Danger Boy


That was so cool! A little scary. Can we go faster next time? These are the words of my five year old yesterday. Towards the end of the day Paul came to the office to spend time with me because it was abundantly clear mom needed a break from his antics. Not sure how I would transport home my bike, my normal gear, and a kindergartner via the trolley I just told Kristen to drop him off. I have unshakable trust in the theory of emergent plans.

Standing on the street corner I decided that it was plausible to have Paul straddle the bar in front of me, hold onto the handlebars, and peg his feet into my bottle holder. The key to understanding this wild ride is knowing that the journey is .7 miles and nearly all downhill. Even by myself it is one of those downhill journeys that hovers right on that border between amazing and just-a-little-too-fast. So I picked him up, got him seated, and off we went. As daddy white-knuckled down the hill suddenly realizing how stupid this adventure was, Paul beamed with pride. Daddy is thinking about what he’ll tell the paramedics on the way to the Emergency Room and Paul’s wide-eyes glisten as he dreams of going faster. My inner actuarialist vomited all over his shoes. My inner 12 year old thought it was rad. A few minutes later we arrived at the trolley station. Paul got off my bike and sat down on the bench next to me. In that moment we both realized he was a little bit closer to manhood.

Outside of the obvious needs of taking care of our children we are challenged with raising them. Kristen and I have been learning that raising a boy is entirely different than raising a girl. And we are having our eyes opened wider and wider every day as to what that means for Paul. Our son loves to live life a little dangerous. While dad dreams of playing rounds of golf at Torrey Pines, Spyglass, or even Pebble Beach… Paul is dreaming about jumping off of stuff, climbing mountains, and finding snakes. His dreams for himself are often more daring and dangerous than mom and dad can handle. And yet we long to foster this spirit of adventure in him. In fact, I want nothing more than a son who looks danger in the face and steps up to conquer instead of winnowing away his dreams because of fear. While I am always concerned he’ll get hurt I am more worried that my own fears will contribute to him not becoming the boy his souls longs to be. We constantly weigh the fear or danger vs. the fear of not enough danger.

Yesterday was a reminder of my role in raising a son who is crazy enough to change the world.

Yesterday was a reminder that behind great men lay great parents who reminded them that its not just about danger, it’s about embracing courageous danger.

Yesterday was a reminder that our society cannot be filled with men who are always cautious and only seek adventure in measured amusement parks or other things that are pseudo-dangerous.

Yesterday was a reminder that if I want my son to believe to his core in the theory of emergent plans he needs to see me go MacGyver here and there.

Plans? Who needs a plan?

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

The Power of Fear

Up until fourth grade I lived in the city of South Bend on one of those quintessential small town streets where everyone knew everyone, kids played outside until the street lights came on, we all played at one anothers house, and we were all one happy family. Summer was all about riding bikes, fireworks, BBQs, swimming in Doug’s pool, endless games of football, and weekends at the lake. Winter was endless fort building and snow ball fights while avoiding shoveling the walk. At least, that’s how I remember it. I loved my street growing up. It was a safe place to play with friends.

Until the summer between my 1st and 2nd grade year.

One day I was riding my bike with a friend when we spotted something no kid could resist… wet concrete. The city had paved our street and replaced the concrete that went around a sewer grate right in the middle of my street, just a few doors from my house. The traffic cones were like syrens calling a weary sailor. We left our bikes in the grass, grabbed some sticks, and dashed for the land of the forbidden.

The first thing we did was write our names. Then, my friend started furiously writing cuss words. He was number four in an Irish-Catholic family of seven. With two older brothers and a fire chief father he magically knew millions of cuss words and how to spell them. Not to be left out I spelled out the only cuss word I was confident I could spell: Dam.

Proud of our vandalism we grabbed our bikes and took off to the park. Within minutes we had completely forgotten about our misdemeanor and moved on to other dubious acts like racing empty beer bottles down the slides and ghost riding our bikes down the hill of death.

The next day, on my way over to the same friends house, I circled my bike around that sewer drain to see how things turned out. I was fixated on my name. “Adam.” How cool was that? Forever in the lore of Tonti Street everyone would know that I had placed my name on that sewer. One day, archeologists would dig up our block and they’d know that Adam lived there. I was an instant legend.

