Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Dark Night of the Evangelical Soul.

I posted this entry at my church's blog here, but since commenting is disabled there I wanted to link it here in case anyone has any comments to share:

The Dark Night of the Evangelical Soul



Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Where do I go from here?

So, being in Grad School/Seminary has given me plenty to think through. Not to mention the normal experience of life.

Thus, I'm trying to make sense out of some of what I've experienced over the last few weeks. But it's going to be messy. You have been warned.

I'm not a very disciplined person. Those of you who know me well should probably be nodding your head, if not on the floor laughing.

But, I'm realizing more and more that I do need a certain measure of it in my life. I don't intend to become a completely strict person with no room for the randomness of life. But I need some structure, or I'm going to completely burn out.

It's funny, here I am learning about all these historic Christian spiritual practices, yet I struggle to implement even the most simple of them in my daily life. I get interested in something, go at it for a few days, maybe a week, then something breaks my stride and the momentum is gone. I'm aware that it takes a long time to make something a habit (and the same goes for breaking old ones) but it is still frustrating.

I'm not sure if it is something I can really do on my own. There is a part of me that longs for the monastic life. A set structure of prayer and work, to the point where the rhythm of that life is etched in your soul. There are some things that I disagree with about the contemplative monastic tradition, but the radical restructuring of life is alluring to me. I know I need something that radical in my life. But I know I can't do it by myself. I'm not strong enough.

So what would it look like today? For a group of people to come together, maybe daily, maybe weekly, and soak in the presence of God. A daily "quiet time" isn't enough. We are called to have the word of God written on our hearts, and our every breath a prayer to God. This isn't just a Sunday thing either.

I'm talking about really shifting my life. Like really setting apart a 24 hour period of a Sabbath, where I take time to enjoy God and enjoy life. Spending fixed times praying to God throughout my day, even if that means stopping what work I am doing, or even stepping away from hanging out with my friends to re-center myself.

The point of it wouldn't to become so rigid that I couldn't skip one time, or re-arrange it so I can spend time with people, or if something comes up that I just can't avoid. But the only way I could have such flexibility is to first have the pattern set in my life.

But like I said, I can't do that on my own. I need to know other people are doing the same, people who can keep me on track. People who I can spend time in worship of God beyond simply getting together on Sunday.

Who else is ready for that kind of change though? If I know anybody like that, then I don't know it. What I long for is such a subversion of the status quo. It means a complete reorientation of my priorities, it means sacrificing time that I could spend doing other things that I enjoy.

So how do I find that now? I know there are many people who are exploring what it means to be a modern day monastic. Living in communities together and pouring into the lives of others. Some day I might be able to participate in something like that. But for now, I'm a grad student, living on campus housing. I have homework to do, friends to spend time with. I'm not working right now, but I will have to find a job sometime, and that just adds more things to do.

Something has to change. The path I'm on is going nowhere. I'm fully aware of it. But choosing a new path will hurt. I'm afraid of the pain. If I don't have people to push me through, to walk beside me, I will just turn away and return to this dead end path that I'm currently on.

How can I lead others on a path that I have not traveled myself? How can I tell others of how Jesus has changed my life, when I resist every change? How do I proclaim that Christianity is the way the truth and the life, when I'm not really following it. I'm learning about God, but I'm not being with God.

And all I do is whine about being in this nowhere place. I'm too afraid to step into the mystery, too afraid to let go. I fill myself with things besides God, hoping that they fill my deep longings, but knowing they can't. Sure, acknowledging the problem is half the battle, but I haven't done anything with it.

I know I can't expect people to carry me along either. For true change to happen, it has to be my own steps. I need people to lean on along the way, but this has to be my choice, my effort. But, there lies the paradox, because God knows we cannot possibly do it ourselves. God carries us through, but that doesn't mean it is easy. Like I said before, I know it will hurt. I know it means letting go of a lot of things I value, even if I know they are only dust.

So why am I not more ready to make that step, begin that new journey. I'm trying to avoid the pain but I know I'm only bringing more on myself. I love for a complete life, but the only way to reach that is to go through the fire. Until then, all the things I truly long for will never come. I will be unable to have the relationship with another person that will bring us both joy, I will be unable to use all the gifts that God has given me. I will be a failure, stagnant, without growth or peace or joy or love. I will scrape by on the bits of Grace that God sends me, while yet resisting the full outpouring that God wishes to give me, but I am unable to receive.

What is wrong with me, really?

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Can Words Express?

