In many ways, I’m an extremely predictable person. I always get the same kind of ice cream. Each restaurant has a single item I pick every time I’m there. I wear T-shirts that I’ve had since middle school. There are a couple thoughts and activities that consistently make me happy, a few that always calm me down, and some that stress me out no matter how often they cross my path. Like most people, I’ve changed a great deal over the years. But with the exception of a handful of unexpectedly transformative life events, my internal changes have felt slow, purposeful, and comprehensible. I don’t like uncertainty, and I work as hard as I can to reduce it to a manageable level. But in areas where the limits of my knowledge and ability to study fall short, I feel frustrated, lost, and afraid. Maybe that’s why the future, which is so frequently a source of inspiration and anticipation for me, has also always filled me with a vague gnawing undercurrent of fear that won’t go away.

I’ve heard that hope is something of an antidote to fear. For me, it at least mitigates some of the symptoms. In light of the stormy times that seem (to me) to be looming on the near horizon, I thought it would be good medicine to write about some of the things I’m most hoping for by the time I turn 50.

  • Family
    • Celebrating my 23rd wedding anniversary with Martha. I hope we can enjoy a happy breakfast, get to spend some quality time outdoors, and still love watching the sun go down together. I hope we’re still making new memories faster than the old ones fade away.
    • Hanging out with my people. I hope Mom & Dad McClurg, and Mom & Dad Harrouff will be pleasantly settled into being Grandparents McClurg & Harrouff. I hope that Jedidiah, Anna, Moriah, Micah, Jake, Jemmie, Ben, and Kate are still pursuing their passion. I hope that we all still love just spending an afternoon with each other.
    • Watching my own kids find their feet and voice as adults. I hope each one of them deeply wants to leave the world better than they found it. I hope they’re working at that with a will, and are finding joy in that work.
    • Serving God by helping others in work and down time. I hope I still can help out at my church, but I’m especially hopeful that I’ll have improved the service-to-selfishness ratio in my job and recreation. I’m definitely not close to being there yet, but by the time I’m 50, I hope my actions have grown to speak the love of God to my friends & coworkers in a way that Sunday service can’t.
  • Country
    • Positive structural changes with the collapse of the two-party system. I hope that the current dissatisfaction with the two major U.S. political parties continues to grow and their monopoly on our government offices is broken. I hope new parties with orthogonal goals fill the void, and the government is forced to undergo the structural changes it needs to unite a country without homogenizing it.
    • Widespread reform in “fundamentalist” Christian circles. I hope that the blatant hypocrisy, hate-mongering, and short sightedness displayed by some formerly well-respected Christian groups will cause a mass exodus from the stagnant, insular social communities that have developed around some churches. I am looking forward to the day when fundamentalist Christians point their ire in the right direction, upturn the structures of hate and fear, and pour out God’s love with all the energy of a megaphone preacher.
    • Social change through decentralized media. I hope that the Internet becomes the primary source of news for most people in this country. More than that, I hope that Internet news aggregators and search engines continue to become more in tune with with people’s long-term desires. We’ve gone from terrible flashing online ads to tailored search suggestions that actually help us find what we’re looking for. By the time I’m 50, I hope we’ve moved from an Internet economy based on “time spent online” to “life satisfaction from online time.” With that, the news that gets the most hits is going to be the news that helps us live better — not news that sensationalizes things or divides us.
  • World
    • Better technology and more resilient economies. I hope that driving to work is no longer a risky behavior. I hope that people don’t have to wait for heart transplants or need dialysis machines to stay alive. I hope we can look back and feel good about our progress toward taking care of our planet. I hope I get to use technologies I never could have dreamed of. I hope that all the global technological changes makes our economies more resilient to change. I hope that powerful people start spending less time manipulating financial markets, and more time working toward long term human goals.
    • Coming closer together. I hope an awareness with what is going on in other places continues to grow. I hope people from different cultures continue to talk to each other, and hash out their differences. I hope that the increasing interdependencies among different countries and companies and people help us see past the things that don’t matter. I hope the world is better prepared to interact peacefully without agreeing.
    • Cultural reform and improved human rights. The history of ethics isn’t something I pretend to know a lot about, but it seems like the persistent work of people trying to do good over the centuries has helped us “grow up” a little as a species. War and slavery aren’t everyday norms for everyone. Some marginalized communities have more power than they ever have before. We’ve a long way to go, to be sure, but I hope I can look back on some global ethical progress by the time I’m 50.

