Category Archives: Parables
During Mission Year, I worked at the Georgia Justice Project (GJP) as the Prison Support Coordinator. I donned the title “paralegal” and visited our clients in prison. One particular man mentored me in this role. His name is Sanchez and he tells the best stories.
I wasn’t a huge fan of stories growing up. As I think back to my Dad reading to me before bed, I recall a series of non-fiction books about animals and plants and things. I’m sure my parents read fiction to me on occasion but I don’t remember it well. Being interested in math and science, it was easy to ignore. To this day, I’m known kind of strangely for being able to sit down with a good textbook and enjoy a read.
Just a few miscellaneous thoughts this Monday.
Exercise is the celebration of health.
One gives freely, yet grows all the richer; another withholds what he should give, and only suffers want.
Anxiety can leave us in a kind of functional atheism.
Any of these provoke your thoughts as they do mine?
On Monday we brought home a puppy!
Her name is Tesla and she’s a Golden Retriever. We named her after the scientist, Nikola Tesla, not the car. Had she been a boy, her name would’ve been Kepler.
Huge thanks to Patricia Bass-Walker for breeding beautiful Golden Retrievers.
Some early reflections on puppy-hood:
- There’s a difference between obedience and control. I can’t control Tesla but I can train her to be obedient. Note the verb there. I don’t “obedient” Tesla. I train Tesla. The fruit of that training is obedience. I’m three days in and that’s already a hard lesson.
- I can’t image what having a baby is like and I’m told it’s harder than a puppy. Yikes.
She is a bundle of fun.
I thought this hymn was fantastic this morning. Speak it aloud if you can. As spoken word, it is powerful.
We meet you, O Christ, in many a guise;
your image we see in simple and wise.
You live in a palace, exist in a shack;
we see you, the gardener, a tree on your back.
In millions alive, away and abroad;
involved in our life, you live down the road.
Imprisoned in systems, you long to be free;
we see you, Lord Jesus, still bearing your tree.
We hear you, O man, in agony cry;
for freedom you march, in riots you die.
Your face in the papers we read and we see.
The tree must be planted by human decree.
You choose to be made at one with the earth;
the dark of the grave prepares for your birth.
Your death is your rising, creative your word;
the tree springs to life and our hope is restored.
Two weekends ago, I was at Riverfest, an all-church retreat for The River Church Community in San Jose. Our speaker for the weekend was Dave Schmelzer. In his talks, Dave shared about two story archetypes. The first is known as the “Harvest Story.” It’s told in the hymn above. At its start it was about how crops would die in the winter and be reborn again in spring for harvest in summer. In a Christian context, Jesus embodies the harvest. His life is cut down by death but his resurrection means salvation is available for all. The second is called the “Reluctant Hero.” The best modern example is the Lord of the Rings trilogy. In Dave’s mind, we who follow Jesus are the reluctant heroes. The invitation of Christ to bear his cross and join in his long-suffering is the hero’s journey. The highest goal then along the journey is to be glad and joyful.
In reflection after Dave’s talks I have been looking to be more joyful. I smile as I type that because I’m not sure it’s possible and feel kind of goofy saying so. But there you have it, let’s be joyful.
A few month’s ago was Maddie’s Pet Adoption Day in the Bay Area. Shannon and I were looking to adopt a dog so we went around to a dozen different rescues looking at the options. I jokingly thought of it as dog dating.
Two takeaways from the experience:
- Again I was amazed by how quickly an opinion was formed. It was like looking at houses. Maybe opinions solidify quicker with the big decisions because small things are more easily deal-breakers: pretty/ugly, big/small, jumpy/sleepy. I hoped for a connection with each animal. That very idea is a curious truth.
- It was sad to see behavioral issues in some of the dogs. Some animals were terrified by people, some leaped at children, others were violent toward peers. I’m sure you can work on all these behaviors but its tough to imagine adopting those problems. The dogs and their behaviors were a caricature of us humans.
Did we find a match? Nope, sadly.
But that doesn’t mean we gave up.
Just some quick thoughts:
- I thought the most profound statement the book made was the description of Meg after the family escapes from IT without Charles. In the story, “IT” represents a kind of evil, possessive force. The hubris of the young son, Charles, gets him caught in IT’s power. Shortly after, the family escapes and Meg is furious and scared that they’ve left Charles behind. L’Engle writes that in her fear and anger, Meg is as much controlled by IT as Charles. Though she is not in the presence of evil, her abilities are crippled by an extension of her memory.
- At the end of the book, there’s some discussion of God’s sovereignty. L’Engle uses the analogy of the sonnet to describe our life’s freedom within restrictions. A sonnet requires a very strict form, specific rhyming rules, and a limited length. But the poet is still allowed to express anything they like within these rules. So likewise our lives have rules but our freedom of expression is great.
- Meg’s character is constantly vacillating between very happy and very sad emotions. I got a little tired riding the roller coaster of her emotions through the book. Shannon says this is just an accurate depiction of a teenage girl’s feelings. Yikes. Now I remember those teenage years. It’s exhausting just to read it in a work of fiction.
