Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Link to "Romantic Interest".

I'm completely stealing from someone else's blog, but I think it's okay. Back in February I wrote a post as part of a series on singleness for a blog called Yub Nub Cafe (it just so happened to get released on Valentine's Day).

The post is titled "Romantic Interest" and aims to remind us that we are not writing our own love story.


Little Dragons, Little Kingdoms

Sometime last year I was playing Star Wars Battlefront 2 with my roommate Andrew. We both played frequently, but he always seemed to have an edge on me (something about him being homeschooled, I think).  Anyway, we were playing the game, trying to wipe out each other’s respective armies, and he was kicking my butt. I forget what exactly happened, I just remember charging through the jungle of some alien planet (in a galaxy far far away) when Andrew blindsided me with blaster fire and killed me…again.

My frustration boiled over. Watching my character fall limply to the dirt, I gritted my teeth, tossed my controller and very vehemently vocalized my displeasure. Now I don’t mean I grumbled some safe Christian cusswords like “gosh-darn-it” or “Da-gum!”. This was some full-fledged PG-13 profanity (feel free to use your imagination). 

I’m not prone to random fits of anger, nor do I struggle with cussing, so my outburst came as a complete surprise to me and my roommate. It wasn’t as if I were dealing with a personal frustration at the time. It was just the game that got me so riled up. It’s a little bit embarrassing to admit, but the times I can remember being the angriest have been playing games.
And while I haven’t spent tons of time playing the most involved video games (World of Warcraft, Assassin’s Creed, etc.), but I’ve seen so many guys get unspeakably angry when their game doesn’t go their way. I’ve even seen grown men reduced to childlike tantrums after dying in a game of Super Mario.
So why do we get so angry over this stuff? Why is it that we go to something for a break or to “blow off some steam” and come away no better, or even angrier, than we were before?
I was talking to my friend John about this, and he hit the nail right on the head. “It’s the promise of a perfect reality” speaking of video games “and when someone janks with that you’re all like ‘What the heck!” 

And he’s right. Video games deliver a great promise. Enter a world where you are a brave warrior or a have super powers or an elite NFL quarterback. You get to live an adventure, fight dragons, save the kingdom, be the hero, but you needn’t even risk leaving the house (or even putting on pants). You bury yourself into a perfect little world where you have absolute control…until the perfect world kills you.

So what are we really after? What are we looking for when we plug in to a console for hours at a time? I can’t imagine that it’s the sensation of becoming a super human version of ourselves. That has plenty of cool factor, but that quickly wears off. There is some part of us, tucked away deep in the deep recesses of our heart that is crying out in need of some adventure, something that we don’t get in our real life of our job, our commute, and our bills.

 John Eldredge pointed out something like that only with movies. He says “every man wants to play the hero. Every man needs to know that he is powerful…The Magnificent Seven, Shane, High Noon, Saving Private Ryan, Top Gun, the Die Hard films, Gladiator – the movies a man loves reveal what his heart longs for, what is set inside him from the day of his birth.” (Wild at Heart)

Where did we get this idea in our heads that life is needs to be an adventure, that we are incomplete in the in the habits of a dangerless life? Is there a necessary part of our hearts that starves to death when we don’t step out our comfort zone?

If there is, then the games and the movies and anything else will never ever ever give us what we desire. We’ll just continue giving ourselves over to our pixelated hope and 2-Dimensional trophies, all the while our heart cries out for more. Fighting little dragons will only yield small rewards.

By way of disclaimer, let me emphasize that I’m not saying never ever play video games or watch movies or take part in any kind of downtime activity. I’d be the grandest of hypocrites if that was the point of all this. All those things are great. Indeed, God has hardwired many of us to respond to the beauty and excitement in such things, but that is not the ultimate goal. It’s more like a road map, showing us the way to something better. 

I can’t tell you what your ultimate adventure is, nor where it lies, but I don’t believe God would put the adventurous spirit in us unless there were something that was meant to fulfill it. The adventure you seek isn’t on Xbox live or buried somewhere in your Netflix queue. Seeking it there will only frustrate you.

If you finding yourself cussing out your controller for the um-teenth time today, try unplugging yourself for a bit, step outside, take a chance and see what danger’s you can overcome in the real world (and, please, do remember to wear pants).

