2017 year-end

another year passed and i like to share interesting statistics and thoughts from the year so here they are in no specific order

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over the past year i slept in or spent the night in forty different beds, five couches, four planes, three busses, twice in my car, one beach, and on the floor of one of the old Voice of America radio stations. that’s fifty six different places to spend the night for an average of more than one different locality per week.

Places-in-2017
the color of the dots corresponds to when in the year i was at the location

although i was on the run most of the year several of my travel statistics are down from the past few years: i visited ten countries (including the US) and about forty places total but only flew around 60,000 miles. because of their loyalty program I flew almost exclusively with American Airlines; it’s nice to have a reward status with an airline.

my reading and writing metrics are off the charts even though i have only shared a smidgen of what i have written; there’s been an abundance of quiet alone time.

despite that, i went out of my way at least fifteen times in order to visit and spend time with dear friends of mine.

oh, and i got on two separate boats for the express purpose of eating.

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lessons from USAF brutalism

IMG_6264

yesterday i spent a couple hours at the national museum of the air force in dayton ohio. military design and engineering is always a fascinating topic because of the varied constraints they deal with which are much less important for civilian designs.

websites are obese and getting heavier and there’s a fascinating trend which piques my interest called brutalism – inspired from brutalist architecture which itself was a response to more optimistic and opulent styles of previous designs.

in many ways the goals of brutalist web design follow those of military aviation – herein are scattered lessons i learned while touring the museum as they relate to software.

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thirty-one

last weekend i turned thirty-one. in dog years that’s about four for a medium dog – i’m about a medium person. in binary that’s just one shy of one hundred thousand and is special on account of the fact that it’s all ones: 11111 (other all-ones ages are 1, 3, 7, 15, and 63). during this past year i think i was in eighteen distinct places from malaysia to indianapolis to wichita falls, texas. it was either the most difficult or second-most-difficult year on record but i’m still here pressing forward.

what did i learn?

hope has long been the most relevant aspect of my faith and in this past year it has grown immeasurably more important. we live through one failure after another and we witness destruction and grief and hopelessness every day. we feel resentment and abandonment and imprisonment in different forms. how can we make sense of this? how can we not give up? it is for me only because Christ has overcome the evil and darkness in this world and only because the truth lies in a story of true redemption. the pain we know each day does not have to be a story of desperate souls swimming towards an abysmal nothing, but of God’s blessed enduring for a while until the promise is fulfilled.

in psalm 13 we see king david cry, “how long o lord; will you forget me forever; how long will you hide your face from me; how long must i take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?” david dealt with hopeless matters both trivially personal and dramatically national, yet in his cry of recognizing the darkness within he finishes by declaring that his “heart shall rejoice” because he “trusted in [God’s] steadfast love.”

in 2 samuel 12 we have this story of david mourning, fasting, weeping, and praying for his dying son. when the son finally dies he stands back up and washes his face, ending his grief instead of starting it. confused, his company asks him to help them understand his behaviors: “while the child was still alive,” he said, “i fasted and wept…who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live.”

david held on, sometimes quite foolishly, to the hope he saw in God’s power to restore, deliver, and reconcile. he was surrounded by enemies but was also his own enemy on more than one occasion. he clung to a hope which was shrouded at times by his own anguish and doubts as we see when he cried out. our image of a “man after God’s own heart” is full of contradiction, selfishness, fear, and failure of will; it’s held together by a faithful recognition that God is good and God delivers those who call on him.

if you are reading this you are probably familiar with some of my own struggles and darkness but you may not be aware of just how many different factors have come together in the past year to grieve me and distract me from that hopeful promise. in 1 kings 19 we find elijah at a point where he had given up on hope and longed for the release of death. just then when he needed it most an angel touched him and led him on a retreat to hear God’s voice in a whisper. “the journey is too great for you” said the angel, and truly it was – it was necessary for him to understand how much this life depends on God’s will and not ours. inspired by this and other retreats in the scriptures i fled to the black forest in germany in order to drown out life’s noise and listen for God’s whisper.

what is the conclusion? put frankly the cure for hopelessness is gratitude and perseverance. what God has promised he will deliver and the greatest gifts of all he has already delivered: he has not abandoned me but rather has chosen me; he has not neglected me but despite my choices he has guarded me and blessed me; he has not turned away from me but was patiently waiting for me to return to him. in those times when i too beckoned, “how long oh Lord,” he was allowing the suspense in my heart to build until the day i started to recognize the revelation, that two thousand years ago he heard us and answered and that, dear friend, makes all the difference.

