Unfiltered Thoughts of a Smartphone Addict

Every 4.3 minutes.

That is how often the average American checks their smartphone while awake[1. Tony Reinke, 12 Ways Your Phone is Changing You, 16]. I am positive that I am average. And when I use the word “addict,” I am not trying to devalue the word. I just know that people get physiologically attached to their phones[2. www.psychologytoday.com Can-You-Get-Addicted-To-Your-Smartphone?].

We know the stereotypes probably better from images rather than data: people walk down the street and everyone is staring down at their phone instead of noticing things around them…a couple is lying in bed and both are on their phones instead of talking to each other…people take pictures or video of “the moment” instead of actually experiencing the moment in 3D and real time.

This is me. This is too often my real life.

So in the spirit of brutal honesty but also with an attempt to wrestle with problem-solving and public accountability, I want to write about the smartphone abuse epidemic. I want to write about my personal struggle–the things I think but never say.

 

First, I feel shame over my smartphone habits.

I was late to the smartphone game, not owning one until 2012. I remember being mesmerized by how I could then watch videos and get on Facebook conveniently and without a big, clunky computer.

And in five short years, I have allowed this small device (with several upgrades) to become a dominant force in my life. I am the kind of person to be in a crowded room and on my phone the whole time. No matter how many times I put it in my pocket, I feel the temptation to reach for it within a few seconds or a few minutes and check it again. I feel slight panic when the battery gets low. Any time I post to Facebook I check it dozens of times the rest of the day to see who has liked or commented.

And this brings me shame. I hate the way it masters me instead of vice-versa.

 

The problem is not just how much time I spend with my phone but what I am looking at.

I don’t even mean porn. That is something I have struggled with but due to being married and things like Covenant Eyes, I can’t say this is the problem.

No, it’s when I get on Twitter and find people I disagree with and read about 50 of their tweets because apparently I love being angry. It’s when I fall down rabbit holes for a half hour reading inane things, as I did once with Jerry Seinfeld’s answers to public questions on a Buzzfeed forum. It’s when I watch ten straight Youtube videos of 80s Saturday morning cartoon theme songs.

It all seems harmless, but it is a huge waste of time and my phone’s potential. I could be reading edifying articles on culture or practicing Duolingo Polish. Those would be a preferable way to spend 30 minutes[3. Though a little inanity every day keeps me sane.]. Yet I find myself watching the “Bushes of Love” Star Wars video or yelling at celebrities on Twitter far more often.

 

When I use my smartphone unwisely, my marriage is affected. 

Not only do I mean that it takes time away from my wife, but also there are times when I will be on my phone or reading while my wife is away and what I see or read will cause me to be short with her or just generally unaware of her when she comes back.

Based on the last election, I am closer to the political middle than ever. This means people from both extremes annoy me. And as I said, I regularly feed my heart and brain political garbage, like an immature child gorging on potato chips instead of a healthy diet. And when my wife walks in, she can tell immediately that I am not all there. I’m distracted not only when I am on my phone, but even after I’ve put it down. Because I cannot stop thinking about what I was reading. That is messed up.

 

I have tried to get better but have often failed.

I have read articles on how to stop the addiction. I have heard tons of advice. I’ve been told to not keep the phone by the bed, to put it away when around people, to set times to check social media and not break those appointed times and many other things. More often than not, just reading the “how to”s has been useless.

One reason I keep failing is because I make the arrogant mistake of trying to dig deeper or use will power. At my church we preach that this is not how God works in helping us overcome temptation, yet I somehow get confused that this is how he works in my bad habits. I have felt this before with lust and other areas.

It’s foolishness.

Genuine change in my worldview only comes by the grace of God. And only when I start with this will I see results that matter. “Hungering and thirsting for righteousness” is the posture of a begging person who desperately needs help. Not a strong warrior who overcomes.

 

My goals must be specific, measurable and practical to bring success.

No two people are the same so this is not advice. It is just an example of how saying “I’m going to get better” is useless. I need a plan. None of this is cutting edge or even extremely sacrificial. They’re just small steps that I have taken so far:

1. My wife and I consider all dates to be cell phone free.

This one we have broken, but only when we were both interested in looking something up, like the name of an actor we were talking about.

2. I turn my phone off while at church.

Sadly, I have broken this a few times this year. I do not want to be legalistic, but I personally know Sundays need to be as distraction-free and others-focused as possible.

3. Sundays are a no social media day.

This one is rather new. Maybe I’ll make an exception for Mother’s Day.

4. I do not use my phone 30 minutes before sleep or within 30 minutes of waking up.

I have read the research that says smartphone usage affects sleep[4. www.sleep.org/articles/Is-Your-Smartphone-Ruining-Your-Sleep?] but I still struggle to eliminate this completely at night. In the morning I have determined that God comes before Facebook.

 

I want to keep evaluating and changing my smartphone habits. 

I doubt I will ever totally eliminate smartphone usage, social media or screen time from my life because I think my ministry and witness are enhanced when I use them wisely. Yet there are many things I could and should do to keep the addiction at bay. I want to look into taking weeks and even whole months away from screens and/or social media. I want to not simply curb smartphone usage but find positive ways to spend that time instead, be it reading more or spending more time with people in conversation. I want to consistently seek God’s wisdom in all areas of life, but especially in this area. Because without that I will continue to struggle and feel shame.

 

I am not and never will be a “5 steps to…” or “3 ways to…” person. I just like to talk about reality and how God collides with it. I want to be transparent, but only inasmuch as God’s grace and transformative power are highlighted. I hope that is what I have done here. If so or if not, we welcome feedback below.

 

 

 

 




REO Pays Tribute: Tom McCullough

REO maintains a consistent publishing schedule highlighted by the Friday Five each week. Today in lieu of a Friday Five we are respecting the passing of Mr. Tom McCullough by re-sharing our tribute to him from last week. We felt this was our way to honor this man who taught many on our staff while in college and means a great deal to us and countless others around the world. 

 

 

I majored in Youth Ministry in college. Yet the head of the Missions department at Welch College was a man that impacted me deeply. I only had one class where he was the actual professor, but he was so influential on campus that through a hundred big teaching moments and a thousand small gestures, he altered the trajectory of my life and ministry.