Monday, February 3, 2014

Bros before Pros

                The first year I watched any kind of pro-football was January 1996, when I was almost 9-years-old. The Dallas Cowboys were playing in Super Bowl XXX and I decided to cheer for them (probably because I liked the colors). Over the next few seasons, I followed a handful of different teams, but eventually my loyalties to the Cubs and the Bulls led me to become a full fledged Chicago Bears fan. It also fit because the Bears are rivals with the Green Bay Packers, who I’d been cheering against since my Cowboy days.
                 Fast forward a couple of years. I’ve been a member at Vine church in Carbondale for several years and blessed with a great church family. Among my closest friends are John, a husky Wisconsinite who people say could be my twin, and Colin, a super outgoing guy and one of my roommates. We’ve been through a lot together and I’ve come to love them both as brothers, usually greeting each other with giant bear hugs, which occasionally turn into impromptu wrestling matches. (Boys will be boys).
                The problem is both of these awesome guys are Green Bay fans. In truth, it doesn’t come up all that often. We have enough else in common that the normal conversation flow isn’t interrupted by Bears/Packers arguments. For a long time, though, I avoided the topic. In my experience, arguments over sports would usually dissolve into bickering and name calling and left me with a bitter taste in my mouth. I resorted to be a private fan, watching and cheering for my team, but avoiding most of the jaw-jacking.
                It all came to a head in the 2010-2011 season when the Bears and Packers met in the playoffs. Without lingering on it too much, the Packers blew the Bears out of the water on their way to another Super Bowl victory. What was worse was that they showed the game at the church, so I was among a mixed crowd of Green Bay and Chicago fans. I sulked in my chair, shrugging off the elated cheers of the Packer-nation.
                Two Sundays later, when the Packers were playing in the Super Bowl, I ran into John before church. He was wearing a Packers hoodie and scarf and, to top it off, a giant foam cheese head. John stretched out his arms, looking for a hug. My first reaction was to back pedal. “I won’t even touch while you’re wearing that stuff,” I said. I thought he was trying to rub the Packer’s triumph in my face. But that wasn’t his intent at all. “Man, I’m just happy to see you.” He said. And he couldn’t have been more genuine, which was a stretch for me.
                I got stretched even more when Colin and I moved in together. Neither of us are obsessive fans, but the TV is usually tuned into the games on Sunday afternoons. It’s hard to explain, but there’s kind of a “Bizarro World” feel watching him cheer for the Green Bay. It’s like being caught behind enemy lines, except “enemy territory” is my living room. What’s even stranger is lately I’ve actually started feeling empathy for the Packers.
               Don’t get me wrong, I’m not jumping the fence here. My loyalties are firmly behind the Bears, but I feel for my friends when their team loses a heartbreaker in the last minute (even when it helps the Bears in the standings). I’m caught between my old resentments and my love and my respect for my best friends. It’s fun though. It’s a measure of trust that we can love our teams and even talk some smack without worrying other guy is taking it too personally. And besides that, it makes it a lot more interesting when we all sit down together to watch the Bears play the Packers...kinda like the end of the regular season this year.
              In case you didn’t watch, the Bears and Packers played in the final game of the regular season and the game was do-or-die for both teams. The winner went to the playoffs. The loser was done for the season. A group of eleven of us went to Chilis to watch the game, with an almost even split of Bears and Packers fans. We shared some great food and some good laughs, but a handful of people, including Colin and John, had to leave in the middle of the game for the evening church service. In the end it was a great game…and the Bears lost.
              At home, I sulked in my room playing an old Madden NFL games on my PS2, reciting to myself that oh-so-familiar Chicago sports mantra “Wait 'til next year”. I heard Colin come in the back door and I cringed. I didn’t think he would come in and gloat, but one never could be sure. After a few minutes he knocked on my door and stepped in, still wearing his Packer’s hoodie. “Hey,” he said, with a faint smile “I love you.” “Thanks, man.” I said, nodding gingerly. And we left it at that. Later on we watched the Sunday Night game and talked about what we were up to next week.
John and I at Chilis watching the Bear/Packers game.
              Now I’m kind of tempted to tie this all together with a verse about “bearing with one another” or about how “perfect love overlooks an offense” and but I kinda like my way of saying it: “Bros before pros, ‘nuff said.”

