35 years of discovering nuance

Yesterday I turned 35, and I’m answering the question my father-in-law asks, which is “What you have you learned in your 35 years”, and this year it’s the value of understanding nuance. With the loud arguing happening on public forums, with often black and white dualistic thinking being the standard approach, I more than ever hold the importance of nuance close to my thought process. I’m incredibly grateful for the circumstances which lead me to this understanding. You see I’m a problem solver by nature, professionally, and in ministry (discipleship, counseling). Originally my primary motivation was to please people, but over time I discovered this was not fulfilling. This also lead to times of being used by people, and putting little value into who I was. Through the school of hard knocks, and a lot of grace, I eventually learned that my value was not in what I did, and that I couldn’t do what I did to please others to feel accepted.

The great transformation of realizing and owning my value came when I began to see the world while commuting to and from downtown Portland by light rail (MAX) in 2008. I had just started a new job at Smarsh (where I still work as a consultant). I wanted to know how MAX worked (and why it broke down from time to time), so I “geeked” out by researching how public transportation systems around the world were developed, built, and operated. By researching the reasons behind why different transport system were built, I learned about the incredibly complex world of public discourse, input, how some public entities are good at communications, while others fail miserably.

Often I would naturally try to solve all the problems I saw, and naturally I’ve always paid attention to details. What I didn’t always do was realize that within humanity, within individual people, the nuances and problems we each face, and the problems and friction in society are incredibly nuanced as well. While geeking out and learning about the human element of public transportation I learned the value in being slow to judge and apply “solutions” from a black and white perspective. From property disputes, “NIMBYism” (Not In My Back-Yard – ism), and needing to solve transportation problems in densely populated and land-starved areas the nuances and problems were never solvable by black and white answers.

So while I began educating myself on the incredibly complex decision-making, public outreach, and processes that are needed to build a successful transportation system, I learned more than just what makes a good government process. I also learned to apply listening, understanding, and the viewpoints of many into my problem solving skills. Which proved to be invaluable to me professionally, personally, and in ministry. The other side effect of riding MAX was that I saw many kinds of people, under various kinds of stress, and in various situations of social and economic status. The world went from being black and white to many shades of gray.

During this time I also read the book “Blue like Jazz” by Donald Miller, this book really put into words some of the feelings I was having about the intersection of the Church and society. From what I had learned about various kinds of public processes, my observations of people and society riding MAX every day, and being part of a large, and demographically/characteristically “evangelical suburban” church – I began noticing the overly simple way people in the church sphere would propose solutions to incredibly complex social conflict and problems. I also noticed (thankfully) that those in leadership usually were more keen to address the nuances, yet the typical “church goer” often did not demonstrate the same skills.

At the same time while I was undergoing this realization, one of my best friends entered a season of incredible struggle, caused by incredibly nuanced and complex actions by others and at the same time requiring him to take ownership and responsibility. For years I stood by, along with my wife and his wife, through scary times, confusing times, and incredibly hurtful times. Nothing I knew from my own life could be used to solve this problem, only walking along side. Some people took a simple approach, either based on fear, misunderstanding, or their own unaddressed problems interfering with the ability to humbly just walk.

It was during this season that the intersection of what my faith in Jesus and the very real and complex problems of the world came to a head. I was more and more irritated by the political tones that some in the church would propose for societal conflicts, often in a black and white way that failed to recognize the underlying nuances that were multiple problems. I was also incredibly encouraged by the leaders in my life who were well aware of the underlying issues, and were slow to propose overly simplistic answers, and willing to walk alongside individuals, rather than propose systematic/governmental/legal “solutions”. Just as Jesus walked alongside people.

