The Scapegoat

I have been thinking about the nature of writing and what it means to me and what it does when I practice it. I promise I will make the title make sense.
The Vikings (that is to say, the Danes, Norse, and Sver, Viking was a term that applied only to raiders and not the three similar tribes they came from) believed that writing was a form of magic, it was words without voices and voices without sound. To them the written word had power. To me the written word has power as well.
The Hebrew of ancient Israel had a ritual of atonement, in which, after the prerequisite sacrifices were made, the High Priest would lay his hands on the head of a live goat and confess all the transgressions of the people, then the goat was sent off into the wilderness bearing the sins of the people. This is where we get the term scapegoat.
Writing for me is my scapegoat. When I pick a pen (or open a word document), I grab my goat by the horns and transfer to him all my sins, frustrations and fears, and then I turn him loose out into the desert bearing my demons far from me.
The simplest way that I have found to practice this is to embrace journaling daily. I didn’t realize what this practice did for me until I stopped doing it for a while and then picked it back up. I was talking to a friend of mine who’s a professional counselor and he told me that one of the best treatments for anxiety and depression is therapeutic writing (i.e. journaling).
So if you’re feeling like you could use some sort of daily practice, I’d recommend journaling. It is one of the best ways to organize your thoughts and find some breathing room.


We Know the Way

I was sitting in my office the other day, and the song We Know the Way, from the Moana soundtrack came on. This presented a problem because the song always brings tears to my eyes.
This song speaks to me on a soul level, because it is about me. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not an ancient Polynesian seafarer, I’m not even from a place near the sea, but I am a Voyager. I grew up on tales of Shackleton, Lewis and Clark, Stanley and Livingston, the Voortrekkers, and the French Voyageurs. I am the spiritual descendant of anyone who ever looked at the horizon and said, “why can’t I go there”.
Sadly, I live in an era when nomads are boxed in by borders and voyagers are thought of as unstable people who “just need to settle down”. Some were created to stay where they were born to sow and reap and multiply, but some are called to be wanderers.
I think many people in my generation feel the need to wander, and we get written off as “damn millennials”, or “dreamers” or “selfish idealists who won’t conform”. I have had a few well-meaning people tell me that they essentially think I’m crazy because I’m 33 and I haven’t settled down to a career (I have career, contrary to popular belief (I’m an English teacher)), and a house (and a mortgage), and a wife and kids. I have tried twice to please people and move back to the U.S. and begin the process of settling down and both times it nearly killed me. There is a quote that says: “There is a point in life where you either need to travel or commit suicide”.
So what is a boy to do? Follow his heart, that’s what. There are a couple of lines in We Know the Way, that says: “We read the wind the and sky when the sun is high. We sail the length of the seas, on the ocean breeze. At night we name every star, we know where we are. We know who we are, who we are”(that’s the bit that always makes me cry).
The great patriarch Abraham was a settled man living in his father’s household with his wife when God showed up and told him to go wandering. Never once did God tell Abraham to settle down, build a house, or find a job with great security and a 401k. In fact, God promised to give Abraham territory, which to a nomad means space to wander. I figure that if God is good with the father of his people wandering around, then he probably doesn’t mind if I do too.
We have the tendency to get stuck inside borders imposed on us by other people. These borders have very little to do with our own beliefs and desires, and everything to do with other people’s hang-ups. Thor Heyerdahl, the leader of the Contiki Expedition and one of the great modern voyagers, once said: “Borders? I have never seen one, but I have heard they exist in the minds of some people”. Sometimes we must trust that we know the way and set out to be who we want to be, who we have to be. Borders be damned, we know the way.

