Thursday, December 13, 2007

Graduate

So I graduated today. I took my last final a few days ago, and things went a little different than I had expected. I figured that the last day of college, this wild 4.5 year experiment, would end with some sort of fanfare, or cosmic boom, or at least something climactic. But to my surprise, after I finished my final, nothing happened. No band played. No celestial voice from heaven said, “this is my son, of whom I am well pleased” as I had expected. There was just silence. The weight of what had just happened began to set in, but still nothing happened. I stepped outside, the birds were still chirping, the sun still shone, students still walked from here to there, not one person stopped to say “wow man, you look different, you look like a college grad, an educated man of the world!” So I walked around outside for a minute, and thought out loud, “boy, life sure is a son-of-a-bitch!” I soon tempered myself, and walked back to my car in an uneventful, anticlimactic, bitter huff of sorts. So I began to think, and it helped me to think of life not so much as a series of sudden, life-altering events, but more as a sort of continuous, fluid thing. Like life is just meant to go from one thing to the next without seeming like the death of one thing leads to the life of another. I have this friend, and she has always been kind of crazy, nothing has ever stopped her from doing whatever weird or crazy things she has wanted to do. I just talked to her today after she got back from a trip to Australia, and she was telling me about how excited she was about graduating soon and moving to California where she plans to get married. I told her that I thought it was funny how different our respective ideologies were, about how unnerving the future is for me. Then she just told me, in this super matter-of-fact way, that she loves change, and wouldn’t have it any other way. It makes me wonder what it takes for someone to get into that mindset, to be willing to go anywhere or do anything at a moment’s notice. To, in a way, live without fear. Well there is no doubt about it, this is a new, scary phase of life for me. And now that college is behind me, there is only the future, the distant unknown. Well, here is to the future, whatever it may hold, may they be great things, and may they be things that will light some fire deep within my soul.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Steroid Video



A project for school, supposedly informing students about the dangers of steroids...I'm not sure if we accomplished that, but we did get an A!

Thursday, November 1, 2007

The Academy and The Score


Ah, what a few weeks it has been. After waiting three weeks to get my LSAT score back I finally got it, and happily I found that I didn’t do terribly. Turns out I got a 155, which really isn’t as good as I wanted to do, but about as good as I deserved given my relatively short period of studying. But the great thing is that its over, this dark cloud of a thing is gone and can rain on someone else. Hooray. Another great opportunity that came recently into my life was an ASU sponsored trip to West Point Military Academy in New York for a conference on ethics. The invitation came as a surprise to me, and I had to compete against 18 others in an essay-writing contest for the spot, but eventually I got the nod and was on my way to New York for some time with America’s future military leaders. The conference was great, I lived with one of the cadets in one of the barracks in the heart of West Point, which looks just like a giant castle. The amount of discipline in their lives is really incredible to see, as I had the pleasure of waking up with them at 6am to the sound of “reveille” being played on the trumpet outside our window. From there, almost their entire days were planned out, minute-by-minute, with very little time for fun. Needless to say, it was a bit different than my life. Every freshman called me “sir,” which was nice, and we all ate at the same time in a giant 4,000 person dining hall which seemed to be straight from a Harry Potter movie. During the day I attended seminars and talked about everything from economics to business to philanthropy. We heard from military generals, news correspondents, and professional mountain climbers. It really was a good time. Oh, and on a side note, I made a fool of myself in front of ABC news’ Chief White House Correspondent, which wasn’t one of my better moments I will admit.

I suppose what I will most take away from that conference, other than the ideas and good debate that was had, will be the cadets I met at the Academy. Each of the people I got to know well are in their senior year, and each of them will be serving for 15 months as an officer in Iraq within the year. It was riveting to talk with them about how they feel about going to war, about commanding men, and about our country and their duty. It was interesting for me to learn that the most requested position within the cadets at West Point is that of infantryman. When I asked why, my roommate simply shrugged and told me that he and his fellow cadets wanted to prove to themselves that they had what it took, that they could fight for a cause that they didn’t necessarily believe in. Wow, I thought to myself. I told him that I didn’t know how anyone could deal with that amount of pressure, and he just shrugged again and went back to reading his book. So I am glad that there are people who are braver than me, who feel called to serve in hostile places, even if they can’t articulate just why.

So in short, life is good, I am almost out of college, which isn’t my favorite place to be, but I look forward to seeing what will happen next in my unpredictable life.

Friday, September 28, 2007

The day before


Today is the day before the big day, which makes today the day that I hate almost as much as I will hate tomorrow. In a way I dread it and in a way I look forward to it, like the way a man who knows he will be sentenced by a jury just wants to hear the verdict, to get it over with, whether the outcome is favorable or not. Enough waiting, the day of reckoning is here. Ok, maybe I shouldn’t be so dramatic, “reckoning” is a bit much, but still I feel like I am sitting in a courtroom waiting to hear the jury’s verdict, to have them tell me whether or not I add up.

Its ridiculous, I know, to place my worth into a standardized test, to somehow associate my ego with how well I do or don’t do on this thing. I can’t tell you how many times I have told myself that. Either way I am still me, still flesh, bone, spirit. But there is something in me, some subtle beast of a thing that whispers quietly in my ear lies and deceit. Its as if part of me wants to fail just to prove its false point. I find that you can shout truth all you want and not quiet that small voice that whispers lies. But that’s what they are, lies, and I have power over them.