In 2010 the same friend I mentioned earlier entered a very dark time of his life and deeply broke my trust. I was deeply affected and hurt – at the same time I knew there was only one way to restoration. In spite of our human emotions in the situation, and with the peace that only comes from the Holy Spirit I knew the only way forward was with full forgiveness. Without the lessons on nuance I don’t know if I would have had the capacity to seek forgiveness and restoration. It could have easily blown up into a drama that would have hijacked everything in my life and in my future, which makes it obvious it was a plan of the enemy. Thankfully Jesus had been preparing me.

It is essential for me today to never jump to conclusions (and to apologize when I do, or when I’m corrected by someone) because often it isn’t something of God. God is in the details (and in many ways, the ignorance of the details is where the devil is). Every person has unique circumstances, unique things they struggle with, and simple answers almost never fix the root issue nor bring true understanding, nor build the bridge to God we want for people. We must apply the principle of “root cause analysis” to nearly every conflict and problem in life and society. Ultimately the value we place on ourselves becomes what God sees, and we see people with (hopefully) the value he has for all people. When we realize there are nuances the black and white turns to gray, when we analyze and walk closely with the people involved, the gray turns to color. We apply grace to everything, and know that it takes trust, it takes faith, it takes patience, and in this we find peace, joy, and love – we find God’s Kingdom.

And that is what I have learned for my 35th birthday.

Oh blog, how I have forsaken you.

There’s far to many dumb excuses as to why I haven’t written in such a long time.  Most of my reasons are more about my ever changing take on life and redefining how I address the world around me.  Don’t worry, nothing life shattering or even controversial (although I suppose that would be fun), nope, it’s more about just looking at the world and not dividing myself up anymore.  I have 11 incomplete draft posts awaiting me and close to 100 “starred” items in my Google Reader to blog about.  So it isn’t a lack of ideas or content, it’s been simply a break to observe.

One of the repeating things in my life that causes me to pause my blogging is how wrapped up I can get in what people may or may not think about what I write me, since my friends come from all sides, from neo-conservative, to neo-liberal sometimes I find myself trying to please everyone… The funny thing is, it just makes my posts long-winded… and not much else. In the end I realize I just need to speak my peace, not be concerned with pleasing people, but instead I want to engage and encourage.  If I need to bring clarity to something, I will… in time, if I feel something isn’t represented well enough.

Yup, I think that’s what I want to say – meh… if not… people will figure it out over time.

My Marriage


From rose colored glasses to the nasty pit of bitterness, despair, anger, and frustration. That pretty much sums up my marriage experience so far! Yet, I am so much more in love with Alexis, my bride, than I have ever been. There have been some very tough times, lots of frustration, and things that I can’t explain – yet through it all I have come to know someone who is committed to the beauty that is marriage. Our marriage is far from the ideal one, far from the romanticized story lines of Hollywood, and yet if it were a movie I think it would be a blockbuster.

What makes our marriage work in spite of the issues? A strong, steadfast, and never-changing foundation in the power of Christ – I know, oh gosh I went religious on you, sorry but in this instance there’s no other way of describing it (besides, religious to me would be rules, regulations, and performance – what I’m talking about is out of relationship, hearing, feeling Christ’s love – not just trying to “please” Him). Without Christ as the one truth to bind us together we would have gone our own ways years ago. Because of who Christ says I am, and who He says Alexis is, and because we believe that truth and not what we think in our weak moments, we can rise above the “moments”, the arguments, the outright crazy insane fights, and realize – you know what, she/he is NOT really that selfish, mean, hurtful, terrible, etc… those things are the aspects of our fallen humantiy; the truth is she/he is a child of God and therefore is forgiven, just as I am, in all things.

Does this truth mean accept anything that comes at you from your spouse and just “let it go” – absolutely not, it means both making sacrifices, apologizing for your own actions without demanding the other person does the same – it means giving grace, and it most of all means being humble, learning from you mistakes and lovingly letting those moments change you. As long as both parties are willing to humble themselves – there is hope. It may take time, and a lot of prayer, but don’t put God in a box (aka, don’t put your spouse in a box). Seek the loving advice of others who have gone before you, seek the Lord’s truth, and remember we’re living in a fallen world – crap happens, and we get to live in it.

