Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Road by Cormac McCarthy


I would not recommend most people read this book. It is utterly dark and hopeless. But if you're like me and derive deep satisfaction from engaging with uncomfortable ideas, then by all means, stop reading this post and pick up The Road from any local library or bookseller. I feel stretched after reading it, and I'm sure you will, too.

The theme I most grappled with was hopelessness. Every detail in the story confronts the reader with the total absence of possibility of survival or recovery of the earth or its few remaining organisms. As the man and his son travel on foot over the post-apocalyptic landscape of eastern America, the reader is forced to confront the fact that they will never come across a living plant or animal. The remnants are gradually being reduced to ash by the fires that continue to ravage the landscape. The sun never breaks through the clouds of ash. The world is increasingly cold. And every city lies barren and quiet, littered with unlikely and impromptu tombs.

There are moments when a fleeting hope is aroused. The man and the boy spy a woman heavy with child walking down the road with two men. Perhaps this child could somehow survive to "keep the fire" of humanity alive, the reader thinks. Yet the next day, they discover the headless fetus roasted and gutted on a spit. Or maybe the ocean the man and his son journey toward will harbor life, such as great octopuses that survive for years in the depths of the sea. Yet they discover the ocean to be grey and dead, the sand littered with bones. Any great sea creatures that still persist will not do so for long without the rest of their food chain. 

The ever-recurring search for food illustrates how the earth has become almost depleted of sources of life. Most of the humans who remain have turned to the basest form of cannibalism, as illustrated by the most horrific scene of the book. Searching for food, the man and his son enter an old plantation house, only to find it to be the momentarily vacated home-base of a cannibalistic tribe. Despite their terror, their hunger drives them to complete their search. Yet when they break into the storage shelter, they find the tribe's chattel naked and huddled in the corner, terrified and asking for help. To their horror, they discover that one of the slaves has had his legs cut off and cauterized at the hips-- half-eaten and deprived of his humanity but still alive. And at that moment, the cannibals return.

Moments of terror like this punctuate an otherwise bleak odyssey. As our protagonists journey across the dead landscape, their bodies become more emaciated and ill, their ultimate demise inevitable. Bonanzas of stored food are quickly depleted, and little remains to be discussed. Dialogue is spare. Even the details of their passing landscape become repetitive. At one point, they discover a train in the woods, with luggage in the passenger cars open, long since rifled through. "After a while they just looked out through the silted glass to where the tracked curved away in the waste of weeds. If they saw different words what they knew was the same. That the train would sit here slowly decomposing for all eternity and that no train would ever run again." (192) As scenes like this accumulate, the reader must confront that there is truly no hope, for the protagonists or humanity or the earth. And even though the boy is found in the final pages by another good man after his father dies, the reader knows by that point that there is no hope.

Grappling with this darkness caused me to realize how important hope is to the human psyche, and how disturbing it is to confront a story in which all hope is truly extinguished. Yet the narrative also illustrates how people can persist despite total hopelessness, out of an indomitable will and love for others. This idea is brought to the fore during the accounting of the man's memory of the conversation he had with his wife before she committed suicide. In oddly rational terms, she told him why she was going to do it, and he ultimately had no rational answer for why she should not proceed. Even his love for her made her suicide favorable. Yet he remained opposed to it because of the loneliness that would result, and from a deep urge to survive despite all the costs. Her response, that he should commit suicide as well, is not something he ever seriously considers. Why he doesn't is the great question which the reader must ultimately answer for herself.

These existential themes can be seen as logical extensions of the existential nihilism of our age. Indeed, some philosophers assert that the primary question of philosophy is simply whether or not to commit suicide. The more hopeful of our modern-day nihilist brethren assert that each person is wonderfully free to create their own meaning, but the essential question remains. Yet this is not the only way to look at things. There are rich, durable sources of everyday meaning, laid out by Viktor Frankl in Man's Search for Meaning, ones that even the skeptical among us can discover and base a rich life upon. Ultimately, they are rooted in love, such as that of a father for his son. And it is this love which I believe motivated the man in The Road to carry on to the bitter end, accomplishing a life of purpose and meaning despite the utter hopelessness of his time.

