I was there during the outrage of Minneapolis

Minneapolis, Franklin Ave Bridge, May 28, 2020

The air smelled of anarchy and new beginnings. We watched the burning smoke from rooftops. Everyone talked about the same thing. Eyes glued to social media. The motorcycles and trucks on the distant highway revved their engines with a guttural roar. The police were on defense. They wouldn’t answer if we called.

George Floyd was killed, and we were at the epicenter of the aftermath.

We were confident in our belief, but unsure about the future. Like a hero sneaking through a thick forest brush, we crept into a different world. Nervous, excited, nauseated. Time moved slowly. We have something rotten inside us, and we were finally burning it out.

I didn’t participate in the protesting. We were hesitant to leave our house.

There were good protesters and good cops, both working together within the confines of our structures. There were also stupid people on both sides, escalating issues and causing unnecessary trouble.

Eventually, we helped clean up the streets during the day while protests continued at night. I didn’t condemn the burning. After all, something had to give. But I mourned the collateral losses of the innocent.

I live in the exhausted majority. I don’t back my full weight behind either wing of the United States socio-political arena. My beliefs are fluid and depend on the situation and the context. I don’t align my beliefs with either of the political poles. Here’s what I know:

I believe that we discriminate unfairly in our culture, especially against people of color through racism. I believe that police have the responsibility to de-escalate tense situations without lethal force. I believe in peaceful protest to demand change.

I believe in the good of people.

I believe that police who protect and serve are pivotal and respectable in our society. I believe that criminals take advantage of police de-escalation tactics to get out of justice. I believe that burning and looting property is not a peaceful protest.

So, on the issue on police brutality, I can’t pick a side. I’m exhausted of thinking that we have to pick one. I hear both sides with valid arguments but not every situation fits the same narrative.

It’s ok to not decide on these types of complex issues. They involve multiple steps that we can rarely agree on by themselves: where we are, where we want to go, and how to get there. All three factors are open to deep debate. We must be flexible to work toward the answer. The effective resolution will be a mix, including the best ideas from a diverse set of perspectives.

The day God reached me

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Photo by Joakim Honkasalo on Unsplash

In June, 2018, I had a supernatural experience.

For a few months before, I had begun to explore the Bible with fresh eyes. But up until that day, God and religion were still intellectual pursuits. That changed in one day.

As part of the service, hundreds in the massive auditorium started praying together: some silently, some aloud. We were sitting, packed to other in the middle of the room. A few people cried out to God, sobbing, reciting lines, asking for forgiveness, and thanking him for his grace. I held my Bible in my hands and closed my eyes. I focused on my prayer.

Then two things happened.

I perceived my Bible grow in width in between my hands. The book seemed to expand between my hands, even though separately my arms felt in the same location. The book was expanding right and left, like into a different dimension. It was filling the space with unimaginable depth. I felt the importance of these words.

Second, my mind began to grow distant from my surroundings. I was falling backwards from reality. I perceived myself slip further away. A great distance was opening between the edge of my senses to where I was. The chasm grew in depth and weight to a point to which I could not measure it. I began to lose touch with my senses and reality opened up to me within myself.

With my eyes closed, I saw a vision of a light blue wire connecting from the top of my spine upwards. It curved up hundreds of feet and forward into a great presence, a light, a cloud, something up there. I saw many other blue wires connecting to that top point from everyone else worshiping in the room.


In both cases, I felt warm and filled with purpose. I wasn’t afraid… not exactly. I was awe-struck; filled with wonder at these two parts of my experience. Eventually, I arose back into reality with a fresh respect for life.

These visions and experiences were as original as I can guess. It’s hard for me to explain where I may have gotten the “inspiration” or been “imprinted” by them. So, as much as I can tell, I had a legitimate, lucid, spiritual experience. In my own way, I was touched by God.

After that day, my spirituality shifted from an intellectual exercise to a fundamental life journey.

More names = more power – OGB #5 Babylonian Genesis by Alexander Heidel

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c3/Chaos_Monster_and_Sun_God.png

Enuma Elish is a Babylonian creation story that outlines a god Marduk who destroys an evil dragon, saves the day, and earns dominion over all the other gods. To transcend the other gods, Marduk incorporates their names and powers into his own being. The only way to really capture the essence of Marduk is to say his 50+ names. These names and what they symbolize are literally the best things in the world.

To earn similar powers, we can embody Marduk in our daily life. We can go out and courageously fight evil. Find the dragon, slay it, earn the treasure, save the town, and then go do it again.

