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In defense of walking

Green Lake Park, Seattle. Image courtesy Wikipedia.

We took a walk around the neighborhood this morning. A short one — just me, Drea, and Jo in the stroller. But it made me realize that walks are something I’d like to do more often. Maybe you could chalk it up to a car-dependent culture, but I find a certain appeal in choosing a mode of transport that takes a little longer.

Besides the obvious health and environmental advantages to walking, it also forces you to enjoy your surroundings. I don’t notice the sounds of bugs and birds, or appreciate the natural shade of a tree when I’m driving. Walking reminds me that the world is a place to be enjoyed.

Why don’t Drea and I walk more often? We’ve taken similar walks down the street before (including one when Drea was full term and trying to literally walk herself into labor) but our neighborhood isn’t exactly “walkable”. There are plenty of sidewalks, but without any stores or restaurants within walking distance, there’s nowhere really to go. This is something I’d like to pay attention to when we purchase our next place.

We’re headed to the Pacific Northwest next week for vacation, my plans for which include a great deal of loafing around city parks. One I’m especially looking forward to exploring is Green Lake (pictured above), where the City of Seattle has recently refurbished a walking trail around the lake. I just love that — public funds allocated for public enjoyment of the outdoors. Maybe those tree-hugging hipsters are on to something.

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Filed under: Travel, , ,

Just clean up the damn spill

Image courtesy of NASA

Here’s my logic: if an oil company is engaged in off-shore drilling, surely they’d consider the possibility of accidents like the blowout on the Deepwater Horizon. Surely they’d see the potential dangers of drilling for oil under 5,000 feet of water. Surely they would have some sort of tested protocol or procedure to follow in a disaster scenario. Surely there would be a Plan B and Plan C in place in case those procedures failed.

Apparently not so with BP. Now six weeks after the spill, and with no end in sight to the gushing oil, BP’s inexcusable lack of preparedness is in plain view. In their exploration plan for this particular oil well, BP repeatedly asserted that “it was unlikely, or virtually impossible, for an accident to occur that would lead to a giant crude oil spill and serious damage to beaches, fish and mammals.” (Full story here.)

I might give BP a break if not for the company’s repeated attempts to convince the rest of us that it’s not a big deal — from CEO Hayward’s description of the spill as “relatively tiny” compared with the “very big ocean”, to instructing news media not to publish photos of dead animals. I’m compelled to wonder how they can expect to so brazenly B.S. people (what with these pesky viral videos and everything).

It’s one thing to have a freak accident, but it’s another to have a preventable tragedy that claims human lives, destroys a natural environment, and puts thousands of people out of work — all because of lack of corporate and social responsibility.

My plea to BP: Stop making excuses, stop downplaying this disaster’s severity, and clean up your damn spill.

Filed under: Current issues, , ,

Turns out my daughter is more important than the internet.

I know, right? Can we say “high maintenance”? Jeez louis.

Yep, my blogging consistency has plummeted recently, but hopefully you guys will cut me slack on account of being a new dad and all. I have priorities now, folks!

I imagine posting frequency will stay pretty scarce, but blogging is still on my radar. I’ve actually been thinking of a few blog changes I’d like to make:

I’d like to do more topic-specific posts — stuff that requires me to do some research (dare I say soul-searching?) as opposed to just rattling off my opinions. I feel pretty good about the topical posts I’ve done before, but I think there’s room for me to kick it up a notch in this area.

I’d also like to focus a little more on quality in general. Even in the just-for-fun-type posts, I want to put my best writing out there. I like blogging as a creative output, and I don’t want to half-ass it. If you’re going to do something, might as well do it well, right?

So here’s committing to cranking out some decent posts at least every couple weeks or so. Stay tuned!

Filed under: Blogging, Family

Water Walk

A few weeks ago, I came across some pictures of an event in Nashville called a Water Walk. It was organized by Blood:Water Mission, an organization that builds wells in Africa to alleviate the water crisis there. The idea behind this event seemed pretty cool:

From B:WM website:

From Dallas to Chicago, Phoenix to Nashville, Blood:Water supporters have had the opportunity literally walk a mile in someone else’s shoes.  These “Water Walks” have offered advocates an invitation to take part in one mile and back walks to collect water in their own cities. These walks are based on the recognition that every day, thousands of young Africans must hike miles a day just for access to water. Furthermore, children whose daily chore it is to collect water are often left with no time to attend school. On top of the heavy loads and certain risk of illness from drinking contaminated water, it is estimated that over 40 billion work and school hours are lost every year in Africa to the act of fetching clean drinking water.

