December 15, 2012

Blogging for the End of the World

The end of the world is coming, they say. "They" being the Mayans, and everyone who believes them.

Kinda makes me wonder how many people who are buying into it also think the Bible is a bunch of ancient hooey...

Personally, I'm not sold on Mayan mythology, and I think I tip toward the reasonable side on the crazy spectrum. I would suggest that if you're gonna buy into their doomsday prophecy - and how does one prep for doomsday, anyway? - shouldn't you give some credence to their other beliefs, too? I don't see too many people counting in base five, sacrificing other people, worshiping corn, or building pyramids in their front yards with big weird heads carved into them.

I'm not seeing it, but that doesn't mean it's not happening.

For a reasonable guy like me, I need something more reasonable, more modern, more trustworthy than ancient Mayans.

Like late night talk radio. That's truth I can bank on.

I was driving (late) the other night when a gentleman on the radio got on and said those knuckleheads running the Large Hadron Collider at CERN - the scientists who are trying to learn more about the beginnings of the universe by finding the "god particle" - are supposed to do their biggest, most expensive, most awesome test ever on the 21st. The same day the Mayans think we're going down. That's significant because some people think those experiments might somehow open up a black hole and immediately destroy earth or something. As you may be aware, they have not yet succeeded in destroying earth. But I'm guessing that big test on the 21st could probably do it. I don't know why, I don't get it, I don't understand it, but it must be true because physics. Physics is why, physics is how that all works out.

I honestly don't want to do too much research into it. I googled "Large Hadron Collider test December 21" and the only things that came up were sites run by people who make the late night talk radio people look reasonable by comparison. So that test may or may not happen, it might be a rumor, and I don't have enough interest to waste more time or thought on it. Like the Mayans, though, if you're gonna embrace teachings from the late night radio people, then you'd better give some credence to everything else they say (Just Google John Titor and Chemtrails and try to sort it out for yourself. Oh boy, now I'm gonna get hits here from John Titor and Chemtrails.)

Okay, so if I don't believe the Mayans and I don't believe late night talk radio, what do I think about the end of the world?

As far as I can tell, no one knows the day or the hour. Not the Mayans, not late night talk radio, not Harold Camping, not Anderson Cooper, nobody.

It is interesting to think, though... If the scientists do open a black hole or something... (And I think it's interesting that we non-scientists tend to lump all scientists together, as though the guys counting freckles on seagull eggs are the same ones strapping EKGs to athletes on treadmills and calculating the fuel needed to send a go-kart with a camera to Mars.)

If the earth were to pop, if those guys at CERN were to make an oops and open up a black hole so our whole planet instantly disappeared... none of use would float in the ether long enough to feel any pain or mourn any loss. We'd all be gone instantly. None of us would be able to crack open our sufficiently Doomsday-prepped storm cellars and nosh on canned goods while the world burns. None of us would feel the hurt or ponder the significance of what would be the most horrific thing imaginable to most people - the complete destruction of humanity and all of our incredible progress. That's a dark thought, I know, but it's still pretty abstract.

So the Mayans stopped counting when they got to next Friday, which is well beyond the end of their civilization. And the idea that a science experiment in Europe could destroy the universe (on that day) banks on some fringe weirdos being right and some brilliant (and well-funded) physicists being wrong. Their experiments might produce some puzzling data one day, but it probably won't end the universe.

Probably.

That day is coming, eventually. I won't even begin to speculate when, but I'm not losing sleep over it because I'm as prepared for it as I will be. For those who accept this planet and its nature as all there is... I guess thinking about its end could be pretty scary indeed. But I'm convinced there's something more, another kingdom at work. Come what may in this one, I rest assured that I am right with the other one, the infinite and eternal one, through the Eternal One.

December 2, 2012

You senseless, ignorant, brute beast, you!

(That is how you title a blog about a Psalm.)

I started reading the Psalms a long time ago, checking off all 150 of them (and the 30ish Proverbs) twice a year. It works out nicely and it's a good habit, but if I'm going to be honest, I find a lot of them hard to read and I prefer the short ones. Reading them in order means I don't necessarily get the sad ones when I'm sad, or the happy-praisey ones when I'm abundantly joyful. (Maybe that's for the best?) I can't totally relate (yet) to having mobs of enemies chasing me down, or wetting my bed with tears, or the heart-wrenching betrayal of a good friend. To my untrained eyes and mind, lots of them seem indistinguishable, and often I read them out of duty, not the passion or curiosity I ought to read them with.

