Sunday, January 26, 2014

White Collar, Blue Collar, No Collar

"Do what you love and you'll love what you do, that's only true when I'm following you (God)" - Tobymac

The trick to finding your career these days is widely known. Analyze what you're good at, what you like to do, and what makes a positive impact on the world around you. Where ever those three overlap, that's where you ought to work (I wrote a whole entry on it here). That's probably where God is calling you. Turns out that's not the whole picture.

What if you don't have the chance to? What if you grew up without great opportunities. People say if you work hard you can get out of it. In America that is sometimes true, but usually it's not. But America aside, what if you live in a country wrecked by poverty? Are those people missing out on God's calling for their lives? And if we follow this model, who is going to pick up our trash for us. I mean I bet there are people who are passionate about collecting garbage, but do you honestly think that there are enough of those people to fill all the trash collection jobs. And what about other jobs that our society is decidedly unimpressed with, like construction workers, mechanics, electricians, plumbers, bus drivers, etc., etc. The list goes on. Note that without these jobs, society would come to a halt.  Also note that almost no parent would sit their child down and tell them that if they work hard and everything goes well then they'll end up getting to do one of those jobs. They're used more as threats. "Study hard, so you don't have to do that when you grow up!"

I'm working now. I finish bicycles. It's not glorious. You don't need a college degree for it. When I tell people what I do, I have this strong urge to add in that I'm a mechanical engineer, and that I'm doing a little bit of design as well and that my engineering role in the company will be growing soon.

What in the world?! Am I afraid that someone will think less of me because I have a "trade/blue collar" job?!?  My identity is so tied to what I do. I know I would judge someone like me, so I have to tell the story in a way that ensures people know I'm here of my own free will. I'm not trapped in a job that bores me and simply pays the bills. I could do better! (What's better mean anyway?!) I just like it here. I'm doing what I love! (or so I tell myself). - That this is my natural response has given me cause to stop and ponder.  It's a shame that I think that way, and that I'm not at all alone in thinking that way.

So anyway, there's a problem. America's job situation is a mess. The way I think about work, identity, satisfaction, and happiness is a mess. What we teach our children about growing up to be respectable is a mess. So.... food for thought. Also, this article, similarly themed, with a lot more words (here!).  It talks about the damage that the "do what you love" mantra is doing both to those who don't get that chance, and to those who do.

And this video interview with Mike Row, who did the show "Dirty Jobs":


So the moral of the story is go do some work. Get paid something (to meet you needs). Find a way to enjoy it. Don't rest your identity as a person on it.

Also, I don't know how to do most of what I just told you to do...

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Foolish Generosity

Proper use of money has been on the mind a lot.
Mom loves me so she made and mailed cookies.  Don't get me wrong.  The cookies were great, but... shipping cost $8.75.  That could have paid for two more batches of cookies.  To be more efficient with her giving she could just Paypal me all that money and email me the recipe, then I could make them myself and have 3 times as much cookie love right?!
I think we all know that would kind of defeat the point.  She didn't send those cookies in order for me to experience the maximum amount of delicious cookie possible (oatmeal cookies with white chocolate chips!).  She sent them because she loves me and wanted me to feel her love despite being so far away.  And yes, it worked.  I felt quite loved when I came home and found them on my doorstep :) :) :D
Shipping cookies almost 600 miles is a mildly extravagant way to communicate love.  It's the extravagance that carries the important part.  When God works in us and through us, he wants to communicate his love to us, and he also wants to communicate his love through us to others.  In both cases he likes to do so extravagantly.  It's not always the most financially efficient or "responsible" way, but God has no shortage of resources so that's not something he has to concern himself with.
When we feed the poor, we could do so by buying bread and peanut butter in bulk, whipping up a bunch of sandwiches and then handing them out.  Alternatively we could take a homeless man out to eat.  Both approaches get the job done.  One approach is financially responsible, while the other is not.  One approach (the financially irresponsible one if it wasn't clear), shows extravagant love, while the other does not.  Of course with the sandwiches you could impact more lives with the same amount of money, but at the same time, remember God has money, and when you follow his direction to take a homeless man out to eat, God will bless that and provide the means to make it happen again.
Maybe this addresses the concern of my previous post.  Spend our money extravagantly on the pleasure of serving God, and because it is not a zero sum game, God can multiply our efforts and allow large impact.
hmm.. sorry, mind is spinning wildly so forgive the chaos.  Maybe it's like this:

