dad from day one: Baby Boot Camp

Week 1.

Regarding immediate life in the home front and finding a method to the madness, my wife and I are starting to get things figured out.  When Jack needs a diaper change, I put in his pacifier, “shush” him, and place my right hand over his chest while my wife handles the dirty business, delicately cleaning around his healing circumcised penis and belly button (similar to playing the Operation board game by Milton Bradley).  Regarding sleep schedules, my wife has come up with this gracious plan: On weeknights, I sleep in the guest bedroom on a futon bed from midnight until 6 AM for 6 hours of uninterrupted sleep, then I get ready to leave for work.  When I arrive home 12 hours later, I do whatever my wife needs me to, including but not limited to rocking him, holding him, and helping with the feedings.  But during the weekends, I pretty much just take naps when I can.

Yes, this is my new normal.  I look at the situation for my wife and I as “baby boot camp”.  We are being broken down to the point now where we see two hour naps as a valuable prize, as sleep becomes the new currency in life.  Though so many people have told us the “sleep when the baby sleeps” rule, he inconveniently sleeps between 4:30 and 8:00 PM, a time slot where I am always widest awake and eating dinner.  Hopefully keeping him awake during this time will push back his schedule enough to ensure better sleep time for his parents.

I figure if we can make it through the difficulties of breastfeeding and learning to deal with sleep deprivation, we can officially handle all else that will come our way in raising him.  So I remind myself that every good and present father has been through this too.  I look at parenting as a necessary rite of passage for myself as a human being.  It’s something I was meant to do in order to fully serve my purpose here on Earth; never really knowing all the positive chain-reacting side-effects that my influence on him will cause in the world.  Deep.


Advertisements

The Hipness of Jesus Christ: Why the God of Christianity is Cool in Modern Culture

Jesus is not my “homeboy”, but He is pretty cool.

It seems that while growing up in the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, the name of Jesus wasn’t really common (or acceptable) in mainstream entertainment.  Maybe it’s the fact that we as a nation are more aware now of the infiltration of different religions such as Islam in recent years, so we’re becoming more outspoken about Jesus than we used to be.  Because if we still are indeed a “Christian nation”, it’s Jesus we would need to be down with.

I do believe that the name of Jesus will always be offensive in the sense that He is the main factor that separates Christians (Protestants, Catholics, Messianic Jews, etc.) from other religions, including Judaism, as well as distinguishing those who simply “believe in God or a higher power” (theists).  However, I believe we are at a point in history and culture where “Jesus awareness” is at an all time high.

From Carrie Underwood’s 2005 number one hit, “Jesus, Take the Wheel”, to Kanye West’s 2004 hit “Jesus Walks”, which only peaked at #11, but saw great commercial and critical success, to Mel Gibson’s (yes, he has gone crazy since then) 2004 movie, The Passion of the Christ, which become the 8th highest grossing movie of all time (at the time), the highest grossing R-rated movie ever, and the highest grossing non-English movie ever, America continues to prove that even in our desired choices of entertainment, Jesus is in demand.

Whether or not the average American truly believes and trusts that Jesus is the Son of God, it’s safe to say that the average American has at least a basic understanding that Jesus was put to death on a cross to redeem the sins of mankind, past and present.  And that He came back to life three days later.  And that during his lifetime, He performed all kinds of miracles, like walking on water, healing blind men, speaking dead people into existence, and feeding thousands of people from just a couple fish and loaves of bread.  Whether or not the average American believes all this to literally be true, they at least are familiar with these basic concepts.

Even if to the average skeptic, Jesus is nothing more than a respectable movie character played by forgettable non-Jewish actors with blue eyes, this black sheep of the Jews ultimately puts us all in a position to whether we have to either recognize Him as the savior of mankind, or dismiss Him as either a good intention or completely irrelevant to life.  Either Jesus is who He said He is (God), or He’s not.  Either we associate Him with the meaning of life and the afterlife, or we don’t.  And especially in modern America, we have so been made aware of who He is at this point; it’s just a matter of what we do with that knowledge.