Saturday, January 6, 2018

8 Things I've Learned from 1 Year in Boone

1. How to bundle up for really cold temperatures. The essentials: four layers on top (base layer, shirt or turtleneck, fleece, and shell), two layers on bottom, a couple pairs of gloves and socks, a scarf, ear protection, and facemask. Anything less, and you will get chilled. Guaranteed.

2. Houses built on a ridge get gale-force winds on a regular basis. Get used to it, and make sure your window stripping is good (ours isn't).

3. Air conditioning is never truly needed, but is nice for a few days in July and August. Boone's all-time high? 90 degrees. Very nice!

4. Mountain pride runs deep in local families, the surnames of which include: Mast, Tester, Moretz, Norris, Coffey, Edmisten, Horton, Tatum, Adams, Winkler, Trivett, Winebarger, Eggers, and Farthing. At least, those are some of the common surnames I see in my line of work.

5. Floridians love it here. Locals, on the other hand, sometimes call them "Floridiots." There is also a regular flux of Charlotte and Atlanta folks. And on a not-unrelated note, real estate prices here have shot up like crazy over recent decades.

6. Downtown on game days is like LA traffic. Avoid it at all costs.

7. In the High Country, can't touch the accuracy, detail, or colorful local personality of

8. There are endless local festivals, parks, rivers, trails, and restaurants to explore!

Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor E. Frankl


The title invokes a broad sweep of history, philosophy, and psychology-- an impossible range of topics for one book, or many. And on its face, the book seems to only focus on psychoanalysis, with the author's experiences as a Jew in Nazi concentration camps serving as the most powerful illustration imaginable for his thesis. Yet his thesis has implications far beyond psychology into the hearts of both history and philosophy. The thesis? An idea Frankl drew from the work of Friedrich Nietzsche, that "he who has a why to live for can bear almost any how."


Man's Search for Meaning is actually two small books packed into one still-pretty-small book, with an essay tacked onto the end serving as an ignorable third component. When read without any preconceptions, this structure can make it feel disjointed-- but the content is no less rewarding as a consequence. If you decide to pick it up, also understand that there is essentially no structure to the first book, while the second book does have headings which give some shape to the author's narrative arc.

Book 1

The first book, "Experiences in a Concentration Camp", is a memoir that was written in non-chronological, stream-of-consciousness form over the course of nine days in 1945. Because it was written so close to the actual events, it retains the raw power to impress the horrors of the Holocaust into the psyche of the most callous readers. Yet Frankl's purpose goes far beyond this. He repeatedly highlights the meaning that he and some of his fellow prisoners were able to find even unimaginably bleak circumstances. The striking thing about his anecdotes of meaning-acquisition is that they are mostly small, seemingly insignificant moments, such as his precious snippets of solitude squatting on the lid of a water-pipe shaft beside a corpse-tent, when he would gaze longingly at the distant blue Bavarian hills and allow his thoughts to wander, or how he and another prisoner in his work-party required each other to come up with one funny idea each day.

But some of these moments draw upon deeper themes, such as the time when someone in his work-party made mention of their wives, and he started contemplating his own wife.
A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth-- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in the world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, which his only achievement may consist in his enduring his sufferings in the right way-- an honorable way-- in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory." (37-38)
This truth strikes me like a bolt of lightning even now. It is central to living a good life. It is at the intersection of the mundane and transcendent, the human and divine, where true meaning is found. And that meaning is love. This is where non-dual consciousness, as the mystics put it, is found. And staying in this beautiful place is what they mean by enlightenment.

Another time, on a particularly bad day in the camp, Frankl is asked by his senior block warden to give an encouraging talk to his fellow prisoners. Though his own spirits were depressed, he spoke eloquently about the meaning of the past, the future, and of suffering. And in the course of his remarks, he says, "Someone looks down on us in difficult hours-- a friend, a wife, somebody alive or dead, or a God-- and he would not expect us to disappoint him." Just as he did earlier, Frankl takes his listeners and readers outside of themselves and to their beloved to find meaning, much as the Serenity Prayer of Alcoholics Anonymous offers trust in God as the way to "to make all things right," "living one day at a time, enjoying one moment at a time, acknowledging hardship as the pathway to peace." And it is through this trust that one comes to understand that making "all things right" may not mean what you thought it had meant-- that the soul is purified in love, rather than the entire world cleansed of evil. But each time a soul becomes more divine, the world becomes a better place.

