Exit 169. God was telling me to play Pokémon Go.

Yesterday, I hosted a friend’s birthday party at my house.  I am an introvert, of course, but I do enjoy hosting parties for others occasionally when I can.  I have this house, with realistically more room than I need, and doing things like this makes me feel like I can do something useful for my friends who have other living arrangements.

But I digress.  I’ve been very busy with work, and I haven’t been good at picking up around the house.  So I did a lot of straightening and cleaning yesterday morning.  By about 1:00 in the afternoon, I was tired and sweaty and in need of a shower, and I also needed a few things from the grocery store (not for the party specifically, just for my personal use, but as soon as possible).  I was debating whether to shower and go to the store, or just shower and nap, when another alternative popped into my head.

Don’t go to the store.  Don’t take a nap.  Don’t even shower yet.  Go for a walk to the park and catch some Pokémon.

I should qualify this by saying that I’m a n00b when it comes to Pokémon Go.  As I have written before, I was already in my 20s when Pokémon was first a thing, so I didn’t grow up with it.  I played for the first time two months ago, when a friend who moved away a few years ago was visiting her parents, about an hour drive from here.  I was trying to find a time to get together and catch up, and the only time that worked was when she was planning on going for a walk to play Pokémon, so she invited me along.

I had a six day streak going of having caught at least one Pokémon per day.  Most of that, however, most of that was just stopping next to the aforementioned park on the way home from work and catching one just to get a streak going, since if you can get up to seven days, you get a lot of experience points.  So I needed to catch something yesterday.  I also needed to get more balls, and there are lots of stops where you can get items all over this park.

Anyway, this park has soccer and baseball fields, so it is always full of youth sports families on Saturday mornings.  As I was getting near the park, I saw a mom and her friend loading up kids into a car after a game.  Her friend said hi to me.  I said hi back, as my mind frantically tried to remember who this person was; I don’t know any soccer moms that frequent this park off the top of my head.  (The kids belonged to her friend, not her, which also threw me a little.)   Fortunately, it came to me quickly so that the conversation was not awkward; it was someone from my old church, the one I stopped going to around two years ago.  I asked how she was doing, and she mentioned that next month she would be leaving on a mission trip to serve Jesus in other countries for a year.  She gave me the website where she would be blogging about her travels.

I hear many people tell stories about when God makes people cross paths at just the right time for a specific reason, and I think this was one of those moments.  I think God was telling me to play Pokémon Go yesterday morning, so I could be back in touch with my friend and reading and praying about her travels.  And in the middle of all the questions that have been running through my mind about Christianity and church culture and where I belong, this was a reminder that God is still here in the midst of all that.

And the part about me not having made it to the grocery store worked out too, because one of the other party guests called asking if we needed anything, and she agreed to bring me the two things I needed most urgently.  I forgot to pay her back, but this is someone I see often enough that I’ll take care of that soon, and it was probably no more than five dollars anyway.

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Exit 168. Just part of being an introvert.

I took a week off from this blog… I had a lot going on, and I wasn’t feeling well for a few days.

The stuff I had going on involved seeing Carbon Leaf in San Francisco.  As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve seen this band many times, including just about every time they’ve toured nationwide.  Usually, their tour only takes them as close as San Francisco, and more often than not it happens to be on a weeknight.  I got home from San Francisco at 2am and got four hours of sleep that night, among the reasons I’ve been so exhausted lately.

I left for the concert right after work, with plans to stop in Concord or Pleasant Hill or Walnut Creek for dinner.  It would be around 5pm when I got there, and I know my way around that area because I lived there briefly.  At around 4:30, I decided on a whim to pull over and post on Facebook and Instagram exactly where I would be stopping for dinner.  I said if any of my friends in that area saw this post and were free, please come say hi sometime between 5 and 6.  I’ve done this kind of thing a few times before, but this one ended up being different, because someone actually showed up and joined me for dinner.  (Not just some-ONE, it was actually a whole family of four.)  It was nice to know that someone actually took the time to join me.

