Bald Heads and Backwards Thinking

The other day I started shaving my head again.

Rocking my chrome dome

Shaving your head when you have a full head of hair is kind of backward thinking—most people dread the idea of being bald, and many people only adopt head-shaving to hide the fact that they have very little hair left.

Then again, I’ve never been accused of being a guy who follows the crowd.

Most people run Windows on their computers. People who consider themselves non-conformists use Macs. I run Linux. It’s not that I want to be different for the sake of of being different—I just feel that Linux is better. The same goes for my use of an old-fashioned safety razor and shaving soap rather than a cartridge razor and shaving cream from a can, or my partiality to wool winterwear over new-fangled synthetic fabrics.

I’m not here to convert people to my style, or my preferences in operating systems, grooming products, or textiles. I’m different, and I accept that—In fact, I embrace it. But I do have a point for you to consider: sometimes, one must think backwards to move forwards.

In the early days of the Google search engine, it’s developers found themselves in need of a powerful server to host their new smart search. It was backwards thinking that led them to cripple many cheap household computers together to create their server, but it was that model that led to the redundancy that enabled them to stay on-line when a fire destroyed almost a third of their storage capacity.

It was backwards thinking that caused Columbus to sail west to go east. Even though he didn’t accomplish what he set out to do, he is regarded today as a visionary because of that backwards thinking.

It was backwards thinking when the King of the universe, the all-powerful, the all-magnificent, the very source of life itself, decided to become a helpless baby, live a life of poverty as an itinerant teacher and miracle healer, and die for sins that He didn’t commit–My sins. And am I ever greatful for that.

Backwards thinking changes the world.

Think backwards.

(No head-shaving required)

Game Plans: From Basketball to Blogs

This last year, I discovered a blog called The Art of Manliness. While some of the articles on the blog are definitely tongue-in-cheek, many of them are absolutely excellent. It was this blog that caused me to start journaling, and it was a post on this blog that gave me the idea to write a letter to my dad, which I think was one of the best self-realization projects I ever took on.

This week there was a post entitled “Manliness Doesn’t Just Happen,” in which the owner of the blog, Brett McKay, made the argument that a man cannot be the best version of himself simply by living his life without thinking about it. To be the best version of oneself, man or woman, one must engage not just in action, but also in contemplation.

Contemplation. I think that is an important key to improving one’s self, no matter the area in which one wants to improve. If your goal is to become a better basketball player, you will not only practice basketball, but you will also engage in contemplation. You will consider what aspects of you game need the most work, what you can do to improve them, and how you will track your progress. It makes so much sense, that you are probably thinking “well duh” in your head right now.

So how come we often don’t apply this principle to our spiritual lives?

Maybe I’m the only one that has this problem, but I know there have been many times in my life where I did not have a plan for improving my spiritual life, because I never took the time to spend contemplating improving my spiritual life. Not that I didn’t think about spiritual things, I did. But I allowed my quest for spiritual improvement to be guided completely by the insights that I would gain here and there from my reading or sermons. I did not have an overarching “game plan” that the things I discovered fit into, but let each discovery be the totality of my improvement for a time, and then forgot about it as I moved to the next discovery. I would have never tried to use such a haphazard approach to increase my bench press, but somehow I thought that it was sufficient to take my spiritual life to the next level.

I now have a “game plan,” and I can say unequivocally that it has made a difference. This blog is part of that game plan: a place for me to engage in contemplation by expressing my thoughts “on paper.”

Last week, as I was contemplating by writing, I wrote a post that I knew some people wouldn’t like. It was tempting to just not post it, but I knew that I had to express the thoughts that God had impressed upon me. I tried to change it, so that people would be less likely to find it offensive, but I could not find a way to do that without diminishing from the power of the message. My game plan as it concerns this blog helped make it clear what I had to do, and I published the post. If I did not have a game plan, I think that I would have saved it as a file on my computer where it would have offended no one, made no one uncomfortable, and had absolutely no effect on anyone who might have benefited from its message.

And I hope this blog not only is the voice of my contemplation, but also causes others to contemplate, and to maybe see things in a light they never saw them before. Take some time today to contemplate your quest for spiritual improvement. Make a game plan. And then go out and follow that game plan, using it as a guide to make improvements you otherwise wouldn’t.

If my blog helps you in your contemplative efforts, or if there is some other resource that I ought to know about, let me know in the comments. I love finding out that I’m not the only one who reads this thing. 

The Curse

I was told the story of a somewhat jaded student missionary, who I will call Ted, returning from Africa. His church invited him to speak to “share what God was doing in Africa,” because that’s what the church had always done when someone returned from a mission trip. They expected pictures, maybe a slide show, and a talk of all the wonderful things that Ted had done in Africa to “spread the gospel.”

That’s not what they got.

Ted had seen those kinds of presentations before; indeed, they had played into his decision to become an SM. He had read all the mission stories as a kid, he knew the pattern: the natives attack the missionaries, the missionaries pray, God turns the natives’ spears into spaghetti, and the natives are so impressed that they all become Adventists, wear suits and ties to church on Sabbath, and start eating Big Franks. He left the US ready to watch God work miracles—but God had different plans.

When Ted arrived at his SM assignment, his idea of mission work was turned upside down. He quickly realized that God had called him not to pray for spears to turn to spaghetti or to preach sermons, but to be the literal hands of God. And so he did what he could—he donated part of his stipend to the local clinic to buy vaccines, he learned to build natural water filters inside 55 gallon drums, and he tried to teach basic hygiene to the children. And he wished he could do more.

When Ted’s year as an SM was up, he felt guilty to be going home to the US, clean water, plenty of food, and abundant vaccinations. He talked to a couple people in the airport, but they just didn’t get it. “You went to Africa? How nice. What did you do there?” people would ask, but when he started to tell them about the poverty, the disease, and the filth their eyes would glaze over. If he continued talking, they would break in and ask “did you see any elephants?” or some other question that showed their total lack of interest. And his first Sabbath back at his church, he realized that the people there didn’t really care either.

And so the next week he got up front to share his mission experience, said a silent prayer, and shocked everyone. He said, “Every minute, a child in sub-Saharan Africa dies from a measles infection that could have been prevented with a one dollar vaccination, but you don’t give a shit about those kids.” He paused for a second as the congregation reeled at this unorthodox sermon opening, and then continued: “In fact, I bet you are more upset right now about the fact that I said the word ‘shit’ in church, than you are about the fact that 1440 children in sub-Saharan Africa will die today because their parents can’t afford a one dollar vaccine.”

I don’t know what else Ted said that day, but I think his point was valid. Some of you reading this still don’t get it though. You wonder why I keep writing out the word “shit” instead of using asterisks. Here’s why: I know that word makes some of you uncomfortable, and I want you to be uncomfortable. Since that word is not a form of taking God’s name in vain, nothing in the Bible forbids its use. However, there are many biblical injunctions to care for our fellow man. We are positively commanded to help the helpless, to protect the fatherless and the widow, and to provide for those who cannot provide for themselves. If we, as Christians, are more concerned about the word “shit” than the sufferings and death of our fellow man, then we need God’s eyes, because our priorities are seriously fucked up.