I have spent the better part of the last two and a half months studying for this thing. Countless hours denied to my friends, family, and girlfriend and instead devoted to a test. A stupid test. I don’t mean to sound like I am complaining, I have no problem with working hard for something, in fact, I have enjoyed some aspects of this study because it has forced me to work harder for something that I have done in recent memory. I only say this because I want so badly for it all to pay off. But that’s not my call to make, its God’s, and it is all in his hands now. My future will always be with God, not myself, and I trust him with that. Am I scared? Yeah, terrified. But in 24 hours this thing will be done and I can move on to greener pastures. So glory to God, not to me. Whatever happens I want it to be his will. He has taken me this far, and he will be faithful to take me the rest of the way toward whatever destiny awaits me.

Monday, August 20, 2007

Summer gone


I’m not sure how to begin, or how to end for that matter. I feel like I am saying goodbye to an old friend. How to move on from this summer, it really is like saying goodbye to a wise old friend, one who has been there for me, whispering wisdom in my ear for the last few months. But I will start with this: I am convinced that everything I have seen and everywhere I have been and everyone I have met has in some way been a reflection of God. And if God is in these things than God must be good. It’s quite beautiful when I think about it really. I have thought long and hard and there really is no other way of understanding or quantifying the travel, people, and places that have been this summer, and the overwhelming goodness of people that I have borne witness to.

A quick, or not so quick, recap. (There really is something therapeutic about this for me).

In Boston I met all kinds of people from all over the world, all of them in some way just like me. And I was blessed to be able to talk with them and discover what their lives were like and how different yet similar we were. I was able to see quickly the depth of my ethnocentricity, and quickly it was impressed upon me that this summer was not about me, it wasn’t about my story as much as it was about a story being told to me. I learned a lot about economic theory and practice, and about libertarianism and government theory and how far from perfect the world is. I learned that fun is not something that only Americans understand, I rode around the entire city on a bike in a toga, I laughed a lot, I thought a lot, then I thought some more. I also saw first hand how smart some people are, and I realize that I may never achieve the intellectual prowess of some of these people but I am really glad that these people exist, that a lot of people know a lot more than me. I made three really great friends in Boston, one of whom was kind enough to let us stay in her apartment near Harvard for a few days while we saw and did everything there was to do in Boston. (My friend, though she may refute this, is one of the smartest people I know, she is one of those people who is so smart and has such a love of people that it blows my mind.) And there was one night that we sat on the steps of this church that is on Harvard’s campus, and we talked late into the night about all kinds of things as the stars above sang and danced, and it was all so perfect and lovely and it was easy to get the feeling that maybe this was what life was ultimately about. Experiencing people, experiencing life, experiencing God.

As I continued my journey to New York City I began to embrace the kind of freedom that comes with solo travel, that is, going and doing whatever you want whenever you want. I have to tell you, for someone whose life ordinarily revolves around a schedule, it was heaven. There I stayed with one of the kindest most generous families I know, and had a lot of great conversations with my cousin and my friend Patrick the freelance photographer. Patrick moved to NY a couple of years ago and literally lives paycheck to paycheck, hoping and praying that he will be provided with enough work to pay the rent in his apartment. But I have to tell you, he is one of the happiest, most fulfilled guys I know. Just talking with him was encouraging. He loves what he does, and, though things are sometimes hard, he wouldn’t trade his job for anything. For him there is something in the uncertainty, in the good times and the hard times, that he has grown comfortable with, almost in love with. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

Moving on was hard by this time, as I had grown to resent all the goodbye’s I was constantly forced to give. But I did leave, hard as it was, and moved on to meet my family at our 110 year old cabin in upstate NY. I have to tell you, I can’t think of any place more serene, quiet, and perfect. The cabin is on a three-mile lake in the mountains, and the word beautiful doesn’t do it justice, not by a long shot. I came here as a kid almost every summer, and the place is filled with memories and beauty as far as the eye can see. It was the perfect place to hang for a few days and collect my thoughts, reflect on what the last few weeks had held. Each morning I would paddle out in our wooden canoe and chase the loons and fog across the silent water, hearing nothing but the sound of my paddle breaking the water’s surface. This place held a kind of peace that most only read about in books.

As this may be a bit longer, I will postpone the rest of this reflection until another date, but, in the meantime, here are some of my favorite pictures:



Tuesday, August 7, 2007

God and me: why I don't get it and why that's ok



Life is a funny thing…I know, tell you something you don’t already know…but its full of contradictions and problems and triumphs and sadness and regret and all kinds of other things. I have been feeling these a lot lately, the different elements of life that is, and its got me all confused. Since getting back from Europe and the east coast I have been wondering at what God has for me, what I should be doing, how my life’s story is supposed to be told. And I am not sure how it fits, but lately I have been thinking a lot about God, and what an abstract and ridiculous concept the whole thing is. I mean really, there are times when I talk about God like he is a vacuum that I am trying to sell, like he is this incredible invisible product that all my friends need. And then I think about things like the enlightenment, and the whole scientific reason thing, and I think, “there is no way to absolutely prove God, to absolutely prove what I have been selling all these years.” I mean, my faith is by no means blind, or untried, but what it comes down to is that scientifically you can prove many things, but you can’t use science to get to or prove God. And if you ever did, God wouldn’t be God. I think that the nature of God is mystery. I can’t explain why I have the capacity to understand beauty, or why I feel pain or anger or joy, I just do. And so in a way, this is how I understand God, and my relationship to him; that he is on a vertical plane of existence and I am on a horizontal, and you can’t prove the existence of anything on the vertical because its not quantifiable, its not measurable, it doesn’t add up to enlightenment principles. Well, anyway, that’s that.

