...are the ones that make the biggest difference



Or "My Xbox Broke A Month Ago and I Haven't Missed It At All".

I was listening to Talk of the Nation on NPR on Monday afternoon and caught the end of an interview with Kay Hymowitz on an article she wrote recently for the City Journal, which was also adapted as an editorial for the Dallas Morning News. According to Hymowitz, young men in their 20's are experiencing an unprecedented wave of freedom that they are exercising by playing video games, seeking meaningless sexual gratification and otherwise acting like adolescents. Hence her term "child-men". The articles make a strong case for her point that today's young men are being socialized to be boys fixated on entertainment and self-centered pursuits. Marriage, now coming later than ever for men and women, has lost its civilizing and maturational influence on this generation. Instead of raising children, many young men are instead spending countless hours playing games, both with women and video games. If you only have time for a quick read, go with the Dallas News editorial. For the full article, check out the City Journal page. I have points of disagreement with her, but that is not what caught my attention on the radio.

What caught my attention is the simple fact that I, too, play video games. Or at least I did. See, about 4 weeks ago my Xbox360 took a dive. Many thousands of Xbox360 owners have had trouble with a manufacturing defect that produces the dreaded "Red Rings of Death" (the term is a take-off on the Window's classic "Blue Screen of Death" which appeared whenever your computer crashed). Basically, the lights around the power button turn red and this means your Xbox360 is dead. Microsoft extended the warranty for three years for every Xbox for this and is providing free repairs. My Xbox did not suffer RROD. Rather, the video card apparently died. Which means the system boots up and logs in, which I can tell from the sound effects, but there is no video output. Just a blank screen with some swimming dots. Obviously, this makes actually playing a video game rather difficult.

I was initially quite upset since I was in the middle of some campaigns on different games. That's kind of like having to leave a theater half way through a movie you were enjoying. I didn't like wasting money on the games that I could now not finish. And I especially didn't want to waste $100 on fixing the stupid thing for what is obviously a defect but would not be covered because my warranty is expired. But I forgot about it after a couple of days. School started, we finished up getting things ready for the baby (now just under 4 weeks off if he comes on time), I started reading more, poking around online and engaging in some discussions, talking to friends and family more often on the phone and generally just enjoying life. Until I heard Kay Hymowitz on Talk of the Nation talking about Child-Men. And I realized that, to a certain extent, I am one. Or maybe I was one. I wasted a lot of time playing on that stupid thing. Time that could have been much better spent talking to my wife, studying, praying, exercising, helping other people, writing - any of a hundred different things that had casually and thoughtlessly gotten sucked up by a white box sitting next to my TV. Hearing her talk about these guys, and hearing something of myself brought up in the article, made me realized that I not only didn't miss my Xbox, I'm glad its gone.

I realize there are probably some readers out there who have no idea what a change this is for me. For a very long time, video games were my outlet. Over the last 2.5 years especially, with school as busy and stressful as its been, getting lost in a game was one of my primary stress-relievers. And now I see just how dependent I was on that mind-numbing experience and I'm seeing how so much of popular culture is similarly stupifying. We waste so much time, energy and pieces of ourselves in pursuit of...nothing. It brings to mind my high school Latin teacher when he taught us the meaning of nihil - "less than straw". The Latin mind could conceive of nothing as insignificant as a piece of hay. And that is exactly what today's culture wants us to do; we seek insignificance.


Dating Jesus

Saturday morning, the wife and I went to a local coffee shop to study. Me for nursing school and her for a licensure exam at work. Towards the end of our study session a group of maybe 10 people pulled a few tables together right next to us. There were a few young women among the group and the rest were men of varying ages. They opened with prayer, always a welcome development when a large group gathers near your study area, and proceeded with their meeting. I had assumed it was a Bible study, but it turns it out was a group of ministry leaders from various college ministry organizations (Campus Crusade, Intervarsity and the like) and representatives of a few local churches with college ministries. They were coordinating ministry and outreach events for the coming semester. Frankly, I was delighted to see that kind of cooperation and cohesion among these obviously competing groups. Youth and college ministries can be especially numbers-driven due to the need for a "critical mass" of students in order to be attractive to outsiders. Kids generally don't like hanging around a fun-filled group of 5 when 2 of them are leaders. So for them to pool resources and forgo competitive ministry programs is, well, very Christian.