I’ve thought about it, and honestly, even apart from the fact I truly believe Christianity is the answer to all our “meaning of life questions”, and that out of all the religions, it’s Christianity that is the “right one” for me (because let’s face it, out of all the religions in the world, only one can be right in the end when we die, so it’s important to pick one and stick with it while we’re still alive), apart from all that, even if I wasn’t a Christian, I still would vote Jesus as the “coolest god”.

He was conceived by the Holy Spirit (not a man) and a virgin.  Right off, that’s so scientifically impossible.  So I like it.  He never sinned; which is spiritually impossible.  I like that too.  His first miracle was turning water into wine at a really nice wedding. Cool.  He instantly stopped a really bad storm out at sea by saying, “peace, be still”.  The fact that Jesus went against the rules of nature is a major selling point for me.

Jesus came in the form of a Jewish man, who pretty much was a hippie type, who rebelled against the established religious culture of His day, challenging them to show their love for God to be authentic by taking care of the poor, the widowed, the unloved, and the sinners.

And based on the unproportionally high number of popular American Jewish actors and writers who we make rich in the name of entertainment, and based on the fact that just as many Jews who actually live in Israel who live in America (both Israel and America each contain about 40% of the world’s Jewish population), I’d say we Americans are known for embracing the Jews, whereas so many nations throughout history have rejected (understatement) them instead.

According to Christian belief, Jesus Christ is coming back to Earth to set up His millennial kingdom, in which all of us who believed in Him get to be a part of.  The way I see it, Jesus is not only the real deal; He just happens to be pretty cool too. But at the end of the day (and our lives), we will have made it clear through our words and actions just how relevant Jesus is to us personally.  And no matter how hip or popular (or uncool or unpopular) He may seem, we still choose in this life how important He is to us, for eternity.

“1985 I missed a plane, which then disappeared, never seen again.  You came to me Jesus, stood right in my way. You flew down from Heaven to save me again. Hallelujah, hallelujah.” -excerpt from “Stay with Me, Jesus” by Guster


Unnecessary Bonus…

Classic Books that Americans Love which were Written by Jewish Authors:




Metaphors in Super Mario Bros. that Taught Us about Real Life

How many lives do you have left before it’s “game over”?

Something that Super Mario Bros. taught us first, more so than any other video game, was the concept of having “lives”.  If you fell in a hole (which means you instantly died; no chance that the hole wasn’t really that deep or that you could have grabbed on to a branch while falling), you lost a life.  If you touched an enemy, you lost a life (which is completely irrational; I wonder what would happen if Mario touched a “frenemy”?…). If you ran out of time, you lost a life (okay, I admit, that concept is somewhat lifelike).

However, if you accomplished certain goals to better yourself, like ate a healthy mushroom(this promoted organic a lifestyle), saved 100 coins (which causes the game to most likely be endorsed by Dave Ramsey), kicked a turtle shell that slid into 10 enemies (illogical and scientifically impossible on so many levels), or jumped to the top of a flagpole (because that’s normal in real life), you actually would get a “1 Up”, which means that you gained an extra life.

But the whole point of this game, despite collecting gold coins (which instantly disappeared when you touched them- could that be a metaphor symbolizing how money is meaningless?) and muddling through everyday distractions (like busting bricks with your fist because you thought there was a steel box with an “invincibility star” inside- choose your own metaphor for life on that one…) was to save the princess from the evil mutant dragon named Koopa.

If you could run under the dragon in the final castle when he jumped up while breathing fire and hammers at you, you instantly touched an axe that caused the bridge to collapse, therefore sending the dragon into the fiery lava pit (poor architectural planning, if you ask me…). In the next room, the famous princess was waiting to be saved from captivity.  In other words, despite being responsible by saving money, despite gaining power, despite becoming a hero to anyone, it’s all really about helping other people.

Cool Retro Sunday School Bonus!

And for those from a Protestant background, the Mushroom Kingdom represents the Heavenly Kingdom, the dragon symbolizes Satan who will be hurled into the lake of fire in the end, and saving the princess symbolizes sharing Christ’s message of salvation and loving others as ourselves, which is the summary of Ephesians 2:8-10, and in my opinion, the meaning of life and the whole point of Christianity.

