The tension of dependence vs. independence – How my worldview and career blend together

So false alarm…that is NOT going to be the name of this site. I’m choosing a different name, and the next good idea (of which, I have so few when it comes to naming) will result in another name change, for now. (I’m very open to suggestions!)


However, the reason I wanted to make this one blog post so centrally important is because, on some weird level, this one blog post is going to explain…… The way I see things. The way I do things. This blog post is going to explain two very core values of mine as to how I see the world. If you want to understand how I see the world (I know, I know, everybody ever wants to know how Carson Clews sees the world.) (I promise that was sarcasm, not arrogance), this blog post is basically handing you those “glasses” that I wear, in a sense.


First things first, I am an evangelical Christian, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ. My purpose in life is to glorify God. When I successfully act like Jesus, I want people to know who Jesus is and that His Spirit lives in me. When I fail to act like Jesus, I want people to know who He is and the grace He approaches me with when I fail.


Secondly, my chosen career, something I’m pretty passionate about: I am a taekwondo instructor with the ATA, and I really love martial arts and therefore I really want to teach people who also love martial arts.


Those two elements explain the direction I want my life to go.


Big sidenote: “What about your wife and kids, Carson? How dare you not mention them in the direction your life is going? I mean, I understand the Jesus being more important thing but are you saying that your career is more important than your wife and family?”

No. I buy into John Eldridge’s (author of “Wild at Heart”) teaching that my wife is my companion on this adventure. My wife is not the adventure itself.

But this is a sidenote here, so I will cover this in better detail in a separate blog post.


So I love Jesus, and I also love teaching martial arts.

Does anybody see a contradiction in those two, however? If you look right at the surface, you’ll see this one: “Didn’t Jesus teach people to turn the other cheek? Where does self-defense get into that?”

I will cover that one later, because there is a much deeper contradiction between those two.


What does God want me to be about?

Let’s keep Christianity as simple as possible: Anybody in a deistic faith (Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.) basically wants to do what God wants them to do. However, they believe different things about what God wants them to do.

Amongst themselves, I wouldn’t say that Christians widely disagree on what God wants…however, I would say that Christians seem to emphasize different things. Does God want me not to smoke? Does God want sexual purity? Does God want my church attendance?

Any Christian knows that what gets us in the door is faith. God wants us to believe in His Son, Jesus Christ. However, it is very easy for us to forget that faith is not just what gets us in the door, but how we are supposed to live our whole lives.

At first, we figure that faith means “belief”. But soon we learn that this definition is incomplete. The book of James teaches us that faith without works is dead. Yet, we also hear stories of Pharisees who did MANY actions in order to secure God’s nod of approval…and they didn’t get it. So God didn’t want just “belief.” He also doesn’t want just “actions”.

So we find a synonym for faith that fits the biblical examples given: Trust.

Or let us use another word: Dependence. If the trapeze artist is not willing to fall into the net, his actions reveal that he does not trust the net.

What God wants from me, in a nutshell, is for me to depend on him. And to teach others to do the same. Everything else He wants from me falls into that umbrella. And anything I do in which I don’t depend on Him is out of bounds concerning what He wants from me.


What is martial arts about?

Most people automatically say “self-defense!” But that’s too narrow. Most people know that there is more to martial arts than self-defense. But can all that martial arts is about be “rolled up” into one concept?

Actually, yes. Yes it can. In fact, before I was in taekwondo, this was one of the questions on the Instructor Certification test:

“What is the endgoal of all martial arts training?”

The answer? “To create an independent human being.” Every single thing that martial arts teaches can be tied into that one concept.

Will a person be okay if they cannot defend themselves? Yes…my daughter Alsea is doing just fine, and she doesn’t know self-defense. But that’s because we are here, ready to protect her. She cannot protect herself.

I, personally, do not have a gun. Fortunately, other people, police and military, are protecting me. Someone will be okay as long as someone else is ready to defend them. But what happens when we need to defend ourselves?

