My Boring Life

A New Home?

So I'm not sure how you wandered across this site. Maybe you know me or maybe you're the IRS doing some preliminary audit research. No matter your path, you've stumbled on to the new website layout for the House of Carr.

For about eight years, I used Wordpress and rented server space from my friend Brian Coates; Brian has been a faithful friend and I could never repay all he's taught me about web development. But the exponential growth of website technology has brought costs down and provided easy-to-use content management systems. As a result, I pulled all my sites over to SquareSpace. Transferring over 11 years of content took some time, but it's all here and archived.

I'm devoted to keeping the content flowing so you'll have an excuse to check in from time to time. I hope you like the change.

And if you're with the IRS, I pay my taxes.

Forty Things I’m Thankful For

I thought I’d end my series of “40" posts with a list of things for which I’m thankful (the proper grammatically way to express that, as opposed to that intentionally butchered title above).

Obviously, my thankfulness extends far beyond forty items but that's the theme of these musings so I'm sticking to it.

Moleskine notebooks I get so excited about them, I always buy a new one before I’ve finished filling the last one.

Running I never really enjoyed running, even when I started running marathons. It wasn’t until my third marathon that I started to consider it a fun discipline. Now the thought of ten mile runs in the fall make me smile. It’s kinda sadistic.

The Spoken Word The idea that people still endure so many speeches and sermons in an era of digital communication is amazing.

Old Houses We were blessed this year to buy an old house that was well-cared for. A bitterly cold winter might change my tune but so far, we’re in love.

Shoes I’m not a full-blown addict, but I probably own more shoes than a man should. It’s the one piece of fashion that always interests me.

Photography The advent of digital photography made me begin to appreciate what can be accomplished behind the camera lens. While I’m a better photo-editor than an actual photographer, it’s still a nice hobby.

Air conditioning My familial roots in HVAC installation and repair make me appreciate the blessing of a cool house on a sweltering summer day.

The Written Word I always think of myself more of a speaker than a writer, but some of the greatest influence I’ve had has come through things I’ve written.

Learning As evidenced by my time in the classroom, I'm a perpetual student. I’m confident that even though I’m finally finished going to school, I won’t stop my pursuit of knowledge.

Contact Lenses I started having vision problems at the end of elementary school. I didn’t start wearing contacts until I went to college. Maybe someday I’ll have laser surgery but until then, I’ll keep shoving those wonderful pieces of plastic on my eyeballs.

Diversity Monochromatic won't get it done. Variety is the spice of life.

Foggy mornings I’ve liked these more since I moved downtown. There’s nothing like seeing buildings peak out above the clouds.

Architecture Like George Costanza, I always wanted to be an architect. In the last decade, however, I actually started appreciate the art of building design. I like pretty buildings.

Whiteboards I’ve gone a little bit crazy in the past few years, installing whiteboards in all my offices. It’s gotten to the point that Kaelyn asked for one in her room (and I obliged). A dry erase marker and a sea of white allow for endless possibilities.

Tension I really don’t like tension. I prefer everything to just go the way I want. But constructive friction proves so helpful to arrive at the best direction.

Haircuts I’ve cut my own hair for almost twenty years. There’s nothing quite like that feeling of follicular freedom.

Air Travel My first plane ride was on our honeymoon. I’m thankful that I’ve had the chances to see parts of the world that I never would have if I lived a century ago.

Digital Music My early life consisted of toting around cassette/CD cases. I love that I can carry all my tunes (as well as podcasts) on my cell phone.

Topography Even though hills are horrible for running, the vistas that they afford are well worth the efforts. I’m blessed to live in a city of hills.

Clothes that fit Life in the 1990’s was OK, but I truly hope that baggy clothes never come back in style. I know there’s a certain level of comfort in oversized apparel, but I prefer shirt and pants that conform to my body.

Hot showers It’s the little things, right?

Watching Sports The Reds, The Bengals, The Bearcats, The Muskies, The Red Devils, and even my wife’s Wildcats provide endless entertainment throughout the year.

Harmony My parents love to sing and my mother’s alto harmonies taught me to appreciate how complimentary notes can create music that sounds even more robust.

Seasons As much as I’ve grown to hate January, the changing seasons create in my a sense of gratitude for changing times. No matter how difficult the winter is, spring is coming.

Shared wisdom I love living in an era with unlimited access to knowledge. With Youtube, I can fix almost anything.

Maps Ever since I manned the Rand McNally on family vacations, I’ve loved maps. Google Maps is my Shangri-La (even though I haven’t found it on a map yet).

Beverages My morning ritual is still grabbing a 44 ounce Diet Coke. I love drinking fluids all day long. And my bladder works just fine, thank you very much.

Local food Skyline Chili, LaRosa’s, Graeters all flow through my veins. And there’s always something new opening up in town now a days.

(East) Walnut Hills I knew of these communities when I was growing up. I never knew how much they would feel like home. We love living here.

Cincinnati Christian University The whole trajectory of my life can be traced back to where I get to work everyday. It’s been a crazy relationship, but my passion for this place is unquenchable.

My health The older the get, the more that I appreciate human frailty. I made it four decades with merely one surgery, so I’m counting myself grateful.

My forefathers (and foremothers) Everything I’ve accomplished in life has been the result of those who’ve walked before me. I’m grateful to build with supplies provided by others.

My friends I've got friends in all the right places. I’m blessed to have a countless number of folks who would help me at the drop of a hat.

My city I never planned on spending my entire life in one city, but Cincinnati has loved me more than I could imagine. I’m still thrilled to live in the midwestern paradise.

My family To my mother, father, brothers, and sisters, they made me who I am. My extended family, including those I acquired through marriage (especially my amazing mother-in-law and father-in-law), make my life even better.

My church We started a church to make a difference but that church made a huge difference to me. So thankful for my Echo family.

My daughter I cannot describe the pride I have to be Kaelyn’s father. She’s my favorite student and I know she’ll end up being my most important contribution to this earth. I can’t wait to see what God does through her life.

My wife Hands down the best thing I ever did was convince this woman to marry me. You all know that I am nothing without her. I still wake up every morning excited to see the love of my life.

My journey If you gave "teenage Steve" the opportunity to script out his life’s path, I would never have chosen this route. Yet I gladly accept all that the Lord has given me and allowed me to experience. If it all ends tomorrow, I have no room for regret.

My faith I know that many of my friends don’t share my beliefs but that doesn’t negatively affect our relationship. As we all travel through this world, it’s up to us to determine how we’ll see the world. I am who I am because of what God did 2,000 years ago as he lived among his creation. Jesus is everything to me. He defines me life. I pray that it’s transparent in all I do.

My faith in Christ is the basis for my gratitude. It makes all of this worthwhile.

Top 40 Books of My Life

Scanning through my previous top 40 lists, there isn’t much Christian content to be found. This is right-sized by my list of books that have influenced me the most. It's a rough list, to be sure, but it's subject to change from year to year. Note that I really don’t enjoy reading fiction (sue me), so that explains the lean toward non-fiction here.

Orbiting the Giant Hairball by Gordon MacKenzie Before creativity was a corporate buzzword, MacKenzie crafted a career in thinking outside the box in a business setting. It’s visually pleasing too.

The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis Picking one Lewis book is difficult and this one is probably the one where his theology is most suspect. Still, his overall message grapples with eternal issues and it evokes the right emotion from me.

Orthodoxy by G.K. Chesterton Nearly 100 years old, it still lends valuable insight on the basis of Christianity. Considering the era in which is was written, Chesterton's work is brilliantly ahead of its time.

Resident Aliens by Stanley Hauerwas and William Willimon In this book, the authors take issue with the evangelical movement of the 1980’s, urging believers to focus more on spiritual matters than political issues.

Pete Rose: My Prison Without Bars by Pete Rose I readily admit: Pete’s an absolute mess. But he was my childhood idol. This book reveals Pete’s westside roots, so I feel like I understand my roots better through his recollection of history. It's sad he waited so long to admit to (only some of) his mistakes.