Book 2

Though Frankl's ideas on meaning-acquisition come across in his first book, they are formally developed in Part 2, "Logotherapy in a Nutshell," which is a classic in the realm of psychoanalysis. His thesis, that life is essentially a quest for meaning, draws heavily from Nietzsche's assertion quoted above, and stands in counterpoint to Freud's thesis that life is a quest for pleasure and Alfred Adler's (the psychoanalyst who coined the term "inferiority complex") idea that life is a quest for power. Though he mostly maintains his scientific detachment from the religious idea that there is a logical, overarching meaning to life, he asserts that the specific meaning to a person's life at a given moment is what really matters. "Ultimately, man should not ask what the meaning of his life is, but rather he must recognize that it is he who is asked. In a word, each man is questioned by life; and he can only answer to life by answering for his own life; to life he can only respond by being responsible. Thus, logotherapy sees in responsibleness the very essence of human existence (109)." In the first part of the book, he expounds that "life does not mean something vague, but something very real and concrete (77)." And here is where one finds the tension in Frankl's theory. Above, he seemed to offer love and contemplation of the beloved as the panacea to one's existential crisis, yet here he says there is no one meaning for everyone. How to explain this contradiction?

The answer lies in his discussion of the three sources of meaning on pp. 111-115:
According to logotherapy, we can discover this meaning of life in three different ways:(1) by creating a work or doing a deed; (2) by experiencing something or encountering someone; and (3) by the attitude we take toward unavoidable suffering. The first, the way of achievement or accomplishment, is quite obvious... The second way of finding meaning in life is by experiencing something-- such as goodness, truth, and beauty-- by experiencing nature and culture or, last but not least, by experiencing another human being in his very uniqueness-- by loving him.
In the discussion that follows, Frankl brings together his thoughts on the meaning that can be found in love as well as suffering, in which meaning is ultimately drawn from love as well. The ultimate picture of this commingling of love and suffering is in the first part of the book, where he highlights fellow Jews who went to the gas chambers with the Shema Yisrael on their lips.

Though it may feel unsatisfying to some religious readers, I assert that this focus on maintaining an awareness of deeper meaning within each present moment is the essence of all true religion. Indeed, Frankl highlights this towards the end of the book when he writes, "What is demanded of man is not, as some existential philosophers teach, to endure the meaninglessness of life, but rather to bear his incapacity to grasp its unconditional meaningfulness in rational terms. Logos is deeper than logic." No Christian could articulate the message of Jesus, the true Logos, better than this. And the consistent message of all the great mystical traditions throughout the ages confirm the veracity of this statement. Theosis, not theology, saves us from the existential nihilism of our age.


If you plan to read this book sometime, I would follow it with Elie Wiesel's Night to draw out the similarities and striking differences between the two works. While the teenager Wiesel was left with only hate for the Nazis as a result of his experiences, Frankl, a middle-aged psychiatrist, was able to maintain a clinical and even metaphysical take on his horrific situation. His perspective is therefore much more prescriptive than Wiesel, for whom every source of meaning and value is destroyed. And ultimately, it reflects the deepest discoveries of the ancient wisdom traditions, among which Judaism stands as one of the greatest.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

2018: Year of Connection and Creativity

2017 has been a good year for me, Mindy, the blog, the dogs, the cat, and most other entities in my immediate circle. The other day, Mindy and I made a list of things we had accomplished in 2017, and it made us grateful for the ways we've grown together and individually. The three life updates I posted highlight some of the advancements I've made this year, and hopefully Mindy will write a guest post soon highlighting her personal progress. The one area I chose not to pursue was getting up at 5AM-- it just made me too tired in the afternoon to function. 6AM has been working a lot better, and I've still been able to find chunks of time for deep work on my off days.

But the most meaningful areas of growth are less tangible, the kinds of things that are hard to blog about. I'm pretty sure I've recently grown in my listen ability, humility, servanthood, and my connection with Mindy, but those are also areas we highlighted as major focuses for 2018. In fact, we made a list of six "Ways to Be in 2018" we wanted to focus on, and those areas were on the list. Which brings me to the first focus of 2018: connection.

