Friday, April 22, 2011

Mo' Money

Fund-raising for the WCD program is complete! All of the costs for this year, including the $3,000 tuition and the $1,500 Scotland trip, have been accounted for.


If you’d like to continue giving to causes related to my time here in Pittsburgh, myself and several others from the Upper Room church are participating in the Pittsburgh Marathon on May 15th. I am running the Half-Marathon as a member of the World Vision team, which is where the financial donation part comes in...

World Vision is an excellent humanitarian organization that drills wells in Ethiopia and Kenya in order to provide clean drinking water – something that is essential but often lacking. Please consider donating.

Financial gifts can be given on my personal page.

And more info about the race and team World Vision can be found here.

Thanks again for supporting me this year!

Monday, February 21, 2011


“You’re going to Scotland!” Close friends have been reminding me of this. And I think now that I’m sitting down to write a little about the trip, I’m finally feeling the anticipation. So for those of you who haven’t been alerted as of yet, here it is: I’m going to Scotland! When? VERY soon! This Friday the 25th, our small group of seminarians and WCD participants will be traveling across the pond to the homeland of bagpipes, kilts, beautiful highlands, malt whiskey, and some of the most unique folklore (ex. the Loch Ness Monster!). So we’ll be there until the 10th of March doing a number of things.

Participate and Learn…

This trip is a “cross-cultural immersion trip”, which is one component of my WCD experience. And while many such trips associated with church work often involve going to a chosen 3rd world country and working alongside local people to help build houses or volunteer with an orphanage, the Scotland trip has much different intentions and expectations. We are openly seeking to participate and learn, which can be different from “service work” in a couple ways. The first part of our trip will be spent experiencing monastic life at the Northumbrian community (link at the bottom of the page), which is a monastery rooted in a Celtic spiritual heritage. Our WCD group has been using their prayer book and we hope to glean from this experience a better understanding of how this type of ministry is a gift to the church and world. This monastic experience will be a nice foundation for the second part of our trip, which will take us to the Scottish cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow where we’ll be exploring how the church is seeking to express itself in what can be called a post-Christian society. So these two parts of the trip come together in what we see as the purpose of the trip: to participate and learn how the monastic life of the church (a mix of contemplation, prayer, thoughtfulness, hospitality, and communal life) fits together with the missional life of the church (evangelism, witness, social engagement, and Christian presence in the world). Of course, we believe that monasticism and mission are not to be harshly separated because they have much to do with one another, and it’s that tension that we want to really explore.


Although St. Patrick's Day is thought of as a purely Irish celebration, he is a saint because of his influence throughout present-day Ireland, England, and Scotland. On March 16th, St. Patty’s day is often celebrated involving (lots of) beer, pinching people who don’t wear green, and maybe eating some traditional Irish cuisine. But what was so special about Patrick? In preparation for the trip, I’ve been reading George G. Hunter’s “The Celtic Way of Evangelism”, which helps to paint a fuller picture of the famous Patrick. I hope to relay some of Hunter’s pertinent insights in the remainder of this blog.

Born in northern England around 400AD, Patrick was captured by Irish pirates at the age of 16 (epic, I know), and taken prisoner for about 6 years. During these years in captivity, Patrick was deeply affected through what theologians call “natural revelation”, a process by which you come to believe in God because of the beauty displayed in nature. Also, Patrick came to love and respect the Irish people and culture that took him prisoner, which I find especially strange! And this is where the story gets even more peculiar. Patrick hears a voice in a dream telling him to escape and there will be a ship waiting to take him, which is what he does. From there, he returns home to England and trains to become a priest in England.

After years of normal priestly duties in England, Patrick heard another voice calling him back to the people who captured him. So, in typical Patrick fashion (which was outrageously non-typical), he asked the church in Rome if he would be allowed to return as an apostle (religious messenger person) to the Irish people. The biggest problem here is that much of the civilized Roman world viewed “those” people as barbarian, emotionally unfit, and hopeless. For example, the Celts were known to battle in the nude, which you can imagine didn’t seem to model the virtues of the Roman culture, which highly regarded rationalism and literacy. The main and all-too-common assumption here was that for a group of people to hear the Gospel and to know God’s love for them… they need to first be civilized… they needed to be Roman. Patrick did not agree with this. Patrick knew their culture and loved the people. And after much reluctance, Patrick was given Papal approval and spent the rest of his life living among the Celtic people. Although the numbers are hard to gather, there is significant evidence that many thousands of people were baptized into the church. Overall, Patrick’s ministry to the Celtic people is crucial in the development of Christianity in Europe.

