Month: October 2017

Exit 174. I enjoy traveling by train.

My twenty-five-mile commute to work runs parallel to a railroad track, used both by freight trans and an Amtrak route (for my readers outside the USA, that means a passenger train) that runs twice per day in each direction.  A few miles down the highway, I cross the track, and sometimes, if the timing works out just right, I can see the Amtrak train, and I end up following it for about another 15 miles until my exit.  Then, shortly after my exit, I cross under the railroad track again, and if the timing is still just right, I see the train one last time above me.  Last Thursday, I saw the train following me along my drive, but by the time I got to the underpass, I had gotten stuck waiting at a stop sign, and the train had already passed.

I am discovering more and more that I enjoy traveling by train.  I’ve often used BART, the regional electric commuter trains in and around San Francisco and Oakland, to get to Giants games or other occasional events in San Francisco for which I don’t want to deal with traffic or finding an overpriced place to park.  I went to a concert in the city a few weeks ago, and I took BART and then connected to a local bus, and I didn’t even miss the bus or get on the wrong bus or anything like that.  Me 1, San Francisco 0.  The local light rail in Sacramento is my usual method of transportation to get to Kings games when I don’t have to pick up someone who doesn’t have a way to get to games or won’t use public transportation.  I have also used light rail and buses many times to get home from long one-way bike rides.  And in June, I rode Amtrak for the first time, going to visit my family.

I think I would use public transportation more often, except that it usually does not go where I’m going when I need to be there.  When I say this to many people, they proceed to criticize the public transportation system in this region compared to others, or public transportation in the USA compared to other countries.  But this is not the issue.  The issue is that my commute is not along a common commuting corridor.  It is theoretically possible for me to get to work using three buses, run by three different agencies that do not issue transfers, with inconvenient layovers in between.  I could also just do the long bus route, getting to and from the stops by bike instead of two other buses.  However, that would still be about three and a half miles on my bike each way, which I do not like to do in work clothes or without being able to shower afterward, especially on hot days.  (I am thinking, however, that it might be useful to try this, just to see how it works.  I could be sure to arrive early enough to clean up a little and/or change clothes before the students arrive.  Even if this does not become my daily commute, this may come in handy in a pinch if I am ever without a car for any reason.)  As for using public transportation for trips that are not work, my social life usually involves doing things late at night, leaving me with no way to get home on public transportation.  Either that, or I am rushing from one place to another and do not have time to wait for a bus or train.

I’ve already reserved my ticket on Amtrak to visit my family for Christmas.  It’s longer and more expensive than driving, but to me, not unreasonably so.  And I’ve come to realize that maybe I don’t like driving as much as I thought I did, or as much as I used to.  As a roadgeek, driving is fun.  But sometimes it’s also fun to just sit back and stare out the window at the scenery going by.  And I’m definitely looking forward to doing that on the way home for Christmas.  It’ll be dark on the way back; the city where my parents live only gets one train per day in each direction, and the one taking me home leaves around 6:30pm, long after sunset in December.  But I’ll be bringing my Christmas presents home, so I’ll probably have some new movies to watch on my laptop for when it’s too dark to see outside.

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Exit 173. Finding my people.

A few months ago, I saw an invitation on Facebook for a reunion for 1990s alumni of the UC Davis chapter of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.  IVCF is an international para-church organization (i.e., not affiliated with a particular church or denomination) that runs Christian groups and ministries on university and college campuses, and I’ve mentioned before that I was involved with this organization during my university years.  It was through this group that I first came to know Jesus on a personal level, that all the stories I’d heard as a child about Jesus and God’s people really started to mean something to me and affect my life.  Some of the people in my life from this group I’m sporadically in Facebook contact with, but there are many others with whom I lost touch long ago.  So when I saw last summer that the couple who led the group from 1992 to 2002 would be flying out to California in October and speaking at an IVCF reunion for alumni who were part of the group during those years, I signed up right away.  In fact, I was told that I was the first one to register and buy my ticket.

The event happened at the end of my school’s fall break.  I was hoping for the fall break to be low-key and relaxing, allowing either for a spontaneous adventure or two or lots of time sitting around doing things I enjoy.  Some of that happened, but the week ended up being much more full of adult responsibilities than I was hoping: car maintenance, bike repairs, my phone dying unexpectedly, and its brand new successor stopping working after a day, to mention a few.  In the days leading up to the reunion, my mind was rapidly heading into a downward spiral of negative thoughts and stress.

But this day was exactly what I needed, emotionally and spiritually.  It felt like I was getting back to my roots as a Christian, worshiping the Lord in the same environment that I did twenty years ago, before I became so disillusioned with church culture and jaded by the various ways I’ve been mistreated since then.  I enjoyed catching up with so many old friends, getting to share stories about what I’m doing today and hear their stories.  These were the people who were here for me at a very difficult time in my life.  Things weren’t always smooth, as I shared last week, but is it ever?

