Tuesday, July 25, 2017

7.25: A Scout is...

Every Boy Scout is required to earn at least 21 merit badge if they want to reach the rank of Eagle. There are 10 required badges among those 21. They include ones that you’d associate with the physical, outdoorsy background of the Boy Scouts: First Aid, Lifesaving, Camping, Swimming, Environmental Science.

However, there are three required badges that might not immediately come to mind when asked about which ones are required: Citizenship in the Community, Citizenship in the Nation, and Citizenship in the World. These were also my favorite merit badges to earn. They aren’t the most popular because you don’t get to do cool stuff like patching up wounds or going on backcountry trips. These require you to research issues, learn about the founding of your country, contact your local government representatives, and speak out about issues that matter to you. I loved it.

I wrote a letter to Congressman Jim Oberstar about gun control. His office responded with a two-page letter. I believe I still have it somewhere. That letter gave me faith in our country’s freedom of speech and democracy. It inspired me to continue to write letters to the editor to my newspaper and contact my representatives. I cherish our nation’s freedom of speech.

I have long argued that Boy Scouts does more for youth development than any athletic program. Maybe I’m biased because I wasn’t very good at sports, but I learned a lot of things about being an adult from the Boy Scouts. I learned how to work with many different stakeholders (leaders, other scouts, and parents) in order to plan trips and events. I learned how to go up to strangers and ask for money for a worthy cause. I learned how to be prepared for numerous scenarios that could befell you. I learned how to get out of my comfort zone. I learned how to work towards something that I really wanted: my Eagle Scout rank. I learned how to be an informed and active citizen. In short, I learned a lot.   

I don’t believe Donald Trump subscribes to my same brand of idealism and optimism. That’s what made his speech at the BSA National Jamboree even more appalling. If he can’t be trusted to say appropriate things in front of thousands of Boy Scouts, what can we trust him with?

I worked at a Boy Scout camp for three summers during college. It was a nice way to complete the circle of my formal Scouting career. My first year was in 2008. I remember having a few political discussions with my fellow counselors, but I don’t ever remember it affecting my work or getting into a disagreement with a leader of some issue. A bunch of college kids over the course of the summer had an easier time being civil than the current president of the United States.

A thought that I haven’t been able to let go over the past few months is the sixth point of the Boy Scout Law: A Scout is kind. If you asked a random person for a description of a Boy Scout, I’m guessing that wouldn’t be the first word they think of. That’s the one I’ve held on to the most because it’s the one I think our world (especially in the social media age) needs the most. Kind made the list before strong and smart. It’s easy to be mean, you really don’t have to do much, but it’s difficult to be kind. It requires action and decisions.

I hope a few kind, helpful, and brave scouts were inspired to stand up for what is under attack by Mr. Trump.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

New Project: 15 Books

I need to read more this summer. I’ve decided that I’ve given too many nights to Netflix and my ability to finish books has suffered because of that. Saying that you finished a book seems so much more brag-worthy than saying you finished a Netflix series.

And these past few months, I’ve also learned the importance of doing things for yourself. I’ve tried making book lists before, but they’ve inevitably fallen by the wayside because it always felt like I was doing it for someone else. This is 100 percent for me. I decided on 15 because it’s a good number, and it seems doable in three months. I’ve also decided to divide it into three categories: books I want to read, books I need to read, and books I should have read.

The books I want to read are ones that have been on my list, but I just haven’t pulled the trigger on purchasing or getting from the library. The books I need to read are ones that I’ve already bought or gotten, but I just haven’t gotten from the library. And books I should have read are ones I missed in high school/college. The only common thread between them is that these are all ones I want to read. (I thought about putting Pride and Prejudice on my list, but, no offense to Jane Austen, I don’t really want to read Pride and Prejudice.)

Here are the fifteen books:

Books I want to read:
Common Ground - J. Anthony Lukas
Master of the Senate - Robert Caro
The Bight and the Brightest - David Halberstam
Exit West - Moshin Hamad
The Boys in the Boat - Daniel James Brown

Books I Need to Read:
The Right Stuff - Tom Wolfe
Between Heaven and Mirth - Father James Martin
Hallelujah Anyway - Anne Lamott
The Good Fight - Walter Mondale
Ghosts of Spain - Giles Tremlett

Books I Should Have Read:
The Grapes of Wrath - John Steinbeck
Catch 22 - Joseph Heller
To Kill a Mockingbird - Harper Lee
The Handmaid’s Tale - Margaret Atwood
A Confederacy of Dunces - John Kennedy Toole

My only rule for this is that I get one mulligan on a book. I’ll post updates and keep track of my progress over the summer.