By joining in solidarity with people in Africa, walking the distance to their nearest natural water source (like a pond or stream) and back to bring back water, people have walked for water so someone else won’t have to.  However small this gesture may be, for many it has been a galvanizing and implicating experience, bringing our understanding of our neighbor one mile closer and our love, perhaps, one mile stronger.

Anyhow, seeing the photos of the Nashville walk made me think it’d be cool to have one here in DC. So after a little email back-and-forth with the people at Blood:Water, we’re set to go to for a water walk in June! Should be pretty low-key, probably just a couple dozen or so folks. If you’re in the Washington, DC area, I hope you’ll join us!

Details:

  • Saturday, June 26, 2010
  • 6pm
  • National Sylvan Theater (15th and Independence SW)
  • More info at the Facebook event page

Filed under: Current issues, , , ,

Thoughts of a new dad

Five days after the birth of my first child seems like a good time to reflect on a few things.

First, the palpable beauty of new life. How amazing it is to consider that new life can simply be grown inside a mother, materializing from a few random cells into a full-fledged living person. It boggles my mind to consider that our Creator gives us, feeble and accident-prone humans, the ability to produce such masterpieces. My personal bias notwithstanding (she is my daughter), Jolie is the prettiest baby I have ever seen; I can hardly keep from staring at and studying her, completely captivated.

Equally amazing is the fact that Drea is literally keeping Jolie alive — the fact that her natural supply is the best possible nutrition for Jolie, inimitable even by the most carefully engineered baby formulas. If that’s not enough, Jolie is receiving immunities that will last her entire life, all in these first couple days of nursing. Simply incredible.

We had a great stay at Anne Arundel Hospital, and I have a greater appreciation for nurses, now knowing the amount of competence and energy their job requires, all while keeping a warm personality for their patients. I’ll look back on our hospital stay with fondness — especially the surreal, delirious feel of the nights, staggering half-awake across the hall to grab ice and juice for Drea as she nursed Jolie. We had a moderately steady stream of guests — not so many to make it overwhelming, but enough to keep boredom at bay. (Staying in a hospital for three days isn’t as exciting as one might think.) Thanks to everyone who took time to come see us!

Drea’s mom snapped this shot of Jolie, just a few hours old and before her first bath. Come on, does this kid look good or what?

Filed under: Family

Evangelism and making the sale

We watched the film The Big Kahuna a few nights ago, per my dad’s recommendation. Kevin Spacey and Danny DeVito play Larry and Phil, two seasoned marketing reps for an industrial lubricant distributor. They’re at a sales conference in Wichita with Bob — a young salesman and born-again Christian — under their wing. The goal of the conference, at least for Larry and Phil, is to snag the Big Kahuna, a potential client whose account could successfully clinch both their careers.

The movie is based off a play, so it takes place mostly in one location, the hotel room, and virtually every second is filled with dialogue. Through this we learn more about the lifestyle gaps between the three men — Bob with his conservative Baptist background, Phil (Spacey) with his business savvy and colorful language, and Phil (DeVito) who is a liaison of sorts between the two.

When Bob gets invited to a private party where he’s sure to get some face time with the Big Kahuna, Larry and Phil send him out with specific instructions on how to land the account. When Bob returns later, they are shocked to hear that instead of soliciting his business, Bob used the opportunity to “talk to him about Christ.”

Infuriated, Larry lambasts Bob for wasting such an opportunity; he’s particularly peeved over Bob’s use of “lead-ins” to guide the conversation toward religion. Bob defends his actions. To him, talking about Jesus is just as important as selling lubricant is to Larry. This comparison doesn’t fly with Larry, though, as he offers the following observation:

It doesn’t matter whether you’re selling Jesus or Buddha or civil rights or ‘How to Make Money in Real Estate With No Money Down’. That doesn’t make you a human being; it makes you a marketing rep. If you want to talk to somebody honestly, as a human being, ask him about his kids. Find out what his dreams are – just to find out, for no other reason. Because as soon as you lay your hands on a conversation to steer it, it’s not a conversation anymore; it’s a pitch. And you’re not a human being; you’re a marketing rep.

This, I think, is where Christians miss the point of sharing our faith with others, and it’s why I have a hard time with certain evangelism techniques. There’s one in particular that involves asking a series of predetermined questions with the goal of getting the person to admit that they can’t get to heaven with accepting Jesus.

I just get a weird feeling about it. I try to place myself in the other guy’s shoes and imagine what it would feel like to have a Christian use this technique on me. What would it be like to think you’re just having a normal conversation, and slowly realize you were being prepped for a sales pitch? Then, what are you supposed to say once the pitch has been made? “Well, you stumped me. I guess I’m a Christian now.”

