/ Chris / Comments Off on Why Are We So Stressed Out?
The music video for the catchy, but now overplayed song, “Stressed Out,” begins with a disaffected Tyler Joseph, the vocalist for the band Twenty One Pilots, pedaling a tricycle on a vacant, wintered street. Black paint, the color of soot, creeps up his neck and covers his hands. His weary face sits below a red beanie socked on his head. A hypnotic, brooding beat drops in and he starts singing, “I wish I found some better sounds no one’s ever heard/ I wish I had a better voice that sang some better words/ I wish I found some chords in an order that is new.” The litany of “wishes” makes way for the honest, tragic sentiment threaded throughout the entire song: “But now I’m insecure, and I care what people think.”
When Megan Garber, a writer for The Atlantic, first heard the song stuck in traffic she labeled it a “Millennial anthem,” the battle cry (or is it sigh?) for this generation’s worried, jaded and stressed out youth. It may explain why the song has garnered such popularity, peaking at the number two spot in the Billboard Top 100. This angsty, talented and culturally aware duo from Columbus, Ohio struck a chord, or several of them, with a nation of young adults.
As honest as it is, though, it doesn’t offer anything revelatory. A Huffington Post article, “American Teens Are Even More Stressed Than Adults,” detailed how the American Psychological Association’s Stress in America survey found Millennials (aged 18-33) to be the country’s most-stressed generation back in 2013 (although the article goes on to explain how teenagers assumed the top spot the next year). Generally speaking, Americans are more stressed out than they were decades ago, despite the technological, medical and societal improvements since. So the question remains: why are we so stressed out?
/ Chris / Comments Off on Why Marrying the “Wrong Person” Is Reason for Hope
A sobering article in The New York Times written by Alain de Botton came out recently, titled “Why You Will Marry the Wrong Person.” As the seemingly pessimistic title states, the article proposes that no matter who we end up marrying, we will ultimately find ourselves disillusioned, disappointed and if not unhappy, bereft of the unadulterated joy we had hoped for and downright expected. To de Botton, the remedy for such discouraging news is to denude our culture of the pervasive romanticism that has haunted it for the last 250 years: a collective lowering of the marital bar. Then, with such ringing hopes dulled and diluted, we can better go about our business when it comes to the institution of marriage.
There are obviously elements of truth to the article. In the piece, de Botton discusses the inherent impossibility of any one person to fulfill us in the way we so ardently desire:
“The person who is best suited to us is not the person who shares our every taste (he or she doesn’t exist), but the person who can negotiate differences in taste intelligently — the person who is good at disagreement.”
/ Chris / Comments Off on Is Self-Help Only for the Selfish?
In recent years, there has been a breached interest in self-discovery: a search to uncover the secret to the inner self in hopes of procuring purpose, meaning and abiding happiness. And so many have taken to scouring the self-help sections of bookstores — online and off — to essentially unlock the secret to being. A few years ago I went through my own self-discovery phase. I had just ended a long relationship with a woman and now had the time and freedom to explore myself in ways that I hadn’t before. Here I was, single and in my mid-twenties, wondering what my next step in life should be. I had come back to my faith only a few years prior, and so there was so much I yearned to explore about God, the spiritual life, and myself.
So I dove in.
To be sure, in many ways it was a rich and necessary experience. Being able to peel back the layers of my unacquainted self was exciting, fascinating and informative. I did this in a host of different ways: Myers-Briggs, Strengthsfinder and charisms tests, endless books and articles on discernment and vocation, conversations with friends and mentors, time spent in prayer, even by taking “What Movie Character Are You?” quizzes featured on my Facebook feed. I didn’t discriminate. If it could lead to greater illumination, I was all for it. And much of it did indeed prove to be illuminating: tools that helped me understanding who I was and what role I might be called to play in the world. But at times it also became limiting and stressful, not to mention spurring an obsessiveness that worked against my efforts for clarity. On my less-than-stellar days, I spent hours analyzing every gift and flaw, affinity and quark I had, with the subconscious expectation of wresting a comprehensive, nicely buttoned up understanding of myself. When this happened, my quest for self-knowledge turned sour, an egotistical exercise in concocting a falsely comforting illusion. Continue reading
/ Chris / Comments Off on What is Our Answer to Life’s One Question?
Recently, students across the country, donned in black caps and gowns, prepared for their descent from the guarded and secure microcosm of higher education into the “real world,” as they call it. These commencement ceremonies mark an occasion for celebration, excitement and unbridled hope. And while we extend a warm congratulations and heartfelt “good luck” to all graduates this time around, we’re now doing so to the last remnant of the Millennial generation. According to the “experts”, those born around the mid-nineties or later now constitute the next generational installment known as “Generation We” or “Generation Z.” And so, the world prepares to welcome the very first members of this generation into adulthood.
Unexpectedly, Generation Z is often compared to the Greatest Generation due to its members’ work ethic, independence and (at least compared to their Millennial older siblings) much more grounded expectations and goals. Mind you, this is a generation with only a few pre-9/11 memories. It’s a generation that witnessed their parents and relatives lose their jobs and houses during the Great Recession. It’s a generation that has grown up in the midst of school shootings and terrorist attacks—harrowing events that are now instantly accessible and gruesomely detailed on the account of technology that previous generations could never have dreamed up by even their most creative and prescient members.
