Monday, August 24, 2009

3 Observations of City-Dwellers in Natural Lands

This weekend about two dozen of us traveled northward to Wisconsin just to get out of the crazy city for a couple days. Whether one is in school or not, the end of August always seems to be a transitory time for many, so this weekend was wonderful for us to retreat and rest before the storms of life rage.

In our brief time there I made three keen observations (well I think they're keen, but you can judge for yourself. Sidenote: Can someone bring back "keen" as an adjective not to describe something one does, but who someone is? "Gee, you're keen." It'd be real swell if someone could do that.)

  1. You know you've got a bunch of people from the city when at night, pitch dark, in the middle of nowhere, the only thing you have for a flashlight is either the backlight to your phone or the Flashlight iPhone app. Someone says, "Anyone have a flashlight? I can't see." Someone else responds with, "Hold on, I do. I've just got to pull out my phone." Then there's the awkward, repeated need for the person to push the buttons on the phone in order to keep the light at maximum power. This is where the person with the iPhone steps in with, "Put that weak flip phone away. I've got a flashlight on my phone! I don't need to press buttons all the time like you." This is another way iPhones are better, Apple is genius, the App Store dominates, and we are idiots. However, the Zippo app just might make you look cool in that situation. Nope. Nevermind.

  2. City-dwellers like to kill everything within a two foot radius of them. We were sitting outside by a small body of water, reeds dancing as if the wind was playing music. We were surround by trees as we looked out over the water into the distant, green hills. In a group we spent some time in prayer, much of the time in silence; a few folk prayed out loud. During some of those times my ears would perk up to the sound of a foot stomping the ground. I'd look back to catch a glimpse of that same foot twisting in the dirt as if putting out a cigarette. I knew it wasn't a cigarette because they don't allow smoking on the grounds and he's a Christian and Christians would never smoke. I wisely deduced that this person (who shall remain nameless) was killing woodland creatures of some sort. This happened a few times and got me thinking about all the times in the short span we were there that people freaked out at the sight of a bee or a spider 1) as if these critters aren't already in the city and 2) as if the critters in the woods somehow have the power themselves to kill with a sting or a slight touch to the skin. And of course, like with all things unknown, the most logical step to take is to kill them.

  3. During that same time out by the water I found it ironic that some of the most ardent environmentalists and eco-friendly advocates live in cities. Cities made of lifeless slabs of concrete and cold, hard steel. You are aware that in order to make the city from which you battle for all-things-green that there once was open land and free roaming for both person and creature alike, that there was real green before being "green" became a symbol for activism and dare I say elitism? I have no problem with trying to be good stewards of the environment in which we live; in fact, I hope we are all living "green" in some way. I'm just saying we should do so with some humility, understanding that our paved roads (however craptastic), walk-ups, sushi restaurants, and Starbucks haven't always been there.

Rollin' With The Bentleys

I-94 can be a trip sometimes. This was one of those times. Enjoy the ride with us as we explore the challenges of chatting with British folk in their Bentleys. They drive on the right side of the car!!!

Monday, August 17, 2009

I Don't Believe In A Place Called "China"

I am testing out some thoughts I have which result from a conversation I had today:

I've never been to China. I've never been anywhere closer than thousands of miles away from China. However I have read words about the country and its history; I have seen pictures of the landmass we have labeled China; I have seen videos and artifacts that claim to be from China; I have met people from this place, all of whom speak a different language than me. Although I have never been to China, I am fairly confident that the area with this name exists.

But does China's existence depend on either my knowledge or experience of it?

Has China existed throughout history, even when people didn't have access to the same kind of evidence I have now? What if I never lived in China or met anyone who has lived there, Chinese or any other ethnicity? What if I never met a Chinese person? What if I have never seen a video or an artifact from there? Would it still exist? What about never seeing pictures or a map? What about never reading a word about China?

Is the existence of China--or anything for that matter--predicated on my knowledge of it, whether that knowledge be intellectual, experiential, or both?

Given what we do know, what if I were to go to someone stranded on a desert island and try to convince him or her that China existed, but all I could use were my own words? Would that person be justified in rejecting my claim that China existed?

These are a few of the many questions I have as I wrestle through this idea of existence. I would really love to know what you think. I will engage in any comments posted only if I have more questions, but I will stray from pushing any sort of personal agenda. Feel the freedom to write whatever you want, even if derogatory. I will only be slightly offended.

The Long Trek Up Long's Peak: Part 1

On July 26th, along with my friends Rick & TJ, I climbed Long's Peak--a 14,000 ft. mountain--for the second time (the first was back in 2007). Using my newly purchased iPhone 3G S, I chronicled the journey with short clips at various times. What we did in twelve short hours you can experience in nearly 12 excruciatingly long minutes. Here is the first of the two-part miniseries dramody.

By His Grace.

Monday, August 03, 2009

Yeah, We Meet At Schuba's

What the heck is a Schuba? Who is Schuba? Do I eat it? Talk to it? Play it?

