Monday, May 23, 2011

Three Things I Wish I did in College

I had a great college experience. Because it was a human experience, there are things I wish I did Here are three things that I wish I did in college.

1. Divide my time more carefully and intentionally.
There were times in college were I dedicated too much time to being in the library, doing school and making sure my grades were up to par. On the other hand, there were times where I was lazy, didn't work hard and wasted my time. I wish I had balanced my time more carefully between doing school, spending time with people and having some "alone" time.

2. Invested deeply in one extracurricular activity with other people
I did a lot of different things like study abroad, the cycling club, ethics bowl and go hear different speakers, but I never invested a large amount of time in one organization or project during my time at Taylor that included other people. Looking back on it, I wish I had chosen a project my freshman or sophomore year that I was going to invest in large amounts of time that forced to me work with other people.

3. Explored More
I did a lot of exploring while I was Taylor but not enough. In way, I don't think you can do enough exploring while in college. There are different ways I could have explored more. One way to guide yourself in your exploration in college is to head in directions you're not comfortable with. See what it is like to be outside of your comfort zone. College is a great place to explore so take a class that you know nothing about and get to know people you'd probably never get to know. (This doesn't mean through out common sense or your conscience.)

I have had a great college experience, and have very few regrets. These are just some small things I think would have made my experience better. It doesn't mean everyone should do these things. Rather, they are just reflections on my past.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

American History X, a Thought on Race

I just finished watching the movie, "American History X." In some ways I thought the movie was shallow in that it did not deal deep enough with the issue of reconciliation between races in the United States. Also it looked at an extreme in racial tensions. I would appreciate a more nuanced view. Though, in the ways that it did, I thought were very good. Overall, a phenomenal movie. In this post I want to talk about one particular scene that I believe represents what white Americans are struggling through.

The main character, "respected" white supremacist Derek, tells his younger brother, Danny, that he has given up on the "race war." He has quit hating people. After their conversation, Derek and Danny arrive home and in their bedroom. On the walls are posters of Hitler, white supremacy and a large Nazis flag. The scene is shot showing them calmly taking down all the posters and flag. A bare wall is what remains. This scene struck me.

It struck me because this is what has happened to many white Americans. In an attempt to avoid or get rid of racism and hate, we have torn down the things that have caused so much pain. In result, we have lost our identity as white Americans. Like the brother's bare wall, many Americans lack a strong racial identity because their race has represented so much hate. They shed much of this identity because they don't want to do anything with what it has represented. The result is a gap in their identity. Derek and Danny are no longer racist so who are they? I think many white Americans are struggling with this very question.

My Thought
I believe that it is possible for a white American to being content with his/her race, to say that he/she would not want to be any other race but the one he/she has been given. Furthermore, I think that it is important that as a white American I develop this identity in a healthy way mainly through history.

For instance, I am reading David McCullough's book "John Adams," a great biography of our second president. As a white American I can look at figures in history like John Adams and build my racial identity. Of course Adams had flaws, but he is a part of the white American past (NOT to the exclusion of other races!) and can help us begin to discover more of what it means to be a white American to the benefit of ourselves and those of other races.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Currently I am in the midst of finals week. I am struggling to find the purpose of finals week except that it is to torture students. You don't learn anything because your goal of the week is to be survive the week since huge tests and projects are due. The pressure is great so no learning occurs. I'll be glad when this week comes to end. Perhaps I will have "better" blog posts.
note: if you become a professor don't have accumulative finals. In fact, don't have any tests.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Last Class EVER

Currently I am in my last class of my college career, and yes I am writing my blog while in class. I'm not sure that follows the lines of "finishing strong," but I am definitely one tired college student. I have five finals. Two of them will be a challenge but the rest won't be too hard. After that is graduation, home and work.

This summer I will be doing a summer internship with my church at 2nd Reformed Presbyterian Church. I will also be taking two classes and doing four triathlons. My summer reading list includes John Calvin, Nietzsche, David McCullough, Derrida and Booker T. Washington. I need some more novels on my list so I am open to suggestions. I only have one right now, "The Surrendered" which was nominated for a Pulitzer.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Swimming and Discipline

Last night I went swimming. I looked like the tiger above. Since my shoulder has healed, I have been able to begin training for triathlons this summer and part of my workout regimen is swimming and looking like that tiger. I have begun working on alternate breathing with my freestyle. It is when you breath on both your left and right side. It can be disorienting when you first try, and you have to hold your breath longer. I'm at the point where all of my sets should be done with alternate breathing, but it is still hard.

Alternate breathing is like a spiritual discipline. It is possible, and doing it a couple times doesn't take much work. When alternate breathing becomes repetitive, it begin to wear on you. Usually half way through my sets, it will become tempting to begin breathing to one side. By the end of my sets, I have to focus extremely hard to just get my body to just do one lap of alternate breathing. Spiritual disciplines are similar.

