I’ve got the joy, joy, joy, joy… By: Charles Westerman

January & February have offered a lot of opportunities to build character– breakups, lost wallets (finally found after a week and a half!), flat tires, seasonal depression, dainty paychecks, running out of gas because the gage broke, quitting smoking (again), hellacious colds, watching Colin Kaepernick make the Packers defense look like devouring a creme puff, our cheap vacuum breaking…

Needless to say, I’ve been thinking about Job a lot lately. But at 22 you don’t have time for pity parties. You’ve got an identity to find, a career doing something you love to make happen, muscles to build at the gym, and a healthy relationship with Christ to maintain.

Luckily I’ve got an amazing sister-in-law who challenges me to rise to the occasion. Thank you Tara for helping me remember the importance of stocking a heart full of thankfulness.

Below is the 101-things-I’m-thankful-for list. Written by a school bus driver living in Portland who bums around coffee shops in between routes trying to write his first book.

1- When parents go out of there way to stop and let me make my turn leaving the school.

2- The names in my “favorites” on my phone.

3- That moment when I drop my kids off and crank up Colin Cowherd.

4- Having a best friendship like Turk & JD.

5- Spotify. Spotify. Spotify.

6- Living four blocks from a cheap seat/indie movie theater (2-for-1 Tuesdays: tickets $2/piece).

7- How I never get sick of bananas or homemade sandwiches.

8- The “Right Away, Great Captain!” Trilogy– where literature meets musical form.

9- The loyalty of the Westerman-brotherhood.

10- Spending twenty hours a week doing what I love.

11- Eavesdropping on conversations in coffee shops.

12- Driving by the Rose City Skyline every morning before the sun comes up. Donald Miller described it as, “the Willamette River wears the skyline like a queen wearing a beautifully jeweled crown” or something to that effect. The imagery is amazing.

13- Imagery.

14- That moment once a month when all I want is a can of coka-cola.

15- Reading a book that makes you forget to look at the page numbers when you turn them.

16- The first day you wake up and realize your cold is gone.

17- The steam room at my gym… Or as I like to call it, “the think tank.”

18- Gas in the tank.

19- How every time I walk out of a good action movie I can feel my testosterone pumping and my confidence boosted.

20- Daniel Craig: my favorite James Bond.

21- The only piece of clothing I’ve bought since I moved to Portland– my golden-brown corduroy Levi’s.

22- True moments of wit.

23- Flirting with cute baristas.

24- The moment you realize you’re going to be able to pay your bills for the month.

25- How putting on cologne makes your posture better.

26- Old men talking about old music with a youthful gaze.

27- The lack of boring people in Portland.

28- Working to master the perfect School Bus Driver wave.

29- Great art on album-covers.

30- Swanky Christmas sweaters (with elbow pads) from Aunt Katie.

31- When my kids get my jokes.

32- Watching the ways people display their love for each other in a school bus yard.

33- My new friend Manny.

34- My super warm brown hoodie I’ve had since junior year of high school.

35- The comically looking naked fairy-lady riding a bike on a pack of playing cards (I mean… Who came up with that?)

36- Similes and metaphors.

37- Stories in the Bible that involve prostitutes.

38- Deep breaths.

39- My $15 queen sized fleece blanket from Target.

40- When people ask me what my tattoo on my wrist means.

41- My super functional $20 pair of big headphones.

42- Hour-plus phone calls with TJ.

43- People who genuinely want to listen to me play a song I wrote.

44- Capturing your mood with the perfect pizza toppings.

45- New pictures of Beck on Facebook.

46- When old people talk about my generation optimistically.

47- A hot shower in the dark of Winter.

48- When Brendon calls me out for being a lame human being.

49- Sally– our grandmother in Portland. Every time I walk away from an interaction with her I feel better about myself and life. I hope I have that effect on people when I’m old and wise.

50- Tossing the pigskin with Trav and Bren in the big empty parking lot next to our house and mastering the back shoulder throw.

51- The moment in the morning when the heaters finally get warm on my bus.

52- Places where you can see for miles.

53- Ted Talks.

54- Waking up everyday knowing my mom’s already covered me with the blood of Christ.

55- Not having homework.

56- Driving bus in neighborhoods that look like The Shire meets Beverly Hills.

57- That Jesus told us not to worry about tomorrow.

58- Breakfast sandwiches.

59- Well-made documentaries.

60- The dictionary app on my phone.

61- Wordplay.

62- Still being able to get a good men’s haircut for $9 (thank you Jenny the super noble/humble Asian lady).

63- Putting on a thermal shirt at 6 a.m. on a winter morning.

64- For reasons that would take too long to explain, my parking stall at the bus garage.

65- Days when my mood is copacetic with the typical gray winter day in Portland.

66- Blowing my nose.

67- Rooms with lots of windows.

68- A good bouncy ball.

69- How Travis can’t help but sing in a country twang.

70- Writing songs with my two best friends and how that’s a healthy way we can bond with each other.

71- Days where it’s clear enough to see Mt. Hood.