But every now and then, one of them will grab me by the collar and punch me in the face, as God's Word often does. This is what happened with Psalm 73. [Hey, I conveniently linked it so you can read it if you want. It's not too long, I swear.]

Asaph wrote it. He confesses some surprising stuff for a guy who penned part of the Bible. "Why do the bad guys get to have all the fun?" he asks. They're a bunch of nasty, proud dudes, and they get all the perks, and they never get any comeuppance. They're carefree and violent, they put people down and take advantage of them, and they scoff at God, and they get rich doing it. I could be wrong, but I'm pretty sure these sorts still exist today.

Poor Asaph: He's worked and worked and kept his standards and remained pure and fought the good fight and everything, and what has it bought him? Plague and Punishment.

"Life is rough, I tell ya, so rough..."
"How rough is it?"
"So rough I almost betrayed God's children by speaking my mind!"

Okay, so Asaph's no Rodney Dangerfield. But he's presented his issue - he's starting to feel this jealousy of the bad dudes coming on, and he juuuuust about speaks his mind but stops short. To do so, it seems, would have been an act of betrayal that bordered on blasphemy.

Good on him for not doing it though. He came to his senses. "I almost slipped, lost my foothold" he says to kick off the Psalm. At least he has a foothold, right? And he remembers - these bad dudes are set for destruction. For real.

So he realizes his error. Maybe the only thing more foolish than someone without understanding is someone who has it, but envies someone who doesn't have it. Asaph caught himself doing that and stopped short. The Israelites couldn't often say the same. I dare say I'm not so prudent, either.

"It ain't worth it, man," Asaph seems to realize.

And here's the part that really clocked me: Verses 21 and 22: "When my heart was grieved and my spirit embittered, I was senseless and ignorant, a brute beast before you."

A Biblical writer, calling himself senseless, ignorant, a brute beast. In God's presence.

Really?

That's not how I want to picture myself in front of God. I'm working hard to be pure, to obey Him. I'm a good Christian, aren't I? I want so badly to picture myself with dignity before Him.

But nobody approaches the throne with dignity, do they? When you stand before God, it's all gone. Nothing left. Filthy rags and all that. I've got nothing of my own to stand on.

A big, dumb, senseless, ignorant, brute beast really isn't a bad metaphor for a human in front of God. Like a cow with a vacant stare, but without its strength or delicious meat.

Undignified, like David - who voluntarily let his dignity go when he danced in the buff.

But what follows is beautiful: Even as a senseless beast, "You hold my hand," Asaph says, "and guide me, and take me into glory." Lest there be any doubt, even in that undignified state, we serve a good and loving God. We have the advocacy of Christ on the cross.

That's a comforting thought.

Though the evildoers prosper around him, "Earth has nothing I desire, but you" Asaph says. May it be the same for me.

November 10, 2012

Good point, Mr. Chambers.

Lately, I am a man of few words. So I'll share someone else's:

Fellowship in the Gospel

"After sanctification it is difficult to state what your aim in life is, because God has taken you up into his purpose by the Holy Ghost; He is using you now for His purposes throughout the world as He used His Son for the purpose of our salvation. If you seek great things for yourself - "God has called me for this and that" - you are putting a barrier to God's use of you. As long as you have a personal interest in your own character, or any set ambition, you cannot get through into identification with God's interests. You can only get there by losing forever any idea of yourself and by letting God take you right out into His purpose for the world, and because your goings are of the Lord, you can never understand your ways.

I have to learn that the aim in life is God's, not mine. God is using me from His great personal standpoint, and all he asks of me is that I trust Him, and never say - "Lord, this gives me such heartache." To talk in that way makes me a clog. When I stop telling God what I want, He can catch me up for what He wants without let or hindrance. He can crumple me up or exalt me, He can do anything He chooses. He simply asks me to have implicit faith in Himself and in His goodness. Self-pity is of the devil; if I go off on that line I cannot be used by God for His purpose in the world. I have "a world within the world" in which I live, and God will never be able to get me outside it because I am afraid of being frost-bitten.

-Oswald Chambers' My Utmost for His Highest, November 10.

