Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Cake and Carols

December around here is known as Christmas Party Season. It sounds fun and mostly really is, but one of the downsides of having lots of students and teachers over to our apartments/meeting them on campus is that you get inundated with certain things.

Two of these things are Cake and Carols. Two things that God created for good that often are result of the fall here in China. When you think of "cake" you think of birthdays, weddings, retirement parties where everyone is happy that at least they get a piece of that chocolate, yellow, or coconut goodness. Everyone waits patiently for theirs, excitedly scarfing it down upon arrival. Well, except for Milton.

However, over here, you pretty much always have a cake gifted to you that is quite different. The type of cake you end up trying to avoid eating, pushing it back and for the plate like a toddler avoiding eating peas, trying to be sneaky by confusing motion for eating. Many times there is fruit on top. Mangos, oranges, bananas, kiwis, etc. Not only that, sometimes pinto beans and others. Sometimes melon. Often times there is cream in the middle that can make even the strongest of stomachs gag. The icing is normally bland because Chinese dont really like sweets as much as us.

Many of these things are good, but mixed together they get old fast. You try to separate the fruit from the cake, but that's futile too. And you have to eat SOME of it since normally its a student/teacher being polite and spending their own money to add to the party.

The other thing is carols. They are great, but after the 27th singing of Silent Night, you begin to just yearn for silence and can forget about that Silent Night the Savior was born. Many of these carols help us get in the Christmas spirit, making us thankful and humble. It does that, through the lyrics, yes, but also from trying to sing fast lyrics in Mandarin.

I may sound like a Scrooge or a Grinch, but I don't think I have the capacity to sing the same songs several times a week, no matter how good or catchy it is. Thankfully there are different seasons and different ways to worship Jesus, not all of which include Away in a Manger or Red Bean and Apple Cream Cake.

I'll have to start looking for some John Piper-approved, Christ-glorifying, Man-satisfying Festivus songs and some less confused cake types around here.

Friday, December 10, 2010

All I want for Christmas and other strange things here.

Here it is Mom and Dad, the only thing I want for Christmas. With all the hassle of shipping (not to mention the unreliability of postal workers in China who have been known to lose packages and remove what are deemed to be "dangerous" things from them...) I've found the thing that you can get me this year. No, your eyes do not deceive you. This is right up there with GOB Bluth's "The Sword of Destiny" bought from Ancient Chinese Secret as themost ancient and powerful of Chinese relics.

It may appear to be a cabbage plant made of jade. And yes, technically that's what it is, but I am convinced that it is so much more. Maybe it was owned by a Qin dynasty emporer. Maybe having it in your house releases the power to grow other cabbages rapidly within a small radius. Or maybe it's like the Chinese equivalent of the seeing stones in Lord of the Rings that Sauroman uses to see into the future.

Whatever it is, it's reasonably priced for a limited time only at 30,000 RMB or US $4500. So I know its got a genie in it or something like that. I haven't bought it just yet, but every time I pass it in the store above the KFC in the mall nearby, it calls to me. It yearns to find its master (me). I'm thinking I'll put it in our living room next to our shoe cabinet.

In other news, I found this out a while ago, but forgot to post it. Here is proof that Chinese
cafeterias, in addition to noodles, fried rice and Kung Pao Chicken, also sell beer in large quantities. Here is the proof. I haven't seen anyone drinking it there in the cafeteria yet, or really buying it, but it's there, just waiting for the first bold student to buy one. Maybe
everyone else is just waiting so they won't stick out. As the old Chinese proverb goes, "the stalk that sticks out, must be cut off."

In more other news, we have a Christmas party tonight. I'm wearing a nice shirt so that I can get a really moving picture of me and a bunch of Chinese students wearing Santa hats. It's long been my dream to have a magnet that I distribute to friends and family with my face on it and I think the time is now. My brother, Matt already has one and beat me to the punch. It looks like he only has one arm though due to the way he's posed, leaning up against the Old Well on campus. I'm gonna try my best not to make that same mistake. So pray for my beard to not look weird or for me to have something in my teeth.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Start of the holiday season

Here's another smattering of happenings recently that I can remember now. It's now December, typically the most difficult time to be here in China, apart from family and friends during the holiday season. I miss everyone reading this (except for you, US Army private who keeps leaking cables on Wiki sites...I could do without you.) and hope that you are enjoying the sights and sounds of Christmas, even the things like the traffic, the mall smell, the clamor of Black Friday and Cyber Monday, the Salvation Army bell ringers, the santa hats and the excessive quoting of "Elf." Think of me when you experience these things.

-Class has been interesting. During our conversation portion today we had a discussion about FaZhan ShouZu (Arrested Development) which I never thought would happen in another language. As this is my favorite TV show of all time I thoroughly enjoyed talking about this in Chinese, though trying to describe who Carl Weathers is was more difficult than I anticipated. However, she had no trouble understanding how a family who's father became rich by using his construction company's corporate account as a personal piggy bank. Probably because this happens all the time here with sketchy business practices.

-The cat that Harrison had rescued and had been living with us passed away recently. She just stopped eating for about 4 days and I'll spare you the rest of the details, but it was her time to go I guess. I wish I could tell you that it was without suffering and that it got a proper burial but I'd be lying since both of those things are hard to find in China for animals. Personally I will miss the times when it would get too close to our space heater and jump back, burned by it's own curiosity. I will also miss the certainty of knowing there won't be any rats around our place. Sure, there were about 100 things I hated about that cat, but those two things I will remember with fondness.

-We (the ACC guys here in China) won the Turkey Bowl! It was nice to get revenge from the last time we played when we got blown out and I dropped two interceptions. Mainly I was channeling all my energy with the memory of the SEC team running up the score by throw Tim Tebow jump-passes with less than a minute to go. So this year we won it in style 40-6. The victory stands for now, though I'm worried that Harrison has been hanging around a lot of runners for agents. Recently he posted on Twitter a 200RMB receipt for PF Changs and Justin and Zach I'm pretty sure have been receiving extra help on papers in Chinese class. So we'll see if we'll be able to weather the storm. Either way, the NCAA wont be able to take away the memory of the most fantastic, bizarre, and sublime facial hair I have ever seen. It was a banner year in this department.

-Thanksgiving. We celebrated with Turkey and other dishes that ultimately became so crammed on our plates that it seemed to just become one food item. Delicious. Also, my team made me wear nice clothes during lunch. I hope they're thankful for that. We also tried to watch an old Thanksgiving Day NFL game (mainly failed though) with the likes of Emmitt Smith, Michael Irvin, et al. For Max, the Jungs' dog who has bitten me twice now, we let him run in the park near by and let him wallow in the mud while we threw the football around. For the girls, we watched Elf for what I'm sure was the 1st of 13 times before Christmas Day. If I've learned one thing, its that December is just as much Elf Season as it is Christmas Season. I personally celebrate by telling someone that "you're so pretty, you should be on a Christmas card" once a day. I think Josh thinks it's weird and it makes him uncomfortable.

-Work is going really well too. Can't share many details here, but I have lots of friends here who like asking me about important things.

-The Jungs are hooked on The Wire now! Jarred bought a Glock and a doo-rag while Shelley's language has gotten noticeably coarser and talks constantly about how weak "the product" is lately. Expect more posts about this as promised in the "about me" sidebar.