To make it practical, we made a list of about 20 microadventures we want to make happen in 2018. Some are day trips, others should just take a couple hours. This was actually Mindy's idea, and nothing better fits with the goals of this blog than these kinds of activities. So, soon I will be inaugurating the series "Microadventures with Mindy" here on the blog-- and also on my new Youtube channel, "Mountain Survivalism!" It will be relationally connecting to not just do these little adventures, but document them together, and focus on cultivating the qualities listed above while doing so.

Which brings me to my other big picture ideas for 2018: creativity.

Now that I'm in my 30's, I've realized that my neurons aren't getting any more plastic, and they've gotta be regularly whipped out of their passivity if I'm going to keep myself from becoming a fuddy-duddy. Though there are little ways to be creative at work, I see much more possibility in the projects I can highlight on this blog and my new vlog... like the microadventures I mentioned above. So even though I've intentionally moved away from monthly goals over the last couple years...

 I'm bringing them back!

I'm just as unlikely to finish them now as I was in 2015, but aiming high and seeing what happens is what this blog is all about, so who cares? Thinking about all the latent possibilities over the next year just gets me excited. So today, I came up with 12 fairly SMART goals for the year, and tried to integrate them in a logical way with the trips Mindy and I have planned, which I include below in parentheses.

January (into February): Reach Level 2 in the Krav Maga self-defense course (See family in Roanoke Rapids and friends in Raleigh)

February (into March): Write a 1-day course on obstetrics, prenatal care, and neonatal resuscitation I will be teaching for Equip International's Missionary Medicine Intensive course 4 times per year starting in March (2-day marriage conference in Charlotte)

March: Focus on cultivating my marriage and applying concepts from the marriage conference (Camp in Uwharrie National Forest)

April-May: Design and build the library, build a barrel composter, help Mindy build the chicken coop (3-day weekend with college friends, kayak trip #1)

June: Work on my kayaking skills (Kayak trip #2, camp in Elkmont, TN)

July: Start growing oyster mushrooms, experiment with new dishes in the kitchen using home-grown produce (Goble family beach trip)

August: Morning meditation, practicing presence, positivity (Camping trip near Brevard, kayak trip #3)

September: Build a plyo box, lifting platform, and prowler (Trip with Mindy's family)

October: Do the ketogenic diet. It's time. (Backpacking trip with college friends)

November: We may be having puppy grandchildren around this time. If not, I'm sure something will have come up. (Travel to see Mindy's family in Oklahoma and maybe Colorado and Wichita)

December: Do Christmas here and plan for 2019. No trips (hopefully)!

So there you have it.

I've also really enjoyed doing book reviews this year, and hope to pick up my pace now that things around the house and with the dogs aren't quite so busy. I'm actually finishing up 6 books right now, so there will be a rash of reviews once I make the time to get those out. Hopefully I'll be able to really engage with the material.

 Other posts that I hope will become series include "La Piscina" (stuff about the pool / swimming, for those of you who don't speak Spanish) "GST" (Gymnastic Strength Training), "Survival Skills," and "The Farmstead." I'll may write brief posts here with links to videos on my vlog, but we'll see how it works out. My first idea? "Survival Skills: Cold-water Immersion." Stay tuned!

So at the verge of our arbitrary distinction between one elliptical journey around the sun and the next, I bid a grateful adieu to four seasons of growth, change, and new beginnings, and bonjour to yet another gracious opportunity to grow deeper roots, thicker skin, and denser foliage than ever before so that more people in this world can benefit from the fruit and the shade of my growings. I hope the same goes for you-- that you bloom where you're planted. Happy new beginnings!

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God, Part 1

I heard about this book via The Deconstructionists podcasts, and was really impressed at what the author Brian Zahnd had to say about God and the Bible, and how highly the show’s hosts spoke of this book. And it has not disappointed. In fact, this book is blowing my mind so much, I couldn’t fit my summary of it into one post. So here’s part 1!

Ch 1: Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God
In Jonathan Edwards’ classic sermon, God is depicted as a sadistic juvenile hanging spiders over a fire. Is this true? Sure, we can cobble together disparate Bible verses to create this monstrous deity. But is it true? Or is the picture the prophet paints in Jeremiah 31:20 true: “Oh, Ephraim is my dear, dear son, my child in whom I take pleasure! Every time I mention his name, my heart bursts in longing for him! Everything in me cries out for him, softly and tenderly I wait for him.” This is the question Brian Zahnd asks and answers in Chapter 1.