And I have also been thinking a lot about the Bible lately, and how I read it. I heard someone say the other day that Jesus didn’t come to start Christianity, and I thought that this was very beautiful and true because that means that Jesus didn’t have any agenda or hidden motives other than loving people. He wasn’t out to start a major world religion, he came simply to tell people and show them that God loved them. And I think that we get so caught up in reading each verse in the Bible like it has some secret magic in it, a key to unlocking some passage of our hearts, that we miss the overarching message that is screaming to be heard. Notice that Jesus tells stories, he talks in metaphor, he speaks in poetry and prose. He doesn’t give us lists or formulas, although sometimes I wish he did. So why? I wondered, if the sermon I hear in church on Sunday comes with a list or a formula for living a happier life why didn’t Jesus just give us that himself? Why did he always respond with questions and tell stories? But I think that his message isn’t a formula, it isn’t a four-step program to happiness, it’s a story about God loving people. The Bible, I think, is nothing more than stories about people’s encounters with God. So I realized that I have been reading all wrong, that I have been thinking about things all wrong, and I took some time to read through stories and not perform literary surgery on each verse. I can’t tell you how freeing that was. It was freedom from religion and boxed in formulas, it was simply relational, and I loved that.

So being back here is weird, its back to my job, school, responsibility, stuff like that. But I once heard someone say that life is like fine wine, it won't appeal to children. And I think that is true, life is what it is, it is difficult, and at some point in time I will have to come to terms with that. But I also think that life is full of adventure, and hope, and truth. And the truth of it is that you and I are deeply spiritual beings, deeply spiritual people, and whether we acknowledge it or not doesn't make it any less true. So I don't want to deny that to myself any more, because embracing spirituality, not religion, has made my life more complete.

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Europe: english and bread

It has been a long time since I have had internet access, and a lot has happened since that time, so I will make this as good a summary as I can. Freak I love summer, thats all I can say. My adventures thus far have been unforgettable, and the stuff that good and full lives are made of as far as I know.

We arrived in Prague after about 24 hours of straight travel, having been delayed at Heathrow airport for six hours due to security concerns. Let me tell you, there is not much to do for six hours in the world's busiest airport, ug. Anyway, so, after arriving at about eleven at night Prague time, we decided to go into the city at 5am the next day because we knew we would not have time the next day before we were bussed to our training in Malenovice. So, after an early morning and a quick tour around the nearly deserted streets of Prague, we had breakfast and headed to Malenovice, where we would meet with several other groups who were also teaching english somewhere in the Czech. The training in Malenove took place in a new and beautiful ski lodge, located high on a mountain and overlooking wooded hills and green meadows below. Wow. It was beaitiful. We trained there for two and a half semi-restful days, and then departed for our less than desirable second location: a hotel that had once served as a Communist training camp of sorts, and had not been touched by the hand of renovation since. Classy, was my first thought upon seeing it. The sinks were in the showers, which, I suppose, really does save one a bit of trouble in the long run, and the whole place reaked of smoke. Anyway, it turned out to be a lot of fun, and once the students arrived, the fun and sleep deprivation didn't stop. I found that I really do love teaching english, and it helped that the students really wanted to learn. I was able to form relationships with people who barely spoke English, but who were kind, thoughtful and smart. Ok, I am running out of time, I am supposed to meet several Czech friends at a local pub in ten minutes, so quickly...some of my favorite memories thus far: sleeping on airport floors, trying to read road signs in Czech, rap battling my friend Joe G, playing guitar briefly at a train station for money, searching for two friends lost in the mountains near where we were staying, continuous laughter and stories, meeting good people. It is amazing how kind people are. With all the crap that happens in the world today, one can begin to think that everyone is like that, cruel and self-centered. But I have found so many good people, people who really care and will give anything for their fellow man. I am staying in the house of one of my students, Martin, and I have not stopped eating yet. His parents had dinner going when I arrived, and it is still going now...three hours later. I have literally eaten my weight in food. One of the key rules here is to eat everything you are given, all of it. So that has become my burden to bear, and it has been a real pleasure thus far.

Oh, and I forgot to mention that I have eaten the equivelant of three trucks full of bread since being here. They love their bread I tell you, and that is most of what I have eaten until now. White fattening bread, all the time.

Life is good. Travel is good. Adventure is good. God is good.

Sunday, July 1, 2007

Boston: journey around the city


The last few days have been awesome, and have shown me in many ways how good life really is. I am still in Boston, even though I was supposed to leave two days ago. My friends Joe and Sarah convinced me to stay for the extra days, promising good times and memories, and the last few days have been nothing short. We have been almost everywhere in this city, each day we set out on our journey to cover as much of the city as possible and see as much as we can. Yesterday I was in a street performance in front of Quincy Market in downtown Boston much to the delight of a crowd of several hundred. I ate Sushi, saw the ocean, walked for miles and saw the sunset and I have to tell you that it was pretty perfect. I am enjoying this so much, this freedom that comes with travel and uncertainty.

I have been sharing a bed with my friend Joe, a big goofy guy from Cincinnati who is a social worker in the city, and, other than occasionally stealing the blankets, I couldn't ask for a better bed-mate. He is one of those guys who draws people to him, and I think his outlook on life is brilliant. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite people.

