change

Exit 235. Is it worth it for the game to lose its soul?

A couple years ago, I was watching a San Francisco Giants baseball game on TV.  The game was tied in extra innings (for my unbaseballed readers: if the game is tied at the end of the normal game length, they keep playing more innings until the game isn’t tied anymore at the end of an inning).  It is well known in baseball that some pitchers are better at pitching against certain types of batters; for example, pitchers tend to be better at getting out batters who bat with the same hand that the pitcher throws with.  Giants manager Bruce Bochy wanted to put in a left-handed pitcher (I don’t remember the names of any of the players involved here, nor do I remember the opponent) because the next batter was left-handed, but the existing right-handed pitcher would be preferable for the right-handed batters following this one.  Once a player is removed from the game, he may not re-enter the game, and being that this game had gone to extra innings, there were very few players left, especially pitchers, who could enter the game.

Something happened here that I had never seen in all the decades I’ve been watching baseball.  Instead of removing the pitcher, Bochy removed an outfielder from the game, and the right-handed pitcher moved to left field, where the upcoming left-handed batter would not be likely to hit the ball.  After that left-handed batter had finished his at-bat against the new left-handed pitcher, the right-handed pitcher came back to the mound to pitch, and a new outfielder entered the game.

Baseball, especially in leagues where no designated hitter is used, is a game of brilliant strategy.  This part of the game seems to be misunderstood these days by all but the most dedicated baseball fans.  For years, baseball executives have been pointing out that interest in the game is slowly declining, because younger generations see baseball as a slow and boring game.  I wouldn’t disagree with the slow part, but I disagree with the assumption that being slow is a bad thing.  I can go to a baseball game with someone and, because of the slow pace of the game, I don’t have to choose between spending time with my friend and paying attention to the game, as is the case sometimes with, say, basketball, where the ball is constantly moving and scoring happens often.  And, if you know enough to follow the strategy, baseball is not boring at all.  The number of strategic moves required to maximize the team’s chance of scoring, and the excitement of seeing whether or not a strategy succeeds, makes for a very exciting game.

Major League Baseball has proposed a number of rule changes for the 2020 season, and as far as I can tell, the brilliant strategy described above, in which the pitcher briefly moved to left field, would be against the rules for two reasons under the new rules.  Players would be designated as either pitchers or position players, prohibiting pitchers from playing any other position in the field.  This situation that I described would be uncommon, but it is fairly common to use pitchers as pinch runners late in the game, and this would seemingly be prohibited as well.  (For the unbaseballed: this means substituting a player when they are already on base, so if a slow player gets a hit, he might be removed from the game and replaced with a fast player to run the rest of the bases and have a better chance at scoring because of his speed.  I should also acknowledge that there are inconsistencies in the articles I’ve read about the rule changes, and I’m not 100% sure that using pitchers as pinch runners would be against the rules.)

But there is another rule that clearly would affect the game in profound ways: a pitcher will be required to pitch to a minimum of three batters.  In the scenario I described above, the pitcher only pitched to one batter, and this is far more common than any of the other unusual strategies I have described.  And this rule change affects so many aspects of the game beyond on-field strategy, extending to front-office decisions about which players a team chooses to sign and the value of pitchers in a trade or free agent signing.  Many pitchers have specifically built careers around being specialists who are brought in just to get one batter out, typically a batter of the same handedness.  This gives them an additional advantage of being usable in more games, since pitching to only one batter does not wear out their pitching arm or require resting over multiple games before pitching again.  Now, their skill sets will be rendered invalid with the stroke of a pen.

The justification for this rule change is to speed up the game.  Some of the proposals to speed up the game I’m perfectly okay with, like shortening slightly the breaks between innings.  But changing the strategy and the value of certain skill sets will change the game so fundamentally as to render it almost unrecognizable to some of us long-term fans.  And I’m not sure I buy the argument that the young have attention spans too short to appreciate baseball.  After all, younger fans have embraced soccer at levels heretofore unprecedented in the USA, and soccer is certainly a game requiring patience with so few goals being scored.  Or maybe the problem is that fewer kids are playing baseball, with other sports and activities such as competitive video gaming taking up their recreation time, so they never learn all the strategies involved with baseball.

Bruce Bochy and his strategic brilliance will not see these rule changes, since he is retiring at the end of the 2019 season.  But there is another generation of fans for whom the game will not be the same as it was before.  So how does baseball revitalize and reinvent itself for the younger generation?  I don’t know.  The world is a different place than it was a generation ago, and I realize that baseball has been through major rule changes before.  One theory I’ve heard is that MLB owners receive so much revenue from licensing deals that they have little financial incentive to put a winning team on the field, which makes some organizations perpetually not competitive. Maybe we need to look at that.  I don’t have a definite answer.  But is it worth it for the game to lose its soul over this?

Exit 215. Time to tear it down.

Something came up this morning at church that I had never noticed before, something very relevant to my life currently.