Learning to be Brave

I have a confession to make, even though many people think I am super brave because I can move overseas to strange countries at the drop of hat, and I have work hard to create an Indian Jones-esque persona, I am not very brave.
I walk with a lot of fear and uncertainty, and that is probably natural considering I grew up with an abusive, mentally ill father. Uncertainty was a constant companion and yet it’s one that I can’t get used to. Living in China doesn’t help much, with the fact that time is very fluid here and things generally don’t get done, or you don’t get told about them, until the last minute, add to it that the system of government here seeks to control people, uncertainty is a stunningly good tool to utilize in the pursuit of that goal. I don’t think that the uncertainty bothers the Chinese as much as it does the expats, mainly because we’re not used to the idea of random raids on bars for no reason or door to door drug testing (I have heard, though can’t confirm, that the police have lately shown up on the doorsteps of certain foreigners demanding urine samples for drug testing), or the random and sudden demolition of a favorite hangout or place of business. While none of these things directly affected me, hearing about them from the various expat news outlets only served to make me feel like the sky was falling ( all these things, I think were part of the run up to the One Belt, One Road Summit, so things should be cooling down later this week (don’t worry Mom)). Needless to say, I haven’t felt very brave lately, instead I have felt very much like a scared child trying to escape the latest outburst of anger from his unstable father.
Then it hit me, maybe bravery isn’t not being scared, angry, frustrated, what have you, by the circumstances. Maybe bravery is continuing to put one foot in front of the other despite not knowing where that foot is going to land. Maybe the point of bravery is action rather than lack of fear. I think Winston Churchill may have said it best when he said: “If you’re going through hell, keep going”.
The world is a scary place lately and our own woundedness only seems to amplify its effect on us, but the beautiful thing is that regardless of how we feel if we keep going, we are brave. Most of us are super brave and we just don’t realize it. It is the ability to keep walking even when your figurative guts are hanging out and you’ve been beaten to a bloody pulp by life. Bravery is not about how you look or feel while going through something, it is about going through something and continuing to keep going. We are braver than we know.

The Story of a Tree

This is the story of a tree, it does have quite the same ring as “This is the story of girl, who cried a river and drowned the whole world…”, but none the less, this is the story of a tree, and it can obscure the forest.
This title and idea is a ghetto-rigging (a term we used in JROTC to describe modifying a weapon with paperclips and rubber bands) of something Donald Miller talked about in his book, A Million Miles in a Thousand years, I’m not going to get deep on the specifics (you should read the book) but there was an incident in his life which caused him to look inward for a while and he realized that he was just one tree in a story of a forest (the forest being God’s overall plan for humanity).
In my analogy, the forest is my life and the tree is an aspect of my life, in this case, being “just a teacher in China”. Now I am not saying anything against teachers, they’re awesome, but I think that there is largely a stigma about being an overseas teacher, that you are just trying to find yourself, or you’re running away from something, or you’re some form of deviant who can’t function in the society of home. I have heard all the stereotypes and I’ve met a few people who justify them. However, I think sometimes I can take this stigma, and what other people think of my chosen profession of overseas ESL Instructor to heart.
This happened to me recently, I turned 33 on Feb. 22, and I had a lot of existential questions (who am I? What am I doing with my life, why am I still just a teacher in China? Etc.) in the days leading up to my birthday. I talked to a counselor about these questions, and He looked at me and said basically, “you talk about being “just a teacher”, but then you tell me stories about how you’re a leader in your small group, you’re on the men’s ministry leadership team, you have a vibrant community, it would seem to me that being a teacher is just a small part of your story”.
On the taxi ride home I began to think about this and I realized that I had been looking at the life of a small tree and ignoring the forest, which was thriving. As I thought more about this my drifted to one of my favorite kung fu movies, Shaolin (2011, starring Jackie Chan and Andy lau), there is a scene in that movie in which they are training and the lead monk is exhorting his brothers in their practice, and he says something like “wrists and ankles are one, elbows and knees are one, hips and shoulders are one, body and mind are one, mind and heart are one, heart and strength are one. Feels it’s rhythm, dance in its flow”. I think this is a cool picture of life, all parts of our life are connected and we need to feel that rhythm and dance with it.
Stop thinking about the tree, start thinking about the forest and dance.

Some Thoughts on the “War on Christmas”