There have been tons of missionary movements throughout the ages, many full of dangerous and violent and regrettable tactics; however, Patrick’s legacy is one that can be valued because it was not rooted in imperialistic motives or violent capture. Instead, (and here’s the point I’m really trying to make) Patrick understood the Celtic people. He worked for them and with them. He understood their appreciation for paradox, quest for ultimate reality, and love of story. Patrick knew that in order to love his neighbor he must first know them, and out of that sense of knowing them as family and home, he was called to share what was so fundamentally important in his own life, the Christian faith.

As our group travels to Scotland in order to experience and learn, please pray for our time there, our group dynamics while on the journey, the people and places that we meet, and even our return home where we hope to share what God is doing across the pond.

Thomas Cahill speaks of St. Patrick’s ability to affirm the good in the people around him, something I find challenging and hopeful. Cahill says, “Patrick found a way of swimming down to the depths of the Irish psyche and warming and transforming Irish imagination – making it more humane and more noble while keeping it Irish.”

May we be granted God’s peace as we strive to affirm those good and beautiful things around us.

Monday, January 24, 2011


When I was younger I didn’t like to read. And my parents recognized this. They tried to pay me to read. Didn’t really work. The “Book-It” program didn’t work on me either. I liked pizza, but I liked not reading more. I remember flipping through books and underlining random chunks of text that seemed noteworthy in order to get rid of that crisp brand new book appearance. My favorite technique was to fold the book open with a lot of force so that the front cover didn’t sit flat on my desk when my teacher would stroll by. I would work the book binding back and forth for a couple minutes, and like magic, I had a thoroughly read book that matched the other kids’. Genius.

This pattern of interacting with books made it’s way into my college life, although with much more subtlety or, I guess, “genius”. And so it doesn’t surprise me when I remember venting to anyone who would listen about the horribly dense text that my professor had chosen. It was the type of text that demanded a dictionary close by, or else I would have never understood a thing from it. (Also, I shouldn’t leave out my other close by study tools – my cell phone, iTunes, and Facebook chat.) But the thing that really validated my pissing and moaning was that ALL the other students I talked to were upset about it. And so we nicely concluded that this book was ridiculous.

A different professor overheard our corporate complaining and actually showed some empathy. Professor number two heard our cries and offered some helpful advice by saying, “I think the question becomes is there any way to say what the text says in a simpler way?” Some of us mauled this over for a second, but I immediately thought, “Well I hope so! I’m pretty sure that’s what we’re going to have to do for a grade!” But after our initial reactions, I started to appreciate that advice more. I thought, “Yeah, there’s got to be a way to break this horrible entrée down into pieces that I can actually stomach.” Or maybe a better way to put it is that our task is to take this dense text and say it simply without sacrificing too much of its brilliance. I left there seeing the beauty in simplicity.

The next time our class met Professor number one was actually quite gracious to us, admitting the toughness of the reading assignment. However, Professor number one didn’t mention anything about simplifying the language, instead, the following was said, “This book is like a famous and beautiful painting in that the more you admire and look, the more respect you will have for the painter, or author in this case.” And so Professor number one encouraged us to do the hard work of reading and struggling through the text in order to see the brilliantly placed brush strokes of the text. And so I left there seeing the beauty in complexity.

Saint Ephrem is a highly respected theologian in the eastern Christian world. You know how Western Christians LOVE people like C.S. Lewis and Saint Augustine? Well, I’ve heard that Ephrem is like that for the Church in the East. So, basically twentysomething Christians in Syria put Ephrem quotes on their Facebook statuses instead of Augustine quotes…

He was around in the 4th century and writes what are basically sermons in song version. His hymns are serious. They are deeply rooted in Scripture, but maybe in a way that is weird to you and I. He’s sometimes referred to as the “harp of the Spirit”… so he’s good, very good. But he’s also very old. I mean he’s dead, but his writings are old… so they take a little patience and getting used to. But I’m learning that they are worth the effort that it takes to engage these hymns. For example, part of his hymn regarding the Genesis account:

Joyfully did I embark
on the tale of Paradise-
a tale that is short to read
but rich to explore.
My tongue read the story’s
outward narrative,
while my intellect took wing
and soared upward in awe
as it perceived the splendor of Paradise-
not indeed as it really is,
but insofar as humanity
is granted to comprehend it.

With the eye of my mind
I gazed upon Paradise;
the summit of every mountain
is lower than its summit,
the crest of the Flood
reached only its foothills;
these it kissed with reverence
before turning back
to rise above and subdue the peak
of every hill and mountain.
The foothills of Paradise it kisses,
While every summit it buffets.

