10 Things I Wish They’d Told Me Before Starting Graduate School

It. Is. Finished.

As of May 7th 2017,  I have officially obtained my Masters in Divinity degree from Andrews University – my alma mater. The past few years have been some of the most humbling, exciting, and paradigm-shifting years filled with lots of learning, love, and life.

They say hindsight is 20/20 for a reason. Here are 10 things I wish someone would have shared with me when I started 3 years ago:

  1. Invest in your community
    Education without a nurturing, supportive, community can render learning a drudgery. I’m thankful for my friends and colleagues with whom I could process insights as well as enjoy much needed down-time.

  2. Reflect on your learning
    Taking notes in class is one thing, but taking notes of your notes is another. I may have forgotten most of the notes I took, but I’m still able to recollect a considerable amount of content I’d processed through reflection. I wish I’d spent more time to reflect via journaling, recording, and blogging earlier on in my grad school experience.

  3. Look for mentors
    I eventually felt the need to seek out mentors beyond those who were assigned to me in the form of teachers and required texts. Mentorship, I later realized, is a veritable hack and shortcut to excellence, and the more mentors I surrounded myself with, the more I was able to lead, learn, and love better. I am convinced beyond a shadow of a doubt that you truly become the company you keep. Seek out meaningful relationships which are mutually valuable.
  4. Find ways to implement learning
    This is a step above reflection. Learning is further concretized when one finds creative ways to actualize it. In other words, the best learning has happened when I intentionally contextualized and personalized ideas for personal or public benefit in the form of sermons, ministry models, write-ups, or even just plain status updates.
  5. Develop a filing system
    Oh how I wish someone would have taken me aside my first year and shared the importance of this! If I’d known then what I know now, I’d have paid someone to teach me the ins and outs of organizing any piece of information, digital or analog.
  6. Take care of yourself
    Exercise, diet, you-time, family time. All inestimable in importance. When the person is prioritized, the life is positioned for maximum benefit and impact. Taking a day off every semester for a personal retreat, for instance, has been a game-changer for me in so many ways.
  7. Choose your experience
    This deserves an entire post of its own. In other words, you will do well to exercise the God-given gift of your will to choose how you wish to respond to the vicissitudes of life. If you’re not intentional, your experience will be chosen for you by various people, projects, and pressures.
    An apathetic, laissez-faire approach to dealing with conflicts is directly proportional to an atrophied, disproportionate, life experience. Choose wisely, and choose daily for success.
  8. Schedule your values
    This is a practical way of being proactive about your experience. Scheduling values – in contrast to tasks – involves a two-fold process of identifying your values and then etching it on your daily and monthly calendar.
    For instance, if one of your values is to to take care of your health, then consider calendaring a regular workout regiment in your monthly planner. Your tasks should be an outflow of your values. Not the reverse.
  9. Construct your “why?”
    A recommended personal exercise during this time is to continually engage in the process of crafting your “why” – your one-sentence mission statement which articulates your passion and contribution to the world. The sooner you are able to do this, the better you’ll be able to distinguish between what drains you and what strengthens you.
  10. Have fun!
    Like, seriously. Take time to enjoy your friendships, create new ones, make new memories, and laugh! As one of my good friends from grad school used to say, make sure to get some “chill vibes” regardless of what you do or don’t do.

For my colleagues and friends who graduated: What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!

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What I Did Not Like About #ItIsTimeAU

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The back story is long. If you have no idea of what I’m talking about, you can read the context to this post here, here, here, or here.

If you know a thing or two about what happened, let’s jump right in.

Here are 4 things that I didn’t like about #ItIsTimeAU ( and by #ItIsTimeAU I mean my overall sentiments on both the initial video as well as the formal response ).

1. How it shakes my understanding of communication.

My knee-jerk reaction to the initial video was that it may not have followed due process. Many questions arose: “What is the policy for notifying grievances at AU? Was a mass social media post lacking context the greatest of methods? “Why was there….”  And so on.

Many of them were answered. Some, better than others.

That being said, I believe the video successfully did one thing:  jump-start a previously dormant, yet utterly important, conversation through an intentionally provocative platform. It got people talking. It got people thinking.