Friday, May 5, 2017

5.5 Planning

I told myself I wouldn't plan too much on my trip Spain. I told myself that this would be a time I'd relax and just go where the road takes me. That's fine in spirit, but I'm a creature who needs structure. I always have and I always probably will. That always creates complicated feelings while you're on vacation. Am I enjoying this enough? Am I seeing everything I need to see?

The adrenaline for the trip had still been pumping strong on day three. I hadn't slept much. I woke up a little after 8 a.m., much earlier than most of the hostel crowd. I almost marched to the famous el Rastro market in Madrid. The only thing that stopped from b-lining it there was stopping for some coffee and a pastry. I told myself that it was ok to stop for a coffee. I needed this. I can take a breath. I had all day.

But 10 hours later, after a full day of sightseeing on el Rastro and Toledo, I just wanted to watch some soccer. I was a little anxious because I said I'd watch it with another guy who was at my hostel, but my bus back from Toledo arrived so late that I missed out the scheduled meeting time and I didn't have any way to contact him.

The previous day while wandering around, I saw a row of Irish pubs that said they'd be showing the game. Both were packed when I hustled over to that area around Puerta Del Sol just as the game was starting. It didn't look promising, so I just wandered around till I saw another place that was showing the game.

That place was what could be considered a "fast casual" burger joint. Oh man, I thought. This isn't "the real Spain." I want tapas and sangria while watching football. Rick Steves didn't recommend this. But the game was starting and I didn't want to miss it.

I ordered a beer and looked around for a spot. The only free space was at a table with a couple. The man had salt and pepper hair, the woman had glasses, and they looked like your typical suburban 40-something couple. They were not who expected to be watching a football game with, but it was crunch time.

I asked quietly if I could sit at their table and they said yes. I sat on the side closest to the tv, so I didn't face them. I didn't say much and I took of my Barcelona hat because I didn't know who they were rooting for. Over the course of the first half, I noticed them giving slight applause and affirmations for Barcelona- a good sign in Real Madrid territory.

At the half (score tied 1-1) the woman asked where I was from. I told her the U.S. They were from Guatemala and huge Barcelona fans. They had been to the Champions League game the week before. We talked about soccer and basketball. (Their English was excellent.) Their names were Yolanda and Andi. Yolanda asked where I was from in the states and it turns out that she has a niece who lives in Minneapolis.

The second half was much more lively. Ivan Raktic of Barcelona scored and we high fived. The room was about 60/40 Madrid to Barcelona fans. It was exciting. Barcelona was winning the Classico. I was excited to have made some new friends and bond over the team that had inspired this trip. Andi even bought me a beer.

But then in approximately the 80th minute Real Madrid's James Rodriguez changed the narrative. He scored. It looked like it was going to be a draw. Oh well, I still had fun.

But, as I am learning, you should sometimes throw out your plans. Because Lionel Messi, or just life in general, can always throw surprises at you. In literally the last second of stoppage time Messi received a ball at the top of the box and got a clean goal in the left part of the net. Yolanda, Andi and I were yelling. Even if it wasn't "the authentic Spain experience" it turned out to be really frickin fun. Andi gave me his email address and told me to send him a note.

As much as I love guidebooks. Not everything you want or need is going to be in there. Sometimes you just got to wander around till you find it.

Thursday, April 6, 2017

4.5 Politics and the Prodigal Son

Lately, I’ve noticed that there’s been a kind of internet glee surrounding every chip to the Trump administration. Steve Bannon taken off the Security Council. Jeff Sessions recusing himself from a Russia investigation. Michael Flynn asking for immunity. It all feels like it’s going to add up to some sort of downfall to the Trump administration, even though it hasn’t yet. Of course, these little setbacks for Trump have been coupled with terrible actions for the other side, travel bans, EPA cuts, etc.

It’s angered me. And I’ve felt resentment towards Trump voters. So have many of my Facebook friends. I know that hardly any of my friends voted for the man, but I know a few of my family members did.

I’ve noticed a few people who have washed their hands of Trump voters and everything they stood for. I understand it, especially if you’re a person of color or a woman. I get why you just want to disengage and give in to resentment.

But I saw a piece on social media that caught my eye. It was called “Compassion and Politics” Nathan Robinson on the website Current Affairs. In it, he argues that the Democratic party has swayed away from being the party that cares about people. There’s a large swath of people that wants to give up on the opioid-riddled communities and small towns that don’t have much left. There’s a part of me that wanted to as well. When I lived in a small town in southwest Minnesota, there were more than a few towns that I saw and asked myself, “What is this doing here?” There wasn’t much other than a gas station and some bars that hadn’t updated the decor since the Carter administration.