The key to understanding the nature of God is to remember that Jesus Christ is the perfect representation of God. The writer of Hebrews starts his book by saying, “Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son… He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being.” Keeping that in mind, Zahnd delves into issues surrounding the wrath of God.

A critical concept Zahnd leads with is that the Old Testament is more a theological debate than a systematic theology text. Proverbs says if you fear God and do what is right, good things will happen to you. But Job says that’s not always the whole story. The priests and Levites say God requires animal sacrifice, but David says, “sacrifice and offering you do not desire… Burnt offering and sin offering you have not required,” and Hosea claims that God does not require sacrifice but mercy. Eventually Jesus will weigh in and affirm the position of Hosea. The Bible begins with a primitive assumption that God requires ritual sacrifice but eventually moves away from that position, which exemplifies the progression of revelation we find over the course of the Bible.

We see a similar dynamic in play with the idea of God’s wrath that Jonathan Edwards waxed poetic about. Psalm 2:12 says God’s wrath “is quickly kindled,” but elsewhere in the Old Testament He is described as “slow to anger.” Again, Jesus settles the dispute. This is where we come up against the challenge of using metaphors in describing the supremely transcendent. The wrath of God is a metaphor we use to describe the very real consequences suffer from trying to go through life against the grain of love. It is "divine consent to our own self-destructive defiance.” God no more literally loses his temper than he literally sleeps, even though the Bible says “the Lord awoke as from a sleep” in Psalm 78:65.

Psalm 7 hints at this understanding of the wrath of God. It starts, “God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. If one does not repent, God will whet his sword; he has bent and strung his bow; he has prepared his deadly weapons, making his arrows fiery shafts.” These verses make it sound like God directly visits retribution upon sinners with personal indignation. But it continues, “See how they conceive evil, and are pregnant with mischief, and bring forth lies. They make a pit, digging it out, and fall into the hole that they have made. Their mischief returns upon their own heads, and on their own heads their violence descends."

So God is not mad at you— never was, and never will be. So what does it mean to fear God? It means to have the wisdom of not acting against the grain of love. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”And no doubt it is, for in the hands of God, there is no place to hide. We will no longer be able to live in the disguise of our lies. And that can be a terrifying thing. As can the monsters of war, violence, greed, exploitation, genocide, oppression, and racism. But God is not a monster, and his hands are nail-pierced hands of love that reach out to every doubter and sufferer, inviting each one to come taste and see that He is good.

Ch 2: Closing the Book on Vengeance
In this chapter, Zahnd tackles the thorny issues of how God’s appears to condone genocide. Unless we simply choose to ignore the issue, this conundrum forces us to choose one of three options: 1) Question the morality of God. Perhaps God is, at times, monstrous. 2) Question the immutability of God. Maybe God does change over time. 3) Question how we read Scripture.

Zahnd opts for number 3, then launches into a very accessible discussion of hermeneutics. He compares the Bible to how John portrays John the Baptist: sent by God, inspired by God, witnessing about God, but not God. “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.” Essentially, the Old Testament is the inspired telling of the story of Israel coming to know their God. Along the way, some unavoidable assumptions were made— namely, the Yahweh is vengeful and requires blood sacrifice. In addition, because Israel experienced great injustice at the hands of its more powerful neighbors, the crucible of suffering that forged a theology of justice “also produced then slag of vengeance theology.” He then explains the consequences of adopting a view of God in line with options 1 or 2 by giving explaining how the English colonists used the Old Testament to justify the genocide of Native Americans. Point taken. 

Isaiah 61:1-2 typifies this theme. “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and release to the prisoners; to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor, and the day of vengeance of our God.” The Hebrew longing for justice and restoration was accompanied by a desire for revenge and retaliation. But retaliatory vengeance is not the only lens in the Old Testament for viewing Gentiles. In 1 Kings 17 we find the story of the (Gentile) widow of Zarepath, whom Elijah is sent to and who receives the miracle of a flour barrel that is never empty and a jar of oil that never runs out. Further, in 2 Kings 5, Elisha heals Naaman of leprosy— the very general of the dreaded Syrian army!

