I dreamed I saw Mark Olson last night at a gas station somewhere in the American southwest. I was riding my bike again, no specific route, but I had started in Chicago and I was on my way. I was very happy.
It’s incredible to me how much of an influence the weather has on my mood, nay, my happiness. I think that’s a fairly normal thing, having one’s mood dictated by weather. But I think it’s amplified with me. Luckily for me, my favorite season is nearly upon us in full swing. And I’m itching to get out of this city with all of its traffic and cement.
There’s something wonderfully solemn about fall and it’s what makes me love it so much. I have no idea how to describe how I feel about brown leaves without getting bogged down in cliche, so I’ll just spare you and move on.
I’ve started designing a new bike odyssey. I want to ride through monument valley, head north, riding up and down the rockies in Colorado and Wyoming, through Grand Teton National Park, into Yellowstone, and then see where I end up. I want to start in late summer or early fall and finish whenever I got too cold. I’d do it unsupported again but without a pre-planned route this time.
Or I want to ride through Wisconsin and into the UP at this time of year. But I’m out of shape and overcommitted right now so I’d settle for a nice 8 hour drive and weekend of camping. In fact, that sounds perfect. Alas, I’m getting about 20 hours a week at REI (which I enjoy). So, for the moment, my enthusiasm for the chill in the air is going to have to find some expression here… somehow.
I’m going to be out in Pennsylvania for Fall Break in a little over a week. I hope that gives me a good fix.
I’m getting close to graduation and that means I should probably start to seriously think about what the heck I’m going to do come May. Well, come April actually (our lease is up at the end of April). I used to be sure that I would live in a city somewhere. I felt a sense of duty to be near the most human need, to not separate myself from suffering. And I still do feel that pull, but I feel the pull to live somewhere secluded maybe just as much or a little more.
I want to live somewhere deep in a forest. I want to design and build a small house. In my environmental science class we’ve been talking about ways to cut household energy costs. We’re talking about renewable energy sources and small scale heating and cooling solutions that work well for a modest house and are easy on the environment (wood fired heating, ground water cooling, radiant energy, solar, wind, etc.). I’m thoroughly ashamed of the fact that I live in a country that makes up just 5% of the world’s population yet uses 25% of its resources.
I’m considering buying a terrapass. This company helps you calculate your carbon footprint and then takes your money and invests it in renewable energy sources and other “green” projects that offset your footprint. It’s an idea that I like a lot.
As for a professional choice, I don’t quite have as many ideas in that department. Sometimes I wish I’d gone to a school that offered some kind of specialized degree in forestry or wildlife management. But, I definitely don’t regret choosing North Park. It’s been incredibly formative in my life in ways that I certainly wouldn’t have gotten anywhere else.
If the whole smoky the bear thing doesn’t work out, I’m thinking about looking into graduate programs in global humanitarian aid. I would love to find a school that offered courses on the hunger crisis. I’m more interested in the NGO aspect of it than the political, so we’ll see if anything like that is out there.
Short term goal: go outside.
Long term goals: figure out my life, go outside
I’m not sure if anyone still reads this, but I think I’m going to start using it again regardless.
Well, one week into my senior year, it’s hard to get a feel for what new routines I’ll have to settle into. I know it’s just the first week, but I can’t help feeling like this is going to be an easy semester… compared to the summer anyway.
I’m living in a third floor apartment on the corner of Troy and Ainslie, a block or so off campus to the east. My decision to move off campus last year was a pretty easy one. Honestly, I was tired of living in the campus bubble. It seemed like North Parkers loved to talk about community and being an intentionally urban campus (so to speak). But it rings a bit false when it comes out that none of us know a single name of anyone who lives in the neighborhood.
So, Pete and I decided to move. We had grand visions of throwing parties in our apartment and inviting the stairwell. We were excited about knowing the names and stories of all our guests, playing with their children, and maybe being a part of a community a bit more typical of Chicago.
Now, I know it’s only a week into this thing for me, but it’s not going too well. My warm “good mornings” and enthusiastic hellos are rarely met with even a glance in return. The adults probably think I’m crazy or suspicious or something. The kids are the only ones who do much more than acknowledge my presence and I have fun kicking their soccer ball around with them for a moment or two before I feel like a creep and decide to continue on my way.