72- Moms Valentine’s Day cards with ridiculously long, genuine notes written in them about how much she loves me.

73- Everything you learn at 22.

74- The sound of myself typing.

75- Getting kissed on the neck.

76- The grumpy old man at the bus garage with the glorious, bushy Gandoff-white eyebrows.

77- Being reunited with my Mr. Rodgers cardigan after two years.

78- When they FINALLY call your number at the DMV.

79- Alkai Beach.

80- That “Fun.” won two Grammies this year.

81- Getting to be one of the only people in the world who witnessed Trav eat Indian food for the first time.

82- Extra crispy hash browns.

83- Having a spare tire.

84- Getting together with old friends from college.

85- Having a nice big room to pace around in while I talk on the phone.

86- A well written hit pop song (rare, but beautiful when it happens).

87- Taking the perfect dump.

88- Charles Woodson’s time in a Packers uniform.

89- Lebrons hot streak.

90- Pacific Northwest Architecture.

91- Three day weekends.

92- One on one chats with Max over video games.

93- Taking the Wandering Summer Road Trip and being blessed with the financial resources to make it happen.

94- Lunch meat.

95- Shooting pool.

96- The $25 Chipotle gift card Jonah’s parents gave me for Valentine’s Day.

97- Arthur’s Automotive and their $22 oil change services four blocks from our house.

98- Getting a free donut at Starbucks today

99- The way Brian Regan pronounces the word “volcano”.

100- Crushing an open mike night.

101- Faux blue roses.

Introducing: The Wandering Summer

Hopefully over the next 40 days, this blog will be a lot sexier than it has the past 100. Yes, my friends, this is me officially announcing that my grand road trip through the states is officially happening. This trip is the meat and potatoes of what I like to call “The Wandering Summer.”

My brother and I will be going through Texas to the coast and then to New Orleans over the course of the next two weeks. After that he’s flying out and I’m going across the Gulf of Mexico to see my some friends in Tallahassee (with stops along the way in any or all of Mobile, Gulf Shores, Pensacola and Panama City).

My friend Matt is meeting me in Tallahassee (fingers crossed) and then we’re driving up to the Carolinas for stays with friends there (including Myrtle Beach, again, fingers crossed).

Next I’m driving up to DC to stay with one of my best friends from college, TJ. After that it’s a little less planned out. Hopefully I can catch the Yankees v. Red Sox game in NY on the 18th of August. Hopefully I can catch a Brewers game on the way back home with my Uncle, his Girlfriend and her Daughters… you get the idea.

Anyway, I’m announcing this because I’m going to try and do a 200-700 word post on each day, so hopefully, in a sense, anyone who wants to can take the trip with me. There might be days where internet access is hard to get, or I’m just too wiped to do one, but damnit I’m going to try my hardest to make this happen. I’d appreciate your prayers as I will be traveling a lot of miles in some pretty hot weather (I’m thinking a breakdown in Mobile in August could get a little chaotic).

College Graduation: From the perspective of Steptoe Butte– By: Charles Westerman

You spend four years in college thinking about your graduation day… not once do you think about the day that comes after it. Saturday you’re finally putting on the cap and gown. You finally get that diploma in your hands and the wonderful weight of it makes you think you know what it feels like when hockey players hoist the Stanley Cup.  You hug your friends and kiss your mom. You order a pitcher of nice beer and for once don’t feel like your wallet is sinking its teeth in your keister as you put it in your back pocket.

Yeah. That day you thought about a lot. That day was what helped you bust out those last two pages when your brain felt like the toilet that was always clogged in your ever-to-authentic college house. That day had you signing tuition checks your ass wasn’t sure it could cash.  That unforgettable day of celebration was what let you tell yourself that all the forgettable, overscheduled, lonely days of college would be worth it.

Then that day comes. And yes, it’s great. But even after four years of overpriced learning, you wake up on Sunday and realized you never really learned the sun would still come up after graduation night. Such was the case for me upon graduating from Washington State University.

More than shaking President Floyd’s hand on Saturday, I’ll remember that feeling on Sunday morning better.  You wake up with one monotonous, terrifying and sobering thought: “So college is… over? Yeah I suppose it is. Right? Yeah… definitely. College is freaking donezo. Checkmate. Yahtzee. Gin. Kaput. So… I guess that makes me an alumni now huh? Oh shit. Alumni’s are supposed to have a decent paycheck. What’s that magic job website again? Monster.com? Why a monster? GREAT GOOGLY MOOGLY… I’m about to get eaten…”

In high school you graduate and then you spend the summer with your friends sucking the juice out of the last of the good ole days. You don’t really get that in college. The last six weeks everyone is so strung out with keeping up with their big senior projects and looking frantically for a job that you don’t have a lot of time or energy to do much reminiscing.

So maybe you get done with your finals on Wednesday and then you graduate on Saturday. Most all your friends who are younger than you leave three hours after their last final, and by Sunday at 5 pm, three quarters of the ones you graduated with have finished taking down their Bob Marley posters and are halfway to Seattle. It’s a queer, sad feeling. I’ve never said the word ‘surreal’ so much in my whole life as I did in the weeks following.