That’s my two cents, don’t give up, chin up, walk the high road, and look at your marriage as a child, it needs nourishment, love, attention, and hope.

When I was single

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My first time on European soil - Frankfurt Airport, 9-6-2003


When I was single I went back and forth feeling like I wanted more, and then back to being OK being single… obviously I realized at some point that I wanted a wife and family – so that’s what I have today. However, I seriously looked at being single for a lot longer than I was. Back in 2002 when I was first presented with the idea of serving over seas on a year-long mission I was at a place where I was perfectly fine being single, very much enjoying it, and wasn’t actively looking for anyone. Of course just three months before leaving for my year long Polish adventure I “ended up” courting Alexis… it was crazy, and I wasn’t that sure about it either…

The pros and cons of being single are all over the place, and much of the desire to either remain single or enter into a long-term marriage (or for those outside my Kingdom lifestyle, a committed long-term relationship) come down to a person’s life calling and/or goals. However, I think the world, culture, and society put much pressure on people to find that “special” person far too much, and for many far to quickly. Some people mature faster and can enter into a dedicated relationship at an earlier age, but many times I believe (especially in the Church) the maturity factor is looked over and we’re just looking to get people married (so they don’t burn with lust)… instead of focusing on character development we’re simply trying to prevent “embarrassing” sin? This is a bit of an over-generalization and simplification, yet the common approach for many people is still within this kind of basic frame work.

Being single has amazing freedom, and the ability to get up and go when you feel it is awesome. Of course you run the risk of feeling “alone” and “lonely”, yet with the right amount of connections, friends, and most of all, your relationship with Christ, the sky’s the limit. Let the world be your play ground, be content, and step out into new things while you can – heck maybe make a life of it – stay single! The life-long single person certainly is a different breed, yet I envy the idea at times – thankfully my wife and I share the adventurous spirit and call!

The ever changing me


I wish I could say I have “found myself” being that I turn 30 in five days, however, it would not be a true statement. What I can say is that many things have found me and I’ve either accepted those things as “part” of me, or unconsciously integrated them into my person. I’ve done many “this is who I am” or “what makes me” posts in the past (i.e. The Boy PoemA post about meand another) and yet I find myself cringing when I read them, because, I’ve changed… and that’s OK. Today I’m much more aware of the social status of the world – and the insane and crazy differences from place to place, and sometimes within the same place. These extremes have forced me to examine what I do and why, and in response I’ve changed.

I’ve never been angry or upset by what some would call “the reason our country/world is falling apart” such as government, sexuality, illegal immigration, drugs, etc. Sure I’ve had my moments of being concerned, and following the crowd (mistake number one) and “doing my part” (i.e. voting for the “right” candidates). Yet, you might say I’ve become disenfranchised by those methods, they are too disconnected and non-relational, and haven’t produced much change, instead all it has amounted to is a veil of security that is not really there.

I use to find myself on the “conservative” side of things, in some of the most traditional ways… but really as I have explored and experienced things around the world I have found that American Conservatism is mostly about “keeping things the way they are” – and American Liberalism is about “making everything equal” – both of which are extremes that just are not realistic. Although I probably more closely align myself with liberals on social issues (except abortion) and conservatives on financial/economic issues (except for funding of basic health care, education, and transportation for all), I really don’t like to put myself in either camp, because there’s an automatic exclusion or inclusion of many things which are far more important and complex than “this or them” arguments.

So, today I would probably think of myself as a socially aware, promoter of sustainable ideas, a social technologist, avoider of black and white ideas, peace bringer, lover of people not ideas, and most of all, husband, father and all of this comes of following and worshiping Jesus.

