Monday, December 27, 2010

I don't have new ideas

In early-mid-July, I switched from the sort of training section of my company to being placed on a real project in a real office. You can tell, because a week or two later I wrote a post called "Change" and then, if the title of this blog is true, didn't feel like writing for a long time.

It's not entirely true, though, because I've wanted to write. I've wanted to throw some ideas out there and put them into somewhat well-formed sentences and see what you (yes, you! ...whoever you are) have to say about them, if anything. I have opened the posting page several times and written nothing, because I haven't had the words. I haven't had the words, because I haven't had time to think.

I haven't had time to think, because I haven't made time to think. I haven't made time to play the guitar. I haven't made time to pray. I haven't made time to read, and those are all things I think are important for me to do. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe you read the post I wrote just before graduating from college.

Sometime in the last year, I went through several piles of old notebooks, full of writings and drawings going back as far as 3rd grade, saving only a few highlights and throwing the rest away, because I do not need to carry a giant pile of notebooks with me through life. My descendents either won't care or won't have time to look through it all, and, even if I became famous for some ridiculous reason, it will just make me more mysterious which is probably good.

I haven't written a lot of songs as of late, because I haven't been playing guitar (see above) and those tend to correlate (whether or not I'm not writing for guitar), but I sure did write a lot more songs in high school, in the throes of adolescence - what a surprise. I'm not claiming those were very good (some were real woofs), but as I looked back at them I realized that, despite the ways in which I've grown and matured, some of the struggles and themes were the same things I deal with today. It was a little bit too much like the beginning to a Caedmon's Call song, I guess.

One of the great things about a blog is that it's super-easy for me to look back at what I wrote in the past and realize that I still have the same problems, which just confirms my observations of my 16-year-old songwriting self. I'm not saying that I haven't changed, that things haven't gotten better, but it looks to me like the root causes in the heart are the same.

I don't read the Bible much, outside of my weekly Small Group Bible Study, because I don't make time for it, but I remember that back in my adolescence I was a huge fan of the end of Romans 7. This is probably one of those things unique to certain kinds of Protestants, but the problem of feeling like I want to do the right thing and then doing the wrong thing was a major concern in my life. I can't tell you how many songs I wrote about that. Paul says this:
So I find it to be a law that when I want to do right, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!
I've tried a lot of things to change myself and overcome my problems. I don't know where to draw the line on the great continuum of trying to fix yourself and just sitting around doing nothing saying "Well come on God what is taking so long" and I feel like I've done both at various times. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe that's because I have written all this before.

A year ago, I was in St. Louis at Urbana 2009, and no, I still haven't committed to intentionally serving Christ in a cross-cultural context in the near future, and that was far from the first time I thought that was a good idea. I still haven't done all kinds of things that I sometimes I think I ought to do, like learning to make time for things, and fixing one of those things would probably fix all the rest: changing myself to be a better person, whatever that means. Michael Jackson may have sang about only needing a mirror to identify and fix his problems, but I've been staring at myself for years and I think it takes more than deciding to change. If you feel like you've read this before, maybe you read the ending of the post I made last on this blog.

If I can't change myself and God is taking so long, what can I do? Try harder, try different things, or be patient. I've tried the first one, I'd do the second if I wanted to, and the third option is so difficult.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


The first two years of college, I church hopped all over the place, and I think that was a useful and important educational experience. During my Junior year, eventually my friends and I settled on Rivers Edge Community Church, a Presbyterian church near UMBC. It's a pretty good place, and I kept going there after I graduated and moved back in with my parents, because a twenty minute drive isn't all that bad, and it was familiar to me by then. As summer approached, though, I realized that there were other churches that I might be interested in, much closer to home. I visited a few, and have been going to City of Hope Church on Sundays. It's in Columbia, less than a ten minute drive, and it's a lot like NewSong Community Church up in Baltimore. It's a good, small, fairly young church.

One of the reasons why I didn't mind not going to River's Edge is that, for the most part, I haven't gotten to know anyone there, even though I went there consistently for two and a half academic years and first went there as far back as 2006. I know a few people, but not particularly well at all. When there was a crowd of us college kids, it was pretty typical and not surprising that we'd all bunch up together and only talk to each other after the service. But after I graduated, and after Smitty moved to Cincinnati, it was just me, and still I didn't talk to anyone. After the service was over, I'd usually just leave.