Soul Survivor by Philip Yancey I’ve always admired Yancey’s work. This is probably he most peculiar book but I appreciated his thoughts on voices that influenced his writings.

The Triumph of the City by Edward Glaeser I took the opportunity to hear Dr. Glaeser at UC last year because I so appreciated this book. It gives a robust but honest look at urban expansion the 21st century.

The Faith Once For All by Jack Cottrell I’ve known Dr. Cottrell most of my life; his wife taught me Sunday School. Although I don’t embrace all of his theological positions, there’s no more succinct systematic theology available. HIs work on the nature of God is most insightful.

Cincinnati Observed by John Clubbe There are endless books about Cincinnati that I love, but this one will give you the best overview of our city’s history and architecture.

Soul Tsunami by Leonard Sweet I’ll read practically anything that he writes. Sweet’s understanding of cultural shifts and how people of faith should grapple with them is unparalleled.

Game Six by Mark Frost Just months before my birth, the greatest baseball game ever played took place at Fenway Park. The Reds lost the battle but won the war.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence An obscure monk discovered an eternal purpose in his every day tasks.

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell There’s been a load of critique attempting to undercut Gladwell’s examples in this book, but it doesn’t negate his point: we overemphasize perceived brilliance in individuals; it’s about hard work.

The Source by James Michener I was told that this was a must-read novel before going to Israel. The novel is a fascinating journey of the coming and going of society in Palestine.

Confessions by Augustine “Thou hast made us for thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds its rest in thee.”

Center Church by Timothy Keller When I started my doctoral work, this is the book I thought I needed to write; fortunately, Keller did a much better job than I could have managed in ten lifetimes. I assign this as reading for many of my ministry classes even though they'll likely not read it all (even though they should).

God in Search of Man by Abraham Heschel This rabbi hits on a key concept that many Christians miss: we are more significant to God than many of us think.

Live From New York by Tom Shales I’m a big SNL fan and this book is the encyclopedia on the show. It’s influenced pop culture for four decades.

Dick Schaap as Told to Dick Schaap by Dick Schaap Really, this book is just OK. Still, the sports reporter’s opening quote is what makes it most memorable to me: “Often I am asked what my favorite sport is, and always I say, 'People.' I collect people.”

To Kill A Mockingbird by Harper Lee It's cool to hate, but it's still helped me as a young person to understand key issues of racism. I refuse to read Go Set A Watchman because I don’t want my Atticus to be a closet racist.

Why Cities Matter by Stephen Um and Justin Blizzard My doctoral adviser wrote this book, so I might be biased. By his view of city ministry has influenced my own.

Church in the Making by Ben Arment I’ve met Ben and truly appreciate his wisdom. People often come to me asking about starting their own church and I always recommend to them this tome.

Art of the Start by Guy Kawasaki The Apple evangelist inspires you to pull up your bootstraps and get things going.

The Gospel in a Pluralist Society by Leslie Newbegin The Anglican missionary recognized the need for Christians to treat their homeland as a mission field.

World Book Encyclopedias This might be a cop out, but the most formative book(s) of my childhood were these encyclopedias that my mom got a great deal on. I will say that these encyclopedias set me on a course of lifelong learning.

Christ and Culture by Richard Niebuhr Over half a century later, it is the foundational work for all conversations on how believers should approach culture.

Tribes by Seth Godin I’m a Godin fanboy. This book on developing communities is his best work.

Leading: Learning From Life and My Years at Manchester United by Alex Ferguson OK, full disclosure: I just got this book for Christmas, so it’s a tad premature. Still, my passion for United and Sir Alex guarantees a slot on this list.

Return of the Prodigal by Henri Nouwen A simple message, a profound story, a gifted storyteller.

Creativity Inc. by Ed Catmull The behind-the-scenes co-founder of Pixar discusses the company’s creative culture.

Refractions by Makoto Fujimura Heard him speak at a conference years back. This little tome speaks to God’s influence on creatives and the artist community.

As A Driven Leaf by Milton Steinberg I was in a book reading group at Hebrew Union College that discussed this text. It’s fictional history, covering the era of the Bar Kochba revolt.

New Testament and the People of God by N.T. Wright He’s the Midas of the Christian world: every book he touches is gold. This is my personal fave as it’s so rich in content.

The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs Jacobs views aren’t perfect, but they’re profound. I wish I could have met this feisty lady.

Here I Stand: A Life of Martin Luther by Roland Bainton Regarded as the preeminent Luther biography, I’ve always been fascinated by this German monk.

Velvet Elvis by Rob Bell Even though Bell has become a lightning rod among evangelicals, this book does well to acknowledge the grey areas within the Christian lifestyle.

The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer Bonhoeffer’s critique of cheap grace is all the more powerful when understanding his faith journey.

Night by Elie Wiesel Every person of every culture needs to grasp firmly the horrors of Holocaust. I pursue a faith that hopefully contends with the issues Wiesel raises here.

The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey It was a staple of personal development in the 1990’s, but it’s a primer on organizing your life.

The Bible It’s seriously not an obligatory answer. There is no other book that I’ve read that continues to challenge and convict me. I’ve spent the better part of my life studying this text and I continue to learn from it’s eternal wisdom. If I only get one book for the rest of my life, there’s no hesitation to my choice.

Top 40 Movies of My Life

Again, not sure there's any reason for this list except for my own entertainment, but this post reveals my favorite flicks. As you search through it you'll soon realize that I'm not a film snob; I just like good stories told well. Parental guidance is suggested. Again, no specific order.

Glory Matthew Broderick's acting leaves much to be desired but no matter. It's a powerful story. The soundtrack is like another character in the film.

Interstellar Saw it in the theater because of my belief in Christopher Nolan; he can do know wrong. I didn't care for it after that first viewing but now consider it one of his most brilliant works. Another amazing soundtrack.

The Truman Show Jim Carray in his career role. From concept to execution, it's an emotional ride.

The Empire Strikes Back Even though The Force Awakens is a great addition to the Star Wars universe, nothing will ever touch all that's packed into Episode V. It's by far the most quotable of any of the movies. Sequel supremacy.

Die Hard No sequel supremacy here, as the second was a farce. Yes, it ought to be considered a Christmas movie because, "Now I have a machine gun. Ho-ho-ho."

Tombstone Without Val Kilmer as Doc Holiday, I don't think this movie works. It's a movie quote goldmine.

Forrest Gump Saw this in the Covedale Theater on Glenway Avenue the summer I graduated high school. Maybe that's why I still rate it so highly.

Tommy Boy The best of Chris Farley's genius on display. And give it to David Spade who played a great straight man. Black Sheep, however, was a swing and a miss.

V for Vendetta Although it's disturbing and a rallying cry for anarchy, it's well done.. And I often forget that Natalie Portman isn't British.

Children Of Men Just an absolute masterpiece. Great concept. Compelling performances. Amazing camera work.

The Dark Knight Heath Ledger's final act is legendary. Batman has long been my favorite superhero and my Nolan fandom was cemented in how he spun this story. Sequel supremacy.

Field of Dreams It's an eighties movie that hasn't gone out of style. I'm really not a Kevin Costner fan but he excels as an "everyman" in this film. Back to the Future Part Two It's so meta—and almost picked the World Series champion a quarter-century in advance. Sequel supremacy.

Once As authentic as they come. There was no investment in production but it made me care much more than movies with much higher budgets. Another case of the soundtrack making the movie.

Spaceballs A nod to my childhood. Mel Brooks knew exactly what he was doing in this spoof. It's absurdly intelligent.

Lord of the Ring: The Two Towers The trilogy was masterfully made (although the Hobbit movies were almost unwatchable). Sequel supremacy.

Zombieland This movie is the epitome of today's witty movie storytelling. I think it's the only inclusion of Bill Murray on this list, but even how he's used here shows how smart this film is.