The path of least resistence


Something I observe multiple times throughout my week is that people fall into two camps, either they are “go getters” or “resisters” and in most cases, people attempt to take the “path of least resistance”.  In nearly every job or role I’ve been placed in I’ve seen this phenomenon, and I’m guilty of it as well… “what’s the easiest,  fastest, and most ‘avoidant’ way of getting X done?” and man it irks me.  It seems to be an especially strong disease throughout my generation.

This is even stronger when it comes to relational dynamics, I see it so many times, people going to all kinds of lengths to avoid a possible “conflict” or “situation” – in my mind though, this kind of avoidance makes waters down our relationships, and actually breaks down the desire for strong friendships and family that we actually want.  It certainly takes guts to overcome our cultural boundaries, and most of the time takes courage since most of us have not been shown how to healthily confront awkward (or simply saying no) situations.

A lot of the time when I’m faced with the decision to resist or “go get it” I have to ask myself, what is the pro-relationship path I could take? What will build up the relationship? What decision might tear it down, or leave it flat? As a person who looks to Jesus for direction, I usually can’t choose to skim past a relation-building choice… (of course if it’s unhealthy and not safe, then that’s another ball-game which actually might be just as challenging to make the choice to step away from a relationship). Often times I find myself wanting to avoid talking to someone because it’s harder than just making my own choice to “skim on by with what’s acceptable” – however, I’m not so sure this is how Jesus goes about ministering to us, and I want to reflect this. I want to go above just the “satisfactory” and I want to be a servant, even when it’s not exactly pleasant for me.

Not being cool


Well, hello, knock, knock… anybody there?

Yeah, it’s been since October since I posted anything of any substance… except for automatic “weekly summaries” of my twitter feed…  Trust me this is not a ghost, it’s really me.  Recently I’ve been doing a lot of reading, researching, and in return being stuck. I just don’t want to be “cool” and fall into the same noise.  I want my words to mean something (even if only to myself), and at the same time I don’t want to write just to “be something”. This whole paradoxical position I’ve placed myself into is rather… sticky and narcissistic… So, I’ll just start writing, and see what happens, because it doesn’t matter, if it’s “not being cool” then it’s not about anything, right?

My motivation for writing anything always needs to line up with my desire to encourage, engage, and have people think about their lives, see Christianity in a different way, and most of all at least ask questions about walking with God.  Although I meander down different idealistic topics, transportation, land use, education, health-care, and other topics which are typically not highlighted in Christian circles, my most basic idea is to engage the Church culture in thinking about our communities, otherwise, I believe, we can easily become irrelevant to the people around us.

Granted I live in a mostly white, suburban, evangelical, bubble, I keep trying to push the envelope and be some kind of social-church-community-livability-avangelist to the suburban-white-evangelical church-going circle I find myself in.  If God wasn’t so clear in having Alexis and I be where we are, trust us, we would be in an urban, multi-cultural, and very different circle.  In some ways, this blog entry feels like a “coming out” post… which has some fears attached, but since I know this is a two way discussion, and not the “end all” judge me post, I’m ok with it.  I try to not jump to conclusions, nor try to judge people based on one facebook/twitter status update, blog entry, or quote… so I ask the same of my readers…

Congrats, if you read this far… then, well, maybe we have a chance at understanding more about the world we live in, and “not be cool”, together!

Pseudo Military Dream

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Back in October I had a very strange dream that I was going to share on here, and well, sadly, I’ve once again neglected this little space of the Internet that I own. So, without further ado I’ll give a play-by-play account of this dream.  Any dream interpreters out there?


Now either this first part was a completely separate dream, or just a strange seemingly unrelated beginning…. it starts out with me, my daughter, and my bride at my parents house with the rest of my mom’s family for some kind of holiday get together, suddenly my Grandma says she needs to take care of some animals, Alexis volunteers to help her, and they take off.


I get up and go, and am walking around with an ex-coworker (who at the time was a current coworker) at some kind of semi-festival, we watch watch as a group of pseudo military guys and girls in uniform do some kind of very rehearsed routine of choreographed exercises (like a cross between a high school color guard and dance team).  They stop and we realize the group just learned these routines an hour or so before, and it’s some kind of competition.