I've been going to City of Hope for most of two months now, and I've met a few people. If someone sitting near me accosts me after the service, I meet them, we chat for a few minutes, and then I leave. If that doesn't happen, I just leave. When I stopped going to Rivers Edge, I said that it'd be different at City of Hope, because there were people my age, because I'd be an adult there instead of a graduated college-kid, because I'd be outgoing and friendly, because I wouldn't run away from the intimidating and uncomfortable situation of meeting people. Now I talk to myself every week as I walk across the parking lot, asking why I left, why I didn't stay and talk to the people I've briefly met in weeks past.

I don't do New Year's Resolutions, but it looks like I do New Place Resolutions. Going to Camp, living in a different dorm, moving home - There have been many semi-unstated goals, where I wanted to start doing something, or stop doing something, or change how I did something. I've never kept track of these, but I don't think I've done all that well. Does that mean that my ways have never changed? By no means! But change doesn't happen overnight, it turns out; I suspect it's slow. I'm hopefully moving out of my parents' house in the coming weeks, and it might do my mental health some good to remember that all my faults are not going to disappear when I come up with a new and clever way to organize my belongings in their new environ. I'm not saying I shouldn't try, though.

Monday, July 05, 2010


I've only read one of Don Miller's books (yes, it was Blue Like Jazz), but I've been reading his blog lately. He is, at least lately, real big on the idea that if your life is a good story, then it's a good life. I think this makes sense in an existential fulfillment way, but I'm not sure that's best. I know that, even before I read anything he ever wrote, I would try to find narrative threads in my life. People seek order and meaning, even if they're looking in random chaos, and that's all that is, even if life isn't actually random chaos. As a Christian, I believe God is working all things for the good of people who love him. Christians can and often do frame the history of mankind as one big narrative, as told by the Scriptures. Thanks to prophesy, we can know the ending, God creates the new heavens and the new Earth and dwells with his people in the New Jerusalem, while we're still in the story itself. That's different than framing your life as its own story. When I try to make my life a story, I make the story all about me, and that's not how it ought to be.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010


Genesis teaches that if everything was right in the world, then work wouldn't be toil. I don't work outside tilling the soil all that much; I'm paid to sit inside and press little buttons, and to think about which buttons I should press in what order. Work can be very enjoyable, when it is fulfilling. Physical labor can feel very fulfilling, I've found, but that is probably actually just my body telling me that I don't exercise like I should. Still, when I accomplish something I care about, that sense of accomplishment makes the labor worth it. Am I working for that feeling, or am I working because I care about whatever I'm working on? I know I don't care about pressing the little buttons all day; I just do it so I can get money so I can get other things that I care about, later.

When I work on things that I care about, even that isn't easy. I say that it's worth the work when I start, then later I don't believe it and I stop. Later still, I realize it is and I go back to it. I say that I care about doing something, then my actions show that I care more about watching someone play piano on youtube. It's not that I care more about that video than I do the task at hand, but instead that I care, in that moment, about doing what is easiest, and being entertained is nearly always easiest. Sometimes work is hard to do, not because the actual labor is difficult, but because it's hard to remember what's important.

Last summer, working at Ligonier Camp, near the end of the summer, I was assigned to work for a week with a new program involving staff from outside Camp and kids who were of an age with which I wasn't used to working. Working with the outside staff and the older campers was tiring, and, due to the nature of it all, I didn't get a day off all week. The actual day to day wasn't physically tiring, we spent half the day sitting around discussing theology, but I was exhausted by the end of it. The last night there, it looked like we needed an extension cord for a projector, so I ran off to go find one. By the time I got back, they had solved the problem and didn't need the cord, so I ran off to go put it back, ended up going all over the place, stopped for several minutes in the Dining Hall to talk with counselors who were doing normal Camp things (like watching Wall-E) because I really wished I was doing that stuff (like watching Wall-E) instead, and eventually ended up where I started, where I was supposed to be. I felt emotionally and physically exhausted, the most tired I can ever remember feeling, but when I finally had the chance to stop and think, it felt like all this work was good, like I was doing the right thing, except for maybe that part where I stopped to chat with cute girl counselors who were watching Wall-E. The fact that I felt so tired told me that I was doing something right. A day or two later, I spent hours throwing up, because I had the flu.