Moses delivered the nation of Israel from slavery under Pharaoh, but because of their unfaithfulness, God did not let them enter and conquer their rightful home for 40 years, until all the unfaithful have died. They don’t learn their lesson, and at one point, they complain to Moses about the living conditions in their nomadic state.  God punished the unfaithful by making some of them die of snake bites.  The survivors asked and prayed for forgiveness, and God told Moses to make a bronze statue of a snake and put it somewhere for people to look at it, to remember God’s faithfulness to them.  Anyone who was bitten by a snake could look at the bronze snake and live (Numbers 21:4-9).

Hundreds of years later, Israel is an established nation with a king… well, briefly. They plunge into civil war and divide into two nations. The northern kingdom did not follow the commandments of God, and the southern kingdom mostly did not either, although there were a few southern kings who did bring the people back to following God during their nonconsecutive reigns.  One of those was Hezekiah, who lived about 700 years before the coming of Jesus.  The Second Book of Kings says that “He [Hezekiah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, just as his [ancestor] David had done.  He removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones, and cut down the Asherah poles.  He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it.”  (2 Kings 18:3-4)

The bronze snake that Moses made was still there, over half of a millennium after Moses’ time. But its original purpose had long since passed. All of the people who looked at it to heal their snake bites had been dead for a long time. For the new generation, it was not helping them to look to God and worship him, or to remember what God had done for them and their ancestors; instead, it was doing the opposite, serving as a focal point for the worship of other gods.  God himself had completely disappeared from the worship that was happening at the snake.  So Hezekiah finally realized it was time to tear it down.

God does not always work among us in the same way.  God’s work in one place at one time might not work in another place and time, and God might have not intended it for that place or time.  At first, this didn’t really seem right to me.  Isn’t God constant and unchanging?  Well, yes, he is, but these two statements are not necessarily in conflict with each other.  God can still be constant and unchanging while working in different ways specific to certain times and situations.  God worked through the reformers of the 16th century to bring knowledge of the Scriptures to the common people and work against corruption in the church.  But in the USA in the 21st century, most people know how to read and have access to the Bible, and taking down the kind of corruption that churches today may see will require God working in a different way, even though the ultimate principle of turning people back to him and away from corrupt and fallen earthly institutions remains constant and unchanging.

Another example just came to me now as I was writing this.  Many people who have not studied Christianity in detail tend to think that God was so different in the Old Testament compared to what he is like in the New Testament or now.  In the Old Testament, God often told his people to make war with and destroy and kill neighboring countries.  And, as we just saw, once he sent snakes to bite those who questioned him.  How does one reconcile this with all of his commandments about love, or with Jesus’ self-sacrificial love?  The short answer is because in the time of the Old Testament, the time had not come yet for God to send his Son to Earth.  First, he had to prepare a nation through which Jesus would be born, and in order to this, he had to remove all the corrupting sinful influences from this nation… hence, the making war with neighboring countries.  God no longer tells us to make war with countries that have different beliefs, because this is a different time.  Jesus came to bring the message of salvation to all, and we can send missionaries to teach other cultures about Jesus, and we can lead by example.  God is no longer preparing a nation to give birth to the Messiah; that happened already.

This concept extends beyond the idea of Christianity, and it makes me think a lot of my struggles in trying to figure out life and adulthood.  Twenty years ago, I made friends by being involved with two college-age Christian student groups.  That was good.  Some of my closest friends over the years have come from doing that.  But that does not work anymore.  I now live in an area where most churches are geared toward families, not college students, because that is who lives here.  And very few churches have youth groups for 42-year-olds.  So I have had to look for other ways to make friends.  Nothing has changed, and I don’t have to change any of my core beliefs.  But what worked in one place at one time doesn’t always work for other places and times.

Sometimes I feel like the last one standing for God, like I am desperately hanging on to God’s truth while the world descends into chaos around me.  But maybe it’s not that black and white.  Maybe some of what I hold on to is ways that God isn’t moving in my life anymore, and maybe it is okay to let go of some of these ways without having to compromise my core beliefs.  Maybe this is what is getting in the way, why I feel like my life isn’t exactly progressing in the right direction.  But how do I know what to hold on to and what to let go of?  As always I will only know with prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit, and knowing God’s Word.

Exit 127. A very unique place.

Yesterday afternoon, I had lunch plans in Davis. Afterward, since I wasn’t having a very busy day, I just drove around for about 45 minutes before I started to head back toward home.

Davis is a small city of 65,000 (yes, that’s considered small around here) in Yolo County, California, about 15 miles west of Sacramento and 70 miles northeast of San Francisco.  It is adjacent to a large public university, which I attended from 1994 to 1999, and for the most part surrounded by farmland.  Davis is a very unique place.  It is a classic example of a college town, with a significant portion of the population, economy, and culture dominated by the university.  Also, somewhat because of this, Davis is one of the most bicycle-friendly communities in the USA, with many miles of bike trails and greenbelts that I spent much of my late teens and early 20s exploring.  Statistically, Davis is part of the Greater Sacramento region, and also not far from the outer reaches of the San Francisco Bay Area, but Davis is also isolated enough to feel like its own little world in many ways.