Friday, November 12, 2010

What's been going down lately

Brief (maybe...) update with a few snapshots (figurative, not literal...sorry) of the past few weeks.

-We lost power for 2 days. This means candles, flashlights, and cell phone backlights lit our way throughout our apartment. It also meant no hot water (ie starting a new, no showering streak), no laundry, no heaters, and most importantly no internet. That's right. For 2 whole arduous days I went without Skype, fantasy football and Words With Friends. Nothing ground breaking really except that I was getting precariously low on clean clothes and may have scared away some people with an unkept appearance.

-The Turkey Bowl beard is in full growth mode. Over a month now and no blade has touched my face. Or neck. Or head. I look a little like Joakin Phoenix during his crazy spell where he tried to convince everyone he didn't care about anything and never wanted to act again. The mullet is also getting annoying and everytime I take the 3 mile ride to class I end up with a windblown, Jared Allen/Patrick Swayze (RIP) level mullet. But anything for the tradition of the Turkey Bowl, where the men of the ACC here in China will look to cold-cock the entitled SEC jabronis on the gridiron every Thanksgiving.

-One of my teachers recently tried to convince me that Mao is the best leader China has ever had and that the Cultural Revolution did more good than harm. You know, since killing millions of people is surely better than some things. A thing??? It got to be a pointless argument and I just ended up letting her feel like she had convinced me. Maybe she is the granddaughter of the late (and terribly preserved...) Chairman. Or maybe her father got some backdoor contracts from his people or something.

-My other teacher is more fun and less political, but she talks a lot about how handsome waiguoren are. I know Chinese people are generally not very direct, but I'm really really hoping this is not as close as they get and its just a coincidence that she always brings this up. I have 10 hours of class per week, one on one with both of these teachers and it's definitely been the hardest part of the year so far. My language hasn't progressed as much as I'd hoped yet since the rust is very slowly wearing off and neither of these teachers have any prior experience.

-We had some friends from America come visit last week who brought us (mainly me due to my connections to some friends in Durham) some awesome gifts. I also found out my brother gets to come visit this summer while he studies for 5 weeks here. He tried to play it all cool like he didn't want to come that badly, but I know Matty and I know that if there's one thing he can't say no to, its living in the sticks, using squatty potties, letting me order dishes which he has no idea what is in them.

-I got in a moped accident. Really it wasnt an accident, more of crappy tires and slick pavement ending in my skidding off. Don't worry, I'm fine, and it even prompted me to buy a helmet. Though I'm not sure I would've gotten one if it was the standard "Boba Fett" masks and not the Speed Racer one I ended up getting for 50RMB (8 US dollars) on the side of the road. Safety first, ya know?

-I've watched a few football games, including last weeks Florida State/UNC game. I woke up at 3:30am and watched the whole thing, which I think may have ended in me waking up Harrison in the next room (though he humbly claims I didn't to let me save face). Totally worth it.

-We have a cat living with us right now. People who know me know I hate cats. I'm pretty sure I've claimed in the past even that cats are in some way responsible for every disease in the world, the Vietnam War, the existence of mosquitos, and the problem of evil itself. At one point I even had a business plan to make bumper stickers with anti-feline propaganda. But Harrison brought it home and I'm trying my hardest to make it work, even though I've already whispered obscenities at it and come close to straight up punting it. I dont trust it at all. We'll see how long it stays.

-I bought tickets for THAILAND, the happiest place on earth (I'm calling shenanigans, Disney World...Athletes should proclaim "I'M GOING TO KOH LANTA!" when they get asked what they're doing after winning the Super Bowl or the World Series). Though filled with disappointments, one awesome perk about being completely single is that this is what I'm calling "an uncapped year." I can have as many fruit shakes on the beach as I want. Married guys have wives who worry about their husbands experiencing too much freedom and/or spending "too much money" (theyre about $1.30 each...). But not me. No woman is holding me back this year.

That's about all I can think of for now. Hope it tides you over, Mom and the other 3 readers I have.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Pofessor

So I threw a changeup with this one. You could say I was struck by inspiration after class on Monday. Walking out of our classroom I found this beauty of a sign on the door of an administrative wing of the building I was in.

Yes, it reads "Pofessor's Room." If this was in America, it would be on Fail Blog within seconds. But there is no such thing as Fail Blog in China. Probably because these "Fails" are lost on many people here. Also, China Fail Blog would crash the entire internet as we know it within seconds. So it's probably better for all surfers of the interwebs that this doesn't yet exist.

When I read this, I thought, "what is the hidden or double meaning here?" Could it just be a simple typo or misspelling? Probably, but that makes for a boring blog post and its more fun to think about someone purposefully writing it like this.

My first thought was they put it up there in protest. Po'fessors banded together and decided to show the world that they are under-appreciated and can barely provide for their families under their current cheapskate employers in the university system. As in the teachers union is "potesting" (HA!) the low salaries they receive for the long hours they work, often times doubling as Chinese students' surrogate mothers and fathers while off at college. One time I heard that my teacher couldn't answer a question after class because she had to immediately go and make sure that a student was keeping his room clean. True story. Think about that next time there's a teachers strike in the US.

The other theory goes that it was someone who thinks teachers are a little too uppity, always riding their high horses, shaming students if they do poorly on a speech or assigning however many pages of a textbook to memorize. Yes you read that correctly. Memorize. Often this is how many students study for a test and it results in incredible memories, but impractical problem solving opportunities and logical learning. So because of this, some guy at the sign factory decided to stick it to their least favorite teachers and made the signs to show foreign students (like yours truly) how poor their English is.

It could just also be a completely new position in the school offices. Another division of paper pushers who perhaps take the thousands of tiny passport photos I've given administrators over the years for visa purposes from one government official to the next in line. Maybe that's why it takes weeks, sometimes months for us to get our passports back.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Daily ridiculous products and slogans: Day 1

One of the major fascinations I've had since living in Asia is finding what I call "Trinket Shops." Maybe "trinket" is a misleading word. After all, this is what you expect to find aboard a pirate ship scattered on the floorboards around a trunk full of Spanish Doubloons.

What I mean by "trinket" is more of just little pieces of junk that are ordinary until you read what is written on them. Whether its a long non-sensical poem on the front of a notebook or some kind of novelty mug that isnt seen as a novelty item among our Asian friends here, these cultural trinkets are everywhere.

My first year here studying, during every class break, I'd go to the nearby convenience store and look for slogans that were found everywhere. One personal favorite was found on a basic composition notebook. It read:

"This is the most Comfortable notebook you have ever run into. You will feel like writing on it all the time."

And you know what? I DID! It really was the most comfortable notebook I had ever run into.

Things like this just make me laugh. You'd think it would wear off after a wh
ile, but it hasn't. I still go into random trinket stores in search of gems like this. So to commemorate this hobby of mine, I figured I'd post some on here along with my best guess as to what commentary can be gleaned from Chinese culture.
This weeks entry (pictured right) comes from a store I found at my old school when I visited last week to see some old friends who I met in 2007. As you can see, they are two coffee mugs side by side. They both have bowl hair cuts and crazy eyes. The lovestruck mug (as evidenced by the hearts in the eyes, blushing nose and the lack of dental care...love can make you do crazy things and neglect hygiene I guess...) mimics one vice that is not only ever-present in the US, but is also an idol here in Asia. In fact, Chinese college guys don't just ask if a girl wants to go on a date. They "profess their love to a girl" often times after only meeting her once or twice. It's like a bad Hugh Grant movie where Savage Garden plays softly in the background. Many Chinese guys can go into deep depression if a girl rejects his love plea.