To go back to the theme from chapter 1, it is Jesus who perfectly shows us God. And how did Jesus interpret the Old Testament? In Luke 4, we are told that when Jesus returns to his hometown of Nazareth at the beginning of his ministry, he enters the synagogue and reads the very same passage from Isaiah quoted above. But he rolls up the scroll before the last line. And lest we think that this is an oversight or meaningless, he follows by telling the crowd in the synagogue, “Truly I tell you, no prophet is accepted in the prophet’s hometown. But the truth is, there were many widows in Israel in the time of Elijah, when the heaven was shut up three years and six months, and there was a severe famine over all the land, yet Elijah was sent to none of them except to a widow at Zarephath in Sidon. There were also many lepers in Israel in the time of the prophet Elisha, and none of them was cleansed except Naaman the Syrian.” Jesus is announcing the arrival of the Lord’s favor, but is emphasizing that it is for everybody, even for Sidonians and Syrians, even for Israel’s enemies! Jesus takes the implicit subtexts of mercy and makes them his explicit primary text. And as soon as he makes this clear, the crowd tried to throw him off a cliff.

Zahnd concludes, “Does this mean there’s no divine judgment? Of course not. Certainly there is divine judgment, but it is a judgment based on God’s love and commitment to restoration… Jesus has closed the book on... lust for vengeance… Clinging to our lust for vengeance, we lose Jesus. But if we can say amen to Jesus closing the book on vengeance, then Jesus will remain with us to teach us the more excellent way of love."

Ch.3 Jesus is what God has to say
Continuing with this theme, Zahnd pulls out several related ideas in this chapter. His central discussion concerns the implications of the Transfiguration. Jesus was unequivocally revealed to be superior to Moses and Elijah (emblematic of the Old Testament), and Peter’s mistake of putting them on equal footing is addressed in no uncertain terms. This revelation confirms Jesus’ authority to supersede the Old Testament when he says, “You have heard it said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” This high view of Christ is also set forth directly in 2 Peter 1, where the writer references the Transfiguration, and Christ's supremacy over the prophets who came before.

Following this discussion, Zahnd gives examples of directly contradictory passages in the OT such as “Thou shalt not kill,” and “there is a time to kill,” or passages for or against mercy. And (getting practical), he notes various historical figures (including an obligatory Hitler reference) who have used OT passages to justify clearly un-Christlike behavior. He uses these examples to again highlight the movement in the Bible away from the violence that was normative in the Bronze Age to "God’s peaceable society where swords become plowshares and spears become pruning hooks."

This makes me mention a major value of Zahnd’s writing, which is his powerful, pithy statements. When he writes, “I’m a Christian, not a Biblicist. The Bible is subordinate to Christ,” everything in me says, “YES!” The Bible is sacred Scripture, but the more you study it, the harder it is to reconcile all the disparate things you encounter if you are reading it as systematic theology. Quoting John Dominic Crossan, he writes, “Christ does not read the Bible, the New Testament, or the Gospel. He is the norm of the Bible, the criterion of the New Testament, the incarnation of the Gospel. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and a nonviolent God in the Bible, New Testament, or Gospel. The person, not the book, and the life, not the text, are decisive and constitutive for us.” Though I could not agree more, this Christocentric orientation will no doubt be difficult for many people who are accustomed to a simplistic view of the Bible to get past. Anticipating their objections, Zahnd goes on to say, “this is not a low view of Scripture but a high view of Christ.”

To top off the chapter, Zahnd throws in a poem of his own making, which may help some people grasp his perspective better. The conclusion is especially quotable:
It’s a STORY, I tell you!
And if you allow the story to seep into your life,
So that THE STORY begins to weave into your story, 
That’s when, at last, you’re reading the Bible right.

Reflecting on the first three chapters, it’s becoming clear that the implications of Zahnd’s thesis will be centered around issues of violence such as hell, atonement theories, war, and the death penalty— all of which happen to be issues which I’ve wrestled with over the last few years. And flipping through the next couple of chapters, it does appear that that is where he’s headed. So let the controversy heat up, and the discussion continue!  

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Wintertime Update

It's been six months since my last life update-- which means it's time my vast blogosphere audience how a few select personal development projects have been going. Here you go!

