Friday, July 20, 2018

Life Advice From Gear Instruction Manuals

The outdoors is a place that builds character and teaches wisdom. We look to explorers and adventurers as heroes and role models. We seek out inspiring stories of endurance and triumph to glean insight about living on the edge and living life in general. But what if there is a source of wisdom right under our noses that we have been overlooking?

The other day I was reading through the owner's manual for several new items I had purchased for an upcoming backpacking trip abroad. I noticed some of the instructions pertained not only to my new gear but also more broadly to life. This gave me the idea to see how much life advice I might find in something as mundane as some owner's manuals. So I dug out a box where I kept old manuals and I found some genuine treasures!

"You are responsible for your own actions and decisions." Petzl ascender instruction manual. Printed in bold under a warning label this advice is a great reminder that we cannot blame anyone but ourselves for our failures or success. If you want something, stop complaining, take responsibility, and go get it!

"Use caution to prevent damage." -Yakama rack manual. This is a good bit of advice to remember from time to time. In outdoor adventures sports, we focus mostly on taking risks and pushing boundaries. Yakama's wise words are a reminder that we need to mix a bit of caution in with our risk-taking. Pushing the boundaries too far without caution is not bravery but folly. Calculated risk is the goal. Sometimes you need to wimp to wimp again.

"Understand and accept the risks involved." Petzl carabiner instruction manual. This is great advice from a company known for quality gear that helps manage risk in extreme environments. You can have the best gear in the world, but at the end of the day, it's up to you to use it right. So go out and do extreme things, but know what you're risking.

"Always hold bottle upright when drinking." - Katadyn water filter bottle instruction manual. These are timeless words of wisdom. They apply to every beverage at every time of day and especially when having a cold one.

"With frequent falls, a burly rope is important." - Mammut climbing rope manual. If there is one thing climbing teaches, it is that you must always get up again after a fall if you want to succeed. If you want to excel in doing hard things you need thick skin, a tough attitude, and a burly rope.

"The key to reducing condensation is ventilation." MSR tent manual. This is true literally and metaphorically. It is important to vent your tent and your stress. If you let condensation build too long without adequate ventilation you will end up a hot mess.

"Ride defensively; be prepared for all situations." - Trek bike owners manual. This is practical advice for every area of life, and especially for the road. No one else is going to watch out for you as well as you. Live life, and be prepared for anything!

"Relax." Gregory backpack fit guide. 'nuff said Gregory.

"Never paddle alone." - Dagger kayak owners manual. Great adventures are best shared with others.

"Do not wash your sandals in the dishwasher." - Chaco sandals care guide. You know the only reason they print this in the care guide is that someone wrote in trying to make a warranty claim after doing this. Never the less, it is good advice. Keep your dirty sandals away from the dishwasher. You eat off those dishes for Pete's sake.

"Well-loved sandals can accumulate dirt and debris." Chaco sandals care guide. A poetic reminder that any life worth living will likely include some bumps and bruises. Get out and experience life. You only get one, so why try to keep it pretty and clean.

"When navigating to a destination, point to your destination, regardless of the direction you are moving." - Garmin GPS user manual. These are words to live by. No matter what your current trajectory, always keep your eyes on your goals. If you stay focused on the destination and keep going you will get there in the end.

"Go for a run or ride." - Garmin GPS user manual. We can all use a reminder like this from time to time. Get out and enjoy the tranquility of the wind on your face. Sometimes you just need to leave life behind for a moment and enjoy the great outdoors.

"Never mix fresh and used batteries." - Princeton Tec headlamp instruction manual. This is a masterful reapplication of ancient wisdom for the 21st century. For example, Jesus said, “No one pours new wine into old wineskins.” Sometimes we are better off leaving the old behind completely in favor of the new.

"Give yourself a high five or a fist bump— but not both." - Big Agnes tent owners manual. If you accomplish a challenging task (like setting up a new tent), you should be proud. Just don’t let it go to your head. One could take this advice literally also. Give yourself a high five or fist bump when you complete something difficult, but don’t do both unless you want your friends to have another reason to think you’re weird.

"Ride in an unusual manner." - Trek bike owners manual. So true. Life is short, be unique. Don't let anyone shame you for being you.