Both of my professors challenged me to think and speak about that difficult textbook in a different way. When is it best to say it simply? And when is anything but complexity a disservice to the topic? I’m learning that our words are important, especially as they relate to God.

Some questions worth considering:

What is Paradise like? What is it NOT like?
Who is it like? When is it? Where is it?

One of Ephrem’s hymns has a corporate response that is worth meditating upon:

“Blessed is He who was pierced
and so removed the sword from the entry to


Monday, January 10, 2011

Wintery Thoughts.

The winter is upon us and it’s slowing me down. The gray sky is here and it’s not new anymore; it’s been here for months. I actually think the weather has affected my vision; it’s hard to stare at the sky without being bored and my legs are cold and so I bought flannel-lined pants. My elderly neighbor Angie has harassed me for wearing shoes that aren’t warm enough and customers at the café are often trying to order through fogged up glasses. Winter is here and it’s lost whatever sex appeal it had, if it ever had any.

This weather seems to toss us to our couches for movie watching and keep us buried in our morning sheets. But I think the slowness of our bodies that comes with this season is an opportunity for our minds to get out and exercise a bit. I affirm Thoreau’s comment on this season: “Winter, with its inwardness is upon us. A man is constrained to sit down, and to think.”

Consider the following poem…

On Slow Learning
by Scott Cairns

If you have ever owned
a tortoise, you already know
how terribly difficult
paper training can be
for some pets.

Even if you get so far
as to instill in your tortoise
the value of achieving the paper,
there remains one obstacle--
your tortoise’s intrinsic sloth.

Even a well-intentioned tortoise
may find himself, in his journeys,
to be painfully far from the mark.

Failing, your tortoise may shy away
for weeks within his shell, utterly
ashamed, or looking up with tiny,
wet eyes might offer an honest shrug.
Forgive him.

The tortoises of the WCD program are slow learners, both on purpose and because of our “intrinsic sloth”. Our current readings of Saint Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory of Nazianzus have been tough mid-winter assignments. However, as we slowly seek to follow these good and knowledgeable men of old, with our sluggishness of mind and body, we are being challenged to contemplate who God is. And this type of contemplation has often led us to a state of wonder and mystery. Not the type of mystery that gives up in despair, but rather, the mystery that includes awe and reverence. We tortoises are slowly learning how to be in awe.

Saint Symeon the New Theologian was a Christian monk during the 10th and 11th centuries and I would like to share with you all a prayer that is meant to be offered by the blind who are struggling to see the light, a group of which I am often a part.

Have mercy on me, Son of David, and open the eyes of my soul, so that I may see the light of the world, even You, Who are God, and may become, even I, a son of the day; and so that you may not abandon me, O Good One, as unworthy and without a share in Your divinity. Lord, manifest Yourself to me, so that I may know that You have loved me as one who has kept, Master, Your divine commandments. O Merciful One, send the Comforter even to me, so that He may teach me the things concerning You; and, O God of all, declare what is yours to me. Illumine me with the true light, O Compassionate One, so that I may see the glory which You had with Your Father before the world was made. Abide even in me, as You have said, so that I, too, may become worthy of abiding in You, and may then consciously enter into You and consciously possess You within myself. O Invisible One, take form in me so that, beholding Your impossible beauty, I may be clothed, O Heavenly One, with Your image and forget all things visible. Compassionate One, give me that glory which the Father gave You, so that I may, as all of your servants, become god by grace and be ever with You, now and always and for ages without end. Amen.

May we, during this winter season, be gracious with ourselves and accept the gift of slowness in order to more fully know who God is.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A picture of Advent.

“It is said that the door to the stable where the Christ-child has been born is very low – and only those who kneel find access.”
-Celtic Daily Prayer

My home is in the most convenient of places, within walking distance of a grocery store, theatre, an astonishing amount of cafes, restaurants, ice cream joints, banks, bakeries, and pizza parlors. I don’t collect records, but if I did, there is a place a couple blocks from my house that would constantly be tugging me to spend hours there (Thank you Amish roots for my imbedded reluctance towards technology!). Two blocks from my house is a library. And nearby is a post office. Oh, and there are like five dry cleaning businesses. And apart from the 2 Starbucks’, the majority of these are locally owned businesses. Along with the many businesses, there are tons of religious institutions. From a Jewish Community center right across the street from my house, to dozens of churches and synagogues within a nice stroll from my temporary home.

As my host and new friend, Jill, has recently explained, the intersection of Forbes and Murray Avenue is the “center of the universe”, at least for her. And I, too, find myself becoming more and more comfortable with this little nook in Pittsburgh. It’s how I explain where I live. Sometimes I’ll use it as a place to meet up. I’m even tempted to theorize about how I’ve become oriented to life here in Pittsburgh through and in relation to this hub of society. That theory will take some time, so for now I’ll just explain something I’ve been noticing.