1) Music

Ever since I was in medical school, I've kept lists of music, movies, and books that people recommend to me. I've been slowly chipping away at the book list over the past year, but the music and movie lists have been woefully neglected for years. This summer, I reached the tipping point of boredom with my same old music, so I decided to level up. My approach was to sign up for the free 3-month trial of Apple Music, then switch to the nearly-free Amazon Music trial for another three moths of unlimited music downloads. Though it took me 4 months, I worked my way through all 80-ish artists on my list, and downloaded over 1000 songs. More importantly, I've discovered new artists in genres I already enjoyed and expanded into genres like jazz fusion, samba and bossa nova, classical, and indie singer-songwriters. Though the list continues to grow, some of my favorite artists from the last few months are:

- Gungor (the trio of albums "One Wild Life")
- Yo-Yo Ma
- Astrud Gilberto
- Jenny Lewis
- Avicii
- Plej
- Bon Iver
- Snarky Puppy
- Derek Webb (new album "Fingers Crossed")

Though my explorations have recently slowed, I'm excited about continuing to discover new mid-expanding jams. Next up in this area would be to get back into playing music myself. I'm thinking 2019 will be the time for that, but we'll see.

2) Swimming

Sometime this summer, my back started bothering me more, resulting in a change of focus from weightlifting and gymnastic strength training to swimming, massage, and physical therapy. I'm happy to say that my back feels 90% better, and that I'm starting to refocus on gymnastic strength training. But in the interim, I've made huge gains in my swimming ability, cutting my mile swim time down from 43:00 to about 38:00 in just a few months. Counterintuitively, the key to making these gains was to not make improvement a goal. In fact, I barely even recorded my times for the first few months. My one and only aim was to get in the pool once a week. If that happened, it was a win. Only after several months of relative consistency in the pool did I start challenging myself to hit certain times. By that time, it was easy to get to the pool, because I had started enjoying it. In fact, I have been achieving a more meditative state while swimming than in any other activity right now. After all, gliding through water in a rhythmic fashion is the original, primal "flow state."

Another big factor was a tip I picked up from Tim Ferriss a couple years ago on swimming technique. The basic idea is to give one small kick for each stroke, just a little flick to help turn your body from one side to the other. This massively decreases the energy used up by the legs, and results in drastically less fatigue. The next time you're in the pool, try it out!

3) Relationships

After nearly a year in Boone without a sense of belonging, Mindy and I found a great small group through the Crossroads service at Boone United Methodist Church. In a stroke of providence, our first visit to the church happened to be the day of the first small group meeting. We've really enjoyed getting to know the other couples in the group, most of whom are also relatively new to Boone and relatively newly married. A few of us guys have also started meeting for lunch periodically to get to know each other better. Our relationships with some other local couples have also continued to grow, and we're excited to see that continue.

I've also been able to keep up with a few college friends better now that I'm back in the Southeast. Back in October, I was able to join my old buds Kevin Lloyd and Jacob Hall for a backpacking trip through Dolly Sods, West Virginia, which was totally amazing. And I've been able to see Ben Carr, Sam Cox, Andrew Shank, Lee Robeson, and Brett Hoffecker recently, which has been life-giving. If you're reading this and I haven't seen you lately, hopefully we'll fix that soon!

As we head into 2018, I've started ruminating on the big picture for the new year. I'll put up something soon along those lines!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Stories of Your Life and Others, by Ted Chiang

I don't read a ton of short stories or science fiction, but Stories of Your Life and Others has made me rethink that choice. Each of Ted Chiang's eight stories in the collection truly deserves its own post, they were all just. so. good. Unfortunately I don't have the time or the attention span for that. But I will tell you why this book was so amazing, and hopefully in the process convince you to read it for yourself.

Good fiction explores how humans react to challenges and dilemmas. Good science fiction also takes reality, tweaks couple details, and explores possibilities that could result. Chiang masterfully does both of these things in each of his stories. He brings to life deeper, more challenging philosophical and spiritual ideas than I've come across in ages. And he does by exploring topics in physics, mathematics, biology, linguistics, and cosmology that are some of the most arcane I've ever encountered. As a result, the satisfaction of contemplating deep philosophical ideas is amplified by the excitement of exploring truly novel scientific and mathematical concepts-- in every single story. This, my friends, is a stunt few writers can pull off. It's why the stories have won several awards, the book has gone through several printings, and why people like me are still raving about this book fifteen years after it was first published. To put it succinctly, Ted Chiang is in a league of his own.