$10 feeds 2 people normally, or 1 person + extravagant love.  I have $10 so the choice is between impacting 1 person or 2.
Wrong.
Because maybe, when I choose the 1, God redirects $50 my way so that I can actually impact 6 people extravagantly.

Sooo... I think the trick is being aware that this can happen.  God likes operating like this. Most importantly though, just obey.  Don't question God when he defies common sense and says to just impact the 1 because you never know what he has up his sleeve.

Regret

Matthew 6:19-21
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.


Heaven is this earth in the future, when God returns and redeems this earth bringing it back to the way things were at the garden of Eden before the fall of humanity (not some place up in the clouds where we play harps, or even just a big worship service).  The idea of "being too heavenly focused to be any earthly good" is an idea that doesn't understand heaven and hasn't looked at the lives of history's most heavenly focused people.  If life in heaven is basically life in a redeemed earth, then many of the things we enjoy here and now we can enjoy there.  We don't need to waste our time getting as much pleasure today as we can.  There will be time for that in eternity.  Instead, seeing heaven ahead of us, we spend our time here doing the things we can't do in heaven; we rescue the world from sin, hopelessness, and brokenness.  Spending our time amassing wealth does us no good.  We leave it all behind.  Redeemed lives though come into the new heaven and new earth with us.  The stories of people who had clean water to drink because of our obedience to God will come to heaven with us.


In light of that, as our lives come towards their ends and we transition into eternity, will we regret the time wasted now on the eternally insignificant? (which things count as eternally significant would be another entire series of blog posts which I won't discuss right now).  This clip from the end of Schindler's List portrays the regret of a man who did so much but could have done more.  I don't know if he is right in reacting the way he does or not.  He seems to ignore the joy he could have from saving hundreds of people, to focus on the 12 he lost, but actually that sounds a lot like the good shepherd leaving his 99 sheep, to search out the one who was lost.





I don't believe God's goal is for us to live our lives in misery, but I also can't imagine him being thrilled when we let the lives of others slip by as insignificant in comparison to the pleasures we want to have fulfilled now.  I want to be able to justify spending money on me for things I like, but I'm struggling to put together any real argument that doesn't sound contrived, and just like an excuse to let me do what I want to do...  I could have sponsored a child for a month with the $19 I spent at lunch today.  There was value to my lunch with friends, but does it outweigh the alternative use of the money?  I am struggling to beat this question.

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Mind Spinning Again

"My mind is spinning" was first a phrase I started using when stuck trying to speak a foreign language for longer than normal, or when I had Spanish class right after German class for a few months in college.

Now it means I have a lot to think about, and that is definitely the case right now.  I've been going to Highrock Church the past 6 weeks and it has my mind spinning faster than it has in quite some time.  First by way of the "Stories" series on Sunday mornings in combination with a short course on telling your story in light of God's larger more important story.  This was quickly followed by a retreat for recent grads on the relationship between work and faith.  Learning how to be who God wants you to be and grow his Kingdom in the context of your work is no simple matter.  Most recently was a course on finances, which is a topic near and dear to my heart but about which I have much to learn.

I think all three of those topics address related issues for me from different angles.  Coupled with the major transition of moving cities and starting full time work, the question of the day is "What does living as a Christian look like for me today, tomorrow, and what might it look like in 10 or 20 years?"

