animals can and sometimes do make sacrifices. A mother chimp may risk its life for its child. But for the most part, these are reactive. There is a short time-horizon in the animal kingdom, and the kind of sacrifice based on the imaginings of long-term or even multi-generational plans are not found.

Animals do not appear to have a drive for self-improvement. They improve if conditions demand it, or if biology dictates it. Humans have this drive in spades. And to get healthier, stronger, smarter, kinder, or wealthier, we have to sacrifice.

To have children, friends, or careers, we have to sacrifice. To build houses or businesses we have to sacrifice. To create art or humor we have to sacrifice.

We are able to see in the near-term mini “deaths” – to temporary instincts and impulses – the greater life that can spring from it.

This is why religious traditions have always had sacrifice at their heart. They are laying out the pattern of reality, acting as the base layer by showing with symbols what is always true at every other layer. If our hearts and minds aren’t trained and conditioned to sacrifice as the foundation, we’ll never build great edifices.

This sacrifice used to take the form of murdering other humans or mutilating oneself. This is a dark and twisted form of sacrifice – the inevitable result of attempting to turn sacrifice from a precondition for a good life into a magical mechanism for gaining power over others.

Christs perfect sacrifice broke these warped versions and consummated the other less dark but still feeble forms of sacrifice humans looked to to align themselves properly with reality. He aligned everything. We, by participating in His sacrifice, align our own hearts and take part in the alignment of the whole cosmos.

As all great truths, it’s fractal. We can see how sacrificing a little spending now leads to greater savings and investment for greater future gains. The same principle is at play beneath the entire universe. Beginning each day by participating in the sacrifice that undergirds them all is the best way to fix our aim and move in the right direction.

Categorized as Commentary

What if Learning History isn’t About Avoiding the Same Mistakes?

I’m eagerly awaiting the arrival of Hijacking Bitcoin, by Roger Ver and Steve Patterson.

The history of BTC is wild and full of lies, ops, scandals, villains, useful idiots, and (mostly failed) heroes. Like any history of things gone wrong, there’s a tendency to study it thinking you will then be able to prevent the same type of corruption in the future.

But I’m not so sure that’s possible.

Human institutions are run by humans. The more valuable and powerful they become, the more they corrupt the humans involved and attract the already corrupted. History teaches the inevitability of this pattern more than how to avoid it.

But even if it’s unavoidable (it can be stalled and delayed, but not avoided if there’s real power at stake) at the institutional level, the study of history offers you examples at the individual level.

Which kind of player will you be? What role will you take? By seeing what became of attempted power-seekers, reformers, resistors, those who went all in, those who opted out, those who played politics, those who didn’t, and every other type of character in the story, you can see what it does to them. That helps you choose what roles you should avoid or play.

Learning history won’t save the world, but it could save your soul.

Categorized as Commentary

Music the Time Machine

People come and go
Memories fade

The things that you know
Will all get unmade

But for a brief moment
At the pluck of a string

All comes flooding back
With a melodic ring

Worlds are rebuilt
People revived

Feelings recovered
Thoughts made alive

Transported among friends
The sights, the scents

But just as quickly it ends
As the music relents

Memories burned
Intertwined with song

Painfully sweet
You hear, then it’s gone

Bring me back
In joy and pain

Just one more time
Let it play again

Categorized as Commentary

Enjoy Praise Without Needing It

Not needing anyone’s good opinion is maturity. Not wanting anyone’s good opinion is pride.

I’ve spent a lot of my life working with young people in their education and career journey and the number one thing that makes them miserable is their need for the approval and praise of others.

As a result, I’ve focused a lot of energy and attention to trying to help people overcome that need. There is a certain confidence, humility (yes humility), and willingness to take risks that is needed to get over seeking stamps of approval or applause. Once achieved, the whole world opens up.

But if you push that mentality too far and actually begin to despise or look down on praise or approval from others or simply not enjoy it, you may be in danger of pride that can lead to darkness. This is a rather rare problem, but among some of the highest achieving not so rare.

If you’re not at least a bit moved and delighted by the praise of others, you’re losing some of your humanity. The process begins by being annoyed at praise from those you feel are lesser, and only enjoying it from your “betters”. It ends in despising it from anyone.

Take joy in a compliment! When someone is impressed, no matter how silly you think the thing is they are impressed by, allow it to warm you heart a little. Don’t need it, but enjoy the bonus. It’s good to know others are moved by things you do.

Categorized as Commentary

Are Things Really Getting Worse?

There is a natural pattern of older people thinking the current culture and trends are inferior to those of their youth.

