Something Small Everyday

This, from Austin Kleon, is exactly what I needed to hear today:

It takes time to do anything worthwhile, but thankfully, we don’t need it all in one chunk. So this year, forget about the year as a whole. Forget about months and forget about weeks.

Focus on days.

The day is the only unit of time that I can really get my head around. Seasons change, weeks are completely human-made, but the day has a rhythm. The sun goes up; the sun goes down. I can handle that.

I needed to take some time away from my thesis writing and reading — the end of the school year, along with the normal, daily busy-ness that comes with family and work life, led to the need for a little break. However, I’m finding it eminently difficult to get back into the hard work of reading every night. The inertia of the last few weeks is weighing heavy on my will.

So, what’s the solution? Well, I think it’s a perspective-shift. First, I need to actively understand that getting back into the work won’t feel natural or easy. In looking for the path of least resistance, my brain would much rather rewatch The Office than read a book called The Paradoxical Rationality of Soren Kierkegaard. Second, I need to lower the expectations which I have placed on myself I cannot immediately revert back to three hours of reading per night when I haven’t been doing that recently. Instead, I need to use the tactic of simply “one small thing, every day.” Kleon again:

Figure out what your little daily chunk of work is, and every day, no matter what, make sure it gets done.

Don’t say you don’t have enough time. We’re all busy, but we all get 24 hours a day. People often ask me, “How do you find the time for the work?” And I answer, “I look for it.” You find time the same place you find spare change: in the nooks and crannies.

Let’s get back to it, one step at a time.

Healthy Social Media Habits

I don’t really know how to have a healthy relationship with social media. Well, not all social media. Facebook and Instagram hold little appeal for me. In fact, the only reason I even have a Facebook account is because I’m going to be doing some social media work for Life in Deep Ellum during my practicum. That work will end in May, so my plan is to completely be rid of Facebook by the end of May (and by that I mean, actually delete the account). That’s really only because of my concerns about privacy and social manipulation that a platform like FB is capable of).

Instagram — I don’t know. I don’t really use it very much, and it’s like that happy-clappy part of the internet that seems to do little harm. It’s at least a little bit nice to look back at my own account and see something I thought was worth capturing on a specific day.

Twitter is a whole other problem for me. I don’t really know what it is about the platform that draws me. Perhaps it’s my ability to connect with people outside of my own circles, or at least see what people in the field of theology/philosophy that I respect are writing and thinking. Maybe it’s the ability to quickly write off a thought without thinking about it. The problem is, I don’t even have the Twitter app on my phone, and yet I still find myself with an open Twitter tab in Safari all the time. I also sit in front of a computer most of the day, so it’s really easy to keep a Twitter tab open and hop on it.

The problem is obvious: it’s distracting, and easy to open and scroll through when my mind hits the “boredom wall” or the “lack of focus wall.” If I hit a point where I need to sit and think — about a project or an email or whatever else — my natural tendency is to avoid that intense focus if there is an easy-to-find distraction. Further, I can’t deny that I really like being up to date on the goings-on of the day.

I think I know what the answer is. I’m just not quite ready to admit it yet.

Post-Resurrection Life is Often Ambiguous

I gave a short, post-Easter Sunday talk today in one of the smaller class chapels today at SAGU. Here’s the manuscript (ish):

Post-Resurrection Life is Often Ambiguous

I’d like to start today by being a little bit vulnerable. I hope that’s okay.

Some of you probably know who I am, but if my hunch is correct, I haven’t met or interacted with most of you. And certainly none of you really know my story very well. My name is Chris Baca, and I’m currently the Director of Student Billing here at SAGU. I also graduated from SAGU in December of 2012 with a degree in Theological Studies. For the most part, while I was a student here, my goals after school were either to become a professor of theology, or a pastor, or do some mix of the two. As you can see, that’s… not exactly what happened.

In fact, while I was still a student here, in the summer of 2011, I started working in the same office that I work in now. Back then, it wasn’t called “Student Billing,” but “Accounts Receivable” (which sounds really formal and intimidating, so I changed that as soon as possible). Anyway, after a series of events in my own life — getting married, having two daughters, going through several faith crises — I found myself, well, stuck. Working in the Student Billing office was never my intention. I mean, what kid hopes to be a money collector when they grow up? (If you did, that’s really weird)

In any case, I spent most of my time, for MANY years frustrated, bitter, and anxious that I didn’t seem to be going anywhere. I felt like I had no way out, and each day, I found myself doing a job that I didn’t want to do, day in, and day out, over and over and over again. I had to have (and still have to have) lots of tough conversations with students and parents, often about financial situations that I sometimes didn’t have a very good answer to. Not only that, but most of the time, I didn’t feel like the work that I was doing was meaningful, and I felt like I was above it.