We can clearly see similarities between the following attributes and the attributes of the Christian God that came along after Babylon and Enuma Elish. This is a fascinating precursor to modern religions and world-views. The language we use today to describe the most powerful things has been around for centuries. This fact gives us a perspective of awe at our ancestors: they were more creative than we give them credit for. And we owe more respect to how their ideas have shaped our world.

(all quoted from “The Babylonian Genesis” by Alexander Heidel)

Come, let us proclaim [Marduk’s] fifty names! …

The provider of pasture land and drinking places, who fills their stalls with plenty;

Who with his weapon, the rain flood, overcame the enemies;

Who saved the gods his fathers in distress…

At his command let there be creation, destruction, alleviation, mercy

(Heidel)

Then all of Marduk’s other names are now listed with their specialties: some are below. These names and what they symbolize are the most powerful things in the world. I bolded similarities between the names and the names of the modern Christian God.

Marrukka verily is the god, the creator of everything;

Namtillaku, the god who restores to life;

Namshub; the bright god who brightens our way.

Asaru, the bestower of arable land, the creator of grain and legumes,

Asaralimnunna, the mighty one,

Tutu, the author of their restoration;

No one among the gods can equal him.

Ziukinna, the life of the host of the gods;

Ziku, the maintainer of purification;

The god of the good breath (of life), the lord who hears and answers (prayer);

The creator of riches and plenty, the establisher of abundance;

Who has turned all our wants into plenty;

Agaku, the lord of the holy incantation, who restores to life the dead;

Who created mankind to set them free;

Shazu, who knows the hearts of the gods, who sees through the innermost parts;

From whom the evildoer cannot escape;

The administrator of justice, who puts an end to crooked speech;

Who in his place discerns falsehood and truth.

Epadun, the lord who waters the field;

The ruler of heaven (and) earth,

Gilma, the bond that holds the family together,

Agilma, the sublime,

Nibiru shall be in control of the passages in heaven and on earth,

May he shepherd all the gods like sheep.

Let (man) rejoice in Marduk,

Reliable is his word, unalterable his command;

The utterance of his mouth no god whatever can change.

(Heidel)

Marduk speaks with the power of creation and authority. Everything else comes from his ability to speak into being. This is a reminder that our own words have the power to create or destroy, so use them wisely!

The Cavalry: the values of serving

If you’re interested in occasionally volunteering in a group for those in need in the Twin Cities while staying safe from COVID-19, then contact me.


If you built an army of volunteers, what values would you instill in them to keep the culture together? Kevin asked just that. How would we answer Kevin?

  1. Humble Service
  2. Community
  3. Reality
  4. Respect For Others

Humble Service: This is the meaning of life for us. It is in our blood. It gives us energy. It aligns how we view ourselves and the world. We don’t get so full of ourselves to think that we are above any other person. We know that giving creates more giving, which creates a better world for all. Humility gives us a hunger to always be open and learning. We serve others because that’s how we orient our lives toward good in the world and away from distractions.

Community: We build a community of doers. We volunteer and serve with each other. We create bonds through shared experiences. We lean on each other for support. We empower each other to try new things. We push each other to increase our service impact. It’s a group of individuals formed by a common goal and purpose. It’s about We.

Reality: Do you feel out of touch? Come see what the real world is like. Your daily life is nothing like what others experience. Come see what real people are living through. In particular, let’s expose ourselves to others going through difficult situations. They could be just like you. The reality is, this could be you. So, the ones who have it easier are responsible to help others who need help. Understanding the full breadth of human experience will enrich your life and give gratitude for the little blessings.

Respect For Others: This dose of reality gives us respect for others, no matter who they are. Understanding how difficult circumstances affect normal people enables us to see that people are just people. But some are going through harder circumstances than others, and they need our help. They deserve our respect. We do not believe that any people are less deserving of respect because of their lifestyle, choices, or circumstances.

The cavalry’s mission to serve is clear.

What I tell new graduates now that I’ve been working for six years

My brother just graduated from university to join the working world. As a typical older brother does, I decided to offer my unsolicited advice.

No, we don’t know what’s going on with COVID-19. No, we don’t know exactly how companies should address social issues. But we are figuring it out. It’s a work in progress. Companies, like people, are always changing.

Employment is a transaction. The company treats it as such. Look at the job description and pay. Your employment is an exchange of value: delivering the stated items on the job description in return for value.

In response to their expectations, you can prepare. Be clear about what you want to get out of your employment. List out three things that you’ve learned at every stage in your life. Then come up with three things during this transaction (thank you to Dave Kerwar for this suggestion!).