This is not an exaggeration.

Upon my graduation, I decided to do youth ministry in an international city for a home missions church plant. While never in my title, I have felt like a missionary from day one of living here. I find no pride in this. I owe it to the passion Welch College had for biblical missions. The Global Mission Fellowship was extremely active on campus, leading prayer times, community events and spiritual life retreats. Their students were among the brightest and most spiritually mature. Their department was thriving. And Mr. Tom McCullough, who served from 1979 to 1994 as a missionary in France, was the heart of it all.

I could not be at that school and escape the fact that my life should be about God’s grace in making Jesus’s name great among the nations. I could not know Mr. McCullough and not be discipled by him.

Additionally, take the following quote from a sermon he preached in Grand Rapids, MI at the National Association of Free Will Baptists in July 2015:

“God is not American or Mexican or Bulgarian or Korean. God is not a Republican. God isn’t even a capitalist. God does not salute the American flag (that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t). God’s first language is not English or Spanish. God is not white, brown, or black. God does not play favorites. God is God and he has no political agenda. He cares not about the color of a man’s skin, but the condition of his heart. And when by our speech, by our tweets, and by our Facebook entries we show more concern about a political agenda, or we contribute to the racialization of our culture, we are, in effect, limiting access to the Gospel! We do it by alienating those who don’t share our political, economical, or social views. And this happens because we’ve traded the “Pearl of Great Price” – The Kingdom of God – for a scaled down and deformed view of whom and what we think God should value and favor and what the church should look like politically, socially, or racially… The world is too small for us to stay in our insular, parochial, homogeneous communities.” 

I am sincere when I say that Mr. McCullough wasn’t just a huge reason that I moved to Chicago after graduation. He was instrumental in why eight years after moving here I transitioned from doing youth ministry in my church to being the point person to helping the church become a bilingual church. Even though I was never “his” student in school, my mind was absolutely transformed by his influence. After I preached the sermon at my church nine years ago to cast the vision for bringing English and Spanish speakers together in worship and community, I emailed him to thank him because he was the first person I thought of when God first put the idea in my head.

That was just one of the many times Mr. McCullough and I corresponded after I graduated. A few years ago I was reading Intentional Integrity by Dr. Garnett Reid and came across a Mr. McCullough quote from a time of grieving over his late wife: “God help me not to forget in the dark what I know to be true in the light.” I shared that with my Spanish Sunday School class the next week and it sparked a significant time of teaching, discipleship and sharing in that class. It was emotional and poignant as many of the people were at that time overwhelmed by the darkness. They were so thankful for this quote and expressed it to me through tears where you could see sorrow and joy collide. I emailed Mr. McCullough to let him know. By impacting me, he impacted a church community hundreds of miles away.

Then there was the time I emailed him before I got married two years ago to ask for advice. I had asked about 30-40 couples or individuals about this and he was someone I strongly wanted to hear back from. And he said something that that no one else did that I will never forget. He said, “When you marry you MUST realize it’s not about YOU anymore. It’s about the both of you, under God’s direction. Love her sacrificially, unconditionally. Let her be herself, under God’s authority, not what you want to make her into.” The first part of that I had heard many times but still needed it. But the last sentence struck me like a sledgehammer. Wanting my wife to be what I want her to be in the picture perfect world in my head has been an issue I have had to work through the last two years. Thank God for Mr. McCullough’s wisdom in helping me see it ahead of time. I love him for that.

But beyond the quotes, the advice and the sermons, Mr. McCullough was just a walking evidence for how the Kingdom of God is for the “poor in spirit”. He was truly a humble, God-dependent person who considered others more important than himself. When he taught and preached he exuded meekness and did not give off one ounce of arrogance. I never felt he used knowledge as a platform as many educated Christians do. I remember a time he preached about nationalism vs. patriotism and was deeply concerned that he said what he said in a balanced and fair way and expressed this to me and other students afterward. You could see in it his face how much he cared about doing what was right God’s Word and by us.

There are thousands of other things that can and have been and will be said about Mr. McCullough and I am thankful for them. There are many who knew him much better than I do, many of whom were his students during his time at Welch. And many have spoken profoundly on his Facebook wall over the years. If you are on that site I encourage you to read them if you can. His imprint has been so strong in my life, I felt it appropriate to add one more. He touched people outside of the normal spheres of influence, including me. And he is worthy of honor in our words, but also in actions that make Jesus’s name great among the nations.

 




The Spoken Unspoken Prayer Request

“I have an unspoken.”

Then why did you just speak it?

The “unspoken” prayer request (pause and meditate on that phrase for a few minutes) has bothered me for years. If I have such a sensitive, secretive topic, then I can pray for it without the announcement that I have one. If I do not think I should share it with a group of people, then I shouldn’t. If it is a request that is burdensome enough to share with fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, then I need to say what it is. I don’t have to share all the details to ask for prayer. I can ask my small group (Sunday School class, Life Group, Connection Group, Whatever-Clever-Name-You-Want Group) to pray about a big decision that I have to make. This is not the “unspoken” I am referring to. I am talking about those generic “I have an unspoken” comments. What is their purpose?

I liken this to a child who is supposed to keep a secret. A true secret-keeper will not give others the indication that he or she has knowledge of the secret. But as all parents have experienced, the first time you tell your child a secret, he has to advertise that he knows something that others do not know. This advertisement, this announcement of the secret knowledge, is too revealing. In essence, it is no longer a complete secret once people know that there is one being kept.

So why ask for prayer for an unspoken reason (that’s actually not unspoken)?

Could it be pride?

“This is so important, this information I am privy to, that I can’t share it with anyone.”

“This very personal issue is so private, that I can’t tell you about it.”

“But that doesn’t mean you can’t ‘pray’ about this thing you don’t know about. Because God knows.”

It’s true that God knows. It’s also true that none of the rest of us have to know about it. If it is wise to not share about the request, then don’t. Sometimes, I think it’s good to just be quiet.