I grew up in the kind of culture that made me feel like my life could only be meaningful if I was doing something big and extraordinary – my big “calling.” Every day, every moment of my life was meant to be spiritually significant, or I wasn’t really living my life for Jesus. And when that didn’t happen — when I didn’t seem to be on a path to do that BIG THING I thought I should be doing, that sent me into a downward spiral of fear, and anger, and disappointment.

Based on my experience the last few years, I think humans have two ways of approaching life. On one side of the spectrum there are people who essentially view life as not having any inherent or overarching meaning. Each day is essentially no different than any other day. There might be some relative highs and lows, but in the end, our lives are ultimately not really significant.

On the other side of the spectrum (and I think this is the direction most of us in this room tend to lean), there are people who think that every single day, even every single moment is ultimately significant and meaningful. That doesn’t mean that they’re “amazing,” — simply that each and every moment of their lives are understood as eternally or cosmically significant. And most of us that have grown up in the kind of culture that demands that we be “on fire for Jesus” experience life this way.

During my time working in the Student Billing office, my problem was this: one end of the spectrum ended up pushing me to the other end. I spent so much time as a teenager and twenty-something year old thinking that my actions and career and day-to-day life had to add up to this big, extraordinary thing. When that didn’t happen, my frustration and bitterness led me to the other end of the spectrum. Eventually, each day seemed not so different from the last. Life, at least for me, wasn’t all that significant. I had difficulty finding any kind of ultimate meaning — in my life or in anyone else’s.

I think both ends of the spectrum are poor ways to approach life. There may be some element of truth in each of these approaches, but neither provides a healthy way to understand the day-in, day-out realities of each of our lives. I found myself thinking about this during and after the Easter service at my church yesterday.

The Resurrection is a beautiful, victorious occasion — the thing that God has done that redeemed and still redeems the world that we live in. You would think that, after the Resurrection of Jesus, the world would have immediately, obviously, irrevocably changed. But what bothers me about the end of the Gospels is that… well, it simply doesn’t. Let me read a passage out of Luke for you:

Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles[a] from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him. He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?” They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?” “What things?” he asked.

They go on to have a conversation, and then:

As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him,and he disappeared from their sight.

This is a little bit strange, right? The God of the universe, made flesh, has died on a cross, and performed the miracle of all miracles by rising from the dead. And then, he hides himself from them! These disciples are going about their regular business, walking on the road, eating dinner with a stranger, and all of a sudden, they realize the guy they’ve been hanging out with is Jesus, whom they know has been crucified. And then he just disappears!

This is how Luke chooses to talk about life, post-resurrection. It’s a beautiful thing, something that changes everything. And yet, somehow, it changes nothing. Life goes on. The world still turns. The disciples’ regular, daily routines are normal, but interrupted by the living Jesus.

I think this is an indication that God doesn’t operate by our rules, or by the spectrum I mentioned earlier. The whole world has changed in an unbelievable way, and yet, God doesn’t turn the world upside-down. Not every moment is this grand, significant experience. In this story, God is showing up directly within the mundane, daily tasks of the disciples.

So, at the end of all of this, I just want to remind you that, even after what may have been an incredible Easter Sunday for you, God rejects this spectrum of approaches to life. Life won’t always be this extraordinary, awe-inspiring experience. Neither does it have to be ultimately mundane, meaningless, or arbitrary. Even in a post-Resurrection world, most of us are called to routine, daily tasks. Some of us are called to do jobs that may not feel all that spectacular or special or impactful. But the reality is that the Resurrection redeems even those things. God meets us there, though his face may sometimes be hidden.

Make Goals, Not Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions kind of suck, and I think we all know that. Probably most of us have the experience of making a resolution to “lose weight” or “eat healthier” or “exercise more” or “read more” or “watch less TV” or… (the list could quite literally be infinite). The implication of this repetition every year, however, implies that we find some inherent goodness in the notion of resolving to be better. I find myself around every new year in a pensive mood, dreaming of the person I’d like to be, the things I’d like to do. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I think it can be meaningful for us to decide there is something we’d like to accomplish within a given amount of time.