For example, at your previous employment you learned:

  1. Work-life balance
  2. How to work as an individual contributor as a team
  3. Technical knowledge of data integration

Then at your next stage in life, you can learn through:

  1. Ownership of projects, work-streams, projects, or services
  2. Experience of how different business units work together
  3. Management of a team of people

The company will pay you for the value you give them. But state a few non-monetary things you want out of the experience, and the smart company will be happy to give you more of it. You work more on the things you enjoy, which gives the smart company more value. It’s a win-win.

To do this, you’ve got to be honest about what three things you want out of the employment transaction. The smart company will be doing the same.

My rules of engagement

Bryce Canyon, Utah, July 2018

In July of 2018, I got engaged. Six months earlier, this was not a possibility.

I wasn’t ready for marriage for a long time. But it was hard to articulate why not. I finally decided on three things that would make me ready.

  1. We must tell each other our deepest, darkest secrets. Have trust and openness through vulnerability. Trust is the bedrock of a good relationship. If you cannot tell your spouse your deepest secrets and thoughts, who can you tell? To truly become one, you must fuse all that you have: strengths and weaknesses. If we hold back, this could cause trust issues in the future.
  2. Earn independence from others around us, even family. We must operate on our own and choose to be us, wherever we go. We must be able to be a distinct unit. We must make our own decisions as full adults rather than relying too much on family ties. Often, an over-emphasis on outside forces rather than the relationship can sow discontent. Love for family comes from choice, not from obligation.
  3. Finances go into one shared bucket: not two, but one. What affects one of us affects both of us. We must be able to talk about money and value before getting married. That way, we get those ideas out in the open. Finances cause most of divorces, so why don’t we talk about these ideas first before we make that commitment.

In reality, we made the goals concrete by writing them down. Then we accomplished them together. She was especially excited to tackle tasks that were concrete. Before, we were floating along with no direction, not knowing if we were getting closer to commitment or further.

After accomplishing the tasks, I stood by my word. I could think of no other reason to delay marriage other than my own fear of the unknown and the change that would be required to adapt to it. But change can be good.

I did more than resolve the reasons why I did not want to get married. In fact, I learned reasons why I wanted to: gains beyond one person could ever achieve:

  • Self knowledge and self-improvement
  • Touched by the divine, following our ancestors’ path
  • Paying respects to our ancestors
  • Following in the ancestors’ path by tying ourselves to another
  • Love beyond passion: the love that stays when lust is gone

So, we jumped in. Here’s to one year and many more to come.

Me Against Myself – Reflections on my first triathlon

Photo by Sahyli

I completed my first triathlon on Saturday, July 11th, 2020 with friends. It was an amazing experience. This triathlon is the first of many for me. I am planning to take on longer triathlon distances. So, this was a good test.

Stats

International Distance: 800m Swim, 24.8 mile Bike, 6.2 mile Run

Actual Distances Recorded with Garmin Forerunner 945: 856m Swim, 25.36 mile Bike, 6.25 mile Run

21:42 800m Swim (2:18 per 100m pace)

2:24 T1

1:17:29 Bike (19.6 mph, 331W or 3.7W/kg normalized power)

1:45:19 Overall time at Bike finish

1:54 T2

1:01:28 Run

2:48:41 Overall time at Run finish (5th)

Temperature: Mostly sunny, 74F -> 81F with 60-75% humidity (hot but not scorching)

Summary

For future triathlons, I should switch my mindset from “me against others” to “me against myself.”

Reflections

Swim –> Good! Need to reduce heart-rate.

I did better than expected on the swim. I hadn’t trained for the swim because I stopped in March due to pools closing from COVID-19. I swam once on the course a few days before the event.

I started behind the stronger swimmers. I followed their lines. I tried a new approach of taking a breath on one stroke, and then looking ahead above the waterline on the other stroke. I switched stroking sides only a few times.

I took the pace steady. I was breathing without too much effort. I was mostly relaxed and not tense. However, my heart rate was still high for the duration of the swim–tempo pace rather than base pace.

T1 –> Solid!

The first transition from swim to bike was good. 2-3 minutes is a good transition time. I was a bit dizzy but not delirious. My heart-rate was high throughout the transition, so I didn’t relax too much. I didn’t know where others were. I knew some were ahead but I didn’t look behind to see where I was in the pack.

Bike –> Too excited, too hard!

I’m a stronger at biking than the other areas. I was pushing it hard after a few minutes of eating a Gu, drinking some water, and getting my gloves on. There were a few stops at red-lights. But I was pushing at relatively close to my FTP for the duration (about 90% of FTP). And near the end, with a few miles to go, I got excited. I had excess energy. I ramped up the effort. I realized I could maybe catch up to the leaders. I gapped some other riders who were pacing it more steady. My heart-rate was high for the bike: at tempo pace rather than base pace. I finished strong. I had switched my mindset to trying to win.