Is it really God-honoring to share an unspoken request? Request sharing should be a time of honesty, authenticity, and brokenness between like-minded, sinning disciples of Christ. Perhaps the sinning saints are hurting because we are sojourners and living in a hostile world brings trouble. (“In this world you will have trouble,” Jesus warned.) Perhaps the purpose is based in praise, and we see a piece of home here on earth because loving God and loving others will bring blessing. Perhaps we share to adore the One who is redeeming us for a greater purpose. I don’t think unspoken requests accomplish any of these.

Do we see any examples in the Bible of the unspoken request? Prayers in the Bible are specific: prayers that the gospel would be shared boldly; prayers for protection and safety and holiness; prayers of thankfulness. However, even the prayers recorded in the Bible do not share all the minutia of every request. We are even instructed to avoid wordiness and repetition (Matthew 6:7). Imagine Paul (or Peter or James or John, etc.) writing, “Dear Brothers and Sisters, I have an unspoken.” It seems strange.

These are only three reasons why I see no benefit in sharing unspoken requests: they are often rooted in pride; they do not serve a God-honoring purpose; and there is no biblical precedent.

What do you think? Am I missing something?




Ode to the Grammar Nerd

Sheldon is one lab accident away from being a Super Villian 

I don’t know if we can credit the rise of The Big Bang Theory for it, or maybe even Ben Wyatt in some small way, but it seems to me that words like “nerd” and “geek” are actually cool these days.

That’s a good thing seeing as how it celebrates intelligence instead of disparaging it. Since sports and Seinfeld fandoms do not really qualify as geeks or nerds, I have been wondering if I am a nerd of any stripe. If I’m not there with Harry Potter, I’m on a Usain Bolt pace to getting there.

I do know this: I am not a grammar nerd. Just writing for REO these last 19 months has reminded me how much I don’t know about the English language. Nathan had to point out to me that “resign” and “re-sign” are two different words once when I wrote about the Chicago Cubs. I don’t think you can fail to know that and be a nerd.

But I respect those that are. I celebrate them. While the grammar nazi crowd–those that insist on correcting and complaining about all English errors constantly–is a tad over the top to me (we get it, people should use there, their and they’re correctly), part of me still admires people who are dedicated to education. And no doubt my own insecurities contribute to the annoyance.

So to celebrate those people I want to write about a few things in the same family of nerd-dom where I perhaps do qualify: the area of linguistics. Between teaching English to adults and learning Spanish and Polish, I have found myself mesmerized by language: syntax, semantics, translation, pronunciation rules, idioms, and a million other aspects.

Other than Harry Potter, this is one thing that earns the nerd label that I could talk about for hours. Yet I’ll limit myself to less than 1300 words.

 

I’m not Samming you

Pretend the names “Sam,” Rick” and “Ned” are verbs. Pretend they are regular in past tense, with “ed” endings. This would mean these fake verbs would be “Sammed,” “Ricked” and “Nedded” in past tense, following English spelling rules.

Now, pronounce them. Say “Sammed”. Then say “Ricked”. Then say, “Nedded”.

Let me ask you: When you said, “Sammed” how did you pronounce it?  Was it like “Samd?”  I’m going to guess you did.  Now, how did you say “Ricked”?  Was it like “Rikt,” with a ‘t’ sound at the end?  Again, I’ll guess so.  And finally, how did you say “Nedded”?  Did you say it as two syllables, as in “Ned-ed”?  Yet again, that is my guess.

Why? Because your English speaking brain knows the rules for “ed” pronunciation even if you are not aware of it. There’s a reason you probably didn’t say “Ricked” as “Rick-ed” but instead as “Rikt”. Your brain knows that when a regular verb ends in the sounds of k, p, s, x, ch or sh, then the ‘-ed’ will sound like ‘t’. Every time. If the sound before ‘-ed’ is d or t then the ‘-ed’ will sound like ‘ed’ like normal[1. What kind of language makes ‘ed’ sound like ‘t’ anyway?]. And all other sounds give the ‘d’ sound for ‘-ed’. To see this in real verbs, say fixed, needed and cleaned. Three distinct ‘-ed’ sounds. Three different rules, depending on the sound before ‘-ed’. And your brain is so used to them that fake verbs can’t throw it off.

I didn’t know any of this until I had to teach it to adults.

 

If Only You Wish

Spanish and Greek both frequently use what is called the subjunctive mood. We have it in English yet I had never heard of it until I started learning Spanish. There are two ways that we use it in English in common speech that I want to mention. First, when we say “if” with a circumstance that is impossible or a fantasy, as in: “If I were you, I would be quiet.” Note that we don’t say “If I am you” and we are not talking in the past tense. No, we say were because it is subjunctive and English in one of the simplest languages in the world when it comes to verb forms. Similarly when we say “I wish”: “I wish I had $1 billion.” We don’t say, “I wish I have“.

It’s a quirky grammatical construction that we do not use as often as other languages so we are not as aware that it exists. Spanish uses it a lot and I confess I still do not know the rules of its usage and often just go on key words to know when to use it. For example, whereas English says, “I want you to come,” Spanish says, “I want that you come” (Quiero que vengas) and “come” will be subjunctive (vengas instead of vienes). Believe me, they corrected me on this the month I spent in Peru in 2007 literally every day. I was ready to be put in a padded room by the end.

 

It is the same suitcase, right?

Speaking of other languages, I posted something similar on Facebook a while back, but I repeat it here just for the sheer linguistic entertainment value. Look at these translations, English on the left, Polish on the right:

Suitcase = Walizka
In the suitcase = W walizce
Beside the suitcase = Obok walizki
Under the suitcase = Pod walizką
I have a suitcase = Ja mam walizkę

Five phrases, five different words for “suitcase”! If English is your first language, that is insane. Granted, they all begin the same and it is just the endings that change but that is a lot to remember. EVERY noun is like this in Polish. There are patterns but there are several. And I force it into my English brain like a square peg in a round hole.

 

Just don’t talk like Jar-Jar 

But I confess nothing is more fun to me than just messing around with English. I’ve written before that part of what I love about the house elves in Harry Potter and Gollum in The Lord of the Rings is how they mess with typical English syntax in humorous ways. Yoda is also famous for this, but seeing as how he didn’t always speak oddly and when he did it sounded more intelligent instead of less, it wasn’t quite as endearing to me.

