Eat what you like

Day 103: Monday

Morning, Tim!

It’s been a while. I could feign a delightful, planned summer hiatus but you know better than that. Perhaps it was your takedown of language’s role in morality but you know full well that’s even more laughable than the summer hiatus line… No, instead it was just an unfortunate end of what had been a fairly stable habit. I hope to rebuild the blog-writing muscles, so bear with me over these first few posts!

Yep. It’s gonna be a rough start.

“The great seduction confronting every individual or family or church or political party or enterprise of any kind in every age is the idea that we no longer need to change. We think, there’s nothing really major about me or my tribe that God would want to reform. I’m sure he wants to work on those people, but not me. That’s a delusion.” – Rev. Dr. Dan Meyer

That seems to me to be about right. I was recently reading Sapiens. It was an interesting read. The author, Yuval Noah Harari, had a knack for laying out his arguments as follows: Fact A, Fact B, Fact C — Therefore X. X was controversial. How did he get there? X as a conclusion seemed was so far away from the original 3 premises.

One piece of text that stood out was an articulation of Buddhism. At it’s core, the idea was that the mind naturally craves more in all situations. And all suffering arrives from craving. The goal, then, would be to rid the mind of any conception of “good” or “bad” and simply acknowledge things as they were — a body sensation, a feeling, the circumstances that brought those about, etc. Acknowledge, but not label.

While familiar, I haven’t studied Buddhism to any great degree, so I asked a few friends who have to give their take. They suggested it probably isn’t the most fair representation — which makes sense. I felt the same way about Harari’s take on Christianity. That said, regardless of religious affiliation, I see this mindset play out in the culture around me at work.

I’m not sure how to segue here. I haven’t yet figured out how to articulate how I see this, how to point to tangible examples. Yet it seems if true, if we do in fact see ourselves as the stable force and the world as what needs changing, we’ve lost perspective. We make up this world — and rather than expecting some outside thing to change, we need to reflect that in what we can control. That is, if we want a world that is more relational and filled with joy, laughter, and empathy, we need to put down our phones, step away from the artificial “connection” and look up at those we interact with every day. If we want to understand issues of race, gender, or political differences we must stop spending 9% of every day on Netflix and 1/16th on Facebook and instead hold conversations with those in all walks of life.

It’s trite at this point to talk about a filter bubble. Yet with all of the time spent on websites that track our every click to feed us information that we like, it seems vital to talk about it. Mary Roach discusses how “People like what they eat, rather than eat what they like.” This harkens back to the question

Which came first, the chicken, or the word we use to distinguish said young-domestic-fowl-raised-for-meat-and-dairy-products from the so-called “egg”?

Yet in this case, the answer seems clearer — we form our tastes around what we are given. Regular exposure makes things more palatable.

Extrapolating a touch, this is the exact phenomenon that should terrify us when it comes to a digital age. When our every click is known, and we get our news from a feed that is tuned to give us what we’d like (so we spend more time there…), we begin to like what we see. And the algorithm is tuned (because that is how the company is incentivized) to give more information like that. And so we don’t get exposed to anything outside of our circle, our delicate bubble.

Let’s tie these two ideas together more concretely, this time in reverse. We are fed a stream of information that we like — not because of anything external, but because that is what we are fed. When we then come to ‘like’ it, we get more and more of it. This is how we come to see the world — this is “right”. When we are exposed to something outside of this, we don’t see it as us needing to change, because it goes against our whole world (…which just so happens to be made up of the same things we ‘like’ and see repeated every day). And so rather than striving toward any change, we create a world that revolves around ourselves, a world where we sit in the center and the ‘other’ should conform to us.

That’s not tight logic. It’s not crisply written. But if there is a smidge of truth there — oof. Because I’m not in the right. Any glimpse in the mirror tells me I’m not perfect, that I do need to change. It’s the look that sees someone who lies, someone who is slothful at times, overly egotistical and ambitious at others. Someone who struggles with lack of understanding of race, gender, and a host of other issues. Taken to a literal mirror, someone who is obviously gluttonous. I need to change. Not just the world around me, but me within that world.