I rolled out of bed with this feeling and said hi to my parents and older brother Mick who had come to celebrate the milestone. Then one of my best friends in college – one of the ones I will be friends with for a very long time – TJ called me and said she was about to head out.

This was the girl whose apartment was on my way home from campus. I’d get done copy editing for the newspaper around 10 or 11 at night and call her up to see if I could stop by. We’d always promise each other we’d keep it to a quick 15 minute chat because we had both school and sleep to catch up on… 2 hours later we were no more studied or rested, but it was sure good to get all of our deepest worries off our chest. That’s TJ. The girl I could tell anything to. A person who I could show a part of myself that I thought unlovable and she always seemed to love me more for it.

One time my sophomore year I played her one of the songs I wrote about what I thought my Dad went through when his first wife died of breast cancer. When I got done I looked up from my guitar (that I’d kept my eyes glued to the whole time because I felt so vulnerable) and she was crying. She’d heard every word. She can empathize and be okay with feeling pain like that, and above all, I think that’s my favorite thing about her.

I drove to her apartment to say goodbye. Teej and I are never short on words around each other, but there was just too much to say to capture it. I wanted to cry but was too shell-shocked and exhausted from all the goodbyes and the “last times” that had been occurring in the last six weeks. I was sick of “last times.” We shrugged and we hugged and just like that — Snap! – TJ was gone.

Then my buddy Max texted me and said that he and his mom needed to get on the road and wouldn’t be able to meet us for breakfast like we’d hoped to.  Max is one of those friends like TJ’s a friend… only he’s a dude. My junior year when I lived right across the street from him, he’d easily come over two times a week so we could get down on Madden 11 (a football video game for you girls who live in a cave).

We’d “start a franchise” and pick teams in the same division, then we’d do a fantasy draft and play each other. We’d debate matchups and I’d always tell him that one of his go to picks, Kenny Britt (a proud owner of a recent DUI at the time), was way too drunk to drive or catch the football. The stakes weren’t as high as competing in organized sports in high school, but we channeled all our pent up competitiveness into those four hours a week. We’d throw on The Black Keys or The Temper Trap (a couple of times I even threw my controller) and let the trash talk begin.

Max even conspired with Mick to borrow my car to pick up his “cousin” from the airport in Spokane the week of graduation. Next thing I know he and Mick are walking into the coffee shop I was studying at.  Having my brother at my graduation meant a lot to me, and having Max take three and a half hours of his last week of college to pickup that big smelly thing I call my brother meant just as much. And just like that – Snap! – Max was gone.

I could write paragraphs like that for at least 10 other people, but I’m depressed enough as it is right now having told you about just two. It was this day that Pullman taught me one of its last and greatest lessons – and it taught me a lot of them in four years – but this day it taught me that you can stay in the same place, but when the people that made that place important and meaningful to you aren’t in it, you might as well be in Nairobi.

Still, my family and I went to breakfast as planned. I told myself that I shouldn’t feel sad. That I should feel grateful for the time I had and that I would see these people again. I told myself I should feel more of a sense of accomplishment– for Pete’s sake I’d just graduated freaking college! But that’s not how my slow processing head or extremely emotional heart roll. They need a week to process getting a second date cancelled, let alone finishing up one of the most important four-year chapters of my life.

So I sat at the Old European with three people who couldn’t have possibly been more clutch with their presence. The Old European is one of my personal essentials of experiencing Pullman. Most all of the people who came to visit me from home got their appetite for pancakes ruined because once you sink your teeth into an Aebleskiver… well it’s like eating Kobe beef, then being offered Cube Steak. It’s where I decided I was officially taking my talents to the Palouse when I visited Pullman for the first time my senior year of high school.

But even in this sanctuary of brunch, with my parents and my brother, three people who know me as well as anyone, I could not find solace from my sadness.  TJ was gone. Max was gone. A dozen other people were gone. It wasn’t something you could see. It was something you felt: Absence.

I get the feeling that my dad sensed I wanted somewhere to reflect and process – and more than that – somewhere that wasn’t Pullman.  On the drive to my apartment after breakfast he suggested we head up to Steptoe Butte. It’s about 32 miles north of Pullman. I’d never been there. It was on a list of about 200 other things my friends and I swore we were going to do some Saturday when we didn’t have a football game or homework or How I Met Your Mother to watch. Some Saturday when the weather was nice and you actually felt like getting out of bed before 10:30. Halfway through your sophomore year you realize you get about three Saturdays like that a year if your lucky. Anyhow, I’d never been to Steptoe Butte but I’d always heard the view was amazing.  And I don’t know how my dad knew it, but I just know he knew I needed a good view on this particular day.

We drove up to the top and for a kid who grew up in the wide open spaces of Wyoming, where a view for miles was always just a near hilltop away, being able to see out like that was more of a relief than when you pee after holding it for an hour longer than you should.  I went off by myself a little ways and lit a cigarette. My mom caught me halfway through, and on this day she just laughed and even took a picture. I finished my cancer stick and told her I was going to quit soon but at the moment it was too much to think about (I’m almost to the four week mark as I type this).

