I wrote a book

Thanks to many who read this blog and to those who have curated this community, I've been encouraged to go a bit further with some ideas. I even give a shout out to Conversant Life in the Acknowlegments.

This brief post, though, is simply to say that i wrote a book.

It's entitled "A Time to Question Everything" and it's notes, observations, and reflections that explore whether grace (and it can) hold the weight of our messy life?

Currently you can pick it up here...more details to come. 

A Time to Question Everything

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What are Your Ground Rules?

 What are your ground rules?

 

Watching the news cycle is increasingly difficult not only because we’ve elevated opinion over fact, but we’ve also allowed vitriol and anger to run unchecked. As a person of faith, sacrificial love is the mark of the Christian. So much so, that the late Francis Schaeffer made this observation:

 

“I have observed one thing among true Christians in their differences in many countries: What divides and severs true Christian groups and Christians - what leaves a bitterness that can last for 20, 30, 40 years (or for 50 or 60 years in a son's or daughter's memory) - is not the issue of doctrine or belief that caused the differences in the first place. Invariably, it is a lack of love - and the bitter things that are said by true Christians in the midst of differences.” (emphasis mine)

 

The church as a whole, in the U.S., is failing this test. Observable deeds of love have been replaced by self-justifying words and deeds of anger, hatred, and defensiveness.

 

In recent meetings with international partners, I have heard that fewer international students feel that the United States will help them grow in to the people they want to be. This is indeed sobering.

 

Yet, part of that truth is related to the unrestrained nature of the commentary. The unwillingness for many to simply stop when something awful comes to mind before sending that tweet, that social media post, or that snide remark out in the world. Let me put it another way: are you violating your own ground rules? Do you have lines drawn that show you where your descent in to hatred and bitterness starts?

 

As a human being, I have had to take the news and tweets in smaller doses. The lack of love combined with the lack of restraint is toxic and acts like a stain that is increasingly difficult to wash out.

 

So, a few weeks back, I jotted down a few ground rules for myself and to put barricades up on the side of the road, that allow me to travel within the lines on some things. There are five of them and they are as follows:

 

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Tags | forum | Grace | listening | world

thoughts on change

 So, I am sitting here in the waiting area while I wait for the mechanics to finish changing the oil in my car. That’s right. I’m paying good money for scheduled change. I have thought about driving my car without an oil change for as long as driving my car without an oil change would work. I shelved that idea after experiencing a shredded tire on a highway part way between Omaha and Kansas City several years ago. Turns out that being stranded by yourself at night, on the side of the road, with a shredded (not flat) front tire, in nowhere Missouri truly does feel like a horror film.

That’s revealing, though, isn’t it? We are fine with scheduled maintenance, but not so crazy about change. Why? Because scheduled maintenance is about control and it’s on our timetable.

When Art Invades an Ugly Space


The Hilton hotel in the south 700 block of Chicago was the largest hotel in the world when it was built. Over 3000 rooms when it was first built in 1927 and the location is still pretty amazing. Views of Lake Michigan in some rooms and walking distance to many Chicago landmarks. Yet, in 1927 the economy was about to collapse. We were in between two world wars and gangsters, prohibition, and poor labor conditions also grabbed headlines at the time. And connecting dots has always been fascinating to me. 
In 1927 the first film with synchronous sound was released. The Jazz Singer, which was that film, was later redone (or remixed if you will) in 1980 with Neil Diamond and Laurence Olivier in the leading roles.In 1927, Buster Keaton was a film star as well against a backdrop of new technology and new discovery. Art, in other words, does something when it shows up.

Revisiting Global Heroes

Author Brad Meltzer is quoted as saying this: "“We are all ordinary. We are all boring. We are all spectacular. We are all shy. We are all bold. We are all heroes. We are all helpless. It just depends on the day.”

 

Yes, the films “Black Panther” and “Avengers: Infinity War” will wash over the imaginations of movie watchers this year, but heroes need to last longer and grow bigger. Our politicians are not heroes as of March 2018. They are growing smaller and are creating divisive narratives that will not last. Our first responders can be heroes, but many will say they are ordinary and that it depends on the day.