Who knew gearheads were so philosophical!

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, July 13, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Addressing Diversity

At present there is a lot of talk in our culture about diversity. It is a buzz word that is cast around a lot in the news, on social media, and in conversations. It seems if you want your organization or institution to be seen as current and relevant than you should be actively pursuing ‘diversity’. What does that mean and is this something Christian groups and organizations should focus on?

Diversity is defined many ways depending on who you ask to define it. At the most basic level having diversity means having people from an array of backgrounds within your group or organization. It means the leaders and staff do not have the same upbringing. Their backgrounds may differ culturally, religiously, economically, or in other ways. It may also mean your group members have different backgrounds. 

The concept of raising awareness of diversity has been around for some time. As far back as at least the 1980’s work places and schools offered or required classes on cultural sensitivity. We live in a world where people migrate frequently and interacting and working along side someone of a different background is all but guaranteed. This topic often makes people cringe if only because they don’t want to sit through another mind numbing low budget film about the topic. It can also be a generally uncomfortable topic for many reasons. But as Christians it is a topic we must consider because we are tasked with taking the Gospel to a diverse world. 

The first step to addressing this topic is to remember that God’s people are extremely diverse. Jesus emphatically hammered a message of diversity into his proud disciples. His message was not only for the Jews but also the Gentiles. This was a hard lesson for them to learn. But we are now grateful they got the picture. It is also worth pointing out that the 12 disciples were a very diverse group. They all shared a similar cultural background but they came from vastly different economic, political, and religious backgrounds (various sects). 

The next step to understanding this topic is perhaps the hardest. If a person cannot take this step they will make it no farther and may become a barrier to increasing diversity and even to the mission of your group or organization. This step is to develop a sense of cultural humility. This can only be accomplished through prayer and soul searching. It is a long process that usually lasts a lifetime to fully develop. A simple acknowledgement that your personal culture or subculture is not superior to all others in every way is enough to begin with. Once you can admit this you can begin to have a conversation about diversity. 

One caveat is needed here. By admitting our culture/subculture is not necessarily superior to others we do not simultaneously concede the superiority of our doctrine or truth. Culture is a framework of tradition often built around a shared history and sometimes a shared body of truth. Culture is a set of attitudes and behaviors shared by a group. Culture could be seen as how we live out the truth we have. Simply count the numerous cultures that share the core teachings of Christianity and you will see this distinction. So we can discuss the diverse ways in which various cultures live out their beliefs or truths without immediately resorting to attacking and defending those beliefs or truths. 

Once a person can assume an attitude of cultural humility they can be open to discussing cultural differences. Discussion is the next and most important step of increasing diversity. This will inevitably lead to better understanding between all parties. Discussion may show that another culture simply does or sees things differently or perhaps does in fact have a better method of doing or of seeing something. We may also end up discussing points of truth upon which we differ. 

A better understanding of those who differ from us is the ultimate goal of the push for diversity. Improving your understanding of diverse people will aid your group or organization in carrying out its mission. All Christian groups and organizations seek to reach a wider audience with the Gospel. The most logical way to reach people with a different background or culture from your own is to talk with someone who has that background or culture. Bringing someone with that background into your organization or group means they are always present as a reference. And it means your target audience will see someone they can more easily identify with. Most importantly diversity within your group or organization is a reminder that God created diversity and it exists throughout the body of Christ.

We should not seek diversity simply because it is trendy. As Christians we should simply seek to understand more about those around us so that we can serve them better and more easily point them to Jesus. It may or may not be practical for your group or organization to seek to bring people from several different backgrounds on board. There may simply not be room. But you can certainly seek the perspective of diverse people about how you go about operations and fulfilling your mission. Seeking to bring at least one person of a different background can be beneficial because they will likely think about things in a different way and provide valuable insights. At the very least you should seek to be welcoming to a diverse audience. This will likely require some ‘market research’ to determine if the way things are done are off-putting or even offensive to others of a different background. 

You cannot seek to please everyone. But as Paul admonished, we Christians should seek to be all things to all people. It is our duty to nudge every person a little closer to Christ. We will not convert everyone to our brand of Christianity. But we should strive to show that Christ loves every person no matter how different they are from us. A bit of cultural humility and a lot of grace will go a long way toward achieving that goal. We must also remember that we are not perfect people, we are practice people. We are always practicing to be more like Christ. There is always something we can learn from someone no matter how different they are.

