Saturday, August 19, 2017

Advice About College

A former student sent an e-mail recently, asking me for advice about how to approach college. Here is what I considered important while thinking about it.

I can tell you what I know about college. I know that you are not the only one who feels apprehensive about it. Many (if not most) people who attend college have some anxiety about starting something new like college, and more so because college is often more difficult academically than high school; but from my experience, college can be such a wonderful experience if you approach it in the right way.

For instance, going to college will mean more homework than you are accustomed to having, and it will mean being in a place where you may not know anyone. It will also mean learning how to be an adult. You will have to manage your money, balance your time as you choose which classes to take when (as well as balance your classwork with a job if you choose to get a job), and take care of chores and housing needs in those times you are not studying.

However, college also allows you to meet so many new people, hear new perspectives, and make new friends. It means proving that you can take care of yourself, and taking pride in it. It means getting the chance to learn about yourself more as you explore hobbies that your university or college offers, or deciding whether you want to explore hobbies at all.

With all that in mind, here is what I can tell you: relax and be at peace. From someone who found it difficult to be in a new setting with new people, I can tell you that I found more good things in college than bad things. My anxiety about college was overshadowed by all of the new experiences I eventually found myself in, and I would not trade it back if I could.

Equally important, I believe you should ask yourself what you want to get out of college. If you want to make new friends, then you should make time between classes and studying to find ways to make friends with other students. This might mean joining a club or some other social gathering on campus. I made the mistake of focusing only on my studies, and while that was good in a way because I was prepared for my classes, I also missed so much of the social experience of college. I would suggest making time for a social life, without neglecting your studies.

Last, you should make every effort to be your best in your classes. I learned so much in college, but it was only because I took the time to read the coursework and attend all the lectures. As a result, I improved academically and personally. There will be times when others will challenge your beliefs when there are class discussions, but these will also be chances for you to speak up and say what you think, too. Don't be afraid to speak and stand up for what you know is right when the chance comes. Others will respect you for taking the risk.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Road Trip 2017

While making our way slowly through a thick but polite crowd in Seattle's Pike's Place market, my eyes met a box of dates. Thinking my friend was next to me, I turned to say loudly that "I haven't had dates in a long time." It was only after these words left my mouth that I realized I had spoken them not to my friend, but to a similar-aged woman. Realizing the implication of my words, I tried to recover, stating something like, "I meant the dates there [pointing to the box], not dates with people." Privy to my mistake, the woman chuckled with her friends and quickly responded with something close to, "I haven't had dates in a long time, either." It was over in a moment, but became one of the many moments I will remember from this road trip to Seattle.

I was joined by a childhood friend as we visited natural features and cities large and small. Our first north stop was the Folsom prison museum, where we learned that men lived in cells opened to the elements and had to dispense their own chamber pots daily. Executions were unceremonious, taking place from a pole and noose at the top of a set of unmarked stairs. Prisoners kept and keep a large garden and themselves built the cell units from a local quarry.

A few hours later, we arrived at Lake Shasta, where a tour led us across the man-made lake and up a curvy road to spelunk in a cave system whose seventy-degree temperature contrasted the 106-degree weather outside. The guide ended the tour by illuminating the last and largest room to display a towering canvas of limestone wall formed by years of water erosion. On the base are the names of those who escaped the dark room for a challenge with but a few items, including matches, a set of clothes, and twenty-four hours.

Leaving California, we stayed the night in Ashland, in northern Oregon, where I learned that Oregon does not allow self-serve gasoline pumping, instead requiring full-service attendants.

The next day, we stopped in Eugene for coffee before visiting Portland and seeing Powell's Books, a very large and well-known new and used book store whose rooms are on three floors in rooms labeled by color. The pearl room on the top level housed rare books.

In Portland lies a large, colorful garden called the International Test Rose Garden, which displayed the contrast between concrete Portland and green Portland, a contrast visible immediately as a lush curtain of foliage and trees cascades down brick walls that surround the same urban street that feet before it opened to an urban landscape of businesses and pedestrian and automotive traffic. Like other large cities, Portland residents must battle such traffic, but it is not as thick as urban centers like San Francisco and New York City. There does seem to be more space here, but the parking challenge reminded us that it was still a big city.

