Dear Despairing Graduate: I Didn’t Like High School Either

 

I’m a high school educator. It’s becoming the season of school year where seniors are giddy and nervous about the prospect of being forever done with dress codes and strict 35 minute lunches. Their mind has taken an early summer break and the only real assignment left for them is finding the best post graduation night party.

At some point a common phrase will be spoken to these young adults. From a parent or teacher or even their class president during a formulaic grad speech. Something along the lines of:

It doesn’t get any better than this, these are the best days of your life.”

I’m afraid these are devastating words for many impressionable young ladies and lads. For me, far from evoking gratefulness for the high school experience, these words evoked something closer to despair.

I was moderately athletic and popular in high school, not by any means at the bottom rung of the contrived social ladder. I had some solid teachers and coaches I still respect to this day. I was the captain of the football team and Fellowship of Christian Athlete president my senior year.

But by and large for me: I hated high school.

And it had very little to do with administrators or teachers or students or bullying or homework or any extra curricular activity or lack thereof. I hated high school because I didn’t really know who I was in high school. Now I’m not speaking of some psycho babble interpretation of self actualization and awareness.

For a large portion of my high school years I felt nothing but unhealthy tension between:

  • being a church youth group Sunday morning leader yet still recovering from the drinking games of the previous night.
  • being a virgin yet still peacocking like an alpha dog to impress my athletic peers.
  • being an FCA president yet still terrified to share my faith with my best friend.
  • being a prominent student athlete yet becoming a serial skipper of core classes and football workouts.

If these were the best days of my life, then the rest of my life would…be…hopelessly lackadaisical at best.

The high school scene was awkward and hormonal and pretentious for me. And I had little enjoyment playing the games I felt I needed to play to socially survive. This was more than cognitive dissonance. I didn’t see my blatant hypocrisy until the summer before my senior year, and even then, I didn’t have the tools to repair the image I had worked to tear into two different directions.

My life has only gotten better since high school graduation:

I became an honor student.

I became a high school educator (of all things).

I became a coach who enjoys encouraging the slackers.

I became a better church member and minister sans the hangover.

I stopped caring as much for the approval of people. And even though I still struggle to share my faith to those closest to me, I have experienced a fierce grace in Christ that is always shaking me out of my doldrums. My hypocrisy, though still old habit, isn’t my enveloping identity anymore.

My most important identities on earth: I became a husband of a precious passionate woman, and the father of two perfectly healthy happy boys.

So let me speak to my fellow young slackers who are a bit confused, discontent, and even blatantly hypocritical: It only gets better from here. Life gets better. Richer. Fuller. The best days of your life are laid out before you. Right through the unseen puddles and wrong turns and strange forests and shared sunsets.

There is nothing more sad in life than a lonely middle-aged alcoholic who peaked out at senior prom. That is not our lot. In Christ it can only get better. The peak is always in front of us, and we’re always reaching new heights of His grace.

Sure, look back on your past with gratefulness. But look forward with eager assurance that you’re becoming (and will become) someone better than what you once were.

Bryan Daniels

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Imaginary Haters and The Real Way of Hate

There’s no greater proof of this generation’s narcissism than its fabrication of imaginary “haters” to make it feel more important.

A whole segment of music and culture submit to this ridiculous ideal: That someone is out there, and that someone hates us for simply being so awesome. Artists like Kanye West have carved a sizable niche from the music market based on this assumption. Their pointed lyrical message to all the haters resonates with the cultural masses. “These envious faceless hordes can’t just be happy for my success…Haters!”

But I doubt it. I don’t doubt that you’re awesome (I’m sure your mom believes you are), but I doubt that someone literally despises you for being you. Or “doing you.” Or however those cool kids say it.

I’ve taught and coached high school age youth for a few years now and nothing is more ingrained in their combative psyche than the prospect of their own personal mythical mass of haters. Having “haters” brings a level of street cred. These hate groups are scheming against them at school, fronting them at the mall, and subtweeting them on Twitter. Those #oomfs are always up to something. Apparently, it’s a full-time occupation being a playa hata.

Kids used to have imaginary friends. Now they have imaginary haters.

Here’s a revelation: All these mean folks probably aren’t “hating” on us. I bet, for the most part, they’re just being people. They’re having a terrible day, they’re busy, they’re self-absorbed, or they may not even know we exist. They may simply have never been taught basic manners or social skills. But it’s doubtful they are preoccupied with all-consuming hatred towards us. That angry glare they were giving was probably directed inward at a bad memory, not at what we were wearing.

