September 2015

September 28, 2015

The Soul of Skateboarding


I've been watching this movie that came out a few years ago called We Are Skateboarders, in which the filmmakers go around asking skaters, "What is the soul of skateboarding?"

It's a pretty unique movie...part documentary, part skate film, part ridiculous skits. But as I've been going through it, I can't help but ask myself the same question: "What is the soul of skateboarding?"
I would say the answer to that question is different for everyone. For me personally, I landed on the word progression. A big part of skateboarding is progression, and the great thing about it is that progression is tangible. If I put enough hours and effort into a trick, eventually I will land it. And the feeling of landing it, the very real and physical evidence of achievement, is amazing. It's kind of like life...to have a good job, marriage, GPA, etc., you must put in work to reap the reward. (Skateboarding just happens to fall on the more fun side of things in life to get good at.)
Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might (Ecclesiastes 9:10a)
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Summer Tour '04
In putting in the work, I've found myself exasperated at times after trying a trick for hours, with hundreds of attempts, but little to show for it. I had one such session yesterday, trying for the second time to kickflip a 7-set, a trick that tore apart my board and burned out my thighs a few months prior (check out a clip here). Everything felt right about the flip, but I just couldn't get my mind in the right place to land it, and so I had to walk away...for now. But what keeps me going back? Why do I put myself through the physical and mental stress of trying something I've never done before? There may be a lot of reasons, but I think the biggest one is that it feels good to progress in something, to have that evidence of accomplishment right there in front of me.
me noseslide
photos by @rachelmneal
And so if the soul of skateboarding is progression, then I would say the spirit of skateboarding is progressing with your friends. My session yesterday was alone (as many are, the older I get), and I have to say that the ups and downs of skateboarding are better experienced with others. Recently I was skating a little bowl at a skatepark. Another guy showed up and started doing some rad stuff; so I started trying to up the ante with my own tricks. Soon I felt an energy hit our session that I rarely feel by myself -- total strangers pushing each other towards greater achievement while congratulating accomplishment -- it's a beautiful thing that elevates skateboarding beyond just a sport and into a community.
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The bros, Summer Tour '04
If you skate (which I hope you do), think about why you do it, what pushes you, and comment below. You can check out the full movie of We Are Skateboarders here. It's worth the watch (viewer discretion advised).

September 24, 2015

Tiny Surf


"Why is it so fun to chase tiny surf?" I asked my friend Mitchel as we paddled out into 2-3 foot sets at Dockweiler Beach. It's a paradox for sure, but as I sat waist deep in the cool early-June Pacific waters, gazing out to a flat horizon, hoping for some sort of swellular disruption, I couldn't help but feel something like happiness.
I've written before that every surfer at some point says, "It's just good to be out in the water," and on this day it was more than true. The morning was peaceful and overcast, with a slight drizzle of refreshment that would flare from time to time. It was quiet, as we essentially had the break to ourselves (crowd diminishing: one very good thing about small waves), and though I spent the first twenty minutes of my time in the water reminiscing about the multiple head-high days I had had at that very same spot, I was struck by the bliss and contentment that washed over me like the closeout of nearly every wave I caught.
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It looks bigger when you get low!
The joy that morning was a good reminder of why we surf: not to catch the biggest and best wave, but for fun, for introspection, for community. To enjoy nature as a group of wave riders searching for a life of balance, a part of which must include small days. For if every session were ten-foot barrels of glass rolling in never-ending sets on sunny California days, would we even recognize them as perfection? Or would the callous of perpetual fortune cover up our capacity to enjoy both the good and the bad? For what is gold if there is no dirt, and what are barrels if there are no closeouts?
Small waves are a gentle reminder to accept what we are given with humble gratitude, knowing we have no control over the swells of nature. You can chase waves to the ends of the earth, or stay put and complain about  your lackluster home break; but the man of contentment will enjoy them both. On this day I was that man of contentment, and on this day I was happy.

September 14, 2015

Vindicated – Psalm 26


Psalm 26

Of David.

