Monday, January 5, 2015

Top Five Moments in 2014 for the Advancement of Humanness

#5 Cuba.  The atrocities of any government that forbid its people from access to liberties fundamentally integral to humanness should not go unnoticed or without implications.  Certainly the government of Cuba in the past and the present should be held accountable for its actions, which led the government of the United States to enact a 55-year longstanding embargo.  President Obama’s administration began to turn the tide at the conclusion of 2014 with steps toward reinstating diplomatic relations with the island nation.  The government of Cuba should ultimately be held accountable for the limited ability of the Cuban people to advance in the modern era, but the international community also holds opportunities for humanity to advance itself for the better of all mankind, regardless of the presence of communism.  Improving diplomatic relations with Cuba and potentially limiting the effects or eliminating the embargo completely will enable Cubans to contribute to the advancement of humanity for the island and for the world.

#4 Pope Francis. Jorge Mario Bergoglio has been known as Pope Francis for almost two years now and during that time has also come to be known as ’the people’s pope.’  He has foregone much of the pomp and circumstance of the papacy having chosen to live simply, cross barriers no other pope in recent history has willingly crossed, and actively demonstrated a faith rooted in doctrine and service.  For the second year in a row prior to Easter, Pope Francis defied church tradition and custom by washing the feet of women and Muslims among those of elderly and disabled men.  By breaking the Vatican’s own regulations on foot washing two years in a row it is apparent Pope Francis cares more about the Gospel than church tradition and regulations, which is a giant leap forward for the Catholic Church and presumably for all Christians.  Protestants may not answer to and contribute to the Catholic Church, but the reception of Christianity in the modern world is undoubtedly impacted by the actions of this simple Jesus-loving servant.  Pope Francis has set a precedent of humanness before religiosity as the Church continues to respond and adapt to the great struggles of this present age.

#3 Coast to Coast; Border to Border.  This year I had the privilege of traveling across the country both for work and pleasure.  I have always enjoyed traveling and even with this year’s adventures I feel the itch to leave the boundaries of the United States, having not left its land for over a year.  In 2014, I traveled from Boston to San Francisco, Bemidji to Ft. Lauderdale, and even a little trip to Sioux Falls.  Although air travel is quite an advance for humanity, that has been commercialized for decades.  The great advance for humanity regarding travel, borders, and coastlines is the executive order for immigration reform.  This coupled with ongoing changes in the EU among other coalitions supports the advancement of humanity economically and socially.  No systematic process of immigration process is perfect and the legality by which these reforms come to be should be examined.  Nonetheless, even with the challenges of immigration reform, it continues to be in the best interest of humanity to legally allow peoples without significant hindrance to contribute to and benefit from societies that enhance the well-being of mankind through education, employment, and equal opportunities under the law.

#2 Serial.  From the renowned staff of This American Life, Ira Glass, and WBEZ, this twelve-episode podcast made its debut as the number one podcast…in the world with the most podcast downloads, ever.  Radio programming, storytelling, and public radio hits are not new, but the way this story was told was fascinatingly beautiful.  Raw reporting, unfolding as it was told, listeners did not know how long the series would last, what would come of the story - and neither did the producers.  That made this story gripping following the account of a convicted murderer, the witnesses, the accomplices, the legal accounts, the lies.  This hit broadcast has secured a second season - and in true Serial fashion, the producers do not even know what the story will be next time.  Whatever the story will be, Serial has invigorated storytelling through the historical means of radio production in a modern era of gadgets, streaming, and mobile device apps.  Bridging the gap and recapturing the art of storytelling without a set script invites the next advances in our generation’s willingness to engage with telling the stories of others in a beautiful example of humanness.

