Happy December!

[Source: https://clearlakeiowa.com/high-five-clear-lake/ ]

Howdy, folks!

Sorry for the extended, unplanned break there. I wasn’t really thinking I’d take a solid month off from posting, but to be honest, I was just struggling to find things to say. So here’s a bit of the ol’ “This is Where I Am Right Now.”

Personal Updates

November was better than October, on the whole. I mean, no loved ones died, so that’s a positive right there. I didn’t spend quite as many late nights working. I got to take a few days off here and there and spend time with my immediate and extended families. And while I didn’t really engage in any performative public thankfulness online, I will say that I tried to appreciate all the many gifts I receive from God on a daily basis. And I’m feeling better, at least mentally. Still dealing with some physical pain and stuff, but doing well on the whole.

Blog Updates

While I won’t try to do another daily-posting stretch anytime soon, I will be hopefully uploading at least 1-2 posts of substance each week. I’ve got a few sermons in the can that I wanted to upload (the last half of the Jude series from the summer, and another sermon I got to preach last month). I have some ideas for Christmas-y content that I may roll out before too long, as well. The point is, I’m easing back in. Thanks for sticking around.

Health/Goal Updates

I’m easing back into my low-carb/intermittent-fasting regimen. “Easing back” meaning that I’m not 100% LCHF-keto, but this week I’ve started reducing my carb intake considerably, and I’ve tried to stick to at least a 12-hour overnight fast between dinner and morning coffee. Over time, I’ll tweak that and shrink my eating window down a bit more. It’s all about iterating and learning how I function best. I’ll probably post on that again in the near future.

As for other goals, rather than wait for January to resolve anything, I wanted to get started with an idea I came up with that keeps my goal-setting a bit more simplified: the Power Five. These are five goals I’m shooting for every day, in order to build back some habits that have fallen into disrepair. My five daily goals are:

  1. Time with God, in Word and prayer;
  2. Doing something physical for 30 minutes every day that breaks a sweat;
  3. Taking care of my body, not only by doing the basic hygiene stuff like showering and flossing, but by actively working to heal/recover where I’m hurting;
  4. Eating wisely and making good choices about what kind and how much food I consume; and
  5. Looking each of my girls in the eyes every day and telling them how much I love them.

Now you may be clamoring to say, “Dave, those goals are too vague! They’re not SMART goals! They’re not measurable or countable or–”

Let me stop you right there, bub. I recognize that the Power Five doesn’t hit the mark when it comes to what “good goals” should entail. There’s a reason for that.

The only measurable I’m aiming for is consistency.

My hope is that, over the month of December, I can begin building a consistent rhythm that will carry me forward. Once I have that rhythm going, I can start attaching some numbers to the process.

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So there’s my update: life is good and I’m grateful; I plan on posting more often this month; and I’m looking to give myself a Power-Five every single day in December.

See y’all later!

#Blogtober2021 Day Whatever: We’re fine, we’re all fine here, now, thanks… How are you?

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Just popping in here to say: I’m doing okay. Lots going on.

  • My grandfather died at the end of last week, bringing the (hopefully) final total to 3 extended family members who passed away this month. All three had serious medical conditions. It’s still sad.
  • Work life is busy, church life is busy; both are stressful, both are blessings.
  • My household’s doing okay. My kids have colds and aren’t sleeping that consistently this week. We’re all feeling a bit exhausted. But down here in the southland, we’re now enjoying a brief cool spell, so that means more time outside this week, which is good for everyone’s disposition.
  • My wife and I are trying to buy our first home and realizing we’re a bit out of our depth with this process. Thankful for a good realtor to hold our hands (and keep our heads above water).
  • Again, I may not post much more this week. But I’m doing okay. Still not getting my sleeping schedule and eating habits (or caffeine consumption) in proper balance. Hope to do that next week, as I take some time off work and spend time with my family. November reset, here we come.

That’s it, that’s what I got. Let me know how I can pray for you in the comments. Talk to you later.

This ‘n That (08/26/2021)

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Hey gang!

I’m taking a break from Twitter for a few weeks, but I still have random topics I’m itching to talk to SOMEONE about, so I thought I’d post some of that here as a grab-bag of sorts. This will be different from the #FridayFeed, since those posts will be more strictly links and videos I’m sharing for your enjoyment.

Think of “This ‘n That” as having more of a coffee-break, chit-chat vibe–a mix of personal updates, comments about current news/culture, and maybe some recommendations of cool stuff I’ve found recently. Those of you who have been reading my stuff for a long time might like to think of this as the next iteration of the “PBB Cool Ten.” I won’t post something like this every week, but whenever I have enough to natter on about, I’ll share with the class. So here we go!

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Afghanistan

Let’s go ahead and lead with real news before getting to the silliness. The situation in Afghanistan is a disaster on multiple levels. While I agree that there had to be some sort of end-point for America’s direct military involvement in the country (but not necessarily an end to a US presence in the country/region–see: Germany, South Korea, etc.), the way this has been done is utterly baffling, tragic, and infuriating. The United States should not be treating the Taliban as either a threat or an ally, yet somehow the American president is doing both. We have an obligation not only to extract our citizens and materiel, but also our allies who have risked their lives and families to assist us in our missions. The US military has been put in an impossible and unwinnable position, and their leaders and government commanders have brought shame upon them throughout this episode. The more I read about what’s going on, the more I’m filled with anger, frustration, and grief over the loss of life that is ongoing and will only escalate as American forces continue to exit the country. What an utter disaster. What a failure. What a crippling, cowardly episode that should be hung like an albatross around the neck of this president for the rest of his political career. I have no other “appropriate” words for what I think about this.

A few days ago, I commented to my wife that perhaps on Earth-3 (or some other alternate reality), there is a different American president who is saying something like, “The Taliban has not kept their end of the bargain and are already terrorizing the country again, so right now American troops have begun an overwhelming offensive with the single goal of wiping out the Taliban in its entirety.” Turns out, Jocko Willink and I were on the same wavelength. This instagram post with a message from “President Jocko” is well-worth watching, even if only for giving us a glimpse of a different kind of presidency in this moment.

But seriously, if you are Christian, I would encourage you to pray ardently for Afghanistan and especially for the Christian church there. I’m already hearing reports of frightening and deadly persecution ramping up at the hands of the Taliban. It’s getting bad there, and it’s getting bad quickly.

Okay, serious discussion over. Time for some lighter things. (At least, somewhat lighter.)

Sonny Chiba

I heard last week that Sonny Chiba died. I only knew of him as the great sword-maker (and sushi chef) Hattori Honzo from the Kill Bill movies, but he had a pretty notable career in Asian cinema, both as a hero and as a villain. I’d be curious to check out his older work sometime (you know, during a future life-stage when I’m not watching Blippi or Paw Patrol or Fireman Sam more than actual grown-up television shows). Speaking of which…

Blippi

Let’s talk for a minute about Blippi. Blippi is a gangly, goofy man in his late 20’s / early 30’s wearing a signature blue and orange hat, bowtie, suspenders, and skinny jeans. His videos are mostly harmless, though they can be pretty inane. (I think any parent would agree that there’s a sort of “Mendoza Line” where silliness becomes annoying stupidity. Blippi lives on that line.) His videos are colorful and musical and somewhat informative (half the time, it sounds like he didn’t read his script and is ad-libbing science “facts” about the creatures at the aquarium or on the farm).