I should probably backtrack. Many of you know that I am heavily involved in a start-up church (don't confuse with company) called The Line. It all began back in September for me. I moved to the city of Chicago (don't confuse with Chicagoland) down in January as Aaron, the lead planter, his wife, Kayla, and their three children moved to here from Seattle. There was only a handful of us at first, meeting regularly at their apartment in Lincoln Park.

Needless to say, nothing is conventional. There are no "12 Steps for a Church Plant" that ensures success (if there are, shoot them immediately--the gimmicks, not the people). We have tried our hand at a bunch of different things as we seek to know Jesus more, the city more, and how we might see the city to know Jesus more. I am completely out of my comfort zone on so many fronts, but it cause me and the rest of us in the church to depend on God and trust that His Spirit is moving. One verse that really struck me as we were starting up is in Acts when God tells Paul not to give up on his mission.
"Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you, and no one will attack you to harm you, for I have many in this city who are my people. -Acts 18:9-10
We have done informationals, strategy session after strategy session, city learning times, doctrine studies, celebration nights, and regular old fashion church services. We are still a plant. We are still small. We are still seeking the Lord, believing that His people are here and we must continue to speak, preach, teach, and live out the gospel of Jesus Christ.

So what about Schuba's? How does that fit in? Well seeing as how nothing is conventional, one of the most challenging things for a beginning church in the city--and nearly any church for that matter--is meeting space. Congregating in the pastor's home is good for only so long. The intimacy can quickly turn into BO. In other words, we can wear out our welcome, wear out the family, and cease to grow, stinking the place up rather than emitting the sweet fragrance of God. The other challenge for a beginning church is having enough of the green paper. It's barely coming from the inside and people on the outside aren't usually directly involved enough to stay committed in the long run. The flow can run low.

So in the city, where borrowing seems to always come with a fee, even if it's your neighbor's sugar, we are faced with the challenge of finding a building that holds a church of 30 (on good days).

We thought we had a solution when we landed a small room at a church in one of the neighborhoods near by. We held a big event at the Congress Theater on the 26th, and when I say big, I mean we topped three digits in a space that could fill 4000. I assumed that the event would get some new faces at the church we had been gathering in. However, in the middle of the week we lost the church due to circumstances I am not aware of and we had no place to meet for this past Sunday.

Enter Schubas. Schubas is a bar/restaurant/music venue that has hosted the likes of Sufjan Stevens, the Fleet Foxes, and Andrew Bird. I don't know how Aaron did it, but we got an e-mail on Wednesday saying that it looks like we will be meeting here. The amazing thing is we got such an amazing deal, it is the perfect size, and the people that work there are extremely kind to us! Aaron arrived at 8:00 am on Sunday morning to see if things could be ready by the 11:00 am service, and everything was set up already! We have a sound guy who really wants to work that slot every Sunday and I think we will be blessing them with beautiful music by Milano (members of our church who make up the band for a program I will write about int he future) along with solid preaching by Aaron.

I arrived on Sunday, and was utterly blown away. In so many ways this place is perfect for us in where we are at as a plant. In fact, a couple came to the church this weekend after the girl had flown in from Florida bummed she couldn't go to church. She and her boyfriend were outside getting ready to eat breakfast at the restaurant when they found out we were having a service in the music room!

This is a God thing. I am extremely pumped about the location and where we are at as a plant. People are moving to the city. The gospel is being shared. People are coming to Jesus. God surely does have many of his people here.

A Whirlwind Weekend

I stepped in the door of my apartment around midnight this past Thursday. It was absolutely empty except for what remained in my room. With each step on the wood floor it echoed. My roommate--whom I met on Craiglist back in January when I first moved to the city--was all moved out and was planning on just coming by in the morning to do a few things and sign the check out sheet. It was bittersweet because God had truly blessed me with a roommate I enjoyed and got along with well. I have no nightmare stories of the randomness that Craigslist provides so often. He wasn't a vampire. He didn't steal from me. He didn't leave a trail of dirty clothes, dishes, or toilet paper in his wake. He was a genuinely solid roommate, so it was somewhat sad to part ways.

But I also knew what I was getting myself into. As George and Wheezy sang, "Well, we're movin' on uuupp..." It wasn't exactly to the East Side. It literally was a move up--four floors from the second to the sixth. I moved in with two guys who are a part of the church plant: Peter, who is from around here, but has never had a roommate before, and Jake, who just moved up from Texas on Saturday to be a part of the church.

Needless to say quite a bit of adjustment has occurred in just the four days since I've been back. The apartment is much bigger than the previous one and most people I know are jealous of my room. We are at the end of the hall facing the street we live off of. I have three enormous windows that overlook buildings all around and I can even catch a glimpse of the lake and the Navy Pier Ferris Wheel. I will be doing a video tour some time soon, so you can see exactly what I'm talking about.

The move is going smoothly and I think we are all gonna get along really well, especially because Peter brought a sweet flat screen to the place equipped with seemingly every kind of system known to man. He even brought art too. We are cultured now.

In the middle of the move we had to pause and enjoy at least some momentary rest at our sweet new digs for church...

10 Days of Work and Pleasure: Pleasure

Two years ago I had spent the entire summer out at CSU before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had become acclimated to the altitude in Colorado before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had played multiple sports multiple times before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I had gone on a backpacking trip the weekend before hiking Long's Peak.
Two years ago I was two years younger than I am now.