Believe it or not: The world and its hatred doesn’t revolve around us and our awesomeness.

People just don’t hate much anymore. At least not in the red-faced loathing sense. That requires too much passion. Too much emotional investment. To really hate something, we have to actually care first.

The hatred we’re more likely to experience, and express, is the hatred of shrugging neglect. We’re apathetic slackers with other people’s lives. With souls. With images of God with interesting stories and deep hurts and unique gifts.

We hate with pitiful indifference when we don’t treat humans as humans. As truly unique and truly interesting. As fellow bearers of an immortal flame housed in fading tents. That Imago Dei is still deeply loved and cherished by the original One who created it. They’re worth time and conversations and coffee and eye contact.

So in a sense

Don’t hate.

but also

let’s not accept the desperate narcissistic cultural stance of being “hated” on either.

Hater.

Bryan Daniels

A Glass Raised To Our Worst Days

Being alone with our thoughts is a noisy brutal exercise.

Unmet desires parade across the screen of our mind. Untouchable. Voices speak. Some tell us what we are, others what we are not. In this world of supposed haves and have nots, what we lack becomes what defines us.

A lack of human affection in hand.

A lack of money in the bank.

A lack of purpose in career.

And we feel stuck in a perpetual posture of always reaching yet never grasping. Chasing the American Dream is like chasing bubbles. Through our fingertips it floats off and mockingly lands in our neighbor’s manicured yard in plain sight from our cracked kitchen window.

That dream dangles ever before us. And it’s attached to a string. The string is attached to a stick. And the stick protrudes from our soul; an obtuse and painful reminder of what we don’t possess.

Yet in reality, I have so much. Even on my worst days.

On my worst days I have a beautiful wife who is also my best friend and partner in clowning folks.

On my worst days I have two healthy boy ninjas who play Avengers on the living room floor with me.

On my worst days I have a career I enjoy with an opportunity to impact future generations in a lasting way.

On my worst days I have a roof, clothing, and an abundance of food and water at my disposal.

My worst days, even days of inconsolable longing, ain’t so bad.

Even on my worst days, I’m granted so much more than I deserve.

Especially that grace that just won’t stop. Relentless in its generous affection. Radiating from our elder Brother and Savior who sits and invites us to sit at His Banquet table. This spread surely awaits us regardless of the quality day we’re having right now. The date is saved and sealed with His own bloody ring.

So here’s to our worst days.

We can eat, drink and be merry. For tomorrow we will live to do it forevermore.

Bryan Daniels

Like A Cocky Spelling Bee Finalist…

Spelling Bee

I competed in my fifth grade spelling bee. I was one of the biggest fifth graders in the elementary school. Kind of like those sixteen year old Puerto Rican pitchers with beards who illegally compete in the Little League World series…the only difference is that I belonged in the fifth grade.

“Horizon”

“Prosperous”

“Corridor”

None of these words were a match for my dizzying prebubescent intellect.

Twenty or so fellow class finalists stood before our school in the cafeteria/auditorium. After a few rounds the stage whittled down to a handful of contestants. I made it all the way to the final four. The top three went to the County wide spelling bee where a big gold plastic award and an eternity of local fame awaited you.

The final word given by the judges to me was:

“Geranium”

I was flippant in my respect for the stage and this word. I could spell this word backwards while playing “Sonic The Hedgehog.” I spoke into the mic confidently, yet a little too quickly than I should have.

“G-E-R-A-N-I-U-M, Geranium.”

I waltzed back to my seat, like Michael Jordan after hitting a buzzer beating game winning shot.

“Incorrect” said the judge in a bland tone.

I was dismayed as I took my seat with my fellow classmates. I knew I spelled it right. My teacher sat down beside me and asked me to re-spell it for her. She knew I spelled it right.

She made an appeal to the judges. They reviewed the tape and the decision stood. In my hurried haste I had pronounced the “M” to sound more like an “N” to them.

My brief stint of Spelling Bee legend wilted like a geranium in the Sahara.

Sometimes it is easy to be correct in truth and fact, yet wrong in presentation of it.

The burden of clarity is mostly on the communicator.