so the greatest gift of all is a kind of trump card. do we then deny all of our struggles or bury our longings? by no means! it took me too long to start to understand how i can be inwardly glad and thankful for life yet while things remain broken and dim. the paradox is that joy and sorrow are bound to intermingle until the fulfillment of the promise. the peace of God does not mute the pain and hopes and struggles of a wandering sojourner like myself. the gift does not depend on my worthiness but rests on God’s mercy and grace.

various people have made it clear they think my hope is foolish and think it will hold me back as long as i hold on to it. this in itself has been discouraging. we cannot give up our hope in God’s salvation because he has demonstrated the biggest reconciliation possible; he has conquered death and sin in us and offered us a new path forward in him. i chose to move on in hope not because i have reason to believe that what i want will eventually come to pass, but because i know that against all odds God may choose to intervene and heal what has been broken. without hope i find no reason.

when i retreated into the mountains of the black forest the first time and was preparing to propose i was inwardly torn by a recognition of my own failures and tendencies into the darkness: am i doomed from birth? am i destined to fail? should i just give up now? well, the answers were probably “yes” to those, except for hope. it was the hope and knowledge of repentance which gave me the confidence to start the most precious relationship i’ve ever known. i know i will fail, but i know that deep inside my heart i long for the goodness which God offers and i know that through that contrition and desire he could mend even the most broken circumstances. with faith there is always an unexpected and better way of healing and gladness for all.

what now? well i clearly failed my wife whom i deeply love and i don’t know if restoration shall ever come. i’ve shied away from my calling to love and show compassion for the needy among us. i’ve let fear overpower my innermost desires. i don’t know what to do. but, i hope. i pray for restoration and i pray for healing and i pray for God to make things right.

we must be foolishly hopeful if we want to overcome the darkness around us. this is the whisper i have been hearing from God for as long as i can remember and this is what he reminded me in this past year. do your best, persevere, and rely on hope because the journey is too big for you. strength does not come by jumping away from one difficulty to another but in learning to stand firm when things are bleak and finding that the struggle is worth it.

what shall i do next? what’s in store for thirty-one?

well, let’s see. i want to continue to learn what it means to be a faithful and godly husband and continue to address my own personal issues. i think also that it’s time to settle down for a bit and get involved. being away from friends and being away from a church has been really hard for me. it was harder than i anticipated in 2014 when i moved to germany and became largely isolated. it continues to be difficult while moving around the world as a nomad. my happiest time was back in new whiteland with mandi when i was active at church and helping at the food bank and supporting the refugee community in indianapolis.

darkness continues to sweep over our country and the outlook seems helpless. i’m convicted that it’s time to stand up for the victims of fabricated narratives supporting fear over love. i want to continue to pray for the unlikely healing and reconciliation of our nation before we do something so heinous that it tarnishes our identity for generations to come, causing terrible pain and suffering along the way. hope requires humility and that means continual prayer for even the perpetrators of these injustices. we are broken not because there are a few people orchestrating evil but because inside each and every one of us is a selfish desire which can grow to cause great evil, because we collectively have chosen personal comfort over justice and equity.

life is a daily struggle and and it’s not easy for me to foster gratitude. like the thorns in matthew 13, my own depression and issues choke out the good which i am designed to accomplish. i think thirty-one should be “be ye grateful” as a reminder to orient my mind towards the giver of so much good, to the one who may yet be planning on restoring that what seems irretrievably broken and lost.

for all you thirty-aughts out there i hope you will have a year more successful than i did.

“Yet even now,” declares the LORD, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offeringfor the LORD your God?

Consequences

My best friend sent me a link to the following video. It’s π minutes long and is worth the watch.

The video starts out with a description of a woman dropping her full cup of coffee, which shatters on the ground and splashes all over her. According to the speaker, the first thing to come out of her mount, just one millisecond after it happened, was “Damn you Steve!” She’s a blamer, she confesses, and before she even stopped to examine the situation she spun her gears to find someone to blame; in this case her husband, for coming home a little late the night before which caused her to get less sleep and need that second cup of coffee.

I too am a blamer, and I see it as an outgrowth of a subconscious need for control. That term gets thrown out a lot – well, actually it gets thrown at others a lot – but by itself it’s somewhat opaque in meaning. As I watched this animated clip about blaming, I saw just how much of a need it is for someone, like me, who also needs to have a firm understanding of what’s going on. Everything has a reason, and every action builds towards a progression of events. If something goes wrong, somebody at some point did the wrong thing.