 

Heroes, though, come near us when things seem out of control. Since love is not just an idea or an emotion, but a physical action, people who truly care deeply for us help to shape and frame our understanding of eros or agape or philos or good, old-fashioned love stories. I want someone to slide their hand in to mine and take on the world with me. If lovers lie with one another, make love, and each knows that the world may not understand them, but damn it, the world will need to deal with them. A connection has been made at a deeper level. Love is that thing that elevates us to act like heroes to one another and sometimes to the watching world.

To love the world is to confront it and this will sound and look heroic. To love the world with another is to confront the insecurities in each and draw ever closer. If you know me better or more intimately, will you love me  We now live in the tension of knowing far more than we have ever known about the world, with access to information across the globe coming to us at broadband speed, so we cannot plead ignorance. We can only act or not act. In the midst of Hollywood’s recent explosion of films dedicated to superheroes and comic book figures, Roger Ebert, in reviewing The Dark Knight, observes: “Something fundamental seems to be happening in the upper realms of the comic-book movie. “Spider-Man II” (2004) may have defined the high point of the traditional film based on comic-book heroes. A movie like the new “Hellboy II” allows its director free rein for his fantastical visions. But now “Iron Man” and even more so “The Dark Knight” move the genre into deeper waters. They realize, as some comic-book readers instinctively do, that these stories touch on deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes.”[2] And in an age of globalization, our “deep fears, traumas, fantasies, and hopes,” are shared across cultures, generations, and mediums at breakneck speed. If it’s true that we are increasingly becoming interconnected and interdependent on a global scale, then can it be true that we are now in search of heroes that will connect and rescue us all? Our heroes, now, must be people or figures who can not only transcend their context, but cultures as well. In other words, our heroes must be part of something bigger than themselves and challenge us to values that are shared beyond our own immediate context. Our heroes can't just save us, they must act like they care.

Can we draw ever closer to one another and still love more, not less?

Can we face the darkness of the world and love more, not less?

The heroes we become or the heroes we need will remind us that sacrificial love is the life we want to stick around after our storms have passed.

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Living with Camus Isn't Bad at All

On this day, January 4, in 1960, Albert Camus died in a car crash. That’s the bad news.

The good news: he isn’t bad to live with today.

In a 2010, Economist article, we read that “History finds Camus on the right side of so many of the great moral issues of the 20th century. He joined the French resistance to combat Nazism, editing an underground newspaper, Combat. He campaigned against the death penalty. A one-time Communist, his anti-totalitarian work, “L'Homme Révolté” (“The Rebel”), published in 1951, was remarkably perceptive about the evils of Stalinism. It also led to his falling-out with Sartre, who at the time was still defending the Soviet Union and refusing to condemn the gulags”.

In my own copy of The Stranger by Camus, I have a few things underlined.

Light Always Shines Bright When It's Dark

 

For reasons both comforting and curious, the loneliest, darkest, and coldest time of the year plays host to Christmas. The shortest day of the year is around Christmas making it the physically darkest holiday, next to New Year’s, on the calendar. So, the time of year when we are supposedly the most generous is also the time of year where we are fighting depression and good old fashioned darkness.

 

Yet, that’s when the light truly shines.

 

The current news cycle seems very dark and while I can go on various rabbit trails lamenting a variety of things, I am reminded that this time of year always gets dark. Lights on trees and holiday lights on houses, lining streets, or in the malls announce that something is different. Lights that flash and lights that look like impromptu runways accompany lights that spell out encouraging words and lights that point the way to shopping, restaurants, or special events. All of these lights come when the sun starts to set earlier in the afternoon.

 

So, yes, the world is dark. At this time of  year, it’s always darker.

