New Year Progression

Once again we are greeted with the prospects of a new year. Most of us go into a new year hoping it will be better for us than the last one.

As humans, milestones are important to us. We celebrate the progression of things, the growth of things, the passage of time. We celebrate the beginning of things with the most joy and excitement: births, weddings, first days of school, new jobs, new relationships. We celebrate the end of things with mourning: deaths, divorces, failing grades or dying businesses, breakups. In general we humans seem to like beginnings more than endings. But all of these things represent—if nothing else—the progression of time.

Because we humans prefer beginnings over endings, the New Year represents an opportunity for us to mark a new milestone, often with what we know affectionately as New Year’s resolutions.

Much time and ink and many sermons and letters have been spent trying to unpack why, statistically speaking, people in America don’t keep their New Year’s resolutions. Just the way we talk about them can provide clues to an answer, since our language often reveals our true intentions. Perhaps the way we see “resolutions” is more akin to wishes we make.

I say I “wish” you happiness and health because I cannot actively make these things come to you given that I can’t directly control your genetics, activity, or dietary habits. I can wish that you do well in school, but it is you who has to put in the work to get good grades. Wishes are things we cannot directly make happen. In contrast, resolutions are things we resolve to do.

There is a practical reality that a lot of greetings and sermons don’t acknowledge. It is simple, but it doesn’t make us feel happy or encouraged. However, it is important to understand.

The truth is: you are the same person on New Year’s Day as you were on New Year’s Eve. You haven’t suddenly or miraculously become someone else. You are you. For better and worse. For some this could be a sobering reality. For others it’s a simple fact.

I would say that most people fail to keep their resolutions because they say they will try to without putting in any serious observable effort to make those resolutions happen.

True resolutions require action: deliberate, sustained, intentional action. Resolve is more than a wish or a nice idea. It’s a commitment to do everything in your power to make something a reality.

The truth is that you will initially (and sometimes repeatedly) fail at whatever you resolve to do. That is practically a given. Accept it. Don’t let failure stop you. Keep going. That’s how you progress forward. Don’t stop.

Resolutions are not about reaching the end. Resolutions are about progression.

This year don’t let your resolutions be so in word only, making them basically wishes. Instead, make them goals you choose deliberately to progress toward.

My hope for all of you is that you have a truly new year: not the exact same fights, not the exact same problems and failings. When you face the inevitable challenges, at least they can be different in a sense because you made progress.

Rather than repeating the past, may you press forward into a future of possibility. May you mark the milestone of a new year as an opportunity to move forward.

Politics, Identity, and Dialogue

The events of this 2016 election have left many spinning, on all sides of the political spectrum. Issues of racism, sexism, bigotry, and classism have emerged at the forefront of public conscious in America in a way that some of us have never experienced. For some this kind of tension only existed in history, not in current events. It happened somewhere else to someone else, not to us here at home. After the results of the presidential race, some of us have begun to express fear, anger, disbelief, and anxiety about what it means for our country, the world, and the issues we care about. I have all these feelings too. In fact, the events of this week have only heightened the feelings I’ve had for some time now. I’ve questioned what I believe, where I belong, and what?—?if anything?—?I can do to be a positive force.

Seminary, and the discomfort after

A year and a half ago, I graduated from seminary with a Master of Divinity degree. One week later, the United States Supreme Court made a landmark decision to grant same-sex couples the right to marry. It was also a time when racial and gender equality issues were gaining media attention and political discussion. At that time, I found myself in a professional and ideological crisis?—?a crisis that I’m still experiencing today.

On one hand I found myself growing increasingly uncomfortable with some of the positions and values of my conservative Christian background. My studies in seminary had given me direct and sustained exposure to the plight of women, minorities, and LGBTQ people within Western Christianity. Some of these issues, to which I had been ignorant or indifferent to for so long, became important to me in a way that I could never have imagined. This discomfort inadvertently became a direct obstacle to my initial plans of pursuing a traditional position at a church or Christian academic institution. Most opportunities available to me required commitment to a more rigid theological statement than my conscience or pastoral sensibilities would allow. I also found that many weren’t willing to engage in dialogue with other Christians whose perspectives differed from their own.

On the other hand I didn’t feel completely comfortable with what many identify as the liberal side of the Christian faith spectrum. While I could wholeheartedly align with the positions of equality, inclusion, and social justice, I often found the expressions of these positions to be lacking. I felt there was unwillingness to engage in dialogue with other Christians who disagreed, just as there was on the other side. I saw this expressed in either subtle or overt contempt for Christians who held to more traditional views. Here there was contentment with simply being enlightened, progressive, or “woke.” Some had enough privilege they were able to live closed-off, in a more idyllic bubble, aware of some issues but ignorant or indifferent to others.

Without a home

I found myself, metaphorically-speaking, like a person without a country. I no longer fit the conservative values and positions I once had, yet I didn’t fit perfectly with the other end either. I was willing to go further with my questions than others were. I lost friends, who both overtly rejected me or passively pushed me away. The main thing I found in common among Christians was an unwillingness to see people from any other part of the spectrum as Christian. Either way, I had no home.

I spent most of my time after seminary studying as much, if not more. I had to know why I took the positions that I did, or why I could question positions I had been comfortable with in the past. For several years I had planned to write and develop content, but I found myself repeatedly delaying projects, questioning how certain ideas would be perceived in light of the shifting landscape. Sermons and stories I had written years ago could be interpreted in vastly different ways than I had initially intended. I reconsidered all of it, particularly during this election cycle.