My coworker talks me into doing this, and so I volunteer for the next round (knowing there wasn’t much time until the next round starts), while changing into the uniform I run out of time, but I wasn’t told there was a time limit, or missed the memo, I get yelled at by a drill Sargent kind of guy in public, who continues to humiliate me while I frantically change back into my regular clothes. I’m upset and embarrassed, and frustrated at myself.


After quickly changing back into my own clothes we appear to located right next to some kind of cafeteria, in this cafeteria we run into Alexis (my bride), a friend of hers, and some other friend of my coworker. Also in the cafeteria is an old family member who Alexis and I haven’t had a lot of contact with due to some relational upheaval in recent years, this causes us to say our hellos and “miss ya” then be on our way.


We all (minus the old family member) decide to leave, and apparently the only way “out” is on a ferry boat, a passenger only ferry.  As we are waiting in line, Alexis and her friend are talking and having fun, not paying much attention (nor even really near me and the guys). I’m beginning to get sexually advanced on by my coworker (who, in no way, in real life ever even hinted at such a thing) and his friend (also male, but unknown to me) – they are serious about talking me into a threesome… immediately I think about stuff from my youth, and decide this isn’t going to happen again.

As the ferry approaches, we all begin to board, and I decide to run and get as far away from these guys as possible. As I run aboard the ship, I run for the bow (we boarded at the stern), turns out there’s a five-star restaurant at the front, and I must sit down NOW, or else by kicked out. So I sit down, soon I learn all the patrons are AIDS victims from all over the world (probably about 50 people).  I order a meal, eat it, then excuse myself and find my wife and her friend in another section of the boat, sit down and tell them about the AIDS victims, we pray (I don’t remember what the prayer was about), then I wake up.

No performance


One thing that I lose sight of so often is the awesomeness in the fact that I don’t have to perform, anything, at all, zero, for God. All I need to do is love Him and let Him love me. It’s in His love that I find discipline, repentance, forgiveness, humility, and servitude. To enjoy God in this way is great, but when I get pulled into the “faith by works” cycle it’s no wonder I lose who I am… there’s no freedom.

The worse place for me to feel the performance preasure is the “God talks” with co-workers, for some reason the performance button gets pushed, normally I play it cool, but I certainly don’t feel the anointing, or power, or eloquence that I do in other parts of my life. This performance button turns on fear too, it’s all tied together.

Time to relax, remember who I am, and know I can have the same confidence I have with my “job” as I do with my call. I didn’t gain that confidence over night, but I know that it’s here in me. Some prayer, some truth, and some worship for this area of my walk and I’ll be good to go… or at least falling forward!

The trouble thoughts


It’s always so much “fun” recovering from days where the performance button is pushed. Today was like that for me, nothing major, but just a few minor mistakes leading me to feel frustrated with myself.

In an environment with multiple simultaneous demands, interruptions, and the need for accuracy to save my poor co-workers from confusion and frustration, I have a hard time hitting the spot all the time. Worst of all is when it happens multiple times.

The trick in these scenarios is stepping into the truth that I’m just human, mistakes happen, I’ll slow down, make adjustments where needed and move on. My identity is not tied to my performance, this is a truth that is FAR harder to live out, and it’s one that I encounter all the time. If I want an easy way to stress out, be mad, be more frustrated, and treat poeple as non-human, it’s forgetting this vital truth.

When I get in the groove of performance then I actually start making more mistakes, covering them up, making excuses, and really just cause more problems. It’s a huge snow ball effect, one I don’t recommended….

My identity, and the original and true identity of all, is within the Kingdom, where Jesus says we are his children, and by that alone we are righteous, pure, and good. Getting into the Kingdom is not a performance game, so living as a citizen of His Kingdom requires nothing but unconditionally loving Him, loving others, and loving myself.