Mick and my dad eventually joined us and we talked very reflectively.  My dad always brings an incredible sense of peace and wisdom to situations like this. My mom — with her back rubs, encouraging words, and never-ending faith in me – never fails to come through. And Mick, with his jokes about how much of a girl I am mixed with statements about my talents that never fail to boost my confidence, did just those things.  It was a three-headed monster of love and support.

They too talked about their fears and anxieties up there on the top of the butte. My dad with his uneasiness and insecurities about running for State Legislature after getting hosed in his re-election for County Commissioner a couple years ago. My mom about her dad who has terminal cancer and her state program (the WBLN) that she’d helped run successfully for 15 years getting shutdown because of a lack of funding. And Mick trying to make the jump in career fields from paradmedicine to sports broadcasting.  It was good to be around other people who had fears and worries, and that weren’t 22 years old.

After that we prayed. We prayed about our own and each other’s anxieties.  We prayed for the rest of our family and I prayed like hell for the friends who had become my family at WSU.  In my family that’s how you deal with fear. You give it to God and you share it with each other, and at the end of the day — neigh by the end of college — I’ve concluded this method works.  It acknowledges your weakness as an individual and calls upon the strength of your community.

We stayed up there for awhile, and I couldn’t help but see the metaphor of the situation. Here I was. I could see for miles in all directions and I could go any which one I wanted to. It’s a cocktail of optimistic exhilaration and terrifying doom. The great American halfway house that college is over; now it’s time to go pro.  I decided right there that this summer I was going to embrace the uncertainty.

I’d applied for a one-year paid residency at a magazine in Chicago that I thought I had a real shot at getting so I didn’t look for much else. I had a letter of recommendation from one of the prominent former writers of the magazine as well as great ones from my journalism professor and worship pastor.  And I’m not gonna lie, I wrote the crap out of my cover letter; and my resume, though not built for most jobs, was very much built for this. They were even looking for a graduating journalism student from the Northwest specifically and WSU has the best program for that in the region.

I didn’t feel entitled to the job, but I have to admit I felt entitled to an interview; just a chance to show who I was in person and how bad I wanted it.  They never did call back. I called the lady who asked my professor to recommend a student for the resume at least 25 times getting only an answering machine each time. I left her two voicemails and sent a couple emails. By the end all I wanted her to do was pickup her phone and tell me I didn’t get it. The tooth for tooth side of me wants to drive to Chicago and put Crisco on her toilet seat…

I’m telling you this because it made the whole “college being over” thing that much more terrifying. I didn’t have a plan. But like I said, up on Steptoe I decided I was going to embrace the uncertainty. To take advantage of having a summer where it was acceptable to not be in school or have a real job. I decided to title it “The Wandering Summer” … but more on that later.

I came down from Steptoe still sad, but not as frustrated about that sadness, for I remembered another lesson I’d learned in college that I’ve mentioned on this blog before: sometimes you need to be sad… sometimes it’s healthy.

It’s often to the simplest ideas in life that are most effective.  So when you come to moments where you feel some perspective is needed, find the highest point within 30 miles of yourself, and do so.

Show, Don’t Tell– By: mOUNTbRENDON

 

There is statement that has become a cliche in about every writing class, seminar, workshop, etc. “Show, don’t tell.” It is perhaps the most significant advice a writer can receive, and I don’t think a writer can be reminded of this enough.

If you’re writing a poem about love…

Show, don’t tell.

If you’re writing a novel and want your main character to have a certain character flaw, say maybe obsessiveness…

Show his obsessiveness, don’t tell it.

If you’re writing a song about a man dealing with brokenness…

Show it, do not tell it.

It’s a simple statement, but it is extremely difficult to actually apply to your work. That is why we read Steinbeck, Frost, and listen to Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan. They mastered this craft and learned the art of great storytelling.

People respond and react to stories that give them the room to respond and react to. If you are telling a story and not showing a story, the audience is left little room to connect with it, and any  connection that is experienced is only surface-level.

Therefore, when you think of your life as a story, why would this not apply?

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t say things, that would be severely misinterpreting the statement, but even when you do say things, you should be showing. If you want to help attract other people to live great stories and live a great story yourself, you must show and not tell.

I had the  fortunate to grow up under one of the best dad’s anyone could ever ask for. The guy radiates greatness and anyone who has been around him long enough to get insight into his character immediately recognizes this. He is a freaking general in Army National Guard. And anyone who has been around him at all, will also realize that he is a man of few words. It’s kind of a Mount thing.

And so, growing up under his mentorship, leadership, example, etc. I was shown how to be a great man in a way that telling never could have equalled. I think I owe a lot of my understanding of this concept to him.

One of my fondest memories of him was when we were preparing for what was called the Half Pint Rodeo. I think I was around twelve years old at the time, maybe slightly younger, and this was my second year participating. The previous year, I had won what was the equivalent to the middle-weight event, the shetland pony, bare-back riding event. There was also the sheep riding and the cow riding. Looking at it now, the cows probably didn’t do a whole lot of bucking, but at the time, they jumped ten feet in the air with every stride. I was terrified of getting on one of them, but my dad knew that I was capable. He tried to talk me into it, but I wouldn’t budge.