The Sussudio Effect: Why We Secretly Love the Mysteries of Life

Whether we will admit it or not, we like unexplained mysteries.

Do we really need an answer for everything?  Isn’t omniscience (the ability to know everything infinitely) a trait we reserve for God?  Could we handle the responsibility of having all the answers?  We like to think we want all the answers, but if we did, that would be a life without surprise, suspense, and ultimately, much excitement.

Much of the mystique we deal with revolves around our origin, purpose, and ending.  But even without all the big idea concepts like “why am I here?” and “what exactly happens the moment I die?,” both of which the element of ignorance is attached to, life is still full plenty of petty mysteries to think about.  Which at best, simply reflect the fact that mystery is a part of life.

Like the song “Sussidio” by Phil Collins.  It became a number one hit in July of 1985.  And though I wasn’t quite in pre-school yet at that point, the song has definitely kept a solid spot in the Soundtrack of My Life.  I can’t say that I like the saxophone-enhanced song just because of its feel-good vibes and groovy melody.  A big part of why I like the song is because of its quirkiness.  Because let’s face it, no one really knows what a “sussudio” is.

In recent years, thanks to Phil Collins’ interviews that have surfaced and have been referenced in Wikipedia, I have learned that Phil always did a lot of ad-lib and improvising in the studio.  He often would record the music to the song before he wrote the words, just making up random words and phrases to hold the place; then coming back later to replace the gibberish with actual lyrics.

“Sussudio” was a place-holding made-up word that he never came up with a replacement for.  And so it remained.  The word still doesn’t mean anything.  It’s not the name of a girl, as some have assumed.  It’s just a mysterious word.  You get to decide what it means.  Weird concept, but after all, the song did make it to the number one spot.

Why?  It’s a great catchy song.  And it’s mysterious.

I will deliberately bypass the way-too-obvious fact that LOST’s popularity is associated with its strategic and clever uses of mystique (LOST- Answering Questions that Were Left Unanswered) and instead close with the fact that we can spend a lifetime just unveiling the mysteries of the people closest to us in our lives.

It’s not like we sit down with our parents or spouses or best friends and interview them with a #2 pencil and steno pad about their childhood and see what we can learn about them that we didn’t know before.  Instead, we just wait for those random trigger words to show up in conversation, which prompt a story that we’ve never heard before about them before.

Sometimes when my wife and I are out at a restaurant, we (being “people watchers”) will notice an older couple sitting in silence, only really speaking to say predictable things like “How’s your steak?”  We want to be cooler than that when we’re older; we want to have cool stuff to talk about, even now.

There are so many hidden stories in each of us.  We can only try, in a lifetime, to extract them from each other.  Not that they all can be told even in one lifetime, we ourselves can’t remember them all.  Because unlike God, we mysteriously ended up without an omniscient memory.

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 6

“Americans spend an estimated 20 billion dollars annually on ice cream.  An amount that could feed 83 million hungry children for a year.” -State of the World 2004 Worldwatch Institute

“…I bet my whole checking account because it all amounts to nothing in the end.” -Jason Mraz, “Curbside Prophet”

Suddenly, the thought of being filthy rich is less intriguing than ever. I’m not talking about turning down the chance to make $100,000 a year. I mean stinkin’ rich. Multi-millionaire. Completely set for life. So rich that it would be expected of me to drive a new Jaguar and live in a mansion with a kidney-shaped swimming pool and speak with a Connecticut dialect and be on MTV Cribs. Set for life.

I came to the realization that I already have everything I need and want.

Aside from paying bills and getting out of debt and buying food, the only money I really spend is on non-fiction books off the discount rack at Borders. So that means the only thing I can’t get enough of that money can actually buy is knowledge. I can gain knowledge through my own life experiences. The other way is to buy it through books written by people who save me the time of living out the experiences they’ve already learned from.

So once I get out of debt, which I eventually will since my wife are strict followers of Dave Ramsey, what would I continually spend a large income on if I ever had it?

More expensive, impressive cars? A huge house, with its higher insurance rates and utilities and more expensive overhead and all the nice furniture and fixin’s to make it look nice?

It all goes back to Forrest Gump: “Now, Momma said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs… and the rest is just for showing off.”