Mug Number 2 evidences another cultural sin. It's understandable to see this one since it's near my Business and Finance University that I used to attend. This guy though loves money so much he can't help but scream it! As a bonus, the "O" in "MONEY" is a heart. This one is also every where on Chinese campuses. Many times this pursuit of the American Dream specifically drives students to study really hard and often join the Communist Party so that they can be set up with a good job though they are often unfulfilling paper pushing type jobs.

Be sure to check back tomorrow for the next one: The Wilderness Men mug.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Holiday Season

For most of my friends, what we know as the holiday season starts in November with Thanksgiving, continues through to Black Friday until Christmas and New Year's top it off. Most of it is based on shopping and family, but mostly shopping, since that's what TV has conditioned us to frenzy over at this time. And of course food, where we gorge ourselves on Turkey, Ham, dressing, and whatever fast food is at mall food courts.

This year it feels a bit like the holiday season, just drastically different. Though Spring Festival is the biggest holiday here and not until February, two other major holidays are happening now in our midst here. ZhongQiuJie (Mid-Autumn Festival) was last week and is akin to Thanksgiving. A short 2 day holiday weekend that is mostly about food (gross moon cakes, filled with ham, fruit, egg or tofu) and a tradition of looking at the moon at night to remember family that can't be present as they are also most likely staring at the moon remembering you. It's a nice, quaint tradition.

Today is GuoQingJie. Otherwise known as "New China Day" or "Chinese Independence from the Capitalist Roaders of the Kuomingtang and the Counter-Revolutionary, Chiang Kai-Chek, and the Harmonious Opening of the People's Republic of China." So the last one I made up, but it is essentially our July 4th. Students get from October 1st-October 7th off to celebrate. I am celebrating by doing some traveling and remembering why America is so great. This year, I'm skipping a lot of the Mao-love and taking it as an opportunity to study for language class and relax a bit as many students will be at home with their families (maybe looking at the moon together this time).

One of the interesting parts about this holiday (and every other holiday here) is that students have to "BuKe." Literally, we all have to make up classes that we miss for, you guessed it, the holidays that we are given off. This often means going to class on Saturdays and Sundays before and after the holidays. This has yet to make sense to me.

If there's one way to get people to hate you it's to make them work on holidays. Look at every Christmas movie. The reason a main character is either the miser or the victim, its because they have to work on Christmas Eve. Scrooge, Elf's real dad, Jimmy Stewart, (not to mention when Lumburgh makes Peter work on Saturday and Sunday in Office Space...yeeeeaaaah...) they all are shown to be cruel/be down on their luck because of this holiday work clause (no pun intended). And yet, my neighbors here haven't seemed to learn this lesson yet. Why not just not have a holiday and let people keep their weekends? Wouldn't it cause less resentment for 8 hour class days on Sunday weren't happening? Wouldn't it make you dread the holiday season knowing that you'd have to cram in more class soon after? You'd think it'd be better to align everyone with New China to have them look forward to the opportunity to play Warcraft 24 hours in a row at the net bars instead of studying beginner's English during that time.

But what do I know? They've done it this way for a long time and I'm not about to go changing everyone's paradigms of what's normal. This is definitely a case of "It's not wrong, just different" that I keep having to get used to.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Acquiring Normalcy

One of the major things I've learned in about 2 years in Asia so far is that "Normal" is elastic. In America, "Normal" for me is burgers and spaghetti, not rice noodles and kung pao chicken. It's driving around in my 2000 Saturn SL (RIP) on highways and lined roads, not zipping around on a moped, praying I don't get hit by an overloaded dump truck (don't worry, it hasn't happened yet, and I've gotta be one of the top moped drivers in all of China...so no worries there). "Normal" is watching football on Saturdays at noon, not midnight. "Normal" in America is living in the suburbs with my mom around to help give me old furniture they don't have room for anymore, not coming into a shell of an apartment and having to furnish it myself, with my severe lack of interior design skills (I had to ask someone for the term of arranging furniture and knowing what matches and what doesn't).

Since being back this time, some normalcies I had in America have vanished, some have been adapted and contextualized, and some I have dragged over in an overweight carry-on bag on the plane. However, one of those things that was impossible to adapt (see the previous post about the pretty pretty princess light fixtures...) or maintained was how our apartment here feels and my lack of having to do things like pick out fabrics for a couch or how to arrange furniture in an aesthetically pleasing way which is welcoming to visitors.

When I was here my first year, I had a bad experience. And when I say a bad experience, I mean like one rivaling the time I got judo-chopped by an Amazon of a 10 year old girl during a school project, which caused a neck spasm that left me with my head leaning to one side the rest of the day.

Yes, I'm talking about my first time in IKEA here in China
. That time, I was going in out of curiosity (mainly from Fight Club where Brad Pitt calls Edward Norton "IKEA-boy"), not to buy anything. And it felt like Dante's description of the 3rd of hell. Yuppies were everywhere. The place is built like the Labyrinth (1st every David Bowie reference in a blog!). And the hotdogs they sold made me sick to my stomach while I was waiting for the girls to saunter through admiring every thing. I'm pretty sure we were only there for 2 hours, but it felt like 2 weeks. I had lost my mind and had pretty much become ferrel, ready to do whatever it took to survive in that island of trendiness.

This time, it wasn't IKEA, but it was an IKEA knockoff. As in, they stole the floor plan, furniture setup, uniforms, colors, and snack restaurant from IKEA. If it was in America, where intellectual property laws actually exist, it would've been burned to the ground by repo men and the owners of Furniture 11 (at least they changed the name significantly) would be locked in jail next to Bernie Madoff and become the Carlos Mencia of yuppie furniture retailers. But this is China, and knockoffs are everywhere.

When I went, Jarred and Shelley played the role of my mom (though I really tried hard to make them think I knew what I was talking about) and helped Adam and I pick out some really good stuff. A man-sized couch I can completely stretch out on (unlike beds here, unless you count when you sleep diagonally on the mattress), a two seater, an alpha-dog single seater and an accompanying ottoman longer than any I've ever seen. I paid for it and then waited over a week for it to be delivered to our place out in the sticks. Below is how it arrived upon delivery...in course rice bags that that were kinda dirty and impossible to open with human strength.

Then, much to my chagrin, I realized there was no fabric on them...which made me think, as often happens, the delivery men forgot something or were misinformed by 12 layers of middlemen who were supposed to deliver the simple message. Thankfully another commonality of communism factored in. The fabric covers arrived 20 minutes later by separate delivery men in a trashbag. Disaster averted. Though my roommate Harrison probably wouldn't have noticed, we would've been stuck trying to convince ourselves that this is how all furniture in China is set up (though surprisingly, without the standard plastic wrap left on it for years).Then the gentlemen assembled the furniture, after I asked them not to smoke their cheap cigarettes in my house. This caused lots of whispering in their local dialect which most Mandarin speakers cant understand either. I'm pretty sure
they resented me for not letting me smoke on the job.
I tried to make conversation and offer them some drinks, but I REALLY wasn't able to buy them off for being their human nicotine patch. They grew more shady by the minute, especially when they went into separate rooms to assemble stuff. So far I have yet to notice anything broken or missing or any cigarette burns on the walls thankfully.
Finally, this is what it looks like set up. I know this ha
s been a bit of a Martha Stewart journey and many of you have given up on this blog because of this not-so-manly, domestic entry. But I promise the next one will be about arm wrestling or eating spicy stuff or Oklahoma State football coach, Mike Gundy (I'M A MAN! I'M 40!).