My walk to work, church, and any of the above mentioned places brings me past a couple bus stops. But there is one in particular that is usually heavily populated. And now that winter has arrived with its unpleasant winds and lazy grey colors, these bus stops are full of people bundled up, often with eyes squinting and arms crossed furiously.

Unlike these folks, I don’t stop and wait with the others. Instead, I try to mingle through the pack and awkwardly sneak with little grace through the people and past the bus stop. Sometimes, I bump shoulders with a stranger. I mumble a “my bad” and make eye contact for just long enough to say, “I’m sorry”, with my eyes. Sometimes passing through the bus stop is an awkward experience where I try to offer a friendly smile and am met with grunts and apathetic responses. And understandably, these people are waiting in the cold.

Other times, however, as I emerge from the crowded bus stop at four in the afternoon, I am fighting back a huge smile because the freezing people are laughing together. I don’t know them, but the two older women sitting on the bench seem awesome. These people are warmer somehow than the others. And understandably, these people are laughing.

I like reminders. Maybe that explains my iCal that’s terribly detailed, even if it’s full of things that don’t deserve a spot on there. Like “nap” or “pick nose”. Just kidding. But it’s almost that bad. But one of the reasons I put everything on my calendar is because I like being reminded.

It’s good to be reminded. And maybe it’s because my mother is a “scrapbooker” (picture my whole family posing for Kodak moments during any and every possible situation), but I think pictures can help us remember. And the bus stop offers a couple pictures of waiting… those who are suffering in the cold and those who are laughing in spite of it. Maybe it matters how we wait. Maybe we can learn from these pictures of the waiting people.

Another picture of waiting is Advent – the time before Christmas when the Church is encouraged to prepare for the birth of Jesus. And our Celtic Daily Prayer book contains a beautiful evening blessing that speaks from within this season:
God of the watching ones,
give us your benediction.

God of the waiting ones,
give us your good word for our souls.

If Advent is a time for waiting and if it matters how we wait then what should the church look like during this season? How should Christians get ready for Christmas? What words, pictures, images, ideas, and actions should be a part of this season?

What is a picture of Advent?

To steal another nugget of goodness from the prayer book – this Advent season “our thoughts are focused not just on letters, cards and presents, but on repentance, humbling and interior ‘housecleaning’.” Housecleaning? Wait! That is another picture that can help us remember… Every morning, WCD participants pray this:
One thing I have asked of the Lord,
this is what I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life;
to behold the beauty of the Lord
and to seek Him in His temple.

A temple. A house. These buildings are places where God is. Where the creator of the universe comes and rests. A place where the Divine makes his home. A place where the God of Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob comes, lives, and works. God has a home.

And we are called to do housecleaning. Where is that house? Does that mean we have to go clean the church pews or help clean the flannel graphs in the Sunday school rooms? I’m learning that we are the house of God. We are the space where God dwells. I think our bodies are the buildings for God. What a concept. What a picture!

Advent is a season of waiting and preparation. And in light of the monastic readings that the WCD community has been going through, the waiting for Jesus ought to involve attentiveness and watchfulness. We ought to humbly examine ourselves, for we are the places in which God dwells.

I’d like to imagine that the church is a bus stop that many are forced to walk through and awkwardly mingle past. And so the question comes, what will these people see? What picture will they see?

“It is said that the door to the stable where the Christ-child has been born is very low – and only those who kneel find access.”

May we kneel low through an “interior housecleaning” and be a picture of Advent.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Today I believe.

One thing that unites the participants of the WCD program is prayer, a particular kind of prayer called the daily office. Now, after doing a little research (aka. Pressing command-spacebar on my computer and immediately being shown the definition) I can tell you that an “Office”, in religious terms, is a series of psalms of prayers said by people of the Christian faith. And so by adding “Daily” on the front we get a habitual saying of prayers and psalms, you guessed it, daily. Although we don’t have a fixed time or hour that we say these prayers (like 8 a.m. or exactly noon), we do have 3 general timeframes - morning, midday, and evening. Within each of these “Offices”, or planned times of prayer, there are a mixture of written prayers, scripture readings, devotional type lessons, and time for any prayers we may want to address that relate to our situation that day. The evening prayer has a section that is labeled “Expressions of faith” that I have found increasingly beautiful:

Lord, You have always given
bread for the coming day;
and though I am poor,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
strength for the coming day;
and though I am weak,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always given
peace for the coming day;
and though of anxious heart,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always kept me
safe in trials;
and now, tried as I am,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always marked
the road for the coming day;
and though it may be hidden,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always lightened
this darkness of mine;
and though the night is here,
today I believe.