Orthodox meanderings divorced from a broken humbled heart can muddle rather than clarify the gospel we share.

Let’s not be a cocky fifth grader in our presentation of Christ to the world. There is no other message in all eternity that should be handled with more care. So much more is at stake with our speech than a long forgotten fourth place finish.

Bryan Daniels

How Football Makes Warriors Out Of Peter Pans

Mosley Football Dline
My D-Line from last year

I’ve been an assistant football coach at the high school level for four years now. I played the sport in high school. I appreciate the benefits of football now as an adult coach much more than I did as a player.

If my two sons have an inkling to play football when they get a few years older, I will encourage it.

Here’s why:

Football makes boys become warriors

I don’t want to over-exaggerate my case with legitimate military vocabulary, but I believe this is true: Football instills a level of toughness most modern boys would not experience in their natural climate. Especially considering when their natural climate is playing Call of Duty 24/7, eating Cheese Puffs, and being coddled by an over protective mother.

There are too many Peter Pans living in a fantasy world who should be young men taking real initiative and responsibility to protect and provide for their family and futures. With the passing of World War Two’s “Greatest Generation”, football is the closest most boys will come to experiencing a battlefield.

There is a fierce fighter lying latent in every chubby adolescent couch potato. That warrior inner man can be beckoned by the stiff demands of sweltering two a days. That future responsible family man can be refined by the daily grind of stingers, head aches, and swollen knees.

Football makes individuals become a team

When done right, a coach can tear down an individual in the heat of battle and build him up afterwards. Tough coaching can help kill ego, laziness, and general selfishness in boys who sincerely believe they are the center of the universe. Football is a constant reminder that players belong to their teammates, coaches, and community.

It helps cast a vision greater than self.

No player is an island. Every player needs the cooperation of his weakest teammate to be succesful. In a generation that is becoming increasingly isolated by the dull glare of a smart screen, boys need community more than ever. They need interpersonal life skills that will help them become better teammates and co workers.

Football makes boys witness and model men

Ask any grown man who played sports: “Who affected you most in early life?” I can almost guarantee a coach will be mentioned. In a modern society replete with absentee dads (physically and emotionally) coaches are often the only solid male authority figures young boys will ever see growing up.

Coaches are the men who will help raise up the potential men who will serve the next generation.

Coaches have a ripe opportunity to speak life, encouragement, structure, and discipline into a boy’s heart very few parents even do. The coach takes a natural authority position most boys will respect, even when they have little respect for the rest the world.

Lost boys fed a steady cultural diet of women chasing, drug consuming, and stuff gathering have a complete lack of father figures to steer them towards true wisdom.

Football (and team sports in general) can help fill that void.

Bryan Daniels

What are some positives (or negatives) you see that team sports may play in an individual’s development?

 

My Pithy Answers To Anonymous Googlers

Is Tim Tebow a bad Christian

One of the mysteries of blogging involves the enigmatic role of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) in sending internet searchers your blog’s way. Many come with disturbing dark searches I’ll leave unmentioned, some come with weird puzzling searches that leave me wondering for more (IE “Rastafarian Polygamous Women”).

Many are in the form of questions, questions I’m not sure they received clear answers for in my disjointed ramblings. So here’s my attempt to pithily answer a few random search engine questions that have popped up on my stat radar the past month. I’ll keep it short and non nuanced. If you need clarification ask and a longer post shall be heretofore granted to you.

What does the gospel of grace say about leaving a church that preaches the law?

If it strictly ONLY preaching law (like women being unclean in their time of month, or shrimp being off-limits to Christians) then lovingly share the gospel with the leadership while you share your reasons for leaving (first of all, any kind of shrimp makes me rejoice).

If it preaches what seems like a mixture (which is what I think you’re saying) then sit down with the leadership of the church over coffee and learn about their story and testimony. See where they’re coming from. Most preachers see the ten Mosaic Commands as a rule of life for believing Christians, and as a result sound more behavior modification than grace in their public speech. That doesn’t necessarily mean they’re placing the cart of works before the horse of faith. It may mean they haven’t found how revolutionary, freeing, heart changing, and permanent the undiluted gospel of grace is for all of life. Help them with that by modeling it.

Why be an educator?

It’s challenging, rewarding, discouraging and incredibly interesting. Teachers (and coaches) will absolutely have a greater impact on youth than physically or emotionally absent parents. You want to be a light in the midst of the demonic darkness? Come to public education. Future lost generations need mentors to sow love and time into them.

