Reflections on Suffering and Unanswered Prayer

Suffering is a hard thing to endure. It causes us to question and reflect on a lot of things. It can make us feel mad at God, hate God, and even come to believe that He doesn’t exist. When I talk to someone that doesn’t believe in God or is struggling with believing in God, most of the time it is connected to some suffering that either they endured or someone they loved endured, which they prayed to God that He would end, and He didn’t. They feel like God ignored, forgot about, or abandoned them, which makes them ask the question, what is the use in God and in praying to Him? If the only being powerful enough to end my suffering won’t do it, then why believe in Him and why would anybody need Him? To be direct, they asked God for something and He didn’t give them what they wanted, so the conclusion that they come to is… well he must not be real. 

When I was a kid, my mom took my brother and I to the local donut shop and told us kids that we could pick out two donuts. But I had a problem with this proposal… I wanted three. So I fought and demanded three, and my mom kept telling me, “no, you can only have two.” But I kept fighting, and eventually, my mom said to me, “you either get two or you don’t get any.” So I didn’t get any, and I sat in the corner crying and throwing a fit because I could not accept two measly donuts. While I’m throwing a fit, donut-less, my brother is sitting across from me enjoying his two. I could not be grateful, which left me with nothing; he could, and got to enjoy something. Joy cannot live without gratefulness.

I think we can all agree that no mother owes their kids donuts, especially not three. And in the same way, God does not owe us anything. We are not entitled to a pain-free life where all our friends and family live to be 120 years old. God gives us a loving family and friends, and when one dies, instead of being thankful for the time we had with them, we often slam our fists and demand they be given a longer life. We look up to God and shout, “how dare you take them away from me? How could you let this happen?” It sounds a lot like the kid at the donut shop that cannot be grateful for being allowed two donuts but demands three instead. God gave us life, with people we love that make it worth living, and we were not entitled to or owed any of it. Who are we to make these foolish demands, shake our fists at him, and then come to the silly conclusion that He must not be real because He didn’t give us what we wanted?

When we get mad at God because of unanswered prayer or because life didn’t work out the way they wanted it to, we are acting like the kid throwing a fit at the store because their parents said no to buying them the toy or cereal that they wanted. Choosing not to believe in God for the same reasons is like the kid that says he hates his mom because she won’t let him eat ice cream before dinner. Being told ‘no’ never seems to get easy. As adults, we may not cry and throw a fit at the donut shop or department store anymore, but we still have our own kind of tantrums. Now we get mad at God for not making life work out the way we want it to, and if we really want to stick it to him, we’ll say he is not even real. 

Dealing with pain, suffering, and death never gets easy. And I know all this talk about donuts and tantrums makes the matter sound simple and insensitive, but it never is all that simple is it? There are always lots of emotions, tears, and questions. My first experience with the injustice of death and the “How, God, could you let this happen?” I was 16, and one of my good friends died of an unfortunate accident. Frankie Aguirre was his name, and everybody loved Frankie. He was the most articulate, well mannered, “had his stuff together,” of all my friends. He was the only one that was thinking about college and going to Harvard and whatnot when everyone else was just thinking about skateboarding. He was also the only skateboarder I have ever heard of that was on the honor-roll and taking honors classes. My mom and I still talk about him and how sad his death was. My mom, along with all the other parents, loved Frankie. He was one of the few friends I had that could hold a conversation with an adult. Frankie would have gone far in life, and done a lot of good. He was someone that everyone knew was going to be somebody someday, and how sad it is that he was taken so soon. His poor parents had to bury their 17-year-old son, with so much promise and potential, and never got to see what kind of man he would become. His death is one of the most heart-wrenching experiences I have ever had, and for a lot of people that knew Him, it is hard not to ask the questions, “God, how could you let this happen? Are you even real? He would have done so much good, Why God?” But I have to remember, God didn’t owe us Frankie’s life, and I need to be grateful for the time I had with him. It is hard not to be mad at God and question why he lets people die so soon and makes parents bury their 17-year-old kids. But life never makes much sense, does it? Trying to make sense of everything in this cold, dark world can make someone go insane. We can choose to either be grateful or angry, and life will go on as it always has regardless.

Death and suffering often feels like an injustice that is occurring to us and the people we care about. We hope and pray that our “just” God will take the pain away and make everything right, but it doesn’t always work out that way. We won’t ever know why God lets these kinds of things happen, and they will never make logical sense. We have to remember to be grateful for what we have been given instead of angry for what feels like has been taken away from us. Life will never be fair, and it will never make sense. Be grateful for those good things that God never owed us, for we never know when they could be gone. 

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Dearest O’ World

Dearest O’ World, with all your issues, injustices, and problems, it can seem like a skill to be crafted to see any beauty in you. People commit their entire lives in an attempt to make the smallest dent in just one of your problems. Trying to make you a better place can often feel like fighting a seven-headed dragon where we cut off one head just for you to grow back two more. The African slave trade gets abolished just to see slavery of a different kind emerge – the sex trafficking industry. Do you ever get any better or do you just take your problems to a different front for us humans to fight them somewhere else? One problem gets solved just to see two more emerge. Since the beginning of time, living here has been one endless struggle of trying to make you better. Some of us do it on a macro level by moving to Cambodia to try and fight the sex trafficking industry head-on, others on a micro-level by buying a homeless man a meal. Nevertheless, the struggle always continues.

