Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Fractured Sense of Community

I am the kind of person who can handle being alone; I do my best thinking in solitary places absent of noise and distraction. However, I find that my purest joy comes from interaction with other people. There is something beautiful about sitting down with a close friend, sharing a cold drink and enjoying each other’s company. I love people, more often than not. Sure, there are knuckleheads and those who give me headaches, but in general I greatly enjoy people. Pick a topic, approach ten different people, and be amazed at the diversity of response. The uniqueness contained within human beings is fascinating and an exciting thing to see. Always keeps me on my toes. I never feel as complete as I do when I am in the presence of people I love and who love me. Even though I can function well in a solitary state, I am at my best with others.

My problem is one of community. Because I spend eight months of the year in one city and the other four back home, I have become used to a fractured sense of community. By jumping from one town to another and back again, I experience difficulty in plugging in with any church groups, service projects or communities. Yes, the community that we created abroad was and is fantastic. Yes, I greatly treasure the friendships from high school and from home that I have been able to maintain. Yes, my dorm community is greatly important to me. The problem is this: by being a part of so many communities, how do I give myself completely to any of them?

A perfect example is my home church, the Vineyard in Colerain, Ohio. The community of young adults contained within the church is strong, vibrant and something I want to be a part of. I have become very good friends with a number of the individuals in that community and I would not trade their friendships for anything. These are people I can discuss anything with, from problems with the church to what kind of bear is best. Sure, we disagree from time to time, but the conversation would never take place without the friendship we share. Unfortunately, I am only home for a few months of the year. When I come back for the summer, stepping into the Thursday night young adult small group blind seems somewhat unappealing. Yes, I know a good portion of the individuals in the group, and I know they would welcome me with open arms. Many have even expressed as much, and I greatly appreciate their openness, kindness and friendship. But I cannot give myself fully to the group, as a mere three months later I will be heading north again. I feel as if my temporary attendance shows a lack of commitment to the community, and that is a stigma I do not want attached to myself. Better not to show up at all than to do so with one foot out the door.

This idea of temporary commitment to a community influences the way I approach service as well. Because I am not in one place all year round, I am unable to make a full year’s worth of service impact; instead, I must settle for a “I am here for a month, but then I’ll be gone again” mentality. Thing is, I refuse to settle for that. I believe that service is more than ladling split pea in a soup kitchen. Yes, the soup kitchen has its place and is necessary, but if your “service” entails filling up bowls and nothing else, what kind of lasting impact are you making?

The kind of service I am drawn to is one of relationship building, personal impact and growth. I want to tutor an underprivileged child so that they might have a real chance at future success. I want to act as a big brother to someone who might have lost their father. I want to be in a place where the lonely might be able to look at me and know that someone cares about them. But if I only show up for a few months at a time and then disappear, will they really think I care, or will they think that I’m just fulfilling my quota of service? Am I serving for their sake, or for my own?

I long for the day when I am in a single place, settled in a city that I can devote myself to. I cannot wait to be able to join a community and be able to give it my complete attention. It would bring me great joy to be a real part of a church, rather than just a visitor passing through. My heart lingers for when I have both the time and capacity to devote twelve months of the year to serve a single community that needs to be loved. I want to be able to serve, to give of myself. But I refuse to do it half-heartedly. If I say I am going to serve, it will be with every ounce of my being. Until I am able to do that, I will wait.

And so on...

Thursday, June 24, 2010

The Value of a Broken Heart

“May my heart be broken.”

Last night I visited the World Vision Experience: AIDS at the Super Vineyard in Springdale. Before I say anything else, I highly encourage anyone and everyone to go. The Experience takes no more than half an hour, and it will open your eyes and impact your perceptions significantly. The Experience is here until Sunday, June 27th, open until 9:00 pm each night (Sunday it closes at 8). If you think you have an understanding of the AIDS crisis on this planet (and specifically in Africa), go anyway. You will not regret it.

The quote I included above is one I ran across at the end of the Experience, and one I will come back to frequently throughout this post. The final part of the walkthrough includes a wall where visitors are encouraged to voice a prayer on paper and tack it to the wall, where it can be used as encouragement to others. As I went to add mine to the many already present, one leaped out at me among the rest. Surrounded by prayers that filled up pages, expressing emotions and beliefs and encouragement, a single line on a single page made me stop. “May my heart be broken.” I could not look away and I could not focus on anything else. Nothing more needed to be said. In that moment, a wave of understanding and emotion washed over me.

Each of us has experienced heartbreak at some point in life. I know that my heart has been broken, mended and broken again many times – a sort of wash, rinse, repeat cycle. Society has created within us an aversion to heartbreak; this certainly makes sense, considering that heartbreak is one of the most painful things any of us can experience in our lives. In this culture, we work endlessly to remove the possibility of heartbreak; one night stands, monotonous desk jobs and a suburban lifestyle are all ways we try to compartmentalize our lives and live it without emotion. A one night stand without a name or a connection carries with it no emotion, no possibility of a broken heart the next morning. Maybe emptiness, but not heartbreak. By refusing to connect with people on an emotional level, we eliminate the power they have over us to break our hearts, to make an imprint on our emotional state. We attempt to live our lives as emotional hermits in a world that is begging to witness real, pure, raw emotion.