I am constantly seeking great things for myself - the next career move, fulfillment in relationships, financial success comfort stability, a fully articulated 10-year plan, etc. And here is the much-needed reminder of my need to utterly abandon myself and stop dictating my plans to God. It's my prayer that I'll remember this tomorrow, and the next day, and that one day I won't need reminders anymore.

October 28, 2012

Win now

I have semi-religiously watched nearly every single Tigers game this season. By "watched," I mean either I physically attended (okay, that's just one game) or literally watched via MLB.TV (at least parts of 100-130 games) or checked scores on my SmartypantsPhone (often suspiciously, or surreptitiously, or more like "aw screw it, I don't care if they see me checking baseball scores or not.") I have all-too-often known the scores, and often the counts, and could usually be relied upon for trustworthy information and stats by less devoted, more casual fans.

You wonder how someone can be that interested in a 162-game season? I don't, not anymore. It gives me somewhat of a window into how someone could pay attention to all 80ish NBA games. (I don't know the real number, and I don't care because the NBA is stupid and nobody could possibly be interested in all 80ish games. Or so I thought.) You really have to love the game, have a dog in the fight, or love the game and have a dog in the fight.

This is how you care about 162 games: You watch your team fight for first place, maintain it, put it away, and clinch a playoff spot. Even the worst teams (except the very worst - sorry Cubs and Astros fans) stay mathematically in it until the last couple weeks of the season. Then, suddenly it's the playoffs and every game actually does matter, as much as a sporting event can matter.

So the Tigers made the playoffs and I hoped for the best. They weren't favorites by any means. They ousted the A's, who were widely regarded as one of the best stories in baseball this year because they won, and they shouldn't have won. Pretty much. But the Tigers beat 'em.

Then they swept the Yanks. And the story wasn't "Wow, the Tigers sure are good," it was "wow, what's wrong with the Yankees?" Naturally, we Tigers faithful were incensed. But we swept 'em.

Then, we got five cursed days off before we played the Giants.

The Giants? What in the world were they doing there?

Oh well. I didn't hate the Giants. Yet.

So we waited through those five awful, boring days off to see our team play again. And they presumably sat around and waited for the Cards to take care of business.

But no. The Giants.

The stupid Giants.

They should have been eliminated, but played and won three games with their backs against the wall. They made the series on bonus time. Borrowed time. No pressure. And if you've watched the World Series games (and YOU BETTER HAVE) you probably saw that. They're loose. Screwing around in the dugout. Man, I hate the Giants now.

I freaking hate the Giants.

I didn't hate the Rangers. I respected them. We weren't supposed to beat them. Last year in the ALCS we were old and rickety and hurt and tired. No, we had no business there. We were overmatched. We could have played way over our heads and still lost.

But we're better than the Giants. We are, aren't we? I thought we were. But now we can't even buy a base hit.

We're better than we're playing. I'd have a lot less of an issue with us losing the World Series team if the Tigers were at least playing their best. Not beating themselves.

Game one, we were rusty. Game two, a few bad breaks early on, then we forgot how to hit. Game three, back home, and - nope, still can't hit.

Tonight, in about 25 minutes, game four starts. It might be our last game of the year. So they have to win now. But - teams don't come back from being down 3-0 in the World Series. I just pray they don't get swept. They have to win now.

If they survive tonight - hey, they've got Justin Verlander tomorrow. Best pitcher in the game. Win that one, then you've only got two more to win. And there might be some pressure on the Giants.

It probably won't happen. If it does, it will be the most thrilling thing in sports in my lifetime.

You can always say "hey, there's always next year." True. The Tigers will get better next year, I think. Victor Martinez will be the DH, not Delmon "ALCS MVP by some miracle" Young. (I can't fault Young, though. I'd rather have a guy who sucks all year and comes up big in the playoffs like him, than - dare I say it? - a guy like Prince Fielder who smashed the ball all year and has done nothing but whiff in the playoffs.) And our pitching is great. And all that.

But I hate that thinking. The odds are severely against your team getting back to the World Series. Get there and win it. Win it now, while you're there. We wait, and watch 162 games (some of us) for this kind of opportunity.

Win it now, guys. Show up tonight.

September 26, 2012

Artprize and art and our fine city

Artprize rages on in Grand Rapids.

For you non-Grandrapidians who read this, it's a huge annual art contest in which a rich family in our city hands out a cool quarter-mill to whoever the public thinks brought the best piece, and $100,000 to whoever the Art Critics choose.

