miércoles, 27 de julio de 2011

How I Lost Faith in Our Times

My generation has grown up in a world where appallingly unethical behavior is the corporate norm. It may be cynical to admit that we are not at all surprised when the issue of corporate corruption arises. We may instead pontificate upon the advantages and disadvantages of offshore banking in classic powerhouses like the Caymans or the Swiss banks versus somewhere more fun to say, like Antigua and Barbuda or St. Kitts and Nevis, though the decision may be based less on economic stability, or greater financial privacy, or how well, say, interest income can be hidden from tax authorities, and more on which remote island nation representative knows how to respond when you ask them, "Who ya gonna call?"

It is in light of this generational cynicism that I sadly have to say, with a wisp of disbelief still, that my faith in society has sunk even lower. Perhaps the example I am about to bring you is just another inevitable sign of the world's downward spiral; maybe it is my fault I never prepared myself for this day. But everyone must come of age, and innocence, as long as any shard of it exists, never lacks a nemesis.

When we were kids, there was something which we could always anticipate, no matter what was going on in the dark days in which we found ourselves. You see, in many fine childhood wonder establishments such as Chuck E Cheese's or Discovery Zone and sometimes even certain Toys "R" Us stores, one could almost always expect to find a candy machine that would let you play until you got candy. Back then, before we were sucked into the maelstrom of lost dreams and cups labeled "Half Empty" and abandoned toys and scraggly forgotten Christmas trees that is Growing Up In The Late Twentieth and Early Twenty-First Centuries, we were disappointed when we didn't get the good candy! There was always a plant, bait, and it'd be Skittles or a Milky Way and the rest would be small consolation prizes like plastic rings or Tootsie Rolls. (Which are wonderful, don't get me wrong, but these Tootsie Rolls usually weren't the plump, moist ones, there were the dry, fill-up-only-half-the-paper ones. Plus, next to a fun-size pack of Skittles, a scrawny little Tootsie Roll don't stand a chance, ya know?) If only we knew how good we had it then! But we were young, and we can't linger forever in the salad days.

Memories of those fine candy machines still floated through my mind from time to time. What a great way to show kids that giving them candy is more important than some Evil Corporation taking their hard-earned, parking-lot-or-couch-cushion found quarters! But everything changed last week.

The setting? ****d ******n in College Station, Texas. The cast? Myself, my roommate of all four years, and his 12 or 13 or something year old sister. (Who, by the way, was our not so convincing excuse for finding ourselves in the waiting line for laser tag.) The plot? Short, but you'll understand. I look to my right to see a candy machine with (you guessed it, the infernal bait!) a deliciously colorful fun-size pack of Skittles. I look away. I look back, a glance, meaning nothing by it, innocent! I look away. Now it's in my mind. I must have it. Without a word I leave my comrades, load my card up with a dollar (a whole freaking dollar!) and swipe it in the machine. Not taking too much time to aim, I send the dinosaur jaw grasper claw down into the candy sea, and am not too dismayed when he is unable to grasp anything in his big clumsy plastic jaws; I have many more tries.

O! How wrong was I? He dropped an imaginary Sorry, Play Again into that candy chute and I watched in disbelief as the game reset. 50 cents blown, and no Skittles to show for it. Every vestige of that childhood innocence, sold for two quarters.

I was livid. I decided to go to the professional. I called the 12 or 13 or something year old little sister of my roommate over and solemnly explained to her the situation. -I have one more try left on this card, I told her. -I need those Skittles.

Needless to say, those big stupid plastic jaws were a conspiracy anyway; of course, the Powers That Be would design them so that THEY COULD NOT PICK UP ANYTHING!!! She tried, but the challenge was too much for even that seasoned candy machine pro.

Not to be deterred, I went to the candy game my jaded, cynical, desensitized generation knows well how to play, a place where my dollar will NEVER come away empty handed, where I ALWAYS leave victorious, Skittles in hand!! It unleashed my Skittles, which by this point I had to have or I would EXPLODE, from their spirally, metal little prison and plopped them down unceremoniously in the hatch. I left the vending machine and rejoined my companions and we played a pleasant little game of putt putt.

miércoles, 13 de julio de 2011

A Guilty "How's it been?" Phone Call

I have a habit of not being very good at staying in touch, and this always leads to these guilty "Heyyyy... so how's it been?" phone calls. That's how I feel about this blog; I see the link to it and I always feel this tug, like -Oh, man, Alex, you should really go give your old blog a visit. Give it a ring. See how it's all going. And so here I am, feeling guilty, and Mr. Blog is like, -Hey. Haven't see you around in awhile. It's been really, really lonely. When I am abandoned by both my author and lone reader all at once, it kinda hurts.