Saturday, September 18, 2010

King of the Castle

With apologies to Seinfeld, the past two weeks have been filled with me feeling like royalty. People here in my new home treat me, their token, tall white friend they can practice their English phrases with in passing, as if I am some sort of king, smiling widely and graciously welcoming me into whatever home or restaurant or business they happen to be associated with.

So far I've met a few neighbors in my building. One elderly woman called me a "zhongguotong," or literally "a China hand." It's like what we'd call someone like Steve Nash, who is really Canadian, but we like him so much and hes funny, so we try to claim him as our own, since after all he is now an expert of US culture after living there so many years. I think she went a little overboard, but hey, I guess I'll take all of the praises I can get for having barely passable Mandarin language skills.

Many children have also come running out of their parents laps to say hello to the new "laowai," ("old foreigner" literally...its not really a cut down, but it kinda is). I politely keep my cool and am still pretty good at responding to them kindly. Hopefully I can keep that up for a long time.

But the thing that makes me feel most like a king here is my apartment. And when I say kind, I mean like a really manly princess. Thanks, landlord. Not only is it plenty big enough for me and my 2 roommates, especially compared to student dorms which often fit 4 sets of bunk beds in a single room, but the decor is set for royalty. However, I think our landlord didn't get the memo that American men aren't keen on having an apartment full of glittering things, especially like the light fixtures posted above. Yes, those are hearts and stars and crystal disco ball looking things that refract all sorts of harsh light all over my room when I turn it on. Additionally, there is a faux Victorian Era chandelier that was incorrectly installed in our living room and we fear that at any moment it could come crashing down like in an Indiana Jones film.

Overall though, I love this place. The location isn't really close to school, unfortunately, so its a nice 20 minute moped ride to class and to meet friends there. But right now, its a very sufficient castle, where we can relax and watch (legal...) DVD's, eat meals (sometimes...you know, if there's food here), and sleep soundly.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

The last month with accompanying pictures

So now that it's football season, it means two things.
1. Turkey Bowl game planning against the SEC squad in November has started (as well as the obvious start to Turkey Bowl beard growth)


2. You get daily 50 person news crews at every football game reporting every minutiae of detail about every game from the NFL all the way down to Snoop Dogg's son's Pop Warner squad.

"Ryan Grant has a torn Anterior Cruciate Ligament and is lost for the season"
"His backup is Brandon Jackson and he went to Nebraska for college."
"His Uncle Jim taught him to play football when he was 8 in a cow pasture"
"Breaking news, Jackson's yards-per-carry average may be stunted because his left leg is .25 inches longer than his right leg."

Way too much information really. What happened to the good ol' days when you just pulled for a team and didnt know when star players and even key reserves were going to the bathroom or what they were eating for breakfast?

Anyways, with all the reporters writing during the middle of the week, a whole genre of lazy "Thumbs up, Thumbs down" styles of columns have been birthed. And since it's been a month since I've been able to blog (they are all blocked over here in Asia most of the time) and feel like there is much to say, I figured I'd do this and post some pictures of key moments in the last month.

Thumbs up: Our fantasy football draft with friends from high school. This is the draft board from that night. Toward the end, there was an actual trade announced "I trade Hines Ward for a 14th rounder and a 6-pack (of dr. pepper I think...) to be named later."

Thumbs down: Shooting at the gun range with my dad. I seriously could not hit anything that day, until we came to using the M1 Garand from World War 2 fame. I credit getting pretty good at Call of Duty on this one. Seriously, it came out of nowhere.

Thumbs up: Goodbye party from my friends in Durham. It was Settlers of Catan themed. The shirt was a gift from Josh/Jodes and the cupcakes were courtesy of Lindsay, Sarah, Melissa, et al. I promise I'm not that nerdy. It was a joke. Seriously, guys.

Thumbs down: not getting to pack my dog. She tried to hop in my suitcase, but unfortunately made it over the weight limit. If it wasn't down to her or winter clothes, she definitely would've made the cut. Also, I dont want her getting stolen here. Or worse...

Thumbs up: Getting to go to the LSU game in Atlanta before I left. Though we lost, it was a moral victory without most of our starting defense and first two RB's on the depth chart suspended or withheld. None of the LSU fans could gloat or even look us in the eye after narrowly escaping. And yes, they really do smell like corndogs.

Thumbs down: This picture found in Cary Towne Center the night before I left. So much to say, so few words to describe it.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Reading CS Lewis, Flossing and Blogging...

The great philosopher of our age, Mitch Hedberg once commented that his smoker of a friend told him that he didn't understand how hard it was to quit smoking. "Yes I do," said Hedberg defiantly, "it's as hard as it is to start flossing."

To me, reading is my flossing. To be specific, reading heady books by Christian authors in Mensa is my flossing. And actually, flossing is also my flossing, because its true that its difficult to begin doing and continue to do with the regularity needed for it take effect. In this analogy, flossing and reading CS Lewis are connected because they are things that I know I should do. Things that benefit me, improve my quality of life, keep my mind sharp (or teeth strong), and that ultimately I know will prevent laziness and the consequences of not doing such.

I have literally started "The Abolition of Man" no less than 4 times. And every time I read 2 pages at the most before thinking, "What in the name of Narnia does this mean?!" and then losing my place, re-reading the same sentence 4 times and then moving on without much of an understanding of what he is trying to prove. I really have no idea how people have picked out such profound quotes from his works because I always get lost and end up glazing over all the good stuff.

To extend Mitch's parallel of flossing/smoking, I normally start feeling very confident that my life will be better after reading 3 hours prior to when I plan to do so. But slowly, as the time I have blocked off approaches, I start to get jumpy and nervous. I look for other things to do. I think, "One game on the PS3, then I'll do it," only to become too tired to put in the effort. Now that I think of it, its the same feeling I have prior to making phone calls about support. It's nerve-racking and awkward, and guilt-inducing all at the same time. It's easy to think of strong gingivitis-free gums and a sharpened, worshipful heart hours prior, but then the moment comes and all that fills my head is how much it hurts, how no one else is doing it either and how I can get by with just brushing, watching the History Channel, or texting supporters.

And now that I think of it, blogging is the same way for me. So this is good. I started out just ranting about CS Lewis and his overly British, stream-of-consciousness writing style in certain works and am ending up vowing to at least blog more, even if it means it'll be shorter. Starting today. I can practically feel my gums getting nervous now.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Transition Offense

In my quest to relate everything into a sports metaphor, I've decided to return to my main M.O. and ponder some thoughts about some things I'm learning here at X-Track, our training out west that lasts most of this month and deals largely with transitioning to an overseas lifestyle, etc.