I have a love/hate relationship with you O’ world. Out of you comes the beautiful sounds of music and laughter, and out of you comes the horrific cries for help and justice. Some turn to substance in an attempt to make you tolerable, which for many just creates another problem for people to give their lives to helping. Reading and hearing about all your problems can often make many depressed, but thank God for the joys of friendship, sport, music, and others that bring you your beauty. You will always have your problems, and you will always have your joys. Being a human being is constantly living in a balancing act of addressing your problems, and also making the time to forget about them. We remember and we forget, getting too stuck in one end of the spectrum just brings more problems to our problem infested world.

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Going Where We Don’t Want to Go

I have noticed with skateboarding that every time someone is too afraid to try something, the people around them will often appeal to logic, thinking that if we can use our logic to make it sound simple and easy, then maybe they will try it. “All you have to do is hop on it; it’s just like this thing that you did before.” This can sometimes be helpful, but oftentimes the emotion of fear is too much for our simple logic. I have walked away from many spots with a downcast soul because I couldn’t get myself to do something that I knew I could do. It seems simple and easy in my mind, but then I go try to do it, and I find that it is not as simple as it seemed in my head. The only way for me to get myself to do something that scares me is to defy and override my emotions, which logic can help with, but sometimes the emotion is too overwhelming.

This struggle is also a rather common one in our romantic endeavors. For instance, why do people stay in toxic or abusive relationships when logic is screaming at them to get out? Because there is an emotional stronghold in place that leaves them too afraid to break out of it. The appeal to logic, with all its simplicity, often doesn’t do any good. How many times have we seen people go back and back again to a relationship that they know is not good for them? The emotion telling them to stay or go back is too strong for the awareness in their minds that it is not good for them. What is even more fascinating about this phenomenon, is that people will usually bend their logic to align with this feeling in their hearts that they need to be with this person. They convince themselves that it is good and come up with a persuasive logic to go along with the emotion. “It’s not that bad, I can change them, I am comfortable where I am at,” so on and so forth. Instead of being firm in wisdom, they bend their logic to fit their emotional needs. We often form our logic to fit our emotions, instead of using it to guide us in wisdom and overriding them. We often mistake wisdom and logic for the same thing, but wisdom is firm, and logic is finicky and can be manipulated and can sometimes be percieved as wisdom. When Christ is being tempted by Satan in the desert, it is not by wisdom that Satan is tempting him, but by a faulty, manipulative logic that is formed around someone’s emotional desires that appears as wisdom. We do this to ourselves more often than we realize.

In the book “Great Expectations” by Charles Dickens, Pip the main character is in love with this beautiful woman named Estella who has never been nice to him, and has never given him any reason to believe that he has a chance with her. Logically Pip should be able to see this and move on, but that is not what happens. Pip continues in his vain hope, ever becoming more obsessed with his fantasy that one day he and this girl will end up together, in spite of Estella’s constant mocking him and rude behavior toward him. Logically it makes no sense to be attracted to someone who treats us like that, but romance is not a logical game, but an emotional one that often defies our logic. Pip says in the book, “I knew to my sorrow, often and often, if not always that I loved her against reason, against promise, against peace, against hope, against happiness, against all discouragement that could be. Once for all; I loved her none the less because I knew it, and it had no more influence in restraining me than if I had devoutly believed her to be human perfection.” Then again, “There were all sorts of pleasures through which I pursued her – and they were all miseries to me. I never had one hour’s happiness in her society, and yet my mind all round the four-and-twenty hours was harping on the happiness of having her with me unto death.” Pip is having an internal wrestling match with his head and his heart. He knows in his mind that this is a bad idea, but his heart can’t follow his logic, so he continues to pursue her and hold on to hope, ever making himself more miserable in the process. I am sure we have all been there like Pip, where we just couldn’t help falling in love with someone that we know is just making us more miserable the longer we stay on the journey of emotional fascination. Emotions can be a relentless beast that no amount of logic can seem to rescue us from. And the scary thing is, there are many times when I have thought that I was using wisdom and logic to guide me when in reality I was just using it justify letting my heart and emotions run wild. We can use our logic to convince ourselves of almost anything.

What makes Romantic emotions so hard to turn off? It is because there are endorphins and emotional highs that are attached to them. This pretty girl makes you feel some sort of way, so you just have to have her, throwing all wisdom and logic to the wind. Like a drug addict who needs their fix, no matter how much they know that they need to quit and should never have started in the first place. To come to our senses and choose not to act on an attraction to someone that may not be good for us, is to deny good feelings and emotional highs a lot of the time. And who wants to live in a world where we have to deny good feelings and emotional highs? Defying our emotions and listening to wise logic is possible, it just takes a little internal muscle. All the best skateboarders in the world, are not where they are because they never feel fear, they are there because they can override the emotion that is telling them, “don’t do it, it is too scary and you may get hurt.” They have mastered the fear and can be scared of something and do it anyway. The same has to go for our romantic endeavors and whatever emotional stronghold that is in our lives. Be strong enough in our wisdom to override the emotion that is leading us where we don’t want to go.