As my regular readers know, I try not to get political in my writing but I’m a little cheesed off about this whole war on Christmas bull crap. The “war on Christmas” boils down to three things: xenophobia, homogeneous thinking, and the death of Christendom.
We’ll start by discussing xenophobia. Per, xenophobia is: “fear or hatred of foreigners, people from different cultures, or strangers” or “fear or dislike of the customs, dress, etc., of people who are culturally different from oneself”. When we get down to it, one of the big fears behind the bullshit here is a fear of being usurped or displaced by people who aren’t like you. War Christmasers are ultimately afraid that eventually their traditions and to some extent their race or nationality will become marginalized. Those who believe in the war on Christmas probably also struggle with Homogeneous thinking.
Which brings me to my second point homogeneous thinking. Basically, there is an irrational and unfounded belief at the heart of the “war on Christmas” movement, and that is, “everyone in America is just like me”. Now this is bat crap crazy, I have lived in America most my life, and I have had friends who come from all races, religions, sexual orientations, cultures, political affiliation, socio-economic classes, etc. So again, I have to call bullshit on the “war on Christmas”. We in America are not all the same. There are so many ways of even celebrating Christmas, that we can’t claim just anyone of them as being the American way. And we have always been a melting pot, people from all cultures and traditions are welcome here (that sense of welcome is why we have become more sensitive to people and why we say “happy holidays”).
My third point, to me, is the most sinister reason for the belief in a “war on Christmas”, and that is bitterness over the death of Christendom. Now, I am a Christian, I love God with all my heart, and I would defend my or any else’s right to be a Christian to the death (I would also defend anyone’s right to believe whatever the hell they wanted). That being said, I am glad for the death of Christendom. Christendom has nothing to do with true faith in Christ, and everything to do with the pursuit of power, both political and otherwise. The rise of Christendom began when Constantine declared Christianity to be the religion of the Empire in Rome. For year following Constantine’s decree, Christianity was the religion of empire, it’s members enjoyed tremendous power. They enjoyed this power too much, they committed atrocities in the name of God. They sought wipe out all other ways of thinking and worshipping. Christmas itself was basically a war on Solstice (we’ll come back to this point in a minute). Eventually people started to buck against the homogeneous thinking and brutal power of the “church”, first with the reformation, then the renaissance, the age of enlightenment. In these movements, people were rebelling against God, they were rebelling against Christendom. Now with the fall of Christendom, it’s followers see persecution around every corner, and to be fair there has been some payback (justly earned) for the persecutions and privations meted out by the church. This “war on Christmas” is nothing more than a misguiding rallying cry to restore Christendom.
Now I believe Christendom was never Gods intention. If it had been, why did God announce the birth of son to outcasts and priests of a foreign religion (shepherds in Israel were regarded much like gypsies in Europe are today. And the Magi, per my studies were either Zoroastrian priests or astrologers, both of which would have been looked down upon by the religious establishment of the day), instead of the kings and religious authorities of Israel. Christianity was always meant to be a movement on the Margins, effecting change in establishment from the outside. For further proof of this look at the ministry of Christ and who he chose to come to, tax collectors, prostitutes, fishermen, lepers, Samaritans, outcasts.
And if you want get down to it, the idea of forcing people say “Merry Christmas” is just dumb. Solstice, Saturnalia, Yule, and several other holidays predate Christmas. Jesus was born most likely in August, and Christmas day itself very little to with him. After Constantine’s decree, the position of the church toward other religions, especially the pagan religions of Europe, was, if you can’t beat it, co-opt it. That is why many of the Christian holidays have strange names or weird, non-biblical traditions (I’m looking at you Easter Bunny). The position of the church became one of stamping out and converting rather than one of love. If the Pagans wouldn’t come to God on their own, the church would rechristen the festival in honor of Jesus. The three biggest festival times in the pagan world were the Spring Equinox (Oestre), The Autumnal Equinox (Samhain), and the Winter solstice (Saturnalia, Yule, etc.), or as we now know them Easter, All hallows eve (Halloween), and Christmas. Only Easter falls anywhere near the holy days prescribed by God to the Israelites (Passover). While I am not saying that Christians should abandon the holidays, I am saying maybe we shouldn’t take them so seriously.
I had originally entitled this “Happy Holidays, Ya Filthy Animals”, because I love the line from Home Alone, “Merry Christmas, ya filthy animal”, and I felt it conveyed my irritation and frustration at the ridiculous nature of the “war on Christmas”. But as I thought about this title didn’t convey love and ultimately, isn’t that what this time of year is about. I think that is why so many people say “Happy Holiday”, because they want to convey love without assumption. That love is what I hear whether you say “Happy Hanukah”, “Merry Christmas”, “Happy Kwanza”, “Joyous Solstice, “Good Yule”, “Happy Holidays”, or any of the greetings that relate to the many celebrations that happen at this time of year. I myself celebrate Christmas and so I say “Merry Christmas”. Let’s never let offense and view point cloud our view of love.
Merry Christmas, ya filthy Animals