“They’re HUGE,” I said something along the lines of. “I like the size of the shetland ponies better.”

My dad knew that words just wouldn’t do it, so he jumped on the back of the cow, grabbed the rope, and had his friend open the gate. He rode that thing like it was child’s play.

Unfortunately, I still didn’t budge, so it was all for nothing aside from a good laugh from all of us bystanders. I still regret not even giving it a try, especially now that I realize the implications of his actions. But it was just one small example of millions other like it.

And it was because of such actions, that I was able to see what he was serious about. It’s one thing to tell your kid that you’re proud of them for the numerous hours spent in the driveway playing basketball, it is another thing to try and learn the sport yourself when it was something you had very little knowledge of beforehand, so that you can show your support and your pride.

And I am ever thankful for that. Because I think I responded to such actions in a way that, at the time I couldn’t explicitly recognize.

Every little boy wants to be just like his dad. My dad may not have articulated what his values in life were as much as other dads, or what he might have wanted mine to be, but he was an expert of showing me those values.

And in not being explicitly told many things in life, I was forced to observe and to think about his actions. The moralities taught by my dad did not go in one ear and out the other, instead they started with my eyes and became deeply rooted in my brain. They became something more than language could articulate, which motivated me to live not by words, but by action, something I’m still and always will be trying to improve on.

I think that’s what well-told stories do and why I have found a love for reading. There is no music to queue you when to feel empathy and sadness for the characters. There are no special effects that allow you to sit back and have the intentions of its makers thrust upon you like a giant queue card. The readers are trusted to make that connection themselves. You put yourself into the story and that story, in a sense, becomes a part of you and vice versa. You invest yourself into it.

It’s personal and it’s intimate.

As a result, the influence is stronger and, once again, more deeply rooted.

There is a youtube video that has gone viral the past week or so. It is a man reciting a spoken-word poem. It’s title is Jesus > Religion. I think that this is what he is trying to get across and why it’s topped over fifteen million views. Because he is calling people, amongst other things, to show and not tell.

There seems to be a subtle movement creeping out of the American Christian church, because people are sick of others talking about being “a good Christian” and talking about loving others as they love themselves.

They long to for it to be shown.

Talk alone is not genuine, just look at politicians.

Actions are genuine, and that is where a large portion of the church has begun to fail. Because no one on the outside of any way of life where talk trumps action wants to join in.

Gandhi once said, “Be the change you want to see.” The key word is “be.” The more individual stories we have like my dad, where showing takes priority over talking, the more we are inspired to do the same and the quicker this overall story improves.

And so, my message to you,

Show.

Don’t just tell.

A Reflection On My Previous Life Chapter, Part Two: The art of becoming genuine

By: mOUNTbRENDON

I was talking to one of my best friends the other day on cold walk back from a UW basketball game. One of the things I love about this friend is how similar our minds work. We frequently have philosophical discussions where we spend the entire time genuinely agreeing with each other. One would think that this would this sort of conversation would only be used to reaffirm each one another’s believes. Instead, this allows us to bounce off each other’s ideas and expand on our own. In a weird way, it allows us to challenge each other.

During this walk, we were both talking about faith, and what we believe. Each of us has found it difficult to believe what we believe. To struggle with where the church is today and to have such a hard time loving Christians (as silly as it is), while still believing in Jesus and considering ourselves, in fact, Christian.

We seem to be caught in this middle ground, where we have a hard time admitting our faith for fear of being judged as an irrational, cheesy, member of the modern day church. It has become extremely difficult for us to be open about our faith because we feel that, for the most part, modern Christianity has tainted the life of Jesus, rather than glorify it. We struggle with the fact that something so good, so sacred, and so holy, has been turned into a product. But that is another discussion entirely.

As I look back over the fall semester, I really realize that I learned the importance of honesty and what it takes to be truly genuine.

I think that the common denominator for all genuine people is that they never have anything to hide. They acknowledge their mistakes, but they are not ashamed of them. Most importantly, they don’t have secrets they feel the need to keep hidden from everyone else, which allows them the freedom to be open.

And open people inherently encourage other people to open up in some way themselves. They are willing to admit when they mess up and when they are struggling with a certain temptation and want to take all the steps necessary to move past it.

The other day, I was having trouble deciding over the morality of a certain action to take. I could not seem to be able to convince myself one way or the other, which, for better or worse, is often an invitation for me to take the riskier option. Once I started doing something else and turning my attention away from that decision though, as it often does, the answer came to me.

It made me realize that if an action would be something that you would be tempted to lie about to the people/person you love the most in 5-10 years, then you should most likely do the opposite.

For example, when forced to decide whether or not you should have sex with someone, think about if it is something you would want to lie about to your future spouse. It does not mean that you would actually lie about it, or keep it hidden from him/her, but it does mean that it is something that would cause you to want to do so.

