Thanksgiving 2019

The house is quiet. The only sounds are of the cats quietly stirring and the low hum of their water fountain pump. As I look out the window the world is covered in a fresh coat of white. The first snowstorm of the season hit yesterday morning. It’s Thanksgiving, and the world outside is quiet and still. Soon a new sound enters the air. Water heating up in my tea kettle for my morning coffee (decaf still… sigh). It’s peaceful this Thanksgiving morning.

The theme of 2019 for my blog was #livingmybestlife. Perhaps the thing that I’m most thankful for this year is that I have had the opportunities to do just that. In 2019 I’ve had opportunities to do incredible things, see beautiful places, and discover more and more of what I want my life to be about. Learning more about myself is the heart and center of my gratitude this year.

I feel like the past few years have been times of self-discovery. When I was younger I thought I knew what I wanted to be and who I was. I spent years trying to be a certain person, living a specific life, and in the end it really wasn’t me. Or at least it’s not who I was able to be now. I’m finally peeling back the layers and feel like I’m coming out of a long tunnel.

None of this self-discovery would be possible without the people I surround myself with. I’m truly grateful for the communities of people who are a part of my life now. Some are still with me from years ago, and they join new friends who are walking the same path as me. As I’ve grown I’ve been supported by friends and family who have given selflessly to encourage me and help me grow. I’ve tried to reciprocate as much as possible.

As we come to the close of another year, I want to thank everyone for their support over the past couple of years. I wouldn’t be the person I am, I wouldn’t have grown, if it wasn’t for all of you. It’ s for that reason that 2019 was my #livingmybestlife year, and I hope to continue that trend. I’m excited for the future, and ready to see what the future holds.

Thank you

September travels means October is here before you know it!

The month of September flew by, and suddenly it’s October 1st today. A big reason that last month disappeared on me was due to our travels out west to help friends with some big races. We were gone from September 12th through the 23rd, which is nearly half the month. During that time we were living out of suitcases and tents, and got a total of three solid nights of sleep over the 12 days we were gone. This is also after Fall Superior weekend where we volunteered for a big chunk of time.

I’m not going to tell the stories of my friends races, as those are their tales to tell. In brief,  I got to pace my friend Julie around Lake Tahoe for 32 miles, and then got to pace my friend Mike around the Sangre de Cristo mountains for 43 miles. Each pacing gig took me around 16 hours, and I got to help them achieve some incredible goals. It was an epic experience for me, and great training for my own future endeavors.

img_5259What I did want to spend a few moments to reflect on was the other parts of the trip that were meaningful to me. First off, I got to visit two states that I’ve never been to before, California and Colorado. Despite being in the tech industry for my career, I’ve never had a chance to visit California. Even if I had, it would have been somewhere in Silicon Valley, and I probably wouldn’t have seen much beyond a convention center. Getting to spend time at Lake Tahoe allowed me to experience a part of Northern California that was different from anywhere I had been. The Ponderosa Pines, with their giant pine cones were beyond anything we get in the Midwest. There were multiple times I was lying in a tent and heard a pine cone crash against the ground nearby. It made me really hope that my tent could withstand that type of impact!

img_5225After our trip at Tahoe we headed by train to Colorado, another State I had never visited. As a trail runner, Colorado is considered mecca, a holy place for lovers of dirt. It’s somewhere that everyone in the trail running world talks about, and opines for visiting or moving to. One of the first things that surprised me though was how far away Denver is from the mountains. When we got in to town I looked off into the distance and realized we were a LONG way away from those hills. We traveled through Colorado Springs, which is much closer, and was much more in line with what I had expected.

img_5371Our final destination in Colorado was Westcliffe, a small town in the far southwest corner of the State, almost to New Mexico. This small town was quaint and quiet, but proud of their outdoor activities. There are a lot of trails around for all types (ATV, horse, bike, foot), and the little outdoor store in town was well supplied. They are also considered a Dark Sky town, due to their minimal amount of artificial light. You can see the night sky like you have never seen it before on the open plains just outside of town. Looking at all of the stars was truly awe-inspiring.

img_5333Another unique aspect of this trip was how we got around. We flew into Reno (after a plane switch in Phoenix), and once we were done around Tahoe we hopped on a train to Denver. The 26 hour train ride was mostly relaxing, however, because we didn’t get a sleeper car the overnight was very restless. Train coach seats are basically like first class airline seats, but it’s still hard to get a real night of sleep in them. Despite the overnight, the train ride was smooth and comfortable. The train takes a very scenic path through the mountains, which does slow it down quite a bit. The final 3-4 hours were done at a leisurely 30 mph pace through mountain passes and tunnels. Although quite beautiful, I was ready to get to our destination when we arrived. If we had been continuing on, I would have for sure gotten a sleeper car.