Most of our mornings are pretty packed, which is unfortunate now, because since most of us are more "international" than the rest of America and therefore find a lot of enjoyment watching the World Cup. Even if soccer isn't that interesting to us normally, the World Cup has brought large groups together just simply out of the fascination of what the enormous hornet horns are, the unison-jumping supporters of each country, and just how cultural differences can both be seen on the field and in the stands (also, in the local medias, as Slovene newspapers are ludicrously adamant that the US's third goal was actually a foul...) seem so different than our own.

Unfortunately, morning classes keep us from most of the games since that's when they are shown on TV here, but it does make you wonder about transitioning in what is now a "global community."

On one hand, you can make the case that cross-cultural stress and transitioning pain is almost non-existant these days. We grew up in diverse schools, often have ethnic friends, and many of us have already been overseas more times during college than some of our parents will in their entire lifetimes. Add to the fact that we have Vonage, Skype, email, twitter, facebook, and cheaper travel options for family and friends and you might be led to believe that going to Estonia today is like going to Texas 20 years ago (bad example, Texas is also a foreign country).

But there is something deeper going on that moves beyond technological advances and our teenaged environments that still makes a transition like moving overseas difficult.

As I watched a soccer match recently, I noticed that the British announcers would use different verbiage than their American counterparts who are used to commentating on other sports. Soccer analysis includes players "having conviction," (playing hard) "using good pace," (instead of "running fast"), "dribbling with ambition," (shooting, trying to score), and my favorite, "that keeper's all 6's and 7's!" (made that last one up, but hoping it will be said during one of these games).

But one commonality between Jeff van Gundy and Martin Tyler as they announce their respective matches is the importance of "transition offense and defense." The concept that you must succeed when the ball is turned over. You must keep the opponent from scoring on you after it appeared you had the advantage and you must also successfully score when given the advantage.

During another soccer match I saw, analysists noted that an entire team was built upon the idea of "counterattacking." It's counter intuitive really. Your whole team, even your goal scorers are reliant upon the opportunity of a turnover. You run the risk of stalling completely if the game flow is normal and there arent many transition opportunities.
The UNC basketball team has actually been built like this the last couple years where if we weren't able to get out in transition, we probably wouldn't be scoring a whole lot and might even lose. Ty Lawson went down and were were screwed.

Basically my whole point is that its a transitional time in life for me and my friends here. Where we live, who were are close to in proximity, what we eat, the language we speak, and the friends we make will all be new. God often disperses his people in the Bible. Which is why there are more Jewish people in New York than in Jerusalem today. In Jeremiah he tells the people not to put all their efforts into reclaiming their original homes in Israel after the Diaspora(s), but instead to lay down roots, build homes, start families, plant fields in foreign lands.

If I were one of the Israelites, it would be easy to see why this would be frustrating. Being an agrarian society, people were more tied to the land back then. You had more family farms for generations, and they were always inherited by sons and daughters. Really these people had their whole lives changed and that is always a difficult thing.

But the harder to notice side of this, and one that I doubt Israel understood and believed was that there was also opportunity in this transition. Opportunity to grow, to investigate their own sin, to grow closer to God, and to ultimately be a "light to the Nations" by actually residing IN the Nations.

Now clearly, both sides are not equal. One is more comfortable than the other. But you also have to wonder how the Jewish people profited from that 1st generation who left their hometowns and put down roots in Assyria and Persia. Would they have been moved to repentance otherwise? Would their children know God? Would they be lazier or overly content with the status quo?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Prayer Illuminated

As some of you may know, I recently arrived in Fort Collins, Colorado for training before I leave for Asia. Yes, I'll have about a month between the time I return from Colorado to the time I get on a plane for the Far East. But even after two days here, I'm realizing that these weeks in the Rockies may be the most restful time I'll have in the next year.

This morning all of us here at "X-Track" (the name of our training conference...also the most hardcore sounding name that could be thought of), went on a prayer journey. I know many Christians have been run through one of these in the past. Like a lineman high-stepping through tires at two-a-days or a freshly-enlisted recruit at basic training, we are spiritually run through different stations intended to focus our hearts on the right things and purge ourselves of the wrong things.

Love Jesus, don't love the world. Listen to praise music, don't listen to secular music. Confess your sin, don't keep it hidden. That type of thing. Often times I must admit, I more or less go through the motions, bowing my head at the right times, praying for a portion of the time, before I get distracted by whatever is consuming my thoughts that week. Things like this also normally have several stations that include reading passages several times over and and over, artistic expressions of worship and clever anecdotes of life, sin, forgiveness, redemption, etc.

If you can sense the pessimism in my tone it's because it's normally very present when I try to spend extended time in prayer. I think today was pretty good though.

One of the stations today I thought was particularly helpful. It was something about being washed of sin, made clean before God and realizing His desire to do both of these things for us. There was a bucket of water and a towel on the table with some passages to read through. Because there was something in one of the passages about being a fragrant offering to the LORD, someone had put some sort of fragrant mixture in the water that made it smell like red Kool-Aid, which I thought smelled great.

Unfortunately when I looked down at my hands before immersing them in the basin, I realized how poorly they looked. I bite my nails constantly and have done so since I was a teenager, so they were all uneven, jagged in some places. The palms were cracked as a result of the changes in weather and elevation. Plus, throw in the fact that I had just noticed the pen I was using to journal had exploded and I had unwittingly been smearing ink on my fingers. It was a Crescent State Bank pen, in case you were wondering and were worried about the same thing happening to you.

Anyways, I did as the instructions told me, dipped both hands in the water, rubbed them together a little and then dried them off. Not surprisingly, my fingernails were the same bitten down ones as before, and almost none of the ink had come off.

I certainly didn't look clean. If I was 5 or 6 years old, I wouldn't be allowed to eat dinner like that. But somehow, beyond the ugly appearances, I did feel a new sensation of cleanliness when I dried my hands and rubbed them together. They had been cleansed, even though I knew that it might take a day or two at least for my nails to grow back to a decent length and for the ink to disappear. I could eat fried chicken with hands. I could wash dishes with them. They were once again useful in a way that wouldn't spread an excess of germs.

I think often my life is the opposite. I worry about what I am displaying to people around me rather than if my heart is clean, my motives pure. I am very good at being presentable, but rarely am in a position where people around me see me in a mess, when actually I am clean and pure before God. But its a refreshing feeling.

Jesus explains this situation through the example of a cup that is dirty on the inside, but sparkling on the outside. It is useless for drinking or washing and is relegated as a trophy. He also speaks of tombs that look very nice and are whitewashed, but are containers of death.

I am hoping these questions will be something I can meditate on for a while. Would I be OK if I didn't have it altogether on the outside, but did have a deep relationship with Jesus? Would I want to trade intimacy with Christ for acceptance or honor from men and women? Would it feel like I was dying if I temporarily ignored God's grace and a relationship with Him?

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Do you believe in life after LOST?

Ok, I know this isn't a promising start on two levels 1) there is a play on words with a Cher song and 2) it brings up a reality that so many of us are in denial about. In a little more than 24 hours, the phenomenon we all know as "LOST" will end. I guess in a figurative sense, it will always go on through the power of syndication, DVD sales, possible conventions (think trendier versions of the Star Trek ones), action figures, lunch boxes, spinoffs, imitations shows (I'm lookin' at you V and Flash Forward), and the Jimmy Kimmel LOST after show (really, Jimmy Kimmel?). But it is true that Sunday night is the finale.