T2 –> Fine

I was fast during T2, with less than 2 minutes. By then, I was in race mode. I was ready to hit the run hard and overtake the leaders, wherever they were on course. My feet were wet from the swim in my socks, so I changed my socks. However I could have spent more time drying my feet before changing, because the 2nd socks got wet, too. I had planned to eat another Gu, but my stomach was uncomfortable so I didn’t.

Run –> Overextended

The run started off fine in the first mile, around 8:21 pace. It was a hard first mile though. My legs were wobbly and my arms were weak. My stomach was very uncomfortable from the fluids I chugged during the bike. After 1.5 miles, I wretched after a water stop. The 2nd mile and 3rd miles were slower, in the 9:00s and 10:00s. At that point I had to start walking up some hills. My heart-rate was way too high even while running at the relatively slower pace. I caught up with my wife Sahyli who was just doing the run. We walked & ran together for about 1.5 miles. Then for the last 1.5 miles I ran through the finish, increasing the pace.

For the duration of the run, I hit the wall. My legs were slow and feeling like molasses; my breathing was labored and heavy; my stomach was upset the whole way. At 2 miles in, I switched my mindset from trying to win to trying to finish without dropping out. I passed a few runners and was passed. I had a small sprint in the last half-mile. I was exhausted by the finish line.

For next time

For longer triathlons, I should maintain a new mindset: finish the race against myself. The mindset should not be trying to win. I saw the benefits of racing “me against myself” in the swim. As a result, I mostly ignored other competitors, not worrying about “trying to keep up.” I was in tune with my body and cadence. I finished the swim with energy and clarity and confidence.

The bike was my chance to make up time, so I switched my mindset to trying to race my competitors. I finished the bike ride tense and with a sense of urgency. This caused undue stress. Instead, I should spend more time listening to my body and relaxing for the ride. Since I am stronger biker, I can ease up on the effort and still manage a good time.

For the run, I can start out waaaaaay slower for the first mile. I should practically be at a fast walking pace around 10:00 min/mile. This is to shake up the legs from the bike and get them used to the effort. And especially, I should manage my heart-rate to get it down to a tempo pace rather than a hard anaerobic effort. After steadying the heart-rate to a manageable rate, I can steadily speed up the pace while maintaining that heart-rate.

There is a lot of excitement coming out of transition, but that adrenaline wears off within the first few minutes of the run.

I had one Gu before the swim and one Gu before the bike. After the bike, my stomach was feeling bad so I didn’t have another one. I drank almost 2L of water during the bike. One Liter was mixed with supplement and another Liter was regular water. I chugged the water too fast, causing serious discomfort for the run. I’ve got to take smaller sips during the bike. And I should drink water on the run rather than being a camel and storing the water on the bike. There were a couple of water stops on the run but I only had a couple of sips from paper cups. I didn’t pee for the whole race, nor did I feel the need to.

I should also consider carrying a water bottle for the run because I sweat a lot. And I should take some salt sticks or similar easy-to-consume nutritions for the run.

The run is a hard transition after the bike, and so I should continue to practice bricks to simulate the transition with high fatigue.

Ironman Triathlon, here I come.

Back to the beginning: Reality From Language – OGB #4 Genesis by Robert Alter

Reality is how we talk about it. In times of chaos and change, it’s helpful to backtrack to some fundamental order and start over. Genesis (translated by Robert Alter 039331670X) is one example we can read to remind ourselves what’s real.

Bottom Line Up Front

What if reality is a chaos soup: cells and atoms bouncing around. Humans evolved to survive and thrive in the chaos soup over many lifespans. To do this, the collective consciousness of humanity started to recognize patterns in the chaos. They did this by bootstrapping a biological tool: language.

This tool gave the emergent human collective brain a way to set order from the chaos. Humans recognized the cells and atoms consistently bouncing around into a drinkable source of water. We named “stream” as a “drinkable source of water.” This shared understanding gave power to each individual within the collective to navigate the world using “streams” for drinking water and finding fish. This ability is so powerful and so unlikely that it seems God-given. Genesis explains the origin of reality as the use of language. Furthermore, the text relies on the same tool to communicate itself down through generations of humans.

Example

In Genesis, God speaks reality. In the first six days, God creates things. The biblical text follows a structure of God “saying” things, then God saying the words, which results in: “so it was.” Creation comes from speaking into being.