This attempt to live our emotional lives like a hermit on Times Square is understandable. Certainly each time my heart is broken I am less willing to make my entire heart available to the next person or the next cause. If I dive headfirst emotionally into a romantic relationship and end up getting burned, odds are that the next time I might just dip my toe in the water. I will be much more cautious, less willing to take the chance. As a good friend of mine pointed out, the first break up we have is always the hardest, and we will likely never love as freely or ‘throw caution to the wind’ like we did in our first relationship. She correctly noted that this is explained by our ability to love without fear in our first relationship; there was no history of getting burned, therefore no fear of it.

I believe that the important truth we have been ignoring is the benefit of having our hearts broken. I know, it sounds backwards. Even with all of the pain and sadness it can cause, I firmly believe that there are some immeasurable positives that can come from such an experience.

The first benefit that comes with having my heart broken is something it tells me about myself. If I do not care about something, it cannot break my heart. It simply is not possible. However, having my heart broken tells me that I cared, that I was emotionally invested. In the aftermath of a Finals Game 7 loss to the Lakers, Doc Rivers (coach of the Celtics) had the following to say (per espn.com): "There's a lot of crying in that locker room," Rivers said. "A lot of people who care. I don't think there was a dry eye. A lot of hugs, a lot of people feeling awful. That's a good thing. Showed a lot of people cared." They were emotionally drained and broken, in a real way. When this happens to me, it tells me that my emotions were not fraudulent, that I can trust myself to be passionate about something and care about it deeply without worrying that the emotions are not real. The importance of being able to trust my emotions as real is huge. If I were to lose my best friend and not bat an eye or shed a tear, if I were to respond to losing a relationship with someone I loved without emotion, I would be forced to question my ability to feel and to invest in someone emotionally in a real way. Having my heart broken lets me know that I am capable of real emotion.

Another benefit to having your heart broken is the ability to be healed. I would not claim that being healed from a broken heart is certain or easy, but when it happens the relief and peace that comes with it is unmatched. The few times I have experienced that healing have been some of the most hopeful, peaceful and exciting times of my life. Some might argue that the hope coupled with being healed is not worth the pain associated with having your heart broken; I disagree. Few things are as valuable as hope, and new hope is a commodity that cannot be replicated. As I have written before, hope is perhaps the most important thing I can hold onto. “Remember, hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies.” Without hope, I cannot have passion. Without passion, my life is meaningless.

The third benefit is the one I am concerned with the most, as I believe it to be the most important and as having the largest impact. The simple premise is this: I believe that without having our hearts broken, we cannot experience compassion for others in a real way. That truth is what I realized as I wondered at the wisdom contained in that single sentence on the prayer wall. “May my heart be broken.” I have written many times before about my search for my passions, and how I believe that part of my purpose is to fight against poverty and economic injustice. The thing is, my heart was never truly broken for victims of poverty or AIDS or war. Sure, I felt bad. But no one wants to hear about genocide; it isn’t proper table conversation. Average churchgoers don't want to hear about the slums and ghettos all over the United States; instead we just ignore the drug and poverty problems in our country and blame the issues on a lack of morality or something along those lines.

For years I have wanted to do my part, but I think it came more from a sense of duty than anything else. I saw a problem, I wanted to be a part of the solution. That’s how my mind functions, and that is how my beliefs on social justice developed. But yesterday, hearing the stories I heard and seeing the problems as nakedly as I have ever seen, my heart broke. My passion to fight for these people isn’t coming from a sense of duty anymore. It is coming from a broken heart that feels immense compassion for them. No, I do not understand what they are going through, and I almost certainly never will. But when my heart broke for them, my perspective shifted. While my passion for action and change will not be different, the motive behind it is. It isn’t an equation anymore; now I feel. Now I ache. I hope that all of us have the opportunity to experience a moment of heartbreak. The compassion I felt last night, the compassion I feel right now - I want to see that imprinted on other people. If we begin to ache for the marginalized, impoverished and forgotten, we will seek out ways to make an impact, be it at home or abroad; if we begin to feel compassion, in a real way, maybe we will actually do something.

May all of our hearts be broken. And so on…

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

A Battle to Fight, part 2

I am a passionate person. Wait, let me back up. Let’s start here: I am not a reactionary person. I consider (almost) every word that comes out of my mouth carefully. I refuse to make assumptions about people. If you try to offend me or trash talk me or get in my head, I promise you that 99 times out of 100 you will fail. But back to my first statement: I am a passionate person (who wants to be more passionate and develop my passions). While it is difficult to get me fired up about day to day things – during a pickup basketball game, for example – there are certain topics that I care about deeply and will elicit emotion from me if brought up. Earlier this month I wrote about my need for a battle to fight; in the time before writing that piece and after, I have considered the things that create passion and emotion within me. I have written on some of these topics previously: the prevalence of divorce in our society, the dangers of marrying young, the monotony and waste of a white-collar life. However, the biggest passion I have discovered revolves around the rampant poverty which dominates much of this world.