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, July 6, 2018

Skills: Avoiding Illness In The Backcountry

When traveling into the backcountry is it ok to leave behind hygiene practices along with other creature comforts? In some ways it may be ok (how many of us have picked up our food off the ground and eaten it while camping?) but it is inadvisable and certainly not wise. If you are on a one or two night campout with a few close people you may get away with poor hygiene practices. Good hygiene is the best way to avoid illness in the backcountry. No matter how many times you may have gotten away with poor hygiene, a single incident of backcountry "funk" is usually enough to make you want to avoid it a second time. Not to mention it can be life threatening at times! Here are some guidelines to avoiding illness in the backcountry (and front country too).

Avoid spreading germs: just as your mom, or other parent figure likely told you a hundred times growing up, wash your hands! 

Use biodegradable soap to wash your hands and dishes. Any sort of camp soap will do such as castile soap. It is better for the environment and your own health. Use antibacterial soaps and hand sanitizer sparingly. They are bad for the environment and your long term health according to recent research. Humans have used them so much some bacteria are becoming resistant to them and this is creating super-bugs. So use when necessary but use sparingly. 

Wash your dishes regularly. Many campers get lax and just rinse their dishes. This is the perfect way to breed bacteria and get sick. Use hot water and soap at least once a day on your dishes when possible. 

Only cook what you will eat. It is best not to save leftovers, they go bad quickly and will attract unwanted animals and bugs. If you have uneaten leftovers it is best to bury them well away from your campsite. 

Boil your water. You should always filter water collected in the back country as even “clean” sources can get contaminated. Simply bringing water to a rolling boil is enough to kill most everything including viruses which most water filters miss. If the water source is questionable keep the water at a rolling boil for 3-5 minutes. 

Do not share anything that touches your mouth. This includes eating utensils, drinking utensils, and lip balm among other things. Sharing these is the fastest way to spread sickness while recreating outdoors. A person can become contagious before they even feel symptomatic so following this rule is of utmost importance. When in a group, use serving utensils to dish out group food items. Never let anyone put their personal spoon or fork into the group food. Pour food into people’s hands instead of letting everyone stick their dirty hands into your bag of trail mix or other food. Never eat or drink after someone. And never use someone else’s lip balm. If borrowing lip balm is a necessity, rub the top layer off with a clean tissue but know this is only partially effective at reducing germs. 

Keep sick people away from the kitchen. They may feel up to helping but it’s just not worth the risk of spreading sickness. Delegate other non-food related tasks to them or just let them rest. Everyone will be grateful. 

Wash your body regularly. Medical experts recommend washing your hands multiple times per day, your face once per day, and your underarms and private areas every 1-3 days. This should be done with soap and water or wet wipes. A full body shower or bath is recommended whenever possible even if only a sponge bath. Remember, never use soap directly in the water source (i.e. lakes, rivers, waterfalls) as this is harmful to the water life and contaminates your drinking source. Dump soapy water 200 feet from bodies of water and bury if possible. 

Wash your clothes frequently. It is best to avoid wearing underclothes (clothes that touch the skin) for more than 2-3 days. Change to clean ones. If possible wash the dirty ones out with water and use soap if available. If water and/or soap are unavailable, turn clothes inside out and let them sit in the sun for several hours. At least 1-2 hours on each side will help kill some bacteria assuming you have good direct sunlight and are not too far north or south. Wind is also a plus to reduce smell. 

Be vigilant about keeping wounds and injuries clean. A simple scratch can lead to major complications in the backcountry if it gets infected. Keep all wounds cleaned regularly and covered. Use triple antibiotic to help control infections. Get some first aid training to learn more about this. 

Dispose of biodegradable waste in a sanitary manner. This includes human waste, food scraps, and toothpaste. The proper method is to bury this waste in a hole 8 inches deep and 6 inches wide. The hole should of be 200 feet or about 75 steps from any water sources. Be sure to cover the hole when done. 

Carry a few trash bags. Hauling out your trash is important for the environment. But you don’t want your trash to make you sick or get your gear dirty. It’s good to carry a few empty plastic grocery bags or freezer bags to put trash in. I find they have other good uses too. 