I didn't follow too much of the beginning of their meeting. I was engrossed in my "Caring for the Complex Family" text and they were talking about doing a few of the same things they had done last year. But as my interest in the Complex Family waned (directly proportional to the temperature and remaining volume of my coffee, I might add), they started tossing out new ideas. My attention was soon diverted to eavesdropping.

They had a variety of ideas. Most seemed generically conventional for Campus Crusade, based on my experience with the organization at Arizona State. Big, fun, invite-your-friend kind of things with a recognizable speaker or good band. Events with lots of energy and skits. Some of the ideas seemed more suited for a younger crowd but I assumed they knew their audience better than I. The one idea that really caught my attention, though, was presented by a college-aged female. Rough sketch: a skit based on the dating game wherein one of the bachelor's is Jesus, or answers exactly as Jesus would, and at the end of the game the young woman picks him. Excuse me, Him. They kind of tossed it around a bit - maybe the young woman is someone from the crowd, or maybe they just focus on the kind of love we all allegedly want, or all of the bachelors portray some aspect of Jesus. Or maybe they actually set up some kind of contest where someone actually wins a fantasy date, either as a package they can take their significant other on or they actually take the guy or girl from the skit. It went around for several minutes.

My initial reaction was "As a guy, I sure wouldn't want to date Jesus." You know, liking women like I do. So it seemed their strategy was going to alienate at least half of the crowd right then. Other thoughts ran through my head - what if what these college kids want from "love" isn't what God actually offers? How do you choose who gets to be the bachelors and how do you avoid using sexual attraction as an evangelism tool? And why do these oddly perverse notions of the romantic Jesus stay alive? Then an older gentleman said he kind of doubted they could actually know how Jesus would answer dating questions. Another pointed out the obvious difficulty if the person from the crowd chose a non-Jesus bachelor. Other flaws in the plan slowly became apparent but, overall, they seemed to like the general idea and thought maybe a good speaker could adapt what was happening to an evangelistic talk and no matter what happened, use it somehow.

I kept thinking is this what evangelism has come to? Dating Jesus?

As we left, they were on to other ideas and I interrupted the group to proffer a couple of suggestions. But I was still disquieted by the shallowness of their ideas about evangelism. Big-time fun does not equal conversion and on the rare occasion that it does, how much spiritual depth does that person actually experience? How does feeding the obviously jacked-up cultural norms of dating help bring anyone to relationship with Christ? What are they thinking?!

But (and this is a big, big but) then I realized something. They're actually doing it. No matter how shallow or ineffective their ideas seemed to me, they were at least committed to doing it. They were willing to take the time and energy to prepare and plan, to generate ideas and to figure out ways to put them into action. And they were willing to put themselves out on that very uncomfortable limb and plainly deliver the Gospel, no matter the context. And frankly, I'm not. I haven't shared the Gospel with anyone in the last 2 1/2 years. I fully believe that drive-by evangelism is ineffective and irresponsible, but at some point relational evangelism has to transition into actual evangelism. So far, I'm pretty good on the relational part. I think its time to work on the evangelism part.

So here's to that group. God bless them and the work that they do. God bless their endeavors and may they, and You, forgive my arrogance. God grant me their heart for reaching out to the lost. And maybe grant us all some better ideas.

Unless, that is, You like The Dating Game.


What I Learned in Nursing School (in progress)

I've been thinking about doing this post for a while, kind of a "top ten" list of what I've learned. But I'm not sure I've got 10 things to post and school is still a work in progress, so I'm treating the list the same way. Here is my unfinished, in-progress list of the top things I learned in nursing school.