The history is everywhere out here, and almost every old brick building you can see has some historical significance. What is interesting to see are the old buildings, apartments, houses, and so on, and the giant corporate buildings lighted and standing tall behind them. The contrast between these two time periods provides an interesting commentary as to the progression of American ingenuity. Old and comfortable versus new and industrialized.

In a few hours it’s off to New York City where I will stay for the next few days. Parting is indeed such sweet sorrow, especially since I have made such great memories with these people in Boston. But all things must come to an end and it is time for me to move on with my journey, and, as always, it is exciting to think of what the future holds.A few pictures from my time...

This is a homeless guy who wouldn't let me go, he kept talking about how when he was my age he had toga parties too, and how he needed money to visit his friends in Europe...Why do these guys always singe me out?

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Boston day two, three, and four: seminars and togas



The last few days have been great, I have learned a lot, and I have not gotten much sleep. There are three points that summarize some of what I have learned so far, and they are as follows: 1) I have found that economics is infinitely more complicated than I had imagined, 2) I know infinitely less than I thought I knew, 3) the more I know the less I understand. These three truths cause me a great deal of intellectual pain the last few days as I have conversed, debated, and laughed with people my age from around the world. I spoke with a guy from Mexico City about immigration, I debated the pros and cons of a free-market system with a girl from Nepal, I picked the brain of a Harvard student and I got into a heated debate with a Russian over the role of eggs in a breakfast meal. The level of intellect on this campus really is amazingly high, and I find myself way out of my league yet enjoying every minute of it. I am learning more than I thought I would, and at a much faster rate than my brain can process so I am constantly referring to my notes and trying to master the language of economics.

Time is flying by here as there is so much to do and see and think about. It has been frusterating to me because it really does seem as though the more I know about free-market principles, profits and losses, incentives, and a variety of other economic related material, I find it difficult to understand what the right thing to do is. The more I learn about this stuff, the more I realize that the world is a complex web of ideas, each of which might hold some validity, and I feel less and less qualified to make the distinction between a good and bad idea. One obviously good thing that this time has given me is the opportunity to think, talk, and discuss deeply with other really smart people. Everyone should have this type of thing. It is constantly challenging everything I know, and forcing me to defend it daily.

Well, aside from all the academic thinking that has gone on here, there has been a bit of fun. My friend Joe and I were sitting at the social last night talking about what kind of fun things we could do today on our free day. He suggested that he and I rent bikes at a shop he had found so that we could tour Boston in a quick and fun way; I completely agreed, and, only half seriously, suggested that we do it while wearing togas. Joe loved the idea and the two of us were quickly devising a plan for the next day and how we would ride our bikes while wearing togas all day and all over Boston. Well, today we spent seven straight hours touring Boston on bikes, stopping traffic, getting honks, waves, yells, laughs, and everything in between. You see, our idea caught on and by the time we were ready to go, we had a group of 14 international students wearing togas and sitting on bikes.

A few highlights: stopping at Harvard school of law to get information and talk up my name...I may have been the first person ever to wear a toga in the ancient halls of Harvard, and hopefully the last. Completely stopping two lanes of traffic while 14 toga sporting bikers rode accross the stree to honks and plenty of obscene gestures. Riding along the Charles river at night and seeing the city, lit up in all its glory and set against a starry sky, cool wind singing a song of peace. Laughing with people from accross the world, all of whom, despite our differences, can appreciate the humor of riding through Boston in togas.

Here are a few pictures:





Sunday, June 24, 2007

Boston day one: airports and economics



It has officially started, the madness that is summer and adventuring around the world, and I couldn’t be happier. Travel yesterday was wild, and a bit tiring, yet I am safely here in Boston today. It all began with a midnight flight out of Phoenix to Chicago, where I spent three hours (from 5am to 8am) trying to sleep in a perfectly secluded spot I found on the floor sandwiched between a window and a row of uncomfortable seats. I lay there for a while, watching raindrops playfully chase each other down the glass and thinking how nice it was to see the sunrise while it was raining. I was able to sleep for close to an hour on the plane, and was also able to catch a bit of rest lying on the floor of the airport. Then, at 8am it was off for a quick two hour flight to Boston.

When I arrived I found my bag and followed the instructions I had been given for finding Simmons College, where the Poverty and Prosperity seminar would take place. This involved navigating a confusing and complicated subway system with all of my luggage on my back while being hassled by the occasional mentally unbalanced homeless person. After hopping on a few wrong trains I eventually found my way to Simmons and arrived at 1pm eastern time, and let me tell you, I was glad to have arrived. I found my room and, upon entering, found my roommate Daniel asleep on his bed. He woke up for long enough to tell me his name and that he had spent the night at the airport, and that he was from Moldova. Later as we talked, he turned out to be a really nice guy, about my age, and he was not at all offended when I told him that I not only didn’t know where Moldova was, but that I had never heard of it. Moldova, in case you were wondering, is a small country about the size of Maine sandwiched between the Ukraine and Romania, they speak Romanian. Shortly after meeting Dan, I succumbed to sleep and did so for close to two hours, until we were supposed to start at 4pm.