Maintain interpersonal hygiene by treating everyone in your group with respect and humility. When spending a lot of time with a small group of people in the outdoors, tempers can flair easily. Left unchecked this can create a toxic environment that can ruin a trip and possibly become life threatening if tension leads to poor decisions. It is best to smooth things over by talking through them, staying humble, and apologizing when needed. You are all in it together.

Learn more about this topic by following this link about preventing illness while camping from the Minnesota Department of Health. Following the principles of Leave No Trace will help maintain good hygiene. Learn more about the 7 principles of low impact camping at this link.

Written by David F. Garner
Photo credit: jackmac34 via

Friday, June 22, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Taking A Que From Nature

"Manage an organization as nature would: A) Show neither malice nor pity. B) Abhor a vacuum, whether of power or action." - Richard S. Sloma No-Nonsense Management

Nature offers many lessons on good leadership. One of the most important is never let emotion cloud your judgement and decisions. You must show equal impartiality to all those who you lead. Once you let emotion influence your judgement, it is extremely difficult to remove it again. Not only is it hard for you to change your thinking back to that of impartiality, but your followers will expect and try to pressure you to make emotional decisions that benefit them. Emotion is a powerful human factor that leads to bad and one-sided decisions. Followers look to you to make the hard decisions that are in everyone's best interest. You can and should express empathy and understanding, you aught to be polite and respectful, but at the end of the day, an emotional decision will always come back to bite.

Another lesson is to despise a vacuum. A gap in power or action leaves a dangerous space that can quickly cause trouble. When followers sense true weakness in their leader, someone is likely to take advantage of it. True power is not control, but strength. In nature, followers always favor the strong. For leaders, a power gap often comes when they are indecisive or neglect to enforce the rules. Nature is ALWAYS decisive and NEVER neglects the rules. Of course human rules can become outdated unlike the rules of nature. So a good leader knows when to break or ignore a rule, but this is rare, not the norm. And the decision to do so must be made emphatically and never based purely on emotion. A decision to break or ignore a rule should be fair and practical.

Inaction, or a gap in action, is likewise a bane to good leadership. Inaction by a leader is often a sign of weak leadership and leaves a power gap just waiting to be filled. Inaction on the part of followers should not be tolerated, especially when in regard to their duties. Nature shows little mercy to the lazy. When you sense inaction, intervene personally. This demonstrates power which motivates action. Create a reasonable timetable for the desired action to provide accountability. A general time of inaction with noting to do is also a concern. Boredom and inactivity are a recipe for trouble. This is especially true when working with youth and young people who typically do not have fully developed reasoning skills. Always be prepared with some easy ways to fill a void of inactive time.

A third lesson that nature teaches well is that change is inevitable. Change is often a good thing, although often uncomfortable. Nature holds the key to appropriate change. Most of the time it should be slow and incremental. Too slow and people will become complacent. Too fast and some may be left behind. Yet, sometimes rapid and drastic change is beneficial. Change should be expected by both leaders and followers. This is called flexibility. The more flexible you are to change the better leader you will be.

Lastly, promote growth. Nearly everything in nature promotes growth, even death. A good leader promotes the growth of their organization or group and also those they lead along with themselves. When followers understand that you desire their personal growth as well as that of your own or your organization's, they will willingly follow. You have given them a vested interest. At times a good leader no longer seeks their own growth but only that of others. In fact, this is the ultimate goal of leadership-- think wholly of the good and growth of those you lead. When focused on the growth of others you will inextricably be promoting your own growth and the growth of your organization or group.

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, June 15, 2018

Leadership Lesson Series: Humor

Before beginning the service, a pastor read aloud a note he’d been handed moments earlier. “It says here that I should announce that there will be no B.S. tomorrow morning,” he said. Smirking, he tucked the piece of paper into a pocket and added, “I’m hoping they mean ‘Bible Study.’” There are many leadership traits worth pursuing. One that should be at the top of your list is humor! This trait is often neglected or discounted by aspiring leaders. Many see humor as simply a hereditary characteristic, either you have it, or you don’t. Humor is in fact, a trait that can and should be developed.