Bahh, so much to think about, but all I want to do is work, eat, and sleep.  I think this is healthy though.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Life Stages: Retreats

I've experienced lots of retreats and weekends to get away from the chaos of the day to day and focus on God.  This weekend was another one with the young adults (mid twenties to early thirties) at Highrock Church.  We were out on a lake in New Hampshire, and were sharing the camp with a large group of middle schoolers.  Some basic observations:

- Camp rule:  You must have been born in the 1900's to have coffee (cutting out a very disappointed half of the middle schoolers.
- Middle schoolers require 1 leader for every 5-7 students, in contrast to our group requiring 1 leader for our 50 young adults.
- College retreats were very structured with particular things set out to learn and do and come away with (different tracks with a curriculum etc).  With the young adults, all that was needed was a speaker to provide some input, and then a space for us to talk to each other.  That was enough to foster the most valuable conversations tailored by default to each of our needs.

I accidentally woke up at 6:30 the first morning and beat the sun.  Morning photography on a lake is so cliché, and yet I always appreciate it.  I went running through the orange forests later in the day, sadly without a camera.  Love it.

There was a lot more to the retreat than beauty, but I'm still trying to wrap my head around it.





Sunday, October 20, 2013

Vegetables

Vegetarian.  The stigma of the word is starting to wear off for me.

A few years ago it was something obscure and impractical for people who valued animal life more than human life, and were paranoid to the extreme (my view anyway).  There are/were quite a number of other connotations that went along with it.  It was far away from me.  I remember being vegetarian for a day freshman year of college just to see what it was like, and it was basically miserable.  I was hungry all day.  My salad didn't fill me up.

A year later my dad had a heart attack.  That only added to the bad heart health in my history.  I began to pay attention to sodium, cholesterol, and saturated fat levels in my food.  The days of lucky charms for breakfast, and Alfredo sauce at dinner were a thing of the past (mostly).  I figured if I made small changes to my diet early, I wouldn't have to make the radical changes that people end up having to make to their diets post heart attack.


In Germany, I read Born to Run by Chris Mcdougall.  One of the main characters was Scott Jurek, a vegan ultramarathon runner.  My earlier vegetarian experiment had failed because I didn't know how to cook properly, and... I didn't like beans (and I hadn't even heard of quinoa yet).  I had lunch meat on my sandwiches most of that year, because they were free and beggars can't be choosers, but I started experimenting with vegetarian dinners sometimes.  I got used to the idea that a meal could still be a meal, even without meat.

I heard a TED Talk by Graham Hill about being a "weekday vegetarian."  It intrigued me, because it was sort of what I was doing already.  I had kind of decided that meat was fine and all, but that we eat too much of it, so I ate it just once or twice a week "on the weekends."  Mostly I loved that I never got a food coma from vegetarian meals.  I could pretty much eat and then go out on a long run a few minutes later - the time I needed to tie my shoes.  Another term for that is being a "meat-reducer"

Then I discovered black bean burgers!


So much more flavor than a beef burger!

I eventually added fried rice made with tofu, and a couple variations of rice and beans, and reached a point where I was making all of my meals vegetarian.  Pretty much the only time I ate meat was when others prepared the food, or sometimes in restaurants.  Even those times though, I think I really ate the meat because I didn't want to be a vegetarian, because frankly... vegetarians annoy me.  I didn't want to be associated with it, and so occasionally people would ask if I was vegetarian, and I would quickly reply, "no, I just don't eat a lot of meat," which was the truth.  I suppose I don't like labels.  The only label I take readily is that of "Christian" although even that label cannot be applied without an inner struggle.

Sustainability.  Unlike some I don't fear running out of resources really, but I don't like being frivolous.  I'm an engineer.  I like efficiency.  Nutrients come from the ground through plants which we can eat.  If animals eat the plants and we eat the animals, it takes about seven times as much plant to get us our nutrients because of inefficiencies in the food chain.  Of course, there are some areas that are good for animal grazing and not good for planting human food, so it goes both ways.