Yesterday, just nine days after the Carbon Leaf trip, I found myself in the Bay Area again, although not specifically in the same place.  This time, I didn’t post that I would be passing through anyone else’s area, and I didn’t invite anyone to join me.  Part of the difference here was just logistical.  The plan for this trip was to catch up with someone I hadn’t seen in a while over lunch, so I wasn’t stopping to eat anywhere.  I also wasn’t passing directly through anywhere I used to live, or anywhere with a high concentration of people I hadn’t seen in a while.  I didn’t want my friend to think that she wasn’t a priority.  And I had plans back home that evening, so while I wasn’t in a hurry to get home, I knew that any additional stops I made might mean less time with my friends back home.

But sometimes when I’m passing through places where friends live, it isn’t that I don’t have time to see them.  Sometimes it’s just part of being an introvert.  Sometimes I’m really looking forward to a long drive by myself, getting lost in the music and the scenery.  Sometimes I feel anxious about trying to make plans with people, for no good reason other than that I’m an introvert.

I just hope that, when this happens, my friends who I didn’t try to stop and visit don’t feel slighted or left out.  I promise that isn’t it.  I have friends spread out all over California, and all over the world for that matter.  Someone asked me once what I would wish for if I could have one wish, and the best answer I thought of was a private jet with an unlimited fuel supply, or some other form of fast and cheap transportation, so I could visit distant friends and family more often.

But sometimes I just feel like being alone.

Those of you who are my friend on Facebook, or who follow me on Instagram, know that I like to take pictures of scenery or landmarks when I’m not home.  If you see me taking a picture of something that is near you, and you’re available to hang out, please speak up.  Let me know if you want me to stop and see you.  And keep inviting me to things.  Similarly, let me know if you’re ever in my area and you feel like hanging out.  But please accept the fact that I might not be able to, and I might not be in the mood for it for reasons that have absolutely nothing to do with you.  I really hope that this doesn’t come across as arrogant or selfish, because that’s not what I mean at all.  When this happens, let’s talk about another time that might work out to get together.  Advance notice works better with my schedule.

Thank you, friends.

Exit 167. Goats.

A creek runs bout half a mile from my house. Yesterday morning, I was driving past an open field next to the creek, and I saw a herd of goats grazing. This was actually normal to me. I read an article recently that a number of local cities were using goats to clean up weeds in public areas, and that they were coming to my city shortly. And this was the second time I had seen them nearby recently.

Had this happened a year ago, I would have taken a picture. Then I would have sent it to a certain friend of mine, someone I met online over a decade ago but never met in person. I would have said something like, “Look! Goats!” And she would have replied something like “Omg! So cute! I want one!” Because she loves goats.

But I didn’t. Because we aren’t friends anymore.

Several months ago, I sent her something else goat-related. I noticed that her Facebook seemed to be deactivated, but I thought nothing of it. It’s Facebook, it’s glitchy sometimes.  It still let me send her messages, though. She replied, saying that she had unfriended me recently. She felt like “our friendship had run its course,” and she was tired of me being down and depressed and negative all the time, and supposedly only wanting to talk to her when I’m complaining about something.

Well, then… I guess I have nothing to say to that.  I didn’t try to contact her again.

I feel bad that she thinks I only want to talk to her when I’m complaining.  I don’t see it that way, but I guess that’s not always the kind of thing you can see in yourself.  Or maybe it’s that the last few years have been kind of hard for me, and I’ve had a lot to complain about.  But still, I don’t want to burden my friends.  Sometimes I just need someone to talk to.  And I appreciate the friends who are willing to listen when I need someone to talk to.  I’ve been told before that people don’t want to listen to me when I’m being negative, and I hope I don’t turn too many people away from me because of that.

And I’ve said this before… I have a hard time with the concept that friendships run their course.  There’s the saying about how friends come into your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime, but there is a part of me that wants everyone I meet to be a lifelong friend.  But that’s just not possible.  I can’t realistically be friends with everyone.  Some people I’m just going to grow apart from, and it’s not healthy for me to expend emotional energy trying to hold on to friendships when the other person doesn’t want me around.  So if she doesn’t want to be friends with me anymore, I’m going to have to let her go.

Sometimes I unfollow people on social media if I’ve grown apart from them in real life.  I hate to do it, but I can’t keep up with everyone.  Sometimes clearing away dead underbrush is healthy.

Just like when goats eat dead grass next to a creek bed.

Exit 166. And know they love you.

The title of this week’s post, of course, is a line from this song.

I’ve known of this song for decades.  It’s older than I am.  It’s one of CSN-and-sometimes-Y’s most well-known songs.  I heard it on oldies and classic rock radio growing up, and I think they used a mediocre cover of it in a commercial for potty training pants or something like that at one point.

