Friday, March 31, 2006

I am headed to Texas tonight to meet with a group of people who decide whether or not I can attend seminary and eventually become an ordained minister.


On another note, I saw the trailer for an independent movie made by three Californians when they traveled to Uganda. Check out the trailer:

I really resonate with Ben when he talked about how he can't think of anything more to say. The idea that, as time goes on during this LVC year, he has less and less to say. I agree.

What is there to say?

I'll be back on Monday.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

A note in remembrance this morning of my dear djembe:

After almost a year of being valiant in the face of total crap, you, my dearest percussion instrument - made in West Africa, purchased in South Africa - have been laid to rest. I will not get rid of you, but your playing days are over.

Last summer, a flower pot fell on your head, tearing you. The very next day, however, I played you for almost 7 hours straight in a New York City Street Fair. You are one tough bastard, a tribute to African ingenuity. (If you were a Remo, you would have been done that very second.)

So, to all you who knew you, I hope they rejoice in your life. And for those who knew me previous to this year, remember with fondness the day I thought I lost you, skipped my classes, and finally had a teary-eye reunion with you in the living room of Townhouse 12. I think you were crying, too.

You were much more than a thing. You were - you are - Africa to me.

You will be missed.

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

A slam poem on the third anniversary of the war in Iraq.

Take care, the cynics say...
We definitely don't want to share;
we certainly don't want to dare
trying peace.

For, you see, peace is a foregone conclusion.
It is unattainable, unreachable, unreliable;
a glorious, wondrous, holy and immortal utopia
that we will never reach.

Oh, sure, we'll talk about it.
We'll flow on it like a seasoned slam poet,
faking our conscience,
taking no prisoners,
making no friends,
forsaking our identity, our values, our morals, our very being.

Peace, peace, peace.
Peace be with you. And also with you?

IN FACT, we are told that this elusive idea
can only be achieved through another,
let us say "concrete" idea: war.

Like anything else,
war is in the eye of the beholder:

Front Page News:
War In Pakistan
Genocide in the Sudan
'Peace' in the Middle East (?)

"For whoever is not against you is for you." -Luke 9:50
"If you're not for us, you're against us." -President George W. Bush

Where does this come from?
This need to create
fear and injustice?

Words are our vessel:

There aren't deaths;
there are operations.

People aren't slaughtered or raped;
targets are eliminated or contained.

There isn't starvation and malnutrition;
military presences are strategically placed in terror-ridden areas in order to facilitate growth and security.

There are merely failed diplomatic relations that unfortunately have led to the limited use of force on a dangerous minority, employing the epitome of an oxymoron: smart bombs.


It's an education, really.
We teach it in our schools, our homes, our libraries, hospitals, churches, recreation halls, bowling alleys, community homes, in our very lives...
We are taught to believe that we are in mortal danger -
our selves,
our time,
and our possessions
are at risk.

It is a cheap education:
For once in our country's history,
all are welcome
to this fantastically fanatic feast
of ignorance and intolerance.

Soon enough,
the true message will shout from the rooftops,
loud and clear:
Those people over there,
aren't really people at all.

One day,
when all the world's wars have been fought;
when all the people in cardboard boxes have died off while the rich get richer and the poor get hardly the scraps from the Lord's table;
when there is barely a table left in the world on which to eat;
maybe - just maybe -
we will realize that war does not bring peace:

It never has,
and it never will.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Holden Village. "An ecumenical [wilderness] retreat center in the Lutheran tradition." Paradise? No. Beautiful people in a beautiful place surrounded by the unalderated wild and authentically living out their lives in this chaotic world? A most resounding yes.

I just got back to the "real world" after five days in this place, far beyond the reach of a normal gas-powered automobile. It takes a flight to Seattle, a four-hour drive to Chelan, a two-hour boat ride up Lake Chelan, and a 45-minute trek in an intrepid bus through the majestic Cascade Mountians before one can set foot in Holden Village. It was well worth the wait. In less than a week, I met phenomenal people who intentionally engage themselves and one another in a community rooted in a fantastic message: We are lucky to be alive.