While I don’t have the kind of beef that some think-piece writers have against him (which is hilarious to me, to be honest), one thing that has always bothered me is that he’s a grown man displaying the mentality and behavior of a 7-year-old boy (think Tom Hanks in Big, but hopped up on sugar). When I first became a father, I started paying a lot more attention to how dads (and grown men in general) are presented in media. There’s no question in my mind that media catechizes kids on how to see the world, so presentations of what men and women are and how adults behave in these videos and movies matter. I want to find better examples of what men and women are and do for my kids to take in and emulate. Most importantly, I want to be one of those examples. I’d rather they think of me when they think about how a grown man behaves, rather than thinking of Blippi bouncing around and giggling like an idiot.

Back in the Gloom

In April, I talked about starting to attend F3, a boot-camp style workout in the early morning hours. I kept attending occasionally, but through the spring and into the early summer, our family was dealing with several rounds of illness that worked through the whole family, so I’d miss 1 or 2 days a week out of the 3 available at my chosen location. With so many gaps in my attendance, I didn’t make much progress (though some friends encouraged me by pointing out my improvement, however minimal). But then I noticed my forearm started aching and losing strength. I stopped working out for about 6-7 weeks, as I tried to rest my arm and figure out what was going on. I had so much trouble gripping and lifting things with that arm that I eventually had to go to the doctor. Turns out, I had developed a clear case of “tennis elbow.” The orthopedic surgeon I met with told me that 1 out of 3 people he sees that are in my age group will develop tennis elbow, because our ligaments just tend to start breaking down in middle age. Great. Thankfully, there was no visible structural damage, so he gave me some stretches to do and meds to take, and I’m now on the mend. After my long absence, I finally went back to the workout last Saturday, though I was really anxious for some reason that my heart wouldn’t handle the sudden resumption of hard work. As you might have guessed, my heart made it just fine. My legs, on the other hand, were shredded by dozens and dozens of squats, leaving me hobbling and groaning like an old man for almost a week. So I’ll be posting again for a workout this Saturday, and hopefully (with some foresight re: stretching and resting properly), I won’t be missing many more workouts from now on.

Nudge Coffee Bar

Gotta tell you about the newest delightful treat my wife brought home from the grocery store: Nudge Coffee Bars. (#NotSpon, but for real, Nudge, hit me up, becauase I am a FAN). They have the consistency (the “mouth-feel,” if you prefer) of chocolate bars, but they are not made of chocolate (a fact they are strangely emphatic about!). The bars are essentially what you’d have if you made chocolate with coffee beans instead of cocoa beans, added some other stuff, and this magical concoction popped out of the pan. Each square has the caffeine equivalent of a cup of coffee, so if you want to take a sweet treat on the go that gives you a little pick-me-up, this is a great option. PLUS!!! Nudge bars are made with an erythritol/monk fruit blend and some added fiber, so they are only around 1-2 net carbs per square, which means they are a great option for a low-carb/ketogenic eating plan. I tried the Ethiopian and Italian Roast flavors, and both are delicious. The crazy thing is, while Nudge Coffee Bars are most assuredly NOT made of chocolate (don’t you put that on them, Ricky Bobby), they really do taste like a rich mocha or espresso drink. The danger for me is that I’m already drinking coffee throughout the day, so I can’t eat too much of this goodness at once before all the caffeine hits my system, my heart races, and I start to see sound. But man, Nudge is so good. Check ’em out.

Fun with Greek vocabulary

I had the privilege of preaching 4 times at a small church about an hour north of ours. You may have noticed that I’ve been posting my sermon transcripts lately (next one coming this Sunday, Lord-willing). I’ve been really enjoying studying for these sermons, and part of that has to do with how I’m changing my approach to sermon prep and shifting the time spent so that I’m analyzing the text more than studying a stack of commentaries. I’ll go into detail about this in another post on a group blog I’ve joined recently (I really will have something posted soon, Michael!), but I just wanted to note that part of the joy of preparing to preach over the last month has been getting to do some this more in-depth language study. What’s crazy is, I can’t read New Testament Greek yet (hoping to start learning in the spring!). I’ve been relying on a (possibly a bit outdated) interlinear text and a Strong’s concordance that is meant for use with a King James translation (requiring an extra layer of translation on my part, from KJV to ESV!). But as I’ve studied how Jude uses the Greek language to communicate huge truths in just 25 verses, it’s been wild to learn how a slight change in spelling or phrasing makes such a huge difference in meaning. All of this to say: the Bible is amazing, y’all. It’s a miracle. 66 books, 40 or so human authors, across 3 continents and 2500 years–yet still unified and consistent because it has one Divine Author who inspired every letter of it. Just awesome.

Power Wash Simulator

When I first heard about the computer game Power Wash Simulator, I thought it sounded like one of those troll games with janky mechanics that is meant to last only a few minutes. Then I noticed that some Youtube gaming channels I watch from time to time were talking more and more about the game. So, I checked out a few “let’s play” videos. Y’all, I don’t have time to play video games much anymore, but I was *thisclose* to dropping the twenty bucks on Steam to pick it up. There’s something so incredibly satisfying about watching this gameplay. I won’t send you to the channels I watched (I think you have to be used to those streamers’ typical patter in order not to get annoyed), so here’s a no-commentary video of the first level or so of the game. Seriously, I dare you to watch it without feeling some sense of satisfaction as the van is transformed from dirty to spotless.

Dad Clothes

Speaking of things that are utterly dad-like: My wife teased me the other day because my outfit for leaving the house was a “dad” uniform: plaid button-down (untucked and sleeve-rolled, natch), khaki cargo shorts, leather boat shoes, faded ball cap. I’ll admit it, I’ve leaned in hard to the “dad look,” but you know what? I’m comfortable with that. I hate having to think about clothes or style. I have the body type that looks schlumpy, no matter what I’m wearing, so I just go with what’s comfortable and not too form-fitting (gotta protect the hearts and minds of the ladies). And cargo shorts make sense–all that pocket room! (I draw the line at jorts, however… though I wish I’d drawn that line before my teens/twenties. The pictures from the early 2000’s… *shudder*) I did grimace ruefully last week as I was reading an article in the Gut Check Quarterly that was inteded to lampoon seasonal style guides, and did so by recommending…the stuff I normally wear. But you know what? Dads don’t care. Dads abide. Often in a stained white undershirt, like the one I’m wearing…right…huh.

Reading the Paper

Might as well complete the “dad” trifecta: I bought an online subscription to the Wall Street Journal this week, and I’m loving it. It was a phenomenal deal: $4 a month for a year. I’ve been looking to add another source of news to my media diet, and at the odd times over the years when I’ve had access to the WSJ (which is normally crazy expensive, so I only get it when we stay at certain hotels), I’ve found the writing to be thoughtful, even-keeled, and informative. So far, I’ve already learned some interesting things that I probably would not have picked up otherwise by relying on social media trends, news blogs, and local TV news. Plus, the WSJ has a daily crossword that you can complete on the app, and I’ve enjoyed knocking those out over the last few days. I’m starting to develop a daily habit of reading “the paper” either during breakfast or after evening clean-up once the kids go to bed. Hopefully this will make my online news consumption a bit more well-rounded than what it is currently.

