Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Perfect Timing

1 There is a time for everything, 
       and a
season for every activity under heaven:

 2 a time to be born and a time to die
       a time to
plant and a time to uproot,

 3 a time to kill and a time to heal
       a time to
tear down and a time to build,

 4 a time to weep and a time to laugh
       a time to
mourn and a time to dance,

 5 a time to scatter stones and a time to gather them, 
       a time to
embrace and a time to refrain,

 6 a time to search and a time to give up
       a time to
keep and a time to throw away,

 7 a time to tear and a time to mend
       a time to
be silent and a time to speak,

 8 a time to love and a time to hate
       a time for
war and a time for peace.

 9 What does the worker gain from his toil? 10 I have seen the burden God has laid on men. 11 He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. 12 I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. 13 That everyone may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all his toil—this is the gift of God. 14 I know that everything God does will endure forever; nothing can be added to it and nothing taken from it. God does it so that men will revere him.

Ecclesiastes 3:1-14

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Homeward Bound

"There are two ways of getting HOME; and one of them is to stay there. The other is to walk round the whole world till we come back to the same place."
~ G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Finding Stillness

For the past six months this has been my desk, my waiting room, my view point, my place of meeting, my quite coffee shop corner, my couch, my bench in the park, my classroom, and my tree that I day dream under. I feel like half of my time here has been spent getting to train stations, waiting for trains, crying about missing trains, sitting on trains, reading on trains, listening to music on trains, thinking till my mind hurts and my thoughts are blurred on trains, and walking back home from trains. My thoughts go through my head about as fast as the train cars speed down the track, the same scenes burned into my memory turning over in my mind like a silent movie, and somehow I don't think that even if I tried I could find words that could adequately describe to anyone the pictures I see. Sometimes this feels like my prison. I don't really enjoy the inescapable reminders of things I would rather forget or ignore that follow me in these times of lonely transport. But somehow inside I know that I need this. I need the silence, the stillness. I need to fight it out, me and God, my thoughts like small informal prayers. Maybe there really was a reason why I was so scared of empty silence all this time. It is where where we face our giants, we stare down our past, where we keep our eyes right on ahead to contemplate the unknown, and where we tear apart the places of our hearts and souls that go unnoticed or are conveniently not addressed. When I think about meeting with God I think about sitting on a train. I am alone, there is silence, out the window things pass quickly by me, but I am still. This doesn't happen often, maybe not many times before in my life. I have avoided it, but here it finds me. I have a feeling that if for no other reason, God wanted me here so I would sit on trains, so I would find stillness that I could not avoid, so I could find Him. 

Different Names For the Same Thing

"Alone on a train aimless in wonder 
An outdated map crumpled in my pocket 
But I didn't care where I was going 
They're all different names for the same place 

Your ghost just appeared with the scenes from the summer 
I have no words to share with anyone 
The boundary of language quietly coos 
All the different names for the same thing 

There are different names for the same things 
There are different names for the same things...

-Death Cab for Cutie

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Death in Munich

"I descended a dusty gravel ridge beneath the Bixby Canyon Bridge,
and soon I eventually arrived to the place where your soul had died...

Barefoot in the shallow creek I grabbed some stones from underneath waiting for you to speak to me...

And the silence, it became so very clear, that you had long ago disappeared.
And I cursed myself for being surprised that this didn't play like it did in my mind..."

I have been waiting for this opportunity for a long time, and it finally came to pass that I was standing 10 feet from a stage where one of my most revered bands, Death Cab for Cutie, stood poised to play. The lyrics to "Bixby Canyon Bridge" came streaming through the microphone, my heart leaped, and the reality of being just an ear shot away from the poet himself, Ben Gibbard, made me surge with that elation that only comes with experiencing a song your heart resonates with, not through headphones or speakers, but live. 

After a long journey, first an hour and a half bus ride from Strakonice to Prague, two hours wandering downtown Prague, drinking coffee, a gingerbread latter to be exact, to wake me up, and then a car ride with Lucka, Nate, and Hannah from Prague to Munich, we arrived. We got lost, we asked for directions, we found the venue, we waited for parking, gave up, drove a ways a way, found a spot, and got out into the freezing winter air. After a dinner at Pizza hut (yeah, I know, not my first choice and blatantly American) we walked, chilled to the bone back to the venue, an awesome place tucked away off a main street in the center of the city, and got in line to enter. We made friends with fellow Americans braving life in Europe, stood, waited, chatted over the sounds of all the Europeans combined, and shivered as our toes felt the bite of the bellow zero temperature. Small sacrifices for the chance to experience music through a torn veil, face to face, feeling the sound surround you, the bass beat in your chest. All our excitement grew in contrast to our comfort as the time drew closer to the time for the doors to open. 