I grew up in a middle class family, two parents and two siblings. We always had food on the table, never were in danger of losing our home, and my siblings and I were able to attend private schools. I have been able to live comfortably and safely, without any worry of being on the street or going hungry. The vast majority of people I consider to be my friends have a similar background. Many come from families with more money than my family has. This is not to say one family is better than another, or that coming from one background is better than another; rather, it is to explain where I have come from and to reveal something about my past.

Because I have never been in danger of going without, poverty was the furthest thing from my mind. Why think about something if it has nothing to do with you? Without question, it was a situation of ignorance being bliss. Once my eyes were opened to the problems and prevalence of poverty in this world, I began to wonder earnestly at how to fight this massive problem.

My education and future career revolve around the financial industry. Money is part of everything I do. As such, efficiency and proper use of resources is not only something I am being trained in, but something I care deeply about. I think this greatly impacts how I approach the issue of poverty, and it leads me to a handful of frustrations. Let me explain: we all understand how blessed we are to be living in a country that provides us with opportunity and freedom. We have access to food and water and shelter. In Africa, India, Vietnam, this is not the case. I believe that it is our duty as human beings to seek to improve the lives of other human beings, and to do so in as significant a way as possible. This brings me to the idea of wasting resources. When Solid Rock Church chooses to spend large amounts of money on rebuilding a giant statue of Jesus that serves nothing but vanity, I get fired up. Use that money to fight AIDS in Africa, or to improve the economy in Afghanistan. When I see countless youth groups and others taking short term missions trips and spending more money on travel and sightseeing than on the people they are going to “serve”, I get fired up. Do mission work in your community, and send the monetary resources down to used most efficiently. (I want to write more on these issues in the future...now is not the time.)

I am constantly thinking of ideas and plans for how to make dents into the problem of poverty, but many of these cannot and will not be realized until I am a much older person or because I have no idea how to implement them. I need to find ways to make an impact now and in the near future. Thousands of individuals die each day from starvation. I have an obligation to fight for their right to live another day. And so on. I know that I am not the first nor the last to want to wage war on poverty. I certainly am not the most passionate or knowledgeable about the subject. However, I am determined to find a way to at least dent the problem. I am discovering that this may be the battle I am supposed to fight. The passion I have is certainly no accident, and I refuse to ignore it. I do not know what the next step is, but I am looking for it.

I have a great deal more to say about this subject; this post is only skimming the surface of what I believe and what I want to say. One thing I have realized about myself is that while I do not have the answers, I have more than enough questions. If my purpose is to ask the questions, I will continue to ask them in earnest. Perhaps my questions will spark someone else to find the answers. I do not know if this will happen, I can only hope. And hope, dirty or not, is the most important thing I can hold onto. If we choose to act in the name of truth, consequences be damned, I believe we can make a difference.

And so on…

Monday, June 21, 2010

Art and Artists: Saul Williams

The first artist that I want to approach here is Saul Stacey Williams. Saul is a writer, spoken word poet, hip hop artist and actor from Newburgh, New York. Since 1996, Saul has released four books of poetry, six albums and appeared in nine films. He has become what many call the voice of this generation, one of the most remarkable and talented poets alive today. The most lasting mark Saul has left on the artistic world is the way he has taken over spoken word and slam poetry. The man truly has a global reach. During my four months abroad, I attended a pair of slam poetry competitions; after a stirring performance at one of them, the poet was praised as "giving a Saul Williams-esque performance". And aptly so. Many of you have encountered Saul, perhaps without knowing it. A couple of years ago, one of Saul's songs, List of Demands (Reparations), was used as the background music for a Nike Sparq Training commercial.

The writings of Saul Williams have had a significant effect on my development as a person, helping me think differently and approach the world in new ways. In order to get a second perspective on this artist, I approached a good friend of mine who is as big a fan of Saul as I am; Sara and I each answered seven questions which I came up with, hoping to illuminate the impact of Saul Williams and his writings, why you might be interested in him, and what sets him apart.

1. How did you first find out about Saul?
Sara: I actually came across Saul by accident. I was getting really into some other poets (Bukowski, Kaufman, Ginsberg, etc.) and really admiring them for their innovative use of language and beat or rhythm in their writings. A friend suggested I check out Saul Williams. Needless to say, I was instantly hooked!

Kevin: I wish someone had turned me on to Saul sooner. I actually ran across him one day on YouTube looking through video clips from Russell Simmons’ Def Poetry Jam. The poem I first saw Saul perform was Coded Language. Still my favorite poem of his. I’m glad the first time I encountered Saul was through a spoken word piece; I don’t know if I would have connected with him in the same way otherwise.

