Your Offering to the World

On Tuesday, I wrote “I Am More Than a Computer,” and I meant every word. I wondered whether it would resonate, whether I was the only one feeling so overwhelmed by the muchness of the modern world. There is always something else to do–a piece of pop culture to learn, some news to know, a client demand, a civic obligation. I wrote about this, and so many of you responded.  This is the game, you said, and though we may not admit it, so many of us are keeping score. I know I am.

Seth, 1. The rest of you, 0.

Yesterday, I monitored my 401k account in real-time. There was no reason for it; it’s just that technology has made such a thing possible, and what am I but a seizer of every possibility? I watched as the market dropped one-half of a percentage point (0.005), as I lost the value of a steak dinner with Amber when I’m 64. My screen was covered in monetary blood. Everything was red (except Windstream Communications, for what it’s worth). And as the day closed, as I surveyed my losses (which will no doubt bounce back; I’m no Chicken Little), I couldn’t escape the nagging feeling that something was terribly wrong.  I was anxious, perhaps mildly depressed. The black cloud moved into my office, settled over my head. I couldn’t shake the notion that I was using the metrics of net worth to quantify my self worth.

And even as I write this, I consider those who may not have a retirement account at all. Does my writing about a retirement account make them anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do those of you who’re well-heeled, who have fatty savings accounts, platinum retirements, and your child’s Harvard college fund make me anxious, perhaps mildly depressed? Do you make me a touch jealous?

Don’t look too closely; you’ll see my skin is turning green.

The score keeping and quantification of modern living is endless–measure your retirement accounts; measure your savings; measure your client base; measure your fan base, your Twitter followers, your Facebook friends; measure your personality with BuzzFeed quizzes (I am LinkI am Moses;  I am Taylor Swift with a sprinkled donut); measure your biceps, your thighs, your waist, the size of your boobs; measure the size of your partner’s boobs. If we’re honest–as in wake-up-with-cold-sweats-in-the-middle-of-the-night honest–how often do we reduce ourselves (and others) to these sorts of measurements, the ones and zeroes of our lives, the As and Cs of our report cards or cup-sizes?

And these measurements, aren’t they sneaky? Last week, Ike handed me a slip of paper. It was his math placement for junior high. “Advanced,” it read, and I beamed. He’d been measured above-average, better than good. This is the kind of thing that makes a father’s heart swell from a AA to CC. I looked at him, smiling. He was not.

“What’s wrong,” I asked.

“It’s just that I’m not sure my grades are good enough to be in the advanced class,” he said.

“What? You’ve cashed out As all year. Are you kidding me?”

“Yea. But I work so hard and scrape by with 90s while the smart kids hardly work and make perfect scores. So many of them have 96s or 98s. I’m not sure I’m really ‘advanced.'”

There it was. Twelve years old, and he’s already learning to quantify his worth against the worth of others. He’s learning to keep score. This is the game. Score or be the score.

Ike, 0. Everyone else, 1.

There is a trick to this life that I haven’t yet learned. It’s the trick of seeing the world as something more than a giant scoreboard. It’s the trick of seeing each individual as a soul composed of eternal stuff instead of competitor on the gridiron of life. The trick is something more than just saying “you are the beloved of God,” or “God loves you just the way you are, bankruptcy, zits, and frumpy body aside.” The trick is allowing those phrases to work me over, to whip me into shape. The trick is allowing those things to permeate me like yeast, to grow, to puff up the way I live. The trick is really meaning what I preach, quantifications be damned.

Seth, 0. Everyone else, 0. We’re all 0. And yet, we’re all everything. 

This is the trick.

My last two pieces (Tuesday’s and today’s) may not be for everyone. You may not place yourself on the baker’s scale, measure yourself against the rest of the world. You may not try to keep up, pump your noggin with too much knowledge, your bank account with too much money, your muscles with too many steroids, your bust with a little more silicone. And if that’s you, blessings to you. If that’s you, hop a plane and visit Northwest Arkansas. We’ll hold a conference, charge $50 a head, allow you to be the keynote guru. I’ll split the house with you. (If your heart just leapt, perhaps you’re not quite as actualized as you thought.) But for those of you raising your hands, those of you who identify very well with the endless cycle of measuring up, take a break for the day. What does that mean? Heck. I don’t know. Consider deleting Facebook or Twitter from your phone, deleting the stock-tracker app. Consider asking a co-worker how they’re feeling, whether things are good in their life. Take a walk. Smell spring. Let the atoms of spring fill you; let them become a part of you; let them teach you that everything–even all of nature–starts small, unmeasured, and fragrant. Whisper a prayer–not a wordy, metered, rhymy one, but maybe just one that says, “hey there; I see you. Do you see me?” Eat a piece of chocolate. Enjoy a cup of Earl Grey. Do something less corporate. Wear a funny pair of socks. Speak to your neighbor in a British accent. Don’t worry about your bank account. Pay a bill and laugh. Be a mess. Be unashamedly who you are–human. This is your offering,  a middle finger to the world of measurements.