Some people seem to be blessed with a great sense of humor. They are able to walk into any room and have all the occupants clutching their sides with laughter within minutes. Others seem to lack much of a sense of humor. But research has demonstrated that we can be taught humor.1 As children grow they learn about new types of humor and also how to make people laugh. Adults can learn humor too. Of course, some people will always be more funny than most of us. Variety is a good thing.

As a leader, humor is a tool. You do not have to be the funniest person you know. Simply knowing how to insert a joke like the one in the opening paragraph at the right time during a conversation makes the difference between a marginal leader, and a good leader. This will become apparent if you think back to all the great leaders you have admired. Some mistakenly equate humor with weakness or foolishness. Certainly, too much humor and clowning around is a barrier to good leadership. There is a time for such excess mirth. But a good leader is one that knows when to use humor and how much is appropriate. How can you learn to use humor?

Humor is a type of communication. As with all forms of communication, it is not an easy skill to master for most. This is because humor is more of an art form than anything else. It requires practice and time. It will also require trial and error. The key to successful humor is to never offend. It is better to neglect humor than to cause offense. If you accidentally do offend someone, correct your mistake by humbly apologizing as soon as possible. Offenses can usually be avoided with a bit of homework. Listen to conversations around you. Learn from other’s humor. Learn what hurts other’s feelings and avoid those remarks. This is especially important when you are working among a culture that is not very familiar to you!

A great way to begin to use humor as a tool in leadership is to borrow jokes. When you hear one that makes others laugh, write it down and memorize it. One of the greatest comedians of the 20th century, Phillis Diller, had several file cabinets of hundreds of jokes she used regularly! Humor does not have to be original, in fact, it very rarely is truly original. The key is to repeat a joke in new company, and don’t repeat it in the same company for some time. If you heard a joke at the store, then it is easy to repeat it at work (assuming it is appropriate). Avoid repeating the same joke too often or with in the same company as it will likely not be as funny the second or third time around. It is also useful to modify a joke slightly to new circumstances. This keeps it fresh.

In leadership, humor becomes a tool when used at the right time. Cracking a mildly funny joke to break the tension in a heated conversation is a priceless ability. A few punch lines or funny stories inserted into an otherwise boring talk or sermon will help keep your audience interested. A bit of self-deprecating humor goes a long way to earn the trust of new acquaintances, especially those who are your new subordinates. It can express humility. Sarcasm can be funny at times, but it should be used modestly, or it becomes grating. Exaggeration is another humor technique. It is also best used in moderation.

Wit is perhaps the best type of humor to use as a leader. It demonstrates creativity and deep thinking. It can also be one of the most difficult types of humor to learn. It requires spontaneity, which does not come easy for many leaders. To improve your wittiness, you must first convince yourself it is something you can learn! Next you must be patient. Wit takes practice to master. If you are a shy leader, engage in conversation, focus on what makes different people laugh. Most importantly, discover what makes you laugh. What type of humor do you enjoy. If you find something funny, there are bound to be others who will find it funny too. Analyze your own conversations to distinguish what types of things you say that make others laugh.

I have observed in religious circles humor can sometimes be looked upon as unwelcome or even ungodly. This I think is unbiblical. Jesus himself used humor in his public ministry. If you have never laughed when reading the Bible than you are reading it wrong. God invented humor! Just look at creation, how many animals have you seen that make you laugh aloud? Social media is full of videos of cute animals doing silly things! King Solomon wisely proclaimed the benefits of a merry heart when he said it is a fantastic medicine (Proverbs 17:22). Humor always brings cheer and makes your heart merry! Jesus is not just a powerful God to fear, he is also a friend who wants to engage in every aspect of our life, including laughter!

Laughter has many benefits including reducing stress and increasing the interpersonal bonds among all those who share it. Two key goals of any leader. Some leaders mistakenly relegate humor to certain times or places and leave no room for it when getting “down to business.” Good leaders understand that a bit of humor allowed even while conducting “business” will improve attitudes and increase productivity. It will improve your appearance as a leader and others confidence in your ability. A good sense of humor will help reduce burnout and increase the likelihood people want to keep you in a leadership position.