Gladiator Decided between this or Braveheart. Braveheart had the soundtrack and was more raw, but I think Joaquin Phoenix was the better villain. I was entertained.

Inception It takes a couple of viewings to determine what's going on (and you still might not figure it out), but Nolan found gold again.

Aliens "Game over, man! Game over!" Sequel supremacy. Ferris Bueller’s Day Off John Hughes understanding of teen angst transcended the decade in which this movie was made. Though not as serious as the Breakfast Club, it's precisely why it's my pick between the two.

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty Yeah, it's basically the 2010's version of Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, but the international scenery makes a good story into a visually stunning film. Indiana Jones & The Last Crusade Who knew the series needed a little Sean Connery? It great way to end the franchise (because I don't acknowledge that the fourth movie exists).

Oceans 11 (the 2001 version) Yeah, it's cotton candy with eye candy but that's why I like it.

Tree of Life The only movie on this list that I've only watched once. It was a hauntingly brilliant work. Maybe I should watch it again.

Jurassic Park Again, the soundtrack displayed the grandeur of the story. Watching it this year, I'm shocked how lifelike the dinosaurs looked in the infancy of CGI. Hot Fuzz The dark comedy could be declared sequel supremacy as it's a follow-up on Shawn of the Dead. It's all for the greater good (the greater good).

The Departed I'm not a huge Martin Scorsese fan (despite my Godfather homage below), but this makes a solid case for buy in. Amazing cast plus nerve-wracking plot earned that Oscar.

The Matrix Absolutely no sequel supremacy in this trilogy; in fact, the following two movies practically ruin the original story. I still find it mind-blowing.

Total Recall A thoughtful sci-fi action movie with Schwarzenegger as the lead. It's like a solar eclipse.

The Karate Kid We all think we're Daniel LaRusso's facing our Johnny Lawrence's. It's likely the movie in my top 40 with the worst acting, but the eighties were crazy like that.

Kingsman It's a late addition to the list but I've watched it a few times and am continually impressed by its creative storytelling. Plus, I like British stuff. As evidenced by . . .

Monty Python and the Holy Grail It's an ancient tale with a sketch comedy twist. I still laugh, even though I know all the jokes.

Dead Poet’s Society This is a nostalgic pick in honor of Robin William's range. His monologues this film still give me goosebumps.

Full Metal Jacket Yeah, it's insane. I saw this in junior high and Stanley Kubrick messed with my mind. As I got older, I realized the depth of the political statement it was, just a decade after the end of the war.

The Godfather Part Two I could entertain arguments with this pick, but this is the textbook case of sequel supremacy. The combo of Pacino AND DeNiro is why it surpasses the original.

O Brother Where Art Thou? The retelling of Odyssey has humor and harmonies. It'll never go out of style.

Wall-E It's a masterpiece. I emotionally invested in a digitally animated robot.

Top Gun This movie defined a decade. I'll watch it now with you if you'd like.

Fight Club I'm not a Fight Club fanatic, but the cult classic ushered in the new century of movie making.

Let's Build A House

I turn 40 this week. Exciting stuff, to be sure.

Though I didn’t create a bucket list of "40 things to do before 40” list, there’s one thing I’d like to see happen and maybe you could help see it through.

The picture above is of my friends Daniel, Buzi, and their family. They live in rural Myanmar (a country in southeast Asia). Daniel teaches at a local school and they minister to the residents of their village. We met Daniel when he was studying at CCU. Kelly was so moved by his work that she’s his forwarding agent (handles his finances in the U.S.) and we're both on the board of directors for his mission. Daniel and Buzi do amazing work. Myanmar is a country rather hostile to Christianity, but they fearlessly persist in helping people in the name of Jesus

Since the people in Daniel’s village know he’s been to America, they look to him for support even though he himself isn’t affluent. Still, Daniel and Buzi give generously, trusting that God will provide for them.

In this, my birthday week, I’d love for you to be used by the Lord to provide for them.

Daniel and Buzi are trying to build a house. This house would be key to expanding their ministry. Few in their village own their own homes so this would be a key asset for their outreach.

They already have a plot of land promised to them and a downpayment. All they need is to pay for the land and the supplies for the structure. Grand total: $30,000.

It might be far fetched to think we could do all of this in a few days; we’re working with our board to help find other donors to pay for this project. But I figure that there might be a few of you that feel called to give. Maybe I’ve helped you out somehow over the years. Maybe you were even thinking of getting me a birthday present. If you would, consider giving a gift to build Daniel and Buzi a home as a way of saying thanks. I’d love for the people I know to make a difference in this family’s work.

You can give online through a fund we have through Echo Church. Just click here and chose the option for “Christian Mission for Myanmar."

To read more about Daniel and Buzi's work, click here.

Top 40 Songs Of My Life

So I'm ready to complete my fourth decade of life on planet earth and thought I'd offer some reflections on my time here. Today, it's about music. I have somewhat diverse tastes so this list is all over the place, but it's what I like. No real order here, so appreciate it for what it is. Here's the soundtrack of my life:

· Young Folks by Peter, Bjorn, and John This was the ringtone on my last flip phone. Catchy tune that I find myself whistling nine years later.

· Say It To Me Now by Glen Hansard Kelly and I caught The Swell Season at the Brown Theater in Louisville and Glen opened with this song with no amplification. The best from a brilliant songwriter.

· Golden Slumbers/Carry That Weight/The End by the Beatles If I have to pick something from the Fab Four, it's gotta be the end arrangement from Abbey Road.

· Ghosts by the Head and the Heart "One day we'll all be ghosts, trippin' around in someone else's home."

· In the Middle by Mat Kearney Mat's first album had a unique sound. I listened to it non-stop right before fatherhood so I have pleasant memories when I hear it.

· Home by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros More whistling. Played it for Kaelyn when I'd take her to Kindergarten.

· That’s Life by Frank Sinatra Like the Beatles, too many choices but this is my favorite Frank. "I pick myself up and get back in the race."

· Never Tear Us Apart by INXS Came out when I was in grade school. It's still epic almost 30 years later.

· November Rain by Guns N’ Roses I was a huge GNR fan. I taught myself how to play the keys for this song.

· I’ve Got Friends by Manchester Orchestra I've seen this band live five times and this is still my favorite track.

· Northern Sky by Nick Drake I was a late-comer to Nick, especially considering he died a year before I was born. Stands the test of time.

· Living on A Prayer by Bon Jovi My go-to karaoke choice. The epitome of late eighties rock.

· Like A Rolling Stone by Bob Dylan Saw him in concert a few years back and he was a shell of his former self. It still couldn't extinguish my respect of his talent

· Points of Authority/99 Problems Linkin Park & Jay-Z Mash-up of two of my favorite performers of the 2000's. It still stands up.

· Walk by Foo Fighters The best the Foo have ever produced.

· Guerrilla Radio by Rage Against the Machine They were ahead of their time.

· Where the Streets Have No Name by U2 While their latest offerings have been unimpressive, their contributions are unparalleled.

· Wake Up by Arcade Fire Not a huge fan, but they're great at producing anthems. This is their greatest.

· Lose Yourself by Eminem For some reason, I saw Eight Mile in the theater. This song redeemed his acting ability.

· Lady by Styx It's my ringtone for Kelly. My favorite 1980's big-hair band.

· Somewhere Over the Rainbow by Israel Kamakawiwo’ole Possibly one of the best cover songs in history.

· Ain’t No Sunshine by Bill Withers The vocals and lyrics combine to make a hauntingly painful song.

· Seven Nation Army by the White Stripes Finally caught Jack White in concert last year. That guitar riff will likely be popular fifty years from now.

· Tiny Dancer by Elton John I got into Sir Elton at the end of high school. He was one of a kind.

· It’s A Long Way To The Top by AC/DC Again, there's a lot of great songs to chose from but I go with the underdog anthem.

· Love Me Tender by Elvis Not a huge Elvis fan, but the wife is and this was playing during our first kiss. And, thus, it makes the list.