We enter, rush to the front. We want to smell the music, taste it, have it touch us. The opening band, Frightened Rabbit impresses and entertains, their quirky drummer mostly to deserve credit for this. Despite the frequent application of expletives, I must confess my favorite song of theirs was one entitled "Keep Yourself Warm". Though said in the most crude way possible, the song rings with truth. Paired with a powerful and dynamic melody, this song deserves attention. This was my first experience with this band, not my last. I'll take their Scottish accents and provocatively poetic lyrics for a spin again and again. The best is yet to come though...

The openers finish, walk off quickly, and as the stage is prepared we wait eagerly. I know that my expectations are much too weak to prepare me adequately. I can't believe I am here. What an unlikely memory to make. Life feels beautifully strange, as it frequently does here. 

I don't think I can describe what happens in between. I have heard these songs so many times, but somehow I feel like I am just hearing them for the first time again. The audience as a chorus, singing back the words to the stage. I have always thought that this must be one of the most rewarding feelings for an artist. Somehow they have written a song so specific that it pricks the hearts like a needle and yet so big that hundreds of people can simultaneously connect with it. The set list is long, most of my favorites included: "Grapevine Fires", "Transatlanticism", "Title and Registration", "Your Heart is an Empty Room". Some new ones to savor: "405", "Movie Script Ending", "Laughing Indoors". I have already added them to my collection. I wish he would tell the stories behind these songs, but they are stories in themselves, they stand alone. I am curious though still. The acoustic stillness of "I Will Follow You Into the Dark". A four song encore. I can be satisfied with this. 

We drive home. I am tired, I start to doze, drifting in and out, a sermon playing in the background, then music, Hillsong United, Bon Iver...I lose track. Snow is falling outside, its cold, its still, it seems like a dream, a winter lullaby. Everything is poetic in these moments. My ears can't stop ringing from the words sung tonight. I swear that man is a genius at expressing the human soul. Sometimes I feel like he ripped pages form my journal and put music to them. Or is it the other way around? I often feel like I have inadequate words to express myself, or maybe that I don't even know what it really is that I long to tell the story of, but when I hear songs like those of Death Cab I feel like a script is added to the film of memories in my mind. The words don't always match up to the moving lips, but the emotion is all there. Maybe those words are what I wish I could say. If I could write a letter to you I would send a playlist with it to fill in the wholes, to clean up the mess. The best songs are those that haunt you, that play along to your thoughts and tempt you into moods. 

I get home at 4am. I am exhausted. I brush my teeth, wash the make up off. Did this all really happen? As I go to bed everything feels the same, but I was in Munich three hours ago. 

Here are some pics of the concert. Thanks to Nate and Lucka's camera. I wish you were there.

Relive this concert with me and take a is the set list:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Thoughts on a Return

So this one is long but I haven't posted anything in a while. A lot has been happening and some ideas just need to find release...