#TwitterSupperClub

I’ve been away from Twitter (mostly) for a few days, and I’ve realized that I miss interacting with a few folks on Twitter, but I don’t miss the experience of Twitter–with one exception: #TwitterSupperClub. This is the brain-child of Andrew Donaldson, the managing editor of Ordinary Times, and it’s brilliant. People who participate in the #TwitterSupperClub basically do what non-tweeters thought the platform was in the early days: a bunch of folks posting about what they had for dinner. Participants share pictures, descriptions, and recipes for the enjoyment, envy, and often inspiration of others. Donaldson described it once as a way to cleanse the digital palate of all the madness that often fills our social media feeds. So, if you’re on Twitter, let me encourage you to take a look at the hashtag and perhaps participate. The world could use more noodles and less negativity, more havarti and less hatred, more vanilla creme and less vitriol. Hook us up with pics of your delicious creations. Spread the love.

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That’s all I’ve got this week. I know I haven’t been posting very often lately, but I appreciate y’all checking in. Check back for a new sermon on Sunday, and more fun next week!

“Let Me Go, I’m Only Letting You Down…”

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If you follow me on social media, I’m probably going to disappoint you at some point, if I haven’t done so already.

I’m not going to do it on purpose, mind you. I try to keep things pretty light and avoid unnecessary squabbles. I may retweet more “controversial” things, but only if they’re things I truly believe, and even then I’ll admit that I weigh the importance of the issue to the potential negative feedback I might receive. I’d never go out of my way to act like a proverbial internet troll. There have been a few times where I’ve gotten pretty heated about a subject and that comes out in a quick thread that may or may not stay up for more than a few minutes, but usually when I tweet from the spleen, I’ll refrain from hitting “send” or will delete the posts pretty quickly once the moment of anger passes.

All in all, as much as I can, I keep it pretty low-key. It’s more fun for me that way. But even with that approach, I will still disappoint you. (Depending on how up-to-date you are with “cancel culture,” I may have even disappointed you with my post title.)

About 6 months ago, I discovered that over the course of just a few days, I had deeply disappointed folks in two opposite ideological directions. What can I say, I’m just that talented.

You say you want a revolution…

If you’re an American citizen and/or a news junkie, the date “January 6th” holds a new level of meaning after this year. No matter where you land on the political spectrum, the date might inspire some sort of visceral response, even now. In the heat of the moment, it certainly did so for me.

I was in the middle of a particularly plodding Zoom meeting and decided to check the news; it was the day that the presidential election results were scheduled to be certified, and the buzz was that there may be some rhetorical fireworks in the People’s Chamber. (Little did they know.)

As I started to see the raw footage being shared over social media and network news feeds, I was shocked. The Capitol, surrounded by a crowd pressing in at the doors, smashing windows, crossing barriers and security gates, celebrating like they just captured the enemy’s castle. From my virtual vantage point, the mood was a swirl of elation, outrage, and undefined hunger looking for an outlet.

When I saw footage of mobs smashing buildings and burning businesses and cars last summer, I viewed it with a mix of resignation and bewilderment; the logic of looting is something I’ll never fully comprehend. But when I saw this raucous crowd push their way into the Capitol, I felt something else: indignation. It felt like a civic transgression had taken place. I was incensed.

So, like so many watching news they can’t do anything about from a distance they can’t cross, I did the only thing I could think of: I tweeted about it. (Spoiler: This was a mistake.)

My comments were basically that anyone who had been trafficking in weeks of reckless rhetoric about election fraud and Deep State coup owned a little piece of the chaos unfolding, because my position in that moment (and to be honest, even now to some degree) is that there seems to be a pretty clear line from one to the other. If you tell people enough times and in enough ways that their country was being stolen by corporate and political powers who were defrauding them of their ability to vote and that they need to show up at a certain place and time to “fight for their country,” I don’t think you can then see a mob busting into the building chanting “Stop the Steal!” and throw your hands up like Captain Renault, shocked that there’s gambling going on in Casablanca. My tweets were essentially, “Here are your winnings, sir.”

In my head, I had in mind certain political talking heads and commentators–the tastemakers of the right. But hoo boy, did that not communicate well, and members of our church family reached out to my fellow elder and our lead pastor to let him know about it. (Fewer of them reached out to me directly, but that’s neither here nor there.) Thankfully, one of them did follow the Matthew 18 directive, confronted me about the tweets (which he felt were reckless and directed against some members of our church family), and exhorted me to take them down, saying they did not reflect well on the Gospel or our church. I realized I’d really stepped in it this time, so I screenshotted the offending posts, sent everything to my fellow elders for review, and took them all down. It took a while, and multiple conversations, to try to heal the offense I’d made against certain members of my church family. I’ve been able to have coffee with the offended brother and work out some of the misunderstanding, but it would have been better for me to take a minute and breathe and try to communicate things in a wiser manner.

Guilt by Association…

A few days later, I mentioned on Twitter (why am I still on there?) that I had an account on the social media platform Parler, in case people wanted to follow me there. As you may recall, this was one of the several times in the last year that conservatives on Jack Dorsey’s platform were threatening to pull up stakes and move elsewhere (which is about as convincing as when progressives threaten to move to Canada if Republicans win elections).

Now, in the interest of clarity: I originally set up that account because I was thinking it might be a nice, encouraging, apolitical alternative to Jack’s platform. (Silly me.) I used it a little bit, didn’t really like the interface, and saw that the folks I followed from Twitter onto Parler (mostly pastors and writers and podcasters) were actually MORE abrasively political there than they were elsewhere, so I just stopped using it. I kept the account as a placeholder with a link back to this blog, but otherwise haven’t really touched it since late 2020 (as far as I can recall).

I mentioned to my Twitter followers that I had an account over there they could follow, on the off-chance Jack became too inhospitable toward overtly Christian content or content that was too far to the right. (Which, I recognize, seems silly given my stated philosophy of “keeping it chill,” but as it turns out, some of my mutuals are starting to take heat from the tech overlords, so hey, better safe than sorry. Besides, I have a “brand” to maintain.)

I soon got a rather disapproving comment from a mutual follower on the left side of the political aisle who was shocked that I would even have an account on that platform. I’m not “real-life” friends with this person, but we’ve interacted positively several times online, so I was a bit surprised by her comment. She indicated that Parler was a place for those who wanted “people like her” dead. She posted a few screenshots from random Parler users saying particularly crazy things and said she would never want to be associated with a site that engaged in that sort of hate speech. I tried to respond that a) I’m sorry there are posts like that; b) that’s not why I’m using it or who I interact with; and c) I’m really not using it that much anyway (for the reasons outlined above). By that point, the conversation had pretty much ended, and I’ve gotten radio silence ever since.

It’s funny how much a little bit of push-back like that can catch you off-guard when you’re not used to getting it.

“You’re not as brave as you were at the start…”

Thinking back over these interactions, I realize that I could have acted differently in two opposite ways, but somehow with the same end result.