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Dreams Of “Making It”

Two of the biggest questions that we are always asking ourselves is, “what should I be doing with my life to make money?” Second, “what can I do to make money that I will enjoy?” We all have to do something to make money in order to live, and we don’t want to get stuck with a job we don’t like. Alan Watts, a famous Philosophy professor and writer from the mid 20th Century has a famous lecture on youtube called “What do you desire?” In this lecture he asks the question, “If money were no object, how would you spend your life?” In other words, is it really worth it to spend our lives doing something that we don’t like doing just for the money? What would we spend our lives doing if getting a paycheck wasn’t so important? And whatever that is, do that, and forget about the money and eventually it will come. Watts raises great questions to ask ourselves, and as a skateboarder and a writer, they are thoughts that I resonate with and get inspired by. When someone is really passionate about something the dream is to always find a way to make money doing that someday. Whether it be music, writing, photography, bodybuilding, some entrepreneurial idea, making little crafts and selling them on Etsy, and so on. And the thought of having to get a “real job,” something that is completely unrelated to this passion, because we need to make more money than our passion is bringing in, makes our heart sick and often makes these jobs feel like a burden that we can’t wait to shed. Our goal in life is always to “make it” in whatever it is that gets us excited to get out of bed in the morning.

When we hear things like, “if money were no object, how would you spend your life?” We tend to get all inspired and jump to things like, “well I would make music all day, or write books, or minister to kids, or become an entrepreneur,” which are good things to think about. But in our pursuit of trying to “make it,” we find ourselves unable to make anything happen and have no money, we often bang our head against the wall trying to figure out a way to make it work, which in turn makes money into an object all over again, just in a different way. Instead of getting a job we don’t like doing, we make the thing we hope to make into a job stressful and full of angst, which used to be just pure fun and joy. Which leads me to ask the question, “Have we really picked a better life for ourselves in these pursuits?” If it were so, would I have all this stress and anxiety over writing a best selling book and having a thriving writing career? All this pursuing a life where money is no object sounds all fine and dandy until rent is due, or when we are well into our thirties still as broke as we’ve ever been because we refused to get a good job or find a trade, because that would be “putting too much emphasis on money.” We want to be happy and live a life full of passion and fun, not have a boring job that is all about the money. My wife and I met a guy at a Starbucks in LA a while ago that moved there from South Africa decades ago in order to become a performing artist. He was probably in his fifties or sixties and has been homeless for years, still hanging on to his dream of making it in Hollywood. After meeting this guy, I had to ask myself, is this an admirable way to live? Complete, utter devotion to a dream even if it means we spend our lives on the streets of LA begging for money? When does the pursuit of “making it,” become delusion? When is it time to maybe think about a trade we could learn that can still allow us to spend a little time with our passions? All the glamorizing of turning passion into paychecks, complete with all its cliche’s and sayings like, “love what you do and you’ll never work a day in your life,” may at times be doing more harm than good. The scariest part about this encounter with this man, is that how I have lived my life I could easily become this guy. All my decisions have always been based on fun and passion. Doing what I love and forgetting about the money, believing that one day the money will come. Never taking the time to learn any kind of trade that could take care of finances. If we never think about money and just live for fun and passion, this homeless man in LA could very easily be the trajectory of our life. There has to be a balance and a middle ground here where we can take care of finances while crafting whatever passion or artistic skill we hope to make an income with someday.

I had a dream once that my sister was telling me, speaking about my nephew (her son), “you know, you live like you have already made it, Jordan is constantly trying to make it as a basketball player or as a skateboarder and he lives with constant anxiety because of it.” In reality this dream would be flipped. I am the one constantly living with the anxiety of trying to make it and Jordan is the content, level-headed 18 year old. I have meditated on this dream for years, and am always asking myself, what would it look like to live as if I have already made it? Do I forget about the money? Do I forget about the passion? Or is it some combination of the two? I have come to the conclusion that it would be finding a way to enjoy life and being content with how life currently is, and not having to live with the constant anxiety of, “if I don’t make it soon, I may become homeless or living with my parents again.” And if that means having a day job and doing my passions on the side when I can find the time, so be it. I don’t have to be a published writer or a professional skateboarder to be happy, because the truth is, even if I had that stuff I will most likely still find ways to not be happy. The real feat of the human condition is that we have become masters of finding ways to not be happy no matter how much success and glory we have attained. If we can’t be happy and content now, what makes us think we will be “then?” Peter McWilliams, a philosophy writer said, “I see nothing wrong with desire… but if you must have it in order to be happy, then you are denying the happiness of the here and now.” The “when I…then I” game is one of perpetual putting off the joy of today until tomorrow, and as the cliche goes, “tomorrow never comes.” If we can’t be happy now, we will never be happy then.

Passions are a good thing, and should be pursued, they give us life and get us excited to get out of bed, but I have noticed an epidemic with a lot of young people (myself included) that we somehow became convinced that the passion pursuit always has to come with a devotion to poverty until we make it? it is either “starving artist” or “successful artist.” There doesn’t seem to be much middle ground. We have become convinced that learning some kind of trade or getting a good job is like “selling out” where once we have it, it means we will have to throw out our passions and become boring nine to fivers. But the reality is, if we can pay our bills without stress, it removes the anxiety of trying to make it. We can just enjoy them and not have to worry about making money from them. I may never make it as a writer, but that doesn’t mean I ever have to stop writing. No matter what I do to make money, I can always write. Why should I feel that getting a good job means I have to stop writing? Or that I need to be writing for a living to be happy? Is doing it just because I love it not enough? Somehow we got sold on this nonsense that if we aren’t doing something with our passion that makes us money than we are failing at life, and we need to hold out on getting a good job as long as we can or we will never make it in what we really want to do and therefore never be happy. If we feel like we need to “make it” to be happy than we are in for a rude awakening, for nobody ever truly makes it. When we live in that world we will always lack something that we feel like we need to be happy. As English novelist and chemist C.P. Snow said, “The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase: if you pursue happiness you’ll never find it.” If we can’t have joy and contentment in our current situation, then we will never find it in a future one. Pulling our hair out because we just can’t seem to make enough money and make it happen is not a sustainable way to live. There is a balance between living as our grandparents did of doing whatever we have to do to make money and forgetting about our passions, and the millennial of forgetting about what we have to do to make money and just pursuing our passions. The breakdown in our spirits comes when we feel like we have to give ourselves fully to either one or the other. We have to find a way to do both, to have a job that makes decent money without forgoing our passions in life.