I’ve come to realize that what I don’t like about the video is not necessarily the mode nor the motivation of the video as much as how it shakes my perception of effective communication. 

Can I critique the means while conceding its effectiveness? I think so.

2. How it causes me to check my biases.

The moment the video surfaced was the moment my notion of being the ultimate embracer of all was put to the test. I soon had to realize that a cross-cultural mutt does not an inclusive person make.

Dialoguing with individuals with differing viewpoints forced me to check my biases.

I realized that I was prejudiced against different types of people: those who were unwilling to have a civil conversation, those who were dogmatic about their position at the expense of other possible viewpoints, and those who cherished binary thinking when it comes to complex issues.

Silly video. Caused me to check myself.

3, How it challenges my understanding of leadership.

The formal response from Andrews is arguably one of the best live examples of inspiring leadership I’ve seen yet.

Just when I thought that I had a solid understanding of what leadership should look like, Dr. Luxton and the administration of AU gave me something new to consider.

From the beginning of her speech which rivaled Kendrick Lamar’s “We Gon Be Alright” till the end of the video, I saw what Christ-like, humble, classy, leadership should look like.

More to learn about leadership. Surely.

4, How it sensitizes me to the “other.”

Birds of a feather flock together. Because to do otherwise would require work.

It is far more comfortable to be with like-minded individuals than those who differ from you. Both the videos, in a significant way, forced me to look outside my comfort zone of sameness to interact with those who held a different perspective than mine.

The more I interacted with the “other” dissident voice, the more I was frustrated. The more I confronted the reasons for my frustrations, the more I grew.

——

Self-examination is hardly exciting.

The closer you look at yourself, the more you have to confront and endure. Growth and progress, sadly, happens less in ease and more in these moments of discomfort.

Therefore, similar to embracing pain at a gym to improve muscular fitness, almost everything I didn’t like about #ItIsTimeAU has been beneficial and redemptive to my soul.

My hope, for you my brother and sister, is that the celebration of this moment ( or the lack thereof ) does not distract you from the introspection of your heart.

What were your thoughts about #ItIsTimeAU? Leave a comment below!

Why I Can’t Celebrate Christmas

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Honestly, I could end this post in a few lines.

Fire in Oakland.

Chapecoense football team. 

Genocide in Syria.

Bombings in Germany. 

Explosions in Mexico.

Attacks in Pakistan.

Post-election America. 

Add to this your own personal pains – the passing of loved ones, loss of opportunities, stresses of life – and they still wonder why you can’t deck the halls with boughs of holly or jingle all the way.

This Christmas has been a tough one. It’s been a month since my grandmother died and our family is deeply feeling the void. The political and humanitarian crises at large have sensitized me to the reality of life and only exacerbated this pain.

No. I can’t seem to find a way to celebrate Christmas. Not with everything’s that’s going on. It’s hard to join in on the rampant consumerism and the religious tribalism when you want closure and comfort.

So as a follower of Christ, I’m at a crossroads:

How do I reconcile the pains of the world with the birth of the Promised One?
How can I celebrate Christmas while I’m grieving?
How can I be real with the truth while being truthful to my reality?

I came across a story recently that has given me perspective. It’s found herebut let me summarize it for you: 

The story happens during the time Ahaz was the King of Judah. Ahaz is chilling while he gets news that Rezin and Pekah ( enemies of Judah ) have formed a coalition against Ahaz to subdue it. While homeboy Ahaz is depressed, God sends Isaiah, his prophet, to send a message to him. Isaiah is like, “ Bro, don’t sweat it. God’s going to take care of this.” Ahaz is still petrified. So God Himself engages Ahaz in a crucial conversation. Probably went something like this:

God: Bro, ask me a sign. Any sign. I’ll give it to you. Don’t worry about Rezin and Pekah.
Ahaz: Nah, Lord. I won’t ask a sign. It’s not that serious.
God: Bro why? You guys never learn. So let me give you a sign:

“Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel.”

Sounds familiar?

If you are, you may have seen this text footnoted in Matthew’s rendition of the birth narrative. Scholars are split on whether the prophecy in Isaiah is foretelling the birth of Jesus or some other baby named “Immanuel”, but given the contexts of Matthew, the rest of the gospels, and the mission of the Messiah, it wouldn’t be too much of a contextual leap to assume the former.