So I imagine having the house paid off, being debt free, happy in a small but nice house, driving decent cars. What do I need a lot money for?

For me, it would be to travel the world. I’ve only been to 4 other countries in this world (not counting a layover in Japan or driving to the Canada side of Niagara Falls). There is so much beautiful landscape to see and so many interesting people to meet and all that weird foreign culture to be exposed to. I could never get enough of that, yet with money I could try.

But.

Instead of sending myself across the globe, treating it and its people as my own real-life Epcot Center, what if I helped them with my time and money ?

Because after a few awesome trips to Norway and Sweden and Switzerland, it’s gonna hit me: This is fun, but ultimately it’s all about me. And I’m not that big of a deal.

And I think that’s why so many big movie stars and rock stars are often so much more aware of the needs of Third Word Countries. They “get” this high concept more than we do sometimes. Because they are set for life, unlike us. They have the time and the money to see the rest of the world. And before too long, they see a need to help the millions of people currently living in slavery and poverty.

It’s inevitable there will always be poor people and therefore there will always be a need to give our time and money: “For the poor will never cease to be in the land; therefore I command you, saying, ‘You shall freely open your hand to your brother, to your needy and poor in your land.'” -Deuteronomy 15:11

So if I was so rich I could just retire now, and still have plenty of cash to blow, where would my money go? How would I spend with my time?

Other people. With them and for them. That’s where all the extra would go.

How would it be fair that I had too much while most of the world had way too little? How would I not be a hypocrite to live a life that acknowledges that true religion is caring for the orphans and widows yet I lived a lavish lifestyle? I just don’t see how having that much money could ever make me happy.

To have too much of anything ultimately means that someone out there isn’t getting enough.

http://www.worldvision.org/

https://www.hopeforhaitinow.org/Default.asp

Strip away food, clothes, shelter, and faith. It’s safe to say that anyone reading this on their computer has all those things. What’s left that actually matters to us?

People.

Family and friends.

And complete strangers that need the extra money we have to get a much smaller version of those things we already have.

Life really is that simple.

So if by writing this I jinx my situation and become filthy stinkin’ rich so fate can test if I really mean what I say, I’m not afraid. Because speaking of learning from other people’s life experiences, it’s often those same movie stars and rock stars that “get it” when it comes to poverty in the rest of the world that are also the same ones that prove that having too much doesn’t make them happy.

“Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress…” -James 1:27

“All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” -Edmund Burke

People are the Meaning of Life- Table of Contents

Part 1 http://wp.me/pxqBU-2h

Part 2 http://wp.me/sxqBU-289

Part 3 http://wp.me/pxqBU-7M

Part 4 http://wp.me/pxqBU-8r

Part 5 http://wp.me/pxqBU-j2

Part 6 http://wp.me/pxqBU-tm


People are the Meaning of Life: The Rich, The Poor, and The Loved

There are three types of people in the world. The rich, the poor, and the loved.

Ecuador

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

I recently watched the deleted scenes from the holiday movie Love Actually. The camera zooms in on a poster of two African women in the hot desert. They are carrying baskets full of corn on top of their heads – a scene that would cause many viewers to assume they live a difficult live. As their camera gets closer to the shot of the women, the picture comes to life.

Through subtitles at the bottom of the screen, the viewer learns that these women are indeed quite happy. They are simply carrying food from their garden as they do each day, talking about their husbands and their children. The scene closes with one of the women with her husband, looking out across their small plot of land. They lived a simply life, but were quite content. They had each other and had enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

A few weeks ago I viewed a slide show called “What the World Eats”. Each slide featured a family from a different country pictured in their kitchen with all the food they eat in a week’s time. One of the poorest families featured was from Ecuador. Their kitchen was simply a corner of their hut. They only ate vegetables, I’m sure not by choice. But they sincerely looked happy in the picture. They had each other and enough to eat. Though it wasn’t a feast.

Here is a link to that slideshow I saw :

http://www.time.com/time/photogallery/0,29307,1626519_1373664,00.html

While much of the world experiences constants civil wars and famine and corrupt governments, not all “poor countries” are suffering. They just live on a lot less than us. And are happy. Not all cultures require a family to own a large house and a minimum of two cars.