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Always Searching

There was a young man who lived in a land where food was scarce and opportunity was limited. Seeking to better his life he travelled to a land he had heard had plenty of food and opportunity. Upon arriving he found a job working in the mines and was able to make plenty of money to buy food. But in this land singing was illegal, anyone caught singing would be fined, and after three times caught singing, you would be thrown into a prison. This man loved singing and couldn’t help himself while picking away in the mines. After being caught and fined twice, he felt that it may be time to find a new place to live. He heard of a land with great wealth, where nobody lacked anything and had the freedom to do whatever they wanted as long as they didn’t hurt anyone or steal anything. So he travelled there as soon as he could and was filled with wonder when he arrived. Gold seemed to grow on trees and jewels could just be picked up off the ground. The only problem here is that nobody ever wanted to talk to Him. He tried to make friends, but everybody just seemed to be going about their business and never had time for Him. He had plenty of food, wealth, and could sing whenever he wanted, but what was the point of living if he couldn’t share it with people. So he found another land to travel too that seemed to promise these things that he had been lacking, but every time he gained something he wanted, he lost something he already had. After going to a few more places he ended up back where he started, with his family in this land where opportunity was scarce, but he could sing and he could be with the people he loved and that loved Him.

Any time we make a change in our lives, we may gain something, but we will also lose something. How often I meet people on these endless searches for a better life, but can never seem to find all that they are looking for. They go somewhere, take this job, get in a new relationship, to gain this one thing, but they didn’t realize it will cost them something they already have that they may have taken for granted. And the cycle never ends, because they can never find their ideal place, ideal job, or ideal significant other with absolutely everything that they want. It’s always a trade off.

Our western world, with all its opportunity, wealth, technology, scientific advancements, dreams of stardom, and so on, make it easy to convince ourselves that we can have it all. Not only that we “can,” but that we deserve it and are entitled to it. In the garden of Eden, back when our world was “perfect,” there was a tree called the “Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.” Adam and Eve could eat of any tree in the garden except for this one. An important lesson here that is often overlooked is that even in the garden, the land of perfection, humanity couldn’t have everything that they wanted, there was still this one thing that they could not do and experience. Right from the beginning we were never meant to have it all, but sadly, many of us in our western world with all its prosperity, think that we can. Putting us on an endless journey of seeking a place and standard of living where we can have everything that we want and have all our desires met. This is a holy grail type of mission that will never be accomplished.

We live in a time where we can change our circumstances more than we ever could. We are much more mobile than any other time before us. Which makes the temptation to move and try something else much more alluring. Along with how accessible mobility is, comes with the notion that if we just got to the right place, with the right job, with the right friends, we will have it all and live in complete bliss. Which is just a set up for failure. We see all these people on instagram and other social media platforms that seem to be living this perfect life, and we think to ourselves that we can, and should be able to do the same. But we don’t realize that Instagram is a fabric of our imagination, the life people portray there is almost never steeped in reality and is never the complete picture. We can make our lives look however we want on these platforms. We might as well be comparing ourselves to the lives of Peter Pan and Snow White.

Paul says in Philippians 4:11-13, “I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am in. I know how to get along with humble means, and I also know how to live in prosperity; in any and every circumstance I have learned the secret of being filled and going hungry, both of having abundance and suffering need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This is a man who has mastered how to play the game. He understands how to be content in prosperity (I.E. America) and in humble means (I.E. Africa), both have their struggles and blessings. Contentment is a great battle with all this promise of “we can be more and have more.” We all have a desire to progress and improve, and that is a good thing, but without it being paired with contentment and gratitude for what we already have, the never ending search will always go on. Dream and use your imagination of what could be, but never lose your gratitude for what you already have.

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The Purpose Obsession

I heard a statistic recently that the biggest fear of the generation of my parents (Generation X) was and is public speaking, and the biggest fear of my generation (millennials) is living a life without meaning and purpose. Quite the difference from the generation before mine. How did meaning become such a scarcity? What changed in one generation? It could be a variety of factors: globalization, social media, greater awareness of the plight of the world, secularization, to name a few. But one thing for sure is that purpose has become somewhat of an obsession of our time.

How do we find meaning in life? Where does it come from? Many perceive it to come from accomplishments and success in the workforce and/or from serving others in some kind of ministry. The motif of our day is, “every day give 110%, push through when you feel burned out, be hungry for success, and give yourself to something bigger than your self.” Which can be helpful if we come from a lazy upbringing or culture, but one thing this creates is a culture that is obsessed with productivity, where taking a day off and resting is seen as lazy and unproductive. How many times have we heard someone say, or said so ourselves, that we just had a lazy day and did nothing and it is seen as something negative. Rest has become almost something of a taboo. The recipe for success seems to be working crazy long hours, and if we feel empty, we just need to work harder and climb faster.

