Cutting Room Floor: Food & How To Eat It


Editor’s Note: Sorry for the couple of week hiatus. Got a pretty nasty cold at the beginning of October and it’s been a bit hectic getting things back on track. We’ll have a new post from Bob Trube tomorrow, and for today we have a Cutting Room Floor entry from last week’s sermon. ~BRT


Based on Matthew 15:1-20

IMG_0715 - Version 2Many of these rules applied to food and how to eat it. This makes sense, of course. What we eat or don’t eat, and why and how send incredibly strong messages to those around us about what we believe about the world.

If you don’t eat like someone, you end up being perceived differently from them. And if you don’t eat what they eat, and can’t prepare the table the way they prepare the table, then you can’t eat with them at all. Separateness is maintained.

Over and over in the New Testament, the Pharisees come after Jesus for breaking those separateness boundaries, for going into unclean situations. What they don’t realize, of course, is that Jesus has reversed the flow of clean and unclean things. Wherever he goes things unclean are made clean; he’s not sullied.

Does all this make sense? There’s a world out there, and it’s going to make it so that you can’t do God’s work, you’ll be “unclean” in a religious sense. And only time and ceremony can get you back to clean; but Jesus, who has the Holy Spirit, carries cleanliness with him.

~Post written by Rich Hagopian

Cost of Work


Rich’s sermon this Sunday was … dense. We could probably spend a couple of weeks on reflecting on the issues raised by the Christian “at work” particularly the ways work has evolved in this fallen world. For me the thing that probably sticks with me the most is the work that went into the things I have.

Ben TrubeBack a few years ago, when I started blogging more regularly, I did a series of posts on how the technology I use every day gets assembled. I’m kind of a gadget freak. While I may not be an Apple junkie, I have several computers, tablets, eReaders, and am always interested in assessing the next piece of technology. And to be fair, I use most of this stuff for my work, be it the writing or my day job. But still, I’m able to sit here writing to you on a cheap laptop because the parts were assembled by someone making a dollar or two an hour.

Some of the tech jobs in low cost countries are a step up, but I feel that in many ways that’s just a way I can make myself feel better enough to ignore the issue completely. Even though I wrote about it for several months, and still care about how my stuff gets made, I stopped writing those posts when it became clear they weren’t getting read anymore. It’s not like I really changed my buying habits. There are no fair-trade computers as far as I know.

And I think sometimes about my job, and how it affects the world at large. I write software for data-centers. Data-centers are the backbone of the net, really of our culture. Everything that’s happening in today’s culture, from social media, to smart phones, to predictive marketing, is all made possible by the data-center (and in some very small part, me). There’s nothing inherently bad about the Internet, just a lot of the things we choose to do it. And admittedly a lot of the data being collected invades our privacy, tries to get us to spend money we don’t have, or just titillates us with the next bit of media or porn.

Nothing I do every day is directly harming the world, and yet in some way I am culpable (if slightly) for contributing to the world we are becoming.

When I was writing about these issues a few years ago, I found it hard to suggest tangible things for people to do about technology. This is one of those things I feel bad about from time to time, but really don’t feel motivated to much about. It would change so much about my life to put away technology (it is literally something I’ve been training for since Highschool and probably before that). It would be infinitely harder to thrive as an indie author without the net, and even this blog wouldn’t survive without being hosed somewhere.

So how am I as a Christian to act?

I think for starters I need to not ignore the work costs precipitated by the way our world does business. I need to be making conscious choices, and if something really goes against what I feel God is calling me to, I need to trust that he can provide. Right now I do feel called to working and writing about the technology center, but you have to be careful to not become to much of the culture in places like that. Fortunately my particular group of co-workers is all believers, so if we do have problems, it’s never hard to talk about them.

This is one of those things I’ll be figuring out for a while. And in the meantime I can at least help by not always buying the new, but figuring out ways to keep the old working (like *shiver* Linux).

I don’t wanna go to school


Peter Pan is a great story. In the Broadway Musical version there’s a song in which the main character insists, “I won’t grow up. I don’t wanna go to school; just to learn to be a parrot, and recite a silly rule.” Aside from flight, fighting pirates, visiting mermaids and traveling to a distant place that exists beyond the second star to the right, this story line is really familiar.

