Hey friends,

In the past I’ve enjoyed reading travel blogs, from friends in Ghana, the Netherlands, Uganda, and India, among other places. I want to do the same thing. Its a good way to both process the experience and to keep people updated about how things are going. But I don’t necessarily want to start a whole new blog, so I’m just going to write on here.

With that, here’s part one. I’ve been in Camden, NJ, for almost two weeks now. For you all you West Coast peeps (which is almost everyone), Camden is the city across the river from Philadelphia. It’s been a pretty important place historically – the poet Walt Whitman lived here, Campbell’s Soup started here, the first record player, radio, TV, and drive-in movie theater were all created here. But like a lot of cities in the Northeast, in what’s come to be called “the Rust Belt”, Camden’s experienced a serious decline in the last 50 years and is now one of the poorest cities in the country. Among the things that contributed to this were a highway being built that cut the city in half, factory relocation that eliminated about half of the jobs in the city, block busting by real estate agents, red-lining by banks, “white flight”, and racial discrimination in the GI Bill.

This summer I’m working with Urban Promise, a Christian organization that’s been ministering in Camden for the last 20 years. Urban Promise runs after-school programs throughout the school year for elementary and middle-school kids. During the summer it puts on day camps. For high schoolers, Urban Promise has a “Street Leaders” program that basically hires high schoolers from Camden to help run the programs for the younger kids.  Which is cool because its empowering people from the area rather than always just bringing in people from the outside. But UP does need extra help with running the summer camps, so enter myself and the other 49 summer interns, mostly college students from around the country. I’m working at Camp Faith, the camp for 1st through 4th graders, at the main Urban Promise building in East Camden. Our sister camp, Camp Spirit, is for junior high kids and is across the street. There are six other camps at three other locations around the city; one for South Camden, another for North Camden, and one fairly close to us in the Northeast. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ever since I read my first “chapter book” in 2nd grade (Detective Zack and the Adventure on Thunder Mountain), reading has been a big part of my life. I owe a lot to my mom for reading aloud to me before bed when I was a kid. And post-Detective Zack, emerging from the public library with a chin-high stack of books was a regular occurrence in my life. Searching among the library shelves, I also discovered the stories of Lloyd Alexander, Ursula LeGuin, Madeleine Le’Engle, and others. Multi-volume fantasy series were the mainstay, though the occasional historical fiction novel would also find its way into the mix. First Chronicles of Narnia, then Harry Potter, then Redwall took their places in my pantheon of favorites.

Of course I read Lord of the Rings when I was old enough. Though I think I jumped the gun a bit on that one, because I literally got lost the first time I read it. I mistakenly thought that the mines of Moria were a passage into Mordor, and was confused the whole second book. I was thinking: Why are they wandering around so much? What’s with this random Rohan horse place? Just throw the ring in the volcano already. I re-read it a few years later, when the movies were coming out, and my comprehension was a lot better. There were other series I got into once I was old enough for them as well: Garth Nix’s Sabriel, the Bartemaeus Trilogy, Mistborn (well, in that case, the series just wasn’t written until I was older). Read the rest of this entry »

Every time I’m on break, I have to deal with the unsettling dynamic of moving from a structured, fairly routine life to a much more amorphous existence. It’s vertebrate to invertebrate: un-vertebration.

So, this is me right now:

When I’m busy, I long for free time, to escape from the shackles of schedule. And a day off is wonderful. But when summer hits and I have whole weeks of freedom, it isn’t actually that great. I think work and rest compliment each other, and we get out of sorts when we only have one and not the other.

I’ve been thinking: It’s kind of existentially straining to not have any routines. There’s comfort and strength to be found in repetition. Think of the fundamental rhythms that under-gird our lives: day and night, the three meals, the holidays, the weeks, months and years. People associate jazz with spontaneity and improvisation, but really that improvisation takes place within a highly structured skeleton of tempo, key, form, and style.

I would argue that likewise humans in general work best when we have a foundational skeleton of routine and tradition to “improvise” on top of. There’s only so much choice we can handle psychologically; if we have too many decisions to make, we get overwhelmed and have trouble making any of them. And socially too, some things need to be set, if only for coordination. We drive on the right side of the road. Why? Because we all have to drive on the same side! So it’s too simplistic to say that the more freedom a person has, the better, and that anything that reduces the amount of choice in a person’s life is to be labeled as constraining (and thus to be fought). That being ‘tied down’ means unhappiness. I’d say it’s just as likely that not having a place to tie down would lead to unhappiness. Read the rest of this entry »

It’s back! Risen from the coffin and shaking off that grave dirt, the horror-movie-style silhouette stumbles along against the moonlight…

Ok, maybe I’m being melodramatic. Suffice it to say, bluntly, that it’s been more than a year since my last post. I think my journal competes with the blog, especially when time is limited. Still, they’re different mediums. Here, there’s an audience (such as it is). In my journal, I’m writing to my future self, and that changes what I focus on and how I write.

But ideally, since the journal and the blog are different mediums and serve different purposes, I would write for both.

And writing in general is something I want to be more intentional about.

For one, it keeps me sane. Life in modern America is fast-pasted and complex. When I don’t write I can lose track of a coherent and organizing narrative for my life. When I do write, I can live more thoughtfully and intentionally. I can discern the topography of days. Read the rest of this entry »

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So I’ve decided to create my own band.

