On being the language minority

This past week at the middle school where I currently teach we had parent teacher conferences. Since my middle school is about 60-70% Latino students, and since I speak Spanish, I always expect a few conferences will be conducted in Spanish rather than English. This round, however, it turned out that almost ALL of my conferences were conducted in Spanish. I honestly really appreciate a good excuse to remember (and verify) that I speak another language! But I’ve got to admit — I was pretty nervous those first few times the answer to my question (“English or Spanish?”) was “Spanish”. My brain started scrambling for vocabulary, I made stupid mistakes, and I felt embarrassed for using words that may not even be real words in front of other adults. I even asked a student once if I said everything right. (She said I did good.) But it was hard! I had to communicate important information on the fly in a professional setting in a diplomatic manner — and I had to do it all in my second language. Needless to say, I felt a little off-balance for much of the evening.

Then today, as I was reflecting back on it, I realized that most of my Spanish-speaking parents probably feel like that a lot. I have the privilege of knowing that when I go into a restaurant or store there will always be someone who speaks my language there to help me. I have the privilege of knowing I can get any book or magazine or form I want in my language. I have the privilege of never having to worry whether someone is judging my intelligence because of my language abilities or accent. Or at least, I do outside of parent-teacher conference night.

I’m not gonna lie — I’m glad I don’t have to worry about those things most of the time. But I’m also glad that I did have to on one conference night, so that hopefully I will remember to have a little more compassion in the future.

Where we are, where we should go

Here’s my rough guesstimate:

~95% of us over-focus on the goal of improving our own well-being in life. Human nature, whether by evolution or original sin, is very selfish. Natural selection tends to allows only altruism toward relatives or people that can pay you back, because genes that don’t favor their own propagation disappear from gene pools. So unsurprisingly, most of us focus more on ourselves than is good for everyone. Only a very small minority among us is too selfless, too thrifty, too self-sacrificial, their error being that of martyrdom and asceticism.

No one will ever reach the “perfect” balance-point between serving their self and serving others, and the question of “how much is too much” will never have a solid answer. But let’s be real; most of us know which side we err on: we are too selfish. My assertion is simple:

~90% of us should work on sacrificing more. You’ll notice the 5% gap; that’s the people who err so slightly on the side of selfishness that there’s no way to tell. Those people aren’t perfect people — any one of them have some other catastrophic tragic flaw. It’s just that they don’t have any way of figuring out whether to sacrifice more or less. I’ll draw a picture:

 

Do you agree or disagree with the fundamentals of this framework? (Namely, that it’s possible to spend too much or too little focus and resources on your own well being, and it’s also possible to be close enough to the balance point that you’ve got better things to worry about.)

If you think the framework is valid, how would you rewrite the numbers?
(Use this format: “95%, 5%, 2.5%, 2.5%”)

Loving Your Neighbor — With No Strings Attached!

Today a friend shared this story about a kind of compassion I don’t see much. An outspoken atheist man needed surgery, and a local Christian woman organized her church to contribute financially to this man’s medical costs, no strings attached. Eventually — and seemingly as a result of her actions — the man became a Christian.

There are two main things here that really stick out to me as special:

1. The woman’s church worked together with local atheists to pay for the man’s surgery. It seems like Christians these days can’t even work together with other Christians, let alone with atheists! It’s refreshing to see both of these groups laying aside theological differences to help someone rather than letting argument stifle their compassion.

2. The money was given without any expectations or strings attached. I find this particularly compelling because usually it seems that people are most concerned about those with whom they have some connection. Listen to any prayer request list — it will be full of things like “Aunt Mabel is having heart surgery on Monday” and “My wife is on a business trip, so let’s pray for safe travel.” You don’t hear many requests that focus on complete strangers. This man wasn’t even a stranger — he was an outspoken atheist who had publicly disputed everything this church stood for! And yet they gave to help him, simply because he needed help. Who does that anymore??