I'm sorry, Mr. Blog. I'm back.

So, the entree on the menu today is Shanghai. I'll be heading over there in a month. That'll give me some material to talk to you about, I'm sure. That's all it's been. Just nothing much going on over here on my end. I promise. I'd tell you if anything exciting was happening. This summer has mostly rotated around working in Houston, missing the girlfriend and dealing with related issues, and waiting till Shanghai. See? Nothing much to tell you about, that you'd be interested in, at least. I've been learning Chinese! That's fun, right? And German! I'm learning German partly because it's so much easier, and because I like it, but mostly because I want to try and spite Chinese because that language is so freaking difficult, and German is so much easier, and that's what Chinese gets for being so hard. And I'll run a half marathon in August! Ah, and the guys of the family just went on a big West Texas roadtrip! See, that's cool, right?

There have been some grand conversations this summer. There are large goodbyes that loom. I'll only be gone till Christmas, but in my mind... I'm leaving for a much longer time than that. We'll see, right? I've been in a mood where I'd love if there were some sort of melodramatic soundtrack playing in the background when I drive around. Something like A Long December by Counting Crows, or something more melancholy like We Did It When We Were Young by the Gaslight Anthem.

lunes, 24 de enero de 2011

Does God Cheer at the End of Our Rom-Coms?

One of my very close friends and I talked almost until the sun came up a couple of days ago. He told me of a girl he felt he had fallen for on a mission trip he went on over the winter break. We talked about the possibility of him going back to see her, about how his church would be taking a mission trip in the summer, and how he would think about going on it, but that he didn't want her to be the focus if he does end up going. Of course on the mission trip I agree that God should be the focus, no doubt about that.

At the same time, however, I couldn't help but imagine our Father looking down at us and (should He choose to give my chum the opportunity) cheering him on and rooting for him to fly over there and throw caution to the wind and win his newfound young love. And why not? Why wouldn't God root for love stories, cheer for the underdog, support us running against all odds, ready to break through walls, scouring entire cities at night, in an impossible attempt to find our co-star in the cheesy rom-com/action-dramedy-with-a-heart-of-gold-and-killer-ending about our life? Did he not pull the ultimate rescuing-the-beloved-bride move when he came to get us? He makes Leia's rescue in the Death Star look less exciting than a boyfriend picking up his girl from work. (Maybe she worked overtime and it's kinda late, but still.)

I think God comes off as too serious sometimes, too by the book, too responsible, too overbearing. I think He is serious and He wants us to live responsibly, of course, but I think He is also about some other things, things that may perhaps seem less conventional. Let's face it; this is the same God who had His people follow pillars of cloud and fire in the desert and listen to bushes that were on fire, who unashamedly nestled a book about sex right in the middle of the Bible, who had Samuel come back from the dead as a spirit to tell Saul some bad news (1 Sam 28), who had Abram just go from his home with no idea or plan or anything to believe on but God's promise, who told Joseph to pick up and move Mary and Jesus to Egypt through nothing more than a dream, and countless other random, obscure and totally unconventional things (see + below). I'm sure you can think of some other great examples. The greatest track of all on God's Greatest Hits is of course the masterpiece of all masterpieces, the symphony of symphonies, the cornerstone and completion of all the tracks in His extensive library, about how this same Father, loving the unlovable and the prodigal and the whore, wrapped Himself in human skin to redeem the undeserving, eating and drinking and living with us, then dying and rising for us, telling us to go to every corner of the planet simply to tell everyone about Him and love them like He loved us, unconditionally and till never, ever do we part.

Jon Acuff posted on his blog Stuff Christians Like about taking God seriously. He mentions that his personal tendency has been to take God very seriously, to see Him much more in that light, and seeing Him as the joyful One who sings over our our souls is maybe a bit more difficult for him.