Nine days later, as I write this, two conversations stick out the most in my mind.  The first was with a woman a few years older than me who was on staff with InterVarsity during the time I was there.  I found her on Facebook a few years ago, when she commented to one of my friends from this time period who I’ve stayed in touch with, so she has seen a lot of my Facebook posts about my tabletop game and retro video game friends, Kings games, and partner dancing.  But this was the first time we had spoken face to face in a long time.  I didn’t have a social life anything like this twenty years ago, and that was something I often felt discouraged about.  She told me, “I’m really glad you found your people.”

I didn’t respond to that comment in the best way I could have.  I should have thought about how she’s right.  For the first thirty-plus years of my life, I never had friends who understood the things I enjoy doing to the extent that my friends now do.  I was never able to invite people over and get a good response and have a good time.  I really have found my people, in that sense.

But that wasn’t my response.  Instead, I took a negative view of the subject.  I said, “But it doesn’t feel like they’re completely my people.  Most of those friends are either not Christians, or way younger than me.”  True, but this isn’t what I should be focusing on.  I really need to stop being so negative.

Hold that thought.  More on that later.  The second conversation that sticks out to me was with someone who had been a freshman when I was a senior.  She eventually moved back to the area where she grew up, about an hour and a half drive away, and somehow the topic came up of how often we’ve been back to Davis since then.  I only live 30 miles away, and I go to a lot of UC Davis football and basketball games, and I have met a few other friends who live in Davis over the last few years who have no connection to my time living there, so I have been back to Davis more often than most of the students who attended the reunion, except for the handful who actually live in Davis today.  I mentioned to this friend that I think about moving back sometimes, even to the point that I’ve sent job applications at two distinct points in my life.  But I don’t think that moving back is a good idea for me, given what I know about myself.  Truthfully, this thought isn’t about wanting to move back so much as as it is that I just want my old life back.  And that just isn’t realistic, because so much has changed in the last twenty years.  The world is a different place and everyone has grown up, and if I were to move back to Davis, I would not get my old life back.  None of these were really new thoughts for me, but it seemed like I explained it a bit more clearly than usual.

Later, we had a sharing time, about things that we learned during our InterVarsity days that have borne fruit in our adult lives.  Someone was talking about how at one point as an adult, she was looking for the kind of community she had in college, only to realize that as adults, we have to make our own community.  I’ve been struggling with this for a long time, spending decades of my life trying to find a church that has a group like InterVarsity for my age, only to realize that this group doesn’t exist.

I will always have my InterVarsity memories, and these memories will always be precious to me.  But life moves on.  Which brings me back to the other conversation about finding my people.  I’m glad to be in touch with people I knew twenty years ago, but my people in 2017 are the game group friends and my other current social friends.  God put me in this place for a reason, and I still have work to do where I am right now.  And although it doesn’t hurt to embrace nostalgia to some point, looking backward ultimately is not the answer when I can’t find the way forward.

Exit 172. But it isn’t pretty.

As a new Christian and a youth group leader in the ’90s, I listened to a lot of Christian music.  Since 2001, when I was no longer working with youth, that has tapered off, to the point that I do not recognize many Christian songs anymore other than the ones I hear at church.  There are a number of reasons for that.  I don’t have a social group at church that purposely introduces me to new Christian music.  I have also matured to the point of realizing that some Christian music just isn’t very good.  I can’t reverently express to Jesus how much I love him when singing or even hearing others sing phrases like “Heaven meets Earth like a sloppy wet kiss.”  (Besides, didn’t you people tell me back in the Josh Harris era that kissing was bad, because it leads to temptation and babies and stuff, so I shouldn’t even think about kissing until my wedding day?)

But, as unfortunate as this is, another part of the reason I haven’t been as much into Christian music is because sometimes I feel like I can’t relate.  A lot of Christian music is just too overly sappy.  Sometimes I’m feeling angry at the world, and there is very little angry Christian music.  I’ve even been told my some ill-informed Christians that the reason for the lack of angry Christian music is because anger is not a Christlike emotion.  (Right… I’m sure Jesus was feeling all happy and cheerful when he turned over the tables.)

The other day, I was in the car, and I heard a song that I realized sums up my history and experience with Christianity pretty well.  But it isn’t pretty.  And it isn’t a Christian song.

This isn’t a new song; it was released in 1991.  It isn’t a new song to me either; this was a huge hit when I was in high school, and it was on MTV all the time back when MTV still played videos for part of the day.  But apparently it has taken me over a quarter century to really appreciate the song.

New blood joins this earth
And quickly he’s subdued
Through constant pained disgrace
The young boy learns their rules

Late ’90s.  I’m a new Christian, and that’s great, but I’m quickly scolded by peers for telling dirty jokes and having lustful thoughts.  I learn the rules… there are cliques within the group.  Sometimes, from my point of view, the people who go serve Jesus in other countries during the summer seem more respected than those of us who don’t feel that calling, for example.

With time, the child draws in
This whipping boy done wrong
Deprived of all his thoughts
The young man struggles on…

Early 2000s.  I’m in small groups at Church I With The Problems where pretty much all we do is confess our habits of masturbation and looking at porn and talk about ways to stop that from happening, or have long discussions about exactly what minute of the night we should leave our significant other’s house so that other people don’t see us there and think that we’re having sex.  When I share my thoughts that maybe there are more important things we should be concerned with, everyone just tells me I must not be mature in my faith.