So how do I write a blog when I'm not sure if I can express even a fraction of what's on my mind? Well, I suppose I'm going to try. That's what I get for reading from 5 different books or so today.

I can feel the tug of God on my heart. I'm not sure exactly what direction it is in, or what it means, but it's there nonetheless. I know all my experiences, the churches I've been part of, the schools I went to, the communities I've participated in, all of it is leading me somewhere. I know what that is God has yet to reveal (other than where I find myself now). I have hints, vague images of what that place might look like, but I know that something new could enter my life and shift that direction just as many things have over the last few years.

It's so hard to express any of this. I barely know what direction I'm heading, so how do I express that to my friends, to my family, to my girlfriend? How many of the people in my life right now are people who might come along side me on this journey, and how many might I end up parting ways with as we go forward?

My life seems to be such a mesh of everything. There are many things that are important to me in some way or another, but nothing seems to define me more than others. This is not to say that I wish to be defined by a solitary issue, but I'm trying to find my own context. I AM ____?

Of course, I do find myself in a post-modern world, which rejects the rigid definitions of the past. A movement which seeks to take the good in all things. So it's no surprise really that I feel somewhat without grounding. But, isn't the point that Jesus should be my grounding point, not anything else around me. I think perhaps if I turn my focus more on Him, I will feel less lost. I would rather it be this way than be convinced that some movement or issue was the sole focus of my life, and be broken when that fails me.

But, it still leaves me with the question of how do I share any of this with those I share this journey with?

I suppose all people have a longing to be understood, and that ultimately nobody can be known completely except by God. So I know if focus too much on being understood, I will fail.

I guess the main thing seems to be that I feel the draw of opening myself up to wherever God will take me. And that can be a very unsettling thing, because the story of God is filled with many people being called to the ends of the earth and otherwise to places they never would have expected. And that can mean leaving everything behind.

I don't feel like God is going to call me to go serve in Africa or Latin America or Asia, it just doesn't resonate with who I feel God has made me. But who knows what might happen.

What I do feel the call of is community, in a way that isn't how it has formed in our culture. I long for living with people in a community, real connections not just geographical boundaries. I think about the 'hippie communes,' and Hebrew Kibbutz's, the Amish, monasteries and abbeys and other forms of intentional communites, but it seems like so often those groups have isolated themselves from the world, whatever their reasons.

I was part of a year long volunteer community, along with a shorter version in college. And I spent another year with four other men from my college as we tried to live intentionally with each other. But all of that was short term, and in some ways sheltered. They were all important in my life, but they have all faded away. It seems like there is a need for intentional communities to grow in more urban environments. Our culture has crippled us with our individualism.

So what would that look like? Perhaps it would be an apartment building, or maybe a group of houses on the same block. Maybe there would be space for a garden, but maybe not.

My girlfriend took the beginning steps of becoming a nun, but that is not where God has called her. I know she still longs for the kind of life set forth by the Rule of St. Benedict, even if she cannot live her life in a way as focused as that of the Abbey she was at. I know there are many people who try to live out those precepts as much as possible as they can (Oblates, Consecrated Virgins/Singles) but what's keeping a group of people coming together and living that out the best they can, even if they spend their day taking care of their children or serving coffee or selling real estate? There is a draw in me towards a monastic sort of life, but there is also an equally strong pull towards marriage. Why is it that they have to be separate?

I know there are other people who have felt that longing. There is a long history of Catholic Worker Houses where people have spent their lives living with the poor. In a sense, even those who live at Christian camps are a part of this style of life. But what is my place in this I wonder.

It scares the crap out of me that God might call me to be part of creating something new. I would much rather be part of the background, still active and participating, but to be a pioneer of sorts? Even if it is something I care about greatly it seems beyond my abilities. But, maybe that's the point isn't it. It never really was about me anyway. What better way to keep me humble than to have me do something that I know I couldn't have done on my own...


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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Bikes, bikes, bikes!

So, I've been dreaming of bikes lately.

Why so, you might ask. Don't you already have a functional bike right now?

Ah, well bikes are made to serve a variety of purposes. The bike I have now might be able to fill most of those roles to a greater or smaller degree of efficiency, but that doesn't at all take away my desire to be able to do some of those things better.

Unfortunately, as I am more or less broke (although, I did apply for a job yesterday and am hopeful I might get it) these are not likely to become a reality any time soon. But, hey, a guy can dream!!

So, because I can and you are my somewhat captive audience, I'm going to list off some of the things that currently have my eye.