· Started From the Bottom by Drake I like this. Degrassi and stuff.

· Folsom Prison Blues by Johnny Cash The quintessential performance by the Man in Black.

· Kashmir by Led Zeppelin "I am a traveler of both time and space, to be where I have been."

· Start Wearing Purple by Gogol Bordello To quote Willy Wonka, "a little nonsense now and then is relished by the wisest man."

· One by Metallica THIS SONG SHREDS SO HARD.

· We Will Rock You/We Are the Champions by Queen When I was in elementary school, I thought this was the most awesome song. And I still listen to it decades later.

· Even Flow by Pearl Jam True story: we want on vacation one summer in high school and the Ten album was the only cassette I took. It was that good.

· Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones Love the Stones. The passion in this song still gives me chills.

· The Boxer by Simon & Garfunkel This duo's harmonies are some of the best I've ever heard. While this song doesn't display it as well as others, it's my favorite S&G work.

· Buddy Holly by Weezer You can't listen to this song without smiling.

· California Love by Tupac Shakur Tupac and Dre and Englewood . . . always up to no good.

· Danny’s Song by Kenny Loggins Hearing this song is one of my earliest memories (it came out in the early 70's). It would play on WWEZ in Cincinnati, the only secular music deemed acceptable for me and my siblings.

· All These Things That I Have Done by The Killers "I've got soul but I'm not a soldier."

· It is Well With My Soul by Horatio Spafford I didn't include any worship songs in this list. It's not that I don't appreciate "church music," it's just that I love it sung by congregations; it's more powerful when sung by the family of God. The story behind the hymn is as powerful as they come. I believe Christianity is proven true not only in times of joy but in those moments of deepest sorrow. Spafford's words have always touched my heart. It'll be played at my funeral.

Returning

I enjoy a good plot twist. The most popular post in the eleven-year history of this blog was my most recent one. Thousands of people stopped by to read about my love for CCU, my sadness for no longer being employed there, and my sincere hope for its future. I have been overwhelmed by the sentiments of support. Even people I’ve never met sent me encouraging messages. It’s been a rough road, but I finally came to grips with moving on.

And then the Board of Trustees offered me my job back.

In a conversation with a board member, I was assured that my layoff was a business decision. This rather honest discussion spawned several other conversations surrounding my work, my credentials, and my abilities. There's an ebb and flow to restructuring, with much more fluidity than I previously understood. Ultimately, I was asked to return and accept an expanded, hybrid role that would include my overseeing fundraising, teaching a few classes and covering some other responsibilities at the university.

Yet despite my previously expressed desire to cross the Jordan, I never imagined that Mount Nebo could feel so hospitable.

You see, I received a few job offers over the past couple of weeks. I’ve networked with half a dozen of people who sent job connections my way. Despite spending most of my vocational life in the church/Christian non-profit sector, I learned my skill-set had merits in the broader professional world. It was flattering to see that there was life for me beyond CCU.

And despite my best efforts, I am still a little hurt by what went down. Even though I actually accept the rationale behind my termination, I still feel like a grade school boy who was friend-zoned by his long-time crush. I’m also still devastated for my other colleagues who haven’t been offered the same path to return that I’ve received.

So I asked some trusted individuals what I should do. Kelly was fully supportive regardless of what I decided. Kaelyn was less objective; even though she was OK when I said I was leaving CCU, she cried when I said I might not return after being asked to stay.

Yet one of the most compelling conversations about my future came from an unlikely place: from CCU’s new football coach. I grew up watching David Fulcher when he played for the Cincinnati Bengals. A solid man of God, he caught me in the hallway and asked me how I was getting along. I admitted to him my current predicament, and that led to this exchange:

FULCHER: “Oh, you’re coming back all right.” ME: “Really? You can tell?” FULCHER: “Oh yeah. You’re like me. You’re too loyal to walk away.”

I proceeded to ask him how it felt when the Bengals, a team with which he spent seven seasons, suddenly cut him. He said it hurt very badly, but he still loved the franchise despite the decision. He said he even would have worked for far less money if they had asked. The Bengals were his family and he couldn’t turn his back on them even when they caused him great pain. He's since been a two decade ambassador of the franchise and hardly anyone even remembers that small asterisk in his story.

Too bad David's better at practicing what I often preach.

In the pulpit, I continually speak for the value of sustained community. It’s often challenging to remain in a church for a long time because you get to know too much about your fellow parishioners; the longer you live life with people, the more comfortable everyone becomes, which increases the likelihood that they’ll eventually cause you pain. The easy thing to do when conflict arises is to simply move on for greener pastures. That’s why I urge people to hang on through these times because you will often learn valuable lessons when persisting with people despite their (and your) flaws.

God has taught me much in these last weeks. I have much left to learn and this undulation just affirms it. One thing I know: this is my family.

So I’m staying at CCU.

Thank you for praying for me. Continue to pray for my colleagues who lost their jobs. And pray for this school that I love.

The Other Side of the Jordan: Leaving CCU

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s last sermon always gets to me. I listen to it at least once a year. It’s almost as if he knew he was delivering his final public remarks before facing his death. The line that always resonates with me is from the end of the sermon: “I have been to the mountaintop.” The mountain, of which he speaks in metaphor, is based on an actual location half a world away from Memphis, Tennessee, where Dr. King was assassinated the very next day.

One of the best vistas in the Holy Land is Mount Nebo. (I took the above picture when we were there in 2005.) Although the view is breathtaking, its place in biblical history is rather minimal; it’s best known as Moses’ final resting place. As detailed in Deuteronomy 34, on this obscure mountain in modern day Jordan, Moses’ life came to an end. You know well the story of Moses: God called him to return to the place of his birth (where he was known as a murderer) to lead an ungrateful people to their freedom. His faithfulness was continually tested by the Israelites’ grumblings, but he persevered flawlessly.

Well, not quite. There was this one incident.

One day, when the Israelites were thirsty and were grumbling for the umpteenth time, Moses lost it and took his frustration out on God’s commands. Rather than simply speaking to a rock to provide water (as God commanded), he struck it in anger. That small act had a massive consequence: it prevented Moses from stepping foot in Canaan, the destination of the Israelites’ journey.

Mount Nebo, in my opinion, is the setting of one of the worst endings in the Bible. You see, the best conclusion to Moses’ narrative would be for him to lead the Israelites across the dried ground of the Jordan River (replicating what he did at the Red Sea) into Canaan. Instead, Joshua took them there while Moses’ life of service ended without him ever setting foot in the Promised Land. His last vision in life was a hazy view of the land from a mountain, unable to clearly depict the goodness that lied just ahead.

And this is why MLK used the metaphor to close out his speech. He would spend his life combating racial inequality yet never get the opportunity to experience the joy of completed work.

SO CLOSE, BUT MILES AWAY Understand that by opening with this anecdote, I’m in no way comparing myself to either Moses or Dr. King. (I’m a little frazzled, but I’m not completely out of touch with reality.) I just have been thinking about that mountaintop for the past 48 hours.

Last Friday, I was notified that I will be laid off at Cincinnati Christian University at the end of this year. I wasn’t alone; more than two dozen of my colleagues lost their jobs as well. After a decade of work (split up by a five-year break), I’ll be leaving the place where I’ve invested myself fully. I’ve detailed before how much the school means to me and my family, so I’ll steer clear from rehashing that now. While dismayed, I’m confident in my family’s future; I know I can find a job doing something. Instead, I’m heartbroken for all those affected and concerned about what is at stake for future generations.

CCU is critically important to the success of the kingdom of God.