After the seminar we attended dinner and our social, both of which I thoroughly enjoyed. I was, and still am, very impressed with the level of diversity of the participants involved in the seminar. I have thus far met people from Peru, Guinea, the UK, Austria, Russia, Guatemala, Mexico, India, Canada, Taiwan, Sierra Leone, and a variety of other places. Each of the participants is around my age, and each of them has unique and interesting stories and each brings with them a very different outlook on life. It really has been eye opening so far. Since last night I have attended two additional seminars relating to poverty and economics and several discussions in smaller groups. I have really been enjoying talking and learning all about global economics, something I knew very little about. Anyway, I am looking forward to my week here in Boston, and hope to see some of the sights when I am more rested and have more time, thus far we have been kept very busy! In the meantime, check out the pictures, some of which I will post here, but I will post all of them on another website that you can access by clicking on the link on the right side of the page.



Thursday, June 14, 2007

Stickshifts and Safteybelts


I have been working recently, a lot. By the end of the week I will have worked the last ten days in a row, that’s 80 hours of caffeine fueled work, not that I’m counting. And the thing of it is, I am not naturally good at this, at working all the time and earning money. I have always been focused on other things, and have never cared much about the pursuit of copious amounts of money. The truth is, and this is going to sound so gay, I would much rather write something, or paint something, or hike something, or travel to some distant place for an adventure. And sometimes I wonder if God messed up when he made me, if somehow I wasn’t wired right, or if maybe I am missing some key component that is meant to keep me sane while working long hours. It’s not that I’m lazy, it’s the opposite actually. It’s that I hate doing stuff that I feel doesn’t matter in the least; i.e., every job I have ever had. On the flip side, I have a deep love of knowledge and learning, which is why I like college and higher education so much, because I feel like it matters, and I enjoy it. So when I spend 80 hours in ten days parking cars for rich people, I feel a little spent. So I have to rationalize this mundane crap with the higher adventure that I feel called to, and let me tell you its not easy. For many people I know it just doesn’t seem to be a struggle, they work the 9 to 5, they sell a computer or an electric toothbrush, they go home, and they are satisfied. And to be to tell you the truth, I really wish I was more like that sometimes.

I heard someone once say that there are two types of people in the world, “how,” people, and “why,” people. “How” people only ask the “how” of life, how will I get more money? how will I marry a beautiful girl? how can I pay rent this month? etc. “Why” people, likewise, only ask the “why” questions about life; why do I need a job to make money that I spend on myself? Why do I need a girlfriend? Why am I even here? Let me tell you, I am a why person, and I hate it. Why am I working this job all the time when I could be out having adventures and living large in different parts of the world and riding camels and such? That is a question that I have been chewing on recently. And to make matters worse, I have been reading the blogs of a few people who do live this way, one who is a missionary in Eastern Europe, and another who travels around the world taking pictures, and my goodness does it sound good. It sounds like freedom to me.

But I know this. I know God has placed these insatiable desires deep within me so I never stop asking for more from life, so I am never content to just be.

Well whatever I end up doing, I need to trust God with it, because I don’t trust myself. His word says he knows the desires of my heart, and he cares about them, and that is huge. That is possibly the most comforting thing I have ever heard, aside from the fact that God loves me. But ultimately life is an adventure, and I love that, and I will continue to take advantage of every opportunity I get to live large.

So the last few days have taught me a bit about hard work and simply putting your head down and doing something even if you feel like it won’t ever amount to anything. It’s the process, not the end, in which I can find meaning and hope. In this case the means justify the end, in fact, they create it. So I will patiently wait for my summer adventures to arrive, and in the meantime I will suck whatever meaning and depth I can from a Beamer and a manual transmission.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

California Dreaming


Let me first say that I am greatly looking forward to this summer, as it holds within its vast arms an array of joy, beauty, and opportunity. Ah yes, the summer of 2007. So it begins. This trip to California signaled the start of my summer and its adventures, and let me say that there may be no better way to begin one’s summer than with a free trip to California for four days. I headed to California with my girlfriend’s family, the Harmans, to attend the wedding of my girlfriend’s best friend, Jenny, in Irvine. The trip to Cali was good, I have always enjoyed road trips and took the opportunity to read and reflect on a variety of things. I was sitting, reading Emerson, and I nodded back and forth between Emerson’s words and trying not to drift into road induced sleep. I closed the book and shut my eyes for a moment, Emerson’s authoritative words echoing wisdom in my head… “God will not make his words manifest by cowards…” I stopped to wonder at his words and what they could mean if I really took them to heart. You see, I seem to have a problem with living in the moment, with not worrying about what is to come. I feel like I am constantly living in three different worlds, the past, the present, and the future. It is one of my greatest faults, I think. It makes me emotional and unstable to a degree, and I feel this restlessness creeping under my skin like some disease. Emerson addresses this problem, by making an example of a rose…“These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence…” Oh how I long for that. So, with the risk of sounding rather foolish, I will tell you that I spent the rest of the trip to California wishing I was a pretty rose, and I could sit under someone’s window or in a garden, and people would point and marvel at my beauty and simplicity, and I would simply smile to myself and think, “why yes, I am quite beautiful, thank you.”