Rather than taking the path of conciliation and explanation, I could have just said “No.” I could have argued my case, cited examples to back it up, poked holes in the accusations. I could have even turned the arguments against these people–arguing that if you’re so offended, perhaps it’s you who are the problem. Doing that would have perhaps gotten me the argument “win,” but at the cost of potential continued friendship or loss of having a voice in that person’s life. That’s a bad bargain for such a fleeting prize.

I instead could have avoided the issue altogether. Said nothing. Kept my head down. Stayed off social media. (There’s always a good case to be made for that.) But I don’t think that would have been any better. Sure, I could have avoided the drama that week, but sometimes living an honest and open life means you are going to rub up against people who just don’t like what you have to say. I’ve spent too much of my life trying to avoid that kind of conflict by being pleasant and agreeable. That’s part of my peacemaking people-pleasing nature. And in the end, am I really maintaining the relationship with someone to whom I’m unwilling to tell the truth? (The irony of this is, we’re slowly reaching the point in which “keeping it chill” stops working and you’re no longer allowed by your peers to avoid taking a position on certain issues.)

I think I need to be braver about saying what’s true and good and right on social media, even if it’s unpopular. I should be willing to get pushback if it can open up dialogue and provoke thought from others. I also need to be wiser and more prudent with my words. I think I’m growing in that, but I know I’ve got far to go.

I probably should get off Twitter eventually, because the balance of usefulness and connection to distraction and frustration is shifting too far to the latter. Until that day comes, if you choose to follow me on Twitter, just know that I’m probably going to let you down. I’ll say something you don’t agree with or are even offended by. And if you decide to push back, to argue, to call me out, I hope that I answer you well. I’m going to try to do so with grace and wisdom, for your good and for God’s glory rather than for a rhetorical win.

But I am going to answer you.

“They’re all Cylons.”

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A parable, generally applicable:

My wife and I watched through the 2000’s version of Battlestar Galactica several years ago (her first watch, my second). For those unfamiliar, this iteration of the sci-fi classic involves a resumption of hostilities between the human race and a race of extraterrestrial cyborgs called Cylons that, in the interim since the last war, have discovered how to create versions of themselves that pass for human. Part of the ongoing mystery of the show revolved around the identities of the “final five” Cylon models, who likely were seeded among the main cast like sleeper agents, unaware of their true nature until they are activated.

This meant that anytime anyone in the main ensemble did anything remotely suspicious (or sus, for you younger readers), my wife immediately said with conviction, “Oh, that one’s definitely a Cylon.” When I pressed her on this, she eventually joked, “That’s because they’re all Cylons!” [Ironic spoiler redacted]

When a few of her assertions eventually proved true, she proudly pointed at the TV and said, “See? I totally called that.” When I questioned how many of her othere guesses were actually wrong, she waved my comment away and just repeated with a smile, “I called it.”

The way she saw it, if you make enough accusations of nefarious plotting and hidden agendas, being proven right a few times more than makes up for being proven wrong a great many more times.

Let the reader understand.

Current Thoughts on the Forever Plague.

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To be honest, as I’m writing it, this post seems ill-advised.

After all, putting your opinions out there into the ether on social flash-points like the current worldwide plague is just asking for trouble–at least, if you don’t toe the party line of those holding the levers of power. It’s double-trouble if you don’t fall squarely into one faction or another, because then partisans from both sides are incensed, for opposing reasons.

My best bet is that I’m enough of an internet nobody that this will be just another little bubble blipping through the raging ocean of online content, unremarkable and unworthy of much attention.

Why do it, then?, you may ask. Fair question. To be honest, this is a generally-available post that is written with a few specific people in mind who may be curious/concerned about what this internet nobody thinks on the matter. Rather than simply send an email or make a phone call, I figured this would be a good way to get my thoughts out in a cohesive manner; plus, it might be an interesting bit of reading for someone outside of that small circle. Or perhaps I sub-consciously crave the sturm und drang of rage-comments from angry internet trolls, because my prideful little heart loves those sweet, sweet traffic spikes.

Whatever the motivation, here we are and here we go. (And, as my favorite former blogger and Calvinist gadfly would sometimes say, “pack a lunch.”)

“Before the dark times… before the Empire…”

When the coronavirus pandemic broke bad last February/March, I took it seriously and was rather concerned. After all, so little was known about how the virus spread, but the numbers spiked pretty quickly, it seemed. I checked the Johns Hopkins C19 dashboard at least daily, if not a few times a day, ruefully noting where the increases popped up (and side-eyeing China’s numbers that magically seemed to level off to zero for no explainable reason…). It reached a point where I realized I was checking it multiple times a day and letting those increases in the totals weigh more and more heavily on my heart.

I was also anxious for my own family. As infections began to grow in the US, and we learned that comorbidities like high blood pressure (check) and morbid obesity (double-check) contributed to higher rates of hospitalization and death, I knew that I had unwittingly set myself to be in the danger zone if I ever caught the disease. Add to that the knowledge that several of my loved ones faced the same dangers.

Even though the infection rates and death rates were not as sweeping as past epidemics and pandemics had been, we also didn’t really know where the ceiling was or what if anything could be done. The messaging coming from the medical establishment and national and local governments were inconsistent at best in those early months and downright insane on some days (two words: disinfectant infusions). The common thread (eventually) became pretty clear: keep your distance, wash your hands, wear a mask, limit outside contact.

This seemed sensible to me. While some people immediately started decrying governmental over-reach and questioned the reality of the virus (often with statements like “Do you actually KNOW anyone who has gotten really sick?”), as best as I could tell, these instructions made logical sense. (In fact, I appreciated finding a Martin Luther quote from the Black Plague (?) era in which he advised a friend to do pretty much the same things.) Even if the ultimate usefulness of masking may have been in question, my thought was that even a 10% “buff” on protection from spreading or inhaling viral particles was worth the relatively minor inconvenience and discomfort of masking up.

I heard more and more stories of people who refused to wear masks when they were in public. I didn’t think it made sense to refuse the mask when going into a private business that requested it; after all, as a conservative, I think businesses should have the right to mandate or not mandate such things. If we don’t think bakers should be strong-armed into “baking the cake,” then other businesses shouldn’t be strong-armed into enforcing the mask or not. Thats seemed to me to be the most consistent conservative position on the issue. (Spoiler alert: It still does, I think.)

Thing is, I wasn’t just making these decisions for me or my family.

Shepherding a Divided Flock

I’m an elder at my church, so my understanding of the virus and its implications had ripple effects that extended beyond my household and into my church family.

A big part of our discussions in the “elder room” (okay, it’s just a conference room in the church building but “elder room” sounds cooler, doesn’t it?) was weighing the conflicts between honoring the consciences and concerns of those who were opposed to mask-wearing and those who were in high-risk groups and had serious anxieties about being around unmasked people. We knew there were a lot of conflicting voices outside of our church (from various pastors, bloggers, and parachurch ministries) who were speaking into the lives of our congregants in very dogmatic ways. Even pastors and theologians whom I’ve admired for years were coming out with what I consider to be some really reckless statements over the course of the last year. In other words, we weren’t the only people discipling our flock, so we had to be able to address the questions that other teachers were raising in the minds of our folks.