In the past year and a half I also spent time talking to people from different backgrounds, faiths, incomes, genders, and political parties. I’ve been fortunate to know a diverse group of people for much of my life. Seeing and hearing how different people experienced and understood the social and political events of the past few years has been important for me: it showed me how much growth and learning can come from dialogue with people who see things differently. Conversely I saw how being only with like-minded individuals could create an isolated environment in which we were no longer challenged beyond our certain shared beliefs. Being “woke” or enlightened is nothing without continued substantive conversation with those who can show us other viewpoints. It is through such dialogue that we grow.

In many ways, I still feel like a person without a home. I believe this is a feeling shared by many people after this election, on all sides of the spectrum. I don’t know where my next steps will take me, but I hope that the fruit of my sustained contemplation will be to foster conversation. First, I hope to encourage Christians to engage in dialogue with other Christians who hold perspectives different from their own. Then, I hope to extend this to conversations with people of different religions, as well as people who do not regard themselves as religious. I hope we can all find something meaningful in the discussion.

Making room for dialogue

So, to those of us who identify ourselves as “Christian”: I would submit that Christian dialogue begins with a willingness to make room, to accept others who hold different theological or ideological viewpoints as also “Christian.” The Christian faith has historically been and continues to be a wide spectrum of beliefs, values, and practices. Within the context of American history, one can easily find Christians on both sides of contentious social and political issues. It is easy to declare ourselves as right and segregate ourselves. When we see more overtly negative expressions of Christian ideology, it is easy to declare that those people are not true Christians. However, in doing so, we lose the ability to own and address the issues or behaviors we wish to denounce. To those outside of Christianity, our vast number of denominational and ideological variances are either invisible or too complex to understand, and thus we are seen as one big monolithic group of “Christians.”

Making room for dialogue and grace also extends to those who practice faiths other than Christianity. The New Testament is full of the stories and struggles of a religious minority trying to live and survive in an empire that regarded them with suspicion and scorn. America may not be a “Christian” nation, but Christians are certainly the most prominent and most socially acceptable religion in America. May we be ever mindful of our origins as Christians when we consider how we interact with other faiths among us. Our desire for religious freedom must extend to them too. While what and how we believe differ, much of the psychology of how and why we believe is the same.

Common ground

Whether we are engaging with those who hold the same or different beliefs, we can find common ground with others if we want to. The question is: do we really want to find common ground? Our national elections have shown us how deeply divided our country is on numerous issues. This is not something to be taken lightly nor ignored. Meaningful dialogue doesn’t mean abandoning or disregarding our deeply held beliefs. Meaningful dialogue requires differences in perspective, but it also breaks down our ability to identify people as the “other.”

Let’s talk. Share. Keep an open mind. Try to find common ground where you can. Give grace and respect where you cannot, with the hope that grace and respect will be given in turn. Regardless of where you are along the political or religious spectrum, there are people around you who are uncertain and afraid. There are people different from you who need an ally, a friend, or just a kind response more than ever. Be kind. Be just. Reject hate. Hold to your beliefs with both conviction and humility.

Tips for keeping your information safe on Facebook

A few weeks ago I spent several hours texting with a concerned friend who got his Facebook account hacked. Normally he is a smart guy, but he was a real dummy when it came to protecting his account. At first he panicked and closed his Facebook completely, which of course didn’t do anything to deal with his immediate problems. In the end he was fine, but the hours he spent fixing and securing his online accounts could have been easily avoided.

Here are some helpful tips to keep your personal information secure on Facebook. Remember none of these are foolproof, but they can go a long way to keep you safe from some of the most common vulnerabilities. (These tips can also be applied to just about every other social networking site).

Don’t click on suspicious links or videos: The most common FB hacks involve links to videos that appear to be posted by a friend either on their wall or your own. The often have provocative, risqué, or shocking titles and content. When you click the link, the hack takes control of your FB account (often without your knowledge), and then spams the same link to people on your friends list. Just don’t click anything suspicious. Also consider, does the subject matter of the link match the character of the person who posted it?

Give Facebook a unique password: Most people use the same email and password combination for every online site they use. This could potentially turn a compromised Facebook account into a potentially costly situation quickly. Given how vulnerable Facebook accounts can be to simple hacks, it is a wise idea to make a unique password that you use ONLY for Facebook. This way if your account is ever compromised, you only need to worry about that one password being breached.

Keep “Security Question” answers off Facebook: Facebook can be a treasure trove for someone who wants to break into another person’s email or online accounts, since the answers to some of the most common security questions are often prominently displayed on a person’s profile (such as maiden names and hometowns). Try to keep more sensitive information off any social networking site, and whenever possible use the most obscure (or user generated) security questions and answers for any important online accounts.

Be careful what you trust your “friends” with: Be aware and careful what information you have on Facebook that is not public, but viewable by people on your friends list. Remember, if anyone of your friends accounts get compromised, all of the information you share with them is potentially compromised as well. Anything too sensitive should be kept off the web altogether.

Don’t accept just any “friend” request: For the same reasons as my last point, be careful and selective who you accept “friend” requests from. Is this someone you know? Do they have a well-established online identity (such as active blogs and twitter feeds)? Always be selective, and if you are unsure about a person you add change your privacy settings to exclude them from accessing any potential information.

Keep your phone (and laptop) off public WiFi: Ever hear of sidejacking? It’s nothing new, but thanks to some Firefox plugins practically anyone can do it. If you must use public WiFi, be sure to use the secured version (at You can go into your account settings and set Facebook to always connect this way. Remember your phone has the same potential vulnerabilities as any computer, so the best thing you can do is keep your WiFi turned off when using social networking sites on your phone in a public place.

Remember none of these are foolproof but a little due diligence can go a long way online.