This is something I believed last Friday morning and I still believe now. I believe in what we were trying to do and still believe in our (notice I’m still using the first person plural here) future. With all the concern about our Restoration Movement schools struggling to succeed (see here, here, and here), CCU is attempting to establish a bold model to ensure its future. I still believe it is the best possible plan for a school like CCU to succeed without being able to rely on a hefty endowment to supplement our expenses:

  • Keep the operational costs as manageable as possible through efficiency
  • Listen to the churches hiring ministry students and provide immersive hands-on education
  • Diversify academic offerings for students who want a Christ-centered career preparation for non-church vocation
  • Use athletics as a vehicle to enroll students who might not consider CCU otherwise
  • Take advantage of our urban setting to provide networking/job opportunities

This strategy behind the moves was developed to ensure that CCU can operate on firm financial footing. Many other small colleges are going to face these kind of decisions in the years to come. So whereas Friday’s staffing moves were brutal, they make long-term financial sense. While it’s easy to fixate on individual moves, it still remains that CCU is dedicated to quality ministry education; the new teaching church program will involve local church practitioners in our education model. And with nearly 40% of our traditional undergrads as student athletes, it’s proving to be a successful initiative bringing some great students to campus (although there were considerable cuts in this department as well). More important than providing employment, the university exists to train up future generations of Christian leaders.

So while the events from the past few weeks definitely hurt, but it’s part of a plan, and CCU needed a plan.

THE OTHER SIDE OF THE JORDAN I choose to endure the pain if it contributes to the long-term success of CCU.

Being on social media exhausted me this weekend. (side note: I discovered that, if there’s a job out there answering Facebook messages and texts, I have a bright future.) As much as I was mourning for my colleagues and their families, I was burdened by the vitriol directed toward CCU. Listen, friends, I’ve been around this school for nearly all my life and there have always been moves that people don’t understand. When business decisions are made about beloved followers of Christ, there is going to be widespread anger. And there’s no way CCU can win that PR battle. People always take priority over institutions.

My termination was a business decision. I do not enjoy it, but I get it.

Yet what I can’t do is let my frustration take away from how important this school is. We all need to remember why we’re so passionate about CCU in the first place:

  • Did you meet your spouse here? And do you have kids? If so, I shouldn’t have to convince you further.
  • Did you discover your life’s calling here? Isn’t that life change worth something?
  • Did you develop lifelong friendships here? How have those CCU connections blessed you?
  • Did you learn something from a staff or faculty member that changed your life? Maybe it was a lesson from Tom Friskney or RJ Kidwell in class. Or perhaps it was something that Jon Weatherly taught you in a hallway conversation. Maybe Evelyn Taylor mentored you or Dan Dyke wove the story of the gospel into a discussion on firearms.

These are experiences that all CCU alumni share but are easily forgotten in times like these. And while you’re free to still be angry, nothing beautiful emerges from negativity. I have to get over it and I’m hoping that you (eventually) will too. The kids on campus are trying to be positive and they’ll be those most affected. Hopefully we can follow their lead.

CCU is going to make it to the other side of the Jordan, but it needs us now more than ever. Unless we who believe in it fervently take ownership of what we can control (as opposed to worrying about the things we cannot), it won’t happen.

TWO CALLS TO ACTION So if you are part of the CCU family, and if you even remotely respect me, I’m hoping you join me doing two things in response to what happened last week:

1. This week I’m asking you to pray. It’s what we do best. When challenges come, we pray. Pray every day for CCU. There’s even a student-led prayer service Monday night at 9:30pm if you’re a local and would like to attend. Take one day this week and fast.

If you have enough time to Facebook about it, you have enough time to pray about it. In prayer, we gain perspective. I’ll try to encourage and remind you on social media throughout the week to do so.

But make no mistake. I want one more thing from you.

2. I want you to make a financial gift to CCU. Yes, you need to give to CCU.

The trustees believe that I can continue to do my job for the next ten weeks and I value this trust. My job at CCU is to raise funds. Even in this difficult time, I still believe that this school has blessed us so much that we should be compelled to give back. During the next two months, we’re going to be asking all of our CCU family to make their mark on the school’s future. This week, as you’re praying, I not only want you to think about what this school means to you, but I want you to prayerfully consider a financial gift reflective of how God has used CCU to bless you.

There’s just too much good that happens here to ignore:

  • Later this week I’ll be attending our missionary convention in Virginia. I’ll get to connect with dozens of missionaries throughout the world who were trained on our campus.
  • Our alumni serve in industries across the spectrum, earning livings from “secular” jobs while using their talents to bless the local church.
  • And current students have some audacious, God-sized plans that will not happen without this place. Their passion for committing their lives to kingdom work is something that inspired me daily.

Know this: I would never, never ask someone to put their money to a lost cause. If I ever had wanted to turn my back on the school, now would be the time. But I can’t.

I still believe in CCU. I am asking you to believe with me.

And I’m not asking you to do what I won’t do myself. Even though I have no idea about my future employment, and the thought of personal finances is in the back of my mind, our family is going to write a check to CCU. And my small church is still committed to remain a Partner Church (a greater amount than churches with much larger budgets).

This is our school. And that means we need to contribute more than words and be willing to commit our resources to its future. Your excuse might be, “I gave them years of tuition; that should be enough.” This charitable giving permits you an even stronger voice of accountability while signifying your belief in the cause.

I sign every gift receipt that comes through the school so I’ll know if you’re really with this. So start praying now and seriously consider a financial gift. I’ll look forward to signing a personal note to you.

I’m not going to lie: I wanted desperately to set foot in the Promised Land. That’s how I always thought my story would end. But sometimes we’re not permitted to cross the Jordan. I like to think it’s so we remember that it’s the Lord who brought us here while we’re merely blessed to be along for the ride.

Love you all, steve

A Decade of Urban Living

We shape the city, then it shapes us.-John Reader

I had to go back through the blog archives to confirm, but this week marks ten years since we moved down to the city.

Adding our most recent move this summer (I haven't even written about that yet), Kelly and I have made five moves in our lives. Undoubtedly, that move from the suburbs to the inner-city has been the most transformational in our marriage. I'm not sure I could've anticipated how it changed everything—the trajectory of our family, my view of ministry, and my anthropological views. It's surely been an enlightening ride.

Today, both Kelly and I were working at home and we decided to walk downtown. It's not that far of a trek (a little more than two miles from our new place) but it was an absolutely gorgeous day. We ate in OTR, did a little shopping, and worked out of a coffee shop. Throughout the day, we cohabited public spaces with all sorts of people. It's these little experiences that I've truly cherished over the past ten years and it's all been facilitated because we moved here.

The city we moved to continues to change rapidly. Even though we anticipated the transformation, but it's remarkable how the Cincinnati of 2015 is unrecognizable compared to that of 2005. Despite our town's noticeable shortcomings (specifically issues of equality across the socioeconomic and racial spectrum), I'm encouraged by a civic pride that has blossomed since we arrived. I used to feel like I was one of the only ones banging the drum of the Queen City. Now, we're part of a movement.

Our family is fully woven into the urban fabric. I'm not sure we could even imagine leaving.

I have no idea what this place will look like a decade from now. But I can't wait to find out.

Chaos and Justice

My run last night was altered by gunshots.

That’s called a hook. That’s what I use to keep you reading the less interesting material to get to that story. Hopefully it's enough to keep you hanging with me.

I enjoy running through the city, even at night.

Especially at night.

I’ve never felt fear out late but, then again, I usually don’t run where I shouldn’t be. I stick to major roads and I'm always aware of my surroundings. That awareness keeps me jumpy though: one day I was running downtown (in broad daylight) and someone surprised me by grabbing my arm. It was an old friend. I started to throw a punch but halted when I recognized them.

But being aware isn’t just for my own protection. It draws me closer to my city. I’ve given directions to countless numbers of people. Twice I've changed the tires of ladies unable to do so themselves. One of the reasons I’ve learned to love running is it allows me to see the beauty of this place. You see things differently when you traverse the sidewalks.

Last night was the first time I ran an old route since we moved to the new house. Our street is much quieter than the bustle of our previous place, which was located on a main drag. I’m still in the habit of watching cars for potential drug deals but I’m constantly relieved when I realize it's just people hauling groceries out of their trunks.