The first is the tikit by BikeFriday. My current main bike is also a BF, a New World Tourist, more or less a standard bike with the ability to pack down into an airline standard suitcase. The feature about this bike that I find most handy is it's ability to fold down to a smaller size with only a little bit of effort, allowing me to fit it into a friends car for a ride somewhere. But, it's still takes a bit of work.

Thus, enters the tikit. While there are other folding bikes which can fold much smaller, few fold as fast as the tikit. All of the BF's also are great in that they use normal bike parts, while many other folders have their own unique parts, which could make maintenance a chore. The reason I would like to get a tikit is to make it that much easier on the commuting/traveling around town side. The tikit has 16" wheels, as opposed to the 20" on my NWT, and the normal 26" on mountain bikes. So it greatly reduces the size it takes up, even if the ride is a little harsher. I would want a tikit for the times where I know I'm probably going to be meeting someone, or when I'm going to be going on the lightrail somewhere, or any time that I would just like to have a bike around. I'm not sure exactly what kind of gearing I would want to get on it, but I'm thinking about maybe singlespeed of either the fixed or freewheel variety, possibly an internal hub, because I would like to keep it as simple and as light as possible (without going to carbon, I like my durability thank you).

The next bike that I've been drooling over is the Quickbeam by Rivendell Bicycle Works (see this page for some good pictures of an older model). The Quickbeam is an amazingly designed bike. It is designed to be a single speed, with the option of having a few different gears while still avoiding the derailleur system that most standard bikes have. This is a bike I would love to have for when I just want to ride. I'm glad for the versatility I have with the standard transmission on my main bike, but it is harder to maintain, and if I just want to go for a spin around the park, it isn't as fun with my current bike, mostly since I have any number of bags and racks setup on it for when I'm around town. I really want a bike for when I don't have anything I need to carry around or pick up, and I can just go for it! Now, there are a number of bikes that could possibly fit that bill, and probably cheaper. But, I think the Quickbeam is unique so I gravitate towards it.

The next bikes I'm going to highlight are cargo bikes. Since I'm serious about not ever owning a car, I do need a way to be able to transport things. I'm able to do about three bags worth of groceries with my current setup, but it would be nice to be able to carry more, along with the capacity to carry items which would otherwise be very awkward on a normal sized bike. The most well known of these is perhaps the Surly Big Dummy/Xtracycle. Xtracycle has a number of cool accessories for their design, making it possible to carry things you wouldn't think possible (like kayaks and surfboards!!). However, my dream bike of this type is the S-Cargo made by Black Sheep Bikes in Ft. Collins, Colorado Pride! Unfortunately, given the exceptionally high cost of the S-Cargo, it might be awhile in the making. But it would be something that would last me a good long while.

The final sort of bike I would love to eventually have is the 'perfect winter bike.' There are a few different approaches to this bike, so I'm not sure what route I would eventually take. But, it does snow here in Colorado, and that can make it a pain to get around on a bike. For the first set, I'm going to post a link to here. These sorts of bikes are designed to use huge tires with low pressure to get you over the snow (they were originally designed for sand but work just as well on other surfaces). The possible downfall of these sorts of bikes is that they are designed specifically for the large tires, and might be more difficult to run with more normal size wheels. Some of the frames are designed to switch to other wheelsets, giving them more versatility. Another option would be to add snow tires to say the quickbeam or another normal bike. The one qualification I would have for either of the types is to go with an internal hub, or a fixed gear. There is just too much that could go wrong with all the slush and grit and ice in bad weather conditions.

I seem to be mentioning singlespeed bikes a lot, despite not having ridden one yet. I'm drawn to the simplicity of them, partly for the idea of keeping things as simple as possible, and partly because it would be easier for me to maintain on my own. Not to mention, for the better parts of my rides I'm usually riding on a few gears, and only need the wide range when I hit a hill. I also like internal gears for the same reason, although they tend to be a bit heavier than normal transmissions, which is partly why I didn't get one on my current bike.

Unfortunately, none of these are really in my reach for now. I could potentially find a cheaper version of any of these bikes, but if I do that it probably wouldn't last as long as I would want it to, defeating the idea. That is not to say that there aren't quality bikes for reasonable costs. My first bike was quite a deal at around $700, but it doesn't fit me as well as I would like and just isn't comfortable or fun to ride anymore. Also, as much as possible I would like to buy bikes and components made in America. I'm not opposed to getting quality parts from overseas, but I would prefer not to because they do have to travel more to get here.