Indeed, we are, but the community of Holden - which varies anywhere from about 60 people in the winter to over 450 in the summer - takes that idea to heart. Everything, from the way food is consumed to the way garbage is produced, takes on a whole new meaning in this remote area of the world. Electricity is limited, internet connection is virtually absent, and breathtaking views literally stop you in your tracks when you so much as look out your window.

But the views are just the beginning. Recognizing that they are simply one of the infinite number of communities in the world, the people of Holden minimize their impact on the environment, with a fully-functional 'garbology' team that painstakingly attempts to recycle, reuse, and renew as much of the generated waste as possible. They celebrate the act of eating together, while making specific choices about their food - where it comes from, what its impact is, and how much is really "necessary" - and act upon those choices in a very genuine way.

I would be the first to doubt the social relevance of a retreat center that has to wait for its up-to-date newspapers and contact with the outside world, but Holden Village's attraction lies in its simplicity. The world is not being forever altered in southeast Washington - but a number of dedicated people are truly attempting to understand what it means to live with, in, and as a part of this world.

It isn't a five-star hotel, and there aren't lowly staff workers to cater to your every need. But there is intense community; there are most definitely people who are more than willing to enter into beautiful and lively discussion about anything under the sun; and there is, without a doubt, a people who live out their own spirituality in such an astonishingly generous and gentle way that one can't help but find the holy in everyday activities.

I don't mean to romanticize the simple life, or say that Holden is some sort of utopia that has been hidden away from the rest of the world. But within their simplicity, Holden has become a community whose effect is anything but simple to those lucky people who get a chance to visit. I mean, I just came for a break from my job. But I left with so much more.

This is a shout-out to those who may never read this, but are deserving of praise nonetheless: Jack, Michael, Ben, Kelly, Emily, Jami, Tom, Jesse, Dan, Jill, April, and everyone else nestled up there in the mountains. Mine is a experience I won't soon forget, and the opportunity to be validated and affirmed - instead of merely tolerated - as a unique child of God who happens to have no idea what the hell to do with their life is something I will always carry with me.

The intentionality, the simplicity, the effort to connect ordinary life with the extraordinary problems of this world - Lutheran Volunteer Corps, take a look at Holden Village. There's a community far from perfect, but completely present in the world today - even with all its problems, frustrations, and grey areas. Not in spite of, but because of.

Thank you.

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

I am going to be at a training and then Holden Village until Saturday, March 25th.

I love you all.

I hope you prosper in my absence.


Friday, March 10, 2006

Thoughts from this Friday, the 10th of March:

1. I leave for a Seattle training and then Holden Village next Wednesday, and I can't wait!

2. I wish Brokeback Mountain had won best picture, but I'm not really sure why I wish that. Is it more of me wanting it to win because of the subject matter, and thus wanting it to win to make a statement? Or is it more of what it should be - i.e., that it was the best film of the past year? Well, I don't know the answer. But I will say that the five films up for best picture must be the best collection of films nominated for the Academy Award that I've seen in many, many years. I highly recommend you see all of them (okay, yes, even I haven't seen all of them, but I will):

-Brokeback Mountain
-Good Night and Good Luck

With, of course, the final one taking home the Oscar.

I will say, however, that I feel Heath Ledger deserved the Best Actor Oscar, and it has nothing to do with my very biased love for the film. If it is an award for "acting", and we have an straight educated man from Australia acting like a gay roughneck from the country whose accent is thicker than the refried beans he ate every day, then we have a winner, hands down. Yes, the Academy looks at more than simply the vast difference between the character and the actor him or herself, but what knocked my socks off about Heath's performance was the lack of dialogue.

Ennis Del Mar (Heath's character) is a man of very few words, but not few emotions. In order to convey the inner-workings of this complicated ranchhand, Heath became the awkwardness, socially-repressed love, and intensity that was Ennis. There were certain moments in the movie when I was sure he would burst - I mean, you could literally feel the emotions radiating from his body. Damn! I get shivers just thinking about it.