Facing Sea Monsters

It’s the tail end of 2016, and like most people, my mind floats to the past and what has happened, but I also look ahead to the coming year, and what I hope to get from it, and what changes I will make in it. 2016 was both an amazing and a terrible year. And 2017, is promising to be even more awesome and even more challenging.
I know 2017 will be amazing and challenging because I am stepping. I have decided to be more intentional in my life. For the last five years, I have read books like A Million Miles in a Thousand years, Love Does, and The War of Art. All these books speak to the fact that life must be intentionally lived regardless of the possibility of failure. In this current season of my life I have read/am reading two books that further speak to this, Destiny by T.D. Jakes, and Intentional Living by John C. Maxwell, and I realize that to get the things I want in life I must start being intentional. Life doesn’t just hand you things, you must look for them and prepare yourself to have them.
I am looking at restructuring everything, what I eat, how I exercise, how I budget my time and money, etc. This new mindset bodes to make 2017 interesting. At the same time, pointing at the far shore, raising your sail, and saying “I am going there” brings the sea monsters to the surface. When you step out, when you seek change, you set in motion the forces of resistance, that which would seek to keep you stagnant.
One of my favorite movies is Braveheart, and one of my favorite scenes is the famous sons of Scotland speech. But after that speech there is a scene between William Wallace and two of his lieutenants:
Stephen: Fine speech. Now what do we do?
William Wallace: Just be yourselves.
Hamish: Where are you going?
William Wallace: I’m going to pick a fight.
Hamish: Well, we didn’t get dressed up for nothing.
I think in life we often make the fine speech of “I’m going there”, and then we’ve got to pick up our harpoon, sail on, and pick a fight. Because whether we know it out not by making our fine speech, we’ve picked a fight, it’s all a matter of whether we’re ready for the fight.
And so friends, in the coming year, let us point to the far shore, raise our sails, sharpen our harpoons, and go pick a fight.

Filling the Well

I haven’t written in while, and I used to think that was a bad thing until today. My last post was written at the very of September, and it is now nearly the end of December. I have staring many different pieces, but I haven’t seen any of them through. Through a combination of busyness and restless I haven’t really felt much like writing. I felt guilty for not being a font of words daily, and then I remember a concept that has been repeated again and again in the course of my learning.
This is the concept of keeping your well filled. When I was in college I went to a retreat and the speaker told several parables that related to leadership skills. The one I remember most was the starving baker. The jest of it is that you cannot pour yourself out constantly without putting something back in. If you’re not feeding yourself eventually you will run out of inspiration to give away. This concept was reinforced when I read The Artists Way by Julia Cameron, in it she talks about daily refilling your well of inspiration, so that you can pour it into your art. And just a few weeks ago, at the Global Leadership Summit, I heard Bill Hybels, while talking about Passion, say that it is a leaders job to keep their own passion bucket full.
It wasn’t until today that I realized that I wasn’t being lazy or selfish by not writing, I was merely refilling a well that had been hard hit by the drought of the start of another school year and the impending holiday season.
We can easily forget that our first duty in life is to make sure we are sufficiently filled before pouring ourselves out, and it is even harder to remember that while pouring ourselves out, we still must keep filling ourselves up. There is no shame in taking a time out to refill ourselves. It’s not admission of weakness, or maybe it is, but maybe admitting why are fragile and broken isn’t a bad thing. I once heard a pastor say that all leadership is flawed leadership, but I think that all humanity is flawed humanity. We have weaknesses and we need rest.
For me this time away from writing has been very productive, I have attended a couple of conferences, built some new relationships, read some life affirming books, and built some great new habits. In stepping away from writing I was not lazy, I didn’t sit on the couch shoveling chips into my mouth. I used the time to build myself up. And that is really what filling the well is about.

Among the Spears

I have been facing some pretty heavy emotional and spiritual resistance the last few mornings and until today I haven’t really seen it as such, but I recently have made the decision that I would put any considerations of a brewing career on hold and focus on my writing.