I’ll also add that the use of vocabulary out of the common vernacular scratches me where I itch. In a Season 1 episode of Lost, John Locke tells Jack that Ethan “bested” him, instead of “defeated”. I loved that so much that when I was in South Carolina for Christmas one year I let my 4-year-old nephew beat me in a race and strongly influenced him to say, “I bested Uncle Gowdy” the rest of the day.

This is surely a small part of the appeal of British entertainment like Sherlock and Doctor Who in addition to Harry Potter. Every time I read or hear someone say “nicked” instead of “stole” or “he got the sack” instead of “he got fired,” there is a party in my brain in celebration. One time I had to call London for business and I kept the woman on the line for several needless questions just to keep hearing her talk. I may be messed up.

 

This hasn’t been exclusively about grammar but I thought “Ode to the Language Nerd” didn’t have the same ring to it. Nevertheless, I hope it has been entertaining and preferable to charts and lists and posts complaining about English speakers confusing homophones and saying “could of”. I would love to hear your favorite aspects of grammar or language or language learning below.

 

 

 




Love at First Sight

I originally wrote this about seven years ago. I meant it then and I mean it now. Usually, we try to not to publish content that is personal but without broader application. After looking over what I wrote years ago, I am struggling to find any lessons for a broader audience. This one is specifically intimate. Still, I hope people can find something in here to appreciate, apply, or discover.

“Why do I fall in love with every woman I see who shows me the least bit of attention?”

Joel Barrish, Jim Carrey’s character in the complicated and amazing film, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, asks himself that very question sitting across the diner from Clementine, the colorful and delightfully free-spirited Kate Winslet. The very idea that you could fall in love like that is silly though, right? It is based on nothing but fleeting glimpses and unrealistic views of romance and love. It does not factor in compatibility, personality, or anything else of a more objective nature. He sees a woman that smiles back at him and he is smitten. Hard. I think many viewers simply wrote Joel and the rest of the film off after that. That’s too bad, because they missed a great movie. I didn’t write off Joel or the film. In fact, that line, heard very early in the film, hooked me. It intrigued me. To explain why this line had this effect on me will probably reveal more about myself than I really care to, but it is unavoidable.

I was hooked because I was Joel Barrish.

Years ago, as a single man, I did not date much. In fact, I only “dated” three women. (I use quotation marks, because I can barely classify two of those as dating relationships – we went out a few times.) Clearly, my dating game was not on point. I was, and still am, shy. If I saw a girl and she showed me any attention at all I could picture us dating. In my mental version of things, I was charming, funny, handsome, and pretty irresistible so the odds were high she would say yes. In real life, I would not even get past pleasantries. I just didn’t want to risk the rejection that might follow. I stayed safe and alone on the outside. All of that changed in the summer of 1996.

I was meeting a college friend for a Cardinals’ baseball game and for some reason still unknown to me, he wanted to meet at the stadium hours before the game started. Summers in St. Louis can get pretty hot, and it was not a comfortable experience, but it did give me the opportunity to meet his friends, one of whom was a beautiful, friendly, Missouri girl who gently forced her way into my heart and mind. It was then that I had my Joel Barrish moment. I didn’t fall in love with every woman I saw that showed me the least bit of attention, but I fell for her.

Hello, I love you. What is your name?

Before you roll your eyes, let me clarify. I didn’t love her in the fullest sense of the word. Love is not simply a romantic feeling, even though that is part of it. Love is a choice. It is a decision. But romance, attraction, chemistry, beliefs, and a myriad of other things play into what “love” ultimately becomes in a relationship. So, while I didn’t fully love her, I was smitten. Hard. I would even say that I loved her based on the limited information I had. I knew then and there that I wanted to spend every waking moment in her presence. I knew I wanted to find out everything I could about her. I knew she was so beautiful that it actually made it hard to think when I was around her. That is not hyperbole. I was basically a mute around her that first day because she radiated a beauty I could barely handle. I knew she was intelligent and funny, and she had really great taste to be a Cardinals’ fan. I knew she was a Christian and she was thinking about coming to Welch College (FWBBC), my college, in the fall. More than once that summer I prayed that God would make that possible.

We parted ways after the game. I thought about her constantly. Unfortunately, I was not the best company that afternoon at the ballpark. I did not feel well and I was frustrated with having to get to the stadium so early. Needless to say, I don’t think my dream girl thought about me much.

Remember when I mentioned dating only three women? Well, I was dating one of them when I went to that baseball game. I had just started going out with a girl that worked at the same grocery store where I was employed that summer. She was nice. She really liked me. We were into the same bands and we shared many similar interests. There was only one problem: I could not stop thinking about the girl I met at the baseball game. Immediately after my second date with the grocery store girl, I got home and had one of those pitiful, sentimental daydreams about my future wife – the baseball fan. (That is totally normal, right?) I had spent one afternoon in the same ballpark as her, and that was all it took. She had captured my eyes, my mind, and my heart.

A dream come true.

Shortly thereafter, I ended things with the grocery girl. I was returning to college in Tennessee and didn’t think it would be wise to try to keep things going since my heart wasn’t really into the relationship anyway. The day I arrived in Nashville is a blur. I remember very little about it and what I do remember is probably not that accurate, because what happened when we arrived at the college was like something out of a dream. My brother and I pulled in and there she was – my dream girl. She was on her way to the dorm. My heartbeat went into overdrive. Questions raced through my mind: Is she here as a student? Is she here to drop off friends? Does she even remember me? She saw us, stopped, waved, and said hi. She even remembered me! We talked for a few seconds, enough to find out that she was in fact enrolled as a student. Praise the Maker! We went our separate ways. She walked to her dorm room oblivious of what her presence had just done to that poor sap in the car. I, on the other hand, could not stop smiling. I promised myself right then and there that I was going to pursue her. In fact, I decided right then and there that, God willing, I would marry this girl. Ridiculous? Absolutely. Romantically hopeless? Certainly. Did I tell my friends and family about my newfound conviction? I am a hopeless romantic but I am not that crazy.

So, what was the end result of all of this? I finally asked her out and she said no. End of story.

Not really. I asked her out. We dated for a year. I truly fell in love with her.