As we arrived at our hotel in Irvine, I was greeted by a cool gust of air that tasted of salt and the sea. I must tell you now that I do not find much else as refreshing as I find that simple, relaxing, feel of cool California air. Its as if even the air senses that the coast is about relaxation and calm, and rejects the heat and busyness of urban life. After finding dinner at a nearby restaurant, we headed back to the hotel where I did a bit of solo exploring. After a journey to the gym and the hot tub, I sought out the lobby’s large chairs for a bit of coffee and a good book. As I was sitting there I listened to two girls sitting in front of me talking in a language I had never heard. After a few minutes of attempting to decipher what they were speaking, I decided to ask. A South-African dialect, they told me, speaking in a heavily accented English. Ah, I thought, interesting. I then proceeded to perform my best South-African accent (influenced heavily by Leo DiCaprio’s accent in Blood Diamond) with what I thought was a flawless delivery of the line, “That diamond is my ticket off this god-forsaken continent!” As I delivered this line I shook my hands a bit for effect and gave my best Leo face. Although not quite perfect, they laughed and told me that the accent was pretty good, for an American.

The next day we ventured to Huntington Beach, where we spent a good portion of the day leading up to the wedding. Upon arriving I was immediately taken aback by the shear beauty and size of the ocean. The waves crashing like free-form verse on the shore sang a vernacular for fish that sounded beautiful. I think that God must have created massive beautiful things like the ocean simply to remind us how small and insignificant we are and how big He is. As I stood, the words to one of Shawn McDonald’s songs rang in my head… “The same hands that created all of this, they created you and I…” Beautiful, I thought, and cold. The ocean is really cold.

The wedding was beautiful as well. Right on the beach, ten feet from the Pacific Ocean, the happy couple that was Jenny and Josh were married, much to the delight of several hundred onlookers. And it was nicer than I thought it would be, honestly. Despite the fact that the tide didn’t rise and swallow them into the ocean as they recited their vows, it was still a good, short, ceremony. To tell you the truth I have never been a fan of weddings, and every time another friend of mine with a foolish grin and a sparkle in his eye tells me he is getting married I roll my eyes and say, “sure you are…I’ll see you sometime next year.” I think all this has to do with some unconscious thought I have that neither my friend nor his fiancĂ©e have any idea what they are doing; and in their defense I have begun to think that I am probably wrong, but it is still easier to be pessimistic than optimistic because, after all, I am in some ways losing a friend. Yeah, I know, I can be pretty superficial and shallow despite the 22 years I have lived, but it’s my right to be superficial and shallow, so there. Anyway, I did enjoy the wedding, mostly because I got to watch my girlfriend, perfectly framed by the ocean and glowing a bit as if she was an angel from some celestial place, standing by her best friend as she was married. The whole thing was rather beautiful I suppose, and now Jenny and Josh are married and are very happy because now they can squeeze each other’s butts and such while other people are around.

All of this wedding stuff got me thinking about how Emerson talks about peace and love and truth and beauty, and he seems to think that they are some of the best things in the world, and, come to think of it, I guess Jesus thought the same thing. And the thing of it is, when two people get married and they have a Godly love burning passionately, deeply within them, you can tell. You can see it in their eyes, you can hear it in the way they talk about each other and how they glance at one another from across the room. It is as if some force has a hold of them and it radiates love, truth, beauty and peace. And what’s more, it pulls people to them. When two people love each other like Jenny and Josh do, people want to be around them, want to watch them, want to be their friends and catch some of their love for themselves. Anyway, all this to say that I think love and marriage are two beautiful things, and it’s a good thing too, because there is a shortage of true and beautiful things in the world.

We began the next day with a trip to Newport Beach, where we spent almost all day in the sun boogie boarding, playing in the sand and sleeping. A true summer dream. And I will tell you that it is during these times that I have these terribly romantic (albeit unrealistic) dreams of what the future could be, and I closed my eyes and tried to taste what it would be like to live a life completely devoted to surfing and playing beach volleyball. Other than the possible sunburns, that life seemed pretty good, and I resolved to incorporate that unrealistic vision somehow into my realistic future. Not an easy thing to do let me tell you. So I eventually came to a sort of semi-realistic collaborative compromise between my Id and Superego, and decided to eventually become a surfing lawyer. I could have waterproof business cards in my wetsuit and, just as I am coming out of the water, someone would ask me who I was to which I would shake my long golden locks of hair and reply, “dude, I’m a lawyer.” Then I would hand out a business card and slowly walk down the beach and into the sunset. I also thought about incorporating my love of poetry into that scheme, and I imagined myself sitting by a beach fire-pit at night and, under the stars and in the cool air, writing poetry and playing my acoustic guitar while my long blonde hair and beard blew quietly in the wind. So as you can see and as I earlier confessed, I am a hopeless romantic when it comes to things like this, and all of this was rattling through my mind as I spent a day on the beach.