I his books The War of Art and Turning Pro, Stephen Pressfield talks about the ideas of resistance and the shadow career. Resistance is felt whenever we try to make a change for the positive but especially when seek to bring our true self, our inborn genius, our God given talent to the fore of our life. The shadow career is our attempt to find relief from the need to bring about the birthing of our true self and it is a way of avoiding resistance by doing something other than what we were put on the earth to do. For me brewing had a risk of becoming a shadow career something that seemed easier than writing my book

In Turning Pro, Pressfield quotes the Greek poet Archilochus “Be brave, my heart. Plant your feet, and square your shoulders to the enemy. Meet him among the man killing spears. Stand your ground”.  I find myself among the man killing spears today. The enemy is pushing on areas of my life that have nothing to do with my writing, all my fears and failures come rushing in, and it is easy to forget that I get to fight back or that I have the ability to.

I want to break down the Archilochus quote, then I want to leave you with my thoughts on this battle called life. So let’s begin.

Be brave, my heart. It is amazing that bravery is not something we naturally do, we have to remind ourselves to be brave. The most repeated command in the Bible is fear not. Why? Because the human race forgets that it can conquer that fear is a tool of resistance, and that it is largely only in our mind. Once we take on the posture of bravery, fear largely flees.

Plant your feet, and square your shoulders to the enemy. Take up a fighting stance and brace for impact. I wish I could say that just being brave would take care of resistance, but it doesn’t, sometimes you have to fight it out. And the more fiercely you oppose resistance the dirtier it will fight, so be ready.

Meet him among the man killing spears. Run toward the fight. Don’t wait for an invitation, don’t wait to get ambushed. Actively engage the enemy, fight for what’s yours, the realization of the deep things in your soul. I you want these things you must fight tooth and nail for them, not engage in a half-heart 6th grade girl slap fight.

Stand your ground. This one is interesting, and requires a little bit of an explanation of pre-modern battle tactics. Most armies from the Greeks to the Vikings fought in some form of shield wall. The shield wall was exactly that, an impenetrable wall of shields, which required warrior to lock shields with the men on either side of him. The thing we have to remember about our fight is that we, for the most part, aren’t alone. We need to lock in and hold, because there are others around us counting on us, they need us to birth the unique things set in our souls into the world. We need their support and they need ours.

I think that war mentality if hard for us modern humans because we have been taught to play nice and we inevitably carry that teaching into our emotional and spiritual battles. We have forgotten how to be ruthless with resistance.

I have a ritual, that I have never shared with anyone ‘til now, that I use to put myself into the war mindset. It is a tactic as old as war, it is the war cry. There many war cries, I use the Norse and Germanic Ahh OOt, I repeat over and over again with intensity. You’d be surprised that something that sound so dumb actually really psyches you up. This usually helps me to focus and clear my head of the fog of resistance.

The battle to birth our unique gifts to the world is essential to our survival as individuals and as the human race, especially more so now as Kardashians influence us, computers think for us and angry birds entertain us.




Into the unknown

I am 32 years old, and I still feel sometimes like I have no idea what I want to be when I grow up. And to make matters, I feel like my personality is highly compartmentalized and that when I look one facet of my personality and its corresponding career, I inadvertently exclude all others; and yet, the same time, I feel that if I don’t exclude something, I will end sounding like a 10 who says, I want to be a rock star, a secret agent, and an astronaut.

In The Tao of Jeet Kun Do, Bruce Lee says “Freedom lies in understanding yourself moment to moment”. I feel like I understand the separate parts of myself, i.e. the beer geek, the writer, and the aspiring tour guide/future travel channel host, but I don’t understand how they fit together, or if they even fit into to my professional life at all.

The one thing I know is that I can’t live an ordinary life, that is off the table, I have tried too many times to be a good boy and go back to America and get job, pay my bills, and do all the things normal people do. That hasn’t worked. I tried the whole working for a corporation, normal job thing, and it felt like it was killing me. I really value freedom and creativity in my work, something most companies don’t value.

