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Why Norwegians Are Tough… April 11, 2010

Posted by mikesaou in Uncategorized.
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Again I find myself several months in the future since my last blog post and mentally reviewing all the procrastination and excuses that barred me from buckling down and clicking the publish button.  Well there are no exciting episodes of denial and delay to tell of so, I’ll just gloss over those reasons and move on to something of notable mention.

I realize that I have not been consistent with fleshing out my mission to explore the virtues of living well by understanding the framework of a good story so I will attempt to write towards this end.  What makes a man someone worth his manhood?  This is definitely the question (in all its various permutations) that is always on the burner mostly because I am in the season of life where that is essentially what I’m carving out of my days is how to be the man I want.  I am a particular sucker for all sorts of manly advertising such as memorable super bowl commercials that tell me to buy soap and be a man ( I bought the soap and felt, if not more manly, then definitely better smelling than my pre-shower self).  But anyhoo, all the books, blogs, movies, music, etc that I consume in some form or another gets put through the manhood grinder.  Even with a recent visit back to my alma mater FSU to visit some slovenly scum bags I used to call roommates, we celebrated my return by playing none other but The Most Dangerous Game, where essentially we hunted each other in the woods with paintball guns.  Yet another desperate grasp at claiming our primal nature.  To be honest, there is a lot of conflicting opinions on manliness, but I think I did arrive at an authoritative model of what it means to be a man: BE NORWEIGAN. Now, being French myself, I was, like you, pretty skeptical of how our Scandinavian brothers could have such a monopoly of all things man.  But upon reading the latest issue of Outside magazine (dubbed The Adventure Issue), I happened upon an interesting sidebar about famous adventuring Norwegians and I was duly impressed by the many amazing feats performed by the likes of Roald Amundsen, Thor Heyerdahl, Borge Ousland, and more.  (I cannot go into detail about these awesome acts of derring-do so do yourself a favor and look it up).  But the singular most telling man factor was this little tidbit:

“Legend has it that the Irish served the invading Vikings rotten cod fish dyed in lye in order to debilitate them.  The Vikings declared the lutefisk a delicacy, and now serve it at nearly every holiday gathering” (Outside Mag, April 2010)

I don’t know anything about copyright laws and/or proper MLA citation anymore having been out of college for almost a year now, but maybe an infringement controversy will help boost my readership, but I digress.

If taking your enemies putrefied attempt at sabotage and declaring it a delicious delicacy isn’t a quality that all men should aspire to then I don’t know what is.  I was just about to look into the process to apply for a Norwegian passport, when a most astonishing revelation came.  Yesterday and today I was lucky enough to see Francis Chan speak here at a local church.  Without spilling the beans about the whole sermon, I’ll cut to the chase.  Imagine being before God after you’ve died and having his first words to you be, “Well done.” Whoa.  What kind of life would that take?  Basically it would mean investing all that God has given me into furthering his kingdom but in order to do that I would need to cultivate the kind of heart and mind that would be good soil in which to grow the fruit of a life well lived.  So what I see is all kinds of attempts at manhood which essentially try to outdo the next guy to earn a spot at the top of the hill.  When it comes down to it, sacrificing towards a competitive end isn’t all that hard and many men take great satisfaction in that kind of goal.  The real challenge is in kind of sacrificial life that yields rewards that can’t be given out by a panel of judges, your peers, or the record books: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, and self-control.  This work is that of a diligent farmer who tends to his crops persistently and with perseverance with the hopes that when the time is right, his harvest will sustain himself, his family, and a blessed multitude of others.