I am not exempt from this, but I try to remain aware of my bias as much as possible. To this end, I check myself and flip perspective frequently to try to at least understand the point of view of those who think current culture and trends are an improvement over the past.

Every generation thinks theirs were “the good old days” and things are in decay. Each new generation laughs at this and is convinced these “good old days” are a bunch of sentimentalism and the present beats the past.

At least that’s what I’d observed and experienced my entire life until about five years ago.

Something changed, and now I’m wondering if it really is different this time.

Everyone – even young people – now seem to believe the past was superior to the present and even future, or at least near future. The disagreements are only over when things ‘peaked’. Some long for the very distant agrarian past. Some long for the optimistic 50s, the revolutionary 60s, the psychedelic 70s, or the glossy 80s. But the larger number seems to feel culture and “good times” peaked sometime in the 90s or early 2000s.

They debate the specific year, but this general idea is darn-near consensus. My teenage kids think this. Millennials think this. Gen Xers think this. (Boomers might think this too, though it’s hard to tell as they are largely too busy being grumpy and clinging onto their opinions and possessions as they squeeze out their remaining years. They don’t seem to worry much about the next generations.)

This is a very strange turn.

It breaks the typical pattern. It seems to signify that we are, in fact, in a decline. Materially, you can debate about whether it’s an improvement to have iPhones and WiFi while airplanes and customer service are worse, but culturally, spiritually, mentally, emotionally, and perhaps cognitively and in physical health, most are fully convinced we have gone backwards. It’s hard to disagree.

It’s tough to determine the level of economic advancement, because it’s harder than ever for a young person to purchase a home in most places, yet they can connect with friends globally, create podcasts, work from anywhere, and many other things not previously possible.

The point is not to determine whether or not things are objectively better or worse. The interesting point is that everyone seems to subjectively experience things as worse and getting worse.

We seem to be sliding down the backside of a waning empire. There is a sadness, a frustration, but mostly an ironic resignation that everything is getting worse and no one knows how to stop it.

Everything breaks. Customer service is abysmal. No one seems to want to work. Pride of ownership is rare. Manners are all but nonexistent. Prices are high, debt is high, and optimism is in the trough.

The wonderful thing about this is it shatters all illusions of political or material salvation. Humans are in a vulnerable spot. We always are, but we can forget it when times are good. Realizing you are forces you to take stock, focus on what’s important, turn to God, and mind your own well-being instead of being a bored busybody for the world.

We were not made for this fallen world anyway. We are incompatible with it. We were made to take part in the process of redeeming it, and restoring it to its former glory as part of the Kingdom of God.

Best to stop feeling sad and get to work. Starting with our own hearts.

Categorized as Commentary

Keep Your Sword Sharp

Who doesn’t love the trope of the peaceful farmer suddenly forced to open an old chest full of weapons no one knew about and demonstrate a set of skills he assumed he’d never use again?

It’s usually not that dramatic (or violent), but this pattern definitely plays out in life. As you accumulate skills, experiences, knowledge, and a network, it’s easy to forgot the context-specific ones as you move from one phase of life to the next. But you should do your best to keep them fresh. Keep them sharp.

You will find at the most unexpected of times a sudden call, demand, or opportunity to dust them off and put them once again to good use. Keep them at the ready. Don’t forget the feel of wielding those tools, don’t lose the horn that summons those companions.

Over time, you’ll end up with lots of secret old chests, full of a variety of special skills, experiences, knowledge, and networks you can tap into if and when the need arises. You’ll be ready to handle whatever comes.

This doesn’t require anything crazy. Just be curious, work hard, be diligent, connect with people in whatever phase, task, or job you have at any given time. And when you move on, occasionally exercise those muscles again.

You never know what’s next.

Categorized as Commentary

Fifth-Hand Dealers in Ideas

It’s easy to tilt at windmills online. You think you are debating or considering a school of thought or theory, but really you’re dealing with a version that’s been through a game of telephone and retains only shadows of the source.

Hayek talked about the rare intellectuals who conceive original ideas, then the bulk of intellectuals who write books and papers based on these ideas, whom he called, “Second-hand dealers in ideas”.

Today, the most likely way you will encounter ideas is through social media posts made by people who listened to a podcast host who interviewed a guy who read a book written by a second-hand dealer.

In other words, you’re encountering the ideas fifth-hand.

This is neither good nor bad. Summaries and Cliff’s Notes and layman’s takes on ideas are useful. They have pros and cons.

But it is important to be aware of the distance between the theory and the version with which you are dealing. If you’re going to form a serious opinion or devote serious mental or reputational energy on the idea, go to the source, or at least the second-hand dealer first.