But I had never really thought deeply about the song until I heard it a few days ago and, well, started thinking about it.  The first verse and chorus seem pretty straightforward.  Teach your children well.  But then the second half of the song always confused me.  I had no idea what they were saying.  You have Graham singing the melody, but then David and Stephen are harmonizing on ENTIRELY DIFFERENT LYRICS at the same time.  I’ve always had a hard time understanding songs that do that.  I’m trying to listen to the lyrics, so it would be nice if everyone was singing the same thing at the same time, although it is kind of a cool effect.  And then the final chorus, now it’s “teach your parents?”  The title of the song is “teach your children,” so why the sudden reversal?  Was that just something that the guys thought of when they were on drugs?  And what the heck does “God knows the fears that you held the screw by” mean?  I can’t be hearing that line right.

So I looked up the lyrics.  It’s actually “can’t know the fears that your elders grew by.”  And all of a sudden, the song makes a lot more sense now that I know what they’re saying.

The song was released in 1970, during the Vietnam War.  Much like today, tensions were running high in society, particularly regarding the generation gap between the baby boomers coming of age, many of whom were being drafted to fight this war, and their World War II-era parents.  These parents and children grew up in very different worlds, and what worked for one generation does not always work for the next generation.  The same thing is happening today.  The young adult millennials who are at the forefront of today’s social and political activism grew up in a completely different world from the world that Generation X and the Baby Boomers grew up in; they can’t know the fears that we grew by, as Graham Nash sang.  The Soviet Union collapsed 26 years ago, so people in their 20s and younger do not understand why communism and socialism are viewed so negatively by those old enough to remember the Cold War.  Older people tend to criticize the younger generation for spending too much time staring at phones, laptops, and tablets, instead of interacting with others, fearing that the younger generation will produce more and more people who can’t function in society.  While some of these concerns are justified, it fails to take into account the fact that society is different today, and social media often strengthens friendships and relationships in a world where people cannot always be with their friends and loved ones face-to-face, so this also serves a useful purpose, particularly for people who are not always comfortable in face-to-face social situations.

I overheard a conversation recently about how, within the culture of Christianity, Baby Boomers often put down Millennials as being lazy and undisciplined, and that this is doing a disservice to the Church as a whole.  Millennials grew up in a different world, in which many of them did not have both parents at home like the Baby Boomers did, so their needs are different than those of older generations were at their age.  The Church wants to give them more discipline and structure, but they really need to be loved.  All of that seemed to fit well with my thoughts about this song.

Yes, society is divided along generational and cultural lines.  But we all have something to learn from each other.  And we all have something to teach each other.  We have something to contribute to our collective children, and our experiences can teach something to our collective parents who did not live in our world.  We’re all in this world together.  We don’t always understand each other, but making our best attempt to is an important first step.  So, if you want to make the world a better place, be open to learning about others around you, and teaching them about you.  Others usually aren’t as different or hostile as you’d think sometimes.

Just look at them and sigh, and know they love you.

Exit 165. Torn loyalties.

The current controversy over the removal of monuments of historical figures associated with the Confederate States (for my non-American readers, that would be the rebels of the American Civil War of 1861-65, who lost), as well as a recent trip to visit relatives north of here, got me thinking.  During my travels in 2005, I visited a number of Civil War museums and battle sites, and saw firsthand the perspective that many outside the South tend to forget, that the history of that era was much more nuanced than a simple concept of evil white supremacist racists vs. heroic progressive good guys.  In addition to the issues over slavery, the war was also a battle over the rights of states versus the federal government, and of two different lifestyles and economies competing for a place in the growing nation.

A number of my friends were sharing articles last week about Robert E. Lee and his complex history.  He served for many years in the Union Army before leaving to join the Rebels.  He was initially opposed to a war between the states.  In the months leading up to the war, seven states had formally voted to secede from the United States of America, despite the fact that there was no legal means for doing so.  Shortly after the war broke out, four more states voted to secede, including Lee’s home state of Virginia.  Lee, with torn loyalties, eventually resigned his position with the Union Army on the grounds that he was loyal to his home state and could not fight against it.