Maybe after the many long and hot days of toil he will stop to rest and hear that whisper that he longs for from a place deeper than he can describe, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”  And isn’t that a better picture of manhood?  the grizzled farmer in dirt caked overalls, deeply tanned with a wise and knowing smile?  Well anyways, that’s a man whose story I would listen to…

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Fireworks in February February 15, 2010

Posted by mikesaou in Uncategorized.
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I can’t believe that its been three weeks since my last post, but that goes to show the state I’m in.  That’s not as melodramatic as it might sound but more a description of the general daze with which these last weeks have been marked.  This sense of disorientation has been fleshed out through several conversations with good friends from back home, and I have realized the curse of regressing back to the clock watching days of my youth.  For those of you not familiar with the art of clock watching, it involves filling your day with whatever amount of sundry distraction it takes for you to get through your days until school is over and you can go outside to play.  In adult world that means switching onto auto-pilot until the workday is over and then trying to cram a day’s worth of living into the few hours after the job.  I feel that this is not an uncommon rhythm to fall into this time of year, because there are no big holidays around which to structure our lives and the luster of the new year wears off.  Because better days seem so far sometimes, why not start anticipating good things to come, like the end of winter weather at spring break?

Well this is the attitude I have adopted recently.  Not a negative attitude, in fact I’m more happier and more at home than I’ve been in awhile, but a sort of non-chalance concerning the days before me.  And this is a round about way of coming to some sort of unifying point, if in fact I’m possible of such a feat: Today Matters.  There is almost nothing in this world that is more enjoyable in the having of it than the anticipation and preparation prior to it being experienced.  Watching the Olympics brought this into sharp relief for me, when U.S. moguls skier Hannah Kearney after winning Gold in the event, said in a post-race interview that she her coach had compiled stats on the vast quantity of training that she did leading up to these Olympics, and she was confident because she embraced the journey that had brought her to that moment and in then end it made all the difference.  To highlight the experience, she had failed to make the olympic team in 2006 and now, in her persistence to pursue her passions she upset the incumbent Canadian champion on her home turf.  I am certain that her victory in Vancouver would not what it was without everything leading up to it.  With that being said, while I’m not up for any medals soon, these are the days I know that are shaping my character for victories and defeats yet to come and if I cannot find divinity in the ordinary days of life (as my good friend Brandon Vogt reminds me), then I cannot find the divine at all.

So, why not seek to make these days as rich and meaningful as those mountaintops we’ve had in life?  Sure, there may be no universal reason to celebrate but why not try to find fireworks in February? (For a biblical twist, try reading Ephesians where Paul (now I use the words of one of my favorite teachers Rick McKinley, pastor of Imago Dei in Portland) throws up “theological missiles where we can just look up and say wow that’s true…”)  and yeah I know I just ended this post with a double parenthetic jumbled mess.  so here’s a picture…

What’s Your Adventure? January 26, 2010

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Getting back to the heart of what I wanted to tackle in this blog, I begin with a question:  What would your ultimate adventure look like?  This is the 10,000 question posed by the Teva footwear company who is sponsoring a contest where an essay or video submission could earn you 10K to set you on your way.  The entries will be judged by some people with probably the coolest made up title in the history of contests, specifically LifeAgents.  While this moniker might sound crazily pretentious, I can look past this because the idea is cool and the people range from the likes of anthropologists and kayakers to film makers and mountain bikers.  Anyways, I think its a cool idea to get people thinking about a most urgent and important question that doesn’t receive the attention it deserves, namely what are your wildest dreams?  I am a big fan of wild dreams and an even bigger fan of actually putting stock in those little spoken of passions.  I think that is what captured me about Donald Miller’s driving idea behind his newest book, that a good story really and truly captures all the best in humanity.  And there’s enough people you meet whose lives seem like a good book that I’ve decided to never again scoff at someone’s fantastic ravings of a cross-country road trip or back-packing across Europe because they very well might be the kind of person to up and do something goofy like actually live their dream.  So, in homage to all of our dreams of high adventure, go and live in a way befitting of a child of God.     