Robinson quotes the German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer to raise a point, “May all living beings delivered from pain.” I agree with him that that is a good place to start.

I also started a new book by one of my favorite authors, Anne Lamott. It’s called “Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy.” In the opening chapter, she talks about the story of the Prodigal Son. For those who didn’t attend Sunday school, it’s the story of two brothers and a father. One brother stays at home, follows the rules and goes on to have a prosperous life. Another brother takes his share of inheritance, blows it on booze and gambling and then returns home. While the homebound brother expects the other one to be admonished by his dad, the exact opposite happens. The father throws a feast for the brother’s return.

How many times have liberals felt like that older brother in the last few months? We didn’t do anything wrong. We voted for the right candidate and everyone who didn’t should suffer for their choices. It's a completely justifiable feeling, but it's not a sustainable path for a more empathetic and just society where all living beings are delivered from pain.

I don’t know if I’m ready to throw a party yet for Trump voters, but I know I could add a big dollop of empathy in my interactions and thoughts.

Friday, February 17, 2017

7.4- The Things You Don't Do

I never understood that saying about jazz where it’s all about “the notes you don’t play.’ I think I can see how that applies outside of a musical context though. In a time where filling our eyes and ears with three or four forms of entertainment all at once, there’s something to be said for those times when we don’t do that. The times you’re not entertained. The times you’re not talking. The times when you’re scared. The times when you’re truly alone, without your devices and on your own. I know that mindfulness is a big buzzword right now. But I think there’s an easier way to achieve that than giving someone your money to tell you how.

On Tuesday, I went to a concert at First Avenue. It was my second concert there in four days. I bought a ticket in order to see the opening act, Craig Finn. But the headliner, The Japandroids, intrigued me as well. I met up with a friend for a beer prior to the show. The two of us didn’t know each other all that well because we had only met through another friend our previous summer. However, we found out via social media that both of us would be attending this show.

We arrived at First Ave about 45 minutes before showtime. We grabbed a few more drinks and headed over the merchandise table just to check what was on sale. Chris mentioned that his goal was to see the band members at least once offstage. I began to talk about something and I noticed that he was looking back towards the merch. “That’s Brian King,” he said, noting that the lead singer had come over. He walked right over, strangely, no one else noticed. I took his picture, and then another gentleman offered to take a picture with all three of us. Goal achieved for the evening.

The only Japandroids song I knew before this show was the single from their latest album “Near to the Wild Heart of Life.” Luckily, they played that one first, which piqued my interest. These guys play a confessional sort of rock, talking about moving on, drinking, lost loves. The more I’ve listened to it this week, the more I’ve liked it. (Confession to make, I didn’t stay through the whole show. Some of us had to work in the morning!)

One thing I noticed though was how many people were on their phones. I’m not talking about taking pictures, recording video, updating their Instagram, or responding to a text from a buddy at the bar  and then putting it away. (I’ve done all of those things at concerts.)  They were on their phones for a good portion of the song, just scrolling away through Facebook or Twitter. I get the documentation aspect of having your phone out, but why would you want to be somewhere else, looking at what other people are doing? You are out. You are doing things. You are exemplifying what a lot of people wish they were doing.

I’ve underrated how great some concerts are. You’re not at work. You’re not at home. You have literally no responsibilities other than to take in a show.  Why can’t we just do that? There were a few times when I found myself with a little slice of serenity in the middle of a raucous crowd.  I was where I was supposed to be, and that felt great.

Monday, January 23, 2017

Kindness, Marches, and Donuts: A Weekend Protest

I’ve decided to be kind to Trump supporters. I realize that’s not something that everyone can do or wants to do. I don’t expect everyone to follow my lead. Everyone has a different role to play in this fight. Maybe I’ve got a reservoir of kindness because life has been pretty good to me. I’m a straight, white, male, so that’s already a lot. I might as well try and share what I have.

Some people could say that I’m enabling hate and racism by not shunning Trump and his like, I disagree with that. As a Catholic, I’m a firm believer that we were made in the image and likeness of God. I want to presume goodness in people. And until they prove me otherwise, I’m going to do just that. I think it’s easier to change minds and hearts when you’re kind. As I said in my mission statement, I will use my kindness and empathy to fight injustice. I can fight the awful things in this world without destroying a person. here are some cynics who don’t believe in that. Well, good for them. That photo of the black cop helping a white supremacist protester who’s suffering from heat exhaustion personifies how I’m feeling.