What am I trying to get at? Two things:

1.God’s solution to a maelstrom was not a strategy, but a Son.

God offers a Son as a solution for the political, religious, and emotional mess that Ahaz has gotten himself into. He places his Son right in the middle of pithy platitudes, vacuous promises, and manipulative ends to both break destructive systems and redeem them.

2.God is “God with us.”

Immanuel means “God with us.” The Son was, and is, the fullest expression of God who moved into our neighborhood, enfleshed in humanity. The Son is one who can relate to us in the darkest of nights, the brightest of days, and every day in between.

“God with us” is community. “God with us” is intimacy. “God with us” is solidarity.

Yes. It is a hard Christmas. But it was then just as it is now.
The story points out that Christ was born not in spite of the griefs of his world, but into it. He was born into a political mess, into a religious war, into an imminent, indiscriminate genocide of children, into suffering, into inconvenience, into pain.

This Christmas I take comfort knowing that He is not indifferent to my pain and yours, but intimately acquainted to it. He is in the middle of the maelstroms of my life as Savior, and beside me as Immanuel.

So I may not be able to celebrate Christmas. But I can celebrate Christ. And that’s enough for me right now.

How are you dealing with the Christmas blues? leave a comment below!

5 Ways To Share Your Beliefs Without Being a Jerk

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Right + Rude = Wrong.

Someone mentioned that to me and it has stuck ever since.

The counsel is timely, especially in circles where truth claims are criticized and those who express them, in extreme cases, are dismissed as anachronistic.

But is there a way to share your convictions without being snooty or insular? Here are 5 ways you can share your beliefs without being a jerk.

1.KNOW

It is significantly harder to share unless you know what you believe and why you believe it. The “what” deals with the content of your beliefs and the “why” deals with the justification for your beliefs.

I’ve realized that the more unclear I am in either of these, the more insensitive I could appear to someone else. Consequently, the clearer I am able to understand the “what” and the “why”, the better I can articulate myself to someone else and prevent avoidable misunderstandings.

2.LISTEN

Knowledge is irrelevant if I do not listen.

Listening is the process of building a bridge between your experience and theirs. When they feel heard, people are not only willing to hear what you say, but are also willing to offer you their trust.

Stories are sacred. So the fastest way to boost your jerk-o-meter is to dismiss their story because it contradicts with yours or to ignore it because what you’re going to share is more important.

Listen to their story. God forbid, you may even learn something new.

3.START

Picture a container of water.

The force of the water out of the container is largely dependent on the size of its exit and the water pressure. i.e the larger the exit, the less water pressure. The smaller the exit, more water pressure.

Depending on how the amount of pressure and the size of the exit is calibrated, the same container can be used as a reservoir for a calming shower or for a lethal water jet.

You and I are pressurized containers of information.

Only when I listen to someone else and start from where they are, I’d know how to calibrate what to say and when to say it.

Because the right thing said at the wrong time is the wrong thing said. What was meant to comfort can, instead, cut.

4.REALIZE

As you share, realize your role and God’s:

Your role is to share if needed. God’s role is to translate it as needed.
Your role is to prioritize the relationship. God’s role is to bless it.
Your role is to be a safe place. God’s role is to transform that space.

5.UNDERSTAND

Lastly, understand that God is bigger than your beliefs.

Humbling? Yes. But internalizing this has inspired me to delve deep into His presence while alleviating me from much avoidable heartache and stress resulting from “not sharing the truth.”

We are sharing truth whether we verbalize it or not. The posture of our hearts and the attitude of our minds do more to communicate what we believe than even our own words.

When you understand that God is bigger than your beliefs, you will also realize that His ways are higher than your ways ( Isaiah 55:9 ).

You will also feel liberated knowing that your effectiveness as a believer was never dependent on someone’s willingness to change their story.

Know, listen, start, realize, and understand. What else would you add to this list? Leave a comment below!

When Do You Know You’re Ready to Pop “The Question?”

Kevin and Elynn Engagement (26 of 61).jpg

Wow.

It’s been 5 years.

5 YEARS.

Yesterday marked 5 years since we decided to journey together as a couple.