Vindicate me, Lord,
    for I have led a blameless life;
I have trusted in the Lord
    and have not faltered.
Test me, Lord, and try me,
    examine my heart and my mind;
for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love
    and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.
I do not sit with the deceitful,
    nor do I associate with hypocrites.
I abhor the assembly of evildoers
    and refuse to sit with the wicked.
I wash my hands in innocence,
    and go about your altar, Lord,
proclaiming aloud your praise
    and telling of all your wonderful deeds.
Lord, I love the house where you live,
    the place where your glory dwells.
Do not take away my soul along with sinners,
    my life with those who are bloodthirsty,
10 in whose hands are wicked schemes,
    whose right hands are full of bribes.
11 I lead a blameless life;
    deliver me and be merciful to me.
12 My feet stand on level ground;
    in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.
"Vindicate" means a few things: 1) to clear, as from an accusation, imputation, suspicion, or the like. 2) to afford justification for; justify. 3) to uphold or justify by argument or evidence. 4) to assert, maintain, or defend (a right, cause, etc.) against opposition.
I think in this psalm David is speaking about some combination of those. He was one under constant attack, as many of the psalms divulge, with seemingly perpetual enemies. Even when his greatest adversary, Saul, was gone, David eventually became his own adversary through his infamous affair with Bathsheba, and subsequent murder. I'm not sure if Psalm 26 was written in the midst of that, but other psalms were for sure, and even after his greatest folly was made known, David still claimed vindication.
Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit. (Psalm 32:1)
 
Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions...Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice...Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me. (Psalm 51:1, 7-8, 12)
 
It would have been easy for David to wallow in self-pity, doubt, or even genuine regret; but he knew that forgiveness from God led to joy, and he even asked God for it in the midst of his darkest moment. I know personally, I wouldn't feel worthy of joy at such a time and would most definitely not ask God for it. Still, David does. Why?
Psalm 26 gives a few indicators of what a vindicated life looks like, the test of whether or not one is living like a vindicated person.
I have trusted in the LORD without wavering. Test me, O LORD, and try me, examine my heart and my mind; for your love is ever before me, and I walk continually in your truth. (Psalm 26:1b-3)
 
Trust in the Lord. Led by His love. Walking in truth. These are the indicators of a blameless life. And what do they lead to? According to verses 6-8, when David knows that he is vindicated, he is free to praise God, approaching His altar with confidence that he will not be condemned. He can also make known God's glory, recounting his "wonderful deeds." Furthermore, he can enjoy God's presence, which was found, at the time, in His tabernacle.
As I read this, I couldn't help but examine my own life to see whether or not I exemplify any of these traits. And if I don't, why not? We are indeed forgiven, and God's presence is available everywhere through the Holy Spirit. So why don't I live that way daily?
After doing some research (and having written about the topic before), some key components to living this way are confession, speaking scripture out loud and repentance. And I would argue that speaking, or claiming, scripture that proves we are forgiven plays a more important role than we realize.
Words are powerful. Everything that was created was spoken into existence. The bible says our words have the power of life and death. And so it seems clear that we ought to really examine our words and inject them with life and truth, which are found in scripture (If you can't think of any, a simple google search can provide scriptures that apply to your personal situation). Maybe then we can claim the deliverance and mercy of God that David writes about in verse 11.
Perhaps David was called a man after God's heart because he understood these principles, and despite the gravity of his sin, was able to live exonerated, joy-filled and free to experience God. With Christ's work already finished, we have no excuse but to do the same.

September 10, 2015

Who Told You That?



I've written before that I'm a big fan of Jamie Winship. One thing he often asks in his lectures is, "Who told you that?" As in, when you have an opinion about yourself, where did it come from? For instance, maybe I believe I'm bad at spelling. Who told me that? A teacher way back in 1st grade? My friends who were better than me at spelling? Maybe I'm a good speller, or maybe I could be with a little application, but this belief has kept me from realizing it.
The same principle applies to more weighty feelings: I'm not a good dad (husband, brother, worker, etc.). Who told me that? My wife, myself, my friends, the world, media? Most importantly, did God tell me that? Probably not, because God rarely says things like, "You aren't," but rather, "You are."
 But Moses said, “No, Lord, don't send me. I have never been a good speaker, and I haven't become one since you began to speak to me. I am a poor speaker, slow and hesitant.”
The Lord said to him, “Who gives man his mouth? Who makes him deaf or dumb? Who gives him sight or makes him blind? It is I, the LordNow, go! I will help you to speak, and I will tell you what to say.” (Exodus 4:10-12)
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine. (Isaiah 43:1b)
So when you're thinking things that may be counter-productive, about yourself or others, ask yourself where it's coming from. I know personally I've felt the most animosity in this realm towards my marriage, sometimes just plain not feeling like loving my wife. Why? She's the same person I married. We're only closer today than we were back then. I think she's grown more beautiful today than she was back then. So where is this coming from? Certainly not God. And so my response must be to reject it.
Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. (James 4:7)
When I find myself spiraling down into doubt, despair or negativity, and catch and reject those feelings, they do indeed leave, and a feeling of peace and joy is often left in its place. It may seem strange, but there are spiritual influences present in our lives, whether we acknowledge them or not. Being aware of them and your power to resist that influence, through Christ, is the first step towards freedom, joy and healing.

September 7, 2015

Unite!