I find that, for me, it is easy to convince yourself to do something that is questionable if you are only accountable to yourself. “If it ends up being a mistake,” I would tell myself, “than years from now I can face myself for having made it.” If you think about the other people in your life years from now, however, you are not just accountable to yourself. If it is something that I would want to keep hidden from the people I care most about, than it is not a mistake worth making because I could either hurt those people in some way, or I could keep it from them and allow myself to slip from a life of honesty.

Therefore, I want to be honest about my faith, especially since it is such a large aspect of my life.

During the fall semester, I took a Bible and Archeology class. This forced me question a great deal of things concerning the legitimacy of the Bible. I nearly gave up. I nearly surrendered my beliefs. But somehow, I was able to find peace in my beliefs and therefore expand and refine them.

(Say what you want about Rob Bell, but he was a large influence on me during this time thanks to his book “Love Wins.” It is not a book about universalism. It is a book that played a large part in, for lack of a better term, saving my faith. And I know that I am not alone in this.)

And so, I decide to “come out,” if you will. I realized that I have not been honest about my beliefs to a lot of people. I have kept them hidden out of fear of judgment, and of being misunderstood. I want people to take me as I am, not as a part of something I am not.

Below is a condensed look into my religious beliefs and conclusions and some of my philosophy on life. Because I want to be honest about them and I want to be as genuine of a person as I possibly can be. I do not want to have secrets.

I believe in God. I do not know what he looks like, how he sounds, or even how he works. Not at all. But I believe in him.

I believe that the Bible is a representation of God. It is not a perfect representation. In fact, it is filled with anachronisms, mistakes, misinterpretations, etc. But it is also filled with Truth. That is my belief. I don’t think we should hang on every word of it, but we should read it and let the stories impact us how they will.

And I believe that Jesus Christ, the Jesus represented in the Bible, is God’s son. I acknowledge that he is not the only person to have claimed to be the Son of God in history. There was Dionysus, Hercules, and even Alexander the Great. However, Jesus is the only of these who sacrificed himself for the sins of mankind and the only one to have conquered death. He is the only one who brought grace into this world and I believe that, even if it has been altered through human pen, his message, at its core is the best possible way of life if done right.

In the words of C.S. Lewis, “either the man was and is the Son of God [who he claimed to be]: or else he was a madman, or something worse.”

I do not believe any of this because I was raised in a church.

I believe this because I have struggled with it like a pedal bike struggles up a steep slope, but with obstacles like road blocking logs and crazy people yelling strange insults…or something.

The point is, I have spent most of my college career wrestling with religion and pin pointing its faults as well as its advantages. Call me cynical if you will, but I haven’t accepted everything I heard from someone just because he/she attended seminary.

I took classes where professors argued against Christianity and I took classes where professors didn’t care either way. I attended churches and Christian organizations that fueled my cynicism and that caused me to further question the state of modern day, Americanized Christianity. But I never questioned that there is something infinitely bigger out there than humankind. I have never questioned the unexplainable.

Though I understand why it is like this, this is one thing that scholars, particularly secular Biblical scholars do not account for in their studies.

The unexplainable. The fantastic. The miraculous. The divine.

In a classroom setting, I think that is fine to a certain extent. But this has to be acknowledged. Despite the strides science, philosophy, math, etc. has made in the past one hundred years, there is still plenty in this world that cannot and probably never will be explained.

For example, what makes music good? Why do certain note and rhythm combinations sound good to some people and bad to others? Where does creativity come from? How can people create things that, while making some abstract sort of sense to them, they still cannot coherently explain?

I believe that God is found in situations like these. And that is why I believe in God.

Because of this, statistics cannot explain his existence. And I am fine with that. He is beyond that kind of thinking.

I could probably write a book about my philosophies on this stuff, so I am going to cut it short there. This, in a nutshell, is what I believe, or at least part of it and this is because I have challenged myself to question them. I am perfectly fine if other people believe differently. I do not think it is worth the argument.

But I came to these conclusions because I did not refrain myself from taking a particular class because I knew the professor would say bad things about my beliefs. I understood that, if my beliefs were worth holding on to, then a little questioning and a little controversy would not take them away and vice versa.

Instead, the questioning, the controversy, and the overanalyzing have only made them stronger.

I think that there comes a point in mot people’s lives when they have discovered what it takes to live a good story, whether it is too late or not.

And I think that the more you put yourself out in the world and the more you face situations that require tough decision making, the quicker you will make that realization, and therefore, the better chance you have at living a great life as opposed to just a good life.

And I think that I have discovered what it takes for me because I have put myself out there and challenged every fiber of my being. I have faced situations where I had temptations to fall and didn’t fall. And I have faced situations where I fell. But I learned that the more I was in those situations and the more I made the correct decisions in those situations – the more I was able to look back with pride on my reactions to tough situations – the better person I became and the more I learned about life.

This semester, even though I had to learn the hard way, I learned the privilege I have to live life. It is something that is sacred, and I do not want to screw it up because this is my only opportunity to live a great story and the only opportunity I have to improve the overall story of human existence in some way, no matter how small.