We left Oregon to find ourselves too late for visit to Mount St. Helen in the late afternoon, leading us to Tacoma, where we stayed the night. The next day, we arrived in Seattle, and immediately toured the Space Needle, which we followed with a walk through downtown to visit Pike's Place market, a seaside conglomeration of multicultural foods and products. It was here that we stumbled upon the first Starbucks, which at this time featured a serpentine line of people wanting a cold drink or the right to say that they visited Starbucks One.

Finally, we traveled south in the city to see the Museum of Flight, whose website claims is "the largest independent non-profit air and space museum in the world." We visited three of the many locations of the museum, and saw a full-sized early twentieth century plane reminiscent of that of the famous Wright brothers; corporate aircraft from Britain, Canada, and the United States that included the 747 and Dreamliner 787; several military jets, including two Blue Angels aircraft and a Harrier jet; and World War II propeller planes from nearly all sides of the conflict, including the German Messerschmitt, the Russian Yakovlev Yak 9-U fighter, the British Supermarine Spitfire, the Japanese Hayabusa,, a U.S. B-29 Superfortress, P-51 Mustang, and my favorite, a P-38 Lightning.

An all-night drive home allowed my friend and I to reflect on the trip and reminisce on more important matters while at times listening to 1960s music. While the trip began and ended quickly, we found new experiences, met new people, and learned about ourselves and the differences between the states of California, Oregon, and Washington.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Starfish Prime

I self-published a novella (a short novel) this summer. I will add a link below to the Amazon page where you can read the description, but the book--called Starfish Prime*--is meant to appeal to middle school-aged youth. There are aspects of the book about which I am proud, and other aspects I feel reveal my freshman status as an author.

It is short--in print, it is only 123 pages--and not at all difficult to read. A swift reader could finish in one sitting if motivated. It took me some time to write it, but because of this and the thought I put into it, I grew to learn from the characters I invented. I saw them as flawed, but well-meaning individuals, and I saw, too, parts of myself and those closest to me in them. Specifically, I saw some of the character traits I dreamed of showing when I was a young man, as well as some of the more flawed traits I actually do possess.**

One example of the former--examples of traits I wish I had possessed--took place in a flashback scene of the two protagonists. The book is far from being semi-autobiographical, however, as the characters are both also very different from me. Still, I found myself relating to and sympathizing with both characters in a way that made me care about them more than when I started. I hope that this means they have some depth of character to which other readers can relate, also.

In any case, I enjoyed writing it. If anything, I learned that I have a lot to learn about writing fiction, but I also began to see and fashion my particular style, one that I found is shaped by global thinking rather than local: I like examining the forest more than the trees. In that sense, I suppose that writing this story also helped me learn about myself as a person.*** If you are interested in reading a summary of the novella, you can do so on the back cover found here. The book is in digital and print form.

*Humorously, I found that someone else, a more seasoned author, also wrote a book titled Starfish Prime, the name of which comes from a 1962 nuclear test in the United States and reflects the content of the novella.
**When I was in the primary grades, I daydreamed more than once of stopping an active shooter on campus, essentially being the hero for my peers. Unfortunately, though I did not realize it at the time, this was a sad response to the problems that could, indeed, happen on elementary school campuses, even while I was growing up.
***I did learn some things about publishing, too.

Friday, July 28, 2017

Looking Up: Shame's End

We all have regrets. One of my greatest regrets took place in the summer of 2004. I had started a master's degree program at my university in the fall of 2003. I performed passably that semester, but by the end of it, having graduated the spring before, I was burned out. I decided to put the degree program on hold and begin my training to become a teacher. I did so in the spring of that year, but wanted to do something unrelated to school during the summer. As a result, just before applications were due, I applied and was accepted to be a camp counselor at a camp just two hours away from where I lived.

I arrived to meet the permanent staff and my fellow counselors and, not more than three or four days into the job--having worked on a drama, set up an archery target by standing on the shoulders of another guy, decided the name of my cabin group, and performing various other jobs--I told the activity coordinator that it wasn't for me. While this person had someone in mind in case something like this happened, I immediately felt a sense of disappointment, feeling like I had let her, my team, and myself down. She told me that I would be the one to tell my team the next day, and after responding to the head of the camp that there was no alternate position that would work better for me, I delivered the news.