Ecstatic, I jumped back on my bike. As I got a few pedals away, with my pride cutting through the summer air like a bottle rocket, I heard my name called out. I turned around to see one of the old geezers coming off his covered porch and waving me to come over to him. Our block was a mix of old timers and young families who had bought homes from estates of their former neighbors. I wheeled my bike around to gain momentum and sailed up his driveway to his front steps. Surely, he had seen my street art and wanted to congratulate the artist.

I was dead wrong. While I had seen him mow his lawn and trim his bushes I had never talked to this man before. His size and demeanor were intimidating. He came down his steps with a limp and put his giant hand on my 7 year old shoulder. I remember looking up at him but not seeing much further than the anchor tattoo of the Navy on his forearm. Every sensor in my brain was telling me to run. I was convinced that he was going to grab me and pull me into his garage where he’d chop me up with his hedge clippers.

Son, I see you and your friend wrote in that concrete yesterday. You know you wrote some bad things and you’re going to have to clean that up somehow.” 25 years later and I still have no idea how he expected me to erase words from hard concrete. A jackhammer was simply not in the arsenal of a 7 year old. “If you don’t take care of that I’m going to tell your mom.” If his firm grip on my shoulder hadn’t scared me, the threat of telling my mom that I wrote “dam” in concrete on our street sent my flight instinct over the top. I wiggled my way free, jumped on my bike, and got out of there.

The Power of Fear

Those 15 seconds put more fear into me than I had never experienced. Worse yet, I was now deathly afraid to go anywhere near that man’s house… and he lived 4 doors down and across the street! The sanctuary of my block came tumbling down. I had constant nightmares starring that man. He was my Frankenstein. I still remember a recurring dream where I woke up hearing his voice on my front porch talking to my mom. In the dream I ran downstairs with a John Rambo-styled machine gun and peppered him with bullets until he completely disappeared. As a young child living halfway between reality and fantasy, all of my fantasies had me as a superhero and him as the villain.

It’s amazing how 15 seconds of fear can terrorize you for years.

The effect of this fear was actualized in my behavior. From that day forward I never went down that side of the street unless I was convinced he was gone. If I didn’t see his car drive away I was certain he sat on his porch staring at me, waiting for his moment to get me once and for all.

I began riding my bike down the alley so as to avoid his glare. When school began, I didn’t go out the front door anymore, instead I climbed over the back fence and cut through neighbors yards to meet up with classmates for the walk to school. Halloween? Forget about it. I went to friends houses. On and on it went for more than two years. Those 15 seconds of terror changed how I felt about where I lived.

A couple of years later my mom told us we were moving from the city to the suburbs. While my brother was upset that he’d lose all of his friends I was happy to start over and get away from the scary old neighbor. Little did I know that the dark streets of suburbia had their own things to be afraid of… but that’s another story for another time.

My point here is that fear, no matter how irrational at times, often leads us to action. Sometimes that action is good, it protects us, while other times it leads us to do weird things like climbing fences to avoid the glare of an old man. Sometimes they are based in something imagined. While other times fears are based on something very real.

Fear is one of the root motivators of all of our actions. If you serve in ministry… getting to the bottom of what you are afraid of helps you a lot. More importantly, building trust with people so that they will share their fears will help you discover how to best serve them.

hmm... thoughts

What if you’re asking the wrong question?

With some of my friends I’ve had the same soul conversation 100 times. Together we bang our heads against the wall asking the big question we are facing. With various friends that soul question takes various forms. “Why aren’t my kids following Jesus? Why isn’t my business taking off? Why do I struggle with my faith? Why can’t life be easier? Why does God not answer my prayer? Why isn’t my church growing? How can I be better at running my youth group?”

Let’s face a truism. All of us have a deep soul question. Whether its a matter in your relationships, your faith, your profession, or somewhere else… we are all able to identify the one nagging quesiton that haunts us day and night. Go ahead, fill in the blank. My soul question is ____________________________?