Wednesday, June 09, 2010

Urbana 2009, St. Louis, Missouri

Every three years, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship (along with their Canadian counterpart) holds a a conference called "Urbana", because it used to meet at the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign. Those facilities, however, became too small, and so it has met in St. Louis Missouri since 2006. It takes place from December 27th to just after midnight on January 1st, and its attendance is somewhere around 18,000 people, I think. It's aimed at college students, but seniors in high school and post-college folks have been known to attend as well. It features a whole of speakers and is focused on what Christians call "missions", the preaching of the Gospel everywhere.

When I went to Urbana 06, I didn't have a reason to go, just that everyone said it was cool. People said I should probably have some reason, but I didn't ever figure that out, try though I did. All the promotional material about Urbana said "YOU HAVE A CALLING", like if we came to Urbana maybe God would reach down his mighty hand and give us some special revelation concerning his intentions for our future and what we should do. I was pretty cynical about it. I didn't go to very interesting seminars, but I did like some of the talks that people gave. Every morning included a sermon, more or less, which in tandem with Bible Studies (small groups of 2,000), worked through Ephesians, and I really liked those, but I can't remember what I learned. There are a few memories that stick out, like hearing an African pastor challenging our Western-centric views, making fun of Rick Warren and skipping Bible Study to see the St. Louis Arch, because Inductive Bible Study with 2,000 people really wasn't working. There was a big room full of representatives from "Missions Organizations", and it felt too much like a college-fair, like they were trying to sell their organization to you, and I was so sure that that wasn't how God works. After Urbana, Ryan and I got a reputation with the IV Staff in the area as being "the guys who didn't like Urbana", which is apparently a rare condition.

When people started talking about Urbana 09, I had mixed feelings. I wanted to give Urbana a second chance, because people who I trust think Urbana is really great. I had given my 2006 experience a lot of thought, but that's not the same as reaching a conclusion. Additionally, I wouldn't be a student anymore (having graduated in May 09) and, as December approached, it was looking more and more likely like I wouldn't be employed by then either, which was great for having the time for Urbana, but not great for having the money for it. One Thursday night, and I don't remember the reasons why, I found myself back at IV's Large Group meeting at UMBC, despite being an alum. Bethanie was speaking, and she told us about how her experiences doing the Baltimore Urban Program, a sort of missions trip experience thing during the Summer, had convinced her that cynicism is a sin. I'm not so sure it's a sin, but she got me thinking.

Eventually, I did decide to go. In order to save money, Mike German and I didn't get a hotel room, but instead found a host on We didn't pay for a seat on a bus, but instead, along with two others, drove. We didn't buy much food from restaurants while in St. Louis, but instead purchased our meals (excluding Urbana-provided dinners) from a local grocery store chain called Schnucks, a plan we ultimately turned into a UMBC-&-friends "Lunch Collective". We drove downtown from our host's house every day and parked for free at a casino near the convention center. Thanks to some help from my church and our money-saving efforts, the money worked out fine.

I have to at least mention the journey. Julian, as an IV Staff Intern, had to be in St. Louis by 2pm on December 26th, a day before the conference started. Thus, we left Baltimore at 11pm on Christmas Day, and drove all night long. The morning of the 26th, a Saturday, we found ourselves lost in the snowy streets of Indianapolis, trying, with the help of Mike Weber's family's GPS, to find a diner recommended by someone on Couchsurfing, a search which ultimately led to what seemed at the time to be the funniest breakfast ever. We listened to the entirety of Sufjan Stevens' "Illinois" while in Illinois. I am not sure I recommend the all-night-driving method, but it worked out. Because we got there a day early, we got to go to church on Sunday morning at New City Fellowship, which has a lot of connections with IV and felt a lot like Newsong in Baltimore.

Part of living and traveling with Mike was my desire to get a little bit of what I called "The Mike German Experience", which is how I found myself sitting in a parking lot in Mike's car in the cold of December, eating tuna fish out of a bag after having the free beer at the end of the free tour of the Anheuser-Busch brewery. I was consistently skeptical of Mike's plans, particularly when he invited a Canadian he had just met who had no where to stay, to come back to our host's place. I was right to insist we check with our host first, but even after that I was skeptical, yet Joe turned out to be a great friend that week. Thanks to my upbringing, I was never truly comfortable with our daily walks through the casino from the parking garage, but that free parking was a great thing. I was out of my comfort zone, and it was probably good for me.