Even in the Church realm, every youth conference and Christian college I ever went to indoctrinated us in how we are destined for greatness and how we are going to go and do great works for the kingdom. A motif that has some truth, but the by product of this is a culture that defines meaning and value by how much we accomplish for God. Again, communicating that meaning comes from accomplishment and leaves no place for an average living. It is as if our obsession over purpose has caused us to wage a war on the average and mundane of life. Having a normal job is below us. Which results in an abundance of restless wanderers going to and fro, trying this and that in their quest for meaning and purpose and never being able to grasp it. Christian philosopher Peter Rollins says often, “there are two states that permeate humanity: depression and melancholy. Depression is not having what you want, melancholy is obtaining what you want and not being satisfied. Most of our lives are spent going back and fourth between the two.” Work is good and essential, but when it becomes a means to gain meaning and purpose, it becomes an oppressive idol that demands more and more of our time and energy and is never satisfied. We have set the bar so high of what a good life looks like, that it is impossible to grasp it. If we do happen to attain some level of this high expectation, we are often greatly disappointed and find ourselves asking the question, “if this is the good life, why doesn’t it feel like it?”

Paul says in Philippians 4:11, “I have learned in whatever state I am in to be content.” What is interesting about this is we live in a culture that sees contentment as settling for mediocrity, something to raise our fists about. Think of how many conversations we have with people about, “so what are you going to do next?” As if whatever they have done up to the present can’t be it for them. In Genesis 4:12, part of the curse of Cain for killing his brother Abel is, “You shall be a wanderer on the earth.” Our culture today (maybe subconsciously) would look to this pronouncement over Cain as something awesome and to be grasped. Keep searching, keep striving, keep wandering – we praise this behavior. It is so difficult for us to enjoy what is in front of us, to be in the present and enjoy where we currently are in life. We are constantly formulating our next move in life. We live in the land of human-doing, similar to that of the enslaved Israelites in Egypt where value was attached to how productive they were and how many bricks they could lay. Very little is lived in the land of human-being, where value comes from being created by a personal, loving God; where value is not measured by productivity and accomplishment. The faulty perception of our place in God and in the world breeds a life with no rhythm and causes us to live under an oppressive taskmaster that is always demanding more.

Meaning and value is intrinsic to our being. We are created with it already in us. searching, working, grasping for meaning and purpose is a futile enterprise because we are working tirelessly for something we already have. To be human, is to have meaning and value. I have talked to many people, who being unsatisfied or discontent with their lives, or with their city, seek to add value by foolishly thinking they need to move away and do something radical in order to acquire it. I have been that person, there was a time when I thought if I could just be in full-time skate ministry my life would be enough and I would be satisfied, but then I got it and I was miserable. As Peter Rollins points out, I went from depression (not having what I want), to melancholy (getting what I want and realizing it wasn’t as satisfying as I had envisioned). If we are ever going to have rest, we need to realize that we are created with all the meaning and value already in us, it is not something we go out and acquire with some great feat of success.

Work is good and is something we are created to do. Even in the Garden of Eden before Adam and Eve ate from the tree, Adam was told to name the animals and tend to the garden. It is a vital part of living. Some set the bar too low and settle when it is not necessary and are not even open to the idea that maybe they could do more. Some set the bar so high that they live in a perpetual back and fourth of depression and melancholy, constantly striving in a hopeless pursuit that happiness and meaning are just around the corner. Never resting and never being able to do anything that doesn’t bring them a sense of productivity. It is good to be productive, but meaning doesn’t come from that. Meaning comes from being created in the image of God. It is something that we are born with already inside of us, it is not something we need to strive to acquire. Recognizing this frees us from the taskmaster we willingly submit ourselves too. We are created to work, but we are also created to rest and to reflect on our work. As the Jewish sabbath was implemented to remind the Israelites that had just come from Egypt that their worth does not come from how many bricks they could lay, but in being His people. Every week they were expected to take a day to rest and to reflect on their work as a way to safeguard living in constant anxiety of, “are we doing enough?” We work from a place of rest, from a place of already knowing we are enough, and that we don’t work to acquire worth.

The reason we are so afraid of living a life without purpose and meaning is because we are always being encouraged to obsess over it, from every spectrum of our society. Which has given rise to a new race of “nomadic millennials.” Always wandering looking for purpose, working long hours and sacrificing our health and our relationships in order to attain it. Always coming up short, and foolishly thinking that maybe we just need to acquire more and work harder. We have bought in to the deception that value and meaning is something we acquire from without, rather than something from within, something that we are created with already in us. When we look to add value and meaning to our lives through success, productivity, and being busy. It throws our spirit out of balance and into a never ending quest for something we already have. The fear of living a life without purpose really comes down to an issue of identity. Where does our identity come from? From making our mark and accomplishing a lot of great things? Or does it come from growing with our maker and becoming more and more into the person He created us to be. The latter doesn’t require us to obsess over our purpose and to always make sure we are working as hard as we can to somehow earn our keep in this world. We live day by day, one step at a time, making the most of every moment God puts in front of us. For our worth comes from being His creation, not from building some great name for ourselves and being awesome.

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Celebrating Differences

I recently had the privilege of staying with my brother and his wife along with their six kids (ranging from 12 years old to 4 months) and every time I spend time with them, I am always fascinated by all the little personalities. One is highly aware of everything around her and can navigate people to her home from just about anywhere; one is a human encyclopedia and can tell you everything from just about anything; one is a little goofball with no filter that says whatever comes to mind that keeps everyone around her laughing; and one is a little performer that at age 2 makes everything into a microphone to sing into and will get on top of a table and start singing and dancing. So many different personalities going on to keep you laughing, entertained, informed, and on the right path. Every time I spend time with my brother and his family I can’t help but be amazed by how unique God has made every human being and how we all bring something different to the family and to society.