Dang, it feels good just to say it, doesn’t it? Know this… While your soul question is unique, we are all united in having a question our soul longs to see answered.

My thought here is simple.

Have you ever stopped to wonder if you’re just not asking the right question?

Let’s be honest. If you’ve had this soul question for more than a couple weeks, you are probably asking the wrong question! With myself and the people around me there comes a magical moment when we realize we’ve been beating our heads against the wall for years… and continuing to bang it harder and harder isn’t producing anything more than a headache.

So what do I do about it? Ask a different question. I can speak from my own experience to tell you that the answer is not more introspection. For me, the answer to finding peace with my own soul questions, more importantly… my ability to reframe the question so that I know I’m at least asking the right question, tends to lie in one of these three sources.

#1 Seeking wise counsel. That’s spiritual mumbo jumbo for saying I talk to people who are smarter than me on the given field my question seems to fall into. Many times I’ve had someone look at me and say, “Adam, you’re missing the point. The point of what you’re talking about is ______.”

#2 Reading the Word. You knew that was coming, didn’t you? Here’s what I’m talking about. The story of Israel found in the Old Testament is full of leaders asking the wrong question… then God leading them to the right question. These stories help me reframe the questions in my life.

#3 Reading books. I’m drawn mostly to biographies, autobiographies, and non-fiction in general. There is so much wisdom in reading of others folly, upbringing, life transformation, and triumph. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been reading a persons story and I realized… I’m asking the wrong question!

The point isn’t the methods I use to reframe the soul questions in my life. The point is that, if you are wrestling, make sure you’re asking the right question.

Church Leadership hmm... thoughts

Secret Sex

I’ve been around Christians long enough to know that they like to talk about sex. In fact, I know enough about internet traffic to know that only one thing is more popular than a post about sex. In fact, most of you are reading this because you clicked on a link with a keyword you like to click on, “SEX” and are wondering what the secret is all about.

What’s the one thing more popular than a post about sex? A post about sexual behavior Christians “shouldn’t do but like to talk about.”

– Homosexuality

– Cheating

– Masturbation

– Pornography

– Getting caught looking at gay porn and masturbating.

Here’s some data behind this Christian propensity to search for and click on things about sex. Notice the #1 read item at YMX over the last 2 years by a wide margin… it’s an article called “Solo Sex” and its about masturbation. In the 2 years that article has been on the site it has averaged 25 readers per day! Likewise, my blog data shows that most of my google visits from google searches arrive on terms such as “Christian dating” or “Christian sex.”

Proving this point further, stop for a second and think about this:Why are you reading this post? What about the title ‘Secret Sex’ made you click here?” Did I trick you to come here with my blog title? Did you click on a delicious link I served on Twitter? Or were you googling something like “Christian love advice?”

Here is my theory, disagree with me if you like. I think that internally many evangelicals are wrestling with sexuality. I don’t mean they are worried about their gender preference or even secretly longing to do sinful things. I think that within Christian circles it just isn’t safe to talk about sex which leaves many adult Christians very immature in how they handle sex. So the result is that we talk about sexuality in very immature fashions. (And then we wonder why students have messed up views on sexuality!)

While in non-Christian circles it isn’t unusual to have some safety within your peer group to talk about sex in an intelligent manner, I know I’ve never found Christian friends willing to have a serious conversation blushing it off as either “naughty” or diverting to childish jokes. (Of course, maybe its just my friends?) So while it may be normal and/or healthy to seek out talking with a peer about something intimate… in our circles we repress that discussion and look for answers privately.

And I’m not sure that’s a good thing.

I wonder if that repression of the discussion, which in and of itself is amoral but breaks a Christian taboo, is exactly what leads to the gross sexual dysfunction within many churches and marriages. Why can’t Christians just talk about sex? Why do Christians scour the internet searching for answers?

Sidebar: Of course it could also be that there are so many people out there googling anything to do with sex that this disproportionally elevates the click through rates of posts about sex… that’s a theory worth contemplating without devaluing the overriding question.

So, what is it?

– Victorian cultural leftovers permeating Christian culture?

– Fear?