 

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes(And if you’d like to make a tiny, monthly donation to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

I Am More Than A Computer

“[Tolstoy] could observe the mass of persons, the peasants, who in the most miserable of conditions found life deeply meaningful, and even sweet. They had not heard about particles and progress. But this is no longer possible. The peasants now watch TV and constantly consume media. There are no peasants now. ” Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

This is what the culture demands: work another hour; add another client; bill another dollar; buy another car, a bigger house, and extra pair of shoes, a new watch (the automatic sort, +/- 20 nanoseconds, Greenwich); know your boss, your neighbor, the contact in Beijing who might be a potential client; connect with them on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn (do millennials use it?), Instagram, Snapchat (do Gen-Xers use it?); know 10 Ways To Travel On The Cheap, or 5 Ways To Please Your Lover in Bed, or 7 Habits of Highly Defective People; know a language; know Beyonce’s “Lemonade,” Trump’s xenophobia, the time Hillary barked like a dog; Know the best ways to poke fun at Sarah Palin (this might actually come in handy); know about sex, and not just the euphoria of post-relational bliss, but know about its permutations and associated rights; understand gender, identity, the ideologies of sex, sex, sex; know the news, pop culture (an interesting play on words), literature, art; know Jesus, or Buddha, or The Prophet; know religion, all religions, how religion corrupts, the way it gives life and has stolen it; know justice and mercy–conceptually, not practically; know how to make bread, grill steak, roll sushi, steep tea; learn a language; know how to promote the self, the 8 Paths To Marketing Your Ego; be so proficient with Google that no one knows how little you know; be a human computer.

A human computer–yes, be that. Compute, compute, compute. Communicate, communicate, communicate. Above that, opine. Above all else, consume. Consume like a baby bird or a murder of crows. Consume like a tapeworm. Consume like a blackhole. This is what the culture demands, and to bolster its demands it plays this endless sleight of hand: consumption drives economies forward; expanding economies drive progress; progress provides jobs; jobs make people happy; happy people consume.

This is the truth of the modern life. And if that feels a bit too broad for your liking, allow me to restate it: this is the truth of my modern life.

There comes a point in life when one has to say enough is enough. I think I’ve reached that point. No matter what the advertisers, social media, the internet, the educational system, the church, the gym, the civic organization, or the market forces sell me, I am a person bound by the very real limitations of time and space. I simply cannot keep up with everything, no matter how much I try.

In the creation narrative provided in scripture, God created the sun and the moon, bodies which govern time. We call the cycles of their rising and setting days, and these days consist of only 24 hours. He placed immovable heavenly bodies as a tangible reminder–there is only so much time. He then gave us flowers, animals, companionship, things to enjoy. And though these things can be enjoyed in near-infinite arrays, there’s only so much time to enjoy them. The limitations of time mean, simply, every decision I make excludes another possible decision. This is the fundamental premise of economics–a decision to enjoy or know one thing excludes enjoyment or knowledge of another (i.e., you cannot have it all).

Consider this illustration. I have the opportunity to watch a presidential debate and to live Tweet it, blow by blow. In that moment, my connection to the debate and my followers on Twitter precludes a meaningful engagement with my sons or my wife. (As an aside, she’ll attest that I fall prey to this tradeoff.) On occasion, such tradeoff might be warranted. I might argue that voters should be adequately informed before walking into the booth. But the rub comes when we become constant consumers, always trading human connection for the dollar, the digital, or the Donald (or any other politician). The rub comes when we trade our family, our friends, or meaningful experiences for endless consumption.

Winn & John

Hunter

Ken

I love what I love. I love roots music, literature, and I have a passing fancy for art. I’m no expert in any of it, though society expects me to consume to the point of pretending to be such an expert. I haven’t watched “Lemonade” yet (thought I want too), and I haven’t sorted out the legalities of North Carolina’s Bathroom Law (though I have private thoughts on that, too). I have three less clients than I ought, make a few thousand less than I could. I suspect I’m limited in my culinary skills (though I can stew just about anything and make it edible). I’ve lived 38 years worth of sun settings, moon waxing and wanings. I’m not claiming any unique wisdom has come with that age–I’m still young-ish, after all–but I’ve learned a hard-won lesson. I cannot keep up with the consumer demands of today. They rob me of my humanity.

So, don’t ask me about my thoughts about the news or entertainment item du jour. Don’t ask me to care, or to Google it, or to understand the nuances of it all. Don’t tempt me to become something I’m not. Don’t tempt me to become digital.