Heroine dealers don't use large Kroger bags.

Even though we moved just blocks away, it the side street moves a little slower. Still, as I ran toward a car on the side of the road with the hood up, I immediately thought it was dealing. In the dark, I noticed a couple of people mulling around the vehicle so I reactively clenched my fists. When I was finally next to the car, I discovered the scene was truly innocuous: the car was broken down. Those were older kids waiting impatiently outside. I asked if I could help and they said a tow truck was on the way. We had a brief conversation and I continued on.

For the next mile, I couldn’t help but laugh at myself for being so suspicious. I was guilty of the same paranoia I often mock. With this situation fresh in my mind, I saw a figure moving briskly down the sidewalk toward me. He was walking erratically so my instincts caused me to tense up. Then I noticed he was walking AT me and trying to get my attention. I’ve had this happen many times before; you’d be surprised how many times I get asked for bus money when I’m running. But as this guy motioned at me so intensely and continuously that I stopped. I took out my earbuds and it was then that I could understand the reason for his urgency.

“You need to turn around! They’re shooting up there!”

It took me a second to process what he was saying.

I then glanced at the other side of the street to see quite a few people running away from the scene—not participants, mind you—bystanders seeking safety. Although I don’t fear walking these streets, and have run by this place dozens of times, I don’t go searching for danger. I took the man’s advice. As we moved swiftly down the street, away from the area, we started talking.

“I’m kind of mad,” I said. “I’ve never had to change my path because of gunshots.”

“I have,” he admitted. “Lots of times. It gets crazy in the summer.”

I thanked the man for looking out for me and took a longer way home.

Now I want to make a transition here that could be perceived as forced, but it’s something I’ve been thinking about throughout the summer.

I love my community because of its diversity; it’s home to a spectrum of people along the racial, economic, and ideological scale. Living here either solidifies your prejudices or expands your tolerance. The more you rub shoulders with others different than you, the more you appreciate the unique challenges that each of us face.

This summer, the topic of race continues to be thrust to the forefront of the American psyche. What happened in Ferguson continues to pulse through situations like Charleston and last week in Houston and even what happened this week here in Cincinnati.* The Charleston situation excluded, many of the recent race stories intersect with law enforcement. Unfortunately, these incidents are most polarizing; they solidify prejudices. It's as if we question why these things happen, we’re attacking law enforcement. Hence . . .

“If they had just obeyed the law, they wouldn’t be dead."

Look, I have friends that serve and protect. They’re some of the finest people I know. Some are white, some are black. But when we dismiss these situation as mere issues of law and order, we’re guilty of over-simplifying this issue. It’s about much more than just obeying a police officer.

You see, even though we’ve made major advancements in race relations over the past couple decades, we’re just not there yet. Nor should we expect to be there yet, as one of the largest sins of our fathers was the economic handcuffing of the African American community. Crime will always follow poverty. So don’t pay sole attention to the fruit of the tree when it’s an orchard planted by the the white affluent.

Which is chaos and which is justice? Sometimes it's difficult to tell.

Hear me, friends: just because people cry out for justice doesn’t mean they're endorsing chaos.

There are systemic issues behind all of this. And if you can’t see that, you’re just solidifying prejudices.

This morning's news didn't report on the shooting I apparently narrowly avoided last night. Either no one got hurt or, if they did, they didn't go to the hospital. Too often, when someone sees one of these reports, they chalk it up to more of the same in a ghetto neighborhood. But what's never reported is the kindness of people like the African American man who thought enough of a skinny white guy to warn him of the danger just ahead.

I’m thankful he wasn’t apprehensive of me.

"But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream." Amos 5:24

------------ *By the way, the shooting in Cincinnati this week was predicated by a traffic stop made for a missing front license plate. I’ve been driving without my front plate on the same streets for five years now and have never been pulled over.

I Resign

Taking a stand can be fun. In the midst of this crazy global news cycle, people have used the interwebs to broadcast bold statements about a variety of political issues. Tonight I take a stand of my own. In the grand scheme of things, it’s not very controversial. But it’s kinda a big deal to me.

I changed my Linkedin profile. I officially ended my employment at Echo Church.

My church won’t be shocked, even though I handed in no official resignation letter; I didn’t announce it from the pulpit last week because I’m not going anywhere. I haven’t taken a paycheck in over a year now. Even when I was “paid staff,” I was bi-vocational (working another job in addition to my pastoral gig to make a living). It’s basically been like that since I started the church. I still continue to serve just as passionately and preach nearly every week at our church. I’ll continue in my role as an elder at the church.

The only thing really changing is my view of my relationship with my community. It’s been heading this way for years now. I just finally recognized it.

When we started Echo ten years ago, I was bi-vocational out of necessity. We wanted to start a church our way and raising funds would have meant having to live up to a donor’s expectations. Also, we knew of too many awesome works around the kingdom of God with which we had no desire to compete. So I did what I had to do to manage our costs and kept some side jobs: I started out working at a Panera, performed weddings and funerals, led worship, filled pulpits, and taught college classes all to make ends meet. Even when I originally took a job at Cincinnati Christian University years ago, I secretly desired to grow the church to the size necessary for me to be a full-time minister.

Like most things in my life, I found a way to mess up that plan.

Along the way, while aiming for that next level, I discovered something about my bi-vocationality: my role gave me a more prophetic voice. This wasn’t a “filled-with-the-spirit” kind of prophesying, rather an opportunity to speak the truth plainly. This is difficult to find in American pulpits. Many full-time ministers are forced to temper their messages so as not to blatantly offend others. But my position permitted me a blank check to be bold. When the fear of termination isn’t there, you say what needs to be said. The past decade has changed the way I view the pulpit. It might not be a great template for building a large congregation, but I believe it’s helped us build genuine community at Echo.

And our church has been the key to this. They’ve accepted this model and made it their own. They don’t treat me like some random employee but as a close friend. My leadership in the church is just as strong (if not stronger) because I can lead with total confidence. And the smaller staffing budget has allowed us to be generous with our missions support. In short, we’re a healthier church because of our pastoral relationship.

Honestly, the only thing it hasn’t been good for is my psyche. I always self-identified as a minister. I was fearful that if I strayed too far away from this goal, it would change who I was destined to be. Yet this journey brought me to new levels of acceptance. I’ve now come to the realization that I’ll likely never be a full-time minister again. And I’m totally OK with that. And I don’t feel any different about my role in leading our church. God still uses me, regardless of whatever title I put on my email signature.

When we started Echo, my desire was for us to create new models for ministry. I know of many amazing works sprouting up around American cities, but the money necessary to fund all these endeavors continues to decrease. I believe the future American church will be comprised of two kinds of congregations: megachurches with multiple staff people, each holding their own specializations, and smaller churches with bi-vocational (or volunteer ministers) that have modest budgets. My hope is that people facing this conundrum will see our path and realize it’s possible to go this way while doing some amazing ministry. The digital era has made the world smaller and has expanded the opportunities for effectiveness.

I feel more effective than I’ve ever been.

Not quitting. Just throwing away my business cards.

Be +

I tire of negativity. The social medias make it so easy for us to express our dismay at anything. And there's no lag time; if I'm miserable now, you can find out about it in milliseconds.

Optomism is a scarce commodity now adays. Why be enthusiastic when snark is so fun? Even though the beauty of spring is ready to emerge, I find myself worn down by those who'd prefer to lob snowballs at strawmen.

If you're reading this, do me a favor: be positive now. Think about something that makes you smile and mention it to someone. Heck, post it on the Facebooks. Just make it known that you're not content to live life mired in a sea of cynicism.

Resolution: Eating Smart (Part Two)

Even though I was running two marathons a year, I wasn't really losing weight. I was just maintaining—burning calories but consuming more that it was a break even proposition. Over a few years, I worked myself into a healthier diet. I reflected on the first two steps in the previous post. Here, I'm going to explain how it I worked it toward my current form. My four-month experiment without sweets was helpful but not transformation. I slimmed down a bit, but picked them up right after I finished it. The next year, I did repeated the four-month stint with similar results. Still not satisfied, I wondered if I could do even more.