I think I’d feel pretty disappointed, maybe in a sense even cheated, if this was really all the message of Jesus was about — if the beauty and significance of His life and death and resurrection could be reduced to a set of tenets to be objectively accepted or discarded.

What are your thoughts? What experiences have you had, either as a Christian sharing your faith, or a non-Christian being on the receiving end? What inherent differences exist between selling a product and “selling Jesus”? Is it appropriate to even make such a comparison?

Filed under: Faith, Movies, ,

Colts or Saints? Tell me who to root for!

Anyone who knows me could tell you I’m no sports fan. Acquiring the above Super Bowl graphic required me to visit the NFL website — I think for the first time in my life. I will, however, be watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, and I suspect it will be much more fun to watch if I care about who wins. Since I don’t know jack about either team playing (or, for that matter, the game of American football), I’m recruiting your help in telling me which team I should root for.

You don’t even have to be a sports fan to submit your preferred team. Reasons as lame as “the Colts’ colors are prettier” will be accepted. I literally have no standards.

I should say I’m slightly partial to the Saints, since New Orleans seems like a much more interesting town than Indianapolis. But again, my opinions are quite malleable here.

Who should I root for?

Filed under: Sports,

Nepotism

[nepuh-tiz-uhm]

n: patronage bestowed or favoritism shown on the basis of family relationship, as in business and politics

In that spirit, I’d like to promote the other Ackermann blogs that have recently materialized…

Abby Recently: My sister, the adventurous international traveler, is studying abroad in Leeds, England this semester. She started a blog to recount her experiences and all things European.

Vinny’s World: My dad just retired and is taking himself, my mom, and a beat up old Honda on a cross-country road trip. Myriad Bob Dylan quotes and probably some sarcastic commentary are sure to abound.

Go Ackermanns!

Filed under: Blogging, Family

27 million slaves

More children, women and men are held in slavery right now than over the course of the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade.

– International Justice Mission website

Drea and I have a friend from college who spent six months in the Philippines last year working with IJM, an organization that fights modern-day slavery. I had the privilege of being on Alan’s email list during the time he was there, and was more than once moved to tears from hearing about the horrible realities of slavery and child sex trade that are taking place in the Philippines. Alan was involved in some amazing work; he was able to use his previous business experience and education to help find employment and job training for women who’d been rescued out of slavery. He’s now back in the States, working towards a Masters in Public Administration so he can continue working in the human rights field. Alan is, quite frankly, the man.  His testimony for the Lord has been an extraordinary blessing to me, and has challenged me to become more informed about injustice in our world, and how my being a Christian has everything to do with it.

I mention all this because today is Human Trafficking Awareness Day. It’s true that there are 27 million women, men, and children — more than the entire trans-Atlantic slave trade — who are enslaved around the world right now.

Maybe even more horrifying than that statistic is the fact that many of us are more connected and complicit with human trafficking than we might realize. We endorse and sustain the practice of slavery by buying products from companies who use sweatshop labor or otherwise deny their employees the right to a fair wage, or even their personal freedom.

My understanding of human trafficking is unsophisticated at best, but I’m trying to learn more, particularly about what practical steps can be taken by us normal folks to put an end to it. President Obama has proclaimed January 2010 as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month. What better time than now to consider ways that you — and we — can help end an injustice that has gone on for far too long? Simple awareness is a great first step.

If you’re interested in digging a little deeper, I’d heartily recommend Eugene Cho’s blog, specifically these posts:

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I thought and re-thought about posting this today, based mainly on my desire for this blog not to become a place for guilt-mongering or excessive soap-boxing. (There’s enough of that out there already.) I know this is an uncomfortable topic, but I’m motivated/haunted by Desmond Tutu’s exhortation: “If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” I don’t take that to mean having to upend your entire lifestyle for the sake of supporting a cause; I think it just means knowing what side of history you stand on, and standing firm.

Filed under: Current issues, Faith, , , , , , , ,

Best book you read in 2009?

I had the chance to read so much good crap this year that I found it hard to choose just one book. So here are my top three, in no particular order…

•••

The White Tiger | Aravind Adiga

I found this book randomly searching the B&N site for fiction novels about India, as I’ve taken particular interest in the country over the past few years and wanted to learn more. (Poring over a Wikipedia page or a dusty tome of South Asian history probably would have done the trick, but this seemed more fun.) I think Aravind Adiga has unearthed a gold mine of meaningful perspectives and insights here. Balram, the main character who straddles the fence between the country’s dual worlds of destitution and privilege, can almost been seen, I think, as a personification of modern India. The complexity of his moral dilemmas make it impossible to jump to hasty conclusions about India’s societal problems, or what could be done to solve them. The emergence of a “New India” as portrayed in the book — the perpetual construction of American-style shopping malls in Delhi and the explosive growth of the outsourced IT support industry in Bangalore — invites concerned skepticism about such “advancements” and the non-monetary costs that might be associated with them. Ambivalence is everywhere in this book, even in Balram’s character. You can’t decide whether you’re rooting for him or not, as he simultaneously inhabits the roles of both whistle-blower and eager participant in India’s notoriously corrupt systems.