JeffWhitesideI’ve met lots of people who don’t want to grow up. You don’t have to attend a class or a family reunion to meet them; however it is entertaining to see some people live in denial that life has continued since they were cool. Change is scary. It requires confidence; and that confidence seems to be the characteristic that so many of us deny.

I don’t know why so many Christians are afraid of change. It seems as though we’d rather remain immobile. However, …we’re being transformed into the image of Jesus daily, the whisperings of the Holy Spirit should make us familiar to following his directions, our gift-sets exist for the purpose of benefiting the changing needs of the church. And if we indeed follow Jesus Christ with our lives, it should mean that we have made ourselves available to follow God’s directions. Christians living in denial that the world needs innovation, that how we deliver information about the good news (gospel) may be fine-tuned to meet the needs of today’s changing culture.

I met a friendly couple just yesterday who seemed honestly upset that the world was different than it was when they were young. They identified this change as completely negative. Technology was bad, cultural change was bad, immigrants were bad, what was learned in public schools was bad, the government was bad… I imagine they thought Michael Jackson’s ‘Bad’ album was bad, too. I suspect they’d enjoy reliving the 1960s all over again in a perpetual ‘Ground Hog Day’ sort of way.

But growth and change is foundational to life. Any student of literature will tell you that characters who do not grow during the course of a story are considered flat and static. It’s not a compliment to be undeveloping, whether your name is Peter Pan or it it’s Peter Gunn. It is not admirable to go through an experience and not learn and grow from having gone through it.

Perhaps it’s good to be reminded that our faith needs to change. It’s one thing to have child-like faith. It’s another to have a child-like behaviors. We need to grow with the times, assume responsibilities, adapt to what comes our way, and most of all, heed the call of our God who wants us to serve and stretch, obey and respond, and ultimately learn and grow.

A Dog’s Life


So as it turns out my wife and I are on the tail end of a major life transition just in time for Rich’s sermon on the subject.

At the beginning of July our family dog, Simon, started having seizures. We later determined this was likely caused by a brain tumor. After many visits to the vets office, the veterinary emergency room, and a constant string of nights with one or both of us sleeping downstairs to be with the dog when he seized, we put Simon to rest a little more than three and a half weeks later.

Simon was put to sleep late on a Sunday night, and by Thursday, we had a new Beagle-Boxer puppy named Riley in our lives.

We’re just … dog people, my wife especially, though I’m the one who pushed for going to the shelter on Wednesday. My wife had been sending me pictures of dogs, and I just had to meet this guy, Riley.

Meet Riley. Bow ties are cool.

Meet Riley. Bow ties are cool.

It’s been good for both of us. Dogs can have such a healing presence on our lives, and we lucked out with Riley. He’s playful but chill, and has this great brindle coat you’d have to see to believe. Our cat might be mad at us for a little while, but even she’s used to having some big animal with soft floppy ears hanging around.

But it’s still hard sometimes. It’s not the things you’d expect, like getting Simon’s ashes, or the photobook we had printed. It’s stuff like when Riley chews quickly on his leg and it looks like he’s shaking. It’s thinking about that last twenty-eight hours of Simon’s life. And it’s trying to fall back into normal routines while forming new ones, including having a dog who likes to go on a lot more walks than his predecessor, but also needs comforting when there’s lightning.

I’m still grieving for Simon even as I’m just loving Riley. He was my first dog, and I’m so grateful we had so many good days together before the end. And that I got to buy him his Five Guys burger, which took him a whole minute to eat. (By the way the new dog doesn’t bug me for food and will even stop in the middle of eating to see what I’m doing. That is so weird).

For me living in transition was just as much about giving up routines as it was keeping them. It was letting it be okay that I wasn’t participating in my writing group for a while, or frankly that I didn’t feel like writing blog posts or doing much of anything besides watching TV and organizing files on my computer. I got a lot of backup burns done while I was convalescing with the dog that last week.