The trip home from Denver was a quick, uneventful flight. We opt’d to park our car in Downtown Minneapolis for the duration of the trip. For just $66 for 12 days, we were able to park in the “A” ramp on the west side of downtown, and hop the Metro Transit Blue Line train to the airport. It was quick and easy, and a heck of a lot cheaper than the parking lots at the airport.

Coming back to Minnesota was a bit of an environmental shock. Since landing in Reno, we spent almost the entire trip 5500 ft. above sea level. While in Tahoe I made it up to 9100 ft., and our base camp in Westcliffe was at 9200 ft. At one point in Colorado I made it to 10,200 ft above sea level. Thankfully, I had a week of acclimation under my belt, and found my breathing to be pretty solid through my time there. However, the air was incredibly dry, and getting off the plane in MSP immediately felt like I was breathing underwater. Our air here is so damp and rich compared to the mountains.

img_5351In addition to the air, the lack of trees means that we could see forever when we were on top of the hills. Back in Minnesota we’re surrounded by a green canopy. We simply can’t see the distance like you can out west. Yet, one benefit of trees is the lack of dust. The amount of dust in both Tahoe and Westcliffe was insane. Everything we owned was covered in a thin layer of grit that would blow across the mountains and plains. I never felt completely clean until I got home and could soak in a nice shower for as long as I wanted.

Despite how incredible this experience was, I doubt we’ll be doing a trip of this length and complexity any time soon again. There’s a lot of places we want to see, and sometimes trying to cram them all into a “working vacation” means that we don’t get to spend the type of time that we want to. We had an amazing time helping our friends reach their goals, and we’re incredibly proud of them, and honored to have been able to be a part of their journey. Now, it’s time to take that inspiration and decide what’s next for Lisa and I. But first, I think we’ll just enjoy being home for the month of October.

Responding to tragedy as a non-theist

Back when I considered myself a Christian, I never had much difficulty in finding a way to respond to tragic events, or evil in the world. There were multitudes of theological formulae that could help bring comfort to a situation that felt hopeless. We would talk of how no matter how bleak things looked, Jesus was still Lord. We would declare that despite human evil and sin, God was there to bring peace. Our God gave us strength to triumph over our adversity and look with anticipation towards a new day.

Now that I no longer consider myself someone who believes in a deity, those old comforts ring hollow. In light of tragedies, such as the mass shooting in New Zealand, non-theists like myself need to find answers that don’t come from the concept of a spiritual being, or a divine creator. We need to discover how we can best respond to tragedy that aligns with our worldview, where humans alone are responsible for their actions, and the promise of an afterlife doesn’t exist.

Despite the fact that we don’t believe in a divine presence, we still need a framework by which to engage with the world. The word ‘theology’ comes from the Greek word theos meaning god, and the notion of logia which denotes a study or knowledge of a thing. In modern times the idea of theology has been generally equated to the study of the Christian God, though by definition it can apply to other theistic or spiritual faiths as well. When we talk about theology, we ask questions about how human existence and the spiritual interconnect in the world. Theology is only relevant in terms of how it affects the life of human beings.

As a non-theist, can we have a theology? Undoubtedly yes! If we break apart the word theology again, we then can ask the question, what is the theos that a non-theist is talking about? If a person does not believe in a deity, the concept of non-belief becomes the theos of theology! To a non-theist, the lack of a divine presence is the building block upon which we study and know things in our life. The theos in ‘theology’, for a non-theist, is the foundation of how we approach life. It’s the basis for how we answer the tough questions about how we should live and exist in the world with other human beings.