I read a section of a book called The China Study in which the premise was that yes, carcinogens cause cancer, but only in the presence of animal protein.  Carcinogens are almost impossible to avoid entirely, but animal protein can be avoided.  I only read a section, and a lot of it went over my head, but it was interesting.  They did an in depth study of many regions in china because the government had a lot of data, and since people eat very locally, most people in the same county ate the same foods, so making correlations became easier, at least that was what I understood.

I started adding vegetarian meals to my week so slowly, that it wasn't really difficult at all.  That brings an interesting phenomenon into play that is really obvious.  If something is hard, you need a lot of motivation to do it, but if it's easy, you need very little.  Since it was easy, I didn't need much motivation.

Healthwise, I have some decent motivation to eat less meat.  Morally I take most of my cues from the Bible.  In the Bible, God initially gave us only plants to eat, but after the fall of mankind he permitted the eating of animals, so I don't think eating meat is sinful.  The Bible also says that all things are permissible, but not all things are beneficial (1 Corinthians 10).  The context there is actually talking about eating meat offered to idols.  At the same time, I think if we are fully capable of living with relative ease without needing to unnaturally raise and then kill animals, then there might be value to that.  I know that in some areas of the world, they can only survive by living off of animals and I am totally okay with that, but in places where it's easy to avoid, I figure it's worth avoiding.  I'm not sure where the dividing line is between easy and hard so I'm not going to make a moral judgement on the matter.  It does intrigue me though that before the fall of man, we were vegetarian.  Of course we were also naked... so I'm not suggesting we try and imitate that time period.

Some of my vegetarian meals are vegan like this amazing chili:

Others like the black bean burgers require an egg.  Eating vegan meals is more challenging, and it's not a priority right now, but in my book, a vegan meal is a bonus I suppose.  Maybe over time, the survival of the fittest in my recipe book will make me a vegan.  I bought chocolate soy milk for the first time today.  Of course it is a little bit pricey which makes it less convenient so I can't afford it all of the time right now.

So I don't know where this story will end.  I suppose I am a vegetarian in denial, and may eventually find myself being a vegan in denial.  I don't really know.  This concludes a summary of a journey I never saw myself taking.  I am not telling you to take it, though I appreciate having other people to bounce ideas off of, and if you are willing to accept that a meal without meat is still a meal, it will make it much easier for me to invite you into my home.  My home is great.  If I'm at your home, I will gladly eat your meat and I promise not to judge you.  I care about you much more than I care about my diet.  I value people high above animals.

That's all I have to say now.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Comparison Game: Facebook

I visited Reunion Church a couple Sundays back.  It was the first church I visited in Boston.  The pastor was sharing about how envy can rob our joy (think older brother of the prodigal son).  We compare ourselves to others, and decide we want what they have.  Facebook plays a role in this because we post the top 1% of the great things that happen to us.  Relationships, new job, pictures of that awesome vacation, from your top 500 friends all in one newsfeed is bound to make you feel like you don't measure up.

My first thought was that we should counter that by posted all sorts of different things, not just the "good" things.  Then I realized, some people already do that, and I find those posts annoying.  There's something about sharing things that are going wrong just out into the open that makes me uncomfortable.  I don't mean me doing it makes me uncomfortable, I mean when other people do.  I then realized it's because it breaks the rule of our culture.  "How are you doing?" "Fine." or "Great!"
It seems so superficial, because so often it is, but I'm not quite sure the alternative.  I feel like we need a small core group of friends who we share the hurts and pains with, and for everyone else, we just practically don't have time to unload everything that is wrong all the time.  We interact with so many different people each day, and with facebook that number gets scary high.  So you just have a filtered down version of yourself.  The elevator speech that tells everyone everything they need to know about you in 30 seconds.  You only have time to show good things, so it's settled.

Just remember when you look at facebook, it's not the full story (privacy still exists kind of).  Their life has good things, and so does yours.  Theirs has bad things, but they're just not sharing it to the whole world.

Don't compare, just pick a few things going well in your life and enjoy them.