For me, the current issue is channeling my interests and my talents towards something that can make me happy, pay my bills, and makes me proud to do. Currently, I teach ESL to third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and seventh Graders in Beijing’s airport district. I love my job, but ultimately I don’t want to have answer to answer to someone in my day to day life (I understand that if I actually ever sign with a publisher I would answer to them, but there is still more autonomy than I currently have), I want to be my own boss, either as a writer or as a brewer. I want to not have people try to tell how to cut my hair, or how long my beard can be, or what tattoos I can have where. Autonomy is what I want more than anything (I have a pretty good degree of autonomy with my current job). I also want to feel fulfilled creatively by my work and do work that brings me joy. Some people may think I am crazy, I think there this idea in America that you shouldn’t be happy at work, you just go to the job that pays the most, and then buy a ton of crap to fill the empty space in your soul, but my desire to enjoy my work is actually biblical, Solomon said in Ecclesiastes 2:24-25: “A person can do nothing better than to eat and drink and find satisfaction in their own toil. This too, I see, is from the hand of God, for without him, who can eat or find enjoyment?” Toil means work, we were meant to find happiness in our work.

Now this bring me back to my original dilemma, what should I focus on. I recently told my friends and family that I was feeling this way, and I got some really encouraging emails, but one that stood out was from a friend and in it he said that I should follow the passion that is the first thing I think about in the morning and the last thing I think about at night. I won’t lie, at first I was extremely frustrated by this advice, mainly because I have heard it before, and secondly because the last thing I think about before I go to bed is what bills need to be paid, or unfinished lesson plans, and the first think I think about is whether or not I’m going to do yoga that morning or what’s on my schedule for the day.

The one thing, though, that I can tell you is that I draw energy from my writing. Just in writing this today, I feel alive. I think that may end up just being a writer who is a passionate amateur tour guide and beer expert. I can say I am not entirely sure where the road goes or how the story ends, but I do know that as long as I keep doing what I love, even I don’t get paid, it will be a good journey.



Survival Vs. Thrival

I know that fans of the English language and grammar nazis will point out to me that thrival is not a real word, but to you I say, I am the one writing this so deal with it.

This title comes from some time I spent meditating on my life and on what makes a good story. During that time, I was living in Changsha, Hunan, China. I was six months into a ten-month teaching contract, and I had developed a case of expatitis, basically I could only see the negative in everything and then bitch about it. This happens quite frequently to foreigners living overseas.

At the same time that I was dealing with this internal negativity, I was reading Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert and trying to write my own travel narrative. I was reading the book one morning when the thought struck me that people don’t read books about people who survive, they read books about people who thrive.

Let me illustrate what I mean, when I was just surviving, I woke up in the morning, ate breakfast, watched T.V., went to work, came home for lunch and watched T.V., went back to work, ate dinner, watched T.V. Not really the kind of story you’d pay $10.99 to read When I started living In a thrival mindset, awesome things started happening, things that are worth writing about. I started working out and lost a bunch of weight, I got a couple of tattoos (and cool stories to go with them), I said yes to just about everything, I climbed mountains, I made friends with strangers on the bus. In short I made stories happen.

The thing about thriving in life is that it is a choice. It’s not an easy choice. Survival mode attempts to keep you somewhere near your comfort zone, thrival wrecks your comfort zone so completely that you find yourself in places you’d never imagine and your completely happy with it. Thrival sounds awesome, and it is. But it is hard work every day you have to make the decision to thrive, you have to make it your goal and run toward it, if you don’t, you won’t thrive, you’ll just survive.

As I write this, I realize that part of the problem I have had in coming back to Beijing is that I haven’t chosen to thrive on a daily basis. There’s a lot of excuses I could make for choosing not to thrive, Beijing is too far away so it is easier to just sit in my apartment doing nothing, my roommates don’t cook and if I cook instead of eating frozen food, I might piss them off by stinking up the house. Yoga is hard and I haven’t been feeling well. All these excuses are BS; it is just easier to do these things than it is to try. Plus, by not trying I get the added bonus of being able to cry about how things aren’t working out. I don’t know what thrival is going to look like for me this time around, but I do know it will look a whole lot different than it does now.

The decision to thrive is a scary one. It means that you have to make an effort to change your outlook and your situation, whether than waiting for these things to change on their own. In my experience, circumstances rarely change on their own and when they do, you won’t like the reasons, it is better to be the master of your fate and decide to thrive, rather than always just surviving and having “good enough”

So as you start your day (it’s 8:45am, Beijing time as I write this) choose to thrive today. Make the extra effort. Do what you have been putting off. Make that major leap that’s been scaring the hell out of you. Follow your dream. Find your passion. Really live. It’s worth it.