Sunday, June 3, 2012

To Lost Toys

            As a child with a fertile imagination, my toys were precious to me. They were the totems I used to encourage my day dreams and often times lead my mind in new directions.
            While not every toy was precious, even an average toy would become very important to me if it went missing. There were so many times that I emptied my entire toy box, crawled under my bed, or scoured the outdoors searching for lost Ninja Turtles. On more than one occasion I had to climb under the bleachers at a basketball game after dropping a toy through the slits under the seats.
            So coming across this scene one night at a neighborhood park, I couldn't help but empathize with the former owner of these toys. I was there so many times. I imagined the boy playing with these cars and getting distracted by something cool and amazing and running off to get a closer look at it. Then he’s called in by a parent, being told that it is time to go home and, in the rush, the once beloved vehicles are accidentally abandoned.
            I remember the worry that a child feels while searching for a favorite toy and the startled shock when the realization hits that it is lost. If he is like me, he begged his mom to go back and help him look. The inevitable conversation about responsibility and taking care of ones toys is the only response the boy gets, which while necessary does nothing to console a troubled heart.
            Looking on in the moment, I wondered if I could help, but what could I actually do? I had no idea who they belonged to or how long they’d been left there. There was no lost and found. If I took the toys, all I’d really be doing was stealing the one chance that the kid will came back and find his toys right where he left them.
            So I took this picture, tossed up a short and honest prayer that they’d be found, and moved on hoping that these lost toys would be found once again in the loving arms of their previous owner.

Monday, May 7, 2012

To My High School Biology Teacher


Dear Mrs. Rubenstien,

            I hope this letter finds you well. I haven’t been back to the old high school in several years, but from what my mother tells me, things are going very well. You will be pleased to hear that I recently earned a Bachelor’s degree and have a stable job working for a landscaping company. I also do some freelance writing, when I get the chance. 
            I must convey to you my thanks for the seemingly endless pages of notes you gave our class during my two years of high school Biology. The frantic, fast paced, short hand note taking style that I developed in your class helped prepare me for my college lecture courses. Also the last minute study habits and 11th hour memorization techniques, which I perfected in your class, proved to be the critical difference between  “D+”s and  “C”s on multiple occasions. For this, I am eternally grateful.
            I’m sure you will be delighted to hear that I have also begun substitute teaching on the side for additional income. Teaching in the public schools has stretched me in many ways, not the least of which is a new found, deep respect to your dedication to teaching high school students for all of these years. Lord only knows how you’ve maintained your sanity throughout, but I’m sure that there is a special place in Heaven for people like you.
         I must make a long overdue concession. In high school, while I was feeding my dreams of becoming a writer, I often asked myself (usually as I was cramming for a section review) “When will I ever need to know this stuff?”
         This question has been answered. Several weeks ago, I was called in to substitute teach Jr. High Biology. I was expected to help the students with their homework and answer any questions they might have. So, to be equipped to do my job, I got to the school early and began frantically reviewing the previous days assignment and the lesson for that day. It is a unique form of humility that one acquires while cramming before class when you are the one teaching the material. The class went well for the most part; I didn't give to many incorrect answers (Those tough biology questions are a heck of a lot easier when you're holding the answer key).
            So yes, you win Ruby. It didn’t even take that long for me to find out that, yes, I did in fact need to know some of this stuff. I hope that you will take this admission graciously and will not rub it in my face too harshly should our paths cross again.
            Best wishes for the present school year. Keep pushing the notes and remind your students that they should really pay attention, because they never know what adventures await them after high school or what they’ll wish they remembered after the tests are finished.

                                                                                                              Andrew S.


P.S. Is it too late to come in for an extra study session? The 8th grade has a big test coming up and I want to be ready...just in case.


Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dear Library Staff,


Dear Library Staff

            I recently received a letter from you containing a flash drive that I'd forgotten at one of your computers. Getting my flash drive back absolutely made my day. I figured it was long gone, never to be seen again. I am so very glad for policy of not only keeping such things but also giving the extra effort to return them the their owners.
            I feel the need to explain why this particular piece of software is so precious to me. While my occupation of in landscaping, I am also an aspiring writer (emphasis on aspiring). I’ve been working on the first chapters of a fantasy novel. Finding the time and motivation to buckle down and work out the fine details can be difficult, so as a means of personal coercion I told my thirteen-year-old niece about the project and promised her to let her see the first chapters. She’s a fan of Sci-fi/Fantasy and also a super sharp young lady, with an intellect and a wit that exceed the average teenager. The deal was that she would give me honest feedback and if I didn’t get the chapters to her before a certain that had free reign to “make fun of me”. She gladly accepted.
            Unfortunately, the computer file containing my infant novel became corrupted, which erased the project. This wouldn’t have been an issue if I hadn’t lost track of this flash drive which had the only other copy of the file. When I received your letter with my flash drive, I did what some people might call a “happy dance” followed by a impromptu song, boasting on the greatness of libraries everywhere.
            While I am vastly relieved to them back in my possession, I did miss my deadline and, at my next family gathering, will no doubt be subject to the tauntings of a snarky teenager. At least I can finally get back to work on my book.
            Again, thank you for the returning the flash drive. I will attempt to be less forgetful in future visits. Thank you so much for the services you provide.

Andrew S.