Then she broke up with me. I was crushed. For one, it was a blow to my pride. Secondly, I truly loved her by that time. But most importantly, it rocked my world because I was absolutely convinced that we were going to spend to rest of our lives together. My early romantic dreams had solidified into complete certainty. I spent the next year in a haze. My grades plummeted. My attitude soured. I became cynical and bitter. That is, until I realized that it was out of my hands. If I was supposed to marry this girl, things would eventually work out. As soon as I came to that conclusion I was a much happier person. I was finally able to understand the breakup and moved on. Slowly she moved back into my life. First as a friend. Then gradually, as something more.

A deeper view of love.

Seventeen years ago, I married my dream girl. She has given me the best years of my life. She has blessed me with love and acceptance. She has modeled grace, forgiveness, and spiritual maturity. She has given me three wonderful boys. My life has been richly blessed by having her in it. It is everything I dreamed of and more. My “love at first sight” has become a love of a lifetime.

It is her birthday today. The day we celebrate her life beginning. She will not want any attention, as she prefers to stay behind the scenes as much as possible, so I will end this with a simple “happy birthday.”

I love you Amy.




The Five Hours of World Conquest




My Irrational Love For the Karate Kid Franchise

Daniel: Hey, what kind of belt do you have? 

Miyagi: Canvas. JC Penney, $3.98. You like? 

Daniel: [laughs] No, I meant… 

Miyagi: In Okinawa, belt mean no need rope to hold up pants. Daniel-san… [taps his headKarate here. [taps his heartKarate here. [points to his beltKarate never here. Understand?

 

 

Nearly everyone loves the sports underdog. Nearly everyone loves it when a bully gets his comeuppance. Nearly everyone loves a sage mentor teaching a protege about life and skill.

So it’s no wonder that the 1984 movie The Karate Kid was so well received in the U.S. that it spawned three sequels and a remake that all together earned well over $400 million at the American box office.

But even with that success, I still sometimes feel like I love theses movies a tad too much. Well, most of them. They were a cultural phenomena in the 80s and to many I am sure have not aged well. But to me, I adore them more now than back then. And in honor of the 33rd anniversary of the release of the original this week, I wanted to give my thoughts on each of the five movies in the franchise.

 

The Karate Kid (1984) 

Karate Kid PosterAmerican moviegoers in the 80s had a ton of martial arts exposure thanks to still legendary names like Bruce Lee and Chuck Norris. By that time we already had a pantheon of movies about a sports underdog overcoming great odds to win. Yet we had not seen the two put together quite like this.

Perhaps the most amazing thing about this movie is that Daniel comes across as a whiner for much of the movie and his love interest isn’t interesting at all to me, yet the aforementioned tropes are so good they overcome the lesser aspects.

Most notably, Pat Morita gave the world a gift with his performance as Mr. Miyagi. He is utterly quotable: “Lie become truth only if person want to believe it.” His broken English is insanely endearing. The scene where we learn that this humble, easy-to-overlook maintenance man can kick major hindquarters in karate makes me ridiculously giddy.

But the star moment of the movie to me is the way he teaches Daniel-San karate. He makes him wax his cars and stain his fence and other menial, backbreaking chores. And of course Daniel eventually gets upset by it and threatens to break their pact and quit. So in one of the truly special moments to me in movie history, Mr. Miyagi shows him that everything he is doing is subconsciously teaching him karate. He is teaching Daniel his way with Far Eastern methodology and without the dojo mentality. Mr. Miyagi in this scene does an epic mic drop before that was even a thing. “Wax on, Wax off” was a huge part of the 80s American movie vernacular.

Make no mistake, this movie hinges on how good Mr. Miyagi is. Beyond the karate, we feel for him deeply when we learn about the death of his wife. And his excellence in bringing this unique character to life overwhelms the weaknesses of the other two main characters to me.

Kreese, Johnny and the Cobra Kai are excellent villains and perfectly easy to hate. The climactic fight in the tournament is superbly dramatic and the music compliments it well. There is so much to love in this movie that how poorly it has aged has not affected my fan hood in the least.

 

The Karate Kid II 

Is it possible that I love this sequel more than the original? This is something that rarely happens, especially if you take out Top 1% movies like Empire Strikes Back and Godfather 2. Yes, yes it is possible.

Maybe it is the fact it takes place in Okinawa. And the stakes become more real. This installment definitely captures the magic of Rocky in that it finds a new, fresh way to keep our champion in the underdog role. Mr. Miyagi’s telling Daniel near the end, “This not tournament, this for real” pretty much captures how they were able to take a great idea and two years later make it even better. Beating Johnny the Cobra Kai in a city tournament was classic. Facing Chozen in a theoretical fight to the death is just terrifying. And intense, even if it is a tad over the top. I pretty much stop breathing during this scene every time I watch.

But the movie scores big to me as well because it develops Mr. Miyagi even more, teaching us more about his past and his failures and his reason for leaving. These scenes are not cheesy at all.

But at its heart, the story is the Miyagi/Daniel relationship. Even as Daniel is getting throttled by Chozen, Miyagi is shouting out instructions that help Daniel. And even though I’ll never understand how Daniel merely swinging his arms back and forth turned the tide in the fight, no one can deny the music, the choreography and the cinematography of this scene come together for a chill bump-inducing masterpiece.

And for it to end with Peter Cetera singing The Glory of Love…well that is just the cherry on the captivating movie conclusion sundae.

 

The Karate Kid Part III 

Karate Kid III Whereas the second one masterfully kept us interested in Daniel-San as the underdog, this one absolutely fails in every way. This movie is an abomination. It’s horrible in every way it can be. It is tired, boring and unnecessary and the fact the first two made $200 million in the US between them and that this one tanked at $38 million is proof.

When I showed my wife this franchise early this year I refused to show her this one. I will tackle her if she ever tries (since we own all of them). The fact that this movie exists and it doesn’t cause me to feel any less passionately about the whole series is a testimony to how good the others are. I saw this movie a couple of times in the 80s and tried to give it one more chance about ten years ago. Nope. I am surprised I have not just thrown it in the garbage yet.