5 YEARS!!

ohmygoodness.

And on December 29th of 2015, after much deliberation, anxiety, reflection, and anxiety (did I mention anxiety?) I finally decided to pop the question:

“Elynn Rodriguez, will you marry me?”

Watch the proposal video here! 

As a note to myself, and to others who might benefit from this, I decided to write what I wish someone would have told me a few years ago.

Here are 5 principles that guided me towards taking the next step in our relationship! 

And she agrees with them 🙂

1) You know your “why.”

Your “why” is essentially your purpose statement – the reason you exist in this world. The process of formulating your “why” statement begins with an exploration of the following: a) who you are and b) what you want to do in this world.

Your “why” gives you purpose and clarity to everything you do. Once you are clear on what you are here to do, you will then be able to distill all areas of your life and determine if something, or someone, is worth pursuing.

This is crucial. Because till you know who you are, you will be incapable of truly serving someone else.

Service is important since it’s the bedrock of any lasting relationship, especially if you’re planning to put up with each others’ nonsense for an extended period of time.

2) You’ve had meaningful conversations with your significant other.

If the first point deals with the “why”, this point deals with the “how.”

The pre-engagement phase, or the dating phase, of any relationship is probably the best time to discuss important questions, especially pertaining to the future of your relationship.

We’d even argue that this should be your primary focal point of your dating phase as your relationship gets more serious.

The more questions you discuss with each other, the more meaningful conversations you will have. The more meaningful conversations you have, the more clarity you will have about the future of your relationship.

3) You’ve had meaningful conversations with trusted people.

The phrase “Love is blind” may actually have some truth in it. For how you perceive each other in the relationship may affect objectivity in important decision-making.

If you’re like us, you’d benefit from the counsel of trusted friends and family. They can identify potential “blind-spots” that you might have missed and may be able to give you much needed advice on whether you should continue or not.

While others’ opinions shouldn’t be the sole determinant of your relationship, they should not be entirely discounted, especially if you know that they have your good in mind.

4) You know that he/she is willing to journey with you.

We believe that two people can have different pursuits in what they want to achieve in this life and still thrive as a couple.

However, multiple pursuits without a single commitment to journey together will inevitably cause heartache, frustration, and pain.

Elynn and I are both very driven. Both of us have our own dreams and aspirations. After multiple conversations, we realized that if we don’t commit to appreciate and affirm each other on our individual pursuits, we will be end up being roommates and not a team.

We knew that after we learned to appreciate each others’ pursuits, after we revisited and revised our plans in light of a potential marriage, and chose to journey together, we felt somewhat ready to take our relationship to the next level.

The biggest myth is that you have to have everything figured out before popping the question. Do figure out as much as you can. Plan as much as you can. But know that you can never plan enough.

What you need to know at this point is that he/she is willing to stick it out with you as a teammate as you figure things out together.

5) You know you’re making him/her better.

If you’re not in the relationship to make them better, you are in it for self-serving reasons. You’re either growing together, or not growing at all. There’s no middle ground.

Marriage, from what I hear, transforms people. The more life is shared between two people, the more they begin to reflect and complement each other in unmistakable ways.

We had to know if our relationship was actually making us better individuals well before considering the question of marriage.

If we were not already making each other better and bringing the best of each other in our relationship, marrying each other would be the quickest way to a collectively miserable life.

Take some time to do some honest self-reflection with the following questions: “am I making him/her a better individual?” and “is he/she making me a better individual?” 

….

At the end of the day, relationships can be messy, wonderful, revealing, and inspiring. Choosing to commit to a relationship for life is one of the most important decisions you can make! 

A decision worth making is a decision worth thinking about, and these 5 principles helped us think better about the decision of a lifetime.

What about you? If you’re engaged or married, what would you add to this list? If you’re not, what do you think about this list? Leave a comment below!

The Gospel According to Pulse

pulse-shooting-orlandoMy heart is heavy as I reflect on what is considered the worst terrorist mass shooting of U.S history.

The shooting at Pulse hit many pressure points eliciting various responses. Gun control, the 2nd amendment, Islamophobia, homophobia, and terrorism were some of the various issues which were re-sensitized and brought to the fore.