Urbana opened with a dance performance, accompanied by a spoken-word piece based on John 1. Jesus, the Word, was portrayed as a dancer, calling the universe into being with tap, then forming humans who danced as he did, then sad as they turned to a new, uglier sort of march. John the Baptizer made an appearance as a hip-hop artist, loudly proclaiming Christ's arrival, and Jesus then got to work teaching those who would learn to dance with him. I had seen dance and various other arts used in worship before, but I hadn't seen them used so well before. It just worked.

The two biggest ideas I had for making Urbana 09 a potentially better experience were not being cynical and having a list of goals. One of the biggest goals on that list was to go into the big room of organizations, willing to hear out the people from the organizations, instead of just deciding the room was terrible. I went in, I walked around, I didn't really talk to anyone, and I left. This time though, I realized that that room is useful to some people. Some people really can find what they're going to do with their summer or even their lives by talking to people in booths. I am not one of those people, but I should not write off that whole method of communication as being a bad idea.

I tried hard to make sure I went to good seminars, this time. I heard someone talk about The Church and Homosexuality, and how Christians are doing a terrible job loving people who don't identify with heteronormative values. She didn't really have answers on what we should do, but it was good to hear and see other people who are concerned about this, maybe even ones who aren't Derek Webb fans. I heard a panel of members of various New Monasticism communities talk about their struggles and desires. During the Q&A time, someone asked about their style of ministry in non-urban contexts, and the panelists had nothing to say, no experience from which to comment, thus checking off another one of my goals. I heard a man talk about moving his wife and kids to Darfur, Sudan, while various Missions Organizations have policies that their workers can visit Darfur for a day maybe sometimes, but certainly not live there, much less bringing their families along. He talked about preaching to a gathering of village chiefs, and about confronting warlords. His talk scared me, because I thought "What if that is me, someday?", but he closed by saying "Please don't think there's anything special about me. I am just like you. It's God doing the work." I had two separate opportunities to hear John Perkins, one of the founders of the Christian Community Development Association, speak, and one of those was in tandem with Shane Claiborne. Perkins is 80 years old, and it was really good to hear his wisdom, even if he does ramble on and on sometimes. The second time I heard him, a lot of people showed up to hear Shane Claiborne, but Perkins did most of the talking. I think it was good for them.

The last night, sitting in the big stadium listening to Brenda Salter-McNeil preach, a guy three rows in front of us came back to his seat with a box of pizza. He took a little bit (It was cut into small squares), then passed it on. Soon, there were many of us eating pizza. Elise took out a cookie, Smitty took out Peanut Butter Crackers, and those were shared too. Kathy, who's IV Staff in Baltimore, said "I think we just had communion." and I agreed. A little while later, I took communion, bread and wine, offered by the aforementioned Brenda Salter-McNeil, a woman now wearing white vestments. The German missionary in Darfur told us to think of the darkest place we could, and then go there, because God is with you, so you have no reason not to. People talked about hard problems without presenting answers, and that was okay, because Jesus is in control. Native Americans danced in ways that made no sense to me, but they said they were worshiping the one, true God who made all things. Mike invited a man we'd just met to come live with us for a week, because he had nowhere else to go. All these surprised me and scared me, because I agreed with them.

The drive back from St. Louis was similar, but we had Kaylyn with us now, and it was daytime when we started. We bought donuts at a gas station in Illinois, even though we had breakfast already. We ate at Steak 'n' Shake, and it was just as good as Robert Ebert said it would be. We saw the great flat places on Indiana, where you can just see forever 'til the world curves away. Instead of going back to Baltimore, though, they dropped me off in Ligonier, at Camp, for the Staff Reunion. It was like leaving a giant family reunion and going to a different one, and while there I had a long talk with people about figuring out life and where we want to go and do. I still haven't figured out all the meaning, implications and applications of my experience at Urbana, but I'm glad I wasn't cynical.

Footage hosted by Vimeo.

Footage hosted by Vimeo.