 

The Next Karate Kid 

The Next Karate KidAs far as quality we find this reprisal of sorts in the franchise between the magic of the first two and the dumpster fire of the third one, released in 1994. It was obvious that Daniel was done as a character so to add some spice they make Mr. Miyagi’s new project a female. And not just any female: Hiilary Swank several years before she shocked the world with two Best Actress Oscar wins.

So the fact that you have such an acting talent alongside the iconic Mr. Miyagi means this movie has some redeeming value. The story itself is retread and does not capture the imagination of the beginning of the franchise. But at least it brings the novelty of a girl, Julie-San, being the one who needs to overcome demons and bullying. Not a necessary movie but I don’t mind watching it if someone wants to see all of the “Karate Kid” movies.

And we get to see Mr. Miyagi light somebody up one more time before retiring the character forever so that alone almost makes it worth watching.

 

The Karate Kid (2010)

The Karate KidFirst, let me be clear that there is no doubt this movie belongs to this franchise. The title, as well as the obvious and subtle references to the plot of the original manifest its strong connection to the 1984 version.

And I had little faith they could redo the original in a modern way and not destroy it. They did the opposite. It exceeds the original in my mind and competes with KK2 for the best of the franchise.

First, Mr. Han is an incredible updated version of Mr. Miyagi. I had never seen Jackie Chan like this. He absolutely knocks this role out of the park.

This can be seen best in the re-imagining of the “menial task is teaching kung fu” scene. As memorable as this moment is in the first one, I think this movie improves upon it. Dre doesn’t hang up his jacket like his mother wants him to. So Mr. Han uses that as the basis for developing his muscles and reactive instincts, by having him take off and hang up his jacket for hours at a time. Which is a small but powerful difference from “wax on, wax off”. And the mic drop speech given by Mr. Han at the end of this scene is even more potent: “Kung Fu lives in everything we do. It lives in how we put on the jacket, how we take off the jacket. It lives in how we treat people. Everything is Kung Fu.” Please note that as a Christian I don’t believe this in real life but I cannot deny it makes amazing cinema. I stood up and clapped in the theater at this moment.

Jayden Smith is pretty good in his role but just as with the originals, it rises and falls on the mentor. I could not love Mr. Han any more and I refuse to try to pick who is better out of him and Miyagi.

 

So as summer heats up and Hollywood makes the news with regularity, we at REO take time to remember the summer blockbusters of yesteryear. For me, almost nothing tops The Karate Kid, or three variations at least. I love them, indeed, far beyond logic.




Fanny Crosby: The 19th Century Wonder Woman

I admit that I have not seen the new Wonder Woman movie yet, but I have seen a viral video in which it inspired a brave young lass to dress up…as something…and attempt all manner of swordplay with a toy sword and awkward acrobatics. I have also read lots of reviews of Wonder Woman; you can read Phill Lytle’s excellent review right here. While I fully intend to see Wonder Wonder, all the hubbub has put me in mind of an actual and probably far greater Wonder Woman of days gone by. While Wonder Woman herself is a daughter of Zeus, I am referring to a daughter of the one true God in heaven. I refer to no other than one of the greatest hymnists who has ever lived: Fanny Crosby. Fanny is mainly known by history as a great blind hymnist, but it might be that she would not want to be remembered for only her hymn writing. She regarded this as only part of her life and ministry, but certainly not all of it. And she was right to think that; her life and ministry included much more. During her life in addition to her status as The Queen of Gospel Music, she would serve as a teacher of the blind, a much in demand public speaker, and a full time minister among the homeless.

The Early Years

Crosby was born on March 24, 1820 in Southeast Putnam County, New York, in a small community called Gayville. About six weeks after she was born Crosby caught a bad cold. In the absence of the community doctor, a well-meaning neighbor stepped in claiming to have medical knowledge and know-how. He applied hot poultices (wet washcloths) to Fanny’s eyes in a misguided attempt to draw out the infection. The man succeeded only in permanently blinding her. (At this time her parents didn’t know it was permanent and fully believed her sight would return after a time.)

When Fanny was almost one her father John Crosby died. That is when Fanny and her mother Mercy moved in with Fanny’s grandmother, Eunice Crosby. Eunice Crosby would do much of the mothering of Fanny until she was five. During this time she did everything she could to strengthen her granddaughter’s powers of memory and to help her see the world without eyes. As an adult, Fanny would recall how “Grandma…brought the Bible to me, and me to the Bible. The stories of the Holy Book came from her lips and entered my heart and took deep root there” (This is My Story, This is My Song, Fanny Crosby).

The Formative Years

When Fanny was about five her mother took her to New York to see Dr. Valentine Mott, a famous eye doctor. After inspecting Fanny, he informed Mrs. Crosby her daughter would never see again. This devastated Mrs. Crosby. However, Fanny herself was secretly relieved. She would never be able to see her blindness as anything but a gift from God.

Shortly after this disappointing visit Fanny’s mother acquired a job in North Salem, Westchester County just south of Gayville. They still lived close enough to Gayville that Eunice Crosby was able to visit several times a week, but when Fanny was eight or nine they moved again after her mother landed a job in Ridgefield, Connecticut. This was much too far away for her grandmother to come visit all the time.

During these years, God had another kind caretaker took Eunice Crosby’s place in Fanny’s spiritual and mental education. We know this goodly individual only as Mrs. Hawley. Under Mrs. Hawley’s care by ten years of age Fanny could recite by memory the Pentateuch, Proverbs, the four Gospels, numerous poems, and portions of a number of books. Her mental library would only grow as she got older. Eventually, she did not have to have someone read the Bible to her; she could just recite any passage she wanted. Fanny never thought this an extraordinary feat. She sincerely believed that a blind person could do everything a person with sight could do—and sometimes even better. In one of her autobiographies she says, “It has always been my favorite theory that the blind can accomplish nearly everything that may be done by those who can see. Do not think that those deprived of physical vision are shut out from the best that earth has to offer her children” (Fanny Crosby, Memories of Eighty Years).

From an early age she was developing an extraordinarily descriptive mind and a keen writing ability. She wrote her very first poem when she was eight. When she was in her teens she submitted works of poetry to a nearby paper. This paper was published by the soon to be famous P.T. Barnum. It was also during these formative Ridgefield years that Fanny’s desire for formal education began to grow.