Will a person be okay if they are not self-disciplined? Yes…as long as there is someone there to discipline them. As long as mommy is there to get them out of bed and get them to school. But martial arts is meant to take those people and make them self-disciplined. To teach them self-defense. To build their self-confidence, as opposed to them needing to find their self-esteem in the eyes of others.


So now, we’ve found our contradiction:

  1. God wants me to be dependent on Him. (See Judges 7…the battle with the Midianites is a prime example of that. Emphasis on verse 2)
  2. Martial Arts training wants me to learn to be independent, and to teach others to do the same.


…so my whole mission in life, my whole direction, is a contradiction.
…or is it?


Continued next post

Freedom from Freedom: Freedom from discipline? Or freedom OF discipline?

As we continue to explore the “freedom from freedom” thesis…the idea that freedom is found when we give up our freedoms and freedom is lost when we cling to our freedoms, we are now going to step away from more personal topics (sexual morality, money, time) and more into interpersonal topics. I believe that the freedom from freedom concept strongly affects our relationships with others as well.

But we just have one more “personal” step to get us there…so let’s talk about this magic word: “Discipline.”

What do we mean when we say “discipline”?

As you know, I’m a martial arts instructor. Discipline is a big, big thing that we teach, that we are known for, and that people want to get out of martial arts. So let me clarify what I mean when I say discipline, and some things about it.

1.      In my vocabulary, “punishment” and “discipline” might be related, but they are not synonyms.

From the instructor/parent standpoint, I am going to put it like this. Discipline shall mean “the authority telling you to do something or making you do something.” Punishment means “the consequences for doing/not doing something.”

So if I tell a kid to stand still, that is “discipline.” If I sit a kid in time-out for talking in class, that is “punishment.”

So, punishment can be a tool for discipline, but often discipline can be done without punishment. A simple reminder can be discipline.

2.      The goal of all discipline is self-discipline.

So far, every parent I have talked to agrees with me: No parent wants to call their 25 year old offspring to remind them to brush their teeth. Disciplining others is a means to an end.

Now, yes, there are some parents out there who have difficulty with that phase where they can no longer tell their kids what to do (because their kids become adults). But that is about power, not about them wanting to discipline their kids.

3.      The simplest definition of discipline that I know of: Doing stuff you don’t want to do, and not doing stuff you want to do.

I have heard lots of definitions for discipline…but I find this one to be the most practical. So far, Sarah and I have never had to “discipline” Abrielle into eating ice cream. I have not had to “force myself” to eat a Super Star from Carl’s Jr. “Discipline” only really occurs when the object either doesn’t want to do something they should do (Like do their homework) or does want to do something they shouldn’t (like punch someone in the face).

Now that we have established what we mean by discipline, let’s plug the “freedom from freedom” concept back in.

Discipline produces discipline

“Every time you make a choice you are turning the central part of you, the part of you that chooses, into something a little different than it was before. And taking your life as a whole, with all your innumerable choices, all your life long you are slowly turning this central thing into a heavenly creature or a hellish creature: either into a creature that is in harmony with God, and with other creatures, and with itself, or else into one that is in a state of war and hatred with God, and with its fellow creatures, and with itself. To be the one kind of creature is heaven: that is, it is joy and peace and knowledge and power. To be the other means madness, horror, idiocy, rage, impotence, and eternal loneliness. Each of us at each moment is progressing to the one state of the other.”

-C.S. Lewis, “Mere Christianity”

I truly believe this, and I see it in myself and in others around me. Every small decision has momentum. A good decision makes the next good decision easier. A bad decision makes the next bad decision easier, and the next good decision harder.

Our bodies teach us this lesson…the more we exercise, the easier it gets to exercise. I believe that our brains and our hearts are the same way. I remember when getting 30 hours of work a week felt difficult. But when I end up working 50 hours a week, I get used to working 50 hours a week. I also notice that after a vacation, I have to “get” used to working again. You know the feeling?