Italy

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

Subconsciously, I have been pitying every foreign country poor enough not to have their own national brand of vehicles or their own equivalent to American Idol. But perhaps, they have been pitying me, the Capitalist. Living in a land where it’s easy to end up focusing on chasing money for an entire lifetime.

My church has a ministry where they take in refugees from northern Africa, Iraq, and Southeast Asia. The church helps them to find jobs and an apartment to help them “get on their feet”. Some of them have expressed that life in America is not as easy as it has been romanticized.

While it is the land of the free, it is also the land of the working. Many are surprised by how many hours Americans must work a week to support their families and keep up the maintenance of even one car, which is all but necessary in our culture.

Obviously they are glad to be here instead of imprisoned in a refugee camp in a country plagued with violence, racism, and religious discrimination. But to be an American typically means a person must work the majority of the hours of the week.

Mongolia

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

From what I’ve been hearing from people outside this country, something Americans are known for is being obsessed with their work. But I don’t know. I’m not an outsider.

I do know I only have about 3 quality hours (at very best) each weekday with my wife. Because she’s in her Master’s classes all day Saturday, the only day we really have together is Sunday. And by then, we’re exhausted from the work week. I’m realizing I envy families who actually get to spend time with each other.

My wife has said several times that she would have like to live in the pioneer days of covered wagons and schoolhouses in the West. Not me. Too hot. Too cold. Too easy to get sick. To easy to die. No thanks.

Egypt

© Peter Menzel http://www.menzelphoto.com from the book Hungry Planet: What the World Eats

However, this is the only life I know. If I never knew the comfort of an air conditioner in a house or road trip in an SUV with a CD player, then I wouldn’t know what I am missing.

I thank God for my life in America in 2009. Such a blessed country.

But in my time of seeing happy, simple families in poorer countries I have traveled like Trinidad, Ecuador, and the northern mountainous villages of Thailand, I became aware that I wanted what they had.

A big house and trendy clothes and new cars mean working more to keep up with the high overhead. I try to imagine a life where the picture is so beautiful, even if the frame isn’t fancy. That’s the life I’m aiming for.

People are the Meaning of Life, Part 4

The funny thing about enemies is that sometimes they end up becoming our friends later on. Once we trudge past the hurt, forgiveness, awkwardness, new beginning, and a block of time that helps wash away the instant stigma that used to come to mind when we would think of them, we can find ourselves in a situation where we almost think to ourselves, “What did we use to fight about, anyway?”

We as a nation have hated England, Germany, Italy, and Japan in past wars. But now it’s hard to imagine considering any of those countries as enemies, because in my lifetime, they have only been friends of America. Ironically, our country now depends on our relationships with them- not just in military alliances but also in trade.

I feel like I’m the only person in history who actually saw Mel Gibson’s 2006 movie Apocalypto, in which the concept is “there will always be an enemy, whether it’s within one’s self, in his village, in his nation, or outside his nation”. That idea is something I have kept in mind when I find myself brewing against a person who doesn’t see things the way I do, whether the other person is clearly wrong or not. Knowing that on any other day, it just as easily could be me that’s a hazard to myself, because I woke up that morning subconsciously deciding that day would suck because I thought it was Saturday but it was Thursday instead.

Ultimately, the lesson I have learned from dealing with “enemies” is this: It’s always a humbling experience. Being humbled is painful and uncomfortable, like be pushed into a swimming pool in the winter with my clothes on. And to be humbled is to be humiliated, to some degree. Because sometimes the only way to move past the antagonistic part of a relationship with a person is to stop trying to show them that they really are wrong and instead adopt this new branding of “we’ve both been wrong/we’ve let things get out of control/this has just been a big misunderstanding”. That goes against everything inside of me, but has proven the most effective way for me to have one less enemy and gain one more ally.

The Enemies we encounter in life, for the most part, are here to enhance our lives. As we learn to deal with them, we learn to better communicate and react to Bigger Enemies, along with treating our family and close friends better as well. People are the meaning of life, and annoyingly, even our Enemies help that to be true.

dog rat cat