The Student Years

In 1834 Fanny and her mom left Ridgefield and returned to Westchester County. In November of that same year they first saw an advertisement for the New York Institution for the Blind. On March 3, 1835, Fanny set off for New York with a traveling companion to enter the institute. After enrolling in and beginning attendance of the school, Crosby quickly became known among the faculty, staff, and student body for her poetry. It was during these early student years that she first became well respected among the literary community of New York and in demand for her poetry skills.

A superintendent of the school named Mr. Jones foresaw the danger of this still young student being ruined by vanity from all the high praise. He therefore cautioned her against letting this vanity get the best of her. At the same time he commanded her to not write poetry for the next three months. He did this partly to temper her growing vanity and partly to test her commitment to writing poetry. After proving herself (and learning to temper her vanity) she was encouraged to write to her heart’s content. This is when a literary mentor named Hamilton Murray stepped in. Murray was a member of the Board of Managers of the institution who had great writing sensibilities and skill. He took her under his wing and taught her to write better. With his guidance, Crosby was able to branch out into other areas of writing. For instance, with his help she put her mind to writing poetry for campaigns and other political events.

The Teaching Years

In 1843, Fanny graduated from the institute. During that same year she became a teacher there. It was also during that same year that her health began to decline somewhat. Nevertheless, she still took a number of students to on planned trip to Washington D.C. While there, she recited some of her poetry to the politicians. This trip to Washington was such a success that Crosby would later take a second group of students to the U.S. capitol.

By 1845, she was gradually getting more and more into song lyric writing. During that year a man named George F. Roots came to the school to teach music. In 1853, the two composed a cantata called “The Flower Queen.”

Fanny was also began publishing books of poetry during these teaching years. In 1844 she published her first official book of poems: “The Blind Girl and Other Poems.” This book also contained her very first hymn which she called “An Evening Hymn.” In 1851, she would publish another book of poetry called “Monterey and Other Poems.”

Some really big events happened in Fanny’s life in between these two books, in 1848 and 1849, the land was stricken by cholera. Like thousands throughout the country, many of the students died. It was so bad that during August of 1848, Crosby was ordered to retire to the country so she too would not get sick. This was not an uncommon practice at this time; many city dwellers were departing the city to avoid the close quarters that fostered the disease. She did retire to the country, and it was not only a salvation for her physical self; it was a life changer for her spiritual self as well. During her time away from the institution, she received a full knowledge of Jesus Christ. This was not something that had just happened all of a sudden. Several years earlier in 1845 she had first met her spiritual mentor, Theodore Camp. He was instrumental in bringing her to Jesus on November 20, 1850 at a revival at the Broadway Methodist Tabernacle.

The Latter Years

Fanny met her future husband, Alexander Van Alstyne when he was a student at the institution in 1855. (He was 11 years younger than her.) After he graduated from school, he became a teacher and became engaged to Fanny. Three years later the couple resigned and very shortly thereafter got married.

Little is known regarding their married life, but there are three facts that are pretty clear: First, although very amicable and still doing some things together, they lived apart and had separate lives for the majority of their married life. Second, a few years after they were married they had a daughter who only lived for less than a day. Third, they would remain married until he died on July 18, 1902.

In 1858, the year she had resigned from teaching and gotten married, the stage of her hymnist career was set. During this year Fanny published “A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers.” This would be her final book of poems before starting to write hymns. This next phase of her writing career was instigated in December 1863 after she was asked to write a hymn for the Dutch Reformed Church. She did so well on this project that an arrangement was made for her to meet the famous hymnist William B. Bradbury on February 2 of the next year. A historic years-long collaboration ensued. It was not long afterward that she became known to evangelists and pastors on both sides of the Atlantic as Aunt Fanny and the Queen of Gospel Music. Many of these ministers commonly used her work in altar calls. The world famous evangelistic team Dwight Moody and Ira Sankey utilized her songs in this way throughout the 1870s and onward. The greatness of Fanny’s hymns comes from their ability to be understood and to touch the lives of ordinary people.

By the time she died in 1915, Fanny would pen at least 9,000 hymns. Although she mostly signed them with her given name, she wrote a lot using psuedonymns. She is believed to have used almost 200.

It was also during these years of growing worldwide fame that Fanny became a much in demand public speaker at churches and charitable organizations. It is said that she was exceptionally gifted at this role.

The Last Years

By the 1880s, Fanny was both living and working in the slums. Her work in the missions here gave her the opportunity to evangelize common people on a personal basis.

At the same time she kept busy with her writing life. During these last years, she would write two autobiographies: “Fanny Crosby’s Life-Story, By Herself” in 1903 (out of print) and “Memories of Eighty Years” (retitled Fanny J. Crosby: An Autobiography) in 1906.

Fanny died at the age of 95 sometime during the night between February 11 and 12, 1915. On her tombstone are the words, “She hath done what she could” (from Mark 14:8). Of the thousands of hymns Fanny penned, most have been forgotten, but those used in churches around the globe throughout the decades have been priceless tools in touching lives for Jesus and continue to be so. Fanny Crosby was a true Wonder Woman for the cause of Christ—a Wonder Woman for the ages.




To Combat “Rape Culture”, New Trend Sees Women Getting Fetal Permission to Abort

A recent trend has shown that some forward thinking young mothers are combatting the “rape culture” in our society by asking for their infant’s permission before picking them up or holding them. In regards to her six month old son, one such mother said:

Since the moment he was born, we’ve always asked before we pick him up. I always feel for his “yes.” Why? Because we want him to know that his body is his, and that others’ bodies are theirs, and no one gets to make choices about someone else’s body.

Apparently, this progressive choice is not strong enough for many of the more socially conscious members of our society. There is now a movement of young, pregnant, biological females who are not interested in carrying their baby full-term, to ask the fetus’s permission to abort them. Cindy S of Kalamazoo, MI puts it this way:

I do everything I can to fight against the oppressive and destructive patriarchal rape mentality in our country. That is why I have asked my unborn fetus their permission to abort them. I don’t want to infringe on its rights. The fetus’s body belongs to the fetus. No one else gets to make this choice for its body. Strangely enough, my fetus did not choose to go through with the abortion and I have to honor that choice.