I don’t want to simply like what I eat. I want to take the time to understand what is good, what is nourishing, and to eat that. I want to eat what I like — with the recognition that taste isn’t the only element of “like”, and that some things I like not because they taste good at first but because I need them to make me a healthier member of the human race.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I made some tea to set the mood for writing. However, like blog writing, it had been a while since I’d made a cup of loose leaf and I was out of practice. I made a lot of it, and it was dreadful. A lot of scrolling says the parallels between my tea drinking and blog writing may not have stopped where I would have hoped…

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Read all about it

Day 101: Tuesday

Morning Tim!

I lament not writing sooner. It’s been far too long.

We had a sermon this past Sunday that I found interesting. It was ultimately about grace, and the blessing that it is. He gave an example that resonated with me, and I wanted to share.

The story is about a man, watching a sporting even at the top of the stadium. Eager for the game and wanting to take part to the full, he grabs a plate of nachos and a beer. As the game goes on, so too do the beers. The team is losing, he is frustrated. He continues to cheer. Cheer and drink. The game passes, the home team notching a loss

The game passes, the home team notching a loss. The man stays after, finishing his last sip. At this point, many have started to pour out of the stadium. He looks down, like tiny ants they seem. He slips over the railing, and falls, bottle clinched in his hand.

This is like all of us, the story would go. We are all eager for the game of life, and as the innings go on, we find bad things can happen. The sin in our life, like the cup, pries its way into our senses, first impairing the way we see then being the lens through which we do so.

But that’s not where the story ends. It has two possible endings. Read like a newspaper, it could go one of two ways.

Imagine the owner of the building knew this kind of thing happened. He prepped for it — perhaps with a large circus net over the railing. Maybe even a giant jet-pack, binoculars in hand, ready to scour the skies as necessary.

One way this story ends is without this owner. The story, if made about us, reads poorly. “Drunken man freefalls to death, clinging to vice”. Perhaps slightly nicer, depending on the paper you read — but that’s the gist.

The other way is with the owner. The story dramatically changes. Not only is the man saved, the drunken man isn’t a central figure at all. Instead, having faded to the background, the story tells of a hero who, without any contribution from me, the drunken man, saved a life that was otherwise in ruin, otherwise headed directly to a dark end.

I’m not sure why this resonated so well. Perhaps because, as with most of us, I love to make things about me. Reading in a newspaper what ‘me’ gets is sad, though. Perhaps it was the way the story reads to give full credit, inspiring others who were to read that paper about the one they should emulate. Perhaps it’s because there is an acknowledgement that we are blessed — but that we also get thirsty. If we aren’t regularly drinking of a cup other than that of sin, we will choose to quench our thirst some other way.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Drinks have WHAT?!

Day 95: Friday

Morning, Tim!

I’m in a class on the US Healthcare system with students from numerous academic areas — business, law, public policy, social services, and medical. It’s a remarkable experience to have each of those perspectives represented in a dialogue.

We recently had a delightful conversation about social determinants of health, particularly within a rural setting. Social determinants are all of the things outside of your actual health that impact the person — their ability to retain housing, get transportation as needed, obtain food, clothing, etc. Coming from the business side of things, I’m always pleased when I hear others so passionate about others — thinking about how to set up society for human flourishing on a macro level while making a significant difference on particular individuals on a micro level.

Our dialogue around social determinants quickly turned to responsibility (and for good measure, genomics was brought in to make sure we had clinical determinants!). Questions ranged from personal responsibility — how much should the individual be held accountable for their own health — to that of a society, which naturally had substantive dependencies on the answer to personal responsibility.

Responsibility is fascinating. We each want to believe we have so much control, and act accordingly. We take credit for our actions (at least when good!) and blame others for theirs. We hand out awards for success, perhaps even a shiny medal. Yet, at the same time, we recognize that this responsibility might be overstated. When pushed, we recognize that there are myriad factors that impact each of us, shaping how we act, shaping who we become.

One of those factors for me was my childhood spent in a rural setting. I learned a lot there. I learned about simplicity, about living within means and not in abundance. I learned about working with your hands, about hard work. I learned about taking care of others in the community, because that’s what neighbors do.

