Monday, November 5, 2007

A Call to Collaborative Storytelling

I just recently saw a special screening of the movie Juno with my wife. The movie was incredible--real, hilarious, touching, everything I could want.
This morning I was thinking about what goes into creating a movie, and it occurred to me that movies are a form of advanced, collaborative storytelling.
There are so many people telling the same story, creating layers upon layers that congeal into one final work made of many moving parts. There are writers who spell out the story, but then you have directors and others who determine how to tell the written story through the lens. Moreover, you have actors who each have one piece of the story to tell and yet to look deeply into their part is to find an entire subtext to be explored. In the end, all these people come together and impact the world, even if it's just in the way that the masses come willing to shell out nine bucks to the box office, but more often the audience is impacted because they enter in and become one with the story.
This collaborative storytelling made of many moving parts that form a unified whole, which ultimately impacts the world by drawing it into the very story itself--isn't that the true work of the Christian community?

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Is this why we are obsessed with busyness & noise?

When Jesus goes off into the desert toward silence and solitude, that is where he meets the accuser.
So also when we look with God deeply into ourselves: there comes the accuser, and yet there also comes the healer.
Whose word to us will we heed?

Friday, November 2, 2007

Web & Life Design

Recently I have been learning how to write html & css to do some web design, mainly so I can revamp my work's website. For some this kind of coding is easy and comes natural, but it's been pretty difficult to learn. It's taken a lot of coding and then recoding and then recoding again...trial and error and fix...
This is a lot like my life.
I am trying to do a deep search into myself to discover who I am at my deepest. What is my identity? Why do I behave the way I do sometimes? Especially why do I behave in the negative ways I do sometimes? Where does this all come from?
How do I change how I act? How do I let God change me at my core?

Well, I am finding that this search for inner discover and change is a lot like coding a web site. I examined our (then) current web site to look at how it looked and behaved and held up under scrutiny. I found all the things I didn't like about it and searched for answers as to why they didn't work the way I wanted. Afterward, and more importantly, I did a much more fruitful, deeper search into the heart of the identity of the website, asking questions like why does this website exist, what was it made for, how should it interact with others and others with it, what impact could/should it make on the world, how might it operate if it were all that it could truly be.
These questions of website identity provided much more fruit into discovering the heart of what the Parish website should be, much more so than just looking at the flaws provided; yet looking at the flaws also gave undertones of comprehension.
And then, I set about the difficult work of learning html & xhtml & css coding using tutorials and other guides on the Internet. While I read an incredible amount of material on web design technique & philosophy & processes, when it came time to write the web site, even though I knew a ton more and a lot more about what I wanted the site to be, it was still very difficult to translate my dream into reality.
I then began a complicated process of practice and trial & error. One time I actually thought everything was working perfectly and that I knew how to do everything--the website was looking perfectly like my dream. That is, perfect in Safari, my Mac's web browser.
Then I looked at it in Firefox. Crap.
Then I looked at it in Internet Explorer. Crap.
What I thought was working beautifully as I "healed" the website wasn't yet working at the Core. Rather than give up or burst in anger, two things I might have done long ago, I took the time to learn more, to examine the errors in my coding, and to recode the website to the best of my abilities.
Today, I have a website that I am really proud of as my first one. I know it is still full of errors. Imperfect. I've already found and fixed some things since I first released it to the world. I tried a web validator to check my code and it was full of errors, but the typical web browsers are forgiving enough to overlook the particular errors I have encoded right now, and I don't yet know how to fix them.

Yet, this is my life. I am walking through life with some pretty screwy coding in me. I act the way I wasn't originally designed to act and I don't act the ways I was designed to act. Yet I am searching out the heart of my identity, what I truly could be at my best as a human being, and I'm finding all the little errors in my coding and where they originally come from. And I'm working with my designer to rewrite the code. And it doesn't always work the way I want it to--just when I think I'm finally changing perfectly and being the man I want to be, I look at myself from another perspective and find out I still look all screwy. But I don't get pissed. I don't give up.
No, I take the time instead to learn more about myself and who I was made to be, and to examine the wrongs in my behavior and their sources, to work with the my designer to the best of my abilities and to the best of his that I might be healed and be the man I should be.
Today, I am a man who is proud of his identity. I know I am still full of behavioral errors that sometimes reach down into the core. Imperfect. Yet the people I love are forgiving enough to not let these get between us, and instead they walk with me to bring change and to help me recode my life to be a good man. And while I have already identified some problems I don't yet know how to fix, I am confident that I will steadily grow into the man I was made to be. I trust my designer.