I understand completely how one would have torn loyalties.  Since the election of President Donald Trump, there has been much talk here in California about wanting to leave the Union, on the grounds that the current administration does not reflect California values.  Where would my loyalties lie in that case?  I’m not a big fan of this current administration, but I’m even less of a fan of many of these so-called California values.  Would I stay loyal to my beautiful home state, and continue to hope that it might somehow change from within?  Or would I stay loyal to the nation and its Constitution, even if it meant leaving my home behind?

And what if the State of Jefferson were to happen?  In the early 1940s, the counties along the border of California and Oregon began talking about leaving the two states and forming a new state.  A few minor protests happened, but the attack on Pearl Harbor and the U.S. entry into World War II stopped the momentum.  In recent decades, talk of this movement has revived, particularly in the northern and eastern rural areas of California.  It is doubtful that this would ever happen in the current environment.  In order for a state to split, the pre-split government of the state would have to approve (as well as the U.S Congress), and California’s liberal legislature would not approve the creation of a conservative state that would add Senators and electoral votes for things that go against these so-called California values.  But if California were to leave the Union, especially if there were an armed rebellion involved, the federal government may be more likely to accept a new state that broke off of California and stayed loyal to the Union, much as how West Virginia formed during the Civil War.

But if somehow Jefferson were to become a state while California remained in the Union (or was readmitted after a failed rebellion), would I stay in my home and hope for change from within, or would I move north to a state that more reflected my values and did not spend my tax dollars on things that I am morally opposed to?

I don’t know.

Would I still want to move to Jefferson if it attracted the most toxic kind of activists who vote for conservative politicians, like the ones carrying torches and Nazi flags in Charlottesville?  Would it be worth it to find a new home if I had more of those people around?  I don’t know.

Every state and every community has a different history and culture.  Every monument means something different.  So instead of forming a mob to tear these monuments down, what we should be doing is studying history, and learning how people in the community feel about the situation, especially people different from us.  Then, an informed decision should be made, calmly, by the people in the community, not outsiders with an agenda.

 

 

Exit 164. Prayers.

God, our Father in Heaven,

I pray for our world.  I pray for my country.  I pray that all of us will pay attention and engage with those who are different from us for whatever reason.  I pray that we will seek to understand why they feel, believe, and vote the way they do, rather than ignore them or belittle them as wrong for whatever reason in whatever way.

I pray for all of those who feel oppressed, marginalized, ignored, and patronized.  I pray that we will understand why they feel this way, that we will understand their lives and their history and their reactions that may differ from ours.  I pray that we might see each other as fellow human beings, not antagonists.

Forgive us, Lord.  Forgive our sins as a people.  Heal our broken nation.  I pray that we may remember our Constitution and the ideals of freedom and liberty that led to the founding of this nation.  I pray that we may heal from the sins of our history and move forward.

I pray that you will be at work in the hearts and minds of those who are angry, and those who feel hate toward others who are different.  I pray that they will be softened and broken, and that they will see the people that they hate as human beings, as beloved children of God.  I pray that bridges will be built.

I pray for my good friends who live in and around Charlottesville.  I pray that you will keep them safe as protesters and the news media descend on their region.  I pray that they will be good examples to the world at large, so that the rest of the country will know that central Virginia is a beautiful place full of friendly people who are not white supremacists.

And I pray for my own heart.  God, I pray that you will expose the biases I have, and help me practice what I preach and heal the anger I sometimes feel toward certain groups.

In the name of Jesus, who died to forgive our sins, and bring us to everlasting life with him,

Amen.

Exit 163. It all goes wrong again.

I feel beat up.

Defeated.

Hopeless sometimes.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is insanity, as the saying goes.  Doing different things and getting the same results is real life.  At least that’s what my life feels like sometimes.  And just when I’m starting to feel optimistic about something, it all goes wrong again.

I’ve been lied to and misled.  I’ve been betrayed and stabbed in the back.  I’ve been the recipient of many empty and hollow promises that never materialized.

Sometimes I feel like giving up.  That’s been on my mind a bit more than usual lately, with a number of friends also suffering from depression, and all the celebrity suicides in the news recently.

But I’m not going to give up.

I’m going to keep putting one foot in front of the other as long as I can.

God still has work for me to do.  Maybe things really will change someday.  Or maybe I have to help someone else out of their darkness.

See you next time.  I’ll still be here.

Exit 162. Not the new guy anymore.