Amazon review:

A brutal view of India’s class struggles is cunningly presented in Adiga’s debut about a racist, homicidal chauffeur. Balram Halwai is from the Darkness, born where India’s downtrodden and unlucky are destined to rot. Balram manages to escape his village and move to Delhi after being hired as a driver for a rich landlord. Telling his story in retrospect, the novel is a piecemeal correspondence from Balram to the premier of China, who is expected to visit India and whom Balram believes could learn a lesson or two about India’s entrepreneurial underbelly. Adiga’s existential and crude prose animates the battle between India’s wealthy and poor as Balram suffers degrading treatment at the hands of his employers (or, more appropriately, masters). His personal fortunes and luck improve dramatically after he kills his boss and decamps for Bangalore. Balram is a clever and resourceful narrator with a witty and sarcastic edge that endears him to readers, even as he rails about corruption, allows himself to be defiled by his bosses, spews coarse invective and eventually profits from moral ambiguity and outright criminality. It’s the perfect antidote to lyrical India.

•••

The Great Divorce | C. S. Lewis

Three. That, I believe, is the number of times I’ve tried to read C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity and failed. Each time, I’ve been deterred by Lewis’ fondness for lofty English, not to mention those sentences that go on for half a page — the ones you have to re-read three or four times before understanding. But a few months back, I glanced through the copy of The Great Divorce that Drea was reading at the time. Noting it’s brevity and apparent readability, I decided to give it a shot, and couldn’t be happier I did.

This is an allegory of the afterlife, as the narrator travels (by bus of all things) through Hell and Heaven. Lewis uses some captivating imagery — a Grey Town whose inhabitants live a bored half-existence, and the High Countries (tourists welcome) where the textures are so real and the light so brilliant that most visitors don’t stay long on account of the acclimatization process. Probably the greatest argument Lewis makes throughout is the notion that our daily choices and struggles have more bearing on the afterlife than we realize. As important (if not more) as getting theology correct is how we treat others and respond to life’s everyday situations, as these behaviors indicate the heart’s deeper condition and the way we view God.

Amazon review:

The Great Divorce is C.S. Lewis’s Divine Comedy: the narrator bears strong resemblance to Lewis (by way of Dante); his Virgil is the fantasy writer George MacDonald; and upon boarding a bus in a nondescript neighborhood, the narrator is taken to Heaven and Hell. The book’s primary message is presented with almost oblique tidiness — “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.'” However, the narrator’s descriptions of sin and temptation will hit quite close to home for many readers. Lewis has a genius for describing the intricacies of vanity and self-deception, and this book is tremendously persistent in forcing its reader to consider the ultimate consequences of everyday pettiness.

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A Million Miles in a Thousand Years | Donald Miller

I’ve been a Miller fan since Blue Like Jazz, but this book has become my favorite of his. His evolution as a person and author are evident, as endearing honesty and quality storytelling abound; you know it’s going to be a great read within the first five pages. The witty, nonchalant feel of his other books is still present, but in a better way. He’s cohesive and organized in his exploration of “life as story”, and somehow makes the whole thing a lot of fun to read.

Amazon review:

Miller, the accidental memoirist who struck gold with the likable ramble Blue Like Jazz, writes about the challenges inherent in getting unstuck creatively and spiritually. After Jazz sold more than a million copies but his other books didn’t follow suit, he had a classic case of writer’s block. Two movie producers contacted him about creating a film out of his life, but Miller’s initial enthusiasm was dampened when they concluded that his real life needed doctoring lest it be too directionless for the screen. Real stories, he learned, require characters who suffer and overcome. In desultory fashion, Miller sets out to change his own life — to be the kind of guy who seeks out his father, chases the girl and undertakes a quest. Along the way, he comes to understand God as a master storyteller who doesn’t quite control where his characters are going. An unexpected bonus of this book is Miller’s insights into the writing process. Readers who loved Blue Like Jazz will find here a somewhat more mature Miller, still funny as hell but more concerned about making a difference in the world than in merely commenting on it.

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So those are my favorites. How about you?

Filed under: Books, , , , , ,