Had I done more research on the city of Davis while I was choosing colleges, there is a good chance I would not have gone there.  Davis, being dominated by the university, has a pretty extreme leftist slant in its local politics, and in my teens I leaned even farther to the right than I do now.  But, the longer I lived there, the more it grew on me.  As I have written before, I became a Christian while a student at UC Davis, and I found a church there that felt like home.  I stayed in Davis for a couple years after graduation, because by then it was my home.  I had a job within commuting distance, I had friends, and I was active in a church.  I thought I was going to settle there, although circumstances took me in a different direction.  I lost that job around the same time that most of my close friends moved away, and I followed suit and moved away in July of 2001.

On a few occasions, particularly when life seemed uncertain and I wasn’t sure what step to take next, I’ve considered moving back to Davis.  But every time I’ve given this more than just a passing consideration, it has felt like a bad idea, at least at the time.  Davis is a great place for a college student, which I am not anymore.  Davis is a great place to raise a family, which I don’t have.  Davis is a great place for hippies, which I will never be.  But at this point in my life, it’s not for me.  I’m not saying that middle-aged singles can’t be happy and feel at home in Davis, and the argument could be made that I fit in just as poorly where I live now, since it’s mostly families.  But knowing what I’m like, if I were to move back to Davis, the temptation would be too strong to live in the past and deny the reality that it’s not 1998 anymore.  And that’s not healthy.

Seasons change.  Things come to an end.  I’m not in Davis anymore, and it’s not my home anymore, but it’s still very close.  So I’ll just have to settle for visiting occasionally, and driving around reminiscing if I have time, building on what I have learned in the past to create my future.

Exit 112. I don’t want to play this game.

In the 2011 novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline, an ordinary trailer-park kid is trying to save a dystopian near future virtual reality world from a corporation trying to gain control of it for themselves by solving a series of puzzles rooted in late 20th century geek pop culture.  I have written about this novel before (#32), and how one quote from it sticks out in my mind in particular:  “Like any classic video game, the Hunt had simply reached a new, more difficult level.  A new level often required an entirely new strategy.”

This principle seems especially true in my life today.  I came of age in the context of evangelical Christian college-age youth group in the late 1990s, and much of my views about life and the future were shaped by this world.  In this world, you get married in your early- to mid-20s (preferably without dating, and without kissing your wife until your wedding day, because Josh Harris), and start having children, who will then get involved in Awana and Sunday school while you and your wife attend the young parents’ Bible study. That ship sailed a long time ago for me.  That strategy doesn’t work in my world, and I feel like there is no precedent for me, because many people I know in situations similar to mine have long since walked away from their faith entirely.  Hence, an entirely new strategy is required.

Now would be a good time to plug a guest piece I wrote for another blog, since it is related to this topic.  Go check it out.  And while you’re at it, check out the rest of this other blog and the original blog from which this was spun off.

https://beingyoungandtwenty.com/2016/06/19/dennis/

Anyway, where was I… I realized recently that there is more to the story than finding a new strategy.  Looking around me, it seems that the life that many of my peers are living, the life that is considered normal for someone my age in my situation, is one where socializing revolves around alcohol, whether that be going out drinking with friends, going out for drinks with a date, or, especially here in northern California, a classy wine tasting excursion.  Dating in this life involves playing with people’s feelings, fooling around physically with no sense of commitment, and not communicating honestly.  Is this the life I want?  Do I want to find a new strategy only to become this?  I don’t think so.  To go back to the video game analogy, I don’t want to play this game, and the game I thought I always wanted to play is out of print, with no copies anywhere on eBay and no working emulators for it.  Furthermore, I’ve realized that I don’t know if I want to play that game after all, by which I mean that the evangelical Christian family world I described above is not entirely my ideal anymore.

But what game do I want to play?  How can I figure that out, and how much of the rest of the world’s game will influence my game?  I’m never going to be the type to hang out in bars regularly, but maybe I could benefit socially from hanging out in bars occasionally and drinking something without alcohol?  Should I give up my personal prohibition on drinking alcohol and have a drink every once in a while in moderation?  Should I be a little more adventurous in pursuing dating rather than looking for any of hundreds of deal breakers right when I first meet someone?  I really don’t know.  But I have a feeling I’m at least starting to ask the right questions.

Exit 92. Unfortunately, I can’t change him. But…

(This appears to be about sports, but if you’re one of those sportsball haters, I hope you still read it, because there’s more to this than sports.)

I just got back from the Sacramento Kings basketball game.  This team has been driving me crazy the last few weeks.  They won five games in a row, which put them in position to make the playoffs, which has not happened this late in the season since a decade ago.  Then they lost four games in a row, removing them from playoff contention for now.  Then they won tonight, even though they were without their top scorer, center DeMarcus Cousins, due to a sprained ankle.

DeMarcus Cousins was recently named to the All-Star team for the second consecutive year; last year was the first time the Kings had had an All-Star since 2004.  In one recent game (the last of the five consecutive wins), Cousins scored a career-high 48 points, then two nights later he topped that, scoring 56 points in a double-overtime loss and tying the Sacramento-era record (this is the team’s 31st season since moving to Sacramento).  Many sports writers are calling him the most talented center in the league right now.