In the end, we felt we didn’t have the luxury of being so dogmatic about this issue as those outside voices were (and are). Early on, we only had a few folks who got sick, but by God’s grace, we were able to open up after just a month or two of online-only “services,” with distancing and masking protocols in place. (Add this to the fact that we had literally just merged two churches into one, with our first week “together” having to be cancelled at the start of the pandemic lockdowns.) We recommended masks but tried to make allowances for medical or conscience issues contravening mask usage. We had frequent meetings and phone calls and emails from each side of the debate, informing us how we should act and how we could better serve their needs. There were misunderstandings and mis-statements that caused confusion and hurt feelings. It was a very hard season. (Point of fact, it still is a very hard season.) Through it all, we tried to meet the disparate needs of many folks, not perfectly, but as best as we could. We tried to keep a level head, look at the data available, and make the best decision we could.

Of course, things took an interesting turn when a good portion of our church family got Covid (including me).

Sidebar #1: No, it’s not just the flu.

I got sick just before Christmas. In God’s undeserved mercy, I was not so sick that I needed to be hospitalized, though the risk factors were certainly there. But getting Covid definitely proved the assertion that “it’s just the flu” is a complete lie.

How is Covid-19 different than the flu? 1) It’s slower to reveal itself, which means it’s easier to infect other people before your symptoms become apparent; 2) It hits harder than the flu does; I had both in 2020, and while the flu is nasty, Covid is worse; and 3) It lingers longer than the flu does. My flu experience was a rough 1-2 weeks, all told. My Covid experience? A week-plus of primary symptoms and then a solid 4-6 weeks of greatly diminished lung capacity. That stinker just HUNG ON for weeks. I was starting to get nervous that I was one of those cases where the disease doesn’t get better for months, before finally I started to get my wind back. And who knows, there may still be some long-term health issues that can be traced back to it. My lungs are always sensitive, so this certainly doesn’t help.

Look, if you had a different experience, and Covid was easy for you, I’m very happy for you. Sincerely. Because getting Covid stinks. But I need to emphasize that your mild experience was your. mild. experience. It’s unwise to extrapolate that everyone else is making too much of it because it was no big deal for you (just as it would be unwise for someone with a really bad experience to assume it’s always that way).

Returning to Normal?

Our church suffered a minor outbreak at the end of 2020, and we didn’t freak out. We didn’t roll everything back to how it was at the beginning. We didn’t change our masking policy. We just made the decision to shut down for 2 weeks to give the infections a chance to burn out a bit. We reopened after that, and have been open ever since.

As we have watched the local infection rates go down and vaccine injection rates go up, we’ve gradually made the decision to return our services to more normal settings–not as fast as some would have liked (and faster than others would have preferred). Rather than having the “mask-only” and “mask-recommended” folks meet in different buildings on campus, we now have “masked” sections in our main hall, so that we’re all under one roof. We’ve also changed our stance from mask-recommended to mask-optional (oh, how I have learned the importance of semantics this past year!). We don’t disparage or discourage people from wearing masks if they feel they need to for medical safety, but we don’t require or encourage it anymore. We are also actively pursuing members who are still staying away from the corporate gathering and encouraging them more and more to return to gather with us again. Our hope in the coming year is that we will soon be back to normal, with everyone who is physically able to attend joining with us each Sunday in worship.

It hasn’t always been easy. There are still some difficult conversations to have and some relationships that were bruised by these debates that need to be restored. We’re hopeful that God will heal what’s been wounded in our church family, as he is doing in so many other churches all over the world.

Jab, Jab, Uppercut.

One pain point that still gets discussed has to do with vaccines. So let’s go ahead and go there.

I got the jab. I looked at the available data, tried to filter out the hysteria, and made the best decision I could for myself and my family. A vaccine is not a silver bullet or a promise that I will never get infected (as evidenced by the fact that I still got the flu after getting last year’s flu vaccine). But based on the available data, this was the sensible thing for me to do, and I expect it will be a positive for me from this point forward. And, like masking, I used my best judgment to decide that there was sufficient information about vaccine safety, and I was okay with the level of risk versus level of benefit.

(And if you’ve got a meme or graphic to send me proving that I’m wrong, hang on, because I’m coming to you in a minute.)

I know that vaccines aren’t for everyone. I get that. There are people I know and care about who have made a different decision. That’s fine, as long as it’s being made with clear eyes and isn’t driven by misinformation and half-baked conspiracy theories. I don’t think it should be compulsory for any reason (especially for church participation). I think it’s paramount to uphold individual autonomy in the subject of invasive preventative medical interventions. And I completely reject the notion of “vaccine passports” or some sort of social pressure to force people to violate their consciences on this issue.

I’ve been asked recently how my opinion on vaccine mandates is consistent with my previous adherence to enforced/encouraged masking (with the person asking the question suggesting that masks are themselves a medical intervention)? My response was/is that masks and vaccines are both medical interventions in the same way that EKGs and arterial stents are both medical interventions; one is quite a bit more invasive than the other. You can put on and take off a mask if necessary. You can’t unvaccinate yourself (no matter how much the heavy-handed rhetoric of certain pols almost makes me wish I could). So, I think it’s consistent to say, in certain contexts, it’s reasonable that a private business or an assembly (such as a church) can recommend wearing a mask, but it’s unreasonable that a permanent action like vaccination should be required for the same access.

Again, you may disagree (and you’re free to do so respectfully in the comments). That’s fine. But that’s where I’m at.

Sidebar #2: Live Not By Memes.

I’ve seen a LOT of Covid-related memes online. A LOT of them. And I’m gonna be honest, y’all: most of them are flat-out ignorant, but are still passed around by some very smart, very thoughtful people as if they were gospel truth.

Can I ask you, exhort you, plead with you to do just this one thing, whenever you see a crazy infographic revealing the TRUTH about COVID or VACCINES or whatever else? Here’s the one thing: Do more research than a single Google search result. Look at multiple sites. Look at the arguments for and against. Seek out primary sources. Do something more than just simply hitting “share.” If you see an infographic on Facebook that delivers a DEVASTATING blow to the other side of the argument, stop and dig into who made the graphic and who they represent. Yes, that would make it a lot slower and more time-consuming for you to share the thing you want to share; that’s the point and it’s a good thing.

Over this last year, I’ve seen a lot of folks suddenly turn into full-fledged epidemiologists and geneticists practically overnight. (It’s amazing how efficient med schools are these days at turning out medical experts.) At least, you’d think that, the way folks sling around their “insider” information.

Maybe, just maybe, it would be good to season your argumentation and meme-sharing with some caution and humility. Otherwise, you not only make yourself look foolish, but you run the risk of lying to your neighbor by sharing a half-truth you haven’t verified.

It’s well past time to start being an honest witness about this issue.

Oh, one more thing: If you use the derogatory slur “face diaper” in reference to masks, you’re being a jerk. Stop it. The implication is gross and demeaning. You’re not being clever; you’re being base. Cut it out. (By the way, any comments on my post using that phrase intentionally will be deleted, with no apologies. Fair warning.)

Breaking The Old Law.