2. What is your favorite piece of art (song, poem, etc.) that Saul has created?
Sara: This is a really tough question...I'd have to say that my favorite poem is the first one I ever read of his. It's from The Seventh Octave and I'm pretty sure it's untitled (read it here). I know it starts out with the line: "I could recite the grass on a hill and memorize the moon."

Kevin: My favorite complete piece of his is Coded Language (read it or watch it), as I pointed out above. Even to take the list of names Saul cites in the poem and to learn about one each day would be a worthy endeavor. However, the power and beauty behind Saul’s words is contained in the unique ways he describes the world, and the new perspectives he inevitably presents. In his poem Sermon on the Mount of the Inevitable Progression of Saul to Saul (read it or watch it), the poet writes to his deceased pastor father: “…how many tables and laptops and Cadillacs and pews and pulpits would be overturned in THIS day.” The truth in that statement shook me the first time I read it. It still shakes me today when I consider its implications.

3. Are there any themes in his writings that stick out to you?
Sara: Certainly his writings have social, political, and spiritual themes, oftentimes stated very explicitly, but to me the biggest "theme" of his writings/songs is the unmistakable beat. The cadence of his lyrics is so powerful!

Kevin: For me, the constant theme in everything Saul writes is his dissatisfaction with the status quo. His passion is speaking truth, and when truth is not present he will search until he finds it. Living in this broken world, we are surrounded by pain, suffering, hatred, discrimination, deceit and numerous other daily tragedies. The beat to which he speaks is one focused on creating a better world, improving on the status quo.

4. Why is Saul an important artist in our generation?
Sara: Saul has really revolutionized modern poetry. His spoken word technique, while rooted in the tradition of many previous writers/cultures, is truly innovative, and this, to me, is what keeps poetry fresh. It would be a real tragedy if poetry had to conform to some sort of code, only certain themes, or certain structure.

Kevin: Saul is constantly pushing the bounds of poetry and of himself. The passion with which he writes is contagious, and begs to be heard. The medium with which he is the most profound and powerful is spoken word poetry; his ability to combine timeless words with indelible emotion is unmatched in this generation.

5. Describe Saul using one word.
Sara: Revolutionary.

Kevin: Inspirational.

6. How have his writings influenced you?
Sara: Saul has really opened my eyes to poetry and self expression. He is a true inspiration to anyone struggling with finding the words and the way to say what they are really feeling.

Kevin: Saul has inspired me to look at the world with new eyes and to always be seeking a new perspective. He has written often about the power of individual action (here, here, here) and the ability of our generation to change the world. While seeking out ways to change the world and myself for the better is always on my mind, no one has put those desires into words better than Saul Williams. His desire for change has influenced my own and helped me believe that such change is possible. The presence of love makes a huge difference, and his understanding of that truth has helped me understand it as well.

7. Explain why you think more people should get to know Saul Williams and his art.
Sara: Saul Williams certainly isn't for everyone, and that's fine, but I think that it is always a positive thing to experiment with new art forms, and new ideas. I think that others should check out Williams' work to broaden their own worlds and perspectives.

Kevin: The way Saul chooses to express himself and what he believes is unique to any other artist or writer I have encountered. Seeing someone speak and write in new ways is a breath of fresh air in our current day. What connects me most to Saul is the way I see myself reflected in him. The man refuses to let himself be defined, whether by a mirror or an audience. He is constantly reinventing his art, relentlessly searching for the way forward. Remaining in the same place is unacceptable; the status quo must be rejected and replaced with something fresher and better. I might not be able to weave words as powerfully as he does, but I am constantly searching for the right path, just as he is. His determination to be defined by no one and held down by nothing inspires me to seek the same; that alone is reason enough to get to know Saul Williams and what he has to say.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Art and Artists

While I have enjoyed the subject based writing that I have done thus far in the blog, I think it would be beneficial to begin branching out with my subject matter. Certainly writing about my own experiences, the way I see the world, and how I look at myself allows me great freedom in my writing; however, the subject matter is also relatively limited. And I'm sure those of you who read my blog don't want to hear about me me me all the time. Though I will continue will the same types of posts that you are by now used to seeing from me, I will also begin providing some less "heavy" posts from time to time.

Once every week (that is the goal) I will post concerning an artist (writer, musician, actor, painter, etc.), piece of art (a film, song, poem, book, painting, sculpture, etc.), or something else that fits the "art and artists" theme. As with every topic I write on, I do not claim to be an expert in the field of art. Much of what I say will be my own opinion, presented for you to consider and make your own decision about. In addition, I will attempt to gain an outside second perspective on the art or artist I am considering; this will not always be possible, but I will try to make it as consistent a part of the posts as I can.

In the context of my personal diaspora (the overarching theme of this blog), the art and artists I will focus on will be ones who have influenced me in one way or another to think differently, look at the world differently or act differently. The subjects I will focus on will be ones that have challenged me and forced introspection. Perhaps they will challenge you as well; perhaps they will entertain you; perhaps you will gain nothing from them. All three are acceptable responses, I only ask that you approach them in good faith.