Today marks one month until I return home. A seemingly miniscule amount of time when reflecting upon the past six months I have spent away. As much as I have been attempting to be fully present here, my mind has not ceased to dwell upon what my life will be like when I return. I guess that it is only natural to think about the next step before we have taken it. God has changed a lot in me over the past six months, a lot that four years of university and the building up of my intellect could never do. That intellect has not disappeared, but has been illuminated by experience, a deep leaning upon God and a humbling of any prideful claim to ability or power I once thought I had. I used to want to DO big things, now I want to BE in whom God is doing something big. At times I feel a guilt for not being one of those people who seem to effortlessly do extraordinary things, that reek of compassion, that are driven, that change things. I actually started to study Development at university because I thought that the only noble thing to do with one's life was to serve others, to help those who cannot help themselves, and to improve another's life. I still desire these things, I just see them a bit more holistically now. I had it in my mind four years ago that I was going to graduate university, join the PeaceCorps, and move to some village in Latin America. Now I am in Strakonice, Czech Republic hanging out with teenagers, playing card games, eating in high school cafeterias, and having sleep overs. A bit of a detour. I have to confess I have struggled with being here, with being in a place so comfortable, so developed. Or rather just to not be involved in directly working with development. It seems that a part of my heart still dwells in that former vision for my life. In a way being here feels like a cleavage from my passion for development, but this passion is but a symptom of greater ones. You see I am beginning to become convinced that I should mind more how I live rather than what I do. Not to say that what we choose to do has no effect. Being here has taught me something of the radical affects of living life as ministry and of seeing all opportunities as spiritual. Of not seeing a difference between personal life and public ministry. Both are personal, both are my living act of worship. So as I think about going home, I think about how I want to live, what patterns that have been started in my life now that I want to continue, what kind of follower of Jesus Christ and lover of people that I desire to be transformed into. I don't think Jesus called us to do something I think he called us to be something, to be something so radically different from our surroundings that regardless of what we do we would be living lives that produce transformation and change. When I think about going home I think about what I am going to do, where I will live, what will be important to me. I know that in my heart God has placed a passion and a desire to advocate, to see justice happen, to improve the lives of others, to see people's needs met. I see a few ways that I can act upon these passions. But lately something really transformative has taken hold of my heart and I am starting to think that God doesn't just call me to sacrifice some of my time in my schedule to do things to help others, but to live in such a way that my life is not separated from what I care about. I could volunteer at a homeless shelter, I could be a leader at a youth group, I could be a mentor for refugees, I could do any number of noble things. Or I could live in the same apartment complex as refugees, I could choose to live in the forgotten and run down neighborhoods, I could actually be friends with the youth around me, spend time where they are at, do the things they like to do with them. I think both approaches are necessary, but I have learned here that there is a great freedom in living ministry and not just doing ministry, in loving and serving others as an interwoven action of everyday activity as opposed to a formal interruption to it. Ministry looks like inviting people into my home,  like watching movies and having sleep overs, like playing Dutch Blitz around the coffee table, like eating pancakes and watching BeyoncĂ© music videos on Youtube. How awesome when ministry is life. When serving another looks like living life with them, like friendship. Just because in a month my "job" won't specifically be ministry doesn't mean that my life has to stop being that. 

How I view poverty and oppression must change too. It would be too shortsighted to see these things as simply existing in the physical realm. In fact, the reason why they exists in the physical world is because they originate in the spiritual. I want to be one that, as Isaiah 58 describes, looses the chains of injustice, that sets the oppressed free, that provides for the poor, and shares with the hungry. I know that when God says this he is most certainly speaking in literal terms, but their is a deeper spiritual reality to this. I am starting to see that we cannot separate the physical need form the spiritual. They are married together as one. So if I am going to be about one I must be about both. Their is no exclusivity in God's notion of freedom from the perversions of life like poverty, oppression, and injustice. Freedom from these things must be spiritual above all. I need to see things from a spiritual reality, even poverty, especially poverty.

I have always loved the way that words can invoke transformation in our hearts and spur us towards action. Here are some words that challenge me, words I want to live by:

"What is therefore our task today? Shall I answer 'Faith, Hope, and Love'? That sounds beautiful. But I would say courage- no, even that is not challenging enough to be the whole truth. Our task today is recklessness. For what we Christians lack is not psychology or literature...we lack a holy rage- the recklessness that comes from the knowledge of God and humanity. The ability to rage when justice lies prostrate on the streets,  and when the lie rages across the face of the Earth...a holy anger about the things that are wrong...To rage against complacency. To restlessly seek that recklessness that will challenge and seek to change human history until it conforms to the norms of the Kingdom of God."
~Kaj Munk

"We cannot do great things, only small things with great love. It is not how much you do, but how much love you put into doing it."
~Mother Teresa

"True compassion is more than flinging a coin to a beggar. It comes to see that a system that produces beggars needs to be repaved. We are called to be the Good Samaritan, but after you lift so many people out of the ditch you start to ask, maybe the whole road to Jericho needs to be repaved." 
~Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Love without courage and wisdom is sentimentality, as with the ordinary church member. Courage without love and wisdom is foolhardiness, as with the ordinary soldier. Wisdom without love and courage is cowardice, as with the ordinary intellectual. But the one who has love, courage, and wisdom moves the world."
~Ammon Hennacy

"We need converts in the best sense of the word, people who are marked by the renewing of their minds and imagination, who no longer conform to the patterns that are destroying our world...What the world needs is people who believe so much in another world that they cannot help but begin enacting it now."
~Shane Claiborne

"For children are innocent and love justice, while most are wicked and love mercy."
~G.K. Chesterton

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Reminder

"But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labor in the Lord is not in vain."