 

But, that’s part of the meaning behind ideas like generosity, grace, and sacrificial love. “It’s a Wonderful Life,” isn’t about preserving a mobile, middle class life, but it’s about being attentive to the life we already have. What would it be like to bring light in to the darker parts of our world? Frankly, it’s not that difficult to ponder. We simply need to recall that generosity doesn’t go out of style and can be done all year long. Grace never gets old and everyone needs it. Sacrificial love changes everything and is always worth the effort.

 

As the days get shorter and the darkness extends in to our afternoons, lights truly do get noticed and truly do make a difference.  I’ll list a few quotes so  you just don’t take my word for it:

 

From William Shakespeare—

 

“How far that little candle throws his beams! So shines a good deed in a weary world.”

 

From Vincent Van Gogh—

 

“Those who love much, do much and accomplish much, and whatever is done with love is done well.... Love is the best and noblest thing in the human heart, especially when it is tested by life as gold is tested by fire. Happy is he who has loved much, and although he may have wavered and doubted, he has kept that divine spark alive and returned to what was in the beginning and ever shall be. 

Thanks and No Thanks

Albert Camus once wrote that the purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself. He has a point. In a day and age where cynicism and insults fly out of the mouths and keyboards of cultural leaders like reactionary cries of a toddler in a toy store, we enter a holiday season full of thanks and no thanks.

There are a lot of reasons to be thankful, particularly in the U.S. Despite being only 4% of the world’s population, we consume resources and material goods in mind boggling numbers. We can connect online across countries, across borders, and across time and space in mind-numbing speed. And the list goes on and on. Many people reading this truly take things, people, and food for granted.

But, there’s a ‘no thanks’ part that is also increasing in our culture.

The word ‘evangelical’ is becoming something people want to say ‘no thanks’ to because it has become virtually meaningless and more associated with fundamentalist voters rather than good news or salt and light. Cultural leadership, formerly occupied by celebrities or Presidents (world leaders) or athletes, is now a wide open and unoccupied space. Our own President has made fun of or called other people names several times in the past few days alone. Violence against women is now a common report in the news with prominent members of Hollywood or the sports world found guilty or as suspects. Even college sports is under investigation by the FBI for corruption.

I want to say a resounding ‘no thanks’ to so much of the cynicism and rhetorical vitriol that runs amuck on social media and in the news cycle. But, for the foreseeable future, all of the ugliness seems here to stay.

 So, in order to truly say ‘thanks’ to what is good, we now have to be even more intentional saying ‘no thanks’ to that which is unloving and unkind. Abraham Lincoln, about a month before he gave the Gettysburg Address, sent a note outlining why Thanksgiving means something. The memo is pasted here:

 

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Tags | global | holiday | love | thanks

International Education is More than Programs

When attending a musical in Austin, Texas, recently, the usher handed me a program. And some programs on television last less than an hour when you count the commercial interruptions. Many colleges and Universities advertise programs. All of these have at least two things in common: 1) they don’t last, 2) they are not meant to last.

This is why I don’t want to have students or faculty or parents see study abroad through the lens of programs only. I want to suggest that it’s the wrong ‘p’ word. Instead, there are at least three other ways to see study abroad and the view through them is much more interesting.

 

Pathway

An international experience is a decidedly colorful, meaningful, and robust marker on one’s journey, so it’s part of a pathway.

Progress and Decline at the Same Time

A name calling President who regularly insults others in public doesn’t seem like progress. Yet, we continue to advance medical technology to the point of AIDS being more treatable than before. We can detect certain cancers earlier and life expectancy is higher. This is promising.

The leading cause of death for adults 25-45 years old last year was drug overdose. In fact, the leading causes of death in all adults under the age of 50 is, for the most part, self-inflicted. Drug overdose, suicide, and heart failure all compete for number one. This doesn’t seem like progress. Earlier I took a train from London to Paris which travels underneath the water. I ate breakfast at a preserve in Australia with Koala bears and Kangaroos and had a soft drink and wrote in my journal while sitting in Tiananmen Square, in the heart of Beijing. Some of this seems like progress.
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About
As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.


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