And caught right in the middle of this cacophony is the state of individuals. The victimized, the affected, and the sympathizers.

As I reflected on this event and the shootings of the recent past, I felt the need to explore better ways to respond to these heinous crimes, particularly to the individuals under consideration.

The question that I strove to answer can be framed like this:

Within the framework of my worldview, what’s the best possible way to respond to the affected individuals?

Here’s a 5-worded summary of what I have so far:

In love and in truth.

The more I explored this dual concept, the more I was amazed at how a seemingly obscure portion of the Bible gave me more than I was looking for.

Bear with me as I unpack this.

2 John is a small letter written by the apostle John to a dysfunctional church. Most of the struggles, as evidenced by this document, can be boiled down to two major issues:

  • The church was struggling with identifying truth.
  • The church was struggling with loving its members.

John, therefore, targets these issues head-on and offers one of the most beautiful and comprehensive juxtapositions of love and truth found in Scripture.

In this letter, John defines love as “walking according to God’s commandments” and truth as a personal experience with the teachings of Jesus that pervades and influences all areas of one’s life.

This is radical. For in a pluralistic society where worldviews jousted each other for supremacy and subjugation, John pins down two misunderstood and misused concepts and redefines them within the framework of his Judaeo-Christian worldview.

But he goes a step further.

John also shows that love and truth are inextricably connected to each other.

John reveals that one cannot genuinely love apart from knowing the truth, and one does not truly know truth until one loves.

 John is consistent with how Scripture fits in these two concepts throughout its pages. As notable evangelist John Piper puts it, according to Scripture, “Love shapes how to speak truth and truth shapes how to show love.”

So we step out of Scripture into our time. In a society that predominantly looks with its eyes and thinks with its feelings, the concepts of ‘love’ and ‘truth’ are in dire need of re-investigation and reflection.*

The zeitgeist of our time frames love and truth as mutually exclusive concepts. “Love” is usually described within the purview and vocabulary of emotions, oftentimes relegated to feelings accompanied by a visceral sense of acceptance. “Truth”, on the other hand, is usually explained within the framework of empirically verifiable data. American Philosopher, Richard Rorty captures this notion best when he says that “truth is made, not found.”

Considering all this, an unsurprising outcome of our precarious moral landscape is the inconspicuous, yet lethal, severing of love and truth.

What does this look like?

Here’s what happens when love and truth are severed.

1) Love without Truth is Blind

A physician’s primary responsibility is not to calm the patient as much as it is to find an effective treatment based on truthful analysis. When the physician, then, prioritizes receptivity of opinion over the longevity of the patient, a great deal of damage is done to both the patient and to those around him.

In the same way, when our love for others is not motivated by truth, we intentionally become “blind” to their faults and mistakes even if they can cause damage to others in their circles of influence.  The inevitable end for a “truthless love” is at best, a self-preserving bestowal of acceptance, or at worst, a blinded infatuation.

But something else happens when they are severed:

2) Truth without Love is Lame

John describes love as “walking.”

Logically, then, when all I have is truth and I don’t have love, I am simply lame.

And when I am disabled and handicapped while I have truth, all I can do is stay fixed on one location, point my proverbial fingers at everyone around me, and with calculated logic and coherent theology prove why they are wrong.

As someone mentioned, “right + rude = wrong.”

In other words, the truths we subscribe to within our worldview are unblushingly invalidated when they are not accompanied with love.

So what does all this have to do with the shootings?

I have heard two extremes. On the one end, honest discussions regarding the truths about human life, sexuality, moral rights, and governance have been jettisoned for the sake of love and acceptance. Moralists who want to have a serious conversation about these truths based on their respective worldviews have often been dismissed as primitive, insensitive, or divisive. Love without truth.

On the other end, truths have been used as weapons of mass destruction to inconsiderately obliterate all those who oppose them. Judgments have been mercilessly cast on the affected individuals and dehumanized them.  Dogma valued over dignity. Orthodoxy over empathy. Truth without love.

My worldview teaches that Jesus Christ is the perfect embodiment of both love and truth. Through his life, death, and resurrection, He has not only provided the logical and moral grounding for truth, but has also provided the manual for love.
As a follower of Christ, the best way I can respond to the affected individuals, their families, and the country that is mourning is in love and in truth.