“Start with doing with what’s necessary, then what’s possible, then suddenly you’re doing what’s impossible.”  -St. Francis of Assisi

Tell me what your dreams are and I promise to help and encourage you to take hold of it…

Finding Unity Through Tragedy January 23, 2010

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I know that this is not the most timely post but I feel that it needs to be said especially since I alluded to it in an earlier post.  Currently, I am in a unique position to experience the effects of the earthquake in Haiti.  From the moment I heard about it, there has been a noticeable shift in the general consciousness on the islands and being one of Haiti’s closest neighbors, the number of people directly affected by it that I share space with is innumerable.  Just outside of our house is a community pay phone that is in constant use by people seeking to contact loved ones back home, and it was that way before the earthquake, and now the traffic between the phone and people using our wireless makes our yard a  hot spot of frenzied communication.  Even at school, I would venture to say that most of our students have a Haitian background.  I mention all this to say that unlike most of the natural disasters of recent memory, I am not a million miles away and I am acutely aware of the suffering and massive impact this tragedy is having on people.  I felt it a nice segue to move from reclaiming a shared cultural experience through TV to finding a unifying purpose in helping to rebuild a devastated group of people.  So here it goes….. S-E-G-U-E….

There is something amazing that happens when there is suffering on a mass scale of humanity.  It will bring out the best in some and the very worst in others.  Whether it is suffering dealt by the hands of people or nature, this phenomena is experienced at a universal level, and you must decide which way you will take in the aftermath: the way of unity or that of isolation. Without wanting to alienate any readers through my personal political opinions, I must start by saying that I believe that we wasted a very valuable opportunity in history to achieve a unique global unity after the attacks on 9-11 by declaring war instead of capitalizing on a worldwide sympathy that moved people to Americans in a way that we haven’t experienced in a long time.  We are still reaping the benefits of marching boldly down the path of isolation. Nearly a decade later, we are no closer to peace, understanding, or unity within our own country, our friendly neighbors, or our enemies.  International relations aside, we have even botched domestic emergencies like hurricane relief on the Gulf Coast, where I witnessed all manner of corruption and greed in my two summers working to rebuild particularly impoverished communities.  It stands that we don’t have a great track record in regards to effectively addressing the needs of people in crisis.

Another opportunity awaits, beckoning us to choose the way of unity and create a new life for a people who have endured the crimes of history.  Oftentimes the aftermath of a tragedy far outweighs the impact of the initial event.  But that pendulum can swing in both directions.  In an interview with clinical psychologist, Dr. Henry Cloud, author Donald Miller essentially asks how do people affect positive change in their life?  Cloud responds that we cannot wake up and be a person able to radically changing ourselves  by consequence of will power.  Instead, he says that can submit ourselves to a process, through which we can dedicate effort to taking steps toward maturity.

So, with that being said, why not roll your sleeves up (literally, metaphorically, or otherwise) and take some friends along for the ride towards a better tomorrow for us and our neighbors.  It is only through the sweat of friends working together that light is shown in to dark places and the flame of hope is not extinguished.  Now, to sign off in the words of Garrison Keillor,          Be well, do good work, and keep in touch…

Giving in to Guilty Pleasures… January 16, 2010

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So this week, I forsook the ways of all things edifying and instead have immersed myself in dark underbelly of American life: all things pop culture.  Now, before you write this post off as more commentary on the drama and gossip of celebrities and fads, I implore you to bear with me on this twisted journey as I try to find worth in this compulsion to finally understand the human condition  in 2010. I promise that if I can adequately distill my train of thought, this will segue into a meaningful topic.  More to come on that.

It all began last week, when I, with good intentions wanted to indulge my wife Mary by tagging along to watch the season premiere of The Bachelor , where one lucky (or unlucky) guy gets to choose between 25 girls to eventually propose to and marry.  (Now, again a disclaimer:  If you find any of this nauseating, then reach deep and push through, it gets better I hope.)  This simple truth is that I had a blast even though it was the height of drivel, and ashamedly I admit that I even tuned in when I told Mary that I wouldnt go over and watch with her again.  I knew then that I was on a slippery slope.  The next day brought an even greater plunge into depravity:  American Idol.  I have never, never, never, never, ever had any desire to watch that show, but blame it on the full moon that wont happen again until February, but Mary and I looked at each other and said, “What the heck!? Let’s go all the way down.”  So we watched…..and it was great!  Now let me try to bring this ship around and keep it from going under.

