Relationships

Introducing Our Coffee Vlog!

Here is my first coffee vlog (video blog) with Kyle Johannes! In this video we introduce what the vlog is going to be about and we do a tasting of Ethiopian Yirgacheffee from Bent Tree Coffee in Kent, Oh! Don’t be expecting too much-we are figuring it out as we go along 🙂 Enjoy!

Befriending Weakness

Are you befuddled by the title of this blog? That’s appropriate. I know that in the world we live in this sounds rather counterintuitive, but doesn’t the term weak aptly depict us humans? Aren’t we fragile people who are naturally dependent beings? We do not like to think that we are, but perhaps it is a more accurate description of our true state. I can presume that not all of you who read this will agree with that statement but hopefully by the end of reading this you will understand what I mean.

Vulnerability is not something we like all that much, even when the circumstance consists of vulnerability or honesty with ourselves. Weakness is a horror to some and not able to be tolerated. It is hard to tolerate the weakness and fragility in ourselves because people have told us that 1) we are not allowed to weak/we won’t make it in this world if we are found to be fragile or 2) that we must compensate for our weaknesses by becoming strong and powerful in order for society to accept and make use of us. Above all of this is the haunting reality that many of us have not been shown love when we have openly borne our weaknesses (instead we have been rejected when we have shown our true selves). When we realize that we cannot tolerate our own weakness we will also soon find that it is impossible to rekon with the weakness in others (be it our friends, family, spouse etc…). Sadly, we see this only when we first recognize that we judge others by the same hoops that we force ourselves to jump through. The aim of our culture is to ignore or relieve ourselves of all weaknesses we experience so that we are left with nothing but strengths. But again, fragility is not something that can be turned on or off but rather something that exemplifies our humanity.

I love this article by N.D. Wilson in Christianity Today. In it he states that the world we live in is “at odds with human self-importance”. Wilson takes a look at the intellectuals of today and uses them to show our delusional attempts to make the world about us. He uses intellectuals as an example to show that humans are desperately afraid to find out that they are far more weak and fragile than they ever dared to realize. Wilson proposes this because intellectuals often partake in the work of intellectualizing in order to tame, not the world (for it cannot be tamed), but rather “their perception of the world”. We philosophize and fixate over the smallest of matters to feel in control and escape to fantasy of reality. This is Wilson’s point. The fact that fantasy is reality scares us and contributes to our feelings of smallness and helplessness. Those feelings torment, but those feelings point the reality that we are often to afraid to face: we are far more weak than we ever dared imagined. In essence, Wilson states that our world is one where humans live out of control and it is our attempts to tame the world that point to our inability to stare into the face of our fragility.

We are afraid to find out how weak, fragile, and dependent we are but it is only logical when you begin to think about it. Maybe words from the Apostle Paul will help, “For what makes you different from anyone else? What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as if you did not?” Paul is right, I think. We did not choose to be born, nor the parents or siblings who surrounded us. We didn’t get the choice to exist not will we get the choice of death. It is going to happen and we have no choice in the matter. We flaunt our accomplishments and accolades as if that makes us safe from the inevitable reality of our fragility, but it doesn’t. We will never escape the fact that everything we have has been given to us and thus by nature we are dependent/weak beings. We aren’t as autonomous as we’d like to hope we are.

It is strange, but Jesus and Paul (and other New Testament writers) both seem to explain that Life comes from the realization that we are indeed weak and fragile beings. It is a realization that the delusional regimes of being in control and being strong are not actually true even though they may be attractive. True life and true humanity come from surrender and a recognition that we need help. It is interesting when we truly begin to see Christianity in this light. It changes how we interact with our weakness and with the weaknesses of those around us.

If we begin to see that weakness is actually a way unto life then it is no longer a horror but something through which we can meet God. We no longer have to live under the presumption that we are our own creator nor that we are strong when we know that within the deeper recesses of our heart we actually aren’t. Human weakness and fragility is the way unto the cross of Christ and it is where we meet Jesus. Like Wilson says, our attempts to run from this reality are many. Why not sit and allow yourself to know that you are weak and simultaneously loved by God. That reality should trump all false illusions about who we in age that tempts us to act as our own god and flee from our own fragility.

For further thoughts on this, check out this video.

History & Vision-Why We Need Both

In my reading today, I came across a quote that clearly and concisely summarized one of the reasons why I appreciate history. I have tried to explain this idea verbally to others but for some reason it has never come out in these terms (nor as concisely as these writers put it). This quote is from a book entitled “Colossians Remixed” by Brian J. Walsh and Sylvia C. Keesmaat (while they have differing surnames, they are actually married-pretty awesome!). In one chapter they write this:

This story has come from somewhere and is going somewhere [referencing the last paragraph], and we can truly know where we are going only if we know where we have come from. In order to have vision we must have memory. Indeed forgetfulness or amnesia is precisely what strips us of vision-without the past there can be no future. So our contemporary improvisation must be informed and directed by both profound indwelling of the biblical vision of life and a discerning attentiveness to the postbiblical scenes that have already been acted out in the history of the church.