As the “two weeks to flatten the curve” became an ongoing succession of months, with the infection charts showing a run of peaks and valleys, I wondered if we’d ever turn the corner. I began listening to more of the opposing voices, questioning some of the statements and decisions of those in power. I started to wonder if maybe there was more going on than an imperfect but well-intended response to a challenging public health crisis. (If you’re hoping or dreading that I’m about to go full conspiracy theorist at this point, you will be slightly disappointed.)

While I firmly believe that Covid-19 is a real virus, different than a typical flu, that has killed hundreds of thousands in the US and millions abroad, I find myself agreeing with the critics that some of the responses from governmental authorities have been heavy-handed, opportunistic, and based in fear or psychology instead of epidemiology. Early on, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and caution was warranted. As more information and experience was gained, it became clear that the decision-making of many state and national (and international) leaders was too heavily influenced by political pressures and the desire for greater social control than by consistent, evidence-based reasoning. (No, I’m not even going to engage in the Gr**t R*s*t discussion. Stop that.) As is often the case, the more power a government has, the more it wants to retain that power. It’s just human nature.

So, as the pandemic approached its first anniversary, I was becoming more and more restless about the restrictions in place. Thankfully, we live in a state that is more predisposed to freedom and personal responsibility, with a state government that stays out of the way of church functions and encourages businesses to flourish. (Some call this “neanderthal thinking”; all we have to say to that is, “Scoreboard.”)

Once the vaccine data started being released this spring and certain medical “experts” and politicians were still saying that, despite the actual data on protection, masking should still be encouraged, it became clearer that a certain degree of this cultural push was, if not theatrical, at least more symbolic than interventional. Finally, the CDC announced what the data had already clearly established: vaccination gives you virtual (not perfect, but pretty close) immunity, so masking is now unnecessary. (Crazy–that almost sounds like a certain governor from Florida…weird!)

What’s funny is how that doesn’t seem to make much difference to some folks. I was struck by this last Sunday. I had to run some errands after church, including going to 2 different grocery stores. I had my mask in my pocket, but wasn’t going to put it on unless completely necessary. I checked the front doors of each business, looking for a corporate mask policy, but saw only that masking was recommended, not required, per the recent CDC update.

I walked in, beard-faced (as God intended), and I noticed something that shouldn’t have been shocking but was: almost everyone was still wearing a mask. It was a bit unnerving, to be honest. I mean, statistically, almost half of the folks in the stores have been vaccinated. Why are they still doing this? I was half-tempted to start asking people why they were still masking. Instead, I just tried to smile in a friendly way at every single person I made eye contact with, as if to say, “C’mon, it’s okay, you can take the mask off.” I even made sure to have a few brief conversations with the masked employees there, thanking them for their assistance.

At this point, I suspect some of you reading are smiling and nodding, because this is what you’ve been saying all along: the masking was all about Controlling the Population!!! This was all a SCAM! Etc. Etc. Etc.

I’m not going to go there with you. I still think masking and distancing provide some limited benefits (this is one reason why I think it’s totally understandable that the influenza rates have plummetted this year–not because they’re being miscategorized as Covid, but because we’ve added a certain set of behaviors that drastically minimizes the spread of droplet-borne illnesses!). But I think this kind of anecdotal evidence does point to something true about human behavior: We hang onto what’s familiar, even if it doesn’t make sense, because breaking a habit is hard.

When I walked into a store without a mask, for the first time in over a year, my heart was racing a little bit, because I had internalized the idea that doing so was somehow wrong, that it was some kind of social sin. It makes me wonder if this is a little bit like how Jewish converts to Christianity in the first century felt when they realized that the things formerly “unclean” for them were now acceptable. (It’s probably a terrible analogy, but just go with me.) There was that little bit of trepidation and uncertainty there, along with that unspoken expectation and hesitancy as if you’re waiting for someone to swoop down and smite you for breaking the rules. It makes me appreciate Paul’s sensitivity in encouraging the church to bear with those with weak consciences who were still processing their exit from the old system of rule-keeping.

All this to say, I think it’s going to be a little while before we as a society actually do get back to normal behavior, if it’s ever going to happen. Part of that process is going to require gentle encouragement of the fearful that it’s okay to step out into the sun and breathe a little freer. I think we can get there. I hope we can.

=====

There’s more to say, I’m sure, but I feel like I’ve said enough for now.

Okay, maybe one more thing: One big takeaway from all of this is that I’ve frustrated a lot of people this past year, and I feel okay about that. I’ve tried to avoid mere tribalism when it came to all of these issues. I’ve tried to learn what I could, listen carefully and critically to people on both sides, and lead my family and my church in a way that was consistent, careful, and wise. I didn’t always do it perfectly, but I sought to do my best in that regard, and that made more than a few people frustrated.

I joke with my wife that I feel like I’m a bit too liberal for my really conservative friends and much too conservative for my really liberal friends. This pandemic year has been no different. (I wonder if one or two of you reading have thought this very thing–what can I say, I like to keep you on your toes.)

If anything, this experience is helping me learn not to be afraid of other people’s opinions. It would do me good to grow a thicker skin. Still more work to do on that front, but, hey, that’s what blog comments are for.

See you in the com box.

Embrace the cheug.

Photo by Thunyarat Klaiklang on Pexels.com

This week, I learned the term “cheugy” and immediately hated myself for it.

Apparently, I’m even now hopelessly behind the curve, but, to wit: my understanding of “cheugy” is that it’s a term used by Gen-Z to describe their predecessors as trying and failing to keep up with current style/trends. This term, usually applied to Millenials but equally effective at describing earlier generational tiers, is in the same descriptive wheelhouse as “basic” but describing someone who’s juuuust out of step with the trend, in a cringe-inducing sort of way.

[No, I’m not going to get into the internet conversation about whether or not the term is misogynistic and/or classist, because a) all of this is stupid, and b) I don’t care.]

The reason I bring this up is just to make one brief point: It’s really okay to be considered uncool, because it’s going to happen to all of us eventually.

Yes, yes, I know it doesn’t mean much coming from the south side of the coolness Mendoza line. I just find it funny when I see people online (often Millenials) who suddenly become dismayed at the realization that the wave of haute internet couture has passed them by, leaving them dabbing and yeeting along like so much pop culture flotsam and jetsam.

And before you “OK Boomer” me, my Millenial friend, I hasten to add (somewhat painfully) that by some definitions, I’m considered one of you. (I prefer to identify squarely as an Xennial, because I think that classification best describes me, but that’s neither here nor there.)

Here’s the bitter truth: Time comes for all of us, and there is an ephemeral window in which we each may be in step with the “cool crowd.” Most of the time, we barely realize we’re even in that window before it closes to us forever. Gather ye dank memes while ye may, children.

It’s exhausting and pointless to try to keep up with online trends. Ben Folds was right–there’s always someone cooler than you. Even if you claw your way up to “influencer” or “tastemaker” status, you’re standing on the most unsteady of perches, and all it takes is a tiny change in the cultural winds for you to come tumbling down. Frankly, your precious, limited time on this planet is better spent pursuing something of lasting (or better, eternal) value, rather than chasing the fickle feedback of your peers.

My suggestion, based on personal experience: Stop chasing the cutting edge of cool. Embrace the cheug. Enjoy what you enjoy, even if it hasn’t been popular in months (or, gasp, decades!).