Now, to quote a quote, Stephen King once called TV, the “great glass teat”, and although that may be the most accurate assessment, I believe there is folly in ignoring that TV and all the trappings that go along with pop culture as something not worth understanding.  Mark Twain said that, “the problem with the younger generation is that I’m no longer part of it,” and I believe that this sentiment describes the general malaise that is experienced by people outside of mainstream culture and that includes myself.  If we (younger and older) adults cannot relate to what vast masses of people are consuming daily, then how can we provide guidance away from the bad stuff and offer a better way?

What I am speaking of is Christian witness.  The book that introduced this concept to me in a powerful way was “With the Grain of the Universe” by Stanley Hauerwas, a book that I read my last semester in a college and wrote a paper on in my senior seminar.  Without turning this into a theological rant I will say that Hauerwas convinced me that there is no amount of verbal sparring or spiritual posturing that will bring people closer to experiencing the truth expressed in the life of Jesus and it ongoing expression in the Church.  The only effective way to practice our commitment is to live in word and deed the words of Scripture and love of God.  Is this possible to be a witness without being on the forefront of popular culture?  Of course.  But will we as witnesses be better equipped to enter into relationship with the world if we have an understanding of where people are coming from?  I think so.

At the heart of these kinds of shows, there is a search going on.  In The Bachelor, there is the hope of watching people find love, genuine or not. And for Idol, I feel that it is less compelling to watch people fail and make fools of themselves, than it is to watch people put themselves out there and get a chance to pursue their dream.  It is to these ends that people become emotionally invested in shows, especially those that involve national voting.  The power in this is that it creates an absurd kind of unity.  I say absurd, not in disrespect to its purpose, but in the simplicity of its execution.  Last spring, when I was visiting colleges in North Carolina, Idol was in full swing, and there was a contestant from UNC- Chapel Hill on the show.  All around town, there was an intense show of support for this guy and you could feel an excitement in the air, and all of it over his possible success on American Idol!  If only it was that easy to unify people towards even greater ends.  I guess what I’m saying is, pop culture has a power over people that is worth studying.  And Im not condoning the church becoming a homogeneous blob, assimilating every popular trend just to attract people, but I am saying how can you forge a distinct path and character if your not acquainted with that which you wish affect change?

For those of you still with me, I applaud you for your perseverance.  To make this rambling manageable, I will end with a teaser of sorts for the segue:  How can we learn from the tragedy of Haiti towards an end of creating unity?

PS- interesting update: my best bud Rob Gourlay is currently reading “Twilight”, just to see what all the hype is about.  His verdict: “I can see why girls like this stuff.”  Well said, sir.

PPS- due to the length of this post I will save my list of cool links and other stuff for next time.

*later added:  Here is a great little piece by NPR that is apropos

Passion Vs. Motivation January 9, 2010

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Following the thread of transformation and new beginnings, I have stumbled upon some really interesting material that has been marinating in my soul to produce one delicious stew of life nourishing goodness.  If that sounds like a strange metaphor, then feel free to marvel at the depth of depravity that is my train of thought.

Basically, as I returned to work this week I found myself excited to claim a new attitude towards the grind and I feel that the desire to change was rewarded by a serendipitous convergence of wisdom. This week I started and finished a newish book by one of my favorite athletes, ultra-runner Dean Karnazes, called 50/50, which follows Dean and his team on his endeavor to run 50 marathons in 50 days in all 50 states.  Definitely not for tha faint of heart, this book is really an incredible look into the world of endurance and the life of an individual whose greatest strength is that he driven by his passions.  Without giving away the book, I will cite a passage that really affected me and I believe can edify anyone looking to jumpstart some change.  (For some context, he is exactly halfway done with the running tour and feeling his excitement for this crazy thing ebbing away)

“When you begin a major challenge, your body and mind feel charged and ready.  Later, when you near the end of a big challenge, you are pulled along by the drive to achieve your goal , or to just get the whole thing over with (which can be as powerful a motivator as any).  The middle part of a big challenge is no longer new, and physical and mental fatigue have set in, yet the goal remains far off– too far for its magnetic draw to have any effect.