#1 Malaysia Airlines 370.  The disappearance of MH370 is tragic.  The presumptive death of 239 individuals on a commercial flight is devastating and quite the opposite of an advance for humanity.  Unfortunately this tragedy does have implications for how humanity views itself in relation to created objects and even creation itself.  Without trivializing this humanitarian tragedy, there is an advance for humanity in the premise of this occurrence.  In the year 2014, scientific reasoning, testing, and data analysis could not account for and locate a commercial plane weighing hundreds of thousands of pounds and the 239 missing persons onboard.  The premise that humanity cannot explain all occurrences in the present day is an advance in an era of scientific discovery that seeks to explain occurrences millions of years ago.  The advance for mankind is not one of acknowledging the incompleteness of scientific discovery but of celebrating the humanness of humanity.  In part, to be human is to lack complete knowledge, perfect power, and omnipresence.  The tragedy of MH370, like so many other inexplainable and unrepeatable occurrences, reminds us of the reality of humanness.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Inside and Out

Since I was a child, I admired nature.  The first manifestation of this admiration was a fascination with the weather.  Surely meteorology would be my choice career through the lens of this young boy from the Midwest.  Seasonal transitions and volatility between weather extremes captivated my intrigue in the natural order.  This coupled with my family's career and active participation in forestry assuredly mandated a future of canvasing the earth.

Neither meteorology or forestry would call me to study and so the beauty of nature became pastime admiration, and not passively so.

When I chose to study business, I acknowledged the reality of most likely spending at least 40 hours a week for the next 45 years of my life inside an office.  I did not, however, understand the implications.

Worship requires intent, active acknowledgment.  More often than not, my intent on being outside is worshipful, so much so that I spend most of this time in solitude.  Sure I value time spent with friends and selfishly getting a little sun to darken the winter's grip on my skin...but to be outside is for me to meet the Creator, to see, experience, feel, taste, and participate in the natural order, and for me this is best done alone.

I take many walks and occasionally run.  I sit and read in the grass.  I enjoy fishing, boating, biking, and kayaking. But 8am-5pm, I sit at a desk.  I wouldn't have it any other way; being present is far too important to wish I was somewhere else.  And so I'm learning to live where...and who...I am, inside and out.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

aestate in alterutra dividit

As summer draws to an end, my time in Upland has been blessed with many adventures near and far through the arts, travel, and professional development.

Blood of Victory - Alan Furst
New Monasticism: What It Has to Say to Today's Church - Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove
The Story of Lucy Gault - William Trevor
The Meaning of Jesus: Two Visions - Marcus Borg and N.T. Wright
Unbroken: A WWII Story of Survival, Resilience, and Redemption - Laura Hillenbrand
Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy - Eric Metaxas
C.S. Lewis - A Life - Alister McGrath

Only God Forgives
Pulp Fiction
Silver Linings Playbook
Django Unchained
Safe Haven
Auschwitz: Inside the Nazi State
Blue Valentine
Band of Brothers
The Lincoln Lawyer
Blue Like Jazz

West Virginia

National Small College Enrollment Conference
North American Coalition for Christian Admissions Professionals Annual Conference
Willow Creek Association Global Leadership Summit

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Messy Beginnings

A short conceptual reflection on my time as an undergraduate student at Taylor University.

Holistic education at Taylor University is promoted through a liberal arts study of the parts of a cell nucleus, financial ratios, and coiling clay pots.  Corporately, through various disciplines, we learn to train the physical through spiritual lenses and how to live together in the Kingdom.  Life in the residence hall the past year has been the pinnacle of my holistic Taylor education.  I have seen and embraced authentic discipleship relationships in the face of grief, idols, and conflict.  Community gets messy when your room is a place for the confession of sin; when a friend dies and space is cultivated for grief and tough questions; when pride gets in the way of forgiveness and relationships are severed.  Our mess looks different and still remarkably similar.

Many of us have chosen to live in our mess rather than conceal or repress its presence.  This makes the reality of messiness beautiful.  The value of Taylor's community is transformative because together we pick up the towel, with our mess in sight, and willingly acknowledge the need for restoration.  Through incarnational relationships, we live the reality of Christ's sacrifice and redemption.  We wash one another's dirty feet.  Our pursuit of intentional community, global engagement, and relentless discovery has holistically laid a foundation for life in the Kingdom. 