And so I am challenging myself from here on out to follow through.

To not waste this life that I have been so graciously given.

To make the most of every opportunity.

And to not settle for just good, but to push myself to be great.

And I hope and pray that you do the same.

A Reflection On My Previous Life Chapter, Part One: Not settling for good and working for great.

By: mOUNTbRENDON

One thing that I love about college, and one thing that I will most certainly miss about it, is how it presents itself in stages. A college student has the luxury of living life one semester at a time. In other words, life comes in stages, which makes it easier for you to look at yourself at the beginning of the semester and compare that with the you at the end of the semester. There is a beginning stage and an ending stage three times a year (Fall semester, Spring semester, and summer).

This last semester was a particular challenging one for me. And it was challenging in a way that I have never faced before.

I began the semester, only a few short weeks removed from summer classes. I thought I was ready to be done with college and was convinced that I was ready to move one, that I got all I needed out of college. That should have alone told me just the opposite. And I let it get the best of me.

Last spring semester, I had worked so hard at becoming disciplined, figuring out how to best manage my time, and following my passions. Unfortunately, I did not carry that into the fall semester until I was forced to toward the end.

I didn’t care about being in school. I didn’t care very much about my classes and, more importantly, I didn’t care about doing the right things and about bettering myself.

I am a very analytical person. I analyze everything from the movie I’m watching, the book I’m reading, the person interact with, to the items in a food menu. Therefore, I am extremely indecisive with just about everything, at least until I’ve had a lot of time to think about it. And so, I seem to have to live life at a slower pace than most people. When someone asks me a question, or when I am faced with a decision, big or small, sometimes it will take me a week if not longer to find a proper answer or decision. Because I have to think about it – and analyze it.

I came to a point in my life where I wanted outside of my head. I hated this part of myself and I simply could not handle it any more.

Most people in college make a ton of mistakes. Big ones, small ones, stupid ones, etc. Not that I haven’t made mistakes in college, that couldn’t be further from the truth, but not your typical college student mistakes. I never got drunk and stayed out till three in the morning the night before classes. I never dated the wrong girl, got in with the wrong crowd, took shrooms before going to a concert, or even experimented with sex. College is a time when most people experiment, and often times, it is through that experimentation that they find themselves. Not this guy. I found myself by always being one of the first people to leave the party, sober enough to safely drive myself home. I found myself by analyzing every situation I was in for in particular day, how I reacted to each situation, and how I could react better in each situation. I found myself by analyzing my life day to day and the people around me like an entomologist would analyze the inner and outer workings of a new species of bug.

I cannot recall how it happened or why it happened, but near the end of last summer, I basically decided not to  like this part of myself. I wanted a way out of my head. I could analyze something to death only to find that someone else has a perfectly reasonable and justifiable opinion that is opposite of mine. I realized that 99% of the stuff I analyze just doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things and I began to believe in only a small number of objective truths about life. The rest didn’t seem matter. I wanted to get away from the me I had previously worked so hard to build up.

And so, I reached a point in my life where I (please excuse my language) just decided to say fuck it.

I didn’t worry about analyzing everything. I just reacted. I didn’t take care to slow down and live at the pace I needed to in order to stay true to myself, because that would entail lots and lots of unwarranted analyzing.

I just took things as they came and I tried to simply enjoy life as it was handed to me and, for good or bad, it started out better than I could have hoped for. I was having a ton of fun just living life.

As a result, I put having a good time ahead of living a good life.

And it wasn’t until I got a 33% on one of my midterms that it hit me like a punch in the gut. I needed a change. It wasn’t until I put myself in a situation where I thought I was most likely going to fail a class – an English class at that – when I stopped and thought.

And it took until now to get myself back to  a place where I want to be at.

I realized that I was living an unhealthy lifestyle for myself, that I was in an unhealthy relationship, and that my priorities were not where I wanted them. I was not making the proper decisions to make myself the best character I possibly could.

But even though I finally woke up and took back control of my life, it took a long time to get back to a place where I could look at myself and genuinely be proud of where I was and who I was.

Maybe I needed to go through that stage to get to where I am now and to learn the life lessons that I learned throughout the semester. For that reason, I am not proud of myself for having done some of the things I did, made some of the decisions I have made, but I do not regret any of it. I think I needed to go through that stage in order to really understand myself and really understand that the me I have been wanting to be, that the me I discovered last year, was without a doubt, is the best me I could possibly be working toward. It was and now is the best path I could be on in order to get the most out of my life.

I think that I could have still been a good person on the path I was on most of the semester. I do not, however, think that that me could have been a great person.

Last night, while lying in bed allowing my mind to do its thing; to analyze, I came to a strikingly powerful conclusion. I think I know what it takes to be a great person and how to do what it takes to do so.

I decided to divide this post into two parts in order to make it less overwhelming to read, but I am going to end it with one of the many things I have learned because of this semester, a preview for the next part. It is the thing that I realized last night.