I should start working. But there is much more I could say about the Oscars. For instance,

3. Jon Stewart. I've read some reports that have ripped into him. Give the guy a break! You're the host for the Oscars, for God's sakes! That is pretty much the worst audience ever, as you have actors who have dragged themselves out of bed at the ungodly hour of 3 pm in order to get their $50,000 suit on and bravely battle the Hollywood traffic from the backseat of their limo, and they aren't in the mood to be made fun of! (except, of course, George "Sexiest Man Alive" Clooney) I think the Oscar crowd is the coldest crowd you could ask for, and still Jon Stewart stuck it out! I thought he was damn funny, but then again I'm in love with The Daily Show, and he was the same wonderful presence: self-effacing, quippy, and sharp as a tack.

4. Okay, I'm really going to go now. My new diet of no meat for Lent is challenging, indeed, and I'm just trying to find every food possible that isn't meat. Wish me luck!

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

"We live in a beautiful world..."

So says Coldplay, and I happen to agree. Yes, for all the horrible stuff that happens in this world, especially in places that have been either forgotten or specifically ignored because we may not agree with their elected officials, or places and people that continue to suffer simply because no one can truly help, there is still hope. I can't stress that word enough, mostly because I feel it has been glossed over or said so frequently that it has become a dead word to most people. (Kind of like "I love you", if said too often.)

I bring up the optimism and promise of 'hope' because, quite frankly, I need it. After our second LVC retreat, I need to know that the things for which we work are not fruitless or meaningless. That for those of us who have grown up in relative prosperity and privilege, our pleas for more humane treatment of the poor, sick, marginalized, and prisoners of the world are not merely vain or in vain.

We discussed classism this time around, including its connections to racism (of course, everything is connected to racism), and after two days, I was left with a sick taste in my mouth, like the one you have after you've eaten too much ice cream - thick, sticky, and just plain gross. Yes, classism is bad. But where do we go from here? At least with racism, sexism, and heterosexism, we can all agree (at the retreat, at least) that we want these things to end, and we can work - albeit in small, real ways - to collectively end the suffering and persecution of such peoples.

But, honestly. When is classism ever going to end? We will never have a classless society, and to try and work for one seems to border on fantasy. My roommate Cole said he had become a 'pessimist' after six months in LVC, and then switched that word to 'realist'. I agree with him, and I note the interesting relationship between the two words. If we look at the world in real ways, we are - in general - being more pessimistic. There's not a lot of hope if you take a snapshot of most places and lives in this world.

But there still must be hope. I have to bank on that. Otherwise, what's the point? And, there are stories, beautiful stories, of communities working together, of people dedicating their talents, resources, and very lives to the eradication of hate and evil and oppression and suffering. (Now, if only entire governments and countries did that more often...)

I would have to say I've become a realist, too. A realist touched by an optimistic hope mixed with an unabashed idealism. Things can get better, and - in many cases - they are. It's up to us, and - in the words of my organization, Lutherans Concerned - we change the world one conversation, one heart, at a time. Ben made that wonderful point that must be made time and time again: Abstract love is easier than the real relationships and people that are in our midst.

I think we can do both. I think we must. But our passion for the world and injustice must be grounded in a fundamental love for our neighbor, especially the ones right next to us. When you love small, you automatically love big. Hope is inescapable. The slogan 'Think globally, act locally' is, I think, a great illustration of that idea.

I started with Coldplay, and I'll end with them. "Everything's not lost." We have to believe that. Our survival as a people depends on it.

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Some words of wisdom from Fr. Martin Smith about how Lent strips away not to deprive us of anything, but rather to reveal the richness of our own genuine being:

"Lent is about freedom which is gained only through exposure to the truth. And what is truth? Pilate's question is partially answered by unpacking the Greek word 'aletheia' which we translate as truth. The word literally means 'unhiddenness'. Truth is not a thing, it is rather an event. Truth happens to us when the coverings of illusion are stripped away and what is real emerges into the open....The Spirit promises us to bring into truth by stripping away some more of the insulation and barriers which have separated us from living contact with reality, the reality of God, of God's world, and our true selves."

This is from an email I received today from Paul, who is studying to enter the ministry in the Anglican Church. He illustrates what I want to be and how I want to affect the church.

Happy Lent!

I'll be gone for a nice long break to Sugar Creek Bible Camp in Wisconsin for our LVC Winter Retreat. I know you all will PERISH, but I'm sure you'll manage.