“And God said, “Let the waters under the heavens be gathered in one place so that the dry land will appear,” and so it was.” (Alter, 4)

Since the steps of “saying” and “so it was” are separated by an “and,” it’s not clear whether God does two actions or one. It seems as though the speaking suffices without any other action. Speaking is the magic here: by invoking language to call a pattern of chaotic soup into a name which can then interact with other named things. Humans can then navigate this system of named representations much better than the chaos soup.

Every word has meaning and contributes to reality. How we use language builds our world. Being honest and speaking truth builds a more durable reality.

Was language the reason why reality exists as it does to us today? Could God use any other tool to create this reality other than language?

What I learned from (almost) 1 year of marriage

Bali, circa 2019

My one year wedding anniversary is coming up. What have I learned in (almost) 1 year of marriage?

We’ve grown in our love for each other. We made the right decision for us. We face challenges and joys every day. Relationships require mutual, active effort to be successful. These are common learnings.

There are three less obvious things I noticed:

1. Generally, people give a higher baseline of respect to a married person than to a single person. We think a married person is a bit less likely to be a crazy psycho, because someone else has latched onto them for life. Who would latch onto a crazy psycho? It’s one less thing to worry about when meeting someone who’s married. That’s a benefit because now I have less to prove in new interactions.

2. Others expect that we consult each other on big decisions now. Before, I rarely heard “Are you dating? Why don’t you get back to us after you ask your girlfriend?” Why do that if there’s no legal basis for me asking her, other than being on the same page in my relationship? She wouldn’t have the legal rights and privileges to represent me. But now, what’s mine is hers and hers is mine. So any decision for the family must come from both of us. So now there’s an expectation when I hear: “Oh, you’re married? Why don’t you get back to us after you ask your wife?” This expectation affects how we make choices. I’m more used to consulting her on even smaller items now, which is positive because it encourages more open communication and decision-making.

3. We aren’t that old couple in the diner that sits in silence, enjoying each other’s company without talking. They don’t say anything because there’s nothing else to talk about. They’ve already discussed all topics and ideas and events. For us, that’s not the case. We are always experiencing new situations and growing as individuals, and we experience these changes together. Our conversations have continued to deepen as we explore the world together. We talk about injustice, travel, and plants.

The world has no shortage of novelty that we take on together. Life is a learning adventure, and I’m still at the starting line.

Using a rubber band to fight racism

Whenever I do something, I do it small.

Every month, I make one significant change of my life to add a new beneficial habit or to undo an unhealthy habit. These healthy habits stay with me after the month ends, and I’m onto the next one.

This month of June, 2020, I am putting in effort to notice when I perpetuate racism. And when I notice it, I am taking responsibility to stop it.

I am wearing a rubber band when I go out. Whenever I judge someone unfairly based on their race, then I will snap the rubber band against my wrist. The pain associated with the previous action trains me to not do the previous thing. I am training myself to not be racist.

When I make this judgment on race, I restrict the opportunity for others to prove their character. This is unfair. If many people do this a few times every day, then this is systemic racism.

Photo by NeONBRAND on Unsplash

Human behavior is complex. There are many other factors that contribute to differences in outcomes, such as wealth or attractiveness. Wealthier people and more attractive people have more opportunities and are more successful. But these topics are beside the present issue, which is race: the color of your skin should not dictate your opportunity because that’s how our country is supposed to work.

We cannot throw the baby out with the bathwater; to say that we cannot solve all injustices and so we shouldn’t solve any. Rather, we can start with one: race.

It is constitutionally unfair that our country is designed to give all Americans equal opportunity, but in practice, this doesn’t happen to different races. If black Americans face more barriers to opportunities for justice and education and competition based on their race, whereas I am privileged to get the most opportunities because I am white, then our system is not working as designed and it needs to change.

There’s a difference between unfair outcomes and unfair opportunities. If two students take the same test in the same school and get different scores on a test, this is a difference in outcome. But if possession of drugs is a crime in one zip code and therapy in another zip code, this difference of outcome is likely pointing to a difference in opportunity.

Furthermore, if there has been overt racism in policies that restrict opportunities by race, then getting rid of a racist policy doesn’t mean the racism is gone forever. It could be written into our inner lives from our past. For example, historical Minneapolis housing covenants specifically restricted housing opportunities by race. The neighborhoods that formed as a result have not instantly changed in less than a century. Thus, this injustice could be playing out in individual interactions (or lack of) on a daily basis.

I am a vehicle of cultural systems. The ideas from culture flow through me. Most ideas are positive. But many are negative, such as racism. Even if I am not a racist (which is not guaranteed) and thus I do not come up with my own racist thoughts, it’s still my responsibility to stop systemic racism from flowing through me into my thoughts and behaviors.