It’s interesting to observe the “experts” point out the similarities and differences between generations: “X” generation is better than “Y” generation, pun intended, because of this or that. And while there are surely differences, there are some fundamental attributes that rear their head from the crowd of every generation. Regardless of our time or cultural milieu, we all wonder why we’re here and what—if anything—we’re supposed to do about it.
/ Chris / Comments Off on How Do We Respond with Love to a Crying World?
In lifeless bold letters across a slab of concrete, the word “Indifferenza” (“Indifference”) is etched at Milan’s Holocaust Memorial. The somber word, heavy with plaintive meaning and tragic history, serves as both a constant and cautionary reminder of the grave horrors that can befall humanity if we give into such a state of apathy. The museum stands where Platform 21 used to, a train station that 70 years ago was secretly used to load Jews onto trains headed for death camps. The museum opened in 2013, and in taking seriously the writing on the wall, recently has sheltered and accommodated foreign refugees: an influx of men, women and children who have fled war, hunger and persecution in northern Africa.
Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winning novelist, political activist, and Holocaust survivor, knew well the consequences of a world lulled by the nefarious pitch of indifference:
“The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference. The opposite of art is not ugliness, it’s indifference. The opposite of faith is not heresy, it’s indifference. And the opposite of life is not death, it’s indifference.”
Wiesel’s words conjure a sobering passage from the Book of Revelation in their indictment of those who stand detached, disengaged and disinterested with the world and the suffering of those in it:
/ Chris / Comments Off on Why is God so Demanding of Us?
From a very young age we’re taught the value of accruing knowledge, relationships, popularity and success—a storing up and clutching onto good things that can help us sail effectively toward a happy life. We’re groomed not to dispense of anything we own or acquire that has value, but instead to cultivate it, protect it, hold onto it with tireless resolve. What we have and collect—our education, gifts and talents, intellect, possessions—we are expected to use strategically to our advantage. We become hoarders so we can navigate the world and be victorious within it.
From a rational vantage point, it makes complete sense. It seems an absolutely necessary mindset to have in order to be successful in the world. These things, in their goodness, can point to God and allow for happiness. When I review the many good things in my life—my family, group of friends, job, health, home in San Diego, access to delicious food at will—sometimes I’m met with an overwhelming sense of comfort and contentment. For me, such a realization invites me to thank God, acknowledging that such things can work as refreshment on life’s journey. These moments, as good and nourishing as they can be, though, also have the capacity to dim my reliance on God. I can easily take comfort in the things around me, becoming resistant in handing them over to God should he ask for them.
/ Chris / Comments Off on “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” and God’s Mysterious Providence
The much anticipated next installment to the Star Wars saga, Episode VII: The Force Awakens, has finally made its way to video. The film, carefully and effectively piloted by director J.J. Abrams, crossed the $2 billion mark worldwide at the box office only two months after its December 2015 release. Of course, no one is surprised. Disney spent $4 billion dollars acquiring the franchise and they knew—without any doubt—that they would earn their money back and then some when all three films were said and done. No force required to see this one.
Overall the film garnered positive reviews. The biggest criticism, with which I’m partially sympathetic, is that it was too redolent of A New Hope: an obscure, though unknowingly gifted desert-dweller, the Death Star-esque weapon with the capacity to obliterate entire planets (or in this case planetary systems), the sinister—though vastly less iconic—relative of Vader with the same propensity to force-fully threaten his incompetent underlings. Still, and maybe because there is nothing like sitting in a packed theater, the smell of buttered popcorn and Milk Duds thick in the air, and having that famous score burst in my ears while watching bold Franklin Gothic Demi typeface glide out into space on the screen, I enjoyed it. I just can’t shake its nostalgic charm, I guess. Continue reading
Silence. It can be a reservoir of flowing peace and nourishing grace. It can call to mind our cherished identity, compelling us to respond to God and others with that same, first love he has shown us. Or it can be cold and sterile, a state of abandonment, loss, frustration and sorrow. It’s in the silence that we can choose to trust in his loving presence or his aching absence. We all know of people—maybe even ourselves at times—who turn away from God because in a time of great need they were met with the cold, bitter sound of only their own cries and tears. It’s an experience, I imagine, we can all relate to on some level.
Submitting to God, and the mystery of his sometimes peculiar and painful ways is a sobering challenge, one we can’t escape as we journey back toward the Kingdom of God in this life. God gives us enough grace and light to have a reasonable, firm and joyful belief in him, but so much of our lives remain unclear—we’re asked to trust in his plan even when it appears chaotic, unfair, or meaningless. When the eyes of our bodies are darkened, we are called to rely evermore on the eyes of our faith. This trusting in his will gradually and—at least on our worse days, suspiciously—throughout our lives is hard. And we experience moments in our lives when we cast a full-throated cry to God in words that echo those same ones from Job himself:
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