It's the opposite for me. I rarely, if ever, think of the serious side of God before I see His joyful side. He is my kind, loving, and encouraging Father before He is my Master, worthy of my complete service and utter devotion. Obviously He is both; I just lack on the reverence aspect sometimes, which I think is extremely important. To use an (extremely limited and potentially dangerous but hopefully somewhat illuminating) analogy, it might be like if you were best friends with a rock star, but you are such good friends you forget how famous they are sometimes. Or if your best friend's dad is the king of some country, and you go to his palace all the time, and hang out with him and watch football and he makes you and your friend pancakes one weekend a month, you tend to forget he is king of so-and-so country and he is the one who governs and keeps everyone safe and makes everything run smoothly and puts people in jail there, who runs that world. For good measure we'll say he wrote the constitution too. He's a big deal. Anyway, as illuminated in the first few paragraphs, I tend to feel like He would support actions and stories of mine or my friends that may seem foolish or frivolous or foolhardy. His call to us is to make His glory known in all ends of the planet, in every nation, and sometimes foolish and frivolous and foolhardy things are exactly how He plans to spread His love through us. I don't doubt that He authors individual love stories as well, nor do I doubt that He cheers along as one of His bumbling sons rushes off into the sunset to win the girl of his dreams, to find the wife of his youth. (Girls, unfortunately, inherently know, and guys will admit as soon as they look at their wives, that there's divine intervention in there somewhere!)

Ben Stuart of Breakaway said that even how we view Jesus is a gift from God. I guess it's true for the whole Trinity, and none of us see Jesus or the Father or the Spirit perfectly. Not yet at least. He is both to be loved and revered, admired and respected, our Father to watch the game with and our Master to whom we give our lives. He never changes, it's just that none of us can wrap our peanut brains around the whole concept of Him right now. Perhaps, someday, God and us will laugh together about our intellectual ineptitude, about how we are barely more perceptive or intelligent than a jar of applesauce when it comes to fully understanding Him and His ways. Given the fact that He'll always be a million billion light-years sharper than us, however, He might be the only one that really gets the joke...

+On the other hand, He is also the same God who told us to live a quiet life, mind our own business, and to work with our hands (1 Thes 4) and that the best thing a person can do is eat, drink, and find satisfaction in their toil (Eccl 2), among other quiet and conventional advice... these verses are best for when we start to like sizzle and loud, empty emotion over steak and solid worship. (see ++)
++When I said "steak and worship" did you get hungry? I did. Steak at worship is a good idea. When you eat steak isn't it a pretty worshipful experience anyway? I know the entire time I eat a succulent rib-eye there's a constant stream of "Thank You"'s running under my breath...

jueves, 8 de abril de 2010

Spring! Summer!

I didn't write much in the previous season, and I haven't much in the present one. There are times that are like that, when you just don't really have the time or the will to sit down and record the story that is occurring. These are the times you write about later, when you have the wisdom and the years and the time to understand what was actually happening. When real things happen, in moments like these, it is enough to go to sleep and to walk home and to ride the bus each day and just be in awe of them, happening. I didn't write much in the previous season and I'm not writing much in the present one but I want to remember things, and so I keep snippets.

The spring came quickly to College Station this year, entered dramatically, debuted in direct contrast to the snow and the ice of the final leg of our spring break trip, when we braved a blizzard (it was really just a snowstorm, but my pride won't let me admit that such a weak tempest challenged my bravery so) as we drove through Missouri on the way home.

How quickly the spring was pursued by summer! On the walk from the bus, I walk by a bush that, just after spring break, had burst into bloom and clothed itself with an abundance of little white flowers that sang, screamed to you that ¡it was spring! Just a week afterwards, it was overgrown and the bush was full of the grungy weed-plants of Texas summers. The summer is so eager to usher its predecessor on to more mild climates, bristling with her humidity and proud heat. There is beauty to the summer too, of course. It's just that she is hasty to establish her presence here, and loath to abandon her post, when the time comes.

So the lesson is, enjoy the fleeting beauties and joys that do not, and cannot, stay long. In a time where one wonders how the cold heart can be made new, how the apathetic can be brought to care, how those who cannot love feel the tendrils and the shadows peeled away from their hearts by a simple song, in a time that finds me struggling with whether I can love enough to let go, there are spring days (like today) that seem to make all the brief stressors nothing more than thought-gnats who will be forgotten quicker than the hints of breeze by plucky blades of grass, stretching to the sun, reveling in the soft breezes of the news of summer-coming while spring whispers in mirth that she'll be in town for a few more days, and we'll hang out next year, and on the days in between, when summer isn't looking, and the temperature drops and the sun softens its rays just enough...

sábado, 23 de enero de 2010

This week the topic on my mind has been dating. After having just become FBO (FaceBook Official) this past week, I've honestly been unable to stop thinking about what all of this means, these youthful relationships and the losing and finding of dreams and passion and the sharing of life that is so necessary, be it among friends or "just friends" or girlfriend/boyfriends or long-term, extended Valentines. I don't know if opposite or similar attracts the most, or what the X-Factor is that attracts two people and makes checklists and desired qualities less than irrelevant. I do know that this has been a time of deep thinking, and I have learned several things that I think are important lessons for everyone.