STEP THREE: Going a year In 2013, I decided I would try going a whole year without sweets. I've rarely committed to any habit for an entire year. If I had made tried this a few years earlier, I don't think I would have been successful; I wouldn't have been ready for it, giving up a few months in. But this time, with a total of eight months under my belt, I knew what to expect. I was just dealing with scalability.

This is where the transformation started to take place. I used to see candy or cake as something I desperately wanted. Eventually, they lost their luster. Now, when I walk into UDF for my morning Diet Coke, I could stare at the donuts for an hour and have no desire to eat them (I don't think I've eaten a donut since December 2012). My year journey broke my addiction to sweets.

It was really a great year. I could tell, twelve months later, that I had begun to lose the weight that continued to hang around despite my exercise routine. I had to change out a lot of my wardrobe as I my clothes didn't fit well anymore. It was so successful that I waited another six weeks past the year until I broke the commitment, finally having some cake for Kaelyn's birthday.

STEP FOUR: Bearing down 2013 brought me to the place where I no longer consume sweets regularly. But the noticeable gains made me know there was a little more. Last year, I decided to continue to work with my diet. Kelly does a great job of doing this for evening meals. She took a nutrition class in college and has spent the better part of our marriage urging me to eat healthy. My problem was my other meals. Contrary to all good counsel, I don't eat breakfast. My issue was, and has been, lunch.

Like a quasi-responsible adult, I would have the occasional salad but I'd still usually opt for fast food. Honestly, my primary motivation was frugality; you can run through a drive-thru and get a couple of burgers for less than four bucks. I figured that since I was only eating two sandwiches, I was doing OK. I was mistaken. If you want a frightening read, take a look at the nutritional data of fast food places. They pack a lot of calories in small places. It's almost impressive. So I decided that I would stop eating fast food. For lunch, I'd eat a salad or a veggie sub. This decision helped me pull back my protein consumption and practically eliminate french fries from my diet. As far as snack foods, I ate pretzels but no Doritos or Cheetos. I'd allow myself some Mexican food every once in awhile (but we've scaled back from that as well), but used it as a reward. This took me to the next level.

None of this is religious. At the end of the year, after my appendectomy, I lost even more weight so I spent the Christmas season eating like I used to eat. I had cake, ice cream, some Resse Cups. It was wonderful. I ate sweets I haven't eaten in two years. But I did so confidently (as confidently as you can become a glutton) because I knew I'd return to my good eating habits at the beginning of the year. I'm at the point where I know I can cheat because I prefer eating a more healthy diet.

WRAPPING UP I wanted to write all of this down because it's doable. Sure, some people have a metabolism that stays with them throughout their lives, but most of us have to work on it. Now that I manage my calories in and calories out, I feel like a better person. I've kept my weight down and am as healthy as I've ever been. But I know I have quite a bit room for improvement. My goal is to continue to improve with age so I can fully enjoy the years ahead of me.

So if you come across this post and feel inspired, start today. Set some goals. Be patient. Make a lifestyle change. And message me if you want some advice on getting there.

Resolution: Eating Smart (Part One)

So I developed a solid exercise regimen, running dozens of miles a week that culminated in two marathons a year. Something I noticed out on the race course is that there were many runners who logged dozens of marathons but still appeared to have a weight problem. I could relate: despite all my running, I really wasn't losing that much weight; the more I ran (calories out), the more I ate because I was hungry (calories in). As a result, I was breaking even. You wonder how you can see professional athletes balloon up at the end of their careers? It's because they don't adjust their diet to their changing metabolism. They exercise the same they always did, but they still eat like they're 22. That was my gig: I responded to my runs by killing ice cream and burgers everyday so my exercise didn't help. Fast forward a few years later: my diet is completely different. But it didn't happen overnight. It took years to finally get me there.

STEP ONE: The staple I enjoy beverages. I'm constantly drinking throughout the day. I drink Diet Coke.

For many health nuts, this is a no-no. I constantly hear layman's warnings about the dangers of aspartame in diet sodas. You have to make your own decision but note that there is no scientific study that has linked diet drinks to cancer or other illnesses. The only definitive info I've seen from scientific studies about diet pop is that it makes your brain want more sweets. It might be true, but it still has far less calories than regular soda. Diet Coke gives me something to enjoy that's sweet without the calories. In my first year of college, when I picked up the freshman fifteen, switching to diet soda over that summer helped me drop a bunch of weight. I've been drinking it for twenty years now. By the way, a few years back, I did cut it out for a couple of months and saw no difference at all (none) in how I felt.

STEP TWO: The four-month experiment During my spring marathon training a few years ago, I gave up sweets. I had never attempted something like this before. I'm not a big Lent person (Protestant that I am), so abandoning sugars for four months was new to me. At the beginning, it was difficult. Looking at how I managed it:

1. One day at a time I remember that the first month of the experiment was most difficult. When starting, everything looked more enticing. And, of course, it was during this time that people were practically throwing sweets in my face. But everyday I made it through without giving in was a little victory. By the end of the experiment, it was a piece of cake (yup, pun). If you can get through the time until it becomes habitual, you win.

2. Giving myself space When I gave up sweets, it was predominantly deserts. I did allow myself to have syrup with pancakes and an occasional blueberry muffin. Even though I ate a little sugar, I wasn't relying on them to meet a fix. This reward mentality is helpful early on, as studies prove that quitting something cold turkey is extremely difficult. So I was dedicated but not overzealous.

3. Managing the night The best times were during the day. If I was at work and was offered celebratory cake or cookies, it was fairly easy for me to turn down. Night was different. The urge for a late evening snack would kick in. I relied on fruit and cereal as substitutes. Note that cereals don't necessarily solve the calorie issue; some "healthy" cereals have a high calorie count and can actually be worse than sweets. Regardless of how you cope, if you can make it through the night—the time when you have the highest desire to snack—you can win.

Ultimately, my four month experiment was successful. The afternoon after my marathon, I celebrated by downing a pint of Graeter's Chocolate Chocolate-Chip. Even though I made it four months, it wasn't a lifestyle change.

To really work on my caloric intake, I needed permanent changes.

Resolution: Moving More

The problem is that people looking to get healthy predominantly approach it from just one angle. They either focus exclusively on exercise or exclusively on dieting. Though intense devotion to one of the two might bring some improvements, it rarely produces the full results that people desire. And when attempts at life change don't work, you give up. Again, the focus must be on both burning calories and calorie intake. It's no more complicated than exercising and eating healthy. First, we discuss the exercise. For me, it started with running.

I was a college athlete (not a great one, mind you), so during my early adulthood I was always exercising. After college up until Kaelyn was born, I would play team sports two to three times a week. When I hit my thirties, I knew I wasn't doing as well as I should. I didn't have the time to play sports as often. Seeking more individualized exercise options, I tried lifting weights. It just didn't work for me. All that really was left was running.

My decision to try it was born out of pride; our home is on the Flying Pig Half Marathon route and I knew I could do what they were doing (but only better). I trained for the half marathon and had a decent performance. And then pride kicked in again: after running the half, I decided to run the full Flying Pig marathon the next year. A marathon demands discipline, much more than twice the training required for a half-marathon. It wasn't easy: I started training in January, it was miserable running in cold weather, I logged a lot of treadmill miles, I had to devote a couple hours on weekends for long runs. In the end, I did it, and it was incredibly satisfying. After my marathon, I thought I'd be done with running altogether.

Now here's the secret: I didn't really like running. It took me three marathons before I finally learned to love running. Now, I run two marathons a year—a spring and fall one—and I do it because I know I need the discipline. I logged my tenth one this past fall. I'm not sure if this will eventually lead to other events like ultramarathons or Ironman races. I simply don't have the time to train for those kind of races. But long distance running is key to my consistent exercise.