For us locals who vote on who should get the big chunk of change, it's probably more about getting downtown when it's full of people than it is about taking in art. We're all swelling with local pride of late, and maybe it lends some legitimacy to our city to see the sidewalks crawling like a "real" city.

So we all flock downtown to gawk at the good and the bad. Really, I think almost all of us do. I made my second trip downtown last night. I've covered... let's see... Devos Place, Amway, JW, Ah-Nab-Awen Park, and the GRAM. I've seen about half of the public vote's top 25, and three of the critics' top 25.

You'll note that there must be some disparity between the critical top 25 and the popular top 25. I'm hoping that over the next few nights I'll get a chance to see the ones that are getting more critical buzz.

John Waters, an arty director whose arty movies I haven't seen, said in a recent local interview that the art world is controlled by two small groups of people who wear all black and live in London and New York. So I guess that puts Grand Rapids a little... out of the way, and I assume Artprize's reputation among the art community isn't terribly distinguished.

GQ would agree. In their article, they affirmed some things local artists have said since the first year, that Artprize attracts a lot of kitsch and, when left in public hands, the most accessible thing tends to win out. Each of the winners from the first three years has had plenty of detractors - not for technical skill, but for content. The first year, it was a painting/sculpture of waves. Then a huge pencil drawing recreation of a military regiment. Then an image of a crucifix (pandering, they assume, cuz Grand Rapids is so Christiany.)

The article, by a writer from New York, seemed to imply that we're a bunch of Midwesterners who don't get "it," trying to break into the Art world, choosing crap over more art-community-ordained stuff.

Naturally, we flipped out. We always do. When people write articles like that one, they usually end up on the local news, and people get offended, and the mayor writes letters to defend our fine city. I think there are a lot of people here excited about the trajectory of Grand Rapids, hoping that we'll "arrive" in our lifetime, that the world will take us seriously or something. Just as our hearts flutter when outsiders notice us as a hidden gem, we bristle when they don't acknowledge us as a cultural epicenter.

I think Grand Rapids will have arrived when we can all shrug off criticism and strut quietly while the haters hate (or the noticers notice, or whatever). Grand Rapids doesn't need indy cred or validation from big city people and big city writers and national media.

Personally, I like it just the way it is.

Artprize is a ton of fun and we have reason to be excited, to see our downtown crawling with people, to run into our suburban neighbors in the UICA or on Monroe or Ottawa. Artprize doesn't make our reputation. It isn't something that makes us a cool city, but rather, a symptom of a cool city.

All that being said, there is some legitimately good art down there - and I should know, with my amateur photography skills and my communications degree from my Midwestern school.

I find myself increasingly relying on my gut reactions to make decisions and evaluate things, especially in regards to art. I'm attracted to art that is shocking or surprising - like these vases, which upon closer inspection actually correlate with historical data of cities - or so masterfully done that I would drive out of my way to come back and see it - like these graphite drawings of the Chicago Seven.

I stood there and talked to two artists my first night out there as the venues were closing. One had brought a pretty pedestrian piece, in my opinion, and the other had created the masterpiece graphite drawings I mentioned above. I am one of tens of thousands of people who probably wouldn't dedicate the time and thought to art if not for Artprize. For me to be standing there, hearing some guy from Rockford tell me about his sculpture, or marveling at the detail on those Chicago buildings while the creator looked on - that's a pretty unique thing.

September 17, 2012

church

Here's a scenario:

Bob and Mike meet.

They soon discover a mutual interest in following Christ.

They decide that they should partner up and do this together.

So they meet regularly, bringing their wives and their kids all together to talk about Jesus.

They read their Bible. They praise God, often in song or poetry.

Over time, their gatherings grow and a few other friends and families begin to attend as well.

They don't write up a statement of faith or anything, but they never get into any weird, unorthodox stuff.

They begin a few traditions, a few standards (think: meeting every other Saturday afternoon, favoring discussion over a sermon, using recliners instead of pews, singing a capella because no one's a musician, no age division, laser lights, arm-wrestling, an occasional post-church stein-hoist). They've got a culture of sorts.

Maybe some of their customs and traditions and methods are unique, or even a little strange. So much so that it might not feel like church to a church-going outsider.

So what is this gathering? Is it a church? Is it the church?