However, there is a down side behind all that raw talent.  Cousins is known for being short-tempered.  He often is among the league leaders in technical fouls received for arguing with the officials.  He has been known to lash out in frustration, not only at officials, but sometimes at his own coaches.  Usually, however, such behavior is accompanied by an eventual apology.  Some say he is not a good team player.  Some say that he is lazy, not playing as hard as he could, and he has let himself get a little out of shape.

I feel a certain sort of camaraderie with DeMarcus Cousins, because I can be the same way sometimes.  I am also short-tempered, in a way that affects my ability to express my talents.  I have often acted in frustration and subsequently apologized.  And I have been known to start unnecessary arguments when things don’t go my way.  I don’t necessarily believe in this, but my mom would probably say that Cousins and I are so similar because we are both Leos.

I want to see Cousins succeed.  I want to see him grow up and calm down, so he can focus on being one of the world’s elite basketball players.  I want to see him play hard and shake the reputation for being lazy.  I want to see him take bad calls in stride and not lose his cool, so he can help the Kings bounce back and be a better team.

Unfortunately, I can’t change him.

But I can change myself.

I can work on my own temper.  I can avoid unnecessary arguments when I’m angry.  I can work hard at my goals and not let myself get distracted.  I’ve never met DeMarcus Cousins, and I may never meet him, and working on all these things in myself will probably not affect his play or his personal growth in any way.  But working on these things myself might help someone else, a younger friend or one of the kids I work with, before it’s too late for them.

Exit 71. Not everything is meant to last forever.

I don’t often remember dreams.  When I do, they’re really bizarre and nonsensical, and they don’t usually mean anything.  However, I have one very clear memory of having a dream and waking up with a clear sense of what the dream meant.

It was December 2011.  In my dream, I came home to my parents’ house.  From the time I moved away for school until 2006, whenever I would visit my parents, Mom would go find the remaining cats from my childhood that we still had, and she would bring them to me and say to them in a falsetto baby voice, “Look!  Your big brother is home!”  This practice stopped in 2006 because that was the year that Pee-Wee, the last cat from my childhood, passed away.  Mom said once, and I’d have to say she’s probably right, that Pee-Wee was always my favorite of the many cats I grew up with.  I said once that she was the closest I ever had to a little sister.

Back to the dream.  (I wrote about this in a friends-only Facebook note back when it happened, and I’ve told this story many times, so this may sound familiar to my long-time friends.) I got home, and Mom went in the back yard to find Pee-Wee.  She brought her out and said, “Look!  Your big brother is home!”  In real life, Pee-Wee had died five and a half years earlier, but in dreamland, she was still alive.  I remember thinking she was really looking old, and I thought to myself, how old is she now?  18?  19?  No, wow, she’s 23!  That’s old for a cat!  (Leave it to me to do math correctly in my dream; she actually would have been 23 had she been alive on the day I had this dream.) I noticed (here’s where it gets dream-level weird) that her skin was falling off, and I could see bones and internal organs in one spot. Then Pee-Wee ambled out into the street.  A car approached, and she moved so slowly in her old age that she barely got out of the way in time. She went to sniff something in a bush, and more of her skin came off, and I could see her brain. Then I woke up.

As I’ve mentioned before, I had a was in a long distance relationship at the time that just wasn’t working, with a woman who I’ve called Acrux.  In a few weeks, the week between Christmas and New Year’s, she would be visiting her old housemates up here.  I sat there thinking about the dream, about how letting go of the past can be really sad, but often quite necessary. Not everything is meant to last forever, and sometimes holding on for too long can just cause more pain.  I’ve never been a fan of euthanasia in pets or humans (and I’m not interested in getting into a political discussion right now), but in the situation I dreamed about, Pee-Wee was in a lot of pain holding on to this life.  And that’s when it hit me, that this dream wasn’t really about Pee-Wee.  It was about Acrux all along.  She wasn’t going to change; the events of the previous few months had shown me her true colors. Holding on to this relationship, trying to salvage a combination of what we had in the beginning and what I always thought a relationship should be like, when she was clearly unwilling to do so, was just causing more hurt and nothing else. If I stayed with her, things wouldn’t be the same as my idealized memories of what things were like in the beginning. I knew at that moment that I had to bring this up when she came for a visit a few weeks later, and I knew at that moment that our relationship would not survive to the end of her visit.  We broke up on New Year’s Eve.

Now some things should not be discarded so lightly.  I believe that marriage, for example, is a lifetime commitment.  (If you are divorced and reading this, don’t take that as judgment on you.  I’m just stating my beliefs here, and everyone has their reasons.)  Also, another example, one’s core spiritual beliefs should not change if they should suddenly become inconvenient.  But some things just aren’t meant to last forever.  When I first started writing this blog, for example, I was looking for a new job, although I didn’t go public with that until it was a done deal.  Things at my previous job had changed to the point that everything I had enjoyed about working at a tiny Christian school just weren’t there anymore, and it wasn’t worth the low pay anymore.  Letting go of my job of seven years was a positive change for me, although it certainly wasn’t easy.