Saturday, April 03, 2010

Ideals, Beliefs

A few weeks ago, my friend Mikey-G said something on facebook that got me thinking. He said "20 min lunch break outside of shorts, no shoes... and then back to work. a 9-5, nearly windowless, pants-only job. something went very wrong since last may.", meaning that life had not gone as he planned since graduated from college. I remember sitting with Mike and some other people, our senior year, and discussing how living "in community" with other people might mean pooling our incomes as one bank account. Another friend likes to talk about joining a commune a lot, but then recently said that maybe it was silly.

I once told a friend, my last year of high school, that I wanted to be "an artsy-fartsy Comp Sci major" in college, and I think I did that pretty well, although I don't think I really tried hard; it just happened. If anything, I wasn't enough of a Comp Sci major, but that is another story. I went to UMBC because I applied to three schools in the area with decent Comp Sci programs, got into all three, prayed, and UMBC gave me a big scholarship. I went for Comp Sci because I thought I was good at it, and being a programmer seemed to work out well enough for my father. I turns out, I'm not all that good at it (Don't tell my boss), but that's also another story I think, and I don't enjoy it. I went on missions trips to Bulgaria and Ukraine, and both times I prayed "Well God, I think that'd be pretty cool and I think you might want me to do that, but I have no idea. So, if I'm not supposed to go, please make it really obvious." and then I ended up going.

In December, I went to a big conference out in St. Louis called "Urbana", because it used to be held in Urbana, IL, run by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. While I was there, I heard a lot of speakers say a lot of things that scared the pants off me, because I agreed with them. Sometimes, you believe things and you don't know it until someone says it. People talked about moving to foreign countries where people get shot all the time, or into cities where people get shot all the time, and how God is teaching them to love people in those places. They talked about how we waste our immense wealth on things that don't matter while people are dying. They talked about how we pursue so many of the wrong things in life, things that are not actually God.

The last night there, we had Communion (you know, the Eucharist). I knew we were going to, because it was in the schedule, and when I looked up at the stage, there stood the woman who had just finished speaking, a few minutes before, in white vestments. The bread came around, and as I held that little piece of strange, edible material (It is hard to find cheap, bread-like product for 20,000 people that isn't strange, I suspect), I thought about a lot of things. One of the things I thought about was whether it was okay to eat this bread and drink this wine when the person serving it was a woman. Then I ate the bread and I drank the wine (well, okay, it was grape juice. That's another story), and it was good.

Towards the end of college, I applied for some jobs, through a little website that my school had for finding jobs. I got an interview with a company to be a programmer, and they made me an offer and I accepted it, because, let's face it, it was the only job interview I had got, and it was getting on April, with graduation right around the bend. Then there was working at Camp and then a very long period of waiting, and then I actually started my job, and then I freaked out. Suddenly I my job was to spend every day sitting in front of a computer trying to get my brain to figure out what bizarre words to put in what order in order to get the computer to do meaningless tasks. I quickly came to the conclusion that letting life happen as it happened did not always work out for optimal results. I also regretted not pursuing becoming a teacher instead of a programmer sooner than tomorrow.

It's very easy to say you believe something is the best, but it is incredibly difficult to make good on those words sometimes. I don't know when this is wrong or when it is okay. Sometimes, after you state an ideal, your actual experiences demonstrates that the ideals you thought you had were not really the things you valued most. Sometimes, I think we violate ideals out of laziness or selfishness, but other times it just happens and it's hard to say that anyone did anything wrong. The best are when we discover the ideals we thought we had were wrong, and that something better has replaced them, but those are rare events I suspect. Many times, we simply don't hold ourselves to our own ideals, letting things slip because doing it right is too hard. If a certain thing is the best way, then it should be worth doing it that way. This can be difficult to believe sometimes.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Love, #2

One of the great things about Jesus' teachings is that at the heart of it are two commands "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." and "You shall love your neighbor as yourself.", the two commands upon which he says "depend all the Law and the Prophets." He even tells one man that this is all you need to do in order to "inherit eternal life", after which he confounds everyone's idea of who their neighbors are. Now, we can probably all agree that what it means to obey these two commands is an incredibly nuanced and complicated affair. How do you love God with everything you have, so that you have no other principalities, powers, objects, people, loyalties, loves or anything else commanding your actions? How do you love people as much as you, a selfish creature, love yourself? I think he keeps his statements simple because you can not write out laws to wholly entail love for all people. You can not sum right living up in a set of rules, for right living is loving.