So tell me: how's my website? Check it out ( Parish Student Ministries)
Please don't be afraid to let me know if you find any errors or if you think something looks a little screwy. I need your help to change it into what it truly could be.
And, I think obviously, the same goes for me..

The Product of the Teaching Trifecta

The Product of the Teaching Trifecta

I’ve just been thinking over the last day about some scripture I read. The teacher and the student inside me are fighting to get out, so I think I’ll indulge them.

I was reading 1 Timothy last night. When reading Paul’s instructions regarding sound teaching (and especially rebuking those who teach false ideas), this verse took hold of my mind. The words are: “The goal of this command is love which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith” (1:5). The punctuation really seems to matter, so I considered two ways to read it (there is no punctuation in Greek, so we have to make it up anyway):
1. The goal of this command is a)love which comes from a pure heart, b)a good conscience, and c)a sincere faith.
Or 2. The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart [AND FROM] a good conscience [AND FROM] a sincere faith.
Reading #1 lends itself to an idea that love, conscience, and faith are all equal ends of teaching/rebuking, whereas Reading #2 creates the image of love being the final completion which stands upon the tripod-foundation of a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith, all three of which are equal legs that uphold love.
While they are remarkably similar readings (yet markedly different) and while I like the potential outcomes of Reading #1, I think common grammar leans toward Reading #2 especially with the three traits all having a parallel structure (adjective + noun); plus, I checked the Greek and due to the case of the words, I now have little doubt that Reading #2 is the correct version (if you must know the reasoning, all three traits are in the genitive case which makes them linked in a prepositional phrase to “from”, so it would be a fair translation to spell it out by saying “love comes from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from a sincere faith”.
So what?
Teaching/rebuking should produce sincere faith which leads toward love. Teaching/rebuking should produce a good conscience which leads toward love. Teaching/rebuking should produce a pure heart which leads toward love. Teaching/rebuking should equally address our faith, our heart, and our conscience, and these three legs should naturally extend into the fruit of love.
This is important for teachers and students alike. Teachers should consider what they are teaching based on these parameters. Students should consider what they are being taught and allow sound teaching to bear the fruit of a pure heart (cleansed by Christ through his word and deed); the fruit of a good conscience (both having been made righteous concerning our sins of omission and commission as well as doing the good God has set before them); and the fruit of a sincere faith (empowered by the Spirit to put our lives in God’s hands, trusting in his way and his truth and his life) all of which should ultimately produce expansive love in the life of the student.
The Greek tells us that love is the telos—the end, the completion, the perfection, the ultimate goal. Love is where all the teachings and even rebukings of Jesus will ultimately lead us—that we are loved and we are to love. To let ourselves be shaped by the teaching of Jesus will tap us into a life of incomprehensible love. Love that sacrifices. Love that remains vulnerable. Love that lets go. Love that forgives. Love that defends. Love that pursues. Love that endures. Love that changes this world. To pursue such a life of love, to submit ourselves with gratitude to the teaching & the way of Jesus Christ is to walk with God.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Time Travel in Colour: A Story

Time Travel in Colour: A Story
an experiment in semi-autobiographical fantasy journaling