I have a few other things right now, one major one in particular, where I’ve been wondering if the time has come to let go of something that has been a major part of my life for a long time, but which has changed to the point of causing hurt.  Saying goodbye is hard.  This whole concept is hard for me.  I want things to last forever.  And I want to be a voice against any further changes, but this is unlikely to happen at this point, so maybe it’s time to find something better somewhere else.

Exit 46. Baby, don’t treat me bad.

Fans of the so-called hair bands that were popular in my childhood will recognize the title of this article as a quote from a two-hit wonder called Firehouse (one hit, two hits).  I don’t really know a whole lot about this band other than those two songs and what I’ve read in their Wikipedia article, but I discovered something interesting in there: Firehouse won “Favorite Hard Rock New Artist” at the 19th American Music Awards, held in early 1992.  Firehouse didn’t really leave much of a legacy in the quarter-century since they first approached stardom.  Firehouse isn’t really very well remembered these days, other than people in their 30s commenting “Hey, I remember that song! I haven’t heard it in years!” whenever one of their friends shares it on Facebook.  You never see kids who weren’t born yet when Firehouse was popular wearing Firehouse T-shirts, for example.

What’s interesting about all this, though, is one of the bands that lost to Firehouse in that year’s Favorite Hard Rock New Artist category, a trio that perhaps you’ve heard of called Nirvana (one hit, two hits, three hits, four hits, five hits, six hits, seven hits, and probably more if not for the lead singer joining the 27 Club in 1994).  So did Firehouse deserve the award over Nirvana?  That’s a bit of a subjective matter.  While researching this post, I discovered that Firehouse actually did have a third song to crack the top 20, one I don’t personally remember, and the seven big hits from Nirvana that I remember most didn’t all perform as well on the charts as I’d have thought considering how often I heard them back then.  (Both Nevermind and In Utero were #1 albums, though.)  But I don’t think anyone would doubt that Nirvana had a much greater influence on the history of rock music than Firehouse did.  To me, it seems like whoever was in charge of selecting the Favorite Hard Rock New Artist at the American Music Awards was more comfortable with a band that sounded like all the other biggest hard rock bands of the last decade rather than a band that signaled a fundamental shift in popular music.  They wanted to stick to the old ways, even though the world was changing.

That last sentence, that is my problem right now.

This is not the same world that rejected me and bullied me in 1985, this is not the same world in which I finally learned to have friends in 1993, and this is not the same world that taught me about Jesus and how to form romantic relationships God’s way in 1997.  While some core principles and beliefs should never change, I can’t apply those the same way that I did, or that I wanted to, in the past.

This causes a lot of tension because I don’t like the way the world has changed.  In order to socialize, I have to go to bars and blow a ton of money on bad-tasting judgment-impairing drinks only to have a hard time hearing anyone because it’s so loud in there.  In order to pursue a relationship with a woman, I have to ask her out right as soon as I meet her, follow all these rules about how long to wait before I call her back, and go to bed with her after a couple weeks, which will usher in a period of awkward tension in which we aren’t sure if we’re a couple or not.  Those things don’t make sense to me.  I’d rather find somewhere to talk to people where you can actually listen to each other, but if I talk to strangers anywhere else it’s creepy.  I’d rather get to know a woman on a platonic level, slowly, and spend time together with our clothes on before establishing clearly if we are in a serious relationship.  But getting to know a woman on a platonic level sends the message that I’m not interested.  I feel like I don’t fit in at church.  I can keep looking for a church that has a group like the one I was in when I was in college, where the room is full of people in the same place in life as me, and after the singing and the Bible lesson, we socialize and hang out together.  But the honest truth is that I’m not going to find a group like that.  Adults don’t do that.  They go home and go to bed early, because they have jobs and children to worry about.

I can’t change the ways of the world, unfortunately.  I can change myself, and I can change my attitude, and I’m going to have to do a bit of both.  Maybe I’ll have to stop clinging to some of the old ways.  Maybe I’ll have to get a smartphone.  Maybe I’ll have to let go of the wistful hope that I’ll ever experience the kind of unrestrained puppy love that teenage couples experience, with the all night last minute road trips and bonfires and stargazing.  But I’ll also have to figure out which core values not to change.  A woman who expects to sleep with a guy before even establishing if we’re a couple or not obviously isn’t the one.  If I stay true to myself, but keep a positive attitude and stay open to new things, then hopefully I’ll be able to find my place in this world without having to sell out.  I’m not going to fit in everywhere, and not everyone is going to like me, and life isn’t going to look like what I wanted my ideal life at age 22 to look like.  But it’s okay to be a little different.  It’s okay to be me and have a lot of different interests and connections that don’t usually go together.

After all, all three artists I linked to in this post are in my music collection, and they represent very different styles of music.

(And by the way, I didn’t post anything for Pi Day because I was attending the birthday party of my cousin’s little guys.  Family is important.  All the kids at school asking me if Pi Day was going to be the most amazing day of my life… well, it’s fun to point that out, but it’s really not that big of a deal in the long run.)

Exit 38. :)&[4].