God was merciful in so many ways, both in how good the moments were after the seizures so that we had time to say goodbye to our beagle buddy, but also in making it clear when it was time for him to go. I’m honestly not sure if I could have done a year of this, but like all things in life you do what you have to, and you lean on the thing you can count on, like your wife and God.

And coming out of that experience has been centered around routines as well. Picking up new projects and enjoying an evening writing again in the sanctuary, hoping for a good thunderstorm either before or just after my drive home. It’s blogging again and participating more in the world outside again. It’s playing with my new dog, and laughing when he sneezes which is hilarious. And trying to teach him tricks, and that daddy doesn’t appreciate it when the dog pokes his head in my shower.

Simon, back when I first met him.

Simon, back when I first met him.

Life changes. Just looking back at the photos from Simon’s nine years with my wife and I shows me how much the house, and our lives have evolved over time. But even after all this time, I still have someone excited to see me when I come home.

All By Myself


Rich’s topic in his continuing series on the Christian life was the Christian … Alone. In this case Rich defined “alone” as no other person being around, and no external stimuli or distraction (i.e. TV, computer, Facebook, etc.). In other words, time where we are alone with our thoughts, with nothing to distract us (and not the state of loneliness which is a separate discussion).

Ben TrubeBeing alone in this way is something we may uncomfortable with, and even if we’re not, it’s not something we make a lot of time for.

I tend to think I’m alone with my own thoughts probably a lot more than I actually am. The two areas in which I am freeist from distraction are my commute, and writing blog posts. The commute does require a surface level of awareness of my surroundings, and does offer distractions like the radio or other crazy drivers. And writing on a computer offers a whole host of obvious distractions, even when I’m in an area with no Wifi.

When I am thinking it is largely about one of a few things, either the book I am currently working on, the myriad of potential future books and stories, my latest media interest, or any recent argument or incident requiring review. Except in moments of acute crisis (i.e. Family medical problems, or financial stresses, etc.), my thoughts don’t tend to stray toward the lord, unless you count thinking about what I’m going to write to all of you in the Going Deeper blog.

I think it’s pretty obvious why this is the case. The mind tends to think about what it’s saturated with, and my life is saturated with writing, media, my wife and my family, and my job. God is there, and there are times when I can sense his supportive presence through tough times, but it’s not where my mind tends to go when it’s in neutral.

If I’m not on my commute or writing, then my default is to distract myself with a combination of a menial tasks (i.e. DVD backup burns and file manipulation) and media (i.e. my favorite TV series which at the moment is Torchwood). Insert reading comic books or playing video games for variety.

I’m an only child, and so I did spend a lot of time having to figure out what to do with myself. I had my friends around the block for sure, but that’s not the same as having live-in siblings, so there was time when I needed to read, to play games, and to otherwise occupy my time. And even though I like to think of myself as a reflective and thoughtful kind of guy, that time was not spent on reflection. It was spent playing with Legos.

I’m not worried that it’s dark inside my head. I could be entertained all day by what’s going on in there. It’s just I have a pretty vibrant fascination with the world around me (which I admittedly often define as news and pop culture).

I’m not sure if Rich’s suggestion of not reading in the bathroom will work for me (that’s where I get some of my best reading done), but I should find some way to quiet other stimulations around me, and just find some time to be alone. I’ve come to understand my introverted tendencies over the years, and my need for time away from people. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to think about time away from everything (and not in one of these trendy “unplugged” kind of ways).

When’s the last time you were alone with your thoughts?

Away Games of Faith


In the third part of Rich’s “away” series he talked about maintaining spiritual disciplines while on vacation. Spiritual disciplines can be things like reading the bible, praying, maybe even fasting, but more generally it’s about maintaining our “christian-ness” while away from our usual routine.

Ben TrubeBut in order to maintain a discipline you first have to have it, which for me is where I need to start. I’m good at practicing existing disciplines on vacation. I took two vacations this spring, each about a week long and on both I managed to write, research fractals, program, and maintain my skills in all the areas I give priority at home. If anything I had more time and discipline for writing on the road than my typical week affords me.

My second trip in particular would have been a classic opportunity to appreciate God. Cedar Campus, is a camp in the middle of the North woods of the upper peninsula where I used to go every year growing up. Not only is it a Christian camp, it’s simply beautiful and a great place to experience silence and the grandeur of God’s creation. I’m not saying I didn’t appreciate these things when I was there, but the experience was casual at best and definitely not deliberate.