That was all two years ago.

One of my goals for the pleasure portion of the Colorado trip was to hike a 14er (a 14,000 foot mountain). The original plan was to hike something other than Long's Peak because I had conquered it before. However, my good friend Rick had never done it and he convinced us (TJ and me) that we should do it again. So we did.

To hike Long's the group must start in the dark. We chose 2:00 am as our start time. Without too much detail, this meant 20 minutes of sleep for TJ and me, zero minutes of sleep for Rick. I woke up feeling woozy, dizzy, frizzy, and any kind of "zy" you can think of. I was hesitant to go, but made it to the car. That was the first step.

Long's is a combination of hiking and climbing. Labeled a "Class 3," Long's can be very difficult at points; in fact, only 3 out of every 10 people make it to the summit. It's a 15 mile round-trip, 7 1/2 up and back. The first 6 miles up takes about 3 hours, the other 1 1/2 miles takes about three. I didn't think I was even going to make it past mile 3. I literally wanted to fall asleep every step of the way. When we stopped the eyes definitely shut and all the rocks looked like fluffy pillows waiting for my head to crash on them (which would have been bad).

Somehow, I made it to the Key Hole (it looks like a hole where a key would go. creative, I know), which is where the photo at the top is taken from. We got there about 6:30 am. I let TJ and Rick go ahead because they were steaming past me already. Therefore I mainly climbed alone, stopping often, and even sleeping on the side of the mountain for about 30 min. Passers by actually were jealous, knowing I had claimed a sweet spot.

I eventually made it to the top by 9:00. On my way up I saw Rick and TJ coming down. They were shocked along with me that I made it. They continued past me, and again I found myself alone. The way back down was much more difficult than the way up. My body felt like it was slowly falling apart, like a car that has minor problems fade into larger ones. The machine is no longer what it was.

Walking down the path for a few miles was partially a sigh of relief, partially realistic exposure that two years can do a lot to a body, even if it is only 26 years old. The bones groan along with the fallen creation, awaiting the day when there will no long be any pain.

10 Days of Work and Pleasure: Work

Summers in Ft. Collins, CO have become etched in my calendar since 2005 when I joined staff with Campus Crusade. In 2006 I drove through there during my lone ranger, cross-country tour to visit some friends who were going through some training. The following summer in 2007 I went out to try my hand at some classes to see if the seminary thing could be in my future (we know how that turned out). Sadly I was unable to make it in 2008, but it was with great anticipation that I would be there in 2009 somehow, some way.

Thanks to my job as a recruiter with Trinity along with my substantial connections with Campus Crusade, I was able to work a recruiting trip in during the National Staff Conference that occurs near the end of the CSU summer. I flew out on very little sleep, expecting that it would be a theme for my time out there because I wanted to get as much time with people as possible.

The first half of the time was spent working quite a bit. We had a table at a this thing called a Ministry Fair (still kinda unsure about the name, but whatevs). We were nestled between two of our big rival seminaries and we had many stare downs and duels because that's how we do. I learned how to be crafty and dominate selling points, while running down Crusade staff who walked by in order to keep them from hitting up the other tables.

In all seriousness, my co-worker, Emanuel, a pro at this stuff, is solid friends with the guys from the other seminaries, even going on a morning hike with the rep from DTS! It was so great to see how little we are legitimately in competition with one another and how instead we really just want to serve people as best we can in showing how a theological education may benefit them.

On top of that, so many old friends stopped by the table and I got to catch up with mad crazy folk. We made a substantial number of contacts with whom I will be following up over the next couple of weeks. By the end of it all I was pretty horse and ready for some rest, but I should of known better.

Remember, I came in expecting to sleep very little. That's exactly what I got...

Nearly Four Crazy Weeks

It all began on Wednesday, July 8th when my boy Casey Sapp rolled into town (well he had been here for a few days from China, but to me he had just gotten here). We hung out for a bit and drove out to The Wetendorf's. There we would begin what became five full days of festivities because Mr. Zach Wetendorf and Ms. Morgan Cawthorne were getting married that Saturday. I was the Best Man for this spectacular event and I do believe I had one of the best times of my life. I think the wedding and reception were so gospel-centered, where, although the day was in many ways about Zach and Morgan, they made sure to point everyone there, Christian or not, to Christ. The day itself lasted nearly 12 hours when all was said and done, most it being us cutting a rug on the dance floor.

When the dust settled and Zach and Morgan hit the road, friends still remained here, including my old-boss-still-close-brother, Jimmy. We got to tour the city a little bit and get some solid time together before he went back to Florida. Less than 24 hours later my Auntie arrived! The revolving door of festivities and visitors had not stopped; in fact, she and I kicked it into high gear. We had a solid mixture of regular tourist things--top of the Willis (Sears) Tower, Millennium Park, etc.--along with regular local things--going to a movie, visiting The Wetendorf's in the burbs. I had a wonderful time with her here and I believe she would say the same thing if she had some words to type in this bad boy.

Again, less than 24 hours after she left, I was on a plane headed for Colorado. That's where the next entry picks up.