So I will probably have to wait for awhile, especially for some of the more custom bikes. It's hard not to just give in and get something just to fill the desire for the moment, knowing it might not last even if it's easier to justify getting it now.

While I'm sure I could probably come up with some other bikes I've drooled over, I think this is enough. Plus it's late and I should get myself to bed.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

ARGH (or: Because there are too many causes)

Welcome to Lent everybody.

So, I just got back from a viewing of a documentary called Very Young Girls, which documents the sex trafficking of underage girls in New York and the work of an organization called GEMS to get them out of "the life." This was followed by an introduction to a few organizations here in Colorado working on the issue of human trafficking and a short talk by Professor Claude d’Estrée of D.U. who has been working in the field of human trafficking for around 10 years.

This feeds in well to the idea of Lent in general. One of the two Ash Wednesday services that I went to yesterday focused on the environment, and how that we are come from the earth (as a note, the word we translate commonly into dust is more like topsoil than the stuff gathering on my computer monitor) and will return to the earth. It was a reminder that the first thing that God asked us to do, was to care for his creation, to be co-creators, and when we fell, so did the earth. Of course, I feel like the emphasis on our own personal sin and brokenness is an important question for this season, but it also should expand to our corporate experience.

This also feeds into something that's been running through my head for the past few days and is coming to life now in this here blog.

There is a lot of the world that is really screwed up, perhaps overwhelmingly much.

I mean, I spent a year in a volunteer program in downtown Denver. I worked in an organization giving out food to people who couldn't afford it, while my roommates worked in underfunded schools, homeless shelters and other organizations, while I continued to learn about issues in my city and around the world. But we only scratched the surface.

There is homelessness, poverty, education, the sex trade, genocide, drugs, human trafficking, hunger, the environment, wars, economics, exploitation... and the list goes ever on. And each issue has smaller components, each interlocking with others.

It's so easy to get locked into one issue or another... so, we don't support Wal-Mart, but is Target or K-Mart really that much better? We want to support organic food, but are the workers being compensated fairly for harvesting it? None of us really wants to mow our lawns or clean our bathrooms or do our laundry, so we hire it out. Are the people being compensated fairly? Are they actually getting paid in the first place? What about the products they use to clean, are those environmentally friendly? It can get maddening!

Sure, you can progress in one direction, while ignoring other issues at the same time. For another example, I enjoy shopping at REI, because they have a good environmental conscience for a large corporation (and I like getting a dividend back of what I spend there). But, I don't know under what conditions their environmentally friendly clothing is being manufactured under. And there is the question of whether it would be better to support a local store like Wilderness Exchange, because REI is still a megacorp at the end of the day. Are their workers being given a living wage? What are their benefits like? Do they have fair hiring practices? How much does their CEO make? You can see how this can keep going.

I guess I wonder to myself what exactly the line is. I mean, take Apple for another example, they are doing a large part in making their products more environmentally friendly, but Greenpeace still complains about them not having done enough?

Is it right to support an organization because it is doing one area well, even if they aren't as good as another? Do we ultimately just fall into this endless game of figuring out the lesser of two evils?

Sometimes our good motives and our plans end up doing more to hurt our cause. The speaker relayed a story about the boycott of chocolate once it was discovered that many of the plantations were using slave labor. All that the boycott did was force the plantations to use even more slave labor to make up for the loss. What did that accomplish? Fortunately that isn't the end of the story as we have the fair trade movement and other such things, but again, that's not my point.

Obviously, just ignoring it all isn't the solution, because that's what too many of us end up doing and so things just continue on their course un-protested.

I get tired of trying to convince my friends not to go shop at wal-mart when I know they are poor, and buying one item that actually supports the person who produced it means giving up the 9 other things they could have bought more cheaply. Sure, it does come down to making choices about our lifestyle and making sacrifices so others can have a decent life. And don't even get me started on the 'chic' movement. I'm sorry, but a $1000 purse made out of recycled materials is still complete bullshit.

I'm going to cut myself off here, because I'm really not sure what else I can say. I'm trying to be involved and be knowledgeable, and that's more than many people I know seem to be doing, but what little I do seems so small compared to everything else going on around me. I know I have to be confident that the small things I try to do are making an impact, and that as more and more people do something, even if it seems insignificant, that the Kingdom of God will advance... but it's still hard!

Now, if you made it this far, I would definitely love to hear what you have to say.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Something I noticed about sports movies

So my roommate was watching Drumline on the tv as I was getting ready to go workout this evening. I noticed that there seems to be a common theme in all the sports movies I've seen.