Lord, You have always spoken
when time was ripe;
and though you be silent now,
today I believe.

I love this part of the office because it covers a variety of experiences. Some I can relate to and others, it seems, I struggle to fit into what I’ve come across that day. I mean, honestly, when I say this prayer most every night there are plenty of times that I get caught up at the very beginning with the “and though I am poor” part. I can’t help but think, “I’m not poor”. Yeah, I have a gross amount of student debt starting to demand repayment and I don’t own (or rent) my own place… but I am filthy rich. I eat whenever I want. I have too many clothes to count – I have shoes that go unused for months at a time. I drive a nice car with which my biggest complaint regards the heated seats not working…. life is rough, right? All that to say, there are times when the “Expressions of faith” section in our evening prayers seem a little odd.

But there are also sections in that prayer that seem just right. The bit about “and though the night is here” makes sense every time I read it. Normally, I’m sitting in my bedroom around five-thirty praying through these expressions, and when I get to this part, “Lord, You have always lightened this darkness of mine; and though the night is here, today I believe” I can’t help but look out my window and notice the sun fading away. This prayer makes so much sense in that moment because I can literally see darkness and light being mixed up in the sky. The prayer is very powerful because the transition between day and night is taking place and I can see it, I can see it.

What I’m learning through this prayer is that there is great power in habitually acknowledging that God will, “lighten this darkness of mine”, that the night will end and a new day will come tomorrow. I think these statements are so powerful because they express trust in the face of adversity, uncertainty, discomfort, weariness, disorientation, and loneliness. They are most definitely bold expressions of faith in God, when times are not ideal.

I’ve just recently had an “Aha!” moment with one of these lines. “Lord, You have always given strength for the coming day; and though I am weak, today I believe.” Usually when I pray through this I am thinking about various ways that my will or intellect or decision making capacity can be strengthened, not primarily my physical body. And so I kind of ignore one meaning and focus on the way that it really relates to me. But for the last three or four days I’ve had a nasty cold/flu “thing” that has reduced my life to nose blowing, hand washing, napping, soup sipping, tea drinking, Harry Potter reading (yeah…. I’m 23 years old and just now reading the books!), and reconsidering my choice to have a mustache (Let’s just say, saving food for later is gross. But saving boogers for later will keep you from having meaningful friendships). And so I've been really praying for strength.

It is the habit of reading through these expressions of faith that has allowed me to understand this prayer more fully, especially through this mild sickness where praying for strength in the midst of my tiredness is suddenly a very real prayer. And in realizing that the prayer is “real” I also come to understand that it has been “real” all along. That is to say, by praying these expressions of faith, we are in a mysterious sort of way “preparing” for those contexts, struggles, dilemmas, and situations. By expressing trust in God when things are going quite well, we are involved in a preparation for times of challenge, when our faith is most bold and difficult to articulate.

I’m very thankful right now for prayer, preparation, and Potter, Harry Potter.

A good day.

I live on Forbes Avenue, which is a pretty busy street. Even in my newness to the Burgh, I’ve noticed that it runs along some important places like the Point where the 3 rivers meet, Downtown, CMU, Pitt, and through Squirrel Hill and on into eternity-ish. Another thing I’ve noticed about Forbes, and a lot of other main roads in the city, is that street cleaning happens on a regular basis. But unlike the small towns that I’ve lived in… you can’t park your car on the road when street cleaning is scheduled, which means relocating your car during that time. Otherwise, you get a nice little surprise in the form of a parking ticket. So, I’ve made a mental note of the times in which I can’t park my car on the street. But it hasn’t really stuck yet. So as I was leaving the house the other day around 8:30 for my morning jog (which counted as the “2nd and 4th Monday of each month from 8am – noon”), I panicked. I panicked because I had forgotten the importance of the day. I was reminded of the importance, however, when I saw that many cars had a little flimsy red and white ticket wedged underneath the windshield wiper, probably from the woman in uniform who seemed to be leaving these in her path. At this point I was experiencing an embarrassing amount of panic and despair. “But wait!” As I realized that she probably had not gotten to my car yet. So I ran down to her, naively asked, “is this the 4th Monday of the month?” She nodded. So I said, “Can I still go move my car?” And her response was perfect for me because I was already in my running gear, “If you can get there before I do!” I think I cut her off midsentence and sprinted back to my house and successfully moved my car before it was ticketed. You would have thought I just found out a tumor was benign by the kind of relief I was feeling. I think I told at least a couple people the other day, “Today is a good day.”