We are His witnesses molded by the integration of faith and learning to 'turn our hearts and live to the process of maturing in Christ.'  When we embrace living within messiness we see with opened eyes as He redeems for His glory what is imperfect - making the mess less messy.

Through our families, professions, and service we continue to witness to His redemptive work until the day we are fully redeemed.  The context continues to change each day with new messy beginnings as we transition amidst our work as servant leaders marked with a passion to minister Christ's redemptive love and truth to a world in need.  Yet we live with the assurance our God goes before us providing strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Africa to Asia: Cultivating Community

January 5, 2013, 8:45p.m., Macau: As I am now only two full days into this journey, I realize my inherent need for discipleship community; a community of people committed to transparency and a willingness to succumb to the Lord's changing, molding grace rooted in love.

During the trip to Asia, I was among a group of fairly unacquainted individuals.  It is no secret that I value relationships of depth with intentional investment, and so a three-week journey at surface level would not make for a personally positive relational experience.  Although unintentional, at the onset of the trip I was able to assess potential opportunities for encouraging community investment.  On the fifth day while waiting an hour for a bus, I became engaged in an extremely meaningful conversation with one team member.  Learning his story leading up to and at Taylor, what he valued, cared for, and desired led me to respect this young man and be grateful for the origination of meaningful friendship.

Conversations at meals were frequently developmental to the making of a new community.  Sharing ideas and stories, asking tough questions, and displaying emotions cultivated a body of individuals previously unbeknownst.  Opportunities arose throughout the trip to engage in conversations with several team members.  Each uniquely meaningful as authenticity, vulnerability, honesty, sincerity, grace and love were personified.

The experience of being a part of a new community was not only refreshing but inspiring.  I am encouraged by the team members I traveled with for demonstrating many blessings, seeing many skills and gifts, and taking an invested interest in how stories are unfolding in the Kingdom.

Perhaps this experience most taught me that my own failings do not preclude the cultivation of community.  One student shared with me that he appreciates that I deeply interact with situations and communicate "profound" thoughts.  I admit the words he spoke sounded nice, but surely if my wretched soul should be so fully exposed, would not all respect be dismissed?  I do hope I continue to express freely that where there is any good in my being it is not I but the Lord for I am nothing good of my own accord. 

This lesson transforms my understanding of the establishment of community:  relationships rooted in honesty to the self and others expose shared brokenness and celebrate the presence of Christ's redemptive work.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Africa to Asia: Uncertain Moments

I tend to be fairly cognizant of my surroundings and in most instances prefer knowledge to enable me with the ability to control my interaction with such surroundings.  It must come with the passport: traveling relinquishes control.

There were several instances in Africa and Asia that demanded I recognize my lack of control.  I was held-up entering Kenya due to customs, feared entering mainland China, and interacted with the natural environment that seemed to possess the power to finish my days.

Friends Elle Wightman, Mark & Audrey Statler, boat guide Peter
December 17, 2012, 5:04p.m., Naivasha, Kenya: Our [hippo] boat guide was Peter.  He was a bit older, but was quiet and wise like my father.  I felt safe going on this adventure with him.  We went near the shoreline and were able to see several hippos.  Whenever Peter saw a hippo he got closer so we could take pictures.  At first it was a tad nerve-wracking knowing that hippos do attack and kill boaters, but Peter was an expert.

The exhilarating moments of seeing and hearing a hippo rise from the water certainly made the adventure worth the minor stress.  As if the hippo boat ride extravaganza was not enough, a game drive at the Nairobi National Park a few days later certainly exceeded my expectations.  We began the drive before 6:00a.m., hoping that by doing so we would see wildlife.  And wildlife we saw...

