Millennials in an Alternate Reality

Millennials are the worst. They are entering the workforce at increasing rates and soon they’ll be the ones shaping the future. They are the largest demographic in the United States, and because they are the worst, everything is going wrong.

When millennials were growing up, only the winners received trophies. Their dispassionate fixation on results over process is a byproduct of this broken trophy-distribution system. Maybe if we hadn’t overemphasized the importance of final outcomes, millennials could enjoy the journey without thought of the destination. But it’s too late; millennials know that effort is only worthwhile if leads to a W.

When they were kids, millennials were told that only truly exceptional people could do exceptional things. Today’s twentysomethings never had to give up on being an astronaut because they never dared to imagine it. They’re very rational, but they’ve forgotten how to dream.

Millennials, defying even the most conservative estimates, are the most technology-averse generation since the Great Depression. Their comparatively poor social skills are likely a result of their tendency to isolate themselves from the effortless connectivity of modern technology.

Millennials understand that no one person is truly unique. Their parents constantly reinforced this theme, and as a result, millennials are bystanders – they expect somebody better or smarter to come along and do all the things that need doing.

A common refrain among millennials is “follow the money.” They are financially successful, because they eschew fulfilling careers for jobs more suited to their skills, but their careers are often marked by hesitancy. Because they generally do not believe they are special, they feel unprepared when it comes time for them to assume leadership roles. They often instinctively suspect that promotions are clerical errors or practical jokes. They accept unhappiness because they have never expected better.

This generation the least self-aware in recent memory. They’ve earned the nickname “the You generation.” Despite their stunted interpersonal skills, they are fixated on the well-being of others to a fault. Ask a millennial about his likes and dislikes, about her aspirations, and you will receive a blank stare. How can millennials be happy if they don’t know what they want? How can we continue to create art and music and literature if the largest demographic in the country has no concept of self to express?

Millennials are great employees. Just don’t try to have a stimulating conversation with one.

Always Forward

Always Forward

Romans 12:1-12

I was watching Luke Cage on Netflix the other day and something really stuck out to me in those first few episodes. Luke Cage, if you aren’t familiar, is a TV series about a superhero that opens the show trying to live a normal life in Harlem. He didn’t want his powers; they were forced upon him in a failed experiment while he was in prison. So he attempts to live a quiet life, sweeping hair in a barbershop and not making too much noise. The shop is owned by a man known simply as “Pop” who serves as a role model, almost father figure not just to Luke but the whole neighborhood. His shop is a sanctuary away from the constant struggle of life in New York, a place where even the fiercest blood rivals can sit down for a moment of peace. Pop lives by a motto that stayed with me for the entirety of the show and I couldn’t get it out of my head when I sat down to write this. It’s these two simple words: “Always Forward.” He would go on to say it many times, sometimes making sure to add in a reminder to never go backwards but the emphasis is always on forward progress.  Continue reading

Ocean Eyes and Staying Warm

Owl City’s Ocean Eyes is one of my favorite albums, and when I search the internet for opinions about it, the well-argued ones are usually blisteringly negative, and the positive ones are usually vapid and full of spelling errors. For whatever reason, people don’t seem to dig deep into Ocean Eyes and connect with it the way I do, and I think the internet needs an opinion on the album that’s positive and seriously considered. Here we go.

Ocean Eyes came out in 2009, and I’ve listened to it on and off in the seven years between then and now. Though it was commercially successful, most reviews around the time of its release were negative, saying that it was sickly sweet or that didn’t have the depth to keep listeners around. Reviewers said that the album floated along on the strength of meaningless pretty phrases and catchy but repetitive instrumental melodies. These criticisms and worse are true of Owl City’s other albums (but Maybe I’m Dreaming is decent). Ocean Eyes, though, is serious and emotional behind its pretty phrases and radio-pop instrumentals. Continue reading

Thomas Rakowitz Finds His Way Home

Sometimes, when you least expect it, the right piece of music drops into your lap. I’ve been in an anxiety funk recently, with potential big things coming up. I’m sitting up writing this knowing I should sleep soon, but I just hit play for the second time on a new track from Thomas Rakowitz because it’s perfect for where I’m at right now and I needed to write about it.

Rakowitz, as you know from following any of the other things I’ve written about his work, has this uncanny ability to paint with his guitar. “I’ll Find My Way Home” is no different. The opening chords are sparse, slowly echoing into nothing before some arpeggios come in underneath. It has this feeling of going in circles, but not because you meant to. Every time they come back it’s that feeling of being lost on a trail because you took a wrong turn and you can swear you’ve seen this rock before. I swear I mean this in a good way.