I told someone recently that the upcoming school year will be my 18th year teaching (not including 2005-06, when I was traveling for half the year and substituting the other half).  How is that possible?  The students who recently graduated from high school and are starting college this year were newborn babies when I started teaching.  Where did all the time go?

And more importantly, why do I still feel like a new and inexperienced teacher?

Part of the reason is because I haven’t been teaching in the same place for very long.  I haven’t been in any one public school or school district for more than four years.  Every time I have started over, I have felt new again, since students and their parents don’t know me, and I am unfamiliar with the school culture and the curriculum.  I spent seven years at a tiny private school, and that’s kind of a different world, not to mention that there were only nine teachers and many of them had been there for a long time, so I still felt new in some ways after a while.

But I think I’m finally starting to feel like I’m not the new guy anymore.  My school has had a lot of turnover since I was hired in June 2014, with several retirements, several others taking other positions elsewhere in the district, a few moving away for family or financial reasons, and one death.  Even though I’m only going into my fourth year at this school, I think I’ve been there longer than about half the staff, and among the six math teachers, I have been there the second longest, and I am tied for second in terms of how long I have been a full time teacher in the district.

I have started preparing for the upcoming school year, and I have gotten to meet some of my new coworkers.  And the idea of not being new anymore is finally starting to sink in.  I am able to help some of my new coworkers find their way around the school, get the computers to work, and, in the case of math teachers, learn how the curriculum works.  And this really seems to be helping my confidence.  I’m not quite as shy or reticent among my other coworkers as I used to be.  I feel more like I belong, and less like I’m always rubbing people the wrong way.

I have written before that my principal has told me that she could see me being a leader among the teachers.  Maybe she’s right after all.

(By the way, I missed another week on this blog.  Sorry.)

Exit 161. A humbling effect.

Nicky Gumbel is a British pastor best known for being one of the people behind Alpha International, the publisher of a series of discussions and Bible studies presenting the basic points of Christianity.  In one of his course materials, Rev. Gumbel tells a story relating the concept that even after we turn to Jesus as Lord and Savior, we aren’t made perfect yet.  In his story, Rev. Gumbel is riding a bicycle, and a cab driver cuts him off.  Rather than follow Jesus’ advice to turn the other cheek, Gumbel pedals fast to catch up to the driver, intending to report his bad driving, and makes a rude comment once the driver is in earshot.  The driver calls him by name and tells him to be careful.  Gumbel looks at him after being called by name, wondering if he heard correctly, and the driver holds up an Alpha workbook.  He then proceeds to tell his passenger about the Alpha course and how inspirational and life-changing Gumbel’s work has been.

Obviously, that sort of encounter would have a humbling effect.  Gumbel said something to the effect that it served to remind him that Jesus is not finished working with him yet.  (By the way, any inaccuracies in this account are mine, but the main points are there.)

I had an experience recently that also reminded me about Jesus not being done with me yet.  I won’t tell the whole story, I’m still a bit ashamed of myself, but essentially I picked a verbal altercation with some fans of a rival sports team.  It got very heated to the point that I was making a scene in public.  I calmed down, apologized, and walked away from the fans of the rival team before the altercation turned physical.  But I felt ashamed for acting so immaturely, especially since, even though the others kept it going, I clearly started the whole thing for no reason other than that they were fans of a rival team who dared to show their team pride here in a different geographical location.

Nothing I can do about it now except learn and move on.  Maybe this whole experience reveals that I still have some unresolved anger about being bullied in the past, some of which happened at the hands of fans of this team.

Exit 160. Good week.

I don’t have anything insightful or earth-shattering to write about this week.  But it was a good week.

I went rafting on July 4.  That was a lot of fun.  I had never been before.  I got sunburned in a couple of spots on my legs.

I went for a bucket-list bike ride, which would become only the fourth time I have ever ridden more than 50 miles in one day.

I attended a Bike Party.  The ride itself was fun, as was seeing how everyone decorates their bikes.  A lot of people there didn’t really feel like my crowd, and the whole thing smelled of weed and tobacco.  Will I go again (this is a monthly event)?  Possibly.  I wasn’t as outgoing as I might have been otherwise; being a new experience, my introverted side took over.

I went to a friend’s birthday party and played games.

I baked lots of cookies.

Let’s hope I have two more good weeks before I go back to work.  How are all of you doing?