But what if… we all started to believe Gabrielle (the goofball) is the true way to live and be in the world, and Emrich (the little performer) is everything that is wrong with the world? On the individual or family level, this hardly happens, but if a bunch of people like Gabrielle got together and called themselves the goofball party and began believing and preaching that they were the true way, and a bunch of people like Emrich got together and called themselves the Performer party and did the same, then all the sudden we have something that is a lot more common. One side is sanctified as “thee way” and the other is demonized as everything that is wrong with the world.

In Church History, there are many times when one person or group of people, started teaching something that wasn’t commonly believed by the Church at large. It would create some rifts and controversy, then the church would call a council and have all the bishops come together and they would hash it out and come to a conclusion. Sometimes it would end peacefully, and sometimes it would create a Church split, then another, and then another, and now there are almost as many church denominations and non-denominations as there are people. This is something the world, and even Christians look to and think, “why can’t Christians get along.” All the church splits are looked at with disdain and carry a level of disgrace. To an extent it is, but what if this is something that at times could be celebrated? We all know people are made very uniquely, and act, believe, and worship in many different ways, so if we can celebrate the wide range of human personalities on a individual level, why can’t we on a communal level? We don’t all have to have the same exact church service with all the same doctrines and traditions, but we can still be friends and learn from each other.

In this world, we generally fall into one camp or the other, and blame whatever camp we are not in for everything that is wrong with the world. If you’re a Democrat, it’s the Republicans. If you are a conservative, it’s the liberals. If you’re LGBT its the evangelicals, if you’re Protestant it’s the Catholics, and vice versa for all of the above. Every side and every church thinks they are the true and best way to live, and sees little to no good in anyone that disagrees with them. This comes with it the notion that, “if everybody could just be more like me, the world would be a much a better place.” But without anyone that opposes us, or contradicts are set ways, we are much less able to grow and develop.

We have all heard the saying, “opposites attract,” when it comes to dating. My wife and I are very opposite in how we handle conflict, communicate, interact with people, and sometimes even how we see the world. Because I am always being challenged and contradicted by my wife, I have learned a lot of things about myself that I would otherwise be blind to. If I was married to someone that was just like me in every way, then I would just have everything that I already believed about myself and the world reflected back at me and I would never grow or learn anything. If it wasn’t for the differences, and the contradictions, I would never know the truth about myself. We generally are blind to the fact or refuse to admit that there is any fault or flaw in us, and what may be even worst, is that people are more often than not afraid to tell us. So we can easily go on living our whole life thinking we never do anything wrong or annoying and that we have it all together. Therefore becoming more and more set in our ways and never feeling the need to work on ourselves.

The animated action-comedy movie Megamind with Will Ferrell, is a story about a hero and a villain battling it out as always, but in this story the villain actually defeats the hero and the villain goes on to live happily ever after… Or so we would think. Not much time goes by before he becomes depressed and miserable because he has no one to challenge him. He even tries to create his own super hero to fight him, but it doesn’t end up working out like he thought. This is the logical conclusion if we all got what we think we wanted and lived in some utopia where nobody ever disagrees with us or challenges us… depressed and miserable.

Imagine a world where we could celebrate differences and embrace all people. Even within Christianity there are many personalities and differences of opinion, and it is ok! it is expected. If God made us all so different, then His church will also be different and have a certain amount of variety. There is no truest, or best way to worship and believe in our faith, and the same goes for politics, and world-views. As soon as we start believing that we got it figured out and have grasped “thee way,” we have stopped listening to people that don’t believe and act like us, which in turn makes us no longer teachable. People and differences need to be celebrated if we want to keep learning and developing as individuals and as a society. If we can celebrate the uniqueness of the human race on the individual level (for example my brother’s six kids), then why can’t we on the communal level with religion, faith, politics, and world views?

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The Core

Make it Our Own blog

I was looking through a transworld skate magazine the other day and came across this quote:

Skateboarding starts and ends with you…  No one owns what skateboarding is and no one can control it because it’s yours, not theirs. You have the power to make it whatever you want. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Don’t worry about the olympics. Don’t worry about the big corporations taking over. None of that matters as long as you take it back to where you started; just you and your skateboard rolling solo…. skateboarding will be just fine. -Jamie owens, Editor in Chief – Transworld Magazine.

There always seems to be this concern or fear among skateboarders (especially those who have been in it for a while) that the brotherhood and the core values in skateboarding is dying, and that all the corporate money being thrown into it is the problem. Skateboarding has grown a lot in the last twenty years, skateparks are everywhere, big corporations like Nike, Adidas, and New Balance have tapped into the industry, and it is soon to be in the olympics. With all the athletic companies in skateboarding now, it has come a long way from the tight knit, punk, outcast persona that it began as, and has grown into something more diverse, clean cut and sporty. It is not uncommon anymore to see a skateboarder dressed like he just came from the golf course or the basketball gym, which is the image of skateboarding that is marketed to us by all the big companies. Legendary pro skateboarder Andrew Reynolds said in an interview, “A bunch of rich people are trying to figure out how to make skateboarding into a boring jock spot, but f…. that, I’m going to keep it raw, and I hope you do too.” Where is skateboarding going? Will the brotherhood be lost? Has it strayed too far from its roots? Or has it just gotten so big and accessible that it has become more diverse with many different styles. When something is small, there is a greater sense of, “we all need to stick together.” But when it gets big, and a lot of people are doing it, that naturally begins to dwindle a little bit and factions or cliques begin to split off from the mainstream. But no matter what happens to skateboarding, it can never be damaged at the core – just you and your board.