If not, carry on.

Categorized as Commentary

Grief to the Point of Death

It’s not primarily the physical suffering by which Christ demonstrates his love for us, but the spiritual, mental, and emotional weight of what he endured.

The pain of betrayal from those closest to Him, the very crowd who laid palm branches before Him now begging for His blood, the ultimate sacrifice for people He loves who ignorantly and arrogantly hate Him, and the feeling of being momentarily ‘forsaken’ by His Father.

Not to make a trite comparison, but Tolkien said that Bilbo conquered the dragon before coming face to face with him, the moment he chose to go on through the dark passage despite his fears.

In the same way, Jesus conquered sin and death before the Cross, the moment in Gethsemane when sweating blood and crying out for God to take the cup from him, chose not His own will, but that of the Father.

Categorized as Commentary

On Marriage Advice

Now that I’m kind of old (according to my kids anyway) and have been married two decades, younger people sometimes ask me what I think makes for a good marriage.

Honestly I have no idea.

I do have some ideas about what makes my marriage good, but I suspect a lot of that is unique to who my wife and I are. I have seen many different types of marriages work, so I wouldn’t want to present what has worked for me as some kind of universal.

But there are some things I’ve observed that I have not yet seen result in a good marriage.

Here are three off the top of my head:

  1. If she is not really impressed with you, it’s gonna be tough.
  2. If you don’t have rough alignment on the 2-3 utterly core values, it’s gonna be tough.
  3. If you don’t enjoy each other’s company more than anyone else’s (even when you’re doing nothing at all), it’s gonna be tough.

Let’s dive in to number one a bit today.

It’s easy for a guy to be head over heels in love with a girl, and his love to be so passionate that she sort of gets swept up in it and goes along with it.

Maybe she likes you as a friend and is not uninterested in you as more, but she’s not really in awe of you. Absent your persistent and intense affection, maybe she’d take her time and decide if she wants more than friendship. But because of your urgency and the fact that she doesn’t dislike you, she goes along with a relationship and maybe even marriage.

This is a tough foundation. Men really want and love being seen as a total boss by their wives. It can be easy to fool yourself early on that she feels that way, but if it’s not real, there is likely to be strife later. A woman who is ok with, but doesn’t massively respect and admire her man will lead to tension.

A good test for this when you are dating is to ask your friends and relatives what they think of the way she looks at you. If they all immediately say, “Dude, I see the way she gazes at you. She is in awe”, that’s a good sign.

I had dated a girl who I thought I would marry. She liked me, but she wasn’t in awe of me. I couldn’t see this, but others could. They’d say things like, “Yeah, she’s really great” but that was it. After we broke up and I started dating my wife, the contrast was amazing. Everyone would say, “Oh my gosh she is so in love with you” just from looking at the way she looked at me.

Even total strangers would comment on this. We were at a blues show sitting near the front and the singer said to the audience, “This next song goes out to this young couple right here, because ya’ll so lovey dovey it makes me want to puke!”

What’s funny is we weren’t holding hands or kissing or displaying any physical affection. We were on opposite sides of the table talking and listening to each other and the music. But she saw in my wife’s gaze that undeniable sparkle. (Funny aside: the song was called, “Meet me with your black drawers on” and was quite bawdy for a young Christian couple;-).

This level of obvious romantic swooning is not something that persists every day of your marriage. That’s perfectly ok. But, the underlying sense of respect and awe should be there. If she doesn’t think, “My husband is legitimately awesome” the inevitable bumps and fights and mistakes along the way will become so much harder to bear. Maybe too much.

Find a girl who sees you as a king. That will help.

Categorized as Commentary

The Mystery of Callings

“Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave.” — I Kings 19:11-13

We are always called to something.

Most of the time, the calling isn’t specific or temporal. It’s the constant general calling to live righteously, work as unto the Lord, be a light, seek and show mercy, repent and forgive, and love like Christ.

It’s up to our own free will and judgement to determine which jobs and activities to engage in while we heed this general calling. Most choices in life don’t involve direct obedience or disobedience to a specific calling. Most are up to you to choose what you deem best, as long as you persist in living your general calling as best you can.

But sometimes there’s a specific calling to do a specific thing at a specific time.

I’ve experienced this only twice in my life. In one instance, it came as the gentle whisper. In another, it came as something much more dramatic. Maybe not earth-shaking wind, quake, or flame, but certainly more than a whisper.

I’d like to think I heeded it both times. Except it’s hard to know, because neither call had an expiration date. I was to do something, which I did, but when was I to stop doing it?