The best way I know to overcome low motivation for running is to get back in touch with the source of my passion to run.  Motivation and passion are somewhat different.  Passion is an overwhelming love for the experience of a favorite activity.  Motivation is a drive to engage in an activity based on some reward the activity offers beyond the simple enjoyment of the experience itself.  When you have great passion for running, or anything else, you dont need any extra motivation.  But motivation without passion can only take you so far” (Karnazes, 152).

So I’m pondering all these things in my heart while out on a bike ride listening to a Francis Chan (cool pastor at Cornerstone Church in California) sermon series on grace, and he starts asking why were we first drawn to God?  So the question is, are we living out of our passion for God who passionately loved us first or is devotion a habit of existence aimed towards reaping the benefit of heaven or whatever equally paltry substitute for pure sweet companionship with the original Creator and Lover we might seek?  This is the question that is really shaking me up these days and if you had any interest in checking out the things that I’ve been immersed in that have led me to this question of utmost importance, here’s a list of some things to check out:

Dean Karnazes’ blog, and books “Ultra Marathon Man” and “50/50”

Cornerstone Church podcast and anything by Francis Chan

Donald Miller’s blog

Some other random stuff thats really great too…

Outside magazine, YES! Magazine, and I will update this list with more books, music, and other sundry items but right now I have to follow the passion of helping my wife clean our house!        Until next time……Mike

Feeling the Vibe January 4, 2010

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Upon exploring the options to update and improve this blog I found something called Social Vibe, which is an organization that promotes the support of different charitable causes through the participation of private sponsors.  I have a widget linked on this page and it is an incredibly easy way to lend a hand to great causes that are already in operation.  I feel like it is really easy to get stuck in the quagmire of complacency especially with the sheer volume of noise surrounding everything humanitarian related.  At least it is now trendy pop culture to help others, especially if they happen to be far away.  Better that than double-popped collars and Ugg boots in the summer.  Anyways, the cause I chose to support is called “Built on Respect” and it provides job training for refugees.

Dropping some knowledge on the class

Out of the many really cool ones (including one founded by the band Incubus which gives bikes to Africans, combining at once two of my great loves, trippy- rock and anything involving bikes) I had to support this one because I had the unique opportunity to spend two months in Ghana in the summer of 2008 working in a Liberian refugee camp doing what else but adult education seminars to people seeking to develop marketable skills.  So, in homage to my Buduburam (name of the camp) brothers and sisters, please check out this stuff and go mess up the world with your dedication to mass social networking!

Seizing New Starts January 3, 2010

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As always, the new year gives us good reason to finally get around to doing all those things that we’ve been meaning to get around to but have been too busy catching up on being lazy over the Christmas break.  So here it is, a new start!  My previous foray into the world of blogs resulted in one super long post that yielded no comments and I never went back to update it.  I decided what I needed was a new look and new name for the blog.  The old name was “A Feast for Fools” which was my attempt at creating an amusing and cryptically clever blog name that would draw some readers but upon further reflection found that the bible almost exclusively refers to fools as those who don’t acknowledge God in their hearts and minds.  I may not have the monopoly on being like Jesus, but if nothing else I acknowledge Him as I fumble around trying to find the light in the dark.  So, out with that crappy name.  The new name is taken from the Donald Miller book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years” and refers to the part of a story which forces a character to change.  I will hopefully flesh this metaphor out more in coming posts, but let that suffice for now.  Next, the theme was something equally cryptic, as it was dark and kind of brooding, which didnt even make me want to visit that page.  So, brand new bright theme that hopefully will make it a little more attractive. Anyways, more is coming, and prepare to be titillated, or tantilized, or something that implies eager anticipation.