There’s a church on the corner north of me that has services in Spanish that I was thinking of attending. But is it weird to go to church just to meet people?
I spent some time in Logan Square tonight. There are so many beautiful people riding around on beautiful bikes. Everywhere you look there’s another indie kid with some sweet 70’s ride and it’s hard for me not to immediately wish i lived the 3 miles south of Albany Park, nearer to these people, my age, my race, with my interests perhaps. But I don’t actually want that. I like Albany Park. It’s an incredibly diverse area and my building is no exception. There is a lot of suffering here and I feel it in waves. There have been two 16 year olds killed on this street in the past 2 years (those are only the ones I know of). I heard gunshots in the distance last night. It’s doesn’t make me afraid, just sad. And I don’t want to be in a place where I can ignore things like that. So Albany Park it is.
But what good does it do to recognize pain if you aren’t responding to it? This is my conundrum. I feel woefully unprepared for building community. Off campus, nobody’s pushing the “campus to community” agenda or leaving their doors open for passers by to stop in and say hello. The real world is nothing like that and I feel lost in what I just jumped into.
I got a job at REI, selling things. I hope I don’t lose my soul.
I’m back and this sums it up:
I think we should cut the flag poles in half.
That way, we can mourn but still have some sense of
We haven’t used the top halves in years anyway.
What with so many cyclones, and earthquakes,
Tsunamis, wars, famines, and
High gas prices
Going on all the time.
I watched a show on the history channel tonight about locusts. It was absolutely horrifying. I wanted to stop watching, but I couldn’t. It blew my mind to see clouds of locusts, bringing instant famine wherever they decide to land by whatever random hand sets them down. Did you know that in 1874, a cloud of locusts covered 198,000 square miles of the western United States? That’s an estimated 12.5 trillion locusts. They blacked out the sun for days. That has to be the scariest thing I’ve ever heard of.
And they had all of this home video footage of locusts swarming fields in Africa and India and I got really tense watching all of this, worrying about food supplies and just how many people would die because of these stupid bugs. People for bugs. It’s maddening to think about.
Then I watched this show about earthquakes. They talked about this phenomenon called “earthquake lights” that occurs in the sky before, during, and/or after an earthquake. Lots of scientists doubted that it actually occurs until recently when they caught it on video. I looked it up on youtube and sure enough, there’s footage of these lights above Peru last year. The video is one of the eeriest things I’ve ever seen. People are huddled around in the street, marveling at the beautiful blue lights in the sky. Tranquilo, tranquilo. Calm down, calm down. There’s nervous laughter and oohs and ahhs. I can’t understand the spanish enough to know if the video is from before or after the quake. But imagine standing in the street staring at those lights. And then the earth begins to shake. It shook for 3 minutes, a magnitude 8.0 quake, killing over 500 people that night. And then there were the tsunami warnings. I can’t wrap my mind around those three minutes of terror followed by hours of waiting for a giant wave to wipe me and my town off the map. All the while, there are beautiful lights dancing on the sky above the suffering. The blue lights flash for a moment, just long enough to light up the roads, revealing the terrible scene all around: bodies and debris. And then the lights disappear again and there’s just darkness and fear.
I’ve don’t think I’ve ever been in a real situation of fear before (fear for my life). I’ve had plenty of moments when I knew I should be afraid but for whatever reason, it just didn’t click in. But I’ve never had a moment of complete vulnerability like being at the mercy of an earthquake in the darkness, or like being covered by a cloud of famine.
But it’s happening everyday. There’s the cyclone in Myanmar and just yesterday an earthquake killed 13,000+ people in China! It’s these kinds of things that make no sense to me. With man-made problems, I at least feel like I can identify a culprit (usually myself) and do something to address the root of the problem and make sure it happens less often in the future (theoretically anyway, efficacy and hope are completely different conversations). I can theoretically scratch problems of extreme wealth inequality, for example, by supporting things like micro-loans, debt forgiveness, fair trade policies, etc. But I can’t stop earthquakes and I can’t figure out who to blame.
And I suppose the point of this is that I just feel like a locust, waiting to be stepped on.
I went to the UMIN leaders end of the year banquet tonight. It’s essentially a giant feast, held downtown at this place called FoodLife (basically an enormous all you can eat food court with enormous portions). I have a number of friends who look forward to this all year, so I decided to go.