"Unite" has always been one of my favorite songs by the O.C. Supertones, partly because it's an awesome song, but also because of its message of sparking unity among Christians. Here is an excerpt:
O yeah, I got a beef with the fence-sitters
Tares among the wheat, the cop-outs, the quitters
Cut from the branch fruitless, no good,
Only one use and that's firewood
Pay no mind to the generation line
Forsake your sect and be color blind
The problem's not Hollywood, the problem's not Washington
The problem's a weak divided church of schizmed Christians.
One of the last things Jesus did for His disciples was pray for them, and a reoccurring phrase was that they would be one. He also prays the same thing for all of the future disciples, our unity ultimately being the thing that lets the world know He was who He said He was.
My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one—I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:20-23)
So clearly, unity is of the utmost importance. So why are we so divided, and how do we unite again?
I'm sure the answer to that first question is multi-faceted, spanning eras of Christian history and doctrine, schisms and the like. Here is a good article on the subject, which sheds much light on the situation and current movements towards church unity. In my humble opinion, and based on my observation, it seems most Christian breaks occur over differences in doctrine and interpretation of scripture. And as I imagine what it would take to truly unite a church, I can't imagine a world where we don't disagree on something.
Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:12-14)
The fact is that we're not going to agree on doctrine. But how much emphasis should we place on doctrine? I know for myself that the doctrine I dogmatically held fast to ten years ago is not the same doctrine I adhere to now. I don't mean that in the way of major theologies, pillars of the Christian faith (i.e. - Jesus is God in flesh, died and rose again), but rather the idiosyncrasies of our faith that are likely what lead to division. I'll give you an example: when I was a new believer, I had a friend who was interested in the faith, but asked me, "Do I need to stop having sex to be a Christian?" I replied with, "yes." His face went downcast as he was not willing to give up such a pleasure, though he was clearly interested in a relationship with God.
Were I asked that same question today, I would have a different reply,  something along the lines of, "Don't worry about that. God wants you right now, as you are. Accept that and we'll go from there." I still don't believe extra-marital sex is okay (based on scripture), but I also believe that God doesn't ask us to clean up before we approach Him. From there, if God wants to convict my friend about his sexual behaviors, He will, and I trust that. God might even ask me to call him out on it. But my response so many years prior may have kept a kid from entering the Kingdom of God; asking him to change his behavior prior to letting God change his heart.

I write all that as an example of how my maturity in faith has led to changes in the way I interpret scripture and interact with others. I know that in ten more years I'll have slightly different views as God brings me closer to who He wants me to be. And so, to be dogmatic about certain aspects of doctrine is dangerous. (I know I will meet some opposition on this, but that's why I write "dangerous" and not "wrong." Sound doctrine is indeed important and I don't want to diminish that, but if your doctrine is dividing the church, maybe you are handling it improperly.)
Back to that verse above: What does it mean to "clothe yourself" with these virtues and why do we do it? Simply put, you take clothes on and off. You can do the same for virtues. Some situations require more kindness than others. Some patience. There are times you may not need any of these, but I don't think Paul's wording of "clothe yourself" is unintentional; and I also can't ignore that these suggestions are sandwiched in the middle of a passage about church unity, and followed immediately by, "Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you." (v.13)
So in our pursuit of church unity, we have to be ready to disagree, but willing to clothe ourselves with various virtues to maintain peace. Tangibly speaking, clothes are necessary for social interaction, and also what others see of us from the outside. Sometimes we wear them when we don't feel like it, others we wear because the weather calls for it. I don't like shoes, but I wear them because people aren't comfortable with me being barefoot all the time, and also because I don't want dirty feet. It doesn't change the fact that I don't like it, but the benefits outweigh the cost. (silly example, but true...)
The key to this whole part, though, is forgiveness.
Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)
We MUST forgive. It is not an option (Matthew 6:15), not only for our sake, but for the sake of the church. Forgiveness is the pivot point on which unity rests. Without it, we are unbalanced and incomplete, our virtues  emptied of much of their effectiveness.
Just two verses later in Colossians, Paul admonishes us to "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as member of one body you were called to peace." (Colossians 3:15a) To understand what this means, imagine what the opposite of the peace of Christ would look like? Anger, rage, malice, slander, filthy language (Colossians 3:5), quarreling, jealousy, outbursts of anger, factions, gossip, arrogance, disorder (2 Corinthians 12:20b). Paul says, "Let the peace of Christ rule," as in, we have a choice to let it rule or not.
"Rule" here means "act as an umpire." Peace is to be the umpire for our activities together. When we are drifting from the rule of peace, the umpire calls, "Foul!" and the play is over. Without it, we have chaos and a body divided.
Though we have a choice in the matter, our calling is clear: "...as members of one body you were called to peace." (Colossians 3:15b) Why? A body is simply not functional if it is divided against itself.
Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand." (Matthew 12:25b)
This is the same as an autoimmune disease: the body becomes confused as to who the enemy is and starts attacking itself. Is this the current state of the church? Instead of vibrant and alive, are we attacking ourselves? That's likely a bit dramatic, but worth considering.
SOME IDEAS FOR SOLUTIONS
  1. When you meet a Christian who thinks differently than you about a certain matter, do not consider that person less-Christian, but rejoice that he or she is on the same journey as you, just likely on a different timeline. I've been on both sides of this, judging and judged. Neither is positive.
  2. Pursue projects that unite Christians: It always bothered me that the Baptist churches back home only worked with other Baptist churches (not cornering Baptists, that's just where I went growing up). Meanwhile, I had friends at a great Episcopalian church across town that was doing great work, and that I would have loved to partner with. I'm sure there are logistical reasons for this, but I've seen cross-denominational work turn out wonderfully also.
  3. Be open-minded: If you come across something that challenges your faith, go to God about it. Seek scripture. Bring it up with other trusted believers. The challenger may be wrong, but maybe he or she is right, and you need to grow. Either way, don't let it ruin a relationship that could otherwise be beneficial for you, them or the Kingdom. As long as it doesn't lead down unhealthy roads, there may be times to "agree to disagree" for the sake of bigger things.
Note: Take this post with a grain of salt -- I'm still learning myself. Whether you agree or not, I'd love to have some conversation about church unity in the space below and see what people think.