What does it mean if we call Bob and Mike's as-yet-unnamed gatherings "church?"

We're past the point of assuming a church is a building, right? Lots of churches start and meet in people's basements. We'll call their gatherings a church.

So if it's just a couple of dudes and some friends gathering weekly to follow Christ, unusual traditions and all... does this thing, suddenly a "church," immediately get lumped in with the rest of the church (or churches) as a sacred institution? Are they part of the Holy Priesthood, entrusted with the Great Commission, held accountable for all of its blessed finances and how they spend every penny? Holders of the talents while The King is away?

Is every church subject to scrutiny as a sacred institution, or can a church simply be a community of people seeking Christ with their own customs, much like any other earthly, human community - chamber of commerce, moose lodge, Boy Scouts, sewing circle, carving club - except focused on following Christ? Are there sacred churches and non-sacred ones? Where do you draw that line, and what separates them? Rigidly structured organization?

I ask these questions because I have often, in the past, been a bit of a church cynic. "Can't believe they spent money on that." "Why aren't they doing (insert thing I suddenly started thinking was deathly important while in college)?" "What's a "liturgy?" "Why is there no liturgy?" "They should really talk more about (insert thing they didn't talk about the week I was there.)"

I am beginning to think that maybe it's no big deal for a church to have some customs that I don't really identify with, or to lack some that I really do, or to use their money in ways that I wouldn't immediately think to, and simply trust that they probably know what they're doing and don't need me to get all teenage-angsty about it.

I suppose I pose those questions in defense of weird churches.

In the end, there are far more important things to consider about a church than how much money they put into their multimedia, or what the worship team is wearing. For example, what its members are doing the other six days of the week.

August 25, 2012

Bona Fide Tropical Storm Isaac

When I first moved here in November 2010, it was the tail end of hurricane season. Hurricane Tomas had just passed through the Caribbean, and left a whole bunch of crap on our beach. I resented the cleanup, but as a storm-loving Midwestern boy, I was not-so-quietly hopeful that maybe I'd get to see one of them in my time here. With 2010's season having drawn to a close, I looked forward to 2011.

Last year, we did get a brief visit from Maria. The storm migrated north of Puerto Rico so I took my big, heavy storm shutters down and left them on the ground outside my bedroom window. That night, Maria grew a tentacle that dangled down and swept across Puerto Rico from west to east while the rest of the storm floated north into the Atlantic. As I was laying in bed, the wind picked up and sprayed rain through my windows and kicked around the storm shutters outside. Mostly, I objected to the loud clanging and scraping of metal on concrete at 3 in the morning.

The next morning, we found that the awning in front of our dining hall had been picked up and heaved into our playground. Boom, no more monkey bars. I picked up the storm shutters behind my house and took a mental note that they were to be kept up in any storm threat, lest I lay there and shudder in the mist and hear them clang around again someday.

I had missed out on Irene, which came a few weeks earlier while I was in Michigan.

And that was it for 2011.

So in 2012, by the middle of June, I was checking the National Hurricane Center website everyday, wondering what was coming, trying to get psyched up for a good storm, secretly hoping that I might get to see one.

Fast forward to August 23, 2012. Enter Isaac. He was born just off the coast of west Africa, and within a week had rumbled across the Atlantic and declared himself a legitimate Tropical Storm. (Tropical Storms in progress, for the record, have fairly detailed Wikipedia pages.)

With my time in the tropics winding down, I decided that a bonafide Tropical Storm would be A-OK. Less cleanup, less potential for death than a real hurricane, but with all of the spectacle of something as yet unseen for me.

There are no hurricane sirens here in PR, from what I'm told. I guess they'd be redundant since as soon as we're in a potential path, we're all talking about them and facebooking them and stuff. We get all worked up, and the night before they hit - by then we know if they're close enough to do damage - people pack the grocery stores to stock up on the basics. The paranoid, conscientious Midwestern boy I am, I was well supplied days ahead of time. Remember, I'd been watching since June.

The day before, we put the storm shutters up, and I caulk the gap underneath my back door where rain loves to seep in from even an average rainfall. I can only imagine what it's gonna do with a tropical storm. It's weird, you stand out there and watch the waves lap up onshore, and the sun is shining, and there's this impossibly humongous beast lingering just over the horizon, ready to mess up your world, and you'd never know it.

Then the big night: Nothing happens.