My trouble is I tend to jump in whole hog when I try to start a new spiritual discipline, like Bible study. I don’t get a whole lot out of simple devotionals and one verse thoughts, I like to dig deep. I like to read a passage, then answer a set of fifteen questions about it. And I do all this by hand because it’s somehow more pure than typing. The result of this is that I only have kept a regular bible study going for about two weeks before pooping out. With my writing goals I have learned to be more sensible, to be practical about the number of blog posts I write each week, the number of words each session. But with Bible study I have not practiced enough to know which things to keep and which to discard.

And praying for long periods is also difficult. I’m not a quiet contemplative guy. I’m always thinking about something, my mind is searching for the next plot detail, the next solution to my programming objectives, or the best bit of Simpsons trivia. Sitting quietly and just trying to listen or talk to God is pretty much the opposite of my personality.

I know the best thing is to start small, and I’m doing what I can to put God in my way, or myself in the way of God. I install Bible study programs in my startup menu, keep devotional books in easy access at all times, and try to find moments of peace where I can really talk to God (like my commute, surprisingly). Maintaining these disciplines once I have them doesn’t feel like it will be that difficult for me, since I’m a strangely ordered individual. I just need to establish these habits in the first place.

It doesn’t help that my Dad is all too awesome at this (just kidding 😉 ). Tomorrow you’ll hear from someone who does the regular discipline thing well.

Keep your head out of the clouds


In his sermon, Rich touched on the idea that imagination is something you could be proud of if you had a little of it or a lot. Meaning a person who is very imaginative might think of themselves as a creative thoughtful person, whereas someone who is not very imaginative can see themselves as grounded and practical.

Ben TrubeBy Rich’s definition, imagination is the ability to think about a reality different than our present circumstances. For the engineer it’s the ability to think about an algorithm to solve a problem, for a writer it’s the next scene in a book or the next action a character might take, and for a dentist it’s about what kind of lollipops to buy, or how to arrange your office in the most soothing way possible.

The kind of imagination we’re all a bit prone to abusing though, is escapist fantasy. This can either be imagination of our own making, or a story someone else is telling us. Who hasn’t devoted some of their time to thinking about next steps for our beloved characters (including Alana and Marko, Mr. Vaughan should be on notice that if they are broken up by Saga #24 then I will cease to buy your lovely publication).

But I digress.

Actually, wanna talk pop culture for a second?

This last season of the long-running franchise The Simpsons, feels like it’s back to what made the show great. Homer may be a bit of a buffoon, but he’s no Peter Griffin, he loves his family and often his hair-brained schemes come from a place of deep sincerity.

Episode 25.20 - Brick Like Me (10)In a recent episode Homer awakes to find himself in a world made entirely of Legos (maybe a shameless cross promotion for The Lego Movie and the new Simpsons Lego house, but maybe not). This is a world where “everything fits together and nobody gets hurt”, but periodically Homer flashes to visions of his true animated self in the real world, playing with Legos as a way to spend time with Lisa, even going so far as to construct a whole Lego Springfield for an upcoming competition. But then Lisa finds some other friends to spend time with, and suddenly her Dad is alone again, realizing that he may never bond with his daughter in quite the same away again.

simpsons-brick-like-me-3This really upsets Homer, and when he’s knocked out by a falling Katniss Everdeen Lego-lookalike he constructs a fantasy world where Lisa will never outgrow him, where they can be happy and have tea time and live in a world without consequences. By mid-act break Homer realizes this world is a fantasy but chooses not to leave. “Why eat grey goo in the real world, when I can have steak in the Matrix?” But the static nature of life in the fantasy world, eventually forces Homer to conclude that he must live in the real world, even if it means being hurt by his daughter, who has a bit of a change of heart of her own.

See TV can teach us life lessons. Spending our time trying to escape the world isn’t as fulfilling as…

Oh… wait Hulu just auto-played the next episode! I’ve already sat through the ads so I might as well watch it.