I need the routine.

Distance running can't be faked. It demands training over months to do it properly. You train not to make the distance, but to recover and keep from hurting yourself after your marathon. I know that if I don't run in January, I won't have a good race in May. It also gives me a goal that I can't avoid. When I sign up months before, I'm putting money down on the event; it's basically like I'm betting against myself that I'll run it.

Long distance racing might not be for you. Whatever you can do, consistent exercise is key. Embrace activities that allow you to burn calories. Start slow, stay with it, and see it as a lifestyle change.

But that's still just one part of the equation.

Resolution: Getting Healthy

The vast majority of people who declare changes at the beginning of the year are most concerned with their health. Over the past few years, I've incorporated healthy habits in my life. Today, I'm fairly certain I'm in the best shape of my life. My health changes were necessary: my metabolism was dead on the side of the road, I had a desire to eat whatever food wasn't good for me, and I worked office jobs that require no physical activity. Although I was always active, there was no consistency in my health habits. I'm not sure I'd classify my changes as resolutions, but I definitely see the value of trying to shift behavior. And a new calendar makes it easier to start something new. Sure, there are tons of heath and psychological experts that offer advice about this but I think I'm going to take a crack it.

The key for me to both get back in and stay in shape is accepting the idea of steady transformation. This is why most people fail in their health efforts: they set an audacious goal without definitive steps and realistic timelines. When they decide there's no way they can achieve it, they quit in disgust. Ironically, failure is why resolutions can be harmful. We remember our mistakes more than our successes and it takes awhile to recover from this dark place. Getting in shape is a lifestyle shift and, when it's accepted as such, it's easier to work toward it..

To finally reach where I wanted to be took years. And I'm not even sure I knew where I was headed. Ultimately, it takes patience. So if you're trying to make this the year where it all changes, don't limit it to this year. Commit yourself to long term goals. If you don't reach your health goals by March or May, it's all good. Tortoise and hare fable applies here: slow and steady, friends.

I'll spend a few posts explaining my approach. In introducing this, I'll leave you with the basic principle that helped me get in shape.

Good health comes down to managing two things: calories out and calories in.

Old Year's Eve

We were having a great time in 2014. There were so many good things that happened, it just felt like our year. From me completing my doctoral work, to Kelly and me taking on new job resposibilities, with even Kaelyn making a choir she auditioned for, all things were going the Carrs' way. Though we did lose some beloved family members this year, all things considered, it was a banner year. It just didn't end well.

In November, Kelly's lung collapsed for the second time in eight years. In order to ensure that it wouldn't happen again, the doctors recommended surgery. Neither of us knew how difficult it would be; she spent eight days in the hospital, making it home just before Thanksgiving. Her recovery took even longer than we anticipated, though we should realized that hundreds of microscopic staples in her lung as well as multiple tubes in her body could be problematic.

Kelly was still on the mend when I started feeling horrible. I was in so much pain one evening in December that I decided to drive myself to the emergency room. My fears of being a hypercondriac were relieved when, the next morning I had an appendectomy. It was my first ever surgery. Though I made it home in under 24 hours, once again, we had no idea how long the recovery process would take. I thought I'd be 100% within a couple of days. Here, almost four weeks later, I'm finally starting to feel normal again.

As a result, our Christmas celebration was disjointed. Yep, we'll pack up the Christmas tree this weekend, but the majority of our ornaments remain in a pile at the bottom of the tree; things were so hectic, we barely decorated. We just didn't have the energy to complete all the activities we wanted to during the season.

As the year drew to a close, we repeatedly heard, "Well at least your year's almost over."

I understood their well-intended sentiment but I just couldn't buy in.

Despite our illnesses (which might not have been so taxing if they were spread out just a little) I'll still think about this year fondly. But that reflects my philosophy of flipping the calendar. Sure, I love a brand new year—one rife with so many possibilities—but time is time. Some years may be challenging more than others but they're neither blessed nor cursed. Regardless of what comes, we keep chugging along. It's all we can do.

So here's to 2015. Though I was doing just fine with 2014.

Ten Years In the House

This is where Google Analytics goes to die. I'm not sure who reads this site anymore (except my students searching for class notes that I, unfortunately, haven't updated for years). I've been a wretched blogger as of late. I attribute this to a couple of factors. First, my doctoral work kept me writing so much that I had no time to script thoughts that didn't have a specific goal; of course, I finished my dissertation but I never returned to regular writing. The second reason is that both my jobs require a considerable amount of writing so, if I'm going to spend time working out some sentences, my time is better spent doing it for what I HAVE TO write rather than what I WANT TO write. I wasn't even able to finish the list of thanks for my doctoral work (I never got around to thanking my family and friends who have contributed so much to my development).

This website is now ten years old.

A decade of blogging should be impressive, but I'm not sure that last couple of years have best represented my writing abilities. Still, I'm so grateful for this website.

The past ten years have been transformational for me. When I started this blog, I had no idea what the next decade would hold. I never would have predicted, in 2004, what would happen in my life:

  • Moving to the city
  • Starting a church
  • Having a daughter
  • Returning to Cincinnati Christian University
  • Getting two more degrees

I'm grateful I have my thoughts from this past decade to reflect upon. And even though I've written this many times before, I'm going to commit to posting much more in the years to come. I've recognized that I need to write more for myself. Sermons and corporate website updates are great, but I'm better when I'm writing stuff that I don't have to.

So if you stumbled across this site, I hope you enjoy reading my musings. I promise, for both our sakes, to keep creating new content to keep us interested.

Moving On

Tonight I did the same thing that I did one year ago this evening: I went for a run through the city.

I remember it vividly because it capped one of the best days of my life. I had a great day at work. I spent time with my ladies. I had a gripping spiritual dialogue with some men from church on a rooftop overlooking downtown. I stopped by a community mixer where I had some engaging conversation with community leaders. And later that night I felt so good, I went out for a run through downtown, Over-the-Rhine and then down to the riverfront.

As I laid down to sleep that night, I was excited about what was happening in our city and the chance to be a part of it.

It was a perfect day.

But the reason I remember it is because the very next day, the bottom fell out.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of The Fire.

I had no idea how that event would change everything. The weeks we spent out of our house and our neighborhood killed the momentum I felt we were developing. And, honestly, I've felt like we've been playing catch up until just recently (for proof, notice the lack of writing on this website during that time). As I reflect on all that's happened this year, I want to be bitter. It's been a very rough 12 months, filled with chaos and strife. And it obviously wasn't the fire's fault but somewhere, in the back of my mind, I blame it.

But I just can't be bitter, because I'm thankful.

Thankful for my family's and my neighbor's safety. Thankful for the conversations this event spawned. Thankful for the friendships it helped strengthen. Thankful to live in a community like ours. Thankful for this city that I love. Thankful for a God who provides.

You can always move on past the flames. You have to.

There are more perfect nights out there just waiting to be experienced.

Swapping Calendars

As I sized up 2012, I told many people that it was, without a doubt, one of the most difficult years of my life. My professional challenges (both at Echo and CCU) were incredibly strenuous and it was exacerbated by the displacement caused by our condo fire (at one point I added it up and I spent only about nine-and-a-half months this year sleeping in my own bed [and this doesn't imply that Kelly forced me to sleep on the couch]). Wrapping up the year, I was as exhausted as I had ever been. I was overjoyed at the thought of kicking 2012 to the curb. Then I had a change of heart.

Even though there weren't any huge events last year that stand out, there were dozens of little vignettes that I cherished: We enjoyed our family time together. I had the chance to travel on the cheap. I took some great photos and started to learn video. I continued to develop into a solid recreational runner and played a good amount of soccer. I continued teaching and learning. I solidified some great relationships and was blessed to mentor some people around me. I continued to find contentment in what the Lord has given me.

In the end, one of the worst years I ever had was actually one of my best.

Life's like that now and then, huh? Here's looking forward to 2013.