I wake up the next morning. and the sun is shining and the birds are chirping. I brew some sun tea. I would have done the crossword, if I'd had one. All of Puerto Rico has the day off, but we spend it in staff meetings as long as we have power. I check the satellite images, and the center of the storm is about fifty miles south of us, but we're well within its wingspan. Where's the storm?

By 3:00 pm, gray clouds are coasting overhead, and little raindrops are falling. The wind picks up, the trees sway, and soon there's an average rainstorm going on.

But it lasts.

And lasts.

The back half of the storm, it turns out, is pretty good. The waves kick up, splashing over the beach into our backyard. Soon, I've got a pond back there, and the Caribbean just beyond.

It all picks up. And the wind howls. I lay there and watch a movie as the rain comes down in sheets and the palm trees bang their heads like awkward teenage concertgoers. Eventually I go to bed with the wind blowing and the rain pelting outside my bedroom window.

In all, we get about 20 hours of big waves, strong winds, and a lot of rain. There's nothing really dangerous in all of it, save for the flash floods in some communities. We never even lost power. But: my thirst for a good storm is quenched.

And though all I dealt with this time was paranoia - and a some cleanup the next few days, I bet - I have to wonder how different this would be if we'd been in the middle of a real hurricane, one of those 110 mph affairs, not some minor tropical storm centered 50 miles to the south. My house sits probably 20 yards from the Caribbean, which advances a little bit each year on our property. It was nothing for it to wash up and fill our backyard with water and beach sand. There's a basketball court out there somewhere that crumbled into the ocean. If you go down the street into the barrio, you'll see uninhabitable houses at the sea-end of every street that have collapsed into the encroaching water.

These houses... they're not going to last forever.

I'm heading back to Michigan in a few days, weather-permitting. We'll just see what this guy does in the meantime. At the time of this writing, it has a 50% chance of becoming a tropical storm in the next 48 hours. My flight is Wednesday....

EDIT: Pretty sure that guy out in the Atlantic is going North.

August 22, 2012

"me" as a four-letter word

A good Christian book should give you a nice, solid gut-punch. If it doesn't, go find something else to read.

I just read The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness by Tim Keller (Dude, that's 99 cents on Amazon for the Kindle edition.) It's a short book - only 30-40 minutes to read it, but well worth it if you've got an e-reader. (Go buy it, go now.)

Keller argues, in a more eloquent and exhaustive way than can be blogged, that we shouldn't think too highly or lowly of ourselves, but rather we ought to just... not think of ourselves. Self-forgetfulness and all that. Humility, it's said, isn't thinking less of ourselves, it's thinking of ourselves less. Dwelling on self-esteem is fruitless. There's no need to compare yourself to others. There's no sense in considering how you're going to prove yourself.

For whatever reason, "self" has become a big, horrible word for me lately. I was convicted this summer as I processed our activities and reflected on them that there was way way waaaay too much me in there.

How did I do?
Was I ready for this?
What does this say about me?
How does this reflect me?
...What's next for me?

That last one, especially.

Do we all do this, or is it just me?

(See, there I go thinking about myself again.)

It's a natural tendency to view the thing that you're responsible for as yours. You're running the show. You're (sort of) controlling things. If you're not there, it might not happen. Consequently, you slap your forehead when you forget and pat yourself on the back when you succeed.

And then... It's kind of horrifying to stop yourself and realize that you're thinking about the ministry you're in as yours, and that you're aligning its impact and efficiency with your own, and gauging its success primarily on your own perceptions and feelings. The pressure and back-patting are healthy and relevant to some degree, but the problem comes when its the first thing you go to when you plan, respond, and reflect.

I am guilty of thinking of myself first, and it goes deeper than this ministry. It digs deep into my entire spiritual life.

Deep down, I realize that I am obsessed with my spiritual sufficiency and my spiritual progress, and that I view the world as my story starring me.

Man, all I think about is me sometimes.

"Am I growing closer to God?"

I no longer view that as an innocent, relevant, or even positive question. To approach it grammatically, I am supposed to be the object, not the subject. No matter how badly I want to build myself and prove myself, I am little more than a forgiven recipient of the love of Christ. I have no ground to stand on. There is nothing I can do, no progress that I can make, that can change the way God loves me. Even at my worst - especially at my worst - he would still send Jesus to die for me.