In the one case, I’m sure the answer is “never”. It is a persistent life calling for me to focus on some specific things. A way to help me see and make those choices which are left to my free will in a better way.

In the other case, it’s much harder to tell. I took the calling, with great pains and joys, succeeded at least to some degree, and then tried to take it to what I thought was the next level. But that next level ended in a miry swamp. Did I abandon the original calling too soon? Was it a mistake to try to expand it, hand it off, split it into two?

I don’t know.

I hope I will someday hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant”, but I have no confidence that I will.

Being off the path of that calling after having once walked it is far, far harder than never having had the calling at all. I’m never sure if I’m in the right place, if I’m being punished, if I’m being rewarded, if I’m being prepared, if I’m all used up, if I have more fights ahead.

As demanding as a calling is, there’s nothing quite so draining as being unsure if you still have one when once you did. I never got the, “The job is done, you may rest before your next adventure” moment I imagined. Nor have I had the, “You failed, you quit too early, you abandoned your post” moment. I am left guessing.

Perhaps the test is for me to re-learn to find the still small voice, after having once been spoken to through the storm. Perhaps it’s to empathize with the many who never receive a specific calling, but are only called to be faithful in the day to day generally. I don’t know.

I do know that it has helped me see more clearly the extent to which any success I had in that calling was not my doing. The Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away. What I was able to do following that call was done by Him, not me.

So here I am Lord. Whatever is next, even if it’s nothing in particular, I’m here for it. Only help me see and hear.

Categorized as Commentary

Laughing Up, Laughing Down

I’m still thinking about when laughter is good and when it is dangerous. It’s hard for me to even admit it’s danger, because I’m such a fan of laughter. But it’s there.

One of the distinctions may be the direction of the laughter.

Laughing up – playfully disregarding would-be authorities – seems necessary. A man before a tyrannical tribunal making fun of the interrogator’s shoes.

Laughing down – cruelly mocking someone’s struggle – seems dangerous. A group of boys mimicking or snickering at a less coordinated classmate.

This isn’t to say it’s all about physical power or status. Laughter can healthily cut across all of these. But it’s more about your subjective position in the moment than any kind of objective social hierarchy. When you are in the more vulnerable or absurd position, you are laughing from below. When others are more vulnerable or absurd, you’re laughing from above.

This isn’t a perfect rule. For example, sometimes one of my kids trips and falls. Everyone is silent for a moment as their pain and embarrassment hangs in the air, until someone starts laughing and it makes the person who tripped laugh at themselves and the tension is relieved.

But maybe these exceptions prove the rule. The kid who trips is as likely to get offended by the laughter as to join it.

If laughter implies “It’s funny because it reveals that you are lower than me” it’s probably dangerous. If it implies, “It’s funny because even though I’m in a lower state, you (or I, or this) seem silly to me.”

Categorized as Commentary

Be Careful What You Laugh At

My friend Deryk has a rule of thumb. The things you laugh at, or enjoy ironically or as parody, have a real danger of changing you. At some point, the faux identity bleeds into the real one.

Like hipsters with mustaches, the intentionally absurd and ironic can morph into a genuine fashion. Online shock culture has a darker version of this pattern. The memes become reality.

Absurd acts of political correctness and cancel culture drive people to fight back, play the troll, and engage in extreme humor in seedy corners of the web. As more and more people feel suffocated by the mainstream mob, these seedy corners provide some humorous refuge. They seep out into the mainstream.

The created-just-for-the-purpose-of-offending content has a way of attracting and changing people. It takes on a life of its own, independent of the goals of those who started the memes. People start to actually like it, actually believe it, actually become it.

I’ve said many times that laughter is a powerful tool to defeat the devil. Poking fun at evil and not taking it seriously is a spell-breaker. But there seems to be some kind of subtle turn, when the laughter goes from spell-breaking parody to dark humor skirting the edge of reality. Laughing at tyrants is usually good. Laughing at parodies of the victims of tyrants is usually dangerous.

Those advocating tyranny are also unknowing victims of it. They are to be pitied. Dehumanizing them or using them as playthings whose sole purpose is to be triggered for amusement is a slippery slope. The more you succeed at it, the more you become the tyrant, or the slave of one.

Laughter should leave you feeling lighter, uplifted. Not sinister, dark, secretive, or gleeful about the pain of others.

Heavenly laughter breaks chains. It is fully free, secure, true, light, and loving. It joys in reality, even when it is absurd. It is only strength.

Diabolical laughter creates chains. It is entrapped, insecure, false, dark, and deceptive. It needs to find weakness in others to hide its own.

Be careful what you laugh at.

Categorized as Commentary