As we walked towards the meeting point on Saturday morning, there was a man with a sign and a bible. He was preaching and basically telling us that he had on good authority that we were all going to hell. As we walked by, I said to him, “Have a nice day.” It took him a few seconds, but when I was a few steps away from him, he replied, “Have a nice day too, sir.” I doubt I changed his mind, but a little kindness can’t hurt, can it?

This essay by Courtney Martin sums it up well.

It’s not so important that I truly see Trump (does he even see himself?) as much as the nearly 62 million people who voted for him. Presuming their malevolence is a risk I’m unwilling to take. It would mean that we really are made of different stuff, which seems not only intolerant, but dumb. We all start from that terrific vulnerability. We all have mothers, whether they stick around or not. We all want love, meaning, safety, and sandwiches. We all tolerate a tremendous amount of risk, which is to say we keep waking up every morning and trying to be people in the world, which is inherently risky. I’ll start there.


The crowd on Saturday morning at the Minnesota State Capitol was the friendliest crowd I’ve ever been in. I couldn’t turn around in the green line car, and we passed hundreds of people waiting on train car platforms. On a Tuesday in Boston that would have been cause for yelling, shoving, and even more general unpleasantness. But on this day, people seemed to get it. People cheered from train platforms even when someone said that there wasn’t any room. People just seemed to be energized by seeing other like-minded people out there, showing up for the same cause.

I marched because I wanted to show up. It had been a while since I had felt good about any national news. I haven’t listened to NPR as much since the election, and I’ve skimmed more and more news articles without really taking them in. I wanted to feel some joy and hope again. That starts with showing up. I marched to stand up to the bully in the White House. I wanted to show my face in solidarity with a number of causes I believe in. And I just wanted to be part of a crowd that dwarfed the size of inauguration. (I try to be nice person most all the time, but I can still be petty. Sue me, I’m human.)

At first I didn’t think I was going to hold a sign. I had spoken with my mom the previous afternoon, the day of the inauguration. She wanted to come, but it didn’t work out logistically to come down. So I told her that I’d march for her. I thought I might as well make a sign that showed it. I wrote, “Doing this for my mom because she’s awesome.” It was a pretty popular sign. Not to brag or anything, but I was stopped by about a dozen people who asked to take my picture. I even made it into the Apple Valley High School student newspaper.

I posted a few pictures of the march that evening. It was fun (and a good ego boost) to see the likes and compliments, as well as the photos from all the different marches. A few of my friends, who I presume voted for Trump, started a discussion on one of the photos. I usually don’t respond to comments, but I thought I could be kind and polite, and still answer their questions. I went back and forth a few times, but then I went to bed. My new year’s resolution was to stay off of social media on Sundays, so I didn’t check any of the threads that evening.

I received a few text messages from friends saying that they didn’t mean to start a family fight. I wasn’t exactly sure what they meant, but later that evening, I opened my messenger app because I needed an address for a friend and I saw another message from my cousin mentioning something about a Facebook discussion. It was 10 p.m. and I thought it would be best if I didn’t check on it that evening.

I opened up Facebook this morning to 38 notifications. Normally I’d be happy about that, but I clicked on a few. There were dozens of comments back and forth between friends and family members about Trump, the march, and everything in between, and it got nasty. I decided not to read through them. I really just didn’t want to be angry. So I decided to write something at the bottom more or less saying that I was disappointed something that I got positive vibes from devolved so quickly and that I’d happily message with anyone who wanted to continue the conversation via direct message.

I was upset, but I decided to turn back to my mission statement: I will use kindness and empathy to heal wounds, build bridges, and fight injustice. There are some people who get off on internet comment wars, but I’m not one of them. There are some people who like confrontation, I’m not one of them. There are some people who want to fight (in more ways than one) Trump supporters. I’m not one of them.


However, I’m not going to be a pushover. After church on Sunday morning, I was eating donuts and drinking coffee with my parents and a couple of their friends came over to join us. I had seen them before, but I had never met them. The march eventually came up and the woman said that she couldn’t believe so many people were marching for abortion. That was not the case for me, or for probably lots of people. I doubt anybody would say that they were marching for abortion if they were asked that question.

My mom mentioned my sign and I said that I was marching to stand up to every awful thing Trump’s campaign represented. I said I was marching to support immigrants and refugees. That got the guy off. He went on to talk about how if we didn’t have a border, we wouldn’t have a country. And he said that America can’t take the whole world in. I took a deep breath.

I told him the story about a lawyer I know who fled Honduras after his mother was murdered by a gang. I told him that he claimed asylum in the U.S. and that he eventually went on to get his degree, law degree, and pass the bar. His practice now focuses on providing representation to low-income Spanish-speaking people in civil cases, a greatly underserved market. I told the guy that I was glad I lived in a country that had the mechanisms to get him here. It felt good to go off like that. I wasn’t unkind or mean, I just wanted to make sure my point of view was heard. It was. I left soon after that.