The best physicians generally aren't good doctors. This of course isn't a hard and fast rule. There are some doctors that I work with who are expert surgeons or diagnosticians and who are also very caring and compassionate human beings. But they are the exception. By and large, the doctors who are the best at what they do plainly stink at how they do it. Family needs or questions are ignored or demeaned and patient needs, insofar as they don't correspond to the doctor's specialty, are treated as secondary when acknowledged at all. For that reason, even if they are the best in the operating room or during a code, they aren't the people I'd want taking care of me. If my prognosis is poor, I'd rather have someone treat me and my family with dignity and respect instead of having a doctor that might give me a few more days of life while treating us like inconveniences.

It is amazing what you can adapt to. When I was young, cleaning up after the dog would send me to the bathroom fighting a fit of gagging and dry heaves. The mere scent of vomit would set me off and the actual sight of puke was almost more than I could take. Rotting garbage, a dead animal, moldy food - the odors were just too much. But now, oh boy, now you could be shooting out of both ends and it wouldn't faze me excepting the knowledge that I'll be the one to clean it up. Also, the...uh...texture and aroma of certain bodily functions can be diagnostic. So I'm definitely over my weak stomach and at odd times find myself sniffing gently in the hospital hall trying to figure out who's got the C. diff and who is just gassy.

If someone says they're going to throw up, its best to take them at their word. And to get out of the way.

Hospitals really do smell funny. I noticed it the very first day I started working in one but forgot all about it until I went in to one to visit someone. Once I was out of my scrubs and just a guy off the street, that smell hit me full force again even though I'm in a hospital 3-4 days a week. That reminded me how bewildering and intimidating the hospital can be for people who aren't used to it.

What we can do to you far exceeds what we can do for you. And the reason, more often than not, that we are doing all of these things to you is because of your family. They can't let you go even though there is no hope for recovery and keeping you alive is only prolonging your suffering. Why? Guilt and fear. Guilt about what is left unsaid or undone, about past wrongs not made right and deep-seated fear about all of our fates. It is generally the conflicted, wounded families that experience so much ambivalence and confusion in the face tragedy. So please, right after you're done reading this, go apologize to those you've hurt and forgive those who have hurt you. Reassure them of your love and forgiveness and remind them about God's. It just may save all of you untold suffering and emotional pain at some unfortunate point in the future. More importantly, it will change that relationship for the rest of your respective lives. And tell at least a few of them in explicit detail exactly what you do and do not want done should you end up laying in an ICU with machines keeping you alive. Maybe, just for fun, put it in writing.


School starts...

...tomorrow. My final semester in the nursing program, thankfully. I'll graduate in May, take boards in early June and then finally get a job and have something resembling free time again. The other day someone asked me if I was excited for the semester to start. I told them I'm excited for the semester to end. This has been a three year journey that I had never anticipated or even contemplated. After getting thrown a curveball by being fired as a youth pastor and still having huge and unanswered (at that point) questions about "what is church?", the wife and I ended up in Indiana and my starting to pursue a career as a nurse. Its not exactly my passion, but it will pay the bills, provide a great deal of freedom and mobility to pursue my passions outside of work, all the while offering untold opportunities to help people in very significant ways. All told, not a bad compromise.

This next semester is maternity and pediatric nursing. I've got zip experience with either one, with the exception of having taken care of a few kids with bad colds in the ER over the last few months, so I'm looking forward to getting into a different area. And with my own little one due in about 6 1/2 weeks, I should learn some valuable skills in taking care of him and helping the wife through labor and delivery. I've also been told by my classmates who took this section last semester (and who are now due to be taking the black hole of critical care and psychiatric nursing that I was taking) that the teacher is good and the class not overly demanding. Again, a lovely compromise that I am grateful for. Another bonus - I only have one day of clinicals, instead of 2 like most semesters, so when the wife finally pops I'll be able to miss a week without it impacting my grade (missing 2 or more days knocks 3% off your final grade for each day missed). So I'm looking forward to school starting, not least for it being my last semester. It promises to be a very engaging 16 weeks, personally, educationally and professionally.