I don’t know if that’s what Thomas was going for, but that’s what I felt. Each time the picking comes back in under the chords it’s slightly different, building to a moment of clarity at the end of the track that feels like a discovery. I got chills near the end of the song because I heard this hopeful shift in the tones, this anxious crescendo towards actualization. Everything just fits together in this manner that seems to evoke searching for something and the confidence that comes from knowing it’s out there, no matter what the journey’s looked like so far. It’s 7 minutes of self-reflection, and it’s exactly what I needed. Thanks, Thomas.

Listen to “I’ll Find My Way Home” below, and if you like that (you will) you can click here to get Thomas’s double album The Musings of Balance

Learning to Learn Again: Divinity and Dragon Punches

I’m at EVO right now. I’m writing in my hotel room, before I go out to see what Las Vegas has to offer to a curious explorer. I’m panicking because my laptop clock hasn’t updated and so it has me two hours ahead of reality, counting down the minutes before I shut down so I can make it to my bright and early 8 am Guilty Gear bracket tomorrow. I am probably not going to do well in Guilty Gear tomorrow. It’s a game that I like playing, but I didn’t put as much practice into as I did Street Fighter V and as we’ve previously discussed my dearth of a local scene in southeast Oklahoma meant that I was at the mercy of the online play and it was hard for me to get things going. It’s a game that’s so different from Street Fighter, my best game and the one I practiced more than any other for this EVO. The movement options and the way the game flows shift at a rapid pace and sometimes I feel like I can’t keep up. Sometimes I feel like I should just put it down and go back to what I know, because I may not be a top Street Fighter competitor, but I’d won more than zero games in it at that point. And so because I’m a fighting game genius and make good decisions, three days ago I dropped Leo, the only character I’ve ever played in Guilty Gear and decided to learn Sin (and yes it’s more than a little ironic that the pastor gravitates to a character called Sin). Maybe it’s because that’s who Dogura plays. Maybe because I’m remembering Jay Snyder’s word of advice: “Anyone who has an extra meter is cheap and you should play them.” But nonetheless I decided that I would give myself 3 days before my first live Guilty Gear tournament to learn a whole new character.

I’ve talked about my training mode experiences before. There I was talking about how I found joy in the work of getting better little by little, how I knew that even if I wasn’t going to ever be the best person in the world I could see myself getting better just by spending time in that familiar grid. But what I realized as I tried to learn Sin is that I don’t even know how to use training mode that well. My first thing I do when I learn a new character in any game is type in “[character] combos” or “[character] bnbs” or “[character] tutorial” to Google and just click whatever comes back to me. Then I spend a lot of time watching those videos, reading those articles and combo sequences, and trying to memorize and replicate them. Even my GOOD training mode habits are copied from James Chen’s video on how to use training mode. And I realized somewhere along the line that I wasn’t sure if I was actually learning anything. Because I could do all these sequences that were complicated for my skill level but as soon as I took them out into the wild I realized I was still just as overwhelmed as I had been before. And I would go on Twitter just to follow the events leading up to EVO and I would see people who were creating new things, inventing new things, those people who understood what they were looking for when they sat down with something new. And I found myself having to wait for them to do the discovering for me because I didn’t know how to start.

It’s an interesting thing realizing that you don’t know how to learn, that you only know how to copy and paste what’s come before. I mean, sure I could tweak, or know what kind of stuff doesn’t fit my style but it was seriously hard to admit that I wasn’t a creator, that on day one of a new thing I would be useless because no one could show me where to go. I’m a person who never really had to learn stuff in school. It came to me naturally and that would get me through just fine. I was learning new information, sure, but I don’t know if I learned to do it for myself. I don’t know if we do a good job of teaching people how to learn. We give them stuff to copy and paste back on a test but that sense of discovery might be lost, or it least it was on me.

I wonder if the church falls into similar traps. I wonder if people are aware of that tendency to copy and paste what someone else discovered, tweaking and discarding as they see fit. I see myself as a good preacher and teacher but am I giving people tools to figure stuff out and discover? These are the things that I started thinking about while I was flailing, trying to get Sin to work for me. How do we learn to learn?

When I stopped having to read things for classes and started reading things because I wanted to, I found myself going on chains. Something that popped up in one book that lead me to find a book on another subject and then I would start talking to friends about everything that I was reading and I found myself understanding things more. Maybe there’s a collaborative effort to learning, that is to say that it can’t be done in a vacuum. I can smash against the computer dummy all day but I won’t know how it all works unless I go play a real person. Likewise, I don’t think theology works in a vacuum either. I can see myself as that great preacher and teacher but if no one is willing to talk about the things I bring before them I don’t know if I learn or articulate my thoughts as well as I do banging on my keyboard trying to find the right words late into the night. We need each other. We need to ask each other questions, we need to find out why things feel a certain way and that only happens when we take what we’ve thought about alone into conversation with other people.