Though you’ll find it in the juvenile section of your library, it’s worth a read at any age.
This week I’m visiting Shannon’s Grandparents In Michigan. As part of the trip we drove down to the Henry Ford Museum. The experience was worth the price of admission and we spent over five hours wandering the displays. I particularly enjoyed seeing the evolution of car bodies starting with carriage-like things.
The quote below stood out as I am currently thinking a lot about reputation. It reads, “You can’t build a reputation on what you’re going to do.” I understand the quote in two ways. First that your intentions aren’t substance for your reputation. And second that your reputation is based on what you’ve done. Those ideas are separate and I fall into the trap of ignoring each of them sometimes.
My final encouragement from the visit was noticing that Henry Ford was a tinkerer. He was a CEO who had built his own car from a kit before even starting his business. He experimented with marketing even his own model of car and failed with two businesses a decade before the Model T gained such popularity. No doubt, his intimate knowledge of his product and his application of that knowledge to the development of the assembly line is what made him eventually such a success.
Crazy – /ˈkrāzē/ – When you think there’s something wrong with everyone else but yourself.
Note that this is not necessarily a bad thing.
I initially thought of this definition when Shannon said something about how every other driver on the road was wrong for … I can’t remember. But I’m sure I disagreed and called her crazy. So for the record, here’s my definition of crazy.
I’m also thinking of this a lot as I’ve just left Microsoft. I must be crazy.
I’ve just returned from a week-long vacation in Japan. As part of the trip, my wife and I visited two of the most popular cities: Tokyo and Kyoto. These cities welcome tourists from around the world every year and are enormous urban populations of millions. In such large cities, we were fortunate to have the benefit of Japanese hospitality given a language barrier that presented a totally foreign character set.
We’d have to count on at least two hands the number of hospitable and helpful Japanese people that we met on our trip. Though they are not outright convivial, no one ever turned down an opportunity to help us. And often they went out of their way to do so even when we remained at a loss.
For example, when we first arrived we realized that we hadn’t let our credit card company know that we’d be traveling. I became nervous that they would suspend our card and we would have no way to contact them. So we found a phone in the Narita Airport. Of course, all the instructions for the phone were in Japanese so we studied it as scientists might at an archaeological site. Eventually, a Japanese woman who spoke very little English offered us her help by giving us her prepaid phone card. By deciphering the pictographs, we eventually made our call with her card.
In addition to experiencing Japanese hospitality, the language barrier offered us a respite from advertising. Though we saw many posters, signs, and messages, the effect was negated by the foreign character set. It’s hard to get a slogan stuck in your head if you can’t read or understand the words. There were also many merchants and shops surrounding the historical sites but they carried such peculiar things that the novelty of them hadn’t worn off by the time we left.
Being back in the Bay Area now and feeling a barrage of messages everywhere I look and listen is somewhat overwhelming. I miss the language barrier and the freedom from distractions that it offered.
This morning I achieved another goal I had set for myself on the bike. I began this year riding for 20 minutes as part of my morning routine. At first, I was rather slow and averaged about 12 mph. So I set a goal to reach 15 mph. To my amazement, I achieved this just about a month ago. Hoping to make it a habit, my next goal was to average more than 15 mph for an entire week. This week, I did it!
As I was riding, I noticed that I looked often at the spedometer. With the goal of 15 mph, I have to pedal fairly hard to get there and I rely on the feedback of the spedometer to tell me how I’m doing. The mode I generally use displays three things to me. The first, in large numbers, is my current speed. Below that is a timer counting up from when I started. And to the right of the speed, is a small arrow pointing up or down. This arrow points up when my current speed exceeds my average and down when my current speed is below my average. With the current speed and arrows, I can monitor my performance second-to-second.
As I ride, I often have to encourage myself in my mind and out-loud to keep going, press-on, and focus. With a blank wall in front of me, the only external motivation is my iPhone playing some Celtic music with a fast beat. As I look down to the spedometer, I often want it to encourage me too. And it does, when I am riding above my average and the little arrow points up. It seems to say, “you’re doing great; you’re average is rising.”
But when that arrow points down, I feel discouraged. “You’re not going fast enough.” I feel like I have to step it up or stop. If I keep riding below my average then I’ll pull it down and won’t achieve my goal. My impulse is to either improve or stop entirely.
It may seem strange, but business is similar. Some months are great and others aren’t so much. The trick is to keep going, press-on, and focus regardless of how well things are going. And, when things aren’t going well, to put all the more effort into their improvement. But when things trend downward, I see that arrow and it’s not encouraging.
The temptation to project a trend to either wild success or complete failure is a fallacy. If I cannot raise my current speed above my average this second, then I should not stop. I should simply try in the next second. Thinking 20 minutes out and deciding the result does me a disservice. Each second, I must ask, am I achieving my goal? If not, I press-on to ask in the next second.