The next day was equally enjoyable, with a trip to Laguna beach and a relaxing ride back to Phoenix in the back of a Chrystler Sebring. During this time I did a lot of thinking, because I knew that I was headed back to Phoenix and thus back to real life (at least for the time being.) And I had the hardest time rationalizing all the hours I would be spending at work in the next few weeks, and it seemed that happiness and relaxation were such fleeting things, like they were given to me only long enough for me to really miss them when they were gone. But as I thought and prayed about this on the way home I realized that I was making a huge mistake: I was assuming that I was entitled to something. I have this deeply embedded feeling that I somehow deserve a simple, stress-free existence, and that if somehow life does not line up with what I want then there has been some mistake. But I realize now that as God happens to say in His word, I have been bought with a price. I am not my own. And any fun vacation time I am allowed to enjoy is nothing more than the kindness of God, giving me something I don’t deserve because He is loving and caring. It is was a radical change in thinking if you want to know, and ever since embracing this thought my life has gained tremendous joy. Instead of feeling sorry for myself because I think I deserve some easy existence, I thank God for what he has given me and enjoy breaks from work when they come. It takes a lot of pressure off too. Instead of worrying about what I will do, who I will marry or what job I will work, I only need to worry about God and whether I am doing what he wants me to. To sum it up in a few words I would say that living this way is freedom. My girlfriend Emily tells me that nothing comes without hard work, and that I have to work just like everyone else and I shouldn’t get so emotional about it. She says that there is a point where you have to stop thinking about everything and just do it. I know she is right, but for some reason there is something deep inside me, some dark beast of a thing that pulls on me and makes me feel like life shouldn’t be so tough. Emily also tells me that I take myself too seriously, that I take life too seriously; and I guess this trip was good for me that way, because lying there on the beach, watching my friend get married, laughing and talking with everyone, I realized that this whole life is a gift, and that I should just relax and enjoy the ride instead of analyzing every little thing that happens. I am so blessed, and I thank God for it.

Friday, March 30, 2007

Fighting Indifference

This is a guest editorial I did for ASU's newspaper about the dinner, about AIDS, about poverty, and about a few other things.

Fighting Indifference
By Jon Kelley

Suffering. I have always wanted to begin an article with that word. So much is contained within it, so much that you and I don’t understand. And to be honest, I am sometimes glad I don’t understand it, and part of me really doesn’t want to understand it. But the truth is, a good majority of the world lives with suffering and understands the dark reality of suffering all too well. Mostly you and I are disconnected from these people, miles away from any real notion of suffering and pain as the rest of the world understands it. We are as far as you can get from real hunger, disease, or poverty, and let me say that there is nothing inherently wrong with this. What is wrong, is sitting and knowing that this suffering is going on, and doing nothing. Indifference then, is a word we are all too accustomed to.

One of the most pervasive forms of suffering in the world today is the global pandemic of HIV/AIDS, an invisible killer that has ravaged major portions of the world, leaving millions dead and displacing untold numbers across the globe. People have called it everything from God’s judgment to a curse, but one thing is sure: it is tragic. The numbers are staggering. Today there will be 13,400 new HIV infections, mostly among low to middle income countries with 1,800 of those infections occurring among children under 15. Every day, 2,000 infants will be infected with HIV during pregnancy, at birth, or through breastfeeding. One American under the age of 22 will be infected with HIV every hour. Today, 10,000 people will die from HIV/AIDS. This is not a disease that targets only those who have lived a long life; it randomly selects its victims regardless of age, race, sex or income level. It destroys dreams, families, and futures, and yet it remains largely ignored by the public. It is easy for us comfortable Americans to watch CNN and, for a brief moment, shake our heads and sigh, wondering how so many people could find themselves with this disease. But we do nothing. We sit. And so, without trying to sound too self-deprecating, I humbly suggest that the disease is not the problem: we are the problem. Apathy. That is why more is not being done.

I have heard it said that education is meant to lead to activism. That college campuses are meant to be diverse intuitions full of ideas, debates, social concern and real change. So then it is only fitting that you and I should band together and do something about this, that we should be the start of some kind of real change. On April 1st, people from around the valley will come together for the Broken Bread Dinner, a night of education, awareness, and change regarding HIV/AIDS. During the dinner, Bo White, a member of the humanitarian organization Food for the Hungry, will speak and money will be raised for two different humanitarian groups, World Vision (a chief supplier of food for third-world countries,) and Blood:Water Mission (an organization that builds wells in Africa.) Apart from this there will be a dinner served (third-world style) and clips shown from a documentary called A Closer Walk. There will be representatives from both groups who will offer information on how to get involved further. Following the dinner, there will be a benefit concert held at Alice Cooperstown on April 27th at 7pm. The concert will feature local favorites Cigarbox, Bluejay, Ellington Effect, and Evan Brightly, and all proceeds will be donated to World Vision and Blood:Water. Tickets will be on sale for the concert during the dinner. The dinner costs nothing and is open to everyone, especially you, socially concerned college student. Come to think of it, perhaps it is especially for the unconcerned, because education can indeed lead to activism. And education, character, and conviction are certainly dangerous things in a world characterized by apathetic humanitarian disconnection.

So this is it. This is a way to stand up and try to turn the tide against suffering, against ignorance, against one of the biggest killers the world has ever seen. Join me, join hundreds from around the valley as we come together and take a stand for what could become a revolutionary movement. This is your chance to let your voice resonate and move people toward action. So what do you say? It’s not idealism. It’s not unattainable. Lets turn indifference into action, ignorance into knowledge, and apathy into responsibility. Lets be agents of change. Please register at www.brokenbreadmeal.com.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Broken Bread Dinner

Please check this out, I think you will find it worth your time. I am going to MC the night and we are going to raise tons of money for AIDS and poverty relief in Africa. Register for the night (April 1st at 7pm at ASU West) at: www.brokenbreadmeal.com