And so on...

Friday, June 18, 2010

Thoughts on Marriage

Within my Protestant Conservative Christian Cincinnati friend group (I only give them that label to identify the "types" of people I spend time with, not because I want to label them), I am regarded as being the most "anti-marriage" individual in the group. Even today, in a text conversation with one of my closest friends, she called me "Mr. Anti-Marriage". While she was kidding (the "lol jk" following it gave that away), I feel as though I need to make clear what I believe about marriage and why I believe it.

Three things must be clarified before I continue. First, I am not against marriage. I believe that marriage is one of the most beautiful things that exists in life, and it gives me great joy to see a working, loving marriage. My parents' and grandparents' marriages come to mind. I hope that one day I will find someone whom I love and who loves me, and that the bond we share will bring joy and strength to each of our lives through the institution of marriage. Second, while I believe marriage to be a good and wholesome thing, I worry that its value is being cheapened. Divorce rates are far, far too high. According to enrichment journal on the divorce rate in America: The divorce rate in America for first marriage is 41%, for second marriage is 60%, and for third marriage is 73%. As I have said before, this is a serious problem. With divorce rates so high (nearly one in two first marriages ends in divorce!), I have developed strong opinions and beliefs about marrying young. I will explain these in depth later in the post. Third, I do not claim to be an expert. I do not claim to have personal experience...I have not been married or engaged. I fully expect some (or many) to disagree with me, and I understand that mine is a relatively controversial stance on the subject. I am okay with that. Take what I say with a grain of salt if you feel that to be necessary. Only know that what I say, I believe.

Throughout this post, I will be augmenting my arguments with antecdotal evidence, personal experience, and data. I will be quoting people and citing statistics. Instead of wasting space with footnotes and whatnot, I will provide the links to where I borrowed text or statistics. I hope that this is sufficient.

The primary issue I want to tackle is marriage between young people. I will not define young for you; I trust you to understand what I am referring to.

A year or so ago, I was at a family gathering. At some point during the day, my uncle and I were both standing outside more or less by ourselves. At the time, I was involved in a serious relationship with a girl who I loved dearly, and still care about very much. He said to me "I don't know when you plan on getting married, or if you do. The only advice I have for you is this: of my friends who got married before they were 25 years old, all of them eventually got divorced. Of my friends who got married after 25, none of them have been divorced." That was all he said, but it was all he needed to say. I understood. Getting married young means getting married before you really know yourself. If I were to get married soon after graduation, many questions about my future would still be unsure: where do I plan on living, will my job fit my personality, will I succeed in the workplace, what are my passions? I believe that these are questions that need to be answered before making a lifelong commitment to another person. I'm not ready to make any lifelong commitments to myself yet, let alone another person. I don't think I am unique in this.

Now, some statistics. The divorce rate for those who marry at twenty-one or twenty-two is exactly double the divorce rate for those who marry at twenty-four or twenty-five. That is an absolutely jolting statistic. Below is a further breakdown of the age at marriage for Americans who eventually are part of a divorce.

Age at marriage for those who divorce in America
Age Women Men
Under 20 years old 27.6% 11.7%
20 to 24 years old 36.6% 38.8%
25 to 29 years old 16.4% 22.3%
30 to 34 years old 8.5% 11.6%
35 to 39 years old 5.1% 6.5%

If the above numbers are accurate, that means that nearly 2/3 of all divorced women are married by age 24, and more than half of men who divorce are married by that time. The later a couple is married, the higher the chances that they will not be divorced. This is an undisputable fact, and one that should not be considered lightly.

Now that we have established a baseline of statistics, I believe that it is important to see if "young people" are in fact getting married. To do this, I will consider my high school graduating class - 55 individuals. The class graduated with 53, but I am using 55 to account for students who left the school before graduation or did not graduate. Within 15 months after graduation, 3 girls were already married. In the 36 months since the class graduated, at last count 10 individuals were either married or engaged (and I haven't kept up with everyone in the class). 10 out of 55. 18.18% in roughly three years. And we are 21 years old, give or take. Imagine how many will be engaged or married in 36 more months, by the time we are all 24. Half? Two thirds? Which means, if the numbers hold true, that roughly one-quarter of my graduating class will eventually divorce. 15 out of 55.

Why, then, are young people choosing to marry so early? I have a pair of answers for this question; bear with me. Further, these answers will not apply to young people as a whole. Rather, it will apply to the groups I have examined earlier - Protestant Conservative Christian youth.