I've taken lots of time to process this (hey, I'm raising support, give me a break!) and what my life will look like post-finale. I hope that some of these things will help you process this as well.

Q: What will the finale do to LOST's legacy?
A: I think most people are putting lots of pressure on this final episode to answer every question. It's like they have taken JJ Abrams hostage and are torturing him to get answers about the light in the island, Jacob and Flocke's identities, and who Desmond is. They have threatened to be eternally frustrated with LOST if these things arent answered and will huff and puff every time it comes up in conversation.

To me, they have already answered most of the questions. Remember when we didnt know where the polar bears and the smoke came from? When we wondered who the Dharma folks were? Why Richard never aged? When we wondered how Kate could date a guy as short as Charlie in real life? The last one is still a head scratcher, but the rest have been answered. The show has done what it is supposed to do: entertain and make us want to wonder what will happen next. So for me, the end would have to be REALLY stupid to tarnish the show as a whole.

Q: So after LOST ends, how will I fill this time slot?
A: It's like after a guy/girl in an emo movie gets dumped. You have 2 choices, 1) over eat, get drunk, live an generally vagrant lifestyle or 2) find another passion whether it be another person, a cause, or musical instrument. My stint team watched a movie where a long time professor meets some homeless African people who teach him the wonders of playing the Djembe. So he finds life in playing the Djembe on the street for change and applause, gaining street cred along the way.

So what should be your Djembe be? There are a few suggestions I have. Something not so similar to LOST that it just seems like its a lesser version of it, but something long enough and interesting enough to give you that same hunger to watch the next one. In my opinion the reason people loved LOST, was because of the characters you pulled for. Without them, its a weird science fiction story that is confusing and doesn't make you tip in favor of watching it. Basically, its what I envision Battlestar Galactica being. Here are a couple of ones I've seen already that fit the bill. (I'm leaving out reality TV shows and comedies because they are a different genre and a different experience altogether).

1) Friday Night Lights- on it's fourth season. Good music, good acting (for the most part), great writing, very easy to watch in mixed company. Really can't recommend this one enough to everyone. Plus, it has the guy from Early Edition as the star (anyone else not allowed to watch non-CBS shows growing up???)!!! Cons- gets a little soap opera-ish at times and I still don't know if Tim Riggins is Canadian or not.

2) The Wire- I know I said I'd never suggest it and technically I'm not endorsing it. You definitely won't be talking about spiritual significance or "who the Christ figure is." But it is a unique look for ivory tower white people like me into the drug culture of inner cities. It's a sad, harrowing, and gritty look. It is kinda depressing at times, but has that same quality of stickiness that LOST has. There's a reason critics have said its the greatest show of all time. Lots of no name actors, but has great writing and you really never know what will happen next. The show isn't attached to any one character and anyone is as likely to "get got" or transferred away. Season two sucks big time, but the other 4 are incredible in my opinion. It's HBO, so be warned that it's not for the faint of heart and I would never recommend girls to watch it. It's President Obama's favorite show, so if it offends you, just know that it's his fault and that I didn't vote for him. (that should absolve me).

3) 24- I'd probably recommend this one the least because it's a little redundant (though intense and involving). Also, most people have already watched them. And sweet fancy Moses, the acting is turrible, turrible, turrible.

Here are a few I haven't seen, but may end up watching for afterwards as options for the post-LOST fallout:

1) Heroes
2) The Corner
3) Weeds
4) Breaking Bad-Heard especially good things about this one.
5) The Mentalist-Only because it's my Dad's favorite show and he talks about it non-stop
6) The Sopranos
7) Deadwood
8) Happy Town

Ones I wont be watching:

1) Mad Men-too depressing, couldn't last 2 episodes through it
2) Any Crime Scene Investigation show (because I'm under 60 years old)
3) The OC-I dont even need to explain why for this one...
4) True Blood
5) Really anything with vampires

Wow, so now that I am feeling guilty about how much I know about TV compared to how little I know about the Bible, I'm going to spend the rest of the night repenting and memorizing enough scripture to even these things out.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Why late night TV is on late at night

For some reason, I've recently reverted back to my college schedule of sleeping as late as possible and consequently, watching late night TV until I fall asleep. The TV in my room is about 10 inches so I normally have to squint to see very clearly.

Late night TV is like rummaging through a garage sale "name your own price" bin. You KNOW there's not going to be anything of worth in there. Otherwise they would've put it on the display with the furniture and "AS SEEN ON TV" section of Slap Chops, EuroSealers, and WeedWackers that were only sparingly used if at all. The same is true of TV.

Along with informercials for the above stated products, there are mostly just repeats of 24 hour news broadcasts, comedians no one has heard of (and probably never will be heard of), and courtroom reality tv shows like Judge Judy. Occasionally you'll find the crown jewel of late night TV: a newish South Park episode that isn't sacrilegious. However, I would estimate that 85% of channels that aren't undergoing a test of the emergency broadcast system are the only thing that can divert my anger away from Coach K during this season of life: televangelists.

Normally they are either in front of a pulpit or in a sort of telethon setting, raising money for more people to be blessed through Reverend X's ministry. There are testimonies of elderly women being healed of the gout and youngish teens telling stories of placing their hands on their TV's late one night to receive a blessing from the televangelist. (I tried and all I got was a static shock from my TV screen. Thanks a lot Reverend.) For the most part I know that it's a hoax and a scheme to get old people who don't know that emails from Nigeria are normally dangerous, with lots of money to send them checks.

My unfiltered mind during late night times thinks about all the awful ways people are ripped off and start thinking of all the testimonies not shown on TV of confused people who are on their death beds still waiting for a miracle that will never come. Or the woman who is sterile who sows a $100 seed to this ministry who will never conceive, but has all the faith in the world.

But part of me kinda wants these guys to be real. Wouldn't it be great if all we had to do to prove to our skeptical friends that God is real was just to send in a $100 check and receive a miracle? It would take out so much intellectual work and faith work, believing in someone we've never seen in the flesh. As cheesy as these TV preachers are (the aren't really evangelists so I'll just say "preachers" instead), they really know what people want. They know that most people think they just want prosperity and not a real knowledge of whether God exists or not or whether we can know Him.

I'm reminded of the passage in Revelation where God sends Jesus to separate the true followers from the fakers. The real men of God from the extortionists, the cheaters, the actors, the ones who appear to love him, but really only love themselves and try to profit from him.

I should probably save this for another blog entry since its kind of a whole other topic, but the same night I was fuming over a TV preacher selling a color coordinated Bible (with every topic in one of 12 colors to signify whether it was referring to "God," "Peace," "The Devil," "Blessing," etc) for $129.99, I saw a video game commercial for the new Splinter Cell game. There were the normal scenes of a spy killing all sorts of bad guys with awesome graphics. But this was the song in the background that both brought me fear and confidence in God's justice:

Whenver a dead guy is still producing music after he's gone, you know its gonna be powerful. Especially if he can get powerful celebrities to do it for him and act all serious in a video. (My favorite part is the sign Bono writes that says "Sinners make the best Saints: RIP JC"...and then also Owen Wilson and the guy from ZZ Top throwing the flower in the air at the end).