There was much to celebrate tonight because I believe in North Park’s University Ministries department and the people who work there. The Christian community I’ve experienced there has been challenging and wholistic, accepting and formational. It is a community that I am proud of and it was a good thing to celebrate the year with so many good people.
But when I was there something just didn’t sit right. There were a number of times when I just felt a great weight on me, something pressing down on my back as I walked and my legs as I sat. It wasn’t so much the gluttony of the party because I’m all for a good celebratory feast now and then. Nor was it even the huge amounts of wasted food.
But I walked in circles around the dimly lit cafeteria floor beneath spotlighted restaurants, cooks simmering stir fry, steam rushing up and teryaki in my nose. I paced the floor, undecided and wandering. Thai food or pasta? Baked potatoes, recommended to me, or the pizza? The more I walked, the more unsettled I got and the more it hurt.
And as the speakers stood up to give their thanks to the leaders for their year of work, I was thankful when Judy finally asked us to bow our heads to pray so that I could hide my knotted face behind my hands and take a deep breath, slowly letting out emotion that I hated feeling. People are starving in this very city while we feast. People will be struggling to scrape together bus fare while I ride my shiny new bike across America this summer, all expenses paid. Children are gunned down and mothers have no consolation while I park my car under security cameras.
There is disparity and there is a gap that I’ve fallen into and can’t get out of. There are the rich and the comfortable and the feasting and the jubilant. And there is the chasm and there are the people who hassle me on the way back to the subway and those asleep on the subway who have given up asking and resigned to a hard plastic chair as a mattress. And I feel this gap more and more. No longer is it just something that I see and that angers me but I feel it and its a painful gash and it’s a wound that stings.
Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”
The Parable of the Great Banquet
When one of those at the table with him heard this, he said to Jesus, “Blessed is the man who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God.”
Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’
“But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’
“Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’
“Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’
“The servant came back and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and ordered his servant, ‘Go out quickly into the streets and alleys of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind and the lame.’
” ‘Sir,’ the servant said, ‘what you ordered has been done, but there is still room.’
“Then the master told his servant, ‘Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full. I tell you, not one of those men who were invited will get a taste of my banquet.’ ”
The parable kept bouncing around in my head as I looked around the room of college kids. Where are the poor? Where are the outcast? Where are the hungry? I found out that there were extra wristbands to the event, so I called a homeless friend. Bob came over a little after that and he joined the feast with us. We laughed together and old friends were reunited in that room. We joked and ate and celebrated a table where we were equal for a moment and where we were the same and where we could celebrate with one another. And I could breathe and I could relax and rest because for the first time I found something at the party that I believed i
People told me that I did a wonderful thing by inviting him over. People tell me I’m such an example. But they’re wrong. It was nothing extraordinary but simply something that I needed. It was something that felt right. It was the only thing that felt right.
I long for a day when inviting a homeless man to a feast is not noteworthy, but simply normal.
The point I’m trying to make has very little to do with tonight’s party. I’m not advocating some kind of homeless quota every time two or more are gathered. But tonight did get me thinking about how we do ministry, because I don’t want to live in a world where we have charity and then we have our normal lives. Friday Night Homeless Ministries has been a wonderful presence in my life these past three years, and it was there that I met Bob. But if I’m serious about loving the people I meet on these streets, I cannot in good conscience celebrate something in my life without their presence. I cannot feast while they starve. Because when I begin to know and love Bob, I need to know that he is not a partitioned-off section of my life but a companion in my life. Sure, there are a thousand parts of our relationship that I wish were different and sure, our relationship may simply be me listening and laughing to the same repeated stories. But I want those stories to be told next to mine. I want the names of the poor to be on my lips and not unknown, sleeping on trains
Because parties are so much better when there’s something truly beautiful to celebrate. See, there’s a kingdom to celebrate and it’s a kingdom that is infinitely more inclusive than I can imagine. Invite the poor, because they’re beautiful. Invite the rich, because they have so much to give and so much to learn. Invite the black. Invite the white. Invite the gay and invite the straight. Invite the slave and the free, the Republican and the Democrat. Because there’s a kingdom to celebrate, and I want to get to it. Because it’s really painful to mourn this gap and I’m not sure how much longer I’ll be able to do it, for I am tired. And because the kingdom is worth celebrating.