The Presumption of Malice

Given the obviously partisan nature of politics in this country, which seems to have only worsened over the last several years with acrimonious debates about the war in particular, it is no surprise that people at one pole tend to take a negative view of the people at the other. Many a lefty takes a dim view of a righty's stance on the war, social programs, abortion, the economy and a host of other issues and vehemently vice versa. For the most part, though (I hope), this negativism is not personal. I think pro-abortionists are wrong but I don't think they are for "reproductive choice" because they find it quite a lot of fun to kill unborn children. I think the pro-Iraq war folks were and are wrong, but I don't think they find it quite a lot of fun to kill brown people or destroy other countries. The list goes on and for a large majority of Americans, I think we tend to look at those we disagree with in a generally neutral light. But there is an increasingly strident minority that does not. For these people, there is an inexplicable presumption of malice.

I think that presumption operates on a principle inversely similar to Occam's Razor - the reason that is most morally objectionable is the true reason someone supports this cause. This methodology seems to be gaining traction in both parties. I'm not talking about the generally negative speech that emanates from both party bases. Its no surprise that Rush Limbaugh or other conservative pundits credit most Democrats/liberals with stupidity, or that left-wing commentators accuse Republicans/conservatives of greed. No, this moves even further afield than that. In general, I don't count comments directed against particular politicians because I don't put political pandering and manipulation beyond just about anyone seeking national office anymore. Maybe I'm a bit cynical but I think the very nature of the political process in this country has become schizophrenic. We demand a degree of perfection and consistency from candidates that is impossible. There are certain ritualistic performances and statements that candidates have to comply with in order to be politically viable. Take the near worshipful view that all of the candidates have towards 'the troops.' I have no doubt that there is a degree of respect for the military in all of the candidates but not every single solider, sailor, airman or marine is a paragon of virtue. Not every combat action taken by an American has been honorable. Not every soldier is fighting for our freedom. Not every one in the military wants to be making the sacrifices they are making. And yet you wouldn't know it from the candidates' statements because you wouldn't know them as candidates if they didn't make them. Because a candidate changing their message or their views in response to polls or focus groups is no surprise, I personally don't think calling the kettle black is unacceptable. Rude, distasteful and occasionally over the top yes, but not altogether out of the question. Accusations of perfidy are par for the course precisely because of the corrupting nature of American politics.

Of late, however, I have heard comments that presume malice on the part of entire swaths of the American public. The two examples that stick out in my mind were made by those on the left but I know that there are just as many voices on the right echoing the sentiment. The first one that springs to mind was heard last week. A woman made the blanket assertion that we pro-lifers don't really care about the unborn child, rather, we're against abortion because it is a way to control women. By opposing abortion we, primarily, undermine the economic freedom of women who would be forced, in an abortion-free society, to forgo education and job opportunities to gestate and presumably raise their unwanted children. Opposition to abortion is then apparently a way we sexist misogynists can make up for, I dunno, women getting the right to vote or something. The second comment was heard just this morning. Two African-American female commentators were discussing the results of the New Hampshire primaries and suggested that a large number of conservative independents may have switched over to vote for Sen. Obama because they think "a black man can't win the popular vote." Helping him to get the nomination would then ensure a Republican victory by racist conservatives.

Personally, I find this kind of political speech disconcerting and reprehensible. And, most importantly, un-Christian. No matter how strongly we feel about an issue, no matter how staunchly we disagree with someone else, I don't think that we, as Christians, can ever presume malicious intent. If a pro-lifer came out and said "I oppose abortion to keep women down" or "I voted for Obama in the primaries because this country won't elect no n******", then these people have identified their own malice and revealed the ugly depths of their own hearts. But we as Christians have to do better than that. We are called upon to love our neighbor and, at the very least, we have to love them with the language we use to describe them. I think we have to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until they prove otherwise. Which is why, from here through the election, and probably beyond, I'm not going to sit back and let other Christians speak in this manner. If I hear or read a presumption of malice I'm going to call them on it. I'm going to call them to the higher standard we all know we are obliged to live up to. Who's with me?