The combination of numbers and punctuation marks appearing in the title of this post is something I’ve used a few times over the years as a Facebook status.  I haven’t recently, though, because I haven’t really felt that way, although I know I really need to change my attitude.  And that’s what I need to work on right now.  But first I should explain what “that way” is, considering that :)&[4] is an abbreviation I made up (for a quote I didn’t make up, though).

:)&[4] is short for “I’ve got a smile on my face, and I’ve got four walls around me.”  To me, that means that I’m content with life at the moment.  I may not have everything I want, things may not be perfect, but I have what I need and I’m okay with that.  (Feel free to start using that in your own statuses and tweets.)  The quote is the both the opening and closing lines of this song:

As I mentioned in a recent post, the vocalist and primary songwriter for that song, Alan Doyle, recently wrote a memoir.  I just finished reading it today.  (And if I’ve mentioned it two weeks in a row, that means it must be really good, so all of you should go read it as soon as you’re done reading this.)  One of the first things that struck me about Alan’s story was when he writes about the first time he brought his future wife to the small rural fishing village in Newfoundland where he grew up.  He tells about how they had no car and his dad had to hitchhike to work, about throwing big parties to warm up the house when they ran out of heating oil, about having no bathroom at all when he was young, the non-flushing toilet in the bathroom his father built later, and taking his first shower as a preteen while visiting some relatives on his mother’s side in a different part of Newfoundland.  You hear stories all the time like this from people of my grandparents’ generation, who grew up during the Depression, but Alan isn’t that much older than me.  All of the stories in this book happened in the 1970s and 80s.  When Alan was a university student in St. John’s, he brought his future wife to his childhood home, and she said that she had no idea that Alan grew up poor.  Alan didn’t understand what she was saying at first, because he had never thought of himself as poor.  It was the only life he knew, and his family always had each other and they had all they needed in life, and they knew how to make do when they didn’t have something.  And that attitude shows up in the lyrics of Ordinary Day.

One foggy morning last week, I was driving to work, and while still in my own neighborhood I saw a blind pedestrian walking down the street with a red and white cane.  I don’t know who this person was, and now that I think about it, I don’t even remember if I noticed if it was a man or a woman.  But it just got me thinking about how when you don’t have one of your major senses, you have to learn to make do and do the best you can without it.  And suddenly, something hit me, like that feeling you get when you figure out something that has you stumped for so long.

I don’t consider myself poor financially.  I have a job and a house and a car.  I used to be a bit less well off financially.  I spent seven years working at a small private school that did not pay well.  In mid-2014, when I left that job, I was taking home the same dollar amount, not adjusted for inflation, as what I made in public school in 2003.  And I found ways to make do.  I didn’t jump on the smartphone bandwagon.  I had roommates for a while, and when the last one moved out, I decided to live by myself, which required more making do.  I got rid of cable TV, and I stopped getting the print edition of the newspaper.  And now that I’m taking home more money at my new job, I still don’t have a smartphone, cable TV, or print newspaper subscription, because those things aren’t really necessary for me when compared to how much they cost.

One of the areas in life where I do feel poor is in my chronic inability to form romantic relationships, and along with that, my fading hope of ever having a family of my own someday.  I came of age in an environment where I was told that dating was bad, because people who rush into relationships make bad decisions, so I should stop looking to find that special someone, and eventually God would bring her along, and we’d be married and happy and fit neatly into all those evangelical Christian stereotypes, where I’d be a strong manly Promise Keeper leading my family spiritually, and she would be a strong womanly Proverbs 31 Woman going on women’s retreats that looked like commercials for feminine hygeine products.  What no one told me was that all of that came with a deadline.  It doesn’t work the same way in real life once you’re too old for youth groups and college groups.  God isn’t just going to bring someone along with no effort on my part once I’m out there in the real world and not surrounded by singles my own age in my place in life.  Many of the people around me who heard that message with me in their early 20s got married in their mid-20s and now have happy families, and I’ve spent most of my 20s and 30s frustrated over the fact that none of that works for me.  I know there are other issues at play here.  My self-confidence issues have gotten in the way quite a bit, and those happy families aren’t always so happy all the time.  But there’s something else going on here.

And this brings me back to what I was saying earlier: I have to learn to make do, and do the best I can with what I have.  The world I knew in 1997 when I was being told all that stuff about dating is gone.  If I keep denying that, if I keep expecting life to stay the way it was in 1997, then nothing is ever going to change.  I have to make do with what I have, and what I have is a pretty awesome life in 2015.  I don’t have a family of my own like a lot of my age peers do, but I have a lot of friends and experiences and adventures to be thankful for.  And there do exist single women in 2015, but I’m not going to meet them by sitting back and waiting for them to come to me.  That doesn’t mean I’m denying the power of God in my life, it means I’m being reasonable and realistic.  I’m not meeting women my age with my values in my normal social circles, which gives me three options: other social circles, bars, or online dating sites.  Other social circles are an option, although I still think it’s hard to find people with that much in common with me.  But I’m going to be spending the next two Saturdays attending birthday parties of people who aren’t among the people I spend time with often, and that can’t hurt.  I never know how things will play out in the end.  (I should add, though, that I was at one of those same birthday parties a year ago, and I met someone.  We went out a couple times, and it didn’t end well.  In the interest of not using this blog to bash exes, I won’t say anything more about that, but I will say that I’m glad that I had the experience, as a live-and-learn growing experience type thing.)  As for bars, most women there also don’t share my values, and bars aren’t really my scene, so maybe if I want a relationship, I should try going back to online dating.  I had seven months of bad experiences with online dating, but that was on one site that was free, so there are other options to explore.  Yeah, it sucks that we live in a world that is so impersonal that we can’t meet each other face to face, that everyone is too busy to have any real interaction, but that’s the world of 2015 that I live in, so if I want to get by in this world, I have to make do.  I’m not going to meet a woman who shares my interests and values 100%, but very few men do, so I’ll have to make do.