First, I believe it is part of the Christian culture - specifically, the Protestant Christian culture. As a general rule, children raised in Christian homes are taught from a young age that sex is bad. Some even take this to absurdly specific levels, such as insisting that dancing leads to sex, and therefore dancing is also bad. "You know what dancing leads to..." was always a punchline at my little conservative Christian high school. By trying to create a bubble around the children and refusing to expose them to the world, these children are raised to believe that sex is a bad thing. While the "sex is bad" mantra is overkill, I do not necessarily disagree with the sentiment; I too believe that sex should be reserved for marriage (though I certainly have nothing negative to say about those who have sex before/outside of marriage...it isn't a question of character). However, the message becomes one of "follow the rules" rather than "patience is a vurtue". As all red blooded Americans can attest, sex is desirable. More than 93 percent of adults 18 to 23 who are in romantic relationships are having sex, according to the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. And for red blooded American Christian young people, sex is a desirable thing that is off limits. Off limits, except within a marriage. Naturally, Christian young people that want to have sex have only one option - get married. This leads to a strangely high percentage of Christians getting married at a young age.

Second, the Christian culture is pushing young people to get married early. This stands in direct opposition to the ongoing trend of American marriages as a societal whole. The average age for marriage in the United States has actually risen substantially over time. In 1970, the average age at marriage was 21.5 and 23.5 for women and men respectively. By 2000, it had risen to 26.0 and 27.8, a significant increase. Further, the number of marriages is going down. The federal government reported 7.1 marriages per 1,000 people in 2008, down from 10 per 1,000 in 1986. There are certainly many reasons for this: sex and cohabitation outside of marriage is less frowned on, young people are more concerned with financial stability at a young age than getting married early, and people are recognizing that they aren't mature enough to make a lifelong commitment at so young an age, among other reasons. However, the average age for marriage among American Christians is lower (this is generally accepted, however solid data is difficult to come by - see here and here for examples). The second of those links, this one, is an article in Christianity Today talking about why Christians should encourage young people to get married sooner. When Christian publications and leaders are actively encouraging young Christians to get married young (or as quickly as possible, depending on whom is speaking), the result is without question marriages between individuals who are not prepared for it and are rushing it. Getting married "in order to please God" is ridiculous; instead, please God through your marriage once he has given the go ahead.

I am not here to rain on anyone's parade. Many of my friends are engaged or married. I am excited for them and hope that they have a wonderful life together with their spouse (or future spouse). I hope that none of them experience divorce. Brett and Renee, I hope for the best for you. I wish you luck. Enjoy your lives together, and live them to the fullest.

However, as a single person who plans to eventually get married, I do think it would personally be foolish to ignore the facts and figures. I refuse to rush, I refuse to marry early. While these are not always the same, in many (most) cases they are. I made a promise to myself in the past that I would not be engaged before I graduated from college. Thankfully, it appears that I will have no problem reaching that goal.

The problems associated with marrying young are multi-faceted and deserve their own post, but I will run through some of them briefly here. At a young age, a marriage will not be financially stable. The lack of time for career development will prevent this (exception: parents who "take care" of the new couple financially). The participants may not have the same goals in mind for the future. And as a close friend of mine pointed out, the maturity levels of the two individuals may be markedly different, leading to frustrations and miscommunications on a regular basis. Finally, at a young age a person does not know himself completely. It takes time to "know thyself", time that marrying at 20 or 21 does not provide. This lack of time to develop character and establish personal independence might be the most significant problem. That time of personal development is essential to growing into a mature individual; bypassing it prevents or seriously delays the transformation into a mature adult. Certainly there are exceptions. Thing is, the problem with exceptions is their relative scarcity. I suppose the goal would be to turn the exceptions into the rule, but that will certainly be difficult.

If anyone has read this far and is looking for my opinion/recommendation, here it is. Feel free to ignore or use it at your own discretion. My "magic number" for being mature enough for marriage is 25 years old. This comes from my uncle, from the statistics and from my own experiences. I also understand that it is unreasonable to expect no one to marry before that age. So, then, here is the compromise. Your age combined with the number of years you have been in the relationship should add up to 25. 20 years old and been dating for a year? Adds up to 21, not enough. 22 years old and been dating for 2 years? Wait six months and you'll hit the 25 mark exactly. You get the idea. Once again, take it or leave it. I understand the fickle nature of "formulas". I do not claim that this one is superior to any other. Disagree at your own discretion. I only claim it to be my opinion, the summation of my experiences and understanding.

And so on...

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Expanding on my previous post (The Open Road?), I believe it is important to identify why the uncertainty before me on my path is so unnerving. Certainly if anyone looks far enough ahead, they won't be able to see what is coming. This is a circumstance that affects each and every one of us, and is a natural part of our humanity. Do not think that I wish to know the future. Rather, I wish to know which path on the Open Road to take. This is quite often unclear.

The problem is purpose. "It is purpose that pulls us, that guides us, that drives us. It is purpose that defines us." Without purpose, there is no reason to wake up in the morning. Without purpose, there is no reason to be. I need a reason to get up in the morning; otherwise, it is too easy to sleep until noon and accomplish nothing during the day. It is too easy to sit at my desk from 8 to 5, five days out of seven, and let that be my life's work. If 8 to 5 becomes my life's work, I will be ashamed of myself. If I define myself by my job, I will want nothing to do with myself.