Just about every culture and subculture that has grown substantially from its humble beginnings has the concern of “where is it going?” We see beauty of what it has been in the past, and fear what it may become in the future. Churches and Christians have throughout history, had this same concern. Churches have done lots of good things in the world (I.E. Martin Luther King and the civil rights movement), but they have also done lots of bad things. Many times in history, churches and pastors with lots of influence have made Christ and Christianity out to be hateful, argumentative, judgmental, and sometimes even violent. Paul says in Romans 2:24 to the Christians in Rome, “The Name of God is discredited among the nations because of you.” After the Orlando shooting at a gay night club in 2016, a Baptist preacher in Sacramento praised the death of the 50 people that were massacred and preached that this was God’s divine judgement. Along with all the “God hates fags” picketers and the protesters at soldiers’ funerals demonizing them as products of God’s judgment; people have done a number on our culture to give the perception that God is against them, and delights to see them suffer. Why would anyone find a God or any person like that appealing? I don’t think anyone at a PRIDE event who encountered the Westboro picketers said to themselves, “yeah let me lay my life down for this God who hates me and my community and wants to see us all suffer.” With all the Preachers out there that make God out to be a mean, angry, harsh being, it can be hard to have a positive perception of Him. When Christianity first started, there was a lot more unity within the movement. But when anything gets big, there becomes various perceptions and styles within it, and it can be hard to sift through it all. But when Christ becomes something personal and we make it something of our own, it doesn’t matter how ugly someone makes it look, or what anyone tries to say what an ideal Christian looks or acts like. We know how beautiful it is and no one can take that away from us. No matter what the public opinion or perception is of Jesus, it can never be damaged at it’s core, Just you and Him struggling through life together.

Nobody has to do anything the same as anyone else. As a skateboarder, I don’t have to look, act, talk, skate like anyone. It doesn’t matter what Nike says a skateboarder should be like or look like, and no matter where skateboarding goes as a whole, it’s never going to make me stop skateboarding. I have the freedom to find my own style and do whatever I like that is the best reflection of me within it. In the same way, no matter how hateful or mean people make the Christian God out to be, and make it seem like all Christians have to be like they are, it’s never going to make me turn away from Him. I have my own perception of Jesus and nobody can take that away from me. I know how loving, generous, just, and inclusive He is. It doesn’t have to affect me when someone tells me I need to hate anyone or think less of someone because of their political beliefs, sexual orientation, race, gender, and so on. In whatever we do or are passionate about, there will always be people that make it look like, “only a crazy person would get involved in that.” The people who are the loudest and most outrageous, are the ones that will generally get the most media coverage. Thereby creating a public perception of a broad culture based on one small group of people. Every activity or belief system comes with a culture, and if we don’t develop our own way of going about being a part of it, we will be too easily corrupted by the outrageous and the rich and powerful.

Reflection Questions:

When we see people like the Westboro baptist church and the preacher from Sacramento, spreading a message of extreme hate and judgment, it can be tempting to hate them for it. If we do so, we play the same game and recreate the problem. How can play a different game and solve the problem instead of recreate it?

When we see one extreme getting lots of media coverage that puts a bad taste in our mouth, it can be easy to swing to the opposite extreme. Instead of a conservative fundamentalist, we can become a liberal fundamentalist, which isn’t any better. There is a time to be black and white with clear boundaries, and there is a time to reach out and accept people for who they are. How can we maintain balance here and not swing to one extreme?

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Frustrated Love

Why is skateboarding so frustrating? How often do we see people yelling and throwing their skateboards around at a skate park? I love it, it is my greatest passion, but it also frustrates me to no end. Nothing aggravates me and tests my patience like skateboarding; but at the same time, nothing brings me more joy and is more life giving than skateboarding. skating with friends, pushing myself to new levels, filming and making edits, the energy and hype at the spot when people are landing tricks; there is nothing like it. So why does something I love so much have its moments that make me frustrated and cause me to feel like a maniac? The truth is because I love it, for if I didn’t, it wouldn’t matter to me if I ever landed anything, got any better, or got that clip I have been wanting. Frustration reveals passion and love. My wife and I deal with the same thing with each other. We fight and get flustered with each other more than any other person, and it is because we love each other more than any other person. If I never became frustrated when I skated or with my wife, then that is an indicator that I don’t really care.

God responds in very similar ways with his passion… people. In Jeremiah 31:3 He says, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” To love anything to that degree means there are going to be times of frustration, and we see this many times in the Bible. For instance, in the Old Testament when Israel refuses to stop worshipping idols. His people are carving images out of wood and expecting these creations of their own hands to care for their well being. When God has done so many things to prove to them that He is their God who loves them and takes care of all their needs. He sends prophet after prophet to help them understand the futility of their actions, but nothing seems to get through to them.