Whether you feel your sense of humor is already good or quite lacking, it is time you seek to improve it and learn to use it more effectively. Seek to implement the tips above and read more about developing a good sense of humor. You may even find it useful to get instruction through a humor class. An effective leader will employ humor more than harshness. Grow your own sense of humor as a leadership trait and pray that God will give you the wisdom and ability to do so. Seek to discover how God uses humor throughout the Bible. A good leader enjoys laughter. As famous comedian Bob Newhart said, “People with a sense of humor tend to be less egocentric and more realistic in their view of the world and more humble in moments of success and less defeated in times of travail.”


1. Jen Kim. Can You Teach Someone to Be Funny? (Nov. 16, 2016). Psychology Today. Accessed March 10, 2018 from

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, June 8, 2018

Evolution and God Discussion Questions: Faith and Science Resources

As we move farther into the 21st century, more and more people in the United States are moving away from their faith, especially in the God of the Bible. It is up to the leaders in the church to help stem this tide. Those in youth ministry have the greatest opportunity because younger generations are leaving churches the fastest. But for many church leaders, discussing topics of science can seem overwhelming.

Feeling overwhelmed is understandable. After all, the fields of science are vast, complex (with many large words), and ever changing. But a scientific degree is not necessary to talk about the relationship of God and modern science. In my own experience, it is mostly those trained in science participating in this discussion, which makes it decidedly one-sided. More church leaders need to be engaged in this discussion because scientists often only have a cursory knowledge of the Bible and principles of its interpretation. Youth and young people often hear one side of the debate taught at school. At church they have the opportunity to hear another side, but too often church leaders are silent, choosing to not engage rather than risk appearing foolish.

The discussion between faith in God and science does not have to be limited to debating the latest scientific studies. It should rather begin at a broader level of worldviews, definitions, and philosophy. These are topics many church leaders are trained in. Resources are also key. Good resources will enable all church leaders, including lay leaders, to have a reasoned and thought provoking discussion about the relationship between faith and science.

It is key to remember that you do not have to "prove" the issue in one discussion. To expect that would be overly presumptuous. The topics of evolution vs. creation or faith vs. science are too big and complex to "prove" or "disprove" that quickly. The goal is to have an open discussion that gets people thinking. A discussion can help participants see that science has not, in fact, utterly rendered all faith obsolete.

In a recent Scientific American blog article, Christian mathematician of Oxford University John Lennox wrote, "All scientists presuppose and therefore have faith in the rational intelligibility of the universe. Einstein could not have been a scientist without this faith."1 There are still many superb scientists who take their faith in God seriously. And they frequently point out that some measure of faith is necessary for whatever you believe.

It is important to discuss the topic of faith and science and how they relate in church. Church leaders are in a great position to do so. All they need is a little faith and some quality resources. Here is a great and FREE resource to use in starting a discussion about the relation of faith and science titled, "God and Darwin: Are They Compatible?" which can be found here. It offers several discussion questions and and helps guide the discussion.  Find more resources we recommend at this link!

1. John Horgan. "Can Faith and Science Coexist? Mathematician and Christian John Lennox Responds." (March 1, 2015). Scientific American. Retrieved on Feb. 1, 2018 from

Written by David F. Garner

Friday, June 1, 2018

O God, This Precious Earth Thou Gave


O God, This Precious Earth Thou Gave 

O God, this precious Earth Thou gave 
To us to hold for Thee; 
Thou gave to us dominion over 
Land and over sea; 
Thou gave us mighty power over 
Creatures great and small; 
The Earth: we are responsible 
For caring for it all. 

But when we look around we find 
Our damage everywhere; 
The robins and the sparrows must 
Fly through polluted air; 
The rolling rivers have become 
Awash with our debris; 
The oceans slowly fill with trash 
Far as the eye can see.

The creatures once so plentiful 
Can scarcely now be seen; 
The forests are depleted now 
That once were strong and green; 
Where fish by hundreds once did swim 
In rivers pure and clear, 
The rivers now are toxic gray, 
And fish do not appear. 

Forgive us, God, for what we did 
 In carelessness and haste; 
We never did intend to cause 
Such damage and such waste; 
So as in sorrow we repent, 
We ask on bended knee 
To give us, God, the strength now to 
Restore the Earth for Thee. 


by William E. McGinnis

Photo Credit: aamiraimer via