There were also things I didn’t learn. Like that drinks had calories.

Tim, I didn’t learn drinks could have calories until I went to college.

Yes, we are shaped by much around us. And for some, that impact is particularly negative, and something we should strive to recognize and address. Yet the story doesn’t end there — for others, there are opportunities to be uniquely positioned to make an impact.

I’m feeling a weight to think more about rural healthcare. There’s got to be a way to bring health and vitality to rural communities.

Or at least let them know that drinks have calories…

Until Monday,

Zak

Rye bread

Day 87: Monday

Morning, Tim!

My apologies for being a bum correspondent last week! A better week ahead.

There were times when I would get stressed growing up. My mom was very kind about it, reminding me that I only had one day to get through that day. In fact, I couldn’t do anything about those past, nor solve for those ahead. If I put my head down and pushed through doing the right thing today, I’d be set.

Coming from my mom, I used to think this was fantastic advice for those times. I used it throughout college to push through weeks where school and work teamed up to overload my schedule. What would otherwise be overwhelming wasn’t so bad if I focused on today alone.

I have come to learn that it’s a pretty good idea to simply focus on today each day, not just in times of stress or pressure. While certainly good to learn from the past, and countless wisdom literature discusses the need to plan accordingly for the future, it seems today has its own challenges. In times of stress, it may simply be getting through the work. In times of relaxation, perhaps choosing to spend the time in a meaningful way for the benefit of others, not just self. There are opportunities to run astray — to eat the cake; to watch all of the episodes of that season, not just one; to slip into complacency when others could drastically use your help. Each day we have a lot to do, and most days we don’t get it all right.

Give us this day our daily bread

There is a recognition of asking for help, an element of taking it day by day, and a reminder that sustenance in bread is perhaps more realistic than sustenance through cake.

Until tomorrow,
Zak

Flamingo and the Quotations

Day 83: Wednesday

Morning, Tim!

Let’s jump right in.

Yesterday:

I was born ambidextrous, so I know this first hand.

More like you were born ambidextrous, so, you know — both hands.

For our readers, that’s the best I’ve got today. What follows will almost certainly be downhill.

Zak, when I first met you, before you married my sister, I’m pretty sure you were under the impression that the Socratic method was not only for philosophy but also for socializing.  Actually I’m pretty sure that exact thought must have been going through your head during that season of life.

“I like your green tee-shirt.”

“Thanks.”

“Is green your favorite color?”

“Um… actually, it is.”

“And why’s that?”

To clarify, is that how we became friends? Because I’m pretty sure with your sister it was the purple dress 🙂

do love to socialize that way. What’s your favorite this? Between these two (ridiculous) options, which would you choose? How many X do you think you could fend off before Y happened?

And you got it right — the money question follows: “Why”?  We get a glimpse inside someone’s head, how they reason, feel, communicate, react. By beginning with ‘random’ questions there is an innocence to that barrier slowly eroding — the opposite of global warming, if you will.

Zak, in other letters I’ve often bemoaned the lack of sound advice to be found in classical literature for picking up girls.  It turns out I’ve just been reading the wrong books all this time.  The Greek philosophers certainly didn’t let you down.

Not a lot of commentary here. I just really appreciate this observation. A hearty laugh burst out when I read it. It rings just as true this morning and makes me smile.

I agree we can’t always take the advice of Greek philosophers — that why may only get you so far. But hey it got me to the girl, and for the rest, there’s that faith thing you mention.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

p.s. I realize I mostly just commented on your post yesterday. I had originally wanted to write about why curiosity was a good thing, and to some degree, I suppose we’ve suggested the benefits of being curious. But your post yesterday was just that good that I couldn’t help myself – my brief musings on curiosity simply wouldn’t have been as good.

p.p.s. I’ve had this thing lately where I’ve been acting like a flamingo. Your sister has been irate and told me to stop it. I didn’t want to, so I put my foot down. I guess she won anyway…

p.p.p.s. The title of this post kind of sounds like a really bad name for a band…

Control Freak Who

Day 74: Monday

Morning, Tim!

I really appreciated your capturing of The Importance of Being Named Ernesto – hilarious.