But seriously, this was a really moving thing for me. The splinter cell commercial prompted me to look the video up. And then it made me think. This is a great message, not only for the celebrities of excess in the video itself (which, do you think they understood the irony of being cut down by God for ignoring His commands?), but also because it so reminds us that one day we will be judged with justice for the things we know in our hearts. For the actions we do and not the actors we play. For our attitudes and not our public personas. This is kinda scary honestly. But for those who know God and have received grace it is also comforting to know that one day there will be no more late night preachers left to confuse the poor and tease the weak with empty promises. Nor will there be idols of celebrity for us to chase after. The celebrities and TV preachers alike still have time to repent for their rebellion of the Gospel. For every long-tongued liar, every rambler and gambler and back-biter will one day either turn from their ways or be cut down.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

"...but having seen them from afar..."

So admittedly and apologetically this will probably turn into my 2nd of 2 recent posts that are pretty morbid, death-focused musings. They are more serious than my demeanor would indicate most of the time, but it's been a topic that I've been confronted with a good amount recently for some reason. I really haven't been hanging out in graveyards or reading Poe and Kafka at all, I promise.

What I have been doing is questioning when my day will come.

"Death smiles at us all. All a man can do is smile back," Maximus says.

Last year I had some pretty crazy moments where I was sure I would die within minutes. Most of them took place on crickety old Asian airplanes with pilates who looked no older than 16 years old.

Some of the others occurred after the Earthquake in Sichuan Province that killed so many people. One afternoon lying in bed, it was swiftly swept across my room, prompting me to run half naked into my roommate's room and scurry outside for a place where I could at least meet my Maker in the sunshine, not in my musty apartment room, clothes and papers strewn everywhere.

To be honest, I think that's why I was perpetually afraid of death, unable to smile back at it. I didn't want to be caught looking narrowly into my own life of disorganized papers and dirty laundry. It wasn't that I was necessarily convinced that I would cease to exist, foregoing the Biblical view of Heaven, but more that I would have died without experiencing lots of meaningful things in life.

Recently, I've felt like I'm just kinda treading water until I can start ministry again in East Asia. And without remembering those before me who have already died honorable, suffering-filled, spirit-fulfilling deaths for Christ, I will probably continue fretting about the day I breathe my last.

To be honest, if all I have is a bucket list where I want to get married, get promoted, get a house, have awesomely-athletic toddlers who are sports prodigies to groom, and get respect from important people, then I'll probably even feel that way when I start my job where I serve the Kingdom for a living.

But this is something that helps me: rereading Hebrews 11 and the "Hall of Faith" recounting how flannel-graphed Bible characters are given praise in the Heavenly places for the faith they demonstrated specifically. Many were martyred, but all (ok, except Enoch...he is almost ruining my point here...) died a physical death where they stopped breathing, their heart stopped beating, and brain synapses stopped firing.

This is what the author of Hebrews has to say about them (the long list of faithful men): "These all died, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one." Hebrews 11:13-16.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

We are all dying in a Sylvia Plath kind of way

The inspiration for the title of this blog post can be attributed to Edward Norton's character in the movie Fight Club, which I think I've already used up my quota for "number of Fight Club spiritual analogies in a year."

It's when Norton and Marla Singer run into each other at several support groups for various diseases neither of them actually has that this idea is presented. Norton goes to these groups because they are the only things that can help him cry and therefore help him sleep. Marla's reason is unknown, but Norton knows that seeing Marla's lie by also coming to these meetings with cancer patients exposes the lie he himself is caught in.

"Marla did NOT have testicular cancer," Norton says.

When he finally confronts her lie he states that Marla was not dying,

"In the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word, I know we're all--we're all dying, all right? But you're not dying the way Chloe back there is dying."

I know it wasn't the intention of this scene to do this, but I think recently I've found comfort in knowing that we are actually dying in the Tibetan philosophy, Sylvia Plath sense of the word." On one hand it's a little depressing thinking that we will all have 5-8 minutes less than we did after we finish reading this than before we started. On the other hand it seems that our mortality is a gift that keeps us humble and grounded in something otherworldly and eternal. Each second our body is decaying, our skin dying, our organs losing their strength, but it does not have to be despairing.

I started reading Safely Home by Randy Alcorn today (thanks Carol for lending it to me!) and was really moved by one character "Ben," who is the VP of a big microchip company. He apparently was a committed follower of Jesus in college at Harvard, leading his Chinese roommate to Christ while there. But now, he is successful in business, and divorced, lonely, alienating even to his cousins and family.

Every Monday morning he reads a list of goals he compiled while at a convention 6 years ago. The first was to integrate his business' assets into the Chinese market and infrastructure. The 2nd was to be President by the time he was 48. Within reach. The 3rd was to accumulate enough wealth to do anything and go anywhere he wanted.

I really hope I never lose sight of what God is doing in me and showing me in my 20's. I hope that remembering we are all slowly, but surely dying will keep me from making professional or ministry goals the Lord of my life.

It's a sad existence to leave

Monday, February 15, 2010

Poetic thoughts from prison

Personally I don't really think poetry is all that cool. I read some in English courses in college, but normally just thought the writer was insane because none of his words made sense without a commentary from a slightly less insane critic. In high school, when we'd have to write poetry for some standardized unit, I'd find the shortest one or the shallowest one and choose that one to write a paper on.

They were normally written by some tortured soul who suffered from depression and were therefore seen as artists. I thought it was such a con. You can just throw a bunch of words with little syntax, grammar, or sense in them and people would think you were cool and brilliant artists, just because the readers really had no idea what was being said, but didn't want to appear ignorant or unsophisticated.

It wasn't until I found out that Tupac used to write poems that I got intrigued slightly. In fact it was really just the fact that they were normally about sensitive stuff like rainbows and flowers and lovey-dovey stuff that I felt compelled to read more about his life. All his raps were about gunnin' down rival gang members and actin' a fool. But his poems from earlier exposed such a different side of things. Essentially, he was D'Angelo Barksdale, drug slinger on the outside, but poetic softy literature critic inside his prison cell. I think that's a compelling story line. Even most brilliant people and our biggest heroes are insecure people with their own vices, Jekyl and Hyde-ing their way through life.

I just started reading The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who resisted Hitler in the 30's and 40's and was ultimately killed for his speaking/acting out against the Nazi regime. His thoughts have been so interesting to me as I imagine the implications of a Christian nation gone wrong and how I would react to cultural compromises that tempt me to grab power and release my grasp on the cross of Jesus.

He speaks and writes in the Introduction of his constantly paradoxical nature and wonders aloud "Who am I?" He wrote this excerpt as part of a larger poem from prison describing his internal dilemna of personal self-unawareness:


Who am I? This of the Other?

Am I one person to-day and to-morrow another?

Am I both at once? A hypocrite before others,

and before myself a contemptible woebegone weakling?

Or is something within me still like a beaten army

fleeing in disorder from victory already achieved?

Who am I? They mock me, these lonely questions of


Whoever I am, Thou knowest, O God, I am thine!


Depressing, self-torment like this is hard to accept from a man who ultimately laid down his life for the freedom of his flock and Germans as a people. I cycle through these questions about every 7 hours one at a time. Self-doubt and humility seem to be intertwined throughout life as a Christian and at times, can be indecipherable, though they are clearly enemies of one another.