Invariably one of the best players, if not the main character, is a very talented young man or woman. They have the skills, but they don't know how to work on a teem. They either end up sparring with the coach, another star on the team, or the entire team. This is also usually a team that has no chance at winning the next game or big event, and is also likely to get cut, or have the coach fired, or something life threatening if they don't do so. At first they show their rebellion against the system, sometimes winning in spite of it, but often ending up messing up things for the rest of the team. Then there is some big change of heart, whether it be someone getting injured, or the person ends up taking the fall for or saving their rival from something. Then suddenly we have the comeback team, and they are able to win it all, or at least advance further than they were expecting to, and the cocky teenager/young adult ends up becoming a true team leader and has great success because they learned that it takes more than just raw talent to win. Oh, and we can't forget that we are often watching a dramatization of a true life story, and get a glimpse about what really happened after the events of the movie.

So, did I get that about right? I think I just covered the majority of the sports movies that I've ever seen. Gotta love it :).

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Video Games

So I've been thinking lately.

Imagine that.

I've played video games for most of my life, to varying degrees of intensity. I've never been a "hardcore gamer" although I've definitely lost a lot of sleep over some games. In fact, I don't think I've ever paid full price for a game (although, I am considering doing just that with Dragon Age: Origins coming out this fall, brought to you by Bioware). But anyway, that's not the point of my rant, exactly.

I've figured out that it's the story, in most cases, that makes me enjoy a game. This is why I've never felt bad about cheating in a game, because I've never been that interested in getting down the mechanics or anything like that. It's always about advancing the story. I played through the StarCraft campaigns, and rarely played multiplayer. In fact, the computer can probably beat me pretty easily.

Even with games like the Halo series. I've played through the campaign once, so I know the story. I don't feel a drive to go through and master it on Legendary just to prove my worth as a gamer. I really only play it on multiplayer occasionally because of my friends.

This is probably why I've always enjoyed "Role Playing" games most. Because they are about the story of the characters, about their journey. In fact, games that are too open ended lose my interest. Take Morrowind and Oblivion as prime examples. The worlds that they created are so large that you can just wander around the map and completely disregard the main quest, or even the side quests. I need structure, I need narrative. I need a reason to continue forward or I lose interest.

Sometimes I can continue forward in spite of a horribly designed system because of the promise of a good storyline. Other times, it's not as easy. I've tried to play the more recent Final Fantasy games (FFVII on) and I've gotten to a certain point and then stopped and haven't picked it up again. I know the story is going to be good, but I have to spend so much time leveling up or finding equipment or this and that, and so I lose interest. I've tried to get through some of the great PC RPG's like Baldur's Gate I & II, Planescape: Torment, Fallout I & II and Deus Ex. But, for some reason I can't get very far in them. I'm not sure if the graphics or the design are just that old that I can't do it, or what. I love the classic SNES games like Chrono Trigger, FFIII, FFIV, FFV, FFVI, Earthbound, Seiken Densetsu 3 and so on. But anything more advanced I seem to have an issue with, up until things like Knights of the Old Republic I & II, Jade Empire, Fable and Mass Effect (three of those are Bioware, sense a trend anyone? :D).

It's strange. I know that the stories of titles like FFVII and FFX in particular are very compelling, but I can't do it. The story is compelling but having to actually do all the quests in a 40+ hour game, because I can't just ignore them and plow through, tires me out. But then you have some of the recent games like I mentioned. They have some pretty involved stories and are decently long games, but not as epic as those in the Final Fantasy series. I notice that I didn't mention a single J-RPG (as in RPG from Japan, or one in that style) in the list of my recent favorites. Perhaps my tastes have changed, maybe it is something else. Who knows.

To be fair, there are some games that I enjoy even if they don't have a story. I got Burnout: Revenge with my 360 and I've enjoyed playing that. Besides RPG's I've always been a fan of the Civilization series, and games similar to that (such as Rome: Total War, Caesar 3 and Lords of the Realm II). There is usually some basic plot or motivation, but after that it's pretty open ended. I enjoy that sort of open-ended game, but I can't do it in a game that is an RPG. Odd.

I apologize to any of you who aren't gamers and really have no idea about most of what I've blathered on about. But then again, if you read this far being completely confused you must either be a) a good friend, b) really bored, c) crazy, or d) all of the above.

Anyway, maybe I will actually blog more often now. We shall see.

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