– Our mommy told us never to talk about sex, just learn about it the way she did in the library?

– It should just be repressed. Asking this question proves that Adam is a pervert and just likes to say “sex” a lot.

hmm... thoughts Web/Tech

Risk vs. Opportunity

A common theme in my mind lately has been how we look at the choices we make. As one would imagine, Kristen and I are making tons of decisions right now. And we’ve come to this conclusion: Most decisions are morally neutral and the outcome depends on you.

Quick disclaimer: Look, I know that there are moral decisions. Things which God has said are black and white. For example: “Should we cheat on our taxes? ” No, God’s pretty clear on that one. This is more about decisions such as, “Should we rent house A or house B?” I think those decisions are typically amoral.

Positive outcomes and positive attitudes

When it comes to amoral decisions I’ve noticed that the outcome is largely dependent on my response, action, and attitude. In other words, when I make a decision, whether it turns out good or bad typically has to do with what I do with that decision. cloud

Here’s a reality my friends in Michigan have to deal with. There is a thick black cloud of pessimism that permeates our community. Until that pessimism is overcome with optimism, the self-fulfilling prophesy of economic doom and gloom will continue. It’s oppressive. It’s depressing. And it is making things worse.

Perhaps it is because I am moving, but almost every conversation I have goes like this, “Romeo is a great place to live… but I don’t know, things aren’t looking good.” Understand this… that is a value statement of risk vs. opportunity.

And it’s not all over. As I’ve traveled this summer I think you should know that this deep pessimism is a Michigan thing. Board a plane departing or arriving at Metro or Flint and it’s all pessimism in the cabin. But walk through Atlanta, Denver, or San Diego’s airports and you’ll see people making lemonade with their lemons. Head back home and it is all about rotten lemons. Making lemonade is apparently too risk for Michigan’s lemon owners.

Today in Romeo there are about 100 homes on the market. All of them, including mine, are listed below market value. If you’re living with the black cloud… you look at the housing market and say “Wow, it could go even lower. Owning a home is such a huge risk right now.” If you look at the housing market from an optimist perspective you respond by saying, “Man, what a great time to buy. I wonder how I can get some capital to buy up some rental properties.

Here’s the simple reality. Michigan may be in a tough economic situation. But if you see where we are today as pre-boom instead of post-bust you’ll recognize that tomorrow’s millionaires (billionaires?) see today as an opportunity and are leveraging against you over inflating the risk. The rich of 2015 see this as pre-boom. The poor of 2015 see this as post-bust. Get it? It’s all about your response.

I’ve talked to tons of very young adult people 19-22 years old this summer. And the cloud has infected them with pessimism. They have no dreams. And they are not looking at today’s problems as their opportunity for a very bright future.

Here are some opportunities

#1 You could innovate the next economy for a community. It won’t be cars, but will it be technology? Probably. Yet starting a business is “too risky” or going to study what is going on in tech boom towns like Boise, Houston, or even Ann Arbor is simply too much risk. Trust me… the best technological developments come from people looking to make an opportunity out of nothing. (Speaking from experience!) R&D departments can’t build a winner. But a college kid can invent Facebook for a couple hundred bucks. And a laid off carpenter can invent an ipod repair business. Sit in a room with a legal pad for a day and no distractions and I guarantee you can innovate something.

#2 You could be the next real estate tycoon for almost no risk. If you are 22 years old with a college degree and an entry level job. You could buy 2 homes for less than $1500/month. Live in one and rent the other. In 3 months buy another rental and keep capitalizing on people’s pessimism until you have 5-6 rental homes. As Romeo becomes a renters market you could gain both equity in these undervalued rentals and make tons of income from rent. Heck, if you are 19 with a part time job you could buy a house for $600/month and rent it for $800/month. Save those profits and do it again in 6 months. Hold/rent those 5-6 properties for 10 years and you just made a million dollars.

#3 You could invest in the next Microsoft or Apple. My conversations with those bought out from their autoworker jobs are depressing. They are saying “How long can I last on this money?” Wrong question. The right question is, “How can I find the right start-up to invest in?” Michigan has a highly educated and undermotivated work force. As soon as that motivation part turns around this economy will come back like gangbusters. Are you investing in high return start-ups or are you still thinking large cap companies are going to return? Bill Gates’ earliest investors tossed in only $10,000. I think they did OK.