I didn't anticipate how much such this decision would affect my team members. I could see the disappointment on at least some of their faces. Nonetheless, this had finalized my decision, and it wasn't much longer before I packed up and left. When I called my mom--who was expecting me to be away for the summer--she was upset. She had seen me at home far too much the previous fall while I rook an independent study course in history, along with another class that met only once per week, and felt I should be out of the house. Nonetheless, here I was coming home again.

If this were the end, it would be a pretty depressing story. Ironically, however, the event that I saw as my greatest disappointment would eventually become a source of great pride. Having no plan in mind for my summer, I decided reluctantly to return to my studies in the master's program. This was not what I had expected for myself. In fact, having unenthusiastically trudged through the fall semester, I had questioned whether I would continue the program at all. Yet, here I was, and instead of finding myself overwhelmed at the workload, I found the class manageable enough to motivate me to continue later. Indeed, after starting work as a teacher, I returned to the master's program and eventually graduated.

I highlight this story because it reminds me of my favorite scripture, Romans 8:28: "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." God's presence was clear throughout my schooling, from the darkest to the brightest moments, and I can see now that he took my shame and used it for my good. I am not alone in this. Paul, author of much of the New Testament, had once persecuted Christians, watching as like-minded people killed followers of the Way. Yet, God used this man's past as an example for the benefit of other believers, and of Paul himself. 1 Timothy 1:12-17 states,
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. The grace of our Lord was poured on my abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.
"Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners--of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen."
Of course, the greatest example of God using shame or evil for good came when he gave Jesus up as a sacrifice, turning a Roman execution by crucifixion--an execution so painful that it gave us the English word excruciating--into a source of life for everyone who would accept the Lord's message of grace.*

As Christians, we can be encouraged by the fact that God will use our shame, our sin, for our own growth and for the benefit of others.

*McKeen, Jeremy. "Overcoming Regrets." Goodnews. The Good News. 10 July 2014. Web. 28 July 2017.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Explanation of Good and Evil from Two Viewpoints (Christianity and Naturalistic Evolution)

Some who defend evolution as a worldview explain morality with the notion that human survival depends on it. For example, a clan that is infighting over resources would either function inefficiently--putting itself at risk--or destroy itself completely as enemies exploit the clan's weakened state. This means that at some point, for human survival, those who decided to cooperate with each other, rather than fight with each other, survived by working together. While it seems reasonable that natural selection chose the more cooperative among humanity and allowed the more selfish and less cooperative to die--that is, while evolution accounts for the good in people--I don't see how it accounts for the evil in people. If nature selects those who are cooperative, then why do we retain an uncooperative, selfish nature, too? Is this evil just a vestige of our old selves, like wisdom teeth or our appendix? Organs like these have no purpose, but evil does: its purpose is to destroy the self and others. It has a clear purpose, unlike vestigial organs. At least to my limited mind, I don't see how evolution explains evil.

Christianity, on the other hand, offers a more comprehensive explanation for our human nature, both morality in us and evil in us. God, whose nature is love (in 1 John 4:16), "created mankind in his own image," calling all that he made "very good" (Genesis 1:27, 31) However, when Adam sinned by eating the fruit that God required him to refrain from eating, God pronounced a distinct curse on each participant in the sin act. The serpent whom Satan embodied was cursed forever to crawl on its stomach and eat dirt, and would always be enemies with man and woman. The woman would suffer in childbirth and always desire her husband, who would rule over her. The man would have to toil for the food he grows because the ground itself would be cursed, the ground would produce thorns and thistles, and man would return to the dust from where he came. The man and woman were then cut off from Eden so that they could not live forever. (Genesis 3:14-24)* Jeremiah 17:9 shows that the source of our sin is the human heart: "The heart is more deceitful than all else and desperately sick. Who can understand it?" James 4:1 does, as well: "What is the source of quarrels and conflicts among you? Is not the source your pleasures that wage war in your members?"**

This explains what we see in human nature: both good and evil. The good comes from our being made in the image of God, an image we still imperfectly retain, but our evil comes from the original curse from the garden and our continual choice to sin. At least from what I see at the moment, Christianity offers a more complete explanation of good and evil than does naturalistic evolution.