Jesus said that you must “love your neighbor as yourself.” Like much of what Jesus said according to accounts given of him, this seems to be a fairly simple statement, but really, there is plenty for people like me to analyze. In order to know what it takes to love your neighbor, you must know what it means to love yourself.

To find that balance of self-worth and humility.

To be the best person you can possibly be in the grand scheme of things.

Here is the definition I wrote down last night while thinking about it.

“What it means ‘to love yourself’: to realize the privilege of life and take care that you are valuable to the overall story and possess a longing to do anything in your power to make yourself better.”

There are certain people you encounter who almost instantly give out the vibe that they are living a great story. You just know that they are a part of something bigger than themselves, whether they acknowledge it or not.

I think that, in every case, it stems from their ability to love themselves. They understand the sacrality and the privilege of life. They realize that each person only gets one story to live and are doing everything in their power not to waste that story in any way.

That is what it means to love yourself.

That is what it takes to be a great person, not just a good person.

Heros < Stories

By: mOUNTbRENDON

I just got done watching the movie J. Edgar. I thought it was a well-written movie. Not my favorite movie, but good. It’s about J. Edgar Hoover, the guy who basically formed the FBI into what it is today. Hoover was great at his job and from what I got from the movie that is hard to argue with. But it isn’t hard to argue over whether or not Hoover was a particularly good guy. He did things like taking credit for other agent’s arrests among others.I wondered why this was while I was watching and I new that there was more to it than just simply having a big ego. What was the cause of the big ego?

The answer dawned on me toward the end of the movie. Edgar worked as the head of the FBI till the day he died. He refused to retire and wore himself into the ground after nearly 60 years on the job. He didn’t trust anyone else taking over for him. In his mind, the success of the FBI was reliant on his position behind his desk.

Because he saw himself as bigger than his job.

He saw himself as bigger than his story.

And this is where his status as hero greatly lessened.

When you view your life as a story and yourself as a hero, I believe that it is extremely easy to do this, particularly when you find yourself having success like Hoover did.

But you cannot let yourself fall into that snare. You cannot let yourself become bigger than your story or else the gap between the good and evil in your life will begin to narrow.

You need to constantly humble yourself and remind yourself that you are not bigger than your story, but your story is bigger than you.

No one is bigger than his or her story. And no one’s personal story is any greater than someone else’s. To put yourself above your story is to put yourself above God. And I cannot see how that can ever become a good thing.

Whether you believe it or not, we are all part of the same story and the better story you can live, which means the more you understand that the story is greater than you, the more you can contribute to the greatest story ever created.

Friendship.

By: mOUNTbRENDON

I was lying in bed last night, waiting to fall asleep when suddenly I had several epiphanies.

So, I turned the light back on, grabbed my computer and wrote some stuff down.

This is one of the statements I found this morning in a word document:

“Friendship is found in the desire to be a part of someone’s story and the the desire for him or her to be a part of yours.”

Friendship is one of the greatest blessings we have on this earth. It offers accountability, support, encouragement, laughter, and among other things, meaning.

Look at every great story and there is some sort of great friendship.

Similarly, even though I cannot speak from direct experience, I think that every great marriage starts with great friendship. You have to be friends with your spouse in order to maintain you love for your spouse.

Are your friends contributing positively to your story?

Are you contributing positively to your friend’s stories?

I asked myself these questions today and I found some answers that I didn’t like and some answers that I did.

From now on I am going to approach friendships and dating with this mindset. I will ask myself daily, “How can I add to [insert friend’s name here] story?” How can I be the best supporting character I possibly can for him or her? How can I help them achieve their life goals, conquer their evil, their dragons?”

I have been extremely blessed to have had the opportunity to surround myself with amazing friends. Friends who make me better, who inspire me, and who push my good conquering evil ability.  The current supporting characters in my story are the best supporting characters I could ask for. I hope that I can somehow be the same for them. And I will try my hardest to do so.

I think that by using this mindset and asking ourselves these questions, we will become better, closer, more unselfish friends.

And I am going to apply this philosophy to the girl I marry as well. When dating whoever I end up dating in the future, I will ask myself if I want to be a part of her story, and if she would enhance my story as much as possible, if she would be that support that would push me at my darkest and hardest points in my story and if I am equipped to do the same for her. Then I will know if she is who I want to spend my life with. Then I will know if she can be my closest friend, and I hers.

Supporting Characters.

By: mOUNTbRENDON

Recently, I have been internally bouncing ideas around for my first attempt at writing a novel. I have also been reading a great deal of fiction both inside and outside of classes.

I think that it is obvious to say that a great story begins with a great main character. However, this character does not necessarily have to be likeable either. He/she just has to be interesting.

One thing I realized the other day was that not only does a great story need a great central character, but a great story also needs great supporting characters. Every character must contribute something interesting and unique to the story in their own ways.

This applies to life, and to living a great story. To take a page out of Donald Miller’s book, to live a great life, you need to live a great story. You are obviously the central character to your own story.

And a great central character needs great supporting characters.

So, surround yourself with great supporting characters; with great people who are living their own great stories, and your story will become even better.