More and more women are joining their voices in support of this paradigm shift in societal worldviews. Jessie M of Springfield, MO had this to offer:

The thing is, I really wanted to get an abortion. I am a huge advocate of women’s rights and have supported Planned Parenthood for years. (Jessie is 19.) But I realized that if I wanted to be on the right side of history, I needed to have a conversation with my fetus to get its input on the abortion. My fetus is not in favor of the abortion at this time so I am planning on birthing it six months from now. At least this young person will grow up in a home that values individual rights and hopefully won’t be a sexual predator or victim because I have instilled in it a fierce personal identity and self-worth.

At this time, it is not clear the long-term ramifications this new mindset will have on society at large. A wait and see approach seems appropriate.

(Editor’s note: We interviewed dozens of pregnant biological women who have chosen to seek input from their fetuses for permission to abort them. In all cases, the fetuses have opted to not be aborted.)




Five Ways to Become the Church Janitor’s Worst Nightmare

I have worked part-time as a church janitor for the better part of 17 years. It might surprise you to hear this, but I actually enjoy it. It allows me to move around, do something very practical and tangible, and see immediate results from my work. That said, there have always been aspects of the job that get under my skin. Instead of ranting and raving about them internally, I figured I would put together a handy little list of the Five things you should avoid if you would rather not have an angry church janitor stalking your sanctuary each week. Trust me – you don’t want to get on our bad side. We control the toilet paper supply. (Special shout out to my boys for helping me put the videos together for this article.)

 

Paper Towel Disposal: The Right and Wrong Technique

It’s pretty simple: if you handle paper towel correctly after you wash your hands in the bathroom, you will save the janitor much heartache. Below, you will find two videos that demonstrate the two approaches for disposing your used paper towel. The first video is the common, albeit completely improper way to do it. As you will see, the trash can fills up quickly and soon becomes an eyesore and a nuisance.

 

In the second video, you will witness the proper way to handle the paper towel. If you take the time to wad up that paper as much as possible before throwing it away, you will save space, save the janitor time, and maybe even save the world.

 

The Tools of the Trade: Using the church’s stuff in ways you would never dream of using them at home

The typical church janitor uses a few tools every time they clean. A broom. A dust mop. A mop. A vacuum cleaner. Things like that. Sometimes, these tools are borrowed or used by other church members. Sometimes this does not end well. The following are true stories. The quotes are fabricated…mostly…but the scenarios are 100% accurate to reality.

“Oh, you aren’t supposed to vacuum mulch? My bad!”

“Oh, I’m not supposed to use the dust mop to clean up the soda I spilled? They really shouldn’t use the word ‘mop’ in the name then.”

“Oh, the mop shouldn’t be used on the gravel outside of the church? I’m going to have to plead ignorance on this one!”

“Oh, the broom isn’t a communal broom to be taken home whenever we feel like it? I wish someone would tell me these things!”

 

Crimes of a Wet Nature: The Improper Disposal of Liquid

Are you familiar with what I like to call “trash juice?” No? Allow me to elaborate. (You might not want to read this while eating.) Trash juice is the wonderful and aromatic liquid that forms at the bottom of a large trash can when the disposed liquid and refuse become one flesh and together discover an escape through a small crack or seam in the bottom of the trash liner. Trash juice is odious and fetid. It is a misery to clean. The primary culprit in the creation of trash juice is the seemingly innocent act of throwing away a cup or container full/half full/quarter full of liquid. Here is a delightful stop motion video to explain what I mean. (The video works best with the volume on.)

 

In the demonstration above you witness the improper technique. There is a simple solution to this problem but it is rarely, if ever, utilized – POUR OUT YOUR LIQUID IN A SINK PRIOR TO DISPOSING OF YOUR CUP/CONTAINER IN THE TRASH CAN.

 

No Trash Liner = No Trash Accepted: Access Denied

Most churches have multiple trash cans. Almost every room will have one. So do us all a favor when you have trash to dispose of and you see the one trash can that does not have a trash liner (because the church janitor is currently in the process of taking said trash out and has not yet replaced the liner) – please don’t use that trash can. You might not think it is a big deal, but it is. It’s a huge deal. Your time-saving action will force the janitor to have to retrieve that bit of garbage out by hand. And that is super gross.

And so help me, if I see you throwing away a cup full of soda into a can with no liner, I will be tempted to imitate Weird Al Yankovic in the not-surprisingly overlooked 80s action comedy, UHF. Avert your eyes if you are squeamish and easily upset.

 

The only differences are,  I am a janitor and not a librarian and will be using my broom instead of a sword. And since my broom is not sharp, it will take me much longer to achieve the desired result.

 

Glitter: The Devil’s Dust

Glitter is evil. 100%, absolutely, unequivocally evil. I am convinced it was invented by someone whose only purpose in life was to bring pain and suffering to all janitors, housekeepers, and cleaners across the globe. Do not be fooled by its sparkle! Once you use glitter it never goes away. EVER. It will cling to every surface, every article of clothing, ever inch of exposed skin. It will not sweep away. It will not mop away. It will not scrub away. There is no greater metaphor of the destructive and pernicious effects of sin in our lives than glitter. It was birthed in the bowels of hell itself and seeks nothing less than the total annihilation of all that is good, noble, and pure. And we use it in church more than anywhere else in the world! FOR SHAME!!!

When the precious church children make a craft that uses glitter, the following gifs will walk you through my mental, psychological,  and emotional response:

 

My first response is absolute resignation. I am helpless to the horrors that await me.

It is then that I summon an unbridled bellow of frustration and desperation in it’s purest form.

Then, I throw a little hissy fit. Or a big one. Judge not lest ye be judged people.

Then, I Hulk out in the least intimidating or impressive manner possible.

Finally, I channel all of that rage, all of that anger, all of that hate and I do this. I would say literally, but you all know how I feel about that word being misused. But seriously though, it’s really close to literal. Super close.

Moral of the story: Don’t ever use glitter. Ever.

Ever, ever, ever.

Never ever.

EVER.

EVER.

 

That’s it. Avoid those things or do those things correctly and all will be well. Well, mostly. I still need to deal with people cutting their nails in church, church members bringing Chinese takeout into the sanctuary, worshipers taking…