As such, if I have to accept that as true for myself, I have to accept it as true for everyone.

So I've got nothing on you.

And there's no sense in framing everything around myself. And there's no one in the world I've got any right to compare myself to or look down on, or despise, or withhold any of the entire breadth of the love that Christ has shown me. So I better get busy simply imitating the love of Christ, and get my eyes off myself.

I believe that this is a long-standing work-in-progress in me, to let go of myself. This will take some time, I know, and Keller's book was a well-timed read. I'm beginning to see this self-obsession manifested in a number of ways, not least of which is my writing.

I'm considering abandoning my mundane, daily journal, and significantly altering my approach to this blog. I don't want to write about me anymore. Maybe not for a while, maybe not ever.

August 13, 2012

Year after year

I did a little math with my free time while I was home in Michigan the last two weeks. This summer marked my tenth in camp ministry. That includes my first two as a Counselor in Training while I was still in high school, and the five I spent as a counselor / core staff at Grace Adventures, the one I was in Tanzania, and the two I've spent here in Puerto Rico as program director. And that's not even counting the summers when I just showed up for a week or so to handle an overflow of campers as a rent-a-staff.

Having thusly proved my credentials, I pretty much have this whole Camp Ministry thing down and should therefore be finished making mistakes.

Yes, well.

I remember a phone call I made to my old director before last summer, in the last few days before staff training. I asked him what I should do if I make a mistake. I don't remember exactly how he worded it, but he basically said that I should just expect to make a bunch of them and move on. While he talked, I was busy realizing how much I had just betrayed my own nerves and fears about being the dude in charge of a summer program.

Now that we've wrapped up our summer camps for 2012, I can proudly say: I made several mistakes and no one ever demanded my immediate firing, and things never came to a screeching halt, and summer turned out pretty great. After all, camp has a way of running itself.

Now that I say that, I realize I probably could have gotten more sleep.

But anyway. One of the reasons camp went well, and that it's able to run itself, is because we had a solid summer staff.

Seriously, though. This was a consistent and constant comment from parents, visitors, mission teams, and other staff:

"Your staff, man... they're pretty awesome. Like, seriously. I didn't expect this."

Okay, that's my paraphrase. But I heard it a bunch of times, and I swelled with pride each time. And I grew increasingly appreciative of the way our counselors showed up and owned camp like they did. Nope, they weren't perfect - like me, they made mistakes, too - but they definitely exceeded expectations. People don't expect a bunch of college kids to be able to handle this, to be this dedicated and this responsible.

But they're the hands and feet of the ministry, and a big part of the big things that God continues to do here. We've got a really solid crew of high-schoolish and college kids who come back year after year and do this camp thing better every time. They volunteer their time a few weekends in the fall, winter, and spring to help us with retreats, too.

When campers come, they expect to see them.

That, to me, is huge. There's a bond of trust, and a sense of community amongst the campers. We're blessed to have a lot of returners and a healthy mix of new faces who quickly settle in like old friends. Because many of them are old friends. The returners know when campers or counselors are missing. They have real relationships, amongst themselves and with the staff. Many of our counselors have been able to invest in the same kids and witness their growth year after year.

It's huge. And I think it's a huge positive for the ministry here at Campamento del Caribe.

So, mad props to our summer staff. Job well done. Keep it up, year after year.



(how about I conclude with an old, semi-relevant Audio Adrenaline song:)

July 23, 2012

The End is Near

Last week, as we wrapped up our high school camp, I stood in front of a packed house of campers, counselors, dores, and parents. We'd watched our final video, I'd handed out the spray-painted medals with the theme "¡Gánatelo!" scribbled in Sharpie, and made our final announcements. I bid the campers adios and had just started to send them off to the Multipurpose building to wait for their parents when I saw Jerry and Julio coming up. "One more thing," they said.

I knew what it was. I handed off the mic and nonchalantly wandered back toward the projector screen or something to poke around and look busy while they talked. Jerry told them in his Bolivian Spanish, the non-native-speaker type I can mostly understand, that they had one more announcement. He called me over, and put his hand on my shoulder. I remember what he was talking about but I have no idea what he said, because I was in that face-beet-red Oh-crap-Oh-crap-Oh-crap they'retalkingaboutme state.