All of that said, this year, I decided to make some goals for myself for the year 2018 (not resolutions!). These were tangible things that I wanted to be able to look back on in December of this year and say “that’s something that I did.” Resolutions are typically vague or ambiguous, which makes them either difficult to recount or difficult to stick with. My goals for this year are as follows:

  1. Finish my M.A. and ace my thesis (I’ll admit – the finishing the degree is a bit of a “gimme,” but it’ll still be quite the accomplishment).
  2. Complete a 365-picture per day project with Elaine (blog/Instagram and details to follow shortly!).
  3. Keep a daily log.
  4. Build a backyard fence and do a landscaping renovation for the backyard (and the front yard if time/money allow).
  5. Eventually work up by the end of the year to the following weekly exercise routine (with exceptions on tough weeks):
    • Run four times per week
    • Yoga twice per week
    • Bodyweight fitness routine twice per week

While these are all things to “do,” my hope is that each of the goals reflects an aspect of my personhood that I want to either change or grow. I want to do better at remembering, I want to do deep research in topics that interest me, I want to be the kind of person that cares about the things given to me, including my home and my body.

Let’s go, 2018.

 

The Act of Remembering

I wonder if the act of remembering, or attempting to remember, one’s life — actively — is a form of meditation. It seems to me that remembrance is a way to slow down, think on the wonder of life and the gift that it is to exist.

One of the things I have learned about prayer over the last year or so is that prayer is (to be cliché) more about myself — changing my internal reality — than it is about asking God to do things for me. The words that I use now are centered around gratefulness, repentance, and intentional reflection on my perception of reality.

In order to continue to practice this act of changing my internal reality (or at least being intentional about reflecting upon the way I perceive it), one of my goals for 2018 is to keep a daily log. Nothing intense, nothing majorly time-consuming. Just a quick look back upon my day, what I did, what I felt. I’m hoping to record something every single day, and be able to look back at a year’s worth of days. And my hope is also that, in remembrance of my days, I am able to grow in gratefulness, graciousness, and slow living.

The Holidays

At their best, the holidays are a reminder that we are loved and known.

At their worst, they contribute to emotional and mental anxiety more extreme than the kind we experience in our day to day lives.

Sometimes, the extreme ends of this emotional spectrum are experienced within the same day, the same hour, the same minute. And yet still we have some inclination that this time spent with family is not only necessary, but good. These emotionally intense times have the potential for providing us with a context of meaning, a web of significance, in which we can embed our regular, daily life. They help us to experience the mundane as meaningful and the normal as extraordinary.

Saying “I Was Wrong” is a Pride-Killer

I’ve been married for over seven years now. Within the next few years, I will have known Elaine for more than half my life (and we basically knew that we were “together” almost the moment we met). We met when I was 15 years old, about to turn 16. As a young teenaged boy, I was often foolish and arrogant. I refused to take the blame for things that were obviously “not my fault.” I was easily angered, and very immature. I’m really lucky that Elaine stayed with me through all of that — she somehow could always see the man that I could become (the man I am still not now, but slowly growing into each day).

Through some of that arrogance and anger, I quickly learned in my relationship with Elaine one key thing that I think has held us together all these years. This thing has made us not only remain connected and close, but has also helped us through difficult personal hardship. It is simply this: I’m willing to tell Elaine “I’m sorry,” and “I was wrong.”

Apologizing is easy enough (though maybe not for some people). I frequently make dumb, selfish mistakes, or simply do not think at all. Saying “I’m sorry,” is one of those practices I attempted to develop long ago, knowing that it was simply important for me to recognize and own up to my own faults.

The second one, I tend to think, is more difficult for most people for a few reasons. First, saying “I was wrong,” is a pride-killer. Apologizing can theoretically happen without the admittance of wrongdoing (or wrong-thinking). Admitting you are wrong is an immediate way to both humble yourself and show your spouse that you are more interested in reconciliation and connection than in maintaining your “rightness.” And even more — I think this is true even when you think you’re right.

Attempting to force your spouse to see that you are “right” in an argument or in some situation where the both of you are on opposing sides will rarely — if ever! — result in reconciliation. There have been many times in my own life with Elaine when I can see that she is visibly upset about something I have said or done, and in the moment, I thought my actions were not only acceptable, but correct. However, I also have learned that my own sense of “rightness” in that situation (i.e., my pride in being objectively correct within the argument or action taken) was far less important than letting her know that emotional connection and reconciliation with her were more important. I value connection with her at the expense of my own pride. I value reconciliation with her at the expense of some false sense of “rightness.” Even if, in that moment, I am completely convinced that I am right and she is not.