What I want in a relationship

At the time of writing, I am kind of freaking out. I’m going to ask my girlfriend Martha to marry me in just a few days, and while I’ve never been as sure about anything in my life, my mind is spinning with so many fears and ever-worsening worst-case scenarios. So, to try to reassure myself that this is the right decision, I’m trying to take a step back to write down the things I’d want in a relationship if I had to do it all over again.


Those of you who know me may remember that I previously held this idea that love was something akin to a skill — that the success of a relationship was less dependent on the specific people involved and instead was mostly just a function of their time, effort, and commitment. I still feel like the “make it work” mentality is an essential quality (see later!) because discipline is a big part of faithfulness. But, what I didn’t realize is that there really is such a thing as being head-over-heels for someone. It’s one thing to spend time with someone with the intellectual knowledge that “it’s important and meaningful.” It’s quite another to spend time with someone who makes you feel the way that John Keats did about the bright star of his own. I’ve had several deep, meaningful connections with friends, and even a bit of a romantic spark with a crush or two — but that kind of bowl-you-over, stars-in-the-eyes kind of magic has happened only once in my lifetime. It’s hard for me to imagine that happening again. It’s difficult for me to imagine it ever happening by chance. It’s impossible for me to imagine entering into a relationship without it — on both sides.


One of the most prominent features of that magic is that it feels like it’s ours, and ours alone. I never understood the use of possessive pronouns in relationships because I hadn’t ever been in one that I was so fully committed to. To call someone “mine” seemed overly constricting because I always had possessed the emotional strength to “move on,” should the situation call for it — and I felt like this freedom (on both sides) was very important somehow. What I didn’t know is that it’s possible to care about someone so much that this freedom “take it or leave it” seems like bondage compared to a life that is tied and committed to theirs. If the other person isn’t in the same boat — if her heartstrings are tangled up in someone else (or could easily become so in the future), that’s a terrifying situation to imagine. Yes, there’s a part of me that still doesn’t really like words like “mine” in juxtaposition with people, since God is the only one we truly belong to — but at the end of the day, the expression is an artfully concise way to reflect the reality that faithfulness is hugely important to long-term relationships. I can’t imagine myself giving my life to someone who wasn’t deeply faithful, not just in action but also in spirit. And by the same token, the incredible peace that comes from the confidence you are loved fully and completely by another is something for which I’d gladly trade (in a heartbeat!) the freedom to ever choose anyone else.


Maybe you’ll think I’m a hypocrite to care so much about communication, given how difficult it is sometimes to talk to me. But, one thing you’ll have to give me is that I try very very hard to live in an open and honest way. One of the reasons is that it’s almost impossible to gauge the private and easily-concealed things I care so much about, without an over-the-top commitment to communication. I don’t want a girl who tells me only what she thinks I need to know. One of the most hurtful things you can do to me is to intentionally keep me in the dark without letting me know why. I don’t want a girl who tells me only what I ask her about. Those of you who know me will remember that if a conversation’s direction is totally up to me, it will often snowball into a discussion of an increasingly general (and necessarily esoteric) nature — often exceeding beyond the bounds of what really matters in day-to-day life. I want a girl who knows her own mind, and tells it to me — whether I ask or not. I want a girl who is so used to honesty that she sometimes slips and tells me more than she intends. I want a girl who trusts me enough to tell me more than she’s comfortable with. There are few things I hate more than “keeping up appearances,” and it would be quite difficult could continue on with someone who crafted their words more for esteem or false-peace than (possibly difficult) truth. I think the right to privacy is hugely important, but I need someone who will give me the honor of knowing which thoughts are off limits and why. I don’t want someone who is “prudent” in the out-of-context Provs 10:19 sense, hiding their true thoughts and feelings behind a wall — be it one of deception, silence, or even misdirected politeness. I need someone who walks in the light and out in the open.