Its going to transcend genre, but if one had to classify our style, I would call it post-Mongolian nihilist folk opera.

Here’s concept art for the first album. =) Read the rest of this entry »

“I am impetus”

Me choose?
No.
I am choice,
I am impetus and consequence.
When I was a child
I thought I was myself
When I was a child
I thought I was more powerful
Than the world
Though now I know.

I am seaweed in the tide
Of a haunting moon.
And seven devils too

At war and in love
At midnight and on Mondays
We are legion
Mongrel, and knotted flesh
And not superheroes
None rises above
A mutant race
The world
Is supersaturated with souls
And lives spray, drift, crash, shift
And the waves mock the lines
We’ve scratched into our maps
The boundaries
The ink blurs, runs, stains
And the pitched waste roars
We are never ourselves alone
And nothing is untouched
Nor free to be indivisible
But history was always a universal solvent
Before I knew so
I was solute
I am myself a bit
But millions inscribe my soul
The cemeteries are lies
We are the gravestones of our fathers
We are the prisoners
Of a dead moon hanging. Read the rest of this entry »

“And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling…”

At the beginning of Fall semester this year, as part of the Bonner leadership program, I spent a night and a morning at the House of Charity homeless shelter.  That morning, we had devotional in which we read meditatively one of the psalms, and there was a woman there whom we had talked to the night before, under the freeway. She had confessed to having schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, and a host of other mental problems (and had joked about everything her boyfriend had to put up with- he met this with a shrug and a wry smile). Sitting there that morning, she confessed with equal honesty her doubts about God. But there was a part in the psalm we read about God caring for the weak, using the weak, and while we were talking about it she eventually spoke up and said: “This gives me hope. If God loves the foolish, then maybe I have a chance.”
I echo her sentiment, and would claim her hope as my own as well, and maybe Paul would join us too. I am at a point right now where I have been trying to serve God, walk in his footsteps, live a life of love, but have become increasingly aware of my weakness. I find myself in dificult times. And I must admit that I overestimated my strength, enthusiastically taking on too great a burden without having a sufficient spiritual foundation. In all that I took on, I expected perfection of myself, or at least excellence. In this, I was as foolish as Peter, asking to be second to Christ in the kingdom but having no idea what that means. But Christ still used Peter, and he still uses a fool like me. He speaks comfort. He says, “I love you.”
I don’t know if I understand God’s love yet, or what he has prepared for me along with the others who love him, but I pray that his Spirit would be born in me, and search my heart, and teach me the fullness of the love that is in the crucified Christ.

Listen to these great podcasts- mortgage and banking crises explained in normal, understandable language.

This American Life – Episode 355: Giant Pool of Money

This American Life – Episode 375: Bad Bank

This American Life, by the way, is an awesome radio show / podcast, which basically just interviews regular people and tells their stories. Every week has a different theme. Very good if you’re something like a sociology major, or aspiring writer, or any kind of person who’s interested in the diversity of life experiences in this country called America (I myself could tell you, and maybe will, sometime, how many interesting people you can find in just one building).

Also, once again we’ve had a hiatus. Basically this whole school year has been a hiatus for this blog.

But.

I refuse to let the dream die. =)

The blog lives on.

“Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? 21For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. 22For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, 23but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men.

26For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, 29so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. 30And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.””

1 Corinthians 1:20-30

I am weak, but Christ is strong. Can I confess this? My salvation does not come from my own strength and understanding. It is a hard thing, to need help. This is the place where something in me dies. This is where I am freed, and begin to live. In open confession of brokenness, in return to the open arms of God, something new is sparked within me, and I begin to mature in Christ. In the words of Paul, I am “being saved”. I am one of the saints, the “set apart”. What does that mean? Right now, I can tell you that it means pain. It hurts to die to oneself. It hurts to constantly have to relearn what true wisdom, strength, and power are. But I also rejoice. As God has worked in me, I have come to see the wisdom of his foolishness, the greatness of that different way in which he works. I have experienced it in my life. Though stubborn, I welcome the outpouring of his grace, even though it brings discomfort, even though it brings the unexpected.
However, that doesn’t mean that it still doesn’t look like foolishness sometimes. I take joy that Christ would use a broken person like me, but often lose heart at the brokenness of the church, of the many mistakes the “saints” have made throughout history.  God is saving the world through a man who died, a “rebellious people”, and an old book? Often, I feel inclined to trust instead in what I understand, what I can touch: modern sensibilities, American pragmatism, the wisdom of the universities, the march of technology, the comfort of middle-class suburban life. Read the rest of this entry »

“Well, school has certainly been busy this month…”, I wrote at the beginning of my last post, in October.

And to continue where I left off, it should suffice to say, “And it got busier from there.”

But now we’re in January, and I’ve been making changes to open up more space in my life, and I’m going to start writing again, because writing -whether in my journal, publicly on this blog, or even for class- is something that’s very important to me. Besides being something that makes me feel complete, something I take joy in, I think it’s actually crucial to my well-being. I love words- I love choosing them carefully and arranging them into sentences and paragraphs to bring out meaning, beauty, emotion, and story.

So the blog is starting up again.

First on the line up will be reflections on Paul’s first letter (well, the first one that has survived) to the Corinthians (which I’ve been studying for the last month).