The theology of non-theism is a belief that we only have one life to live, and therefore how we act and treat others has a direct impact on how each and every one of the hours that we have left, is spent.  If we treat people badly, and without love, then our lives will be lesser for it. Whereas if we approach the world with compassion, grace, love, and respect, our own lives will be enriched and more full. Creating, loving, sacrificing… these are all acts that bring life to it’s fullest, not just or us, but for those around us. If we only have one life to live, why shouldn’t it be as full as it can be?

So, how does this influence how we respond to tragedy? If we can’t bring comfort in the hope of an afterlife, how do we wrestle with the hatred and death that surrounds us? We bring hope through the understanding that every action that we do has an impact in the hear and now, and that fact is of utmost importance. By showing love and compassion to those who need it most, we’re improving not just their life, but the entire human condition as well. Every act of sacrifice that we perform enriches our understanding of what it means to be human. We learn and grow as we show love to others, and this growth helps bring our society together. Just because we don’t have the promise of a life hereafter, does not mean that the non-theist cannot bring love into another’s life.

When events such as racially charged mass shootings happen, the response of the non-theist should be one of anger, sorrow and grief, but also of hope. Hope that when evil is brought out into the light that it is shown for what it truly is, and that its lies and ugliness becomes a repugnant smell to everyone around it. Hope that those who suffer can be given comfort and care by people who can show them love. Hope that anger and pain can be turned into positive actions that make a difference in the lives of those who will come after us. We do good in the world, for the sake of the world.

The late Paul Wellstone said, “We all do better, when we all do better.” This is the theology of the non-theist (and many theists!). A theology of hope and compassion towards everyone around you, seeking to make the world the best it can be in the time that we have.

The wisdom of crows

A poem

As I hiked through the woods on a winter day
I asked a crow to walk alongside me
To share with me the secrets of life
     Caw-Caw
I turned and looked at him. Could it be that simple?
     Caw-Caw
I stood still. Yes, yes, that was it!
     Caw-Caw
I fell to my knees awash in new found understanding

I stared into his black soul-full eyes
He cocked his head to the side
I swore I saw the edge of his beak rise in a smirk
He took to flight and I continued my hike
I felt renewed
The knowledge of life flowing through my mind
Crows are smart
Crows are sneaky
And humans are fools for believing what they say

The One Thing

My wife’s employer gave her a book for Christmas, written by the owner of the company, Gary Keller. It’s called The One Thing, and since my wife had already read it, I decided to give it a go. It’s a quick read, and despite only being a few chapters in, I’ve already gotten a good sense of the message.

That message, simply put, is that if we want to be successful, we need to stop trying to do everything in life, and instead focus on one thing. He rails against the mindset that we need to be involved and doing as many different things as possible, and that by doing so, we’re not doing anything well. All of this becomes complicated by amazing technology that allows us to be connected constantly to dozens of different things that can fill our time. 

As I said, I’m only a few chapters in, but I feel like the core of the message is already starting to hit me. It cuts to the core of what I’ve been struggling with for a decade now, and that is I don’t know what my “one thing” is anymore. It used to be religion, and for a while it kind of was technology. But now, it’s vague. It all goes back to that struggle with identity that I’ve written about before. 

I’ve had some good meetings lately with folks about potential career changes, but I feel like I need to figure out this piece first. In a recent meeting with one individual, he asked me point blank, “What is it that you want to spend your time doing?” That’s the key question that I really need to get figured out. What do I want the day-to-day to look like?

I’ve also been listening to some humanist podcasts that have been meaningful for my wife, and talking with a friend who has gotten into Stoicism. A key component of this thinking is understanding that eternal significance is a pipe dream. Two hundred years from now, no one is going to know or care about me, no matter what I do. There are so few people in history that are remembered beyond their life, that trying to focus on “leaving a legacy” becomes a fool’s errand. 

The key is to focus on the here and now. What kind of impact can to have today? What kind of person can you be to those in your life now, not just as a memory after you’re gone? Those are the questions that bring me back to the question of what is my “one thing”. 

This is once again a blog post without answers, but I feel that by writing down the questions, and the musings, it helps me process and think. I feel like I’m closer and closer to the cusp of figuring myself out. Being on the edge is exciting and frustrating, and I appreciate my readers being willing to ride along while I continue to explore.