They dedicate their lives
To running all of his

A few years later.  I’m at Church II With The Problems, where everything I say or do feels micro-managed, and every slightly socially awkward behavior or comment is treated like a sin I have to repent from.

He tries to please them all
This bitter man he is

After I move in 2006, I spend the next decade trying to live the good Christian life, but only becoming more and more bitter, as I see others who didn’t live the way I was taught find happiness and success, and my own life leads me to be more and more of an outcast.

Throughout his life the same
He’s battled constantly
This fight he cannot win
A tired man they see no longer cares

This has been going on for many years.  I’ve been looking for a place where I can find other people who live the way I’ve been trying to.  But I can’t win, I’m not going to find one, because I’m not 20 anymore.  There isn’t a youth group for 41-year-olds.  I don’t know how to live in my current situation, and I’m becoming more and more tired and bitter about it.

The old man then prepares
To die regretfully
That old man here is me

And this is the direction my life is heading if nothing changes…

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never be
Never see
Won’t see what might have been

What I’ve felt
What I’ve known
Never shined through in what I’ve shown
Never free
Never me
So I dub thee Unforgiven

Unforgiven… ironically, that is the complete opposite of the gift that Jesus Christ gives us.  Am I unforgiven?  Have I not truly received the grace of Jesus Christ?  I don’t think so.  But I might be looking for the wrong things.  I might be trying too hard to do all the socially acceptable right things instead of just living in the grace of Jesus Christ.

But that is not who God made me to be.  I don’t want to fit in that box.  But I need to figure out how to do that.  I need to look to Jesus, not church culture.

And if I’m now hearing God speak to me through Metallica lyrics, I suppose I’ve taken a step out of the box already.

Exit 171. Assumptions need to be challenged.

A couple weeks ago, I was asked to help out with something at school.  I was prepared for the possibility about a week in advance, and I said sure, because it was not anything particularly taxing.  Given the circumstances, which aren’t really relevant here, it was not going to be known until the last minute if they needed my help.  (This essentially involved a contingency plan, because a guest speaker was unexpectedly in a situation where she may have had to cancel unexpectedly.)  And sure enough, at the last minute they asked me to do what I had prepared for.

As I was leaving work that day (it was a Thursday), the principal thanked me again for my help, and my willingness to step up.  She said to send her an email with my favorite Starbucks drink, and I did.  Vanilla bean frappuccino.  As I’ve said multiple times before, I don’t like coffee.  I can’t handle the taste of coffee.  I tried, back in the ’90s when hanging out at the coffee shop was all the rage.  A couple times, I ordered coffee drinks with lots of stuff in them to make them taste better, and I couldn’t finish them because I could still taste the coffee.

Friday morning, during my first period class, the principal walks in with my drink.  I smile and say thank you, even though I can see right away that it is not a vanilla bean frappuccino.  Maybe one of my Starbucks employee friends can help me out here, since Starbucks isn’t an option yet on Google Translate… the label said “Gr Cafe Vn Frapp.”  My guess is that it was similar to my desired vanilla bean frappuccino, but with iced coffee too.

I mentioned, with students in earshot, that this wasn’t the drink I ordered.  But I really did not want to be unappreciative.   So I took a sip.  Not great, but not as bad as I expected.  I stirred in the whipped cream, which made one student tell me I was doing it wrong because I have to drink the whipped cream first.  But stirring in the whipped cream made it taste better.

I finished the whole drink.

I drank a coffee drink.  The whole thing.  For the first time in my life.

I’m probably not going to order this again.  It wasn’t that great.  But I learned something really important from this experience: Maybe some of my long-held assumptions need to be challenged.  I always thought I didn’t like anything with coffee in it, but apparently that is not entirely true.  What else out there might not be entirely true?

Exit 170. Debating what to write about.

I’ve been debating all day what to write about.  Something kind of cool happened to me a few days ago that, while insignificant in the long run of things, challenged something I’ve believed to be true about myself for my entire life.  But then I woke up to news of a horrific shooting.  I took a nap this afternoon, and woke up to unrelated news of the passing of another classic rock icon, although at this writing, a few hours later, some news outlets say that the announcement was premature and that he is clinging to life.  Either way, it doesn’t look good.

I’m going to keep those thoughts to one paragraph.  The world is a horrible place.  Satan is real, and the human race is fallen and evil.  We can, and should, be trying to make the world a better place, but we also have to accept the fact that this work will not be finished until Jesus comes back.  And major political policy decisions should not be made based on emotion and knee-jerk reactions, as many always try to do after a tragedy like this.  My prayers are with the families and loved ones of those killed and injured at the concert near* Las Vegas.  And to those of you who are responding that you don’t want my prayers, that’s fine.  I’m praying for you, and the sovereign God is listening, regardless of your response.  I don’t understand why he allows these things to happen.  I don’t think anyone could understand.  But his work is not finished yet.  Satan still has a firm grip on this world, and no matter of political policy can change that.

I was going to tell my other story too, but I think I’ll just leave it here for now and save that for next week.

(*The Las Vegas Strip area is outside the actual city limits.)