I need someone who is “righteous” in the in-context Provs 10 sense. Yes, I need someone whose spirit spills over in a way that I can know the very human soul beneath it all — but I also need someone who has goodness built into their core being. That order’s pretty tall, in no small part because it’s an extremely personal and difficult-to-define. Perhaps the best way to communicate the thought is through an analogy to running: In this world, there are runners, and there are those like myself who try hard to be. Whether it’s due to years of training, “good genes,” or a combination of the two, there are those among us to whom pacing and stride and breathing and form are like second nature. Those I call runners are perfectly in their element on a run, effortlessly channeling the spirit of the antelope. And then, there are those like myself. I’m a pretty determined guy. I can slog through the miles. But, it’s not where I’m most at home.

Likewise, there are those to whom moral excellence is so ingrained that goodness is what feels most natural. And there are also those like myself who lives in a constant and determined struggle to do what’s right. I realize we all struggle — even elite athletes have to work hard to stay in shape. Likewise, those who I would call “good” in this world need to be ever watchful to avoid complacency and hypocrisy. However, I couldn’t ever see myself seriously pursuing someone who I can’t look up to in a moral sense. I occasionally need a voice of intellectual reason — but I literally can’t live without a voice that continues to inspire and strengthen my desire to be good.


Sometimes, one is too close to the situation to understand it. For most people, it’s more difficult to see their own flaws than it is to see the flaws of others. For me, it’s also quite difficult to see my strengths. I need someone who can see the good in me that I can’t always see for myself. Those of you who know me well will understand what I’m talking about when I say that negative feelings toward myself have been a particular struggle for me, and someone who points out the good — both in life and in myself — is absolutely a must. I need an inspiration.

Love for others

I’ve always been pretty good at seeing the good in others. I truly do love and deeply care for the people in my life — but, I’ve also not been the greatest at staying in touch and keeping up with the people that I care so much about. Sometimes, I forget that just thinking about someone isn’t enough. You’ve got to spend time with them. Since I usually keep myself (too) busy, there’s always a valid excuse for holeing up in my room or office. And, since my tolerance for being alone is quite high, it’s easy for me to get into situations where I go for days and weeks without truly interacting with other humans. That’s not a good place to be for anyone — and it puts a huge damper on the God-given role to serve others. Being a part of people’s lives is something I genuinely enjoy when it’s not motivated by guilt (as sometimes happens when I let things go for too long). I need someone who understands that I often need non-social time to re-charge, but will also gently draw me out of the cave and into the lives of others, where I can make a difference for good.


Without going into the theological fine points, I need someone who is a Christian both in word and action. Someone who has a good intellectual understanding of the Bible, but who also lives like they believe it. I need someone to whom I will grow closer as a side-effect of setting my primary focus on glorifying God.

Bonus round

Love of family

Family is very important to me. It has been for my whole life so far, and it will continue to be for the rest of my life. If you have a strong dislike for my family, or there are severe unresolved problems in your family, or don’t want a family of your own some day, that’s going to be pretty difficult for me to deal with. By the same token, someone who is supportive of family is going to be quite a blessing in years to come.


I love learning. It’s one of my favorite things to do. If you love learning too, we’ll very probably get along. I love learning new things and I love explaining new things to others. I think we can have a lot of fun together if you like to tell me about some things I don’t know about, and like to hear some things that you don’t know about. A curious mind is quite alluring.

Outer beauty

Let’s face it. My eyes are biased. They like the way that some people look more than others. They like curly hair. They like the signs of physical fitness. They like green eyes. They like a graceful form. They like freckles. They like lots of other little particular things I don’t have time to mention now. If another human has any of those features, they’re going to be a little easier on these biased eyes.


I may have mentioned this before, in reference to my thoughts on physical beauty, but I go crazy for little quirks. If someone has a one-of-a-kind way of smiling or gesturing, or pronouncing words, or has a little shopping cart full of beanie babies in their living room. That, my friends, is a huge plus.

So, umm. Yes. That’s a pretty strong affirmation that Martha Harrouff is the right person for me. I knew this already. I’ve known it since shortly after we met. I just needed to remind myself of what I care about most, before putting everything on the line.