Or better yet, if you’re in my particular age group, go for that “big dad energy” or something like it. It’s inevitable; might as well roll with it. Have some fun even if “fun” isn’t cool. At the end of the day, the delighted laughter of my daughters is worth infinitely more than all the likes and shares that social media can offer me.

I mean, what’s your alternative–being this guy? Don’t be this guy.

How do you do, fellow kids' has become the 'how do you do, fellow kids' of  memes - The Verge

“See you in the gloom.”

Photo by Brett Sayles on Pexels.com

I started working out again.

I wasn’t planning on writing about this so soon–perhaps I was afraid I’d jinx myself or something (not that I believe in such things). More likely, it’s that I don’t feel I deserve any kudos for doing this yet.

When I start to make some positive change in my life, my wife will sometimes tell me she’s proud of me. My knee-jerk response is, “Be proud of me later.” Maybe that’s the wrong response to give, but I know myself. I know how often I’ve begun new projects or habits or “life changes” and how quickly I’ve faded out, lost steam, and fallen away. I’d much rather that she’s proud of me for being faithful at something for a long time than for merely starting it.

Anyway.

I have some friends who are part of a fitness group called F3 (which stands for “Fitness, Fellowship, and Faith”). They have been encouraging me to take part in their early morning workouts for a year or two, but I’ve rebuffed their suggestions with various lame excuses about timing and schedule and energy levels.

The fact of the matter is I didn’t want to join for two very important reasons: 1) Most of the workouts are at 5:30 a.m. and I hate waking up early; and 2) I’m fat and lazy and don’t like to be uncomfortable.

I needed something to jolt me out of those excuses.

Embracing My Why

In conversations and coaching about lifestyle changes like weight loss and fitness, a common refrain is “find your why”–the bottom-line driving reason for you to make a change. The logic of this is that you have to want a certain outcome more than you want the bad-for-you momentary choices. If you can hold on to your “why,” you can say “no” to yourself enough to build a better habit.

Obviously, a big “why” for me is my family. I’m 40 years old, and I know (at least on some level) that I am shortening my lifespan by living at a very unhealthy weight. Nevertheless, I still struggle to break some of the habits that keep me at this weight. (We don’t need to get too deep into the psychology of why that is, at this point. But suffice it to say, unless something changes, I’m not doing myself or my family any favors.)

On top of that, at my current weight, I can only get a limited amount of life insurance, so if anything were to happen to me, my family would struggle financially for a while before they could get their feet under them. That’s not at all what I want for them.

In the past, thinking about my “why” has usually triggered at least some sort of short-term change that quickly burned out as I reverted to old patterns. Then something happened about 2 weeks ago that flipped the first switch.

One night at around 1:30 a.m., our newborn woke up crying–piercing screams rather than her usual slow build-up cries. She was totally fine–she had a gas bubble, which in her 6 weeks of life experience would fairly be called an emergency–but I realized that I was not fine. For some reason, her cries triggered a physiological panic reaction in me: heart racing, chest tightness, jaw tightness, arm/shoulder pain, difficulty breathing, headache. Even as my wife tended to our daughter and I laid myself back down to sleep, I still felt amped up. My mind buzzed.

What if this was it? What if this was actually the heart attack I’ve been warned of but pretended wouldn’t catch up to me? What would happen to my wife and daughters if I died right now?

I’ve had those types of thoughts before. And while I can always rest in the reality that ultimately God will watch over my family, it’s still my responsibility to provide for and protect them–which I can’t do if I’m not alive.

For some reason, this early-morning shock hit me differently, and it was enough to make me decide to take a leap I’d been putting off for months.

I was going to go work out with other people.

Friendly New Guy

There is a third reason I put off going to those early-morning workouts with my friends: I didn’t want to embarrass myself. I didn’t want to be the one really fat guy who couldn’t keep up and who spent the whole time sucking wind and sweating like a wounded buffalo, while all these other athletes were completing exercises I couldn’t get close to finishing. (Seriously, the “burpee” is a cruel, sadistic exercise that has no right having such a cutesy name.)

But I went anyway, willing to risk embarrassment to try it out. I didn’t think I’d like exercising with other people. I didn’t think I’d finish the workout. I didn’t know if I’d ever go back. But I wanted to give it a try. But here’s what I found.

The guys were really welcoming. I was greeted warmly and welcomed by several of the group that morning. Between very challenging sets of exercises, some of them took turns hanging back in the back of the pack with me to talk. I was a little surprised by how cool everyone was. I was obviously in the worst shape of anyone there (by orders of magnitude) but they were all working hard and encouraging each other and me. That was refereshing.

I did better than I thought. I had to modify most exercises (and was encouraged to do so), and I’m most definitely the last man to finish every set. But I didn’t quit and I didn’t puke. That’s a small victory. The group’s repeated encouragement was that I wasn’t competing against anyone out there except myself, and my goal should just be to get better. And that is definitely my goal. I want to get better each time.

I became part of the group, not just a tag-along. One of the cool things about F3 and the culture they build is that they give each person a nickname or call-sign. You show up as a “Friendly New Guy,” but by the end, the group gives you a nickname and you are invited back. This sounds corny, but I think this may be part of the secret sauce of the whole thing. The feeling I was dreading most of all, going into this, was of being seen as a poser, as not really belonging there. The way these F3 groups welcome new guys and build rapport is something special.

I felt way better than I expected. I was totally gassed, and my muscles were unbelievably sore the next day. But I came home after that first workout with a smile on my face, and even told my wife it was “fun.” I committed to myself to show up for 3 workouts a week (at least at first) and have only missed one in the last 2 weeks. Obviously, it’s still really early in the process, but no matter how hard the workout is each time, I’m always glad after I finish and looking forward to going back.

SYITG

This really wasn’t supposed to be an infomercial post for the F3 program (#NotSpon), but this is just a cool development in my life and I wanted to share a little bit about it.

If you’re a man in the US and you need some motivation to get healthier or get stronger or just get moving, check out their site and look for a group near you. It’s all free to participate and volunteer-led. If you think you’re too old/fat/slow/shy to join any kind of workout group, I’d say just give it a try. Do your best. Swallow your pride. Get after it.

And depending on the day, if you’re in a certain part of the Houston area, I’ll see you out there in the early-morning gloom. Because I’m not planning on stopping anytime soon.

Playing Life-craft.

Photo by Kaboompics .com on Pexels.com

I have to admit: I miss playing video games regularly.

I used to play video games for hours, back in my youth and even well into my 20’s. I had buddies who did the same; it’s just what lots of single guys do.

It’s not surprising: there is an allure to video games for young men. (Note, I’m not saying this is *exclusive* to young men; but I can only speak authoritatively on that particular demographic for obvious reasons.) Video games can provide clear quests to complete, goals to accomplish (often with a “roadmap” or skill-tree providing logical next-steps), and small-scale challenges to overcome that teach skills and techniques to completing larger or more complicated challenges. Video games, especially current generation games that play like interactive novels or feature films, wrap the player up in an involving drama or thrilling adventure. If your life feels a little on the dull side, or you feel like you’re in a rut and can’t get traction, video games provide escapism and the opportunity for excitement and even personal fulfillment. If you don’t have a lot of influence or accomplishment in your real day-to-day life, it can be tempting to lose yourself in another life with a different set of circumstances in which you feel more in control.