Responding to the Latest Twitter Outrage is Not My Job

From Alan Jacobs (way back in January 2016!):

  • I don’t have to say something just because everyone around me is.
  • I don’t have to speak about things I know little or nothing about.
  • I don’t have to speak about issues that will be totally forgotten in a few weeks or months by the people who at this moment are most strenuously demanding a response.
  • I don’t have to spend my time in environments that press me to speak without knowledge.
  • If I can bring to an issue heat, but no light, it is probably best that I remain silent.
  • Private communication can be more valuable than public.
  • Delayed communication, made when people have had time to think and to calm their emotions, is almost always more valuable than immediate reaction.
  • Some conversations are be more meaningful and effective in living rooms, or at dinner tables, than in the middle of Main Street.

Repeat after me: It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story. It is not my job to respond to every outrageous news story.

Jacobs’s last three points, for me, are the most freeing (and perhaps slightly condemning). We need to find more value in in-person, private, delayed, thoughtful conversation over online, immediate communication. Those conversations are not only less likely to be heated and fruitless — they are more likely to be meaningful, beneficial to our smaller communities, and more likely to effect change.

Music and the End of the Year

I always love looking back on my music-listening at the end of the year. I use Spotify frequently, and for the last two years, it has provided me with a list of my most-listened-to songs. They also added a few other features by letting me see my top artists, amount of listening minutes, and so on.

While I wasn’t completely surprised by my list of top artists, there were a few things that caught me off guard. The primary one? Yo-Yo Ma was my top played artist of the year. He beat out Kendrick Lamar, Chris Thile, Lorde, and Mutemath. I couldn’t help but wonder how that could possibly be — I don’t remember listening to Yo-Yo Ma quite as much as I listened to the other artists. And then I realized that a large portion of my listening in the spring and summer revolved around non-lyrical music. I was doing a ton of reading and writing for a couple of my classes, and needed music in the background that wouldn’t distract me. Thus the Bach: Cello Suites album by Yo-Yo Ma took up a bunch of my listening time. This little bit of data analysis helped me to remember a significant part of my year (listening to Bach coupled with research) that was buried in memory.

Another thing I love about the end of the year lists is listening to those top 100 songs on shuffle. It’s a little jarring as it jumps from “DUCKWORTH” by Kendrick Lamar to “Still Feel Like Your Man” by John Mayer. But something about it feels right. I have always loved the eclecticism of my music tastes — on any given day I’ll listen to a bluegrass album, a hip-hop album, and a pop album. The shock of jumps between these genres in the space of a few minutes reminds me of the diversity of music I enjoy.

A Good Dog Died Today

We named him Pedro Sanchez Daugereau because my brother and I loved Napoleon Dynamite.

In the summer before my senior year of high school, my mom surprised my brother and me when she got a tiny puppy Italian Greyhound. He was small enough that he almost fit in my two hands clasped together. On the first day we had him in our home, my brother and I were playing with him in the living room at the top of our stairs. I got him riled up, and he tumbled down them like a rag doll, end over end. I can still remember the yelping and the way my little brother cried and was terrified that something terrible had happened. But Pedro was okay.

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I can also remember Pedro being my responsibility at night. We attempted kennel training, and my patience was thin as a 17-year-old. I can remember getting up in the middle of the night to try and get him to go outside, and him refusing to do so, especially when it was freezing cold. I would toss him out in the snow and not let him in until he went. Not my proudest moment.

I can remember him sunbathing in the Alaskan summer months in our backyard, the way he lazed around during those long summer days when the weather finally got warmer.1930599_29867328831_1385_n

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I remember the time when Pedro stuck his head through the posts in the railing of the stairs leading up to our front porch. The rails were further apart on the bottom than they were on the top, so when he lifted his head up, he got his head stuck and lost his mind. You could hear the yelping throughout the whole neighborhood – it sounded like we were torturing him.

That was how Pedro was. He was quiet and lazy and loved sleeping under blankets. I mentioned we struggled with kennel training – mostly because I ended up just letting him sleep in the bed with me. He wouldn’t want to get up in the mornings, so when I tried to wake him up he would stretch his legs out and push against me as if to say “Not yet, five more minutes!” But then he was kind of a weenie. Any slight pain or scare would make him yelp.

I can remember when he somehow learned how to smile, and he only did it to the people he was really excited to see. Every time I came home from college, he would stretch his whole body out to reach up to me, and then raise his lips and show his teeth in the excitement in a way I had never seen a dog do.

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Pedro was a good dog.

I’ll miss you Pedroboy.