I am not a computer. I am a person. I want to live a human life, not the life of a Mac.

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes(And if you’d like to make a tiny, monthly donation to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

Cue the Ruckus

This week is the release of Mother Letters: Sharing the Laugher, Joy, Struggles, and Hope. Today, I’m grateful to be sharing a little mother story at Ann Voskamp’s blog, A Holy Experience. I hope you’ll read along.

***

The sun set over the western bank of trees, long arms stretching across the waters of a tiny pond.

Welcome, they said.

Workweek over and itching to exercise his boyish spirit, Isaac called his best friend—Tippa, the black, wire-haired mutt—and reached for his fishing rod.

Down to the water glowing orange, the moss-covered banks. Down to his sanctuary, the place of catfish, crappie, and largemouth bass. It was his place of refuge, his honey hole.

Lure to line, knot tied, Isaac rested his rod against the fence post and turned to his tackle box. He reached for split shot, some pliers, perhaps some scissors. The rod listed, fell, flipping the lure forward, barbed hook finding its way into the paw of Isaac’s best friend.

Cue the ruckus.

Cue…

Continue reading at A Holy Experience.

And if you’d like purchase a copy of Mother Letters (it’d make a great Mother’s Day present), visit Barnes & Noble or Amazon.

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes(And if you’d like to make a tiny, monthly donation to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

What is a Mother?

Today’s piece is brought to you by Mother Letters: Sharing the Laughter, Joy, Struggles, and Hope. (Happy Birthday, Mother Letters!) Whether for Mother’s Day, a baby shower, or yourself, Mother Letters makes a great gift. Grab a copy at Barnes & Noble, Amazon, or wherever fine books are sold.

***

If man was made from the dust of the earth and woman cut from his rib, my mother was sawed from the bayou’s bone. A daughter of cypress knees, Spanish moss, and spent shotgun shells, she was reared on a lane with a passel of boys–a rough and tumble crew of scabby, bb-gunning, scratching, cussing boys. She learned to spot snakes–water moccasins and coral alike–spit on a scraped knee, and climb trees. She cut her literary teeth on Planet of the Apes, knew the names of superheroes and villains.

My grandfather told me she was a bona fide daddy’s girl, a parasitic, stick to the hip sort. He took her hunting in the basin of a Louisiana bayou, and poor shot as she was, she winged a green crested mallard. He rowed to the gaggling bird, swimming circles, black-marble eyed. “Finish him,” gramps said, “or we’ll have to break his neck.” She was tough girl, but didn’t have much use for shotguns after that. This is how the story goes, anyhow.

To continue reading, sign up for my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. Or, if you’ve already signed up, check your inbox.*

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.

To The Women Who Know Their Place

A woman should know her proper place–a statement for which I will make no apology.

On Easter, the proper-placed woman sat in her whitest white, ladylike, hands folded, hem near the floor. Unadorned, Corinthian-quiet, unassuming, it could be said that she was born straight from the pages of Scripture. He eyes attuned to the men–reading Scripture, leading prayers, leading congregation in Psalmic recitation. She stood on cue, sat when sitting was ordained by the prayer book.

When the time came for the Easter homily, she crossed herself and took small steps to her proper place. “May the words of my mouth, and the meditations of my heart be acceptable,” she said, then shared her darkest days, her pain, her rescue by the risen Lord. She was Mary Magdalene, first and best witness of the resurrection. Mother-tears in her eyes, rose-cheeked and smiling, she invited me to the empty tomb, allowed me to believe in the magic of resurrections, even after all these magicless years.

“The peace of the Lord,” she offered, then moved to the baptismal font, to the waters of new birth. Under the flicker of the Paschal light, she pushed babes through the waters of new life, nursed them into the divine family. Quiet, quiet, quiet–all things pointed to life; no things pointed to femininity, or masculinity, or the ceaseless works of the striving strongmen. Even to tell this now feels holy, still hushed. Even to remember her reminding us–the disciples–that she’d seen the Risen Lord brings a spark of hope. This was the first Easter sermon I’ve ever believed, the first embodiment of resurrection, best celebration of new birth.

A woman should know her proper place–a statement for which I will make no apology. And to the woman whose proper place was the Easter Sunday pulpit, allow me to extend this small sentiment: thanks.

***Tiny Letter***

Thanks for stopping in! If you enjoy reading here, sign up to receive my bi-monthly Tiny Letter. If you sign up, you’ll receive my free eBook, Coming Clean|Austin Outtakes(And if you’d like to make a tiny, monthly donation to keep this blog and the Tiny Letter rolling, click here.)

powered by TinyLetter

Want to receive my updates in your inbox? Click here. Also, follow along on Twitter and Facebook.