I realize that when I don’t confront the truth about human life, the truth about human nature, the truth about how we regulate our laws, I cannot love as deeply as I want to. The extent to which I can recognize these truths is the extent to which I can actualize my love.

And consequently, when I don’t approach these individuals with a love that is not restricted by differences, preferences, or worldviews, I would know that I am not truly practicing the truths that I claim to be true. All my truths are irrelevant if they don’t make me a better lover of the affected.

My heart goes out to the affected. Cannot wait for that day when the sufferings of this life are no more and we truly see Love face-to-face.

*quote inspired by Ravi Zacharias
Pic courtesy: http://www.nydailynews.com

A 3-Step “Hack” for Examining and Enjoying Scripture

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Articulating the “why” and implementing the “how” are two things.

That’s why some may spit some smoove words to you, but may not actually have game.

OHHHHH!

But that’s a topic for another day. (Get it together, Kevin.)

The more I spend time with well-intentioned Christians, especially youth and young adults, the more I realize that while there is a confidence when answering “why” of Scripture (purpose) , there is a lack of clarity concerning the “how” of Scripture (method of study/interpretation).

So here’s a simple 3-step process I’ve been experimenting with for both my personal time with God, as well as my ministry to high-schoolers.

Before you check it out, however, there are 2 major keys of success that you must consider in order for this to work:

Be open-minded and be diligent.

To be open-minded is to be open to the voice of the Holy Spirit teaching you from, and through, Scripture. I believe that the Spirit leads us to find both the Truth for our faith and truths for our daily living in Scripture (John 16:13). Be willing to humble yourself to the truth of the text and be taught by the Spirit, rather than teaching to it.

To be diligent is to exercise the discipline of investigation consistently and effectively. I believe God rewards those who diligently seek Him and those who do will find Him (Jeremiah 29:13)

OK. You’re ready. Here are the steps:

Step 1 – Observation

Prayerfully read the passage under consideration multiple times. Look for the following:

– The 5 Ws ( Who is writing? to Whom is he writing? When is he writing? Where is he writing from? Why is he writing? )
– Repeated words or phrases
– Genre ( type of writing)
– Themes (ideas in the passage)
– Anomalies (words that are “oddly” placed)
– Patterns in the passage (parallels, metaphors, similes)
– The subject and the object (who is talking to whom?)

After you gather enough information, ask as many questions as possible about the passage. Be sure to ask ­only observation questions at this point.

Because here’s the thing: An excellent question is always better than a mediocre answer.

As one of my friends once told me, “The Bible is a book of answers. We simply ask it questions.”

At this stage, avoid, as much as possible, from jumping into questions that pertain to your personal life. We will get to this at the reflection stage. Stay with the passage. The more detective work you do here, the better your reflection will be at the end.

Step 2 – Connection

You will have collected enough data at this point to make some connections.

Start making connections from A to B where A = point from the passage and B = other scriptural passages, personal life experiences, history, education, etc.

If you have access to tools such as Bible commentaries, Bible dictionaries, and concordances, they will greatly aid you in making these crucial connections. The more connections you make,  the better.

Step 3 – Reflection

The fruitfulness of this step depends on how much work you put into steps 1 and 2. Poor investigation will lead to mediocre connections which then would lead to powerless reflections.

At this stage, pick one instance in the passage where you saw Jesus/God.

Put yourself in that scene. Use your senses. What would you see, touch, feel, taste, hear, and smell?

Then ask some reflection questions to yourself regarding the truth about that passage:

Examples:

What is Jesus telling me in this situation?
What is stopping me from doing what He’s asking me to do?
On a scale of 1-10, how much do I relate to the disciples in this passage?

The effectiveness of this step depends on the sincerity of your heart. Believe that God wants to speak to you.
Oftentimes it’s easy to forget that the Bible is, in fact, God’s love letter to His people. As such, any passage in Scripture, when carefully considered within its context, can reveal some powerful things during this time of reflection.

So there you have it. Observation. Connection. Reflection.

Try it. 

What would you add to these steps, if any? How can you make this better? Share your thoughts below! 🙂