I’m scratching you out
Yes, I’m scratching you out.
mountains and rivers, capped interstates nine.
problems and detours, 50 miles a tune.
fire alarms with a sensitive eye
And a watch timed so perfectly,
hands pointing my way.
So I’m scratching you out
Yes. I’m scratching you out.
And a cadence won’t sound when
we’re free of this doubt.
Assuming I get there, no tendons
Tonight in CollegeLife I was asked to give a reflection on Rich Johnson’s message from last week. Here’s what I said:
I went to Africa to see suffering. I went to Zambia last summer to witness the pain that I’d always just heard about and had every option to ignore. And I saw it in the pauper’s graveyard on a hillside outside of Ndola where men work full time with heavy pickaxes, digging graves for the procession of funerals that are conducted there every day. It was hot, and our little North Park mission trip team sweated in the sun and the awkwardness of our presence. To my left, graves. To my right, graves. In front of and behind me, amongst the graves, women wailing, shrieks unlike anything I’d ever heard. And the service began, with singing and a few words in Bemba, and we were invited to walk by the casket in a procession, saying our farewells to the boy before us, dead of malnutrition at the age of 10. A boy with a name and a bloated belly. A boy I had probably played with the day before, a boy, dead at 10 because he hadn’t eaten in a month.
And I wept. I knelt and grabbed a handful of the red dirt and squeezed it as hard as I could, until it ran out between my fingertips and back to where it came from.
To be completely honest with you all, I’ve struggled to find hope since then. I have moments of faith when I realize that it’s obedience I’m called to, but most of the time, it’s a struggle to come to church, where we’ll sing songs about justice: Jesus feeding the hungry and clothing the naked. And it’s a struggle to go back to my apartment after a college life service, walk past my guitars and my television set and my Xbox and my stocked refrigerator and into my bedroom, with my computer and my closet full of clothes when I buried a child 11 months ago. I buried a child who starved to death.
I was joking with a friend the other day that I almost gave up Jesus this week. You see, I’m addicted to Wikipedia and every now and then, I get caught up link jumping around articles about televangelists and their private jets and their limousines and their megachurches and their book deals about how you can be a better you in just 10 easy steps. And I read about the “good news” that Jesus will bless you with money and a nice car and a beautiful house if you just believe in him. And did you know, Jesus said that he would set you free from your stricken condition and make you ever so happy and more comfortable than you could ever hope for. And I get overwhelmed and I get exhausted and I get depressed and if that’s the truth, I want nothing to do with Jesus and nothing to do with this “gospel.”
No, the gospel that I’m still interested in is one that I rarely hear much about. Until last week, when Rich spoke about the importance of living simply, I had never heard anyone advocate the discipline of frugality in church.
I went to Africa hoping to get messed up, hoping that I would see things that shook me and hit me harder than I knew. What’s come out of that is the desire to live simply. I want to use the smallest amount of money possible on myself and give the rest away. I want to denounce the prosperity gospel, skip over the talk-about-justice gospel, and get right at the gospel of Jesus, the gospel where we actually think of ourselves last of all and the one where we do justice. It is the gospel where instead of just saying God will provide, we let God provide through us. The Jesus gospel is meek and it is humble. It is poor in spirit and often poor in pocketbook, God forbid. It is the gospel of the oppressed and the gospel of the weak. The gospel I still care about is the quiet gospel that seeks peace alone. It is the way of equality and community and honesty and transparency. It is a message of solidarity and love, where we find ourselves grasping red earth and weeping with the mother of a boy who never saw 11. And I just don’t see how I can follow this gospel when I still look at my riches as my own to use however I want. For I have no hope if our faith is wealthy and comfortable.
And I am humbled by my failure. Here, I am the epitome of shortcoming, of Pharisaical hypocrisy. I am daunted by just how far I have to go. I change slowly and I only hope God is as patient as I’m told. I know so little about these things and I know so few people who are willing to think seriously about it with me. For this reason, I’m thankful for Rich’s message and for his friendship to me and for his presence on this campus. As terrifying as this is for me to say: please hold me accountable, because there is a humble kingdom to be a part of, and a humble king at its head. Peace to you.