You are not your job. Et cetera.

Throughout my life, I have always been able to identify a purpose for myself. I gave my best effort in high school in order to give myself a better chance at being accepted into my dream college. Whether it was sports, academics, clubs or student government, I pushed myself to excel and involved myself extensively in order to build a college resume. Certainly college wasn't my only motive for the things I did in high school, but it was a significant driver behind every decision. Having accomplished that goal, my purpose became developing as a person and expanding myself while working to graduate from the University. Thus far, this goal is well in hand and right on schedule. My GPA might not be as high as I would like, but it is good enough. I spent four months overseas, learning new things about the world and myself in equal parts. I have met new people, studied new subjects, placed myself in situations that were previously foreign to me. I am well on my way to fulfilling that purpose.

But what after that? What becomes my purpose? It could be to get a job, to become a self-sustaining individual. It could be finding a cause with which to dedicate myself. It could be to find someone to love and learn from, and to build a life together with them. It could be all of these in some combination. But I do not know. If someone were to ask me what my purpose is going to be after I graduate, I would not have an answer. "I don't know" is the best I could do. The uncertainty that scares me is the ambiguous nature of my future purpose.

I have written before about my search for a cause that I am passionate about. I believe that may be my purpose right now; aside from finishing school, finding a job, etc. - my purpose might be to find the cause I am willing to fight for. I am in no hurry to find my future partner in life. I am not willing to commit to someone in that way just yet. But I want to improve the world I live in. I want to leave my mark. I am afraid of looking back on my life and wondering what my purpose was, wondering if I created or inspired positive change in this world, wondering if I affected any person's life. I am scared to death of looking back and being dissapointed.

I am looking for my purpose. As I (and Don Miller) have written before, sometimes you need to see someone love something or be passionate about it before you can love it or be passionate about it. I would love to hear about your passions. I would feel blessed to know what drives you. Maybe you are looking for purpose as well. Perhaps we can find it together.

And so on...

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Open Road?

Since my last significant personal transformation, which occurred a few years ago, I have looked at my life as if I were travelling on an open road. Those individuals close to me know the significance that the idea of an open road has on my life, and I hold that idea and the pursuit of it dear. Life has presented me many opportunities and possibilities, and I do not regret the choices I have made in the slightest. Sure, I wish I had scored higher in a class here or there, or that my relationships with some others had been better and more healthy. But at the same time, if given the chance I would not change who I am. "What happened happened and could not have happened any other way."

That brings me to where I stand today. The picture above is a poignant representation of my life currently: the open road does not seem so open right now. The choices before me seem fairly limited; my only decision is whether to turn back or keep heading forward. Since the transformation that I spoke of earlier, this has always been an easy decision, and I have always chosen to keep moving ahead. Not anymore. The road I am travelling has but two options, forward or backward. I can only see a little ways ahead; after that it becomes dark and the future becomes unknown. I hate the unknown, and even as I've grown used to it it still makes me uncomfortable. I cannot see far enough ahead to know if my road will become open again. Looking down, I see that the path itself is not a sure thing; at any moment I could miss a step and fall through. Making a mistake and taking a fall is not a terrible thing; as I said in my last post, failure is certainly not always a bad thing, and in many cases can be beneficial. However, the murky nature of the water below frightens me. If I fall from the path, I do not know where I will land. I do not know how far it is to the bottom. I do not know.

Take it in. Realize the uncertainty. Grasp the depth of the unknown. Now, understand that the road will be narrow at times. It will be broken and difficult to travel. Walt Whitman, my companion on the Open Road, knew this. "I do not offer the old smooth prizes, but offer rough new prizes; these are the days that must happen to you". If I am to earn my place in the world, if I am to find my path on the road, I must travel through the rough patches. I have to be willing to continue forward across rickety swinging bridges. I cannot let my fear of the unknown trump my desire for what the future has in store for me.

The road seems narrow right now. I see negativity and sadness all around me; the perfect future I had envisioned has not come to pass. But the road stretches on. There is more travelling to be done, more relationships to begin, more lives to touch and be touched by. It may be dark across that bridge, but there is nothing fulfilling about reliving the past. I would not trade where I am if I was given the chance. I am proud of who I am and where I have come from. I am excited about where I am going, even as I do not know the nature of my future. "Strong and content, I travel the open road."

And so on...

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Willing to Fail

Do you know that feeling in the summer when it's hot and humid outside, you feel tired and beat, and then you walk into your house and the air conditioning hits you like a brick wall and all of a sudden you feel better? Me too. I mean that as a metaphor, quite similar to another metaphor I have referred to in previous posts: a weight on my shoulders being lifted. Because of an unwillingness to fail, I had recently been stuck in a situation that was going nowhere and causing me nothing but anxiety and pain. I did not act to remedy this as soon as I should have. I am a very perseverant person; many people (including myself) would call me stubborn. If I decide to do something, to achieve some goal, I will do it. I will do it. And I will will myself to do it. Throughout my recent existence, failure has not been an option.