Okay, I’m not trying to say TV or interests or hobbies are bad or anything. Obviously I have a pretty deep and abiding love for The Simpsons (especially to be a loyal fan for this many seasons). But I am also in favor of having ideas of my own, challenges to overcome, stories to be composed, etc. If you’re living most of your life with someone else putting their thoughts into your head, eventually you aren’t going to have any thoughts of your own.

Don’t let inertia stop you, or practicality, or exhaustion. Some of my best ideas I’ve had tired (though that nothing good happens after 2am thing might be right). Go out and experience some of God’s creation, and maybe try to add something to it. Whether it’s a story, a painting, or a garden and patio furniture which I’m sitting writing at right now.

And play with Legos. Legos are cool and very creative.


Play as recreation: part 2


Last week Rich talked about play as recreation in three parts.  I’d encourage you to read Ben’s post on Tuesday for an explanation of what this is.  Rich brought out play having three basic functions:  (1) play helping us grieve or work out our frustration, which Ben discussed at length in his post, (2) play allowing us to flex our strengths, and (3) play returning us to ourselves.  Since Ben discussed the first of these, I’ll take the last two.

The 2nd of these is that play allows us to flex our strengths.  Unless you have been blessed with having a job that allows you not only to pay your bills, but do something you love, this may look different.  I have a job that “just pays the bills.”  It is not what I went to school for.  I wanted to be a sports broadcaster, not a collection agent, which is vastly different.

I have learned however to take something I am good at and use it well.  Oddly enough, I am good at my job.  You may be thinking, well, you are not mean so how can you be good at collections?  Let me say, that is a stereotype that I have found is not true.  Most collection agents are not mean, money-grubbing, soulless jerks.  Most are good conversationalists that will try to help you pay your bills the best you can, in a timely manner.  It does however take some effort on your part too to be able to listen to the advice the agent gives and use it well.

This however is not play for me.  It is a job.  I don’t take my work home.  I can’t.  Or else I’d probably be angry and bitter.  I can say however that my strengths, skills and talents are being leveraged here.  I have been given the chance to use these well.  It also serves me well in the church I serve at.  I listen well.  I can give advice if asked.  I like to help others.  I care for others well being.  All of these skills and talents are seen in my job and my service at Smoky Row–just in different ways.

So what are your strengths, talents and gifts?  Are you leveraging those to the best of your ability? Are you doing what you love?

These questions then lead us to examine who we are.  Play as recreation should point to who we are.  If you don’t know who you are, Rich suggested, go play.  Find something you enjoy to do and do it.  Once you do, you will find out who you are and how you feel about yourself.

How is your soul?  How is your spirit?  Are you enjoying life?  If not, maybe you should play more often.  Just a thought.  Life should be enjoyable.  Play is a needed thing in life.  Otherwise, you’ll just get tired and miserable.  Play can not only help us identify our strengths it shows us the core of who we really are.  And that is a good thing.

So this weekend…go play.

Blowing Off Some Steam


Rich talked about recreation this week, which is an awful lot like play, though maybe a little bit different. It’s the fancy adult word we use for play, though in this case Rich talked about a particular kind of playful activity, namely play as a restorative force. Restorative, but not restful.

On my planet, to rest is to rest. To cease using energy. To me, it is quite illogical to run up and down on green grass using energy instead of saving it.” ~Spock (TOS: Shore Leave)

Ben TrubeRecreational restorative play has three functions: to help us to grieve and work out frustration, to flex our strengths and to return us to ourselves. Today I’m going to focus on the first of these, play as a way to re-direct or work out anger, frustration, guilt, etc.

I, like most adult males, occasionally have days that make me want to punch something. But I’m a civilized 21st century male who wears fancy dress pants (though not a tie), and who must attempt to avoid beating the people who annoy me senseless.

So I play video games.

Or at least I used to when I had time. There’s nothing quite so satisfying as a first person shooter for venting off anger. This isn’t exactly flexing a strength; while I’m a capable player, I by no means am a match for elite players, or even particularly difficult AI’s. But wandering through an alien ship, taking out biological anomalies can be satisfying.