I’m not saying I’m going to start looking for a relationship right now, I’m too busy with other things to know if this a good time for sure, but I don’t want to be closed to the idea of online dating because of that one stretch of life.  Sometimes I wonder, though, if maybe God never allowed me to have a family of my own because he knows that I wouldn’t be able to handle it with all my other commitments.  I often wonder how busy people manage to raise kids.  But if I ever do get the opportunity to have children of my own, I already know the secret: I just have to make do with what I have, and do the best I can.

:)&[4].

Exit 25. Don’t let the days go by.

Recently, a Facebook friend reposted something about selective memory.  As we get older, we are more likely to remember positive things and forget negative things.  According to this post, the reason many older adults with grown children think that children of the present day are more poorly behaved than their own children were is because these older adults have lost the memories of their own children’s misbehavior.  That, as well as other things I’ve been thinking about this weekend, reminded me of something I wrote a year and a half ago on my personal Facebook.  Much of the rest of this post has been adapted from that, although I’ve added some new material as well, particularly at the end.

On that day a year and a half ago, I heard a hit song from my college years on the way to work and had the song stuck in my head all day.  You already know what song I’m talking about, unless either you didn’t read the title of this post, or you aren’t old enough to remember 1995… but click play anyway.  And if you don’t remember 1995, then by all means click play, because you missed a great song.

I’m not complaining about this at all.  It’s a great song, and to me, it has gotten better with age.  Although I never disliked the song, I seem to like it better now than I did back then; I’ve never owned the album that it was on, and I just acquired the song a couple years ago, to add to the playlist for my 80s and 90s video gaming events.  That got me thinking… why do I like the song so much now?  I think there are two reasons.  (I’m not going to discuss the lyrics here, by the way.  There are several suggested interpretations, and I’m not sure which one resonates with me the best.)  One reason is definitely the music.  The song has a very unique sound to it, an intriguingly haunting combination of electric guitars and strings, with no drums, that makes it stand out from the other big hits of the grunge era.

But there’s more to it than that.  Specifically, nostalgia.  The song brings back memories of my early college years… sometimes when I listen to this song, and others from that time period, I can picture myself driving and/or riding my bike around Davis and the surrounding fields of Yolo County (yes, that’s really what it’s called), or walking around campus between classes, or singing worship songs with Intervarsity as a new Christian.  My freshman year of college was a major turning point in my life.  I had a whole new world to explore.  I was in a new town, and I was in a new place in life, learning to live on my own.  Every few months, I had new classes, new friends to make, new things to learn.  And that makes me wonder… why do I long for those days?  Was life really better my freshman year of college?  Would I really choose those days over what I have now?

I think part of what is in play here is selective and distorted memory of what my freshman year of college was like.  I’ve already remembered one key point of this incorrectly; after I started writing this, I looked up Glycerine on Wikipedia, and it was actually released in November 1995, which was sophomore year (although the album containing it was released freshman year, so it’s entirely possible I may have heard it at some point, either in a friend’s dorm room or on a radio station that played album cuts and not just singles, before it reached its peak chart position).  That doesn’t really change anything I said in the last paragraph, though.  But seriously, I remember the new friends, I remember the bike rides, I remember my new found faith, but I choose not to think about the loneliness that plagued me some nights, the rejection from women, or the times I felt on the outside of cliques.  Another reason I tend to have good memories of college was because it’s something I was good at.  And I’m not very good at real life.  I knew how to be successful in college: study hard, read, and go to class.  Getting good grades was pretty easy for me.  Real life doesn’t have simple directions to follow like that.  I can’t get better at real life just by working harder.

Nothing lasts forever, and I don’t always do well with that.  People get older and change.  Culture and technology re in a constant state of flux.  Some friendships and relationships weren’t meant to be forever.  And I don’t always do well with that.  My life was very unstable in my 20s: graduating from college, being forced to leave a job, and leaving another job voluntarily because I felt like a geographical change would be the best way to leave a toxic non-work-related situation, among other things.  Although I did just start a new job in 2014, other things have stabilized significantly in my 30s.  I’ve been in this house for almost six years, and at my current church for almost nine years (since I was still in my very late 20s).  But other things have changed around me.  For example, the first couple years I was at my current church, I had a group of friends I often sat with, and we would often go out for lunch afterward.  That almost never happens anymore.  Many of those friends have moved away, and the rest now have children, around whom their entire lives rotate (for good reason).  Many of the regulars at my first 80s and 90s video game nights aren’t around anymore, for various reasons.  I still do swing and blues dancing, but many of the people who used to invite me to dance parties at their house aren’t in the area anymore, or don’t dance anymore.