When we first start, spiritual disciplines are not hard. They can in fact be pleasant. As time goes on, the wear and tear begins to set in. That's when it truly becomes a discipline. Like in a workout, you don't start breaking yourself down until the pain and tension starts. Similarly when we first begin a spiritual discipline, we are not truly in the act of discipline until it become uncomfortable. A discipline by its nature is something that we have to work toward because we naturally don't want to do it. We rather be in a state of comfort and ease. A discipline will get us out of that comfort zone so it can take time for what we intend to be a spiritual discipline to become a spiritual discipline.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The Definition of a Man

I am coming to the end of my last semester on campus at Taylor. I have enjoyed the five years I spent here. Looking forward is sometimes terrifying and exciting all at the same time. It's like looking down a huge cliff. I have learned so much and am taking away a lot of good things Also, I have accumulated a lot of things I wish I had not seen, heard or said. As I grow older, I develop a greater knowledge and a part of that knowledge is evil.

Where ever you go to college, you will encounter evil in its various forms. Some of it will be ugly and revolting. Some of it will look deceitfully beautiful and seductive. All of it leads down a sad path.

I read a book called, "Eric," by F.W. Farr, over Easter break. It's about a young boy who goes to school living in Victorian England. It was written, for high schoolers and junior high, but I think those in college can learn a lot from it. The book talks a lot about what happens in college and the evil found there. In one section of the book, the main character asks his teacher whether it would be good if his brother came to school. He was worried that the evils (drinking, swearing, crass behavior) in the school would corrupt his brother. This was his teacher's response:
The innocence of mere ignorance is a poor thing; it cannot, under any circumstances, be permanent, nor is it at all valuable as a foundation of character. The true preparation for life, the true basis of a manly character, is not to have been ignorant of evil, but to have known it and avoided it; not to have been sheltered from temptation, but to have passed through it and overcome it by God’s help. (p. 113)
This is a great quote, especially for men, because it contains, I think, the core of what it means to be a man. What makes a man is someone who has known evil but avoided it. In this context, to know, does not mean to have participated in. Rather it means you have known about evil, know where you can find it, get it and have it yet avoided it. I think that's what makes a man, someone who has known evil but avoided it.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Osama Bin Laden Dead

So Bin Laden died. US forces killed him. Soon after, on facebook arguments have erupted regarding whether we should celebrate his death. I agree with those who say we shouldn't celebrate his death. When a person dies, there is a loss. It does not follow that we shouldn't be excited or be content with justice.

I've come up with a term to describe this state, a solemn satisfaction. We should be satisfied, glad that justice has been dealt, but we shouldn't be jubilant. Someone has died. Death is not cause for celebration. So it is solemn yet at the same time, it is satisfying that justice has been carried out.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

What You Need at the Library

I have two homes at Taylor. The first is my apartment. The second is the library. I have spent more time at the library then in my apartment, much less sleeping in my apartment, like many "good" students. (The really good ones don't goof off watching youtube and play chess.) There are a couple things I have learned about the library, and I wish to bestow my wisdom to those who, like myself, will be living in the library in the future.

1. Don't "live" in the library.
The purpose for going to the library is to get work done separate from home/dorm/apartment life. It allows you to concentrate. When you begin to live at the library, this separation is broken down. So leave your pillow, your movies and popcorn. The library is a place for you to get work done.

2. ALWAYS have with you:
  • Ear plugs - good ones. Having complete silence and a barrier to distracting chatter helps you concentrate on getting your work done quickly and efficiently. See this article on silence and concentration.
  • Miniature white board - I was surprised how helpful it was to have a small white board to draw/write out ideas or review information for tests.
  • A pen and paper - it is very irritating to arrive at the library and realize you forgot the most basic tools of school.
  • You Power cord - I hate it when my computer battery dies out, and I don't have my power cord with me.
  • A Timer - I have found that having a timer motivates me to get work done. It becomes a race to see if I can complete a task in a certain amount of time. It cuts down on procrastination and improve efficiency.
3. Find a Good Location
One of the most frustrating things you can have at the library is when you get to your favorite spot, you sit down, get all of your stuff out and start to work but realize after the fact there are four big 'o football players next to you who don't understand the concept of silence. Your glares don't help either. (And yes this has happened to me. Four big 'o football players.)

Location is key in the library. There are about three areas in the library that I enjoy studying in, but often these spots are either taken or overrun by noise. So I found three other backup places that are harder to find and more out of the way. In fact I know one of them is almost aways free because of the uniqueness of the location. These spots are sometimes found in the basement, miscellaneous stairwells or in a corner of the library. It's important to scout out locations before you take one. Make sure the people around you aren't going to start talking to friends or aren't actually working.

4. Types of Good breaks

It can be hard to decide what is a good break. For instance, starting to watch youtube videos or getting on hulu is not conducive to a good break. Five minutes often turns into thirty minutes. I have found that walking about looking at books is often a good way to take a break. Sometimes I'll just pick a book off the shelf that seems interesting and read a couple paragraphs.

This is something I wish I did more often. It's easy to take a break at the desk and play around on your computer. This isn't a real break. A real break means getting out of the place where you're studying and putting yourself in a different environment. Switching from a computer screen to real print can be great. If you're doing a lot of reading, get on one of the library computers or find a magazine. The key is to get out your seat. Get away, but still keep your mind active.

Tips and techniques only get a student so far. You reach a point where you have two choices. One to do your work and other not to do your work. Being a Christian is helpful at this point because if you commit your works to the Lord, your thoughts will be established. (Proverbs 16:3)