Update (July 8, 2015): SHE SAID YES!!!! I can’t even describe what I’m feeling now. It’s similar to happiness — but it’s so intense that I think I need a different word. So incredibly grateful that God led me to the best person (aside from God) who ever happened to me, and so incredibly humbled that she chose me.



Before I start off, let me just say that for every dumb behavior that’s stereotypically female, there are probably two stupid practices that are stereotypically male. Also, I fully realize that I’m not the one who stops the buck about what’s smart and what’s not. Furthermore, there’s plenty of room for discussion about who is to blame for initiating this little pet peeve of mine. So, feel free to comment with all the vim and vigor that you desire.

That being said, there’s an idiotic phrase that I’ve overheard at one time or another from probably over half of the women and girls I know. Normally, I’d pass it off as simply an unimaginative insult. The trouble is that it’s almost invariably placed solemnly at the end of a long list of grievances against another person — as if it were a statement that carried some sort kind of courtroom-level gravity.

“Besides, he/she isn’t even cute/pretty!”

This, my friends, is some nonsense1)For those of you who don’t know me very well, that’s one of the strongest negative words in my day-to-day vocabulary..

From here on out, you’re probably expecting the standard “beauty isn’t skin deep” sermon that you’ve all heard before. While an ugly spirit is way more of a turn-off to me than physical form ever could be, that’s for another post to talk about. Whatever lies beneath it, the skin’s what you see first, and that’s all that I’m going to be talking about here, when I’m addressing the stupidity of the afore-mentioned insult.

Maybe it’s just that I’m an outlier myself, and so I’m one of a small number of people who genuinely doesn’t find the “Hollywood” facial features or body type all that attractive. Maybe it’s just me and a few other folks who don’t have some monolithic idea of the “ideal man/woman” in mind, when we think of physical beauty. Maybe there aren’t that many people other than myself who find their heart totally skipping a beat at some weird little hand gesture, an odd crinkle of the nose, or a smile that wasn’t constructed in an operating room. Like I said, maybe. However, I like to think that the typical mental activity behind what’s drop-dead-gorgeous and what’s not-so-much is a complicated enough process that it’s literally impossible for there to be a standard definition of beauty — even on a per-person basis, much less in general!

That’s why it’s so dumb to insult the way a person looks, as if there’s any kind of standard to compare it to. You may be the only person in the world who has that opinion. If you’re not, it’s still likely that there’s a large segment of the population that would disagree. Sure, there can be statistical means — but who are you to say that’s the right metric to compare someone to? In fact, I’d reckon that the celebrities are all considered attractive, not because they’re anyone’s actual paragon of pretty, but simply because they’re considered “not bad” by such a large number of people. No one is pretty to everyone, but I’d guess that almost everyone is absolutely stunning to someone. And, before you think I’m being sappy, remember that I mean this in a strictly physical sense — not even considering the profound effects of personality, etc.

So, all that to say, I’m formally asking womankind (or at least the subset of it that needs to) to stop banging the word beauty around like some kind of gavel. It’s a too-individually-varying concept to carry any real weight of judgment. I don’t mind if you really feel the need to bad-talk someone every once in a while. However, please please please end your diatribe with something stronger and smarter than whether or not you fancy the way that person looks.

Notes   [ + ]

Real talk


“So… I met this girl.”



“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?”

“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”

“You’ll never believe what he said to me.”

“Can I get your advice on this situation?”

“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?”

The types of conversations that might follow above statements always seem to work out really well for me. Of course, by “really well,” I mean that people’s eyes rarely roll back in their head, and I don’t hear many audible sighs. There’s usually a reasonable degree of back-and-forth between me and the other person, and I walk away thinking that they enjoyed talking to me. I’m not a conversationalist by any means, but I can at least mimic one with some degree of competency if the situation calls for it. Because I seem to interpret the world differently than most people, talking with people I don’t know well takes a tremendous amount of internal processing. Not only must I understand their particular way of looking at things and to translate my ideas into that worldview, but I also have to simultaneously gauge the level of interest and disinterest in any ideas that I might bring up.

To give you a flavor of this process, let me narrate an example of the types of internal discussion that underly “conversation starters” like the ones listed in this post.