In the video, it’s a ridiculous connection the speaker makes between her dropping her coffee and her husband coming home late, but I know that I too have made similarly outlandish claims. There’s a haze brought on by this control that clouds normal thought and makes it hard to see. Of course, any defense on the contrary, “I didn’t make you drop your coffee,” only fuels the need to prove the blame. In my case, I don’t feel like I need to extract some penance in these situations as much as I need to assert my conclusion about the sequence of events. This hasn’t gone well for me and I’d wager it hasn’t gone well for you. The more it goes on, the deeper the delusion of conflict where no conflict actually exists. You can probably recognize the paranoid end that this line of thought leads to.

Herein is the need for control: need to asses who is fault, need to conform their conclusions to my own, need to drive their responses to these situations. Blaming hardly ever goes well. And yet, from my own perspective, this usually ends up seeming harmless, even helpful. It takes a third party to point it out I think, and therein lies the value of a counselor. The counselor is disinterested in who “wins” or is “right” and can make a simple judgement based on the stories each person tells.

My counselor recently pointed out that I was doing the very thing I was accusing my wife of doing, and it was very hard to accept at the time, but as it sank in the reality came ever more clear. It’s very hard to let go of the control; of the perception that the way I see things is the right way of seeing them. It’s worth it, though, despite the humiliation it can bring, which is why its so important not to allow that sense that we have everything figured out – because it will be that much harder to admit we don’t and therefore grow from it.

I’m not writing this as any sage. Honestly, I’m going through deep self-reflection and learning these things I should have learned or confessed long ago. I hope that if you too jump on the blaming wagon, that you can get off of it before causing too much hurt to yourself and those you love.

Dead

Growing up I found my identity in mastery. I had a gift to be able to figure things out and do them well. School was mostly a joke to me even throughout my college years and I found success in my job. Being accomplished was a comfort to me: when I came home crying in third grade because I felt like I had no friends, it was a consolation to hear that some of my troubles relating were due to my abilities. Success wrapped itself around me and became what defined me, became my drug.

If you don’t already know where this is going, it’s an introduction to a great irony. I’ve learned as much in my years to judge with great suspicion anyone who seems to have things going really well; someone who seems to “have things figured out.” Nobody has it all figured out and nobody is without their own issues. Some people lay out their problems in front of everyone else, others hold it in private. This is me, and you should have been suspicious too.

The great irony then is that I’ve struggled in the most intense way for years with what have been personal failures in the greatest degree. I’ve been difficult to live with and bitter to my wife and followed in the footsteps of my father, whose demand for control was only matched by his need to hide problems and appear fine on the outside. I have failed and failed again to live up to my dreams and expectations, spiraling into defeatism and grochery.

It’s very difficult to let down the smokescreen, and while several of my close friends have tracked along with me throughout the past couple of years, I have tried to keep it mostly hidden from the outside: it is incongruous with my identity: the one who succeeds.

The honest-to-goodness truth is that for most of my life I have been emotionally unstable, scarred from a childhood of shouting and manipulation, perplexingly dependent on having friends nearby, and plagued by depression and anger.

These and other maladies have been continually more difficult to resolve with my faith, which tells me they are the exact kinds of things Jesus wants to take away from me. I haven’t been willing to let them go, and I haven’t been willing to give in. I am the one in charge; I can master it!

At the end of a long journey, I believe I have hit the bottom. I’m not into drugs, not into prostitution, not running away from the law; just plain old spent and foolish and hopeless. I have to kill this terrible identity if I will ever conquer this dark part of my life and draw nearer to God; so now you know – I’m not a success.

I’ve been running a lot the past couple of years. My job at Automattic has helped me to run away time and time again. Each voyage of great adventure has brought with it a marked note of let-down; that my opportunity to see the world was also an indictment on my inability to cope with the stresses as home and with the man I had become.

I’m done with that journey, tired and ready to go home, hoping that I haven’t completely ruined the home I have to return to from my own destructive habits. I will be grateful for your prayers as I learn to repent and try to be reborn into a more honest and life-giving identity.

Perlisms

Tonight I was reading a list of Perlisms – provocative quips from the late Dr. Perlis at Yale – when I came across number seventy-three:

It is not a language’s weakness but its strengths that control the gradient of its change: Alas, a language never escapes its embryonic sac.

A couple of my favorite programming languages constantly get picked for their failings and weird idiosyncrasies, but at the same time they have dramatically altered certain programming domains. JavaScript has revolutionized the web, Python certainly has made programming approachable and useful in academic contexts, and MATLAB has trivialized algorithmic computation.