Some people are out there questioning & challenging fundamental theories of space and time while lately I’m focused on questioning & challenging how I understand certain events of my past. These seemed like disconnected concepts until the ideas collided to become my reality.
I was visiting with my friend Virgil last week at his private lab on Mercer Island. I’d been going through some rough, introspective times and was looking forward to spending some time with a friend who had a lot of insight into my own life as well as the world. He had invited me to come check out some experiments he’d been performing on light particles based on the initial research of G√ľnter Nimtz and Alfons Stahlhofen, two German scientists who studied photon tunneling. They had stumbled upon the ability to make certain photons, or light particles, travel significantly faster than light through an impassable barrier. To Virgil this discovery implied new possibilities about the very fabric of space and time. To me it implied new possibilities about the very handiness of flashlights and laser pointers. In other words, I didn’t really get it.
When I met with Virgil in his sterile white lab, I asked him to illuminate me on the importance of it all to him. Coming down to my level, Virgil explained, “There are some, my friend, who once hypothesized according to relativity that if something, whether particle of person, could be made to travel faster than the speed of light, then it could also experience Closed Time-Like Curves!”
“Oh,” I said. “What does that mean?”
“Time Travel!”
“Like, you could build an actual DeLorean?” I asked him.
Virgil explained to me the ins and outs of it all, most of which I didn’t understand, but I did comprehend that he had been experimenting with sending signals, or messages, instead of photons back into time. After a lengthy explanation, he asked me, “So, do you want to see it for yourself?”
I jumped at the opportunity to witness a physicist surpassing the 88 mph barrier into the past. He brought me to a strange contraption, made up of a computer connected to what looked like elaborate microscopes overlooking two glass prisms that were facing each other across a three-foot space; on the floor nearby were two small platforms, presumably to aid Virgil in using the microscopes due to his short stature. He typed something in, and powered it up, after which he said, “There, it’s happening!” But it didn’t look like anything had changed. Noticing the disappointed look on my face, Virgil explained to me that I needed to look into one of the electron microscopes to witness the miracle. What happened next would forever change me.
I walked around the computer to use the scope, but Virgil told me I needed to go on the other side to stand on the platforms. “No problem,” I said as I began to walk through the space betwixt the prisms.
“NO! DON—“ Virgil began to shout. But it was too late.

I blacked out.