If all this sounds nerdy, that's because it certainly is. Mind-blowingly, wonderfully so. Even Hollywood has started to figure this out, as they released Arrival last year, a major movie based on the title story. It got really good reviews, and from the sounds of it, they didn't even dumb the story down for mass consumption. A rare feat. I can't wait to watch it. But if you haven't seen it yet, read the book first. It's always better that way.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Lula and Pepper

Part of the reason for the decreased number of posts over the last 6 months has been the addition of 2 puppies to our family. I wanted to chronicle my feelings on dog-rearing while in the throes of it, so here they are. And hopefully you'll see why my blogging has taken a backseat for the moment. So here are some pros and cons to dog ownership, many of which I'm sure carry over to child ownership, but I'll let you draw your own inferences.

Lula Mae
Pepper Dean

-Their infectious, uninhibited joy and zest for life. Dogs can teach you how to be totally in the moment. Lula Mae is always up to run after something and chew on whatever object is at hand. And Pepper practically melts with joy when you open the car door.
-I think canine companions have been demonstrated to lower stress hormones, which makes sense. But don't quote me on that claim because I don't feel like verifying it right now.
-They love to cuddle. Pepper, always. Lula, whenever she feels like it. Now that they're in the 70-pound range, though, the logistics of cuddling have gotten rather tricky. Sigh #1.
-They get you outside moving around more than you would otherwise. There is even some data that dog ownership lengthens your lifespan. Thanks, furry friends!
-They protect you, your house, your garden, and any animals you have from all sorts of intruders. Great Pyrenees and Anatolian Shepherds (both Lula and Pepper are 50/50 mixes of these two breeds) were actually bred to fight off wolves and survive temperatures as low as -30 degrees. They also can tolerate quite a bit of rain before getting cold. Neat!
-They are fun and interesting subjects to study. Lula and Pepper are vastly different in temperament, yet somehow complementary. Lula is always busy with something and has never met a stranger, while Pepper stays chilled out most of the time. They mirror some things about Mindy and me freakishly well. And more of their temperament comes out every day. This morning, Lula started pulling out carrots from the garden bed intact in between chewing on stakes she had pulled up, while Pepper alternated between staring longingly through the sliding glass door at us, keeping watch on the land, and fending off attacks by Lula.

-They take more time than you expect. And they are destructive. Lula, gleefully so. She delights in grabbing that one thing you don't want her to find and immediately prancing off to destroy it. Just this morning, I found Mindy's credit card in the front yard-- riddled with toothmarks. Sigh #2.
-They are expensive. Shock collars, invisible fences, home repairs, food, toys, treats, and last but not least, veterinarian fees. Though we're glad they've gotten the care they need, we've also learned how much of a scam vets can be. I get you're just responding to incentives but no, we don't need cytology on their ear crust, and you know what, I think they'll be perfectly fine without a Lyme disease vaccine, thank you very much.
-They interfere with your sleep. Not as much as a newborn, I'm sure, but some nights it seems like Pepper thinks the zombie apocalypse is descending on Ridge Rd, and despite our best efforts we've been unable to convince him by coldly rational arguments that zombies are, in fact, pure fiction. A bark collar has been more persuasive, but when he really wants to bark, shocks be damned, he's gonna do it.
-When the invisible fence is down, as it was a few weeks ago when some neighbors ran over it with a backhoe, the dogs. run. amuck. The good news is, they only played with the neighbors' chickens and didn't massacre them. But said neighbor was still understandably ticked off by the situation. Sorry! Sigh #3.

All in all, the dogs have been good investment. They've brought us joy, experiences, and lessons we otherwise wouldn't have had, and isn't that what's truly important in life? I'll accept some fitful nights of sleep and a modest hit to my bank account balance for that. And hopefully at some point in your life, if you haven't already, you will too.

Thanks for reading, everyone. I'm gonna go play with my pups now. And the cat. Sorry, Molive. I'll write about you one day too, I promise.