1) You know those pink and white frosted and sprinkled animal cookies? No matter how good it sounds, do not buy a big bag of them and try and eat it in one night. Does this relate to dating? Absolutely. Does this relate to friendship? Definitely. Don't let someone you care about hurt themselves this way. It will make you feel like your insides are made out of pink and white frosting and little sprinkles have replaced your bloodcells and your skeleton is a tasty little cookie underneath it all and it makes you feel worse than watching Super Size Me after having just eaten a Mickey D's combo. And then you feel even more depressed because, somehow, in some sick and twisted part of your brain you still want some more...and those cookies are so very delicious...

2) Daniel once couldn't say "Massachusetts" for an entire day. He was seven but I still think it's funny.

3) There are no rules. Everyone, however, seems to have some advice on the subject of dating. There is good and bad advice and very, very bad advice. Honestly, though, no one really knows and I think we all know we don't really know, and even when someone thinks they know one should take this as a red flag because one DEFINITELY has no idea if one thinks it all understandable.

4) Despite the fact that there are no rules, you will break all of them. Even when you think you're doing something awesome, your girl will reveal to you later that you had it all wrong. And all there is left to do is bewilderedly accept that you will never understand.

There's a lot more to say but in the interest of protecting identities, aliases, date ideas and the like, I'll have to end this one off by saying:

5) When one is ice skating with one's date, it is SERIOUSLY not a good idea for both of you to close your eyes at the same time and skate down the whole side of the rink. You will run over someone and it will probably be a high schooler or a small boy whose mom will shriek and think about knocking you over. And cutting you.

That is all.

martes, 5 de enero de 2010

A Cold January

It has been quite cold in recent memory here in Dallas. I'm not used to it. I'm already prone to getting sucked into a comfortable seat/couch/bed and this cold weather makes it near impossible to get up and do menial annoyances like, say, going to the bathroom, and eating. It better get warm before classes start. The news said something about how it would be in the Teens*F, or below. I heard them say the world would be temporarily out of order and no matter how many quarters I put in the heater it would sit there and mock me and I should probably stay inside.

I think I'm going to get a haircut today. It scares me. Is that weird? Probably. I also have a dentist appointment. The haircut scares me much worse. Always has.

I don't think any of us have it figured out, when it comes to what we want to do with our lives (in the sense of dreams/aspirations/secret identities we'll someday use for defending truth and justice), or relationships and what love between people means. It seems normal to me to be thinking about this, a year out from graduating, but I don't think it stops, even once I get out of this safe little university-walled pinball machine. Maybe it'll always be a search, an in-motion journey. I just want to find something that excites me to wake up and do each morning.

If life is about extremes I feel like I've been bouncing from distant point to distant point. The extremes are obviously not two dimensional; this is polygonal and it's a seriously weird 3-D polygon. What are those called? I don't know. Anyway, the 3-D polygon isn't an easy one like a cube or a pyramid or one that's simple for thinking about or explaining. It's a shape that resembles an amazing fruit I found about two weeks ago. The picture is below. I'll leave a pause for a moment of complete befuddlement.

Yes! That is a fruit! How crazy is this? Just when you think you have life and all the deep questions figured out, you run across something like this! A Buddha Hand! It does resemble Buddha's Hand, or a citrus-y octopus, or the tentacle faced Davey Jones from Pirates of the Caribbean, as shown by this pic I found:

So, as I'm sure you have realized, with a satisfied, determined, and thoughtful nod to yourself, the Buddha Hand represents life. Sometimes we get lost in those twisted arms and get that citrus juice in our eyes and it stings. Sometimes the arm is like an old dry orange and tastes like dirt. But sometimes, we get a bite when it's just right, and the whole world is good.