I wanted to start today with a knock-knock joke.

Knock-knock

Who’s there

Control freak, now you say control freak who

It’s tough to not be in control. I tend to think I can do it better than others. Oh, you’re looking something up on your phone? I should too — just in case. Or research that purchase. Or find it in the cabinet myself (…after you already said we didn’t have any left…). I’ll make the decision on when a work product is good enough, when and if we should meet to get further input. If people would just let me do it, it’ll turn out better!

But come on, that’s not even close to true. First, I don’t have the time to be that great at everything. Second, even if I did, I’ve proven myself time and again to be terrible with control, as evidenced by my waistline, grades, or lack of recognition by Todd, the front desk guy at my gym. I make mistakes times and again, and yet grasp for control all the more.

“Autonomy and control are cardinal virtues of the west” – David Brenner

There are gobs of self-help books. We also have a pretty good idea of the things we should be doing — be it exercise, education, sleep, putting down our phones more often, caring about others more (and not just in an academic or theoretical way…). So why aren’t we able to do these things, simply by ‘willing’ them?

I’d propose that by ‘willing’ we often mean lacking desires that are often against what’s ultimately best for us, and, when they do appear, be able to deny them anyway. In the case of cake, wow is that stuff good. But I probably shouldn’t eat 3 pieces. In fact, it would be best (…at least easiest…) if I didn’t have a desire for 3 pieces, but rather just one. Moreover, if I did desire 3 pieces, it would be great to say no. That would be control, an exercise of will.

Within that example, we need two things. The first we already noted was a sense of control, the ability to act on the ultimate desire. The second, then, is the actual desire we want to act in accordance with. I think that’s a confusing piece — because if we have ever changing second-order desires (the things we want to desire), then we don’t have time to build the habits necessary to actualize those.

Changing our second-order desires is ultimately like building habits. They take time and commitment, and only truly change if built over a period of time.

As a Christian, this is actually a beautiful thing. It means that we get to set our second-order desires once — in alignment with Christ — and then spend the long hours, full of falling short, in relationship with God ever-marching on. It’s by ceding our control that we actually might change into what we’d like to become.

Until tomorrow,

Zak

Life Abundantly

Day 69: Monday

Good morning Zak,

So I don’t know if you would count blogging as social media, but aside from this blog I pretty much have no presence online.  I don’t do social media.  This is a part of the hipster wannabe in me.  If everyone’s online, I’m not. If everyone likes milk chocolate, I prefer dark chocolate.  Everyone gets their Masters at home, I travel to Italy, etc.

The only downside to abstaining from social media is that it means I miss out on a lot of information.  In Milan there are sometimes weird hipster concerts with zero publicity, but you can hear about them if you’re in the right social media circle.

In your last entry:

“How can [we] use these tools for good — to help others — and not be addicted and lose [ourselves]?”

But there definitely are upsides to being out of the loop.  For one thing, not having direct access to information means that I have to rely on personal human contact to find out about stuff.  Sometimes people realize this and make a point of reaching out to me personally.  Maybe that means I’m a burden on society.  I don’t know.  Frankly I don’t care.  Human contact is worth the extra effort.

I know connection is supposedly the whole point of social media.  But maybe there’s a difference between mere connection and actual contact.  Like, I don’t think everything humans do has to be useful.  Human contact isn’t necessarily about having access to information or gaining a certain number of likes.  It can also be an end itself.

Luigi Dallapiccola used to wear a full suit and tie whenever he sat down to compose music.  He was completely alone; there was no one around to “like” his suit, but he did it anyway.  It was a ritual he needed to do for himself as an artist, not for any practical reason.

As a brief aside, anyone acquainted with the daunting eloquence of Dallapiccola’s music can totally picture him doing something like that.  I’d be more surprised to find out he didn’t wear a suit.

Anyway, I know people do a lot of really cool stuff online too.  I’m not informed enough about social media to really have an opinion on it.  But, Zak, I do have opinions about blogging.  I think we should use these tools to cherish the uselessness of being human.  Life isn’t about getting ahead.  It’s about living.

“I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

Until tomorrow,

Tim