Their argument about the necessity of remembrance (history) for any sort of vision is intriguing and I think extremely significant. I don’t think that this is an argument for a particular philosophy of history, whether cyclical or linear, but rather a proposal for the purpose and necessity of history in the present and future.

In an attempt to illustrate their point, let us imagine for a moment that you and your spouse (imagining you have one if you don’t) adopt a young boy. The child is rather old for adoption (maybe 13 or 14) and his parents left him at a young age and since then he has been in and out of a number of foster homes that were not always actually “fostering” him in a manner that was positive. You don’t really know the details of his story, but just have a general idea of what his life has been like. You and your spouse are ecstatic about this adoption and have always wanted a young boy of your own. Together, you have dreamed about what school he should go to and who he should marry and what his vocation will be, but you have done this without knowing much about the boy you are soon to adopt. You have very much enjoyed carefully crafting a vision for his future.  As you drive this boy home from the courts, while hardly being able to keep your eyes on the road because you constantly want his eyes to meet yours from the backseat, you realize that he has a story of his own that is not quite what you expected. As you ask questions, he meets you with answers that you weren’t at all prepared for. He has more wounds than you could have imagined and peculiar passions that you never would have guessed. Thus, his story begins to change what you thought adoption would look like. It not only changes your view of adoption, but also your vision for what you thought his life would become. Slowly you realize that his story is going to affect all the dreams that you had for his life and they are going to have to change. You realize that you were ignorant to who he was and where had come from and as he spoke you came to see that his story was shaping the present circumstance and your vision for his future in your midst.

Simply put, when we are attentive to the past, we tend to see the future differently. How are we to know where we are going if we are ignorant of our own history or the history that shapes our context, community, and/or character? We can have no vision for where to go next if we don’t know where we’ve been and thus don’t know where we presently are. There can be no vision for reform if we have nothing to re-form.

The writers who provided that quote hone in on church history and I think that this is particularly important yet forgotten in the church. Church History is vital for the church, but alas we are fighting against a postmodern age that Hauerwas aptly describes with a saying that he has become known for:

America is the exemplification of what I call the project of modernity. That project is the attempt to produce a people who believe that they should have no story except the story that they choose when they had no story.

In essence, Hauerwas is saying that our culture has forgotten and been severed from any semblance or remembrance of History. We are a culture of wanderers without any concept of how we fit into the history of the world. Without history (whether someone’s personal story or a global history) we lose deep appreciation for stories of the past (and how those affect the present), an understanding of where we fit in, and a vision for where we are going.

On Turning 22.

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What is a birthday? I know that they have become something very different than say when I turned 10 years of old. I loved birthdays at that time in my life, because if I am honest, it was all about me! Even though birthdays have become something different to me at 22, I suppose that the essence of a birthday can be seen as a measurement of sorts. It is a numerical measurement that reveals how much life one has lived. This number can tell us a lot about a person–it gives us a vague picture as to the type of experiences that person may have had, the number of seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months they have known, and perhaps what they might have accomplished by that time in their life. Today, I have lived 8,030 days and my experiences have been many for what seems like such a short time. By saying that I am now 22, most people will have an idea in their mind (a preconceived idea) as to what I should be doing with my life, who I should be dating, how much money I should be making, and finally what my ten year plan should be. I highly doubt that I would meet the requirements of those presuppositions that many might expect of me, but I know that at the end of the day, that is ok.

At every major transition in my life, whether it be a birthday, graduation, or a new job, I am always tempted to measure myself to the strictest of requirements and expectations. I am tempted to measure myself and ask questions like, “What have I accomplished” or simply “What have I done with my life?”. These are burdening questions for someone like me to ask myself. I have far to high of standards for myself and for others and those standards are often bred and nurtured by a cultural understanding of humanity. These questions have the potential to crush a spirit. As I see myself posing these questions upon myself, I realize that those questions are another manifestation of my attempt to justify my existence and to further my self-absorbtion. If I were not focused on myself so much, then I would hardly think to ask those questions. It is in these moments that I remember that Jesus cares cares far more about who I am becoming than what I am doing, accomplishing, attaining, or conquering. I am reminded of Mary and Martha, and the need to sit and take in all that Jesus wants to teach me. I suppose that this 22nd birthday is a simple reminder that my life is not about me.