In many areas of life, this is a strength. It allowed me to put up with painful practices and exhausting conditioning sessions back during high school so I could play the sports I enjoyed so much. It allows me to focus on classes I despise in college so that I can keep my GPA at a respectable level.

This can be a weakness as well, without question. In the past, I have stubbornly tried to do things my way over and over, even when my way yields a less than optimal result. I have remained in negative situations for much longer than I should have; my willingness to put up with anything and everything can lead to me getting hurt. And my ability to put up with being hurt only makes the situation worse, rather than making anything better.

Failure has to be an option. As an inherently flawed individual, I am going to fail. I am going to screw up. "It's only after we've lose everything that we're free to do anything." Now, I am not advocating giving up everything to gain "premature enlightenment"; rather, I am advocating the freedom that comes with being willing to fail. Spending time living is way more appealing than spending time worrying about the possibility of failure. Failure is okay; beneficial even. No one who ever accomplished anything meaningful has ever done it without facing hardships or failures on the road to success (See Edison, Thomas; Jordan, Michael; Tesla, Nikola).

I write this as a result of some very personal events that have happened very recently. But I also write this as a result of a shift in my perspective: the way I perceive what it means to fail is drastically different now than it was in the past. And I am willing to fail now. Perhaps this will let me take chances I would have been afraid to take not too long ago. Perhaps it will change the way I live. Only time will tell.

And so on...

Tuesday, June 8, 2010


I've decided to try my hand at a bit of fiction writing. I could say I am trying to write a novel, but I know that this "project" will probably never be finished. Instead, I'm trying to start writing constructively as a hobby; this blog is more of a way for me to organize my thoughts about the world, rather than write creatively. We will see how it turns out, but I don't expect that many, if any, people will read it other than me. Perhaps that is for the best, considering that we are a culture saturated by text. Yes, I realize that by writing a blog I am only adding to the problem. But all that is a topic and post for another day.

And so on...

Thursday, June 3, 2010

A Battle to Fight, part 1

Back during high school, one of the most interesting academic experiences I have ever been a part of took place. My senior year English class with Mr. Schuster was nothing if not unique. The part of that class that had the most lasting impact on me was a project we did that lasted nearly a month. The project consisted of writing a poem and finding a song that reflected the mood or emotion expressed by the poem. Appropriately, this project was referred to as our song-poems.

The poem I wrote was entitled "blank white wall", and reflected my disillusionment with the disparity between life as it could be and life as it is. The song that I believed best fit the poem was "Imagine" by John Lennon, a song that speaks for itself. My song-poem combination was nothing special, and is nothing to brag on. This is not the purpose of my telling this story.

The purpose is what happened after I finished my presentation. Mr. Schuster spent a moment reflecting on what I had written and the song I had played, and then introduced me to something that would impact my life greatly. He pulled out a copy of Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass and read out a passage from Whitman's poem Song of the Open Road. The passage he read was the following:

My call is the call of battle—I nourish active rebellion;
He going with me must go well arm’d;
He going with me goes often with spare diet, poverty, angry enemies, desertions.

In that moment, my teacher recognized something in me that I had failed to recognize in myself. I am a warrior at heart. I am a man in need of a battle to fight. It isn't that I look for problems or points of contention. Rather, I need a cause to fight for. I need a purpose that will wake me up in the morning and drive me throughout the day. I need to be challenged. I need something to believe in.

The quest I find myself on each day is to identify what cause drives my soul and stirs my heart. The quest is to find what I am passionate about. As I discover these things, I will share them here. I have identified some at this juncture in my journey, and I will write concerning them in the future. Hence the "part 1" in the title of this post. They stir my heart. Perhaps they will stir your heart as well.

Just remember, he going with me will be hungry, poor and unpopular more often than not. But I welcome you to come along. Lord knows I could use the company.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010


If you ever want to look for something that every member of the human race has in common, you'll find the common bond is that we all fear. The object of the fear may change, and often is as diverse and seemingly random as anyone can imagine. Triskaidekaphobia? Really? Anyway, here is a small sampling of my fears. Might provide insight into who I am as a person; might be interesting; might bore you to tears.

1. I fear being alone. Not loneliness that we all experience when we get bored or don't have anything to do on a Friday night. The thing I fear is losing the people I love to the point that I no longer have anyone I can hold onto, count on and spend time with. I am afraid of losing the people I love. I think this is a basic part of who I am as a person, but after having experienced losing people I loved in the past, I know that it is something I never want to experience again.

2. I fear heights. Not small heights, but rather being way up there. I will never skydive or bungee jump, for example. Ever. And don't try to convince me.

3. I fear the unknown. Uncertainty drives me.

4. I am afraid to fail. Society has raised me to believe that if I do not achieve a certain measure of success, then I am a failure. While I no longer hold to society's measure of success, I still have my own criteria. What I fear is looking back twenty years from now and wondering what I did with my life, what my purpose was.

And so on...