When I woke up, I wasn’t sure how long I’d been out or if I’d even really woken up at all. Virgil’s quantum tunneling machine had done something to my vision—somehow I had lost my ability to see colour, and everything was darker—not just in the sense of light but ambiance. I felt like I was viewing scenes from a graphic novel, yet it was reality.
I didn’t recognize my surroundings at first until I looked around a bit. That carpet; that pool table; that overstuffed, old reclining chair in the corner of the living room by the dry bar—somehow I had ended up in my house in Sugar Land, Texas where I grew up as a kid. Virgil’s machine worked better than he thought—somehow I had come back in time!
I glanced down at the floor near the back door that led out to a garden and a pool, and there I was. Well, there was a five-year-old version of me sitting on the floor, getting ready to put on socks and shoes. Then I noticed my mom and sister standing in the kitchen waiting for me impatiently.
All of a sudden, the memory clicked, and I realized where I had come. Somehow I was in my own past, and I wasn’t too excited to know what was coming. I ran to my side, and hastily tried to explain to myself good technique for sock application, but my five-year-old self ignored me. Exasperated, I tried to pick up one of the socks to show him, but something was wrong. This flimsy, little sock was hard like granite and it seemed to weigh more than ten thousand socks combined; strain as I might, I could not make it budge at all.
What is wrong with this place? I wondered.
I tried to gain my own attention by tapping my own shoulder and was shocked by the same granite hardness; I tried to touch my hair and each strand was like immutable, steel thread of unreasonable weight and quality. It was then I realized that the boy could not hear me and that I could not do a thing but watch.
He grabbed a sock, and I cringed as I watched him quickly pull it onto his left foot, stretching the precious elastic in the sock’s neck. I wasn’t the only one who noticed. My mother, her patience at an end (if there was a beginning that day), approached and began to yell at the younger me.
“What are you doing?!” she yelled. “Don’t you even know how to put on your socks? Don’t you have any common sense? You’re ruining them!” My sister came to her side, arms crossed, to join in glaring at me intensely with an occasional eye roll.
My younger self looked up at them both, confused yet quiet. I remembered how he felt, how he felt stupid. I wanted to step between them and say to my family what I now know, “What are you talking about? Don’t you know that common sense is what people in community teach you? No baby is born with an innate ability to put on socks in a manner pleasing to you; he doesn’t know how to put them on the way you want, because you never taught him the way.” But I knew it would make no difference to these deaf specters. Besides the dim grays and overall lack of colours, this scene was very glum. As I continued to watch, my mom picked up and flung the sock, which grazed my right arm, the immense weight of its immutability tearing my flesh. It was just a surface wound, yet it bespoke one much deeper.
I turned to walk away and a very radiant man much like Virgil shocked my eyes, so used were they to the dim grays around them. I realized he was watching me, and what I could see of his face was warm and understanding. He came to my side and spoke first. He asked me how it felt to be in my past.
“Not good,” said I. “Do you know how I can get out of here?”
“Through that door,” he said, pointing to the back door.
“But I can’t open it. It’s too heavy for me. Sir, are you Virgil?”
“No, but I am like him in a way. You can call me that if you wish.”
“Oh, can you help me then?”
“I believe I can. I see you’re hurt; what foul thing inflicted that wound?” he asked.
“A sock.”
“No, no,” he corrected me, “the deeper thing.”
“Oh.” I felt like I could trust him. “Long ago, my mother yelled at me for not knowing how to put on my socks properly.”
“And how does that make you feel?”
“Stupid. Like a failure. Alone.” It felt silly to feel so much over a sock, yet it felt representative of so many times in my life—the time my mom told me she was leaving my dad the next day and that she had been talking to my sister about it for two months but not me; the two times my basement flooded and not knowing what to do I fled, unknowingly leaving wet, incriminating footprints behind; the time my sister blamed me for how my parents treated her our whole lives; the time I became depressed senior year of high school and lost my ranking and the respect of my teachers and family as well as my hope for life; so many times that I have acted selfishly or without love toward my wife. Times that still can make me feel like falling down and weeping. Times that make the city feel silent and empty and divided. It’s amazing how much meaning can be imbued in a kid’s sock.
As I spoke and remembered those times, my surroundings changed and I saw all of these bad memories happening around me at once—dim, gray, almost lightless, almost lifeless.
I felt like I would be crushed under the weight of them all happening at once. I wanted to ignore them, to push them aside, to say that they’re no big deal, that they’re not worth our time to look into. There are other things to look at, or people with worse experiences, or work to be done, or millions of possibilities to explore for others. Yet they were all around me, moving stones, harsh and unchanging.
The lustrous man like Virgil looked into my eyes. “I know. I’m honored that you would share such feelings with me. I want you to know that I hear you. I hear the story underneath all these parts of your life, the story of what’s going on inside you, the story that perhaps you feel like no one has ever truly read or understood or even seen at all; I see it.”
As he spoke, I thought I saw a flash of brilliant chartreuse in one of the scenes, but if it was really there, it was gone before I could make sense of it.
Then the man like Virgil said some things to me, quotes of great significance from things I have read over the years, things like: “I’m just a man like Elijah,” which reminded me of James who told us that Elijah was a man just like us and yet he was righteous; in that I knew that my rightness or lack thereof was not determined by my failures, but by something else, someone more. And “And yet all the loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that [hell] contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good. If all Hell's miseries together entered the consciousness of yon wee yellow bird on the bough there, they would be swallowed up without trace, as if one drop of ink had been dropped into the great Ocean to which your terrestrial Pacific itself is only a molecule,” which gave me perspective on the immeasurable depth of joy and reminded me of Lewis’s idea that someday those things that once dragged us into hell on earth will become the very things that propel us deeper into Heaven and closer to God than we could ever go before. And “Dia, What are you doing? Dia! Look at me, look at me. What are you doing? You are Dia Vendy, of the proud Mende tribe. You are a good boy who loves soccer and school. Your mother loves you so much. She waits by the fire making plantains and red palm oil stew with your sister N'Yanda and the new baby. The cows wait for you. And Babu, the wild dog who minds no one but you. I know they made you do bad things, but you are not a bad boy. I am your father who loves you. And you will come home with me and be my son again,” lines from Blood Diamond which remind me of restored identity and the redemption that comes from love that risks. And “As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction. And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives. I know the idea seems strange, but I also know that it just so happens to be true. And, so it was, a wristwatch saved Harold Crick,” which speaks of a life awakening to find wholeness and joy like that never before experienced in this world in the same way. And many others like it.
As he shared each quote or thought which has held meaning for me and shaped how I view the world, I felt firmer and more whole and reconnected to the world as it should be and as I should be, and I began to see flashes of radiant colour at regular intervals in the scenes all around me. Finally, he said, “Son, I am with you in your suffering. You are not alone, you are not a failure in me.” And I saw a flash of light, and he was gone, and yet he was not. The room transformed once more.
I was in my old living room again, watching the sock incident all over again. This time, however, when my mom flung the sock, I welcomed the moment, held out my hand, and caught it as colour flooded back into the room more vivid and beautiful than anything I have ever seen in this world. My eyes were dazzled by the sight; it was like swimming in the most intimate secrets of light as it danced around me and warmed me deep inside. As the brilliant colours touched upon everything in the room and everything in my soul, the door lit up and quietly opened. I stepped through and woke up to the bright ceiling lights of the lab, and I noticed for the first time all the colours reflecting around the room from Virgil’s prisms.
Virgil helped me to my feet, asking, “Are you okay?”
“Virgil,” I said, overwhelmed with the urge to spew forth all the new joy and life and understanding that had just been matured within me, “I just want you to know that for some of us, the immutable strength and sharpness of our pasts dominate who we are today. We become enslaved to past experiences we may not even remember clearly, and worse yet, we fear to face those things out of anxiety that they might cut fresh wounds or even destroy us. But God walks with us into the suffering—he has, in fact, already walked alone into all Suffering—and while healing us and freeing us of its utter dominion over our lives, he does not wipe it all away but instead gives us new eyes to see the colours of abundant joy that were hidden in those painful memories. In other words, I’m great—I traveled back in time, and I can finally see in colour!”
“Um, perhaps you should sit down after all.”


Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Community & the Deaf-Mute

My friends used to ridicule me when we were younger, because I would always share fairly useless information by which I was fascinated (for example, that dolphins can understand language demonstrated by their ability to comprehend symbols on a touch screen). I am going to continue in that time-honored tradition by sharing what I have learned today.
I read an article ( answering the question "In what language do deaf people think?" For those who were born unable to hear (sometimes called deaf-mutes), they never had the opportunity to hear human voices. This poses a problem, as we essentially think in the language with which we communicate. This makes it vital to identify deaf-mutes early on in their development, so that measures can be taken to teach them Sign, the independent, natural language of the deaf. If the deaf-mute do not learn a form of communication such as Sign, they can have major development issues. The article goes on to explain that the deaf-mute think in Sign.
It makes me wonder if a congenitally deaf child never learns how to communicate, and communication forms our very thought processes, then can he not communicate with himself? In essence, can he not think beyond urges and rudimentary innate communication? Is it written into our very nature that we need human interaction on an intimately-communicative level in order for our minds, our personalities, our identities to develop?

Tuesday, January 9, 2007

arton epiousion

Most simply, arton epiousion means "daily bread". This Greek phrase has been made popularly known in the Lord's prayer, yet it is subject to much interpretive controversy. The main problem is that we don't really know what the second word means. Is this daily bread or necessary bread or future bread or even the eschatological bread from the end of the world?!?
Whatever this bread is, it comes from God and is related to his desires for the world and our communal need for forgiveness and reconciliation. In fact, this bread is right at the heart of the thoughts of reconciliation and of God's will for the world, which are found in the Lord's prayer. This is the kind of bread that, when eaten, bears, not indigestion, but transformation, redemption, life, re-creation, love, hope, literal & figurative nourishment, and renewal of the whole world. This is bread that does not take us to heaven--rather, it brings heaven to us.
Whatever this elusive bread is, I want to eat it.