September 1, 2015

The Current State of Surfing



It was the kind of night that Southern California dreams are made of. Some friends of mine had miraculously secured a campsite at Leo Carillo the same weekend a modest swell was set to come through. On top of that, it was a full moon, so we would be able to paddle out at 10 PM, just as the street parking closed and all the day-trippers would have to make the hour-long trip back home, wishing they could have stayed longer. Yes, all was set for the perfect end to summer...that is, until, about 30 other surfers who must have had the same genius idea we did decided to paddle out.
"Since when did night surfing become day surfing?!" one guy lamented out loud, verbalizing the obvious disappointment we all felt. To make matters worse, about a third of the people on the water were some of the most obnoxious surfers I had ever encountered. I had one guy literally run into me as I was dropping in, and then on the next wave drop in right in front of me. When I called him out on it, claiming the inside position, his response was an uncaring (or possibly oblivious), "Dude...."
Despite the circumstances, I managed to catch a hand full of nice waves, though my friends were not so lucky. The next day, however, this time with the sun shining on a rare warm-enough-to-surf-without-a-wetsuit day, it was more of the same. Less obnoxious (thank the Lord), but as I paddled to wait my turn in the lineup, I noticed that the same five people were catching every wave. I quickly learned that there was no such thing as a lineup at this spot, and if you wanted to surf, you had to head straight to the deep inside to have the supposed right of way; and this only worked if no one else decided to drop in in front of you, or if you could swing in under them before they got too far. It was chaos, a zoo, one of the least respectful surf environments I've ever been in.
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Full moon at Leo Carillo
Maybe I'm being a little over dramatic (I did manage to catch some great waves), but at the end of the day I couldn't help but feel disheartened. I always thought there were rules to surfing, etiquette and respect to keep peace on the water as we try to all enjoy the same thing. Courtesies such as the inside man gets the wave and taking turns through the lineup have governed my surfing for years. But if you check out any Malibu surf camera on any given day, I guarantee you will see one surfer drop in on another in the first three minutes. It seems the culture of many Southern California spots has become, "Do what it takes to surf a wave, regardless of who is on it already, if you have the right of way, or whether or not you're being a dick."
It's not like that everywhere. And maybe that's just the way surfing has to be (after all, Hawaii has some of the best waves but also the worse localization). But competing for a little piece of water that's not even yours to begin with just seems very unlike the spirit of surfing -- the camaraderie, the peace, the pursuit. Call me an idealist, but I think surfers can be better to each other out on the water, even at a crowded spot, just as we can be good towards each other as we compete on land and in life.
Vying for the same goal of scoring an excellent wave does not have to mean drowning the guy next to you just to do it, which is what it may turn to if we don't realize that the waves we're riding have nothing to do with us outside of our shared desire for them. We had no part in creating them, no say in shaping the ocean floor that caused them, and in no way can claim them as our own. And so why do we act that way as we ride them?
I say, with respect to each other, the ocean and our shared love of surfing, let's take some advice from Bill and Ted and be excellent to each other. It might just make our surfing lives better and our beaches a little more enjoyable.