On top of that, successes or accomplishments are easy. Not to say that there isn’t skill in the pattern recognition, strategic approach, or quick-twitch hand-eye coordination involved in melee battles or speed run completions. But you’re typically not breaking a sweat, challenging your physical limits, or risking anything tangible. Your successes and dangers exist only within the plastic or metal box that contains the world of the game. It’s a taste of adventure within a controlled environment where nothing is truly lost.

(I’m half-tempted to compare the level of “accomplishment” achieved in video games to what I do every day in my knowledge-worker-based field, but the prospect is entirely too depressing.)

I’m dangerously close to slipping over into “old man yells at cloud” territory, so let me be clear: I’m not critiquing gamers or gaming. If I get a spare half-hour, I’ll pop on my SNES classic and play a few Mario levels until my kids get antsy that their cartoons aren’t on. I even enjoy watching certain Youtubers stream “let’s play” videos where they work through a video game campaign for hours and hours, chatting and joking the whole time. The experience reminds me of middle- and high-school sleepovers with buddies in which we played games until the wee hours, buzzed on soda and pizza rolls.

But the subconscious danger of video games may be that they can condition us to seek out low-effort wins that don’t cost us anything real.

Building vs. Button-mashing

I spent hours last year watching a gamer on Youtube play through Minecraft, an immensely popular “sandbox” game with no set level path that invites players to explore, build, create, and just have fun in the retro-looking, blocky digital environment. As I watched this guy explore, dig, and build, I thought, That looks like so much fun. I should get this game. But as I thought about playing that game, I realized that I could actually do some of the things I was seeing on screen already, no download required.

The player was crafting shelves, gathering resources, building a house, exploring the woods. I could learn to do all of those things in real space and time, if I really wanted to. But I don’t really want to do those things, because they’re hard. I like easy. But easy doesn’t create anything worth having.

I’m reminded of my old friend Trevor. He’s put together an adventurous and unique life for himself that seems perfectly suited to him: he plays bass guitar in a rock band, he works hard as a contractor/builder, he hikes mountains, he travels to other continents, and he has a great dog. He’s a bit of a nomad, but he’s worked hard to fashion a real life in the real world. (If you’re on Instagram, you should give him a look. Tell him Dave says hi!)

And point-of-fact, my own life is richly blessed. I have a beautiful family, a great church, a steady job that I’m actually pretty good at, and outlets like this one to write and interact with others.

Perhaps what I need from time to time is an “analog project” (as Cal Newport might describes it) to challenge me to create or accomplish something in actual space and time, away from the digital world.

So I raked leaves.

So. Many. Leaves.

There are these big live-oak trees in our neighborhood that have been here for decades. After the recent freeze, the one that shades over most of my yard finally dropped a massive number of leaves. There were drifts of leaves in my yard and driveway, the way some northern cities would accumulate snow.

The grass in my front yard was also becoming overgrown. I don’t own a lawnmower yet (never needed one before moving into this house), and with the baby coming about a month after move-in, buying a lawnmower just wasn’t a priority. But last Friday, I looked at the sad state of my yard and said, “Enough is enough.”

I spent hours raking leaves and cutting my grass with a battery-powered trimmer/weed-eater, sweeping my arms back and forth, stopping to change battery packs and then charge the spent ones. I filled 9 contractor-sized bags with leaves. Every time the wind gusted, a cascade of several dozen leaves would fall from the branches above onto the places I had just raked. I had to keep telling myself it wouldn’t be perfect, but it would be better. I was making more order where there used to be chaos.

Finally, the task was “done.” There are still leaves in the yard and the driveway, but the front of my house looks cared-for again. I was wiped out and sore, with scratched and blistered hands, but I actually accomplished something tangible. I can look out the window and see my work and say, “good.”

I may not have a list of amazing accomplishments or an instagram-worthy life. But I have sore muscles and a clean yard, with a house full of babies and a wife that I adore. I don’t need a video game to tell me that I just tallied a personal-best high score.

If you’re in a bit of a rut, and you need to score a “win,” let me challenge you: don’t pick up the video game controller or computer headset just yet. Go outside and rake some leaves. Shovel some snow. Clean up that room or closet that you’ve been shoving random stuff in for months.

Step into “chaos” and create a little bit of order. Make a small difference somewhere. It’ll do you good.

(And then game on, if that’s your thing.)

“BABY #3 has entered the chat.”

Hobbit ears! As often as she eats, I shouldn’t be surprised.

Sorry for the radio silence, gang. We’ve had some stuff going on.

The big good news was that Daughter #3 has joined the party! She was born on March 1st and is much adored by everyone in the house, including her 2 sisters. Going from 2 children to 3 has been a bit of a bump in level difficulty (as one dad joked, it’s like switching from man-to-man to zone coverage), but we’re getting the hang of it. The biggest challenge is just fatigue, because it seems like everyone is on different schedules and all need increased attention. Plus, my two older girls have decided to start getting up earlier in the morning, which means I’m on AM duty. All the more reason to get consistent sleep and choose a better diet, because we need all the energy we can to keep up with these three.

It smelled bad outside…

The other big event of the last month was an ongoing plumbing issue at our house finally got resolved. Our rental (built in the 1950’s) had an old concrete sewer line connected to the city water. The passage of time, the strain of the recent freezes, and just the strain of a bigger family living here caused the line finally to give out, meaning our outgoing water (and whatever was in it) ended up seeping into our backyard. Fun. Because of the heavy workload for plumbers in my metro area (with so many folks still needing repair from freeze damage), it took a while to get the crew here to fix the issue. Let’s just say we had to pick our spots for bathroom breaks during the day, just to make sure everything kept moving.

Thankfully, the home owner and property manager were on top of things and ready to get the issue addressed. The crew dug up our backyard and replaced the line, and we stayed in a hotel for a couple days while the work was being done. I’m happy to report that we’re back in our house and everything seems to be good to go (so to speak).

Side note: Let me make a quick plug here for the Drury Inn and Suites (#NotSponsored). The beds were really comfortable, and even the sleeper-sofa bed wasn't half-bad. But the thing that stuck with me was that the stay felt almost "normal." Our local Drury Inn not only was the only hotel I found in the area that still served hot breakfast (in a very Covid-safe way, with a server in a plexiglass cage), but also a hot dinner buffet! Plus, the pool was open at limited capacity. I don't know about y'all, but staying in a hotel with functional amenities felt a little bit like pre-Covid normal life. Don't get me wrong; all the Covid-era accoutrements were there (mask requirements in public spaces, distanced tables, little dots on the floor to stand on). But this is the first time I've stayed in a hotel in the past year in which it actually felt closer to life before we even knew the word "coronavirus." And that's a HUGE thing. So suffice it to say, Drury is going to be my first choice for all hotel stays in the near future. If you're looking for a hotel or planning a getaway, I think you need to give them a good look.

All in all, it’s been a busy month, but I’m excited to get back to posting more consistently. Thanks for sticking around, and I’ll look forward to sharing more with you soon. Later!