I guess the lesson to be taken away here is that we might not ever overcome our personal disorderly, fleeing army inside us, but I can still be used to bring liberty to the captive, to bring life to the barely-hanging-on, to defeat the powers of lingering sin and death in our lives because of the fact that I am God's.

But also it's important to note that God can use us in spite of our conflicting selves. We can remain "his workmanship, created for good works, which God prepared before hand that we might walk in them" and still be in-process, figuring out what we are, standing firm, yet all the while just wanting to give in to our fleeing armies.

Friday, February 12, 2010

In lieu of having a horrible week due to the loss at Dook*, I've decided to write a few quick hitters (with links) every couple days to both a) soothe the pain and take my mind off of how frustrating this year has been and b) remind myself that things are going to be ok soon.

Here's step one to bringing back some laughs and remembering why, it is always better to be on our side of the tracks.



That's all for now.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Preparing for a lifetime of ministry...

Many people have asked me questions in the last few days since returning from 5 weeks of New Staff Training Sunday.

"Where have you been?" "How was it?" "Did they make you drink strange juice or take a Red Pill?" and my personal favorite, "Wait, you were gone?"

But the most important question was "Why were you there?" At a surfa
ce level I normally say that I was there because I have been called to reach the world for Jesus and be a bridge for those who are hurting and suffering the effects of sin to find grace, forgiveness and life. At an even shallower surface level, I might say, "because it was in Daytona and it's January and I have a low tolerance for cold weather...I don't even like ice cream that is slightly too cold (I'm looking at you, Baskin Robbins!)."

The real reason I was down there was to "prepare for a lifetime of ministry." I dont think it hit me until now that I'm in this for the long haul. I know God has called me to reach cultures that are not my own. I know that he is currently equipping me mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually for that task, too. But I dont think it was until I was commissioned as a real "missionary" last Sunday that it sunk in.

I had to stand up and recite something that I can't recall now, but I know was meaningful and even made me stop joking around with the 7 others at my dinner table (and some other good friends at other tables via text message) for several minutes and contemplate what the Lord is doing to me and in me.

The keynote speaker was an elderly man who had been on staff with Campus Crusade since the Reformation. He had thin white hair and had been battling cancer for several years. He talked to Vonette Bright (Crusade's founder's wife and local celebrity, pictured above) as if they were platonically involved, in the way people in retirement homes are. But beyond that, and through him leaning too far away from the microphone, he inspired me that students in the world are so lost, need hope in Jesus, and that they are worth enduring hardship for.

He told stories of becoming the first Asian director in the 70's. Again, he was very white and old. He talked of hardships with cultural differences and yet, because of his faith in stepping into discomfort, Crusade is now being used mightily to reach the most open parts of the world spiritually.

I was reminded of the last movie I saw, The Book of Eli. Like Denzel, this man told stories from a deep faith and deep experiences with God. He knew his life was ending soon. Yet he also knew that his purpose was not in vain and neither was his work. He had lived a good life and was enjoying the nostalgia of God's faithfulness. He talked as to inspire us, though told stories as if we were his grandchildren, sitting on his lap, listening to tales of war.

And now, he was content for the Lord to take him any day.

"I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have have kept the faith."

I pray that one day I can stand in front of a group of ignorant, uber-texting, unsanctified kids and speak like that man did of Jesus' power in his faith. I hope that my lifetime will be as rich and I will have stories that will make people wonder if I'm making them up, or if I just have taken my meds in a while. I yearn for the lifetime of ministry highs and lows that I am only beginning now.


Sunday, January 24, 2010

Update from New Staff Training

For the last 3 weeks I've been at New Staff Training, both taking classes and seeking to find a clearer calling about where I should request to be placed for my ministry assignment for the next few years. I've also gotten a lot of time in being active on the beach (even though its really cold most days, surprisingly... one day was actually colder than it was in Vancouver) and connecting with other people here like me, who have been called to reach the world's college students and are about to be scattered throughout a largely unbelieving (sometimes, misunderstanding) world.

Our classes (Christian Theology and Bible Study Methods) have challenged me to live in a more Biblical way, not through a series of correlating rituals, but by recognizing what every passage in the Bible says about 1) man's fallen condition and inability to save himself and 2) God's role in redemption as a completion of man's fallen condition.

The classes have been great and, in many ways, are the biggest thing causing my faith to stretch at the moment. There are some lectures I think are lame, mainly ones about the end times and ones about calvinism/armenianism, but all in all, they've been a great source of encouragement to me. I feel like Bodie from The Wire, having grown up around "the game," knowing many of the basic concepts about it, but when you get taken under a kingpin's wing, like a Stringer Bell...well... you just take off. No longer a dope boy, not quite the big boss. More like a Lieutenant, somewhere in between.

Anyways, I've got about 2 weeks left here and am both really enjoying my time here with everyone and hopeful to get back to NC soon!

Thanks so much for your prayers and support!


Saturday, January 9, 2010

The New Year in the Big Apple (sort of)

I was so glad to get back in the saddle recently after a couple months of being burdened (in my own mind at least) by raising support almost excusively with Bridges Int'l! I've also been working at a restaurant part time to have some extra income (I wont tell you which one, but it is closed on Sundays and has been a great job for flexible hours and the people are fun... Also their mascot is a cow.). However, getting to go to the Vision Conference in New York City was just a great treat for me to see 300+ international students come to hear the Gospel for the first time or to hear it again if they had already become Christians.

The only disappointing thing is that, much like the Giants and Jets, we resided under false pretenses in New Brunswick, NJ, so it felt more like we were hanging, not with Broadway Joe, P Diddy, and Jay-Z, but instead with Jon Bon Jovi and Snooki, The Situation and the cast of Jersey Shore. It was still great though.

I spent lots of time on the Chinese Track, helping with seminars, etc, especially as the Audio Visual guy. It was a hard, but good time for me, as I am very technologically challenged, but taught me a lot and really made me take the posture of a behind-the-scenes servant, something I'm not accustomed to or particularly fond of.

Anyways, there are lots of stories, but one I will share. It reminded me of why I love working with international students and the great opportunity we have to share the Gospel with the nations here in the US.

Right before New Years, we had a NYE party in New Jersey (No hassle of Times Square for us!). Of course, there was a talent show (a staple of any foreign student party), the Electric Slide, the limbo, and a Conga line.

Then the music changed.

It was some song I had never heard, with tones of the Arabic world. It was catchy, but none of us knew how to dance to it. Except for 2 guys.

One was from Iraq. He was a UNC visiting scholar and will have tons of influence in his home country someday.

The other, from Afghanistan, a nation undergoing radical political transformation.

They began to dance, twirling their hands in a way that only Middle Eastern guys can artfully do without looking effeminate. Everyone circled around as the excitement, intrigue and amazement mounted. They danced for several more minutes until another song came on. Then the thought came to me:

"Where else in the world would two future leaders of Iraq and Afghanistan be able to hear the Gospel repeatedly for an entire week? To have their questions on faith answered? To seek truth in a non-Muslim context?"

I couldn't think of another place on the whole earth.

And that is why this job is so fulfilling in the spiritual realms.