There is absolutely nothing I can do about any of this.  I can’t stop change.  I have two choices: I can fall into a hole of being antisocial, unwilling to change and complaining about the world.  Or I can embrace a willingness to change with the world, finding that balance between what to hold on to and what to let go of.  I can continue some of my traditions, like inviting people over for 80s and 90s video games, but I have to accept that it will never be the same as it was five years ago.  However, change doesn’t have to be bad.  I have made new friends through these events as well, when old friends bring other friends with them, for example.  And I can try new things too, new hobbies and new activities.  I had more of a sense of adventure once, and I have to find a way to resurrect it, because I can’t keep going like this without it.  I know I have to do something, and I hope I figure it out before it’s too late, because the world is changing, and things will never again be like they are today.

Don’t let the days go by.

Exit 2. I’m an introvert with 895 friends. COMBO BREAKER!

Every few months on Facebook, I see things going around that discuss specific traits and challenges of being an introvert or an extrovert. I definitely lean more toward being an introvert. When I’m stressed and overwhelmed with life, sometimes I need time to be alone. When I first enter an unfamiliar large group setting, I tend to sit quietly by myself for a while until I get a feel for what’s going on. And weekends where I’m busy running around from one social obligation to the next really wear me out.

But I’m not 100% on the introvert side of the spectrum. A few months ago, when someone observed on Facebook that you can tell the introverts from the extroverts by looking at how many Facebook friends they had. I replied, “I’m an introvert with 895 friends. COMBO BREAKER!” My life has taken a lot of crazy detours and scenic routes to get me to this point where I have so many great friends. I am no longer the quiet kid I was in high school, reading and doing homework in a corner by myself during lunch. My primary social life spans three counties and three decades of birth. I love having a house, and plenty of movies, board games, and retro video games, to share with my friends. I love having big groups of people over to hang out at my house. I just can’t host big social events all the time. Once every month or two at the most is just fine by me.

Lately, though, I haven’t been very social at all. My weekend plans have been lighter than usual, and I haven’t invited anyone over. And I haven’t really felt like changing that. I think part of the reason just has to do with being tired, being busy with work and other commitments, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s something bigger at play here. Looming in the background is the possibility of big changes in my life, changes of the sort that may disrupt the current patterns of socializing. These are changes I am hoping for and changes I need to make, but they are changes of the sort that I cannot discuss publicly yet, so I apologize for being vague. (If you know me personally, and you don’t know what I am referring to, ask me privately.) The changes in my social life will be collateral damage of sorts, and believe me, I would like to avoid or at least minimize this, but at this point it is a possibility I have to consider. And because of this, I’m finding myself more reluctant to invest in a network of friends and places that may not remain intact in the same form for long.

However, this is not the healthiest way to approach this situation. One of my favorite passages from the Bible in this situation is Jeremiah’s letter to the exiles. It includes this very famous verse: “‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future'” (29:11). It seems like some of my Christian friends say that that is one of their favorite verses, and the rest say that it is one of their least favorite. It seems pretty obvious why it might be someone’s favorite: prosperity, not being harmed, and hope are all good things to look forward to. Those who do not like this verse usually object to it being quoted out of context. God is not saying these words to me or to you. This was written to a specific group of people at a specific point in history. They were in exile in a foreign land, and God was telling them that after a specific time period, he would bring them back to the homeland that he had promised them centuries earlier. It is not a universal promise that everyone will find prosperity and be delivered from harm.

I believe, however, that this passage says a lot about the character of God. His specific plans for specific individuals aren’t always the same, but he still loves his people and wants to bring them back to him, somehow, at the right time, whenever that is. And the paragraph before this verse (specifically, verses 4-9), when read in context, speaks a lot to a situation like mine. God tells his people how to live while they are in exile, while they are waiting for God to deliver them. He tells them basically to keep living life as if that place of exile were their home, because for now, it is. Settle down, work for a living, raise families, and pray for the prosperity of the land where they are living, and when the time is right, I’ll deliver you.

I am trying to make changes to my life, to be delivered from a situation that is not ideal, and it is the kind of change that is not entirely in my hands. Maybe something will happen tomorrow that will set something in motion, or maybe I’ll have to wait years. Until then, I shouldn’t put my life on hold. Until then, I’m still in the exact same position in life as I was a few months ago, and I should be living the same way. I still have my house, I still have great friends, so I should still be socializing the same way I used to. And that’s how I’m going to go about things. I’m not going to put everything on hold while I wait for this to sort itself out.  I might need more time to rest, or more time to do things related to making these changes, but until I know for sure that life is entering a new season, I have to keep living in the old season.  And I intend to.  I just need my friends to be a little patient with me sometimes.