These next four years are going to be tough ones. I’m just glad this weekend gave me hope to get through it all.

Monday, January 16, 2017

10 Albums

  1. The Beatles - 1
I had listened to a few classic rock albums before this one. Though this is the one that opened the floodgates for me. It brought me to other Beatles albums and songs, but also backwards towards to Chuck Berry and forwards towards bands like Zeppelin and the Clash. I got the first copy of it from my Aunts Betsy and Martha  when I finished junior high. It still occupies the first place in my overstuffed CD folder.  

  1. The Beatles - Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
This was a close second to most influential album for me. I first started listening to it over the summer during a camping trip to South Dakota. Our group leader played this in the truck multiple times. I still get goosebumps every time I hear the opening chords of the first song. As I’ve gotten older I’ve begun to appreciate the beauty of “A Day in the Life” even more.

  1. Pink Floyd - Dark Side of the Moon
I think this was the first classic rock album that I purchased. I bought it technically in middle school to impress a girl. However, it continued to influence my musical purchases throughout high school. There is still a poster of the album cover in my room back home. One time a classmate of mine and I synched the album up with The Wizard of Oz. Even though we didn’t smoke any weed, it was pretty creepy.

  1. The Rolling Stones - Through the Past Darkly (Big Hits Vol. 2)
My first Stones album I ever purchased. I was upset it didn’t have “Satisfaction,” but it had “Paint it Black,” which was my first open mic night performance song.

  1. The Jimi Hendrix Experience - Are You Experienced?
The first album that I appreciated as a whole. This opened the whole psychedelic culture for me.

  1. Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band - Born to Run
My foray into Bruce. A different track wowed me every time here. I played “She’s the One” multiple times, thinking it was about my then girlfriend.

  1. The Grateful Dead - American Beauty
I never got into the Dead live albums. I always liked the structure of this one. “Box of Rain” still gets me through some low times.

  1. The Beatles - Let it Be
I picked this one up at a Half Price Books. I loved “Two of Us” and eventually, “Let it Be.”

  1. The Rolling Stones - Let it Bleed
I felt so cool when I bought this album. It kept coming up in the different Stones biographies that I read. “You Got the Silver” was one of my favorite angsty songs.

  1. Johnny Cash - 16 Biggest Hits

I went through an old-school country phase my senior year of high school. This album influenced me more than any. That and the movie “Walk the Line.”

Saturday, January 14, 2017

This I Believe: 29

I believe in listening. Listening is everything that is antithetical to our modern culture. Listening takes effort. It makes you focus on one thing. And sometimes it forces you to come into contact with things you don't want to hear.

One important skill I've learned in life is to know when I'm listening to something that brings me joy instead of something that's just filling my ears with noise. When I know I'm doing that second thing, I'll put my phone down, take out my headphones and just listen. It amazes me that we as people will actively choose to interact with things we don't care about in order to avoid facing some void in our life.

Louie C.K. sums it up well in this interview on Conan:

The thing is, because we don't want that first bit of sad, we push it away with a little phone or a jack-off or the food. You never feel completely sad or completely happy, you just feel kinda satisfied with your product, and then you die.

I believe that we need to face those bits of sad. We need to face those bits of loneliness. Those are the times that define who we are. Unless you want to be a film or television critic, I believe very few people have found themselves on the couch while watching Netflix and eating Cheetos. So many times we revert to that because we're too tired or scared to pursue what we really want. I've done it. I've done it a lot. I'm not saying that's a bad thing, it just rarely leads to that immense personal growth and change that so many people seem to desire.

The thing is, people get lost about what it means to be living your fullest life. Some people think that involves staying up late in clubs, dancing, and getting sloshed. NO. I hate going to clubs. I reserve dancing for special occasions, and I drink far less than I used to. All of those things would not constitute my best life.

I think living your fullest life is allowing yourself to come to terms with all of those feelings, anyway you can get them. Maybe that means running a couple miles every day, reading that book you've always wanted to read, or just catching up with a friend. I believe you need to actively put yourself into a situation that forces you to confront the possibility of every emotional gradient in life. Don't resign yourselves to being "kinda satisfied with your product." That's not living

Confronting these things allows you to grow into yourself. So many people don't want to do that. There's a quote from Rog Bennett of the show Men in Blazers that I love. This is from a speech he gave to his son on his son's bar mitzvah,

"The secret to life is about knowing how to be yourself and being at ease with it all."

I believe that is so true. And it starts with listening.