“So… I met this girl.” (I sense a really close connection with you, and want to talk about something important but highly personal, in order to communicate that I really appreciate the trusting bond that we share. It would be too weird to just come right out and say something like that. So, let’s talk about the feelings I have for someone else. To reiterate, I’d really prefer not to discuss these feelings because I can sort them out much better on my own. But, I’m “letting you in” now because I trust you and want you to trust me with things that are near and dear to your heart.)

“Remember when that hilarious thing happened to us?” (I’m have a painfully vivid memory of the event in question. Rather than having to re-live the situation alone, let’s do it with a friend — and try to cast the story into a new, better memory so that future flashbacks aren’t quite so distressing.)

“Did you hear about what happened to our mutual friend?”/”You’ll never believe what he said to me.” (You really enjoy talking about things like this, and I want you to enjoy talking to me. Even though I really could not care less about the situation, I also understand that I don’t have that “normal” of a brain. As such, it’s probably more practical for me to practice saying the kind of “nonsense” that you enjoy talking about than it is for me to try to interest you in the kind of “nonsense” that I enjoy talking about.)

“Can I get your advice on this situation?” (I’ve spent a great deal of time evaluating a number of solutions to the problem, and have even made most of the steps toward resolution. I’m including you because I think you are an intelligent, capable person. I want to give you a compliment, while getting a sanity check on my thought process.)

“I heard something about you. Can you tell me more about it?” (I shouldn’t have to explain this one, because it’s actually the only one in the list that is not hiding any complicated abstractions. However, I feel like most people view this kind of question as code for “I want to get one step closer to understanding who you are as a person.” First, I really do not like the phrase of “understanding someone.” It’s almost offensively presumptuous and is not at all the way I interpret relationships. I like “getting to know someone” a lot better, because it connotes a privilege, and an ever-adapting bond. Second, I am a genuinely curious person. I care about your research. I care about your extensive knowledge of 19th century dinnerware. I care about how that job interview went, and how your week went. I love that good knowledge!)

So, as much as people might be right in saying that I’m a poor communicator, it still really ticks me off — especially since I tend to put a considerable amount of effort into “boiling down” my actual thoughts and feelings into the commonly-accepted lingo. If I’m willing to do (or at least make a best-effort attempt at) this for everyone most of the time, it seems fair that others — especially those closest to me — ought to be willing, on occasion, to sift through some of my unfiltered and not-immediately-interesting ramblings, and share some of the burden of translating my thoughts into something they can appreciate.

Cash Money


I think that some people have way more money than one person could ever possibly need, but I seriously doubt that anyone has enough to make indiscriminate redistribution worthwhile in a meaningful sense.

For example, if you were to liquidate the total net worth of all of the world’s rich folks ($46 trillion), and distribute it to everyone living in poverty (3 billion), each person would get a one-time payment of around $15k. That might instantaneously change millions of peoples lives, but it would eventually trickle up again into the coffers of the people who control the structures that our society runs on, and I’d guess that there would be at least another 3 billion poor in just a few generations. It’s those structures that need to change, not the financial standing of the people controlling them.

I say that the best way for global positive change is for the average person to stop viewing wealthy people as resources to be mined by the government for extra cash, and instead to start viewing them as the guardians of our way of life. That, my friend, is a really stressful job, and for some people, those millions are all the compensation they’ll ever get — having sacrificed health, happiness, friends, and family in order to reach their position of influence. If rich folks were to tank their companies, or stop skillfully managing their assets, it would put a lot more than 3 billion in the poor house. What needs to happen is not to punish people for working hard, and gaining power. Instead, I think we ought to start thinking about ways to leverage more of these hard-working, influential people to create widespread change.

More than ever before, business owners are positioned to radically change the world in ways that the slow-acting, lowest-common-denominator policies that are indicative of large governments simply won’t do. I often wonder if our world would operate more ethically if corporate leaders caught a little less flack for “being too rich,” got a little more more respect for the societal good they do provide, and received a little bit more positive encouragement from “the common man” on ways to willingly use their power and influence for positive social change.

Kings can be loved by their subjects, if both are wise, kind, and just. Let’s keep talking to our government leaders about the issues we care about, but I think it would be a good idea to also start talking to our boss’ boss’ bosses!