Becoming Human

At the end of this week I’ll say goodbye to my Washington University crew to begin a new adventure as a Senior WordPress Engineer for Human Made.

Working in the shadow of Brookings Hall for the past six years has been an absolute privilege. I’ve been fortunate to work on projects that have been both professionally and personally fulfilling. Most of all, I’m grateful for the colleagues who continue to inspire and challenge me and with whom I’ve become great friends. Keep an eye on that team—I’m confident they’ve got some tricks up their sleeves.

As hard as it is to close the book on my time at WashU, I’m thrilled to be starting a new chapter with Human Made. The team that Tom and Joe have built over the last several years is nothing short of extraordinary. When I found myself with the opportunity to work alongside and learn from the folks who are literally inventing the future of WordPress, I couldn’t pass it up.

I also plan to be even more deeply involved in the WordPress project than I have over the past few years. Democratizing publishing, in my view, is a mission that is as critical as ever. By sharing our stories—and being open to others when they share theirs—maybe we can all become a bit more human.

My Favorite Albums and Books in 2016

Another year is almost over, but not before recounting some of the best things I listened to and read this year.

Favorite Albums of 2016

Why albums and not songs? I’m not sure why, but I’ve always been more into albums than singles. I enjoy a full collection of songs from artists. Some things need not be questioned. Here are five of my favorites from this year in no particular order of importance.

Coloring Book – Chance The Rapper

Chance’s album is sure to be featured in many “best-of” lists this year. For me it was both a celebration of the magic of life and a lament for a world that is so obviously less than it should be. But David Dark sums this all up much better than I could, so just read him.

Blanco – David Bazan

David Bazan is a national treasure. We’re lucky to be alive while he’s here.

Real Emotion – Paper Route

This album is personal. Not just the writing, but because I’ve known 2/3 of this band for nearly half my life and shared some formative years trying to figure out how to make music that mattered together. For me, this album was an artistic triumph.

Choose Your Weapon – Hiatus Kaiyote

The whole vibe of this album is otherworldly. Such groove.

Spotify Sessions – Rayland Baxter

Something about this album stuck with me this year. The guitar playing, Americana, singer/songwriter vibe, laced with feelings of longing, nostalgia, and regret may just be my love language. And Rayland and his talented band deliver the goods on this live album.

Honorable Mention

Favorite Books of 2016

I keep finding that I end years without reading as many books as I would like. Even so, here are my favorites I read this year.

Hillbilly Elegy – J. D. Vance

Stating that this was one of the best books of the year borders on cliché, but here we are. Vance’s story touches on themes that I could easily identify in my own life and the life of my childhood friends.

Becoming Wise – Krista Tippett

If you’re not familiar with Krista’s podcast, On Being, then I suggest you remedy that situation quickly.

Life’s Too Short To Pretend You’re Not Religious – David Dark

Some will read the title and hope for a winsome attempt to evangelize the virtues of religion in an increasingly secular society. Others will read the title as yet another patronizing attempt at false equivalency by those who can’t come to grips with modern rationality. David Dark will have none of it. His suggestion that we pay close attention to what we pay attention to is one worth taking seriously.

View From Flyover Country – Sarah Kendzior

I’ve been a fan of Sarah’s writing since I first encountered it via a project I worked on at WashU. Seriously, follow everything she does and find ways to give her your money so she can do more of it.

Jayber Crow – Wendell Berry

This old book was recommended to me by my friends in Paper Route (see above). Could not recommend more.

Fin. Until the next year

Know of something that should have been on this list but wasn’t? I’m always happy to get suggestions.

Self-contradictory hungers

“I came into the world. Free by nature, in the image of God, I was nevertheless the prisoner of my own violence and my own selfishness, in the image of the world into which I was born. That world was the picture of Hell, full of men like myself, loving God, and yet hating him; born to love him, living instead in fear of hopeless self-contradictory hungers”

Thomas Merton

I had not seen this quote until Pope Francis included it in his speech to Congress yesterday. Regardless of religious belief, I think it’s easy to identify with the sentiment. As a parent, I see this play out in the lives of my girls daily.

In all things, trying to be intentional about choosing the better hungers is a noble aim. Thanks for the reminder, Pope.

Coach Welker

I would guess that almost everyone has a favorite teacher—an individual who impacted their life in a profound way. I’ve been fortunate to have several such teachers, but today my thoughts are on one in particular.

Jeff Welker was a high school history teacher and football coach. A man deeply dedicated to his profession and to the students for which he practiced his craft. He was passionate about American history and it showed in the way he was able to bring to life the lessons of the past.

His classroom was decorated with military paraphernalia, including an old artillery shell that he would drop on the desk of any unsuspecting student who made the mistake of falling asleep during one of his lectures. A rude awakening perhaps, but a powerful lesson about the importance of remaining present, mentally, in order to learn about the world around you.

That lesson about remaining present made a lasting impression on me as a 16 year old. Coach Welker didn’t just feed us historical facts from a textbook and expect us to memorize the names and dates contained within. Instead, he taught us to hold all the answers at arms length, to be present enough to examine each bit of information critically instead of accepting each as an infallible truth.

In short, he gave me the power to ask tough questions. And this power shook my mind with the impact of that old artillery shell, waking me from the slumber of adolescence to begin seeing the world through my own eyes.

Jeff Welker passed away yesterday in his home. Taken from this world earlier than anyone would have hoped. Even so, the impact that he had on the lives of countless students like myself continues to resonate as a living testimony to the gift his life was to his students. I am grateful to have been a recipient of that gift.