*The idea of our retaining a good in us came in part from (gotquestions.org https://www.gotquestions.org/human-nature.html), as did the verses to explain the curse.
**These verses are illustrated as examples of human nature, found at "Knowing Jesus." (https://bible.knowing-jesus.com/topics/Human-Nature)

Wednesday, July 19, 2017

Our Response to Guilt

It's not abnormal to see people walking in the morning on those days (growing fewer, by the way) when I run. Normally, my interactions with the people I see are what you might expect when two people pass on an otherwise empty path. Most often, we greet each other and move on. Such uneventful interaction is normal. On this day, however, something different happened, something that I will likely remember for some time.

I was passing a young woman--perhaps nineteen or twenty--walking the opposite direction from me. Since she was looking down at her phone, I said nothing and kept running. However, when I reached about forty feet beyond where she then was, I heard a man from across the street begin to yell at this woman. Addressing her first by calling her out (I can't remember what he said here), I could not for certain make out what he said next, but I believe it was something like, "You are fat." Still running, even while he continued to yell, I looked to see her reaction. She kept walking, never looking up from her phone, and seemingly unfazed. It is hard to believe, however, that she remained unaffected by something like this.

Instead of turning around to defend her--to tell this man to be quiet, to reassure her that he was wrong--to do something that would help her know she was not alone, I kept running. On reflection, I realize that it was not out of fear that I did not stop, but out of inconvenience. I did not want to interrupt my run. This event, and my reaction to it, has stayed with me the past few days, and I am reminded through it that we may not get to choose what happens in our lives, but we always have a choice in the way we respond.

I don't just mean that I should have responded to this situation by defending this young lady. That is certainly true. I mean that we have a choice in how we respond even to our own behavior, whether that behavior is good or bad. I can say that I felt guilty about my inaction immediately after I realized what I had not done, and continued to feel that guilt for the next few days. That is one response, one that I know can become self-indulgent (even self-pitying) if we let it.

Still, there is another response to situations like these. We can respond by embracing--even if reluctantly at first--the grace that is freely given to us through the mediation of Jesus Christ for us. We do not, however, have to do this alone. Jesus told the disciples that God would send "another advocate to help you and be with you forever--the Spirit of truth" (John 14:16-17), while Paul later wrote that "when you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God's possession--to the praise of His glory." (Ephesian 1:13-14) The presence of this Helper does not change my circumstances, but it does change my response to those circumstances. I know of no better way to deal with guilt than to look to a God who made the laws that I violate, and then see him remind me himself--through the Bible, through the Holy Spirit, through godly friends--that he does not hold it against me. It is a response that lifts your eyes away from yourself and trains them gratefully on an ever-present Savior.

Ghost

When dreams fall from a clear sky,
We cannot decide what form they take
Governed by the spinning, tilted sphere
That beats in each chest
The undulating massage of sprinkled mist
Can just as true be the gale-driven torrent;
Whatever the form,
Our arms,
The ones we train in reverie to be strong,
We choose to open wide,
To accept that fate we cannot see,
Or to tuck them shut
Closed to all those meant to be embraced

Though we thought it finished,
With rain ceased,
A specter soon appears,
One we ourselves conjure as we taste the memory
Of what our arms beheld that all-important day

When we look below,
We summon the old familiar ghost,
That which springs from the now-watered earth,
From the soil of a mind tilled in guilt
The blooming poltergeist of shadowed past
Haunting, ever haunting,
Till we choose to stop the rain
With a thought, nay, a faith,
That was trained by—
No, trained on—us

When we look above,
From there, where the rain began,
Comes the spirit,
The divine-appointed friend,
Strongest from its source,
Who smooths the tilled earth
And softens it to soften us
We cannot then but fall to our knees
Not to till again
But to embrace
With weakened arms the crop of that faith
That once sat beneath mountains
Now moved

We cannot choose the rain
But we alone decide in time
Which version of ourselves we grow
A choice made by where we find our ghost.