I hope, in this season of re-evaluating our lives, that as we make resolutions about what we'd like to see change, and look forward as this brave new year begins, we can see this revelation and realize that sometimes, life is a strange, exotic, gross, tentacled, foreign, unsearchable, confusing, all-grays-and-"I don't know" 's-and-maybes, yellow fruit-beast. Under that gnarled but soft and smooth skin, however, maybe we'll find the simple sweet fulfillment, the Love for which we all search.

(Note: the Buddha's Hand is obviously not a good example for life comparisons, and is somewhat limited in its extend-ability to life and love and all those meaningful things. Mostly it is just a really cool fruit that needed to be shared. Thank you.)

jueves, 24 de septiembre de 2009

The Best Day of My Life

About a week ago, I considered how ludicrous some of the comments I say to myself are when I converse alone. This was triggered by the series finale of Scrubs, a show that adhered itself to the hearts of my roommates and I of late. We finished it last Thursday, and I laid awake after we turned off the DVD just staring at the ceiling, watching my future play on a video screen before my eyes, feeling as if I had just seen an old friend off forever, just said farewell to embark on a brand new stage of life from which I would not be coming back. I was, needless to say, in a very melancholy, reminiscent mood (I use any excuse I can to get into these) as I drove alone to San Antonio, and I thought, Scrubs is the perfect show. The perfect show. Immediately after I realized how ridiculous that sounded. So simple, so easily declared. I talked to a friend of mine about how we make ungrounded, impossible-to-back-up claims like that, and proceeded to tell her things like "Texas is the best" all weekend.

Despite saying that, I come to you now with a claim that I know with absolute certainty is the truth: I just experienced the best concert of my life. Blink-182 came through The Woodlands, Texas tonight on their reunion tour after breaking up about six years ago. To give you the background, they are not the first band that really turned me on to music (that was MxPx) nor the first band I could credit with changing the direction of my music taste (that would be Relient K or Switchfoot) but rather the band whom I found shining and profound among all the other good bands I liked, like a pearl buried in a pile of pretty shells. This band was irreverent, immature, rebellious, rippling with angst, and imbued with all the energy of being a teenager. The last two CD's they released before disbanding defined a period of my life. Every single song I could sing along with, and they were the first CD's I bought that were incredible in their wholeness, for each song, rather than for a few standout tracks. I stopped listening to Blink in high school and only pulled them out of the closet again once I went into my first year of college, and the magic of being young returned and was made stronger by the curious fact that the music was still good. Then, a year and a half later, came the unbelievable news that this Super Band was un-disbanding, was in fact re-banding, and coming near our town in the fall, and we bought tickets and reassured ourselves it was actually going to happen. This concert came at a time when my college career had begun its downturn and was barreling towards a precipice called Real Life under which sits a pit called Responsibility. Tonight, we stopped the train, and sang together as one gigantic crowd.

Most of our conversation during the show consisted of us saying things like "DUUUDDE!!!" and "YEEEEEAAAAHHHHH!!!" and "AAAAAAAAGGGGHHHHHHH!!!" with gestures that involved holding our hands palms up with the fingers curled like some kind of Emperor impersonation while screaming our joy towards the cloudy night sky. Every single song, every note, brought back the past eight and a half years. My friend and I screamed every word aloud, hurling the lyrics up in little packages filled with all the stored-up passion and anger I never expressed due to my lack of a rebellious stage, coupled with all the affinity these words had become gilded with over the years. It was like we knew there wasn't anything holding us back, like there wasn't a tomorrow (as cheesy as that sounds, it was true); we were watching a resurrected band. Their humor was dirty. The crowd was pungent, smelling thickly of plant smoke. The lawn was less of a lawn and more a gigantic pit of mud. I had never before felt such a feeling of I-CAN'T-FREAKING-BELIEVE-I-AM-HERE-AAAGGGHHH!!! The place was packed with people, hands raised and rocking out, from stage to farthest back corner. I said goodbye to expectations for graduation, for my wedding day, apologizing to the future wifey. I knew with a sinking and elated feeling that no day would ever beat this one. And what do you do on your last night left worth living? You SING! And we DID!

Leaving was surreal, and getting off 105 onto Highway 6 we joined a close-knit caravan of six cars traveling together through the night, united in our common love for the band that represented our past.

My roommate and I have been shooting knowing glances back and forth. Best Night Ever, we say. That was the Perfect Show, we say. And I know it is true.