In these languages you might find things like broken identity (in JavaScript NaN !== NaN), inconsistencies (in Python 2 * '3' is '33' but '2' * 3 is 6), or even very un-programming-like patterns (MATLAB .m files – seriously?) but I feel like these wuts are more or less the artifacts of robust systems being incapable of being everything for everyone all the time.

Truth be told – we all have some major failings, but those don’t have to be the things that holds us back or define us either. In some regards I feel emotionally scarred from experiences with lost tempers and personal shortcomings, but as I have grown older I have learned more and more how to cope with strange outbursts and rude outbursts and overlook them.

We’re all pretty amazing beings and yet we all seem to get into these kinds of situations where we explode: some outwardly in fits of rage, some inwardly in deceptive or passive aggressive tactics. While those things are all problematic, it takes some real courage to look past those when interacting with others and be able to asses them for what they are: small scars in robust and incredible systems whose strengths far out-signify their flaws.

It just makes sense…

The Atlantic just published an interview with the author of the new book, Black Earth: The Holocaust as History and Warning. In that article and in that book is an idea new to me about Hitler’s reasoning and motivation for many of the heinous crimes he planned, authorized, and enacted.

The basic premise is that Hitler was ultimately and primarily a racial anarchist. For him, this had the following implications:

  • The natural way of the world is a brutal and barbaric struggle between races.
  • The Jews spread the idea humanity and abstract thought and all sorts of imposed order which are inherently unnatural. This ideology is standing in the way of how things are supposed to be, thus the only way to bring the world into right again is to eradicate everything related to those ideas, including the people behind them.
  • Killing Jews inside the borders of nation-states was too difficult logistically whereas it was much more practical to do the executions in the “backwoods,” (my term) or the chaotic void left behind when a nation collapses.
  • Therefore, the only way Hitler could restore the natural world order was to somehow get the German people to start a war whose goal was the elimination of other nations in order to make way for the Final Solution and thus eradicate the world of the Jews’ unnatural ways and ideas.

Pretty much any analysis of Hitler’s life and works is going to be terrifying, but there are a few things in this article that stood out:

  • Hitler didn’t ultimately care about the German or Aryan race. He masqueraded his intentions behind German nationalism in order to win popular support so that he could acquire the mean to start his campaign against all statehood and order.
  • He didn’t just think that Jews were a problem (because, let’s face it, almost all of Europe considered them a problem at the time), but he considered them the problem that held back the natural order of the world and with it all things that are right and good.
  • His twisted worldview provided a framework within which he could mastermind his well-executed plans rationally, all the while being completely irrational to the rest of the world.
  • It’s conceivable that this combination of factors could reemerge in a new flavor somewhere today in the world and recreate the same horrors of those dark times.

The twist that separated Hitler from some of his terrible peers was that non-negotiable non-rational worldview that isolated him from reality. The author makes a brief connection with a refusal to acknowledge the state of Israel today by its geo-neighbors on the sentiment that Jews could never form a functioning state. It just makes sense,” in other words, “why recognize an entity that any moment will collapse on itself and no longer exist?”

Though not calling out as if from the watch-tower, the book’s author stages Hitler’s ideology as a warning to us today, especially those of us dealing with policies and foreign powers who have heinously racist or inflammatory rhetoric

There’s a key in there, he suggests: rational leaders know their limits and are on the look out for their own people; the crazy ones are those who are more focussed on conforming reality to their own malformed worldview’s than taking care of their own. This can separate the madman who cries for the elimination on an entire demographic but won’t ever actually do it from the one who will.

Summary and my takeaway

I think that a teaching-point here is to bring a particularly strong level of skepticism to policy arguments that we hear when they would hurt or sever the relationships between people: by malice, physical separation, class distinction, prejudice, preference, etc…

Many times we are fed ideas that just sound right and the discussion are closed to outside parties – locked away from inspection from unbiased observers. Maybe they even cater to our fancies and we get caught up in the enthusiasm of their implications. Nevertheless, they not only don’t have the best interest of the out-group in mind, but they ultimately don’t have the best interest of the in-group either, and these things are obvious from the outside.

There’s so many ways this discussion to pan out and there are so many places it applies today, but I think the only good place I can end this post is relate it to one very important piece of humanity: dignity.

Most prejudice ultimately strips away the dignity of its targets. They aren’t human, so they aren’t worth protecting, loving, and honoring like human are. Life is beautiful even in its messes and if we care about life and consider one another first and foremost as living, human, breathing, thinking, creative, worthwhile people, then that is probably the best way we can guard ourselves and our world from reinventing the atrocities of the past.