What has been done for justice to the holocaust victims?

I don’t know if anything can be done on this side of eternity concerning real justice for over 20 million lives brutally cut short. Tribunals? Reparations? Band Aids on gaping flesh wounds. My best offer of justice is that of a coming perfect Judge and King, who can make indescribable beauty out of the most ugly heap of ashes (Isaiah 61:3). King Jesus will judge rightly those criminally guilty, and comfort perfectly those lives shattered by tragedy.

I was a bad witness as a christian can i fix it?

Absolutely not. But God can. That’s where grace comes in and murders the shame of being a “bad witness.” You will continue to fall short in your life and that will continue to highlight your continual need of Christ and his daily grace. The best you can do is point to his perfect life and death and life again on your behalf. His gospel doesn’t make you better, it gives you life. This living mercy is new every morning, which is the greatest news for mess-ups like me (Leviticus 3:23)

Is Tim Tebow a Bad Christian?

No. He seems like a bold, genuine, pleasant Christian young man. He seems like the type of positive role model kids need in this day with replete cautionary tales like Snooki or Lindsey Lohan dominating culture. Tebow relies on the same grace we all must be given day to day. Reference “Tim Tebow and How to Be a Bad Christian Witness” for more thoughts.

Should 55 yr old men wear skinny jeans?

No. Never. Absolutely Not. No comprende. What is wrong with you people?!

Hope that helps some of you Internet searchers and lurkers.

Peace and grace,

Bryan Daniels

Propaganda Of The Heart And The Butt Naked Truth

 

World War 2 Propanganda

 

What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies to our faces.

We’re discussing propaganda in my classes this week, particularly World War 2 Nazi, Communist, and American propaganda. World War 2 attached darker negative connotations to a word that was once largely innocuous. Up until then most “propaganda” campaigns had to do with public health and voting.

Propaganda once had to do with informing the public.

The great war morphed it into an effective way of persuading the public opinion about foreign policy.

navy propaganda poster

Neutrality in message, if there ever was such a fanciful thing, has long since fallen by the wayside. Every million dollar word in television, print, and media outlets has been carefully crafted to persuade. Products, ideas, and feelings are being peddled in increasingly creative and all permeating ways.

“This miracle drug will give you suicidal thoughts, but trust me, you need it to cure depression.”

Propanganda can only do so much damage, as long as an informed public is aware of the implications:

Namely,

Objectivity is a myth. Not just in political campaigns or advertising. In apologetics, music, journalism, science, religion, education, everywhere. No one person or institution is neutral about their opinions, otherwise it wouldn’t be their opinions. Everyone has a truth to sell, even if they are selling themselves as the only objective truth seekers.

Deeply held presuppositions are a given.

Everyone either stands on foundational truth where they are the final judge over it all, or they kneel under a foundational truth outside of themselves. Truth is under subjection to them and their whims, or truth is something fixed and greater and over them.

What we see in the world is not the whole story.

What we share with the world is not the whole story.

Government misinformation is not what kills the soul, it is the self created personal misinformation that will do us in. The divided heart of what we show ourselves to be and what we know ourselves to be.

I’m sure we all switch positions with hypocritical fluidity, sometimes as inerrant judge and sometimes as the cross-examined defendant. We’re not just being dictated to we are also dictating. Every dressed up propped up persona we push in public is self-made propaganda. A monolithic filtered message meant to persuade people who and what we are.

Nice.

Funny.

Talented.

Authentic.

Smart.

Humble.

Giving.

Hardworking.

The human soul is a perpetual propagating machine. I project witty and amicable, but the deeps are closer to generic and judgmental.

There is only one in the epoch of human history who was exactly who he said he was. Only one born of woman who never put on a front. He didn’t just have the truth, He IS truth (John 14:6).

Jesus is the death of our heartsick fixation with propaganda. He tears the layers of self constructed facades down to expose barenaked humanity. The lonely human soul that burns a hole staring through the ceiling late at night is the soul He covers with his blood.

At the most foundational level we know this stripping is what we want and what we need. We come into this world butt naked and unashamed and we spend our whole lives longing to be restored to that innocent state. We may take heart: Propaganda, in the end, will be destroyed with the invincible exposing gospel truth found in Jesus.

Bryan Daniels