Every decision I make is an evaluation of risk vs. opportunity. What about you?

hmm... thoughts

The Economy of Fear

Economy of FearBack in October I wrote about The Economy of Hate speech on the internet. Here’s a review of the math in the blog world when writing hate content:

Normal content + traffic = $1

Hate content + traffic = $5

Remarkable content + traffic = $10 

Today I want to talk about something that runs rampant inside Christian publishing of all kinds. Instead of writing remarkable content they capitalize on fear. Listen to any Christian radio station or walk through any Christian bookstore and you’ll see that about 50% of the content is fear-based. Instead of focusing on truth or on the Bible, you’ll hear and see plenty of content that sensationalizes something minor for a profit.

Add this to the math:

Fear content + traffic = $5 

For every cultural phenomenon, there is an equal and fear-based Christian equivalent. Harry Potter is “bad” (according to some) so let’s make some money by publishing books telling people how bad Harry Potter is! Christian pundit James Dobson has made a lot of money with his catch phrases “an attack on truth” and “an attack on the  American family” or “liberal activist judges.” Just listen to more Focus on the Family and you’ll know how to protect your family from atheism, homosexuals, and judges.

Nevermind the fact that these are the stupidest statements in the world. If something is true you can’t attack it because it is truth. And my family is not under attack if my next door neighbors are gay. (When was the last time you heard of a gay family leading a raid on heterosexuals neighbors?) But you sure can make money on telling people to be afraid of stuff like that. Why? Because fear is a short-term motivator. If you scare people they will buy. (Or give to your cause. Or visit your website.)

The Golden CompassOf course, the latest edition of the fear-based Christian media spewed out their sales pitch against the release of The Golden Compass. This is a fiction-based children’s movie with a decidedly atheist bent. In listening to and reading the Christian media in the past few weeks one would have thought that The Golden Compass was certainly related to the Antichrist! Even right leaning FoxNews got into the act by capitalizing on the movie with a plethora of fear-based coverage. Did they do this to protect unsuspecting Christians from those mean atheists out there? No. I think they were motivated by money. There is an awful lot of money to be made by scaring people. Advertisers love traffic to a website and television ratings. And fear sells in America more than sex. (When was the last time your local news led off with a story about sex? It always leads off with something to scare you.)

Each time I see the Christian media freak out about a movie, song, candidate, or other cultural influence I feel called to help people see through it. Follow the money trail! Think critically and ask, “Why is this person scaring me?” “What’s in it for them?” Ratings? Web traffic? Book sales? Donations? If James Dobson raises another $5 million for Focus on the Family, what’s in it for him? What does he lose if he can’t raise that money? What’s in it for a Christian website that increases traffic with fear-based content by 20%? Why is it that FoxNews has a group of people on their panel who are “experts” on a topic? Who published their books? What’s in it for Fox? What’s in it for the panel members?

Remember… The Last Temptation of Christ was going to destroy Christianity forever. So was Footloose, The DaVinci Code, and Harry Potter. Likewise,  movies like Passion of the Christ, Lord of the Rings, and Chronicles of Narnia will lift Christianity up and millions of people will come to Christ, right?

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m just a cynic. Or maybe I’m just stupid and these things really do affect the effectiveness of Christianity in today’s culture. But my assumption is that Jesus is God no matter what.My assumption is that my family is in the hands of God. My assumption is that the word of God is unshakable in its inspired form. And my assumption is that God isn’t pleased with the money changers who use fear to motivate financial transactions in Christians.

I long for a Christian media who paints an accurate picture of the world. I long for James Dobson to care about real issues that don’t monetize like poverty in his town, poverty in the world, AIDS in Africa, and children sold into slavery.  I long for the Christian media to look around and use their influence to lift up the name of Christ and motivate Christians to live a life worthy of all that Christ has given to them.

And I long for a Christian media that generates sales based on remarkable content instead of cheap fear.