1 Corinthians 15:57-58

One of the most discouraging ideas that can creep into one's head is the notion that what she does is without effect or purpose. Lately this has been increasingly tempting for me to believe. Often I ask myself what all I do really adds up to. I want to see the fruit of my labor, to see some product or result. I don't think that this is all that uncommon of a desire. We all want to have evidence of the value of our efforts. Often we work for the results, for what our labor produces. Honestly, I cannot say that I have seen the results of my labor in any traditional sense. It is strange for me to grow accustomed to a "job" that essentially has no distinct parameters or description other than to pursue and love youth so that they may encounter Jesus and come to a right relationship with God. I am not even so certain as to what this looks like in a practical sense. This is something I am figuring out. I am used to working for a wage, or as a student to work for a grade, but to labor without a clear idea of success is difficult. Being here is not easy for me. Often times, I feel a deep longing for home, for the familiar, for family, and friends. If I had no purpose in being here, my discomfort and struggles in being here would be pointless. However, there is purpose, but this purpose does not exist because my labor has results that I can see. I have read the verse from 1 Corinthians that I quoted above many times and have found great encouragement in knowing that my labor in the Lord is not in vain. That is a nice concept, but without an understanding of why our labor is not in vain it becomes a shallow, but beautiful idea. Something to be written on a placard or printed on a mug. This past week I went back and read all of the 15th chapter of 1 Corinthians and I realized something that I had never noticed before. The whole chapter speaks about resurrection, victory and newness, freedom and forgiveness. Paul essentially says that if resurrection is not possible, if Christ did not raise from the dead, then we are fools to be pitied above all others and that we do not have salvation. The resurrection is the very cornerstone of our faith and the very thing that gives us victory from sin and death. I noticed something else though about resurrection. The verse I quoted above says to let nothing move us, to give ourselves fully to the labor of the Lord, knowing that it is not in vain, but why? The key to this verse is the previous statement "But thanks be to God! He gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore..." Oh, that sweet "therefore" that is so characteristic of Paul's writing. We should stand firm, we can know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain not because it produces results that we can see or because it produces results at all, but because we have victory in Jesus Christ. Laboring for the Lord is a response to Christ, to the power of his resurrection in our lives, not because we are expected to achieve something on our own or of our own, some success to testify to the validity of our service. Our labor is not in vain because there is already victory in it and it is motivated by something that is unchanging, something that happened not in vain, but to bring us into a relationship with God, free from sin and from human regulation. What a peace it is to labor not in vain, but with freedom and with victory. 

Friday, October 24, 2008

Arizona On My Mind

I absolutely love my landlord, Mr. Divis. He is simply one of the nicest landlords that I have ever encountered. Not only does he regularly stop by to give us jars of homemade pickles or fresh chives and parsley, but he actually engages us in conversation. Which must be painful for him considering the pathetic level of my Czech abilities. So yesterday he stops by to see if we want to buy fresh eggs from him. We now have over two dozen brown eggs sitting on our coffee table. He starts having a conversation with Leah, who he affectionally calls Maruska. 

Mr. D: "Hey Maruska! How are you?"
Leah: "Oh, I am fine."
Mr.D: "Do you want to buy some eggs?"
Blah Blah Blah...
Mr. D: "Hey does she ski?" (he points at me)
Me: (To Leah) "No, not really. Unless you count that time I ran into another woman while going down the bunny hill."
Leah: (To Mr. D) "No she doesn't, she is from the desert. She is from the state of Arizona."
Mr. D: "She is? Oh, I knew  a girl from Arizona. Do you remember Ruth Leah?"
Leah: "Yeah I do. I forgot she was from Arizona."

At this point Mr. D leaves the apartment and comes back in about five minutes with a book for me. The book is "Arizona On My Mind". A collection of pictures from around the state. Seriously, what a sweet man. Looking at that book made me really nostalgic. Pictures of sunsets, lightening storms, down town Tucson in all its glorious ghetto splendor, the mountains, Bisbee, my favorite quirky mining town, etc. Oh, Arizona! How I love thee. 

Whenever I am away from Arizona I always miss it. I will defend that desert land and its beauty to anyone. I have still not seen a sunset that can top the ones I have seen there and the mountains still hold for me a certain beauty, one that has been carved into them over year and years. I wonder if I will ever be able to get this place out of my heart. So here's to Arizona. Yes, you are on my mind.