I remember, as mentioned in some of my previous posts, how difficult it was to suddenly have only $40 of blow money a month, as opposed to usually having almost my whole paycheck at my disposal. That started out feeling very difficult. I am now used to it, and I feel good about succeeding in this discipline.

The point: Having to say “NO” to things is character-forming, and a lack of that experience often has very negative symptoms.

Exhibit A: Rulers throughout history, as well as present day politicians.

Remember the saying “Absolute power corrupts absolutely”? Remember, power and influence allows people to get “yeses” where others would get no’s. Chuck Colson (Former advisor to Richard Nixon, went to jail for those things, came to Christ, started a gigantic prison ministry and wrote books) spoke of his experiences watching hardcore religious leaders, men of faith, crumple before President Nixon, agreeing with whatever he said. Nixon had power and influence. He could get people to say yes whereas others would say no. Eventually he was caught for the Watergate scandal.

I remember watching an interview of President Clinton when New York Governor Eliot Spitzer was caught in 2008 for laundering money for prostitution. Clinton seemed very open and candid, explaining why these scandals happen with men in political power. “You start to feel untouchable, invincible, like you can do anything.” He remembered feeling that way with the Monica Lewinsky scandal and getting burned.

I think it’s pretty safe to say that, throughout history, this is more common than not in the world of political leaders. How often in history has the leader of a nation been clinically insane, yet became the leader of a nation (The Caesars? Hitler? Stalin? Certain European Kings?) Did the people deliberately put the crazy, controlling person in power (or leave them in power)? Or did they become crazy and controlling on the way there?


Exhibit B: Celebrities

Many are surprised at how often celebrities divorce. Unfortunately, I think it makes perfect sense: Two people who are used to getting their own way cannot possibly enjoy a healthy marriage together, unless the two of them always want the exact same thing at the exact same time.

Or let’s take a look at child celebrities as they grow up, and how they go haywire. Justin Beiber. Miley Cyrus. Lindsay Lohan. Brittney Spears. McCaulay Culken. “But Carson, that’s what many teenagers do as they become adults. Besides, they are just more televised.” Perhaps, but that high of a percentage? And that haywire/crazy? I know a lot of teenagers. I cannot say that the majority of them are committing felonies. I also knew a lot of people back in high school. But the majority of us turned out okay, with some bumps here and there. But celebrities? Holy crap…

Exhibit C: That spoiled kid you know.

I won’t even type right here. Just…insert any ranting you would like. I will even leave you lines. __________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

And then that kid had the audacity to_______________________________________________ ____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

Exhibit D: Parents. We will get to that one next post.

I have things that I want…and I mean really want. But I can’t plunk down the money for them. I got my Xbox One…but I still really want my own PS4. I want a tablet. I also want to replace my old iPod, a 60 GB one, which was stolen long ago. I also know that I cannot buy myself all of these things and then look at my wife and say “Look, honey! I got you a $10 Jamba Juice card!” If I get myself everything I want, I would have to get her things on her “uber” wish list.

But I have learned this: The fact that I have to say NO to these things right now is character building…and character lasts longer than stuff.

P.S. Am I against owning “stuff”? Am I against people getting what they want? Not at all. In fact, I fully acknowledge that I am a spoiled American…I get what I want far more often than most people get what they want. What I am pointing out is that when we get what we want, there are “discipline” pitfalls that must be watched out for. And I will cover that one next post as well.

I am all for “getting stuff.” But I am a staunch enemy of “discontentment.”

Phil 4:10-13 (NIV)

I rejoice greatly in the Lord that at last you have renewed your concern for me. Indeed, you have been concerned, but you had no opportunity to show it. 11 I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. 12 I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13 I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

“I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” is more than just an inspirational saying for Christian MMA athletes (Jon Jones is awesome, and I am a big fan of Benson Henderson). It is the secret for being content in all things.

And remember: It happens in every small decision.

Next post: “Relational” freedom.