Saturday, March 3, 2007

What I Learned About the World


So recently I have been reading this book called, “a long way gone” by a guy named Ishmael Beah. Ishmael is a native of Sierra Leone Africa, and his book is a memoir of the time he spent there as a child fighting in his country’s bloody revolution. It is graphic. The accounts are vivid. It is hard to read yet even harder to tear your eyes from the pages as his painful story unfolds. The war in Sierra Leone lasted ten years, and left the country in shambles. Ishmael’s story touched me, in a different way than most books have. I had someone ask me why I was reading it, and I couldn’t describe exactly why. I couldn’t put into words how badly I want to leave my ethnocentrism behind, how badly I want to leave my comfort zone and my luxurious American existence. It’s so easy here. But yesterday I had a conversation that put this in perspective for me. I am in an international human rights law class at ASU, and yesterday we were discussing various human rights violations that have occurred recently. The man sitting across from me, a large African man with kind eyes and a broad smile, began to talk about the things he had seen growing up in Africa, in Sierra Leone, he said. He spoke with great passion about the terrible things he had witnessed, and, though he did not speak very long, the entire class was a bit shaken by his account. After class I went to this man (his name was Ed) and I asked him if he would mind me asking a few questions. He turned to me, and with his deep African accent and a smile, told me that it was fine. I asked him about how he came to be here, and I told him that I knew a little about the civil war in Sierra Leone, but not much. He waited a moment, then told me that he had seen many terrible things in Africa, things too terrible to speak about. He said that he had smuggled his wife and two kids out of the country and into Guinea, the closest neighboring country. He and his family were placed into a UN camp, then sent to America where he has been since 1997. As he said all of this you could hear a real sadness in his voice, as if he was remembering something dark. After he told me this I asked him if he would ever go back to his country, to see the people he had left behind. As I asked this, suddenly his demeanor changed and he put his head in his hands. He just sat like that for a minute, and I quickly began to wonder if I had asked the wrong question. Slowly he looked up at me and said with almost a wince that he would never go back, that he could never go back. He said he didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t push him. I thanked him for his time, and in an instant he was back to his old self and with a smile and a mild laugh he shook my hand.

There is part of me that is wary of talking to people like Ed because they force me to examine an area of life that stretches beyond my convenient American lifestyle, forcing me to confront the darker regions of life. But more than I fear it I like it, I like it because people like Ed feel real and earthy, like he can say whatever he wants because he isn’t confined to boxed-in formulas and linear thinking. Most of the time I don’t feel real and earthy like Ed. People like him make me ask hard questions, like: why not me? and what am I doing to help people like that? But more than just the questions, he put flesh on an abstract idea I had that terrible things happened to good people. He is the manifestation of this idea, and, without him even trying, he showed me humanity that I wouldn’t have thought possible from someone who had undergone so much. It makes me wonder. And I hate it when I get like this, if you want to know the truth. But it makes me ask why people who don’t know God care more about these things than I do. Why they are more concerned with poverty, AIDS, and war than I am. What am I concerned about? I asked myself. The three things that popped into my head first were law school, the things that live under my bead, and Ann Coulter. Not very worthwhile, I concluded.

But I want to be worthwhile, you know?

A friend of mine, Joe the pastor, asked a couple of weeks ago how we could have an encounter with the God of the universe and not be any different. How we could remain unchanged. And I wanted to thank my friend for this powerful truth because it is so true. And the beautiful thing is that when you have really encountered God and want to follow him, you can’t help but care about these things. You can’t help but love people, you can’t help but want to change things. And that, I believe, is the real beauty of following Christ. That through him we can step out and love people, to be the physical manifestation of Christ’s love. And I think that is why people like Ed come into our lives, to shake us, to push us enough that we might wake up to who we are supposed to be. I feel like God is poking me, like he is pushing me with his finger, moving me toward being a guy who gives a crap about people.

This guy Don Miller says that the great trick of the devil is not to get us into some kind of sin, but rather to have us wasting time. I think this is true, and I don’t want to waste any more.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Poetry

" I wanted to read her the works of
Montaigne and Cervantes and Emerson
and I wanted to slip her some tongue"
Albert Goldbarth

a begining, and the wall


I suppose every story has a begining, and this is certainly no exception. For if every story has a begining than it surely must have an end, and I will tell you honestly that I will hate to see it end. But this begining is special in several ways, let me lay them out for you. The reason I am doing this is because I am recently turned 22 years old, and, with that landmark, have decided to make a few changes to my life, and in so doing I am certainly seeking accountability of some kind, which I suppose can be provided in some abstract way by posting my thoughts online. I will tell you now, that I do not want to be labeled as some eccentric 20 something, posting random thoughts online because he has nothing better to do. While the latter may be true occasionally, and, I have heard it said that it is in the early 20's that one begins to lose his/her mind, I am doing this simply to be real with you all, and with myself. I find that I have spent my whole life wearing some kind of mask, building up walls between myself and others, so think of this as me taking a pocket knife and begining to scrape away at the wall. I will tell you this, that I have recently discovered how much I love God, not Christianity or religion, mind you, but God. I have found that, in order for me to find meaning in this world, I need to take what I know of God in my mind, and somehow connect that with my heart. However I am begining to understand that there seem to be endless miles between the two, and any kind of collaboration can be tedious. I have made mistakes my friends, yes, many of them. The most recent may be ending a relationships with someone who I now think may have been the one for me. I cannot tell you the fierce irony that now presents itself, only after making what was a great mistake. I am many things, but a person who understands life is not one of them. I want to, I want to get this thing. So maybe that is also what this is, a begining, the gradual breaking down of a wall, and an attempt at understanding life. Thank you for reading this thing, I suppose in the end I am writing this much more for myself than any potential readers, but I do appreciate the awesome potential that comes with this online community thing, it's really pretty neat.