December 20, 2012, 4:00p.m., Nairobi: I was closer to death today more than any day thus far on my Kenyan adventures...within fifteen minutes we crossed paths with a rhino that had a very pointed horn.  Quickly the rhino began chasing our vehicle...within seconds we could hear it huffing as we decided to speed away from our perceived dangerous predicament...The vehicle became lodged deep in the mud and there was no way out but to push - which required us to get out of the car in the Nairobi National Park with hundreds of dangerous creatures.
Despite moments of frustration, uncertainty actually led to moments of dependence on the Spirit and the fellowship of friends, which brought great joy.  This reminds me of the Israelites as they wandered in the desert, relying on the Spirit of God going before them and providing insight to the community leaders.  Too quickly the Israelites pleaded to make their own way, to maintain control, in a foreign land.  The amenities of my travels were certainly incomparable to those of the Israelites, yet I sought independence despite my ignorance and limited perspective.

Gongbei Port of Entry, Zhuhai, China
While I was waiting at immigration control to be admitted to mainland China for the first time, I was surprisingly anxious.  The thought of entering this unknown governmental and cultural nation with stories of persecution did not seem appealing in the moment.  I decided, somewhat unconsciously, to relinquish control: I stood alongside fellow believers and hummed "Holy Spirit, you are welcome here, come flood this place and fill the atmosphere."  It was one of the more peaceful moments of my adventures.

While waiting in the Ft. Wayne International Airport December 13, I wrote: I fail to trust Him when I am not in control, which ironically is all of the time.  And from the Beijing International Airport on January 23, I reminded myself that from the African plains to the Great Wall of China, I have seen His handiwork and declare Great is Thy Faithfulness.

In the midst of great uncertainty, the certainty of my uncertainty demands my submission to the One who is greater and has remained faithful.

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Africa to Asia: Malls to Slums

Since enrolling three years ago at Taylor University, I knew the opportunity to travel to Asia for an international business study tour would be available during January of my senior year.  But a leisure vacation to Africa during Christmastime was an opportunity I could not forgo.  Kenya is home to my friends Mark and Audrey Statler who teach and live at Rosslyn Academy, an international Christian school in Nairobi.

Although the purposes of my visits differed, both provided a glimpse of global business and economic diversity.  The Kibera slum of Nairobi is the largest urban slum in Africa and sits within minutes of westernized malls, restaurants, and homes.  It is no secret that this sort of economic divide is a global reality.

December 19, 2012, 10:01a.m., Nairobi: We went along the exterior of Kibera, Nairobi's slum.  I felt scared, maybe terrified in this place.  Was I fearful of poverty?  Of instability?  Of being the minority?

If answers exist to my questions, I know them not.  The agony of the unknown produces fear. Economic insecurity is no exception.  The lack of clean water, adequate shelter, and consistent income are realities I have never known.  In the midst of that reality though, there are people living moral, ethical, and opportunistic lives.  Perhaps they know this better than I.

Within days of visiting the third-world, developing-nation of Kenya, I took part in one of the fastest-growing economies of the world.  The rapidly transitioning economy of China consists of economic diversity that seems to challenge communism's aim.

A visit to Janes Lock Company, which produces door locks for Brinks sold in Walmart, Ace Hardware, and Home Depot, gave me a glimpse of Chinese manufacturing.  The facilities and infrastructure reminded me of the Industrial Revolution.  The company employs 1,500 workers who live on site and are allowed to go home, often in rural China, one week per year during the Chinese New Year.  Starting wages: USD $30 per month.

January 10, 2013, 2:30p.m. Doumen, China: Since workers are paid by piece production they are permitted to work whenever possible to increase productivity and thus increase wages.  I know as an American consumer lower labor costs mean a lower final goods cost, but I have a deeper and more meaningful appreciation for products "Made in China."  I have seen the hands and faces of thousands of human beings, people, with souls, producing goods.

Equipping people with the resources of business and the values of personhood demonstrated through the Church engenders the opportunity to develop communities.  Humanness inspires a wealth of opportunity where economic circumstance would hinder development.  The walls and chains of economic divide crumble under the weight of human potential.  Resources benefit growth, but the Redeemer, through His people, changes lives both in malls and slums.