"Something something we have an announcement something thank you for all your hard work something something Agosto." Then I was looking at all of the faces in the crowd, looks of surprise and inquiry for many, and indifference for some. Here was a room full of people thinking about me and my time here and what I've been doing for the last two years. I looked at him. "Un placer," I said. 

It's been a pleasure. Not much else to say. After all, Yo soy un hombre de pocas palabras. Used that in a joke at closing the week before. Didn't say it this week, but I thought it. In Spanish.

I thanked them. They prayed for me. I got the mic back, told 'em I wasn't gonna make a speech or anything, but I was sure gonna miss everyone when I left at the end of August. I made a few more announcements to the padres as the kids walked out, then dismissed them. In front of our multipurpose building, as the campers filed out, there were lots of bendiciones from parents, from kids, the many I've gotten to know in the almost two years I've spent here.

"It won't be the same without you!" "I'm gonna miss you!" "Are you gonna come back to visit?"

I wasn't sure they were really going to make an announcement or anything. I didn't expect it, I didn't revel in it... I wasn't sure how to handle it. Really, I could only stand there and think about how much I don't like attention, and how awesome I must be to not like attention, and - how does anyone really like being the center of attention anyway? Why would anyone want that?

I've invested myself here for nearly two years, grown accustomed to the culture of the camp and the island. I've met a lot of people. It hasn't always been fun, or easy, but it has always been good, right, appropriate for me to be here. My only regret is not spending more time working on my Spanish.

For goodness sakes, people, if you're gonna live abroad, you gotta learn the language.

Camp is a bubble. It's wonderful for the kids but often difficult for staff. I am eager, excited, nervous to get back to my home, to my family, to Michigan. What a wonderful state it is.

But going home is inevitably going to be hard, and I am most definitely leaving something behind here. So many relationships, friends, memories. The landscape, the community. The Climate.

Oh, man... winter. I haven't seen you since 2009.

June 22, 2012

Bitterness


Ephesians 4:31 - Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice.

Hooray for sports, my favorite diversion.

You could very well have missed it, but yesterday was the NBA Finals, and Lebron James got his ring. I can't, for the life of me, muster any interest in the NBA, especially without a dog in the fight. I tried to watch last night, I really did, but as Miami pulled away in the third quarter I quickly tuned out to watch this. With a shortened season, and the Pistons languishing in an era of, uh, non-competitiveness, I can confidently say I never cared less about the NBA finals.

A week or two ago I found this: OKCLE T-shirts as Thunder hopes to beat the Heat. It seems Cleveland fans partnered with Oklahoma City fans not so much to root for them but to root against Lebron James. Hence the OKCLE shirts, and their short-lived brotherhood.

Last summer, I went with my friend Josh to a game in Cleveland, and I saw that wall where they used to hang an enormous "We are all witnesses" banner with Lebron James and Nike or something. For a season, Lebron was the symbol of Cleveland, and they were happy to define themselves by a professional athlete. And when that was taken away, they were crushed. They felt rejected, empty...

...bitter.

I get that. The fallout is natural.

A lot of us joined in their bitterness, happy to see him fail, making jokes about Lebron and how he couldn't finish a game, how he only had three quarters, no ring, etc.

I think people love bitterness. We get to revel in how we were offended or wronged for as long as we want. It's ours, we own it, and nobody can take it away. We get to sink into this little place where we're victims, where the world wronged us and we can throw our hands up in exasperation. Victims aren't responsible. Some of us like being victims.

For Cleveland, I guess it was, "We're gonna suck now, but it's not our fault." Nevermind that, unless you're an owner, manager, or athlete, nothing in sports is your fault from the cellar to championship glory. We're all spectators - witnesses, I guess - and nothing more. So why be bitter? Why hang onto that?

Because bitterness has a way of owning you. To hang onto bitterness is to refuse to move on, to incarcerate yourself, to give up.

Mass-producing OKCLE shirts means that Cleveland - at least the Cavs fans - continue to be defined by Lebron, long after he's gone. Cavs fans: Why would you let some guy in another city continue to define you? Let it go. Wash your hands of it. Be done with it. He got his ring. May that be closure for you. Your Lebron James era is over. Start rooting for the Cavs, not against Lebron.

Lots of people, myself included, have bitterness. You can continue to define yourself by a girl who dumped you, or a job that let you go. I got laid off once. Sometimes, I check their website secretly hoping to find it vacant. Why would you let a girl you once dated, or a job