I remember back in college and grad school I would study with friends who were in in wildly different disciplines from me. We did it just to have that human presence across the table, even if we didn’t say much to each other. But every now and then one of us would have a breakthrough and start spouting off big points and exclaiming the pieces that had just fallen into place. And most of the time the other person would respond with something from their own discipline to say “I can say big words about stuff you don’t understand too.” But sometimes we would hear a version of the phrase, “Tell me more about that,” and we’d be off to the races. I lived for those moments because we got to build on a burst of an idea together. And I see that as a fundamental part of how I understand things now.

So I’m excited to be at EVO 2016. I’m here with thousands of other people and while I may not end up being in the top 8 at the end of the weekend, I’m with thousands of people who (whether they know it or not) are giving me opportunities to learn and grow. This is an opportunity of a lifetime to interact with people from all over the world brought together by these games, this community, and we can all leave better for it. And maybe I’ll figure out what it means to learn along the way.

Secret Project Episode 4

This week on Secret Project, Travis and Jeff discuss The Indigo Girls, 1 Kings, and examining our privilege as it relates to history.

Song this week: “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by the Indigo Girls

Join the conversation by following Jeff and Travis on Twitter at @jmesquire and @wtewton respectively or email us at secretprojectcast@gmail.com

As always, thank you to The Midnight Sons for our theme song “Variable” from their album Descartes.

Secret Project Podcast Episode 3

Sorry this is late! For some reason my brain said, “You know what you can probably do in the middle of the woods with limited internet while you’re in charge of almost 200 kids? Edit and upload a podcast!” Turns out I was wrong. 

This week on Secret Project, Jeff and Travis discuss Luke 7, Miguel, and how we define ourselves in light of something we have nothing to do with.

Scripture Luke 7:36-8:3
Soundtrack: “Adorn” by Miguel from the album Kaleidoscope Dreams

Thanks as always to The Midnight Sons for our theme song “Variable” from their album Descartes.

You can reach Jeff and Travis on Twitter @jmesquire and @wtewton respectively, or email us at secretprojectcast@gmail.com

Secret Project Episode 2

Welcome back to Secret Project! This time Travis and I are talking about Bob Marley, Luke 7, being hope rather than just talking about it, and what happens when helping does more harm than good.

  • Show Notes!
    • Our text for this episode is Luke 7:11-17
    • Travis’s music selection is Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry”
    • The book Travis mentions is Toxic Charity by Robert D Lupton
    • As always thank you to The Midnight Sons for our theme song “Variable” off their album Descartes
    • You can talk to us on Twitter! I’m @jmesquire and Travis is @wtewton. Or you can email us at secretprojectcast@gmail.com
    • Please note that we did the first 4 episodes all in one go so even if you have great ideas for us, unless it’s something I can do in post-prod, you won’t see the results of that until episode 5. Thanks for understanding!

Secret Project Episode 1

Welcome to Secret Project! It’s a podcast from myself and Travis Ewton about music, theology, and culture and the places they meet up.

Why Secret Project? Well there’s two reasons. The first is that I referred to this as Secret Project on social media because I have a bad habit of scheming and not actually making a thing and so I didn’t want to commit to an identity before I knew it was going to happen. The second is that when we sat down to record, Secret Project sounded to us like a band that would have toured with Minor Threat and that DIY ethos of getting a message out through music seemed like what we were trying to do with Secret Project so we stuck with it.

The goal is that we want to soundtrack the lectionary, to look at music and how it relates to scripture and more importantly, what conversations they inspire us to have about our culture.

Secret Project will normally release Tuesdays and Thursdays but after our initial recording session I worked on editing this one because I was super stoked about this and wanted to share it as soon as possible. So you get Tuesday’s Secret Project today and then we’ll get into our usual schedule. It’ll be hosted here on Irrational Confidence for a bit while we look into other hosting solutions.

I hope you enjoy Secret Project, and feel free to get with us on Twitter (@jmesquire and @wtewton) or email the show at secretprojectcast@gmail.com. Here’s the first episode!

Topics Discussed: 1 Kings 7:8-24, Kevin Abstract’s “ECHO” and handling grief.

Thanks as always to The Midnight Sons for our theme song “Variable” from their album Descartes