My Love/Hate Relationship with Support Raising

Upon clicking this blog post I can be certain that people had a number of different questions as to what they were about to read. I am sure there are some who subconsciously questioned “Why does he love support raising?” or “Why does he hate support raising?”. I am sure there were those who had a more general inquiry that probably went something like this, “Why on earth is he even support raising?”. This last person I have met many times and this question (usually posed in a more polite manner) is often met with a blank or confounded stare awaiting an answer that they already surmise will not make sense to them. Nonetheless, these are valid questions, and hopefully I can answer them, but I don’t presume that you will understand one-hundred percent of what I will write, and that is okay.

First, why do I tend to love support raising at times? There is a complex and yet simple answer to this sort of question. The simple answer to this question is that I love it because of the privilege it is to have dozens of wonderful people on a team who give financially, emotionally, and spiritually to what I do. God has blessed me beyond belief to have people who care about the work of h2o Church on the campus of Kent State and about me. These are people that I would have no way of knowing otherwise, and I am truly glad that I know them. In a lot of ways, what I love about support raising is a tribute to those who already support me and those who will support me. They are what makes this experience joyful; not because they throw money at me, but because the reason they throw money at me is because they believe that somehow God is at work on our campus and thru our church and they want to be apart of that. There is no escaping the overwhelming reality of having a group of people who give themselves to what you are doing in various ways.

I remember having a family and supporter Sunday service this past semester and it was one of the highlights of my semester. Why? On that Sunday some of my supporters came and during the time of worship I was overcome with emotion as I realized what I was experiencing in that moment. I came to see and experience what I had known but never actually felt for an extended period of time and that is that my supporters give financially and of themselves because they love Jesus and they believe that he is at work in renewing the community at Kent State thru our church. Such a simple truth made a lasting imprint on my heart.

Some people propose that support raising is like sales. I do not doubt that there are some components of support raising that mirror that of sales, but in no way do they have the same telos or goal. I see support raising as an invitation into something that is bigger than both of us and opposed to selling a product that is our church. The bottom line is either that people believe in what we are doing or they do not. I hope and pray for those who do decide to be apart of what we are doing often; I pray that they feel directly involved with what we are doing at Kent State because they are a vital part of it, and they deserve all the fruit, as well as the trials, that we experience. These are the reasons I love support raising. I love it because of the people that I am now on this journey with.

Why do I hate support raising? I could have switched these around, but I figured that if the reason that I hate support raising deterred you from doing it yourself, then that is probably a good thing. I have made support raising sound like it is comfy and sentimental with the reasons for which I love it, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise that there is more to it than that. The reason I hate support raising is an inward happening. I hate it because of what it brings out in me (bear in mind that when I say hate that that hate is also a sort of love….confused yet?–I am complex person :)).

I have found that support raising is a lonely process. I have found that no matter how much community I have around me that there is no getting around the fact that it is lonely. You may disagree if you so choose, but I think any support raiser can agree with this to some degree. If anything, the support raising process merely highlights what is already present within our lives and it is loneliness that is often that which is present in our lives whether we actually feel it or not. I tend to agree with my friend Henri Nouwen who says that loneliness is not a come and go type of feeling but rather it is a condition. Nouwen states that loneliness is an apt word to articulate or express what we mean when Christians say that humanity is broken. Simply put: Nouwen says that loneliness is an expression of our brokenness. In my experience, support raising brings out this condition, and that is what I hate (and love) about support raising.

I will leave us with a quote from Nouwen that I have found to be helpful:

When you experience the deep pain of loneliness it is understandable that your thoughts go out to the person who was able to take that loneliness away, even if only for a moment. When, underneath all the praise and acclaim, you feel a huge absence that makes everything look useless, your heart wants only one thing–to be with the person who once was able to dispel those frightful emotions. But it is the absence itself, the emptiness within you, that you have to be willing to experience, not the one who could temporarily take it away.

It is not easy to stay with your loneliness. The temptation is to nurse your pain or to escape into fantasies about people who will take it away. But when you can acknowledge your loneliness in a safe, contained place, you make your pain available for God’s healing. God does not want your loneliness; God want to touch you in a way that permanently fulfills your deepest need. It is important that you dare to stay with your pain and allow it to be there. You have to own your loneliness and trust that it will not always be there.

When you experience deep loneliness, you are willing to give up everything in exchange for that healing. But no human being can heal that pain. Still, people will be sent to you to mediate God’s healing, and they will be able to offer you the deep sense of belonging that you desire and that gives meaning to all you do. Dare to stay with your pain, and trust in God’s promise to you.

This may sound dramatic for what support raiser might experience, and perhaps it is, but I think by way of Nouwen we have moved passed what one might experience in support raising to a general take on the human experience.