The only problem is, this form of recreation can equally cause you to loose track of time, or the feeling in certain fingers and in your behind. It can ramp up feelings as well as diffuse them. Now believe me, I’m not a pro or anti-gaming evangelist, but it is a popular way for people of my age and our time to deal with stress and attempt to recreate.

I have tried to channel feelings into productive energy for writing. This has varying degrees of success. Usually it only works when how I’m feeling corresponds to what I’m trying to write. Otherwise it’s hard to convert distracting energy into something useful. And truthfully, writing isn’t really recreation for me, it’s a passion and a job.

I’ve personally found that walking around and doing something physical can help, even something as simple as walking the dog, though there is part of me that resists for some reason the idea that physical activity has any effect on my mood or my energy. I think it is the downfall of having both programming and writing as passions to believe that every problem can be solved inside my head. Even the video game to a certain degree is a much more mental activity than a physical one.

When I was in college I sang in the Men’s Glee Club. I felt this was essential (in addition to being fun) because it forced me to think in a different way than I usually was, and it was physical in that there was breath control, and even the shape of one’s throat to think about. You had to use your ears to listen to everyone around you, and produce the correct notes on your own, eventually off book.

I think it’s important to have something, anything, that gets you thinking and doing differently than what it is you do the rest of the week. It makes you a more well rounded person, and it helps prevent getting stuck in ruts. What works for me may work for you, or more likely something else. The key is, to allow yourself time for these recreations, and not always to feel like you should be getting something done, or doing something productive. Even as a guy who’d like to write 20-30 books in my lifetime, there’s time to walk the dog.

– Spock to Kirk, declining shore leave

All work and no play make Jack something something


On Sunday Pastor Rich defined play as “work unrelated to want”. In this case want means the things we actually need (food, shelter, money, etc.) Often our play is a lot of work, whether it’s “playing” out in the yard (i.e. planting, laying bricks, painting which my wife has been doing since it got warm), or even a video game, which takes time and skill to master (and a lot of failure).

Ben TrubeIn this sense Pastor Rich is defining “work” more in the sense that physics defines it (exerting force upon a mass). Work doesn’t take on an emotional component in this evaluation. After all play serves many purposes, experimentation, enjoyment, restoration. Defining work as play seems a little counter to the way we think about it. “Work” in the way we think about it, is something we do because we have to, it’s a means to an end to provide the things we want. Sometimes “work” is enjoyable and sometimes it’s not. Play on the other hand is something meant to be fun. If you’re not enjoying play, then you’re doing it wrong.

Rich also talked about play being something we don’t like to talk about as adults except in a few acceptable forms. Golf, poker, in today’s society probably video games, etc.

Personally, I don’t buy this, though I think this has a little to do with where I work. I work with a bunch of other engineers, and our forms of play tend toward the “geekier”. A couple of week’s ago we had a discussion about the Marvel Civil War break out in our weekly meeting. We have a magnetic dartboard in our bullpen area, and every year we have a “Festivus” celebration where we do feats of strength (which have included Rock ’em Sock ’em robots, Wii bowling and arm wrestling).

The only time I’d say I self-censor about play is when talking with some of my co-workers with kids. When they’re telling me about all of the housework, laundry, dishes and time spent with activities, I don’t tend to like to follow that up with bragging about how I organized and cataloged my comic book collection.

This probably sums up best how I feel about the whole grown-ups and play thing (my friend has a print of this hanging in his kitchen):


Image Source: XKCD

This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t examine how we play. Anything can become an obsession to an unhealthy amount. I think Rich is right when he talks about how play can be sexualized (playing with yourself, playmates, etc.). I think that’s what can happen when play is something we become ashamed of, when we worry about how people may judge us or think about what we do. Play can be very private and personal, it says something about us in what we choose to do when we have time all to ourselves.

That said, I think we do have the agency to decide what being an adult means. I’m on the tail end of what would be considered “the millennials” a term I kind of have a love-hate relationship with. But I’m also married, have a job, and am doing the adult thing in the way that makes the most sense for me and my partner. That’s why when my wife comes home with a bronze flying pig ornament for the lawn, all I can do is smile.

Now what are you reading me for? You still have 15 minutes of lunch. Go outside!