Jesus, being the most loving, patient, kind person that ever walked the earth, also had moments of frustration with people. One example is when he walks into the temple, and is grieved that His people have made it into a place of business. He begins overturning tables and whipping people and shouts, “It is written, ‘My house shall be a house of prayer,’ but you have made it a den of thieves!” Even the disciples, the people we would say had the most intimate relationship with Him, experienced a frustrated Jesus. In Luke 9:40 a man brings his demon possessed son to Jesus after his disciples failed to cast him out, and Jesus says to them, “O faithless and twisted generation, how long am I to be with you and bear with you?” Not what we would expect from the all loving savior of the world. Then there are the Pharisees and the religious leaders that Jesus reserved his strongest frustrations for, calling them names such as: whitewashed tombs, hypocrites, blind guides, and the list goes on. They are often viewed as the people that Jesus was against, due to the fact they were always trying to catch him slipping so they could build a case against Him and have him killed. They were the leaders of the current status quo that Jesus came to challenge, and they hated him for it. They were so entrenched in their ways that they could not see any other perspectives, and were unable to feel compassion for people. They had an appearance of having it all together – saying, doing, and believing all the right things, but it was all a tactic for power and political gain. The strong language that the pharisees received from Jesus is not because He couldn’t stand them and needed to put them in their place, but because He loved them dearly and wanted what was best for them. As we see in Matthew 23:37 when Jesus comes to a viewpoint of the city of Jerusalem and says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it. How often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” All the harshness and name calling came out of a deep love that had become frustrated because he wanted better for them.

I have often wondered after I have a meltdown from skating, “why does skateboarding make me so crazy?” And the answer is of course, because I love it and it gives me life. Everything we hold with high value, that is life giving to us, makes us a little crazy at times. The frustration is the test that defines how committed we are. Many people get frustrated with their marriages and get divorced, or with skateboarding and quit, or with Jesus and stop believing. The people that are really committed work through the frustrations and allow the passion to grow and take root, to the point where quitting would feel like severing a limb. Eric Koston (legendary pro skater) said, “skateboarding feels so a part of me, that for me to quit would be like cutting off my arm.” That is a passion that has withstood many frustrated tests. As when God says to Israel in the same breath that He is expressing His frustrations with their idolatry, “Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands, your walls are ever before me” (Isaiah 49:15-16). No matter how frustrated He gets with us, He is never going to give up on us. The frustration is the indicator of strong, deeply rooted love. Without those frustrated moments, it probably means we don’t really care, or we could take it or leave it. But God’s love for us is clearly not one of, “I could take it or leave it.” His frustrations with people in the scriptures show us how deep His love is for humanity, and His love for us is the example of how we love others. Their is a healthy, normal amount of frustration that comes when we really love someone or something, but it is important to remember why we are becoming frustrated so we don’t end up doing something out of anger that we will regret.

Reflection Questions:

When you become frustrated with skateboarding because you are not skating how you feel like you should be, either you’re having an off day, or “last week I was landing this trick every try and now I can even do it.” How would it change you’re reaction if you kept in mind that the reason I am getting frustrated is because I love skateboarding so much?

If you have ever had a significant other or a best friend that frustrated you for some reason, how would the reaction change if you kept in mind that it is because you care so much that you are becoming frustrated?

How can we have a healthy amount of frustration with the things we love the most and not become mean or angry to the point where we do something we regret?

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Thrive in the Struggle

What is something that makes you feel like, “if I only had ‘that’ I would be happy?” How often have we felt this desire or drive to obtain things we think will make us happy, but often leave us unfulfilled or unsatisfied once it is “ours.” How do we get ourselves in this vicious cycle? Think about this, a few years ago, Hollywood actress Winona Ryder was caught stealing clothes from a clothing store in downtown Hollywood. Now why would someone who makes millions of dollars a year feel the need to steal? Is she unsatisfied with her millions of dollars? Does she need more money to be happy? What it really comes down to is the age old question, “Is it the journey or the destination?” We think if we are able to obtain enough money that it will eliminate struggle in our lives, and in turn, make us happy, but this doesn’t seem to be the case.

Why would our hearts be full of wants and desires that we think will make us happy if they don’t? Was God just being cruel when he created us? Is it just a misuse of something good in the human nature? As a skateboarder, imagine if I was so set on learning kickflips, that I got depressed over it and told myself, “if I could just learn kickflips I would be happy.” Then once I learned how to kickflip would I just be satisfied and never need to learn any other trick? of course not. Once I learned kickflips it would be time to start the next struggle of learning another trick. Skateboarding is a series of struggles and accomplishments, and that’s where the high comes from that makes it so addicting. Without the struggle of trial and error, and constantly failing and picking yourself up and trying again, skateboarding loses all appeal and becomes boring. The joy is in the struggle and the process, not so much in landing tricks. Without the struggle landing tricks wouldn’t be as exhilarating.

There is something about the human condition that craves and thrives in struggle, and when we get to a place where we have no struggle, we often find ourselves grasping for it, often in unhealthy ways because we are unaware of our need for it. When Winona Ryder became a millionaire, the struggle for money and fame was no longer there, so she had to find a new struggle to put herself in (I.E. Stealing clothes). If we think the joy is in the destination, we will always be let down and a little bewildered. If we live our lives thinking that if we could just obtain this one thing, and the struggle will finally be over and then we will experience true happiness at last! We will constantly be disappointed. It is just not the way we are wired. To live is to struggle, and it is important to be aware of this so we can create healthy ways of doing so. Otherwise we will always be chasing a new fling, a new job, a higher standard of living, maybe even take up stealing clothes, and nothing will ever feel like enough.

Live in the struggle and learn to thrive in it, don’t seek to eradicate it, for it is essential to growth. In coffee and wine, the plants that are the most stressed and have the most struggle, are the ones that produce the highest quality drinks. The human spirit is no different. Embrace the struggle, it shapes us into much more beautiful people, full of life with a much higher capacity to love.

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