In a world where it seems like people are increasingly divided and polarized (or asked to be), I am really inspired by these folks — Christians and atheists alike. May we all learn from them to practice patient cooperation rather than “us vs. them” argument, and to pay attention to everyone’s needs and not just those of our friends.


The best anything in the world

The best anything in the world

 

The best activity in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best way of being in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best identity in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best hope in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best love in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best life in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best work in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best romance in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best purpose in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best goal in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best pleasure in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best relationship in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

The best anything in the world is to pursue God’s heart. To worship.

 

Inspired by the life of Josh Larkin.
Especially inspired by the commemoration given by his mentor at his Taylor memorial service.

 

What if college didn’t stop when we graduated?

 

Life University

=

Academic University
+
Housing Association
+
NGO/Foundation
+
Business Co-op
+
Church(?)

I miss college.

I miss learning.

I miss community.

 

Lifelong learning and community are really, really valuable.

I miss college. Don’t you?

 

So why do we stop going to college?

  • Because it’s expensive.
  • Because it takes up a ton of time.
  • Because it keeps us from being mobile, making it harder to pursue our careers.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

 

Envision with me a really efficient — almost monastic — housing cooperative, whose members:

  • Engage in lifelong learning together: sometimes rigorous, sometimes relaxed. Sometimes peer-driven, sometimes prestigious. Research, lessons, internships, discipleship, publication, training, tutelage, etc. in full or partial partnership with an existing university.
  • Resource each other and work together in both nonprofit and for-profit arenas, assuring bountiful and meaningful work opportunities
  • Share community in a variety of other possible ways — food, worship, recreation, etc. They say it takes a village to raise a child. I believe it takes a village to raise a person.

 

Can that vision hold up to scrutiny? I think it can. Its individual elements all exist in a variety of forms and places, just not (as far as I am aware) all together at once.

 

So the two tasks before me/us/you are:

  • Find the best expressions of the individual components of this vision and also the best combinations of them already existing
  • Start seeding / testing this idea with people with interest and influence, especially justice-and-community-minded universities & churches, education-minded NGOs, etc.

(If you the S-J’s, put your thoughts and findings on a spreadsheet somewhere.)

(If you are NOT the S-J’s, leave your thoughts and findings as comments on this post or send us an email.)

Do not think for a second that the blessing of Josh has ended.

Do not think for a second that the blessing of Josh has ended.

Larkins, you raised up a boy who was bent on blessing. A serial blesser, who blessed like he breathed.

In a sad Facebook post, I wrote that I wept for those who would not be blessed by Josh in the future. I eventually acknowledged that I was also grateful for the blessing that had already come. But what I was missing, what I now realize, is the blessings of Josh that are yet to come.

I’m a math guy, and I respect numbers, or rather, quantitativeness, even in squishy, human, relational, spiritual settings.

And here’s what I know. The hundreds, maybe thousands of people who knew Josh, and knew what a blesser he was, probably grieved the same grief as I did — that his blessings would be absent from the world. And I wouldn’t be surprised if most of them in the next breath breathed in the same resolve I did, to bless like there’ s no tomorrow, knowing that there might not be.

Josh’s death — the loss of a blesser — reminds me that life is not an experience, it is a war. It is a war between pain and love, between Good and the absence of Good, God and the absence of God. A phrase that has echoed through my head is “losing a wingman”. Realizing that a lost friend is actually a lost comrade teaches my soul many things.

Josh’s example is inspiring. Josh was one of a very few people I knew who I could always count on to conspire goodness with me, to scheme and plot respect, encouragement, and love. He gave kindness to others that I didn’t know how to give on my own.

My spiritual hope, as best I can hold it, is that Christ is Victor. My earthly hope, in the face of earthly pain and loss, is a hope in influence and inspiration. A hope that the example of Josh in Kingdom Kindness will drive the members of that crowd of people already blessed by him to each take up that same torch of blessing more than ever before in their own lives. That they (we) will recognize that love is a war, and redouble our efforts. That the lost blessings from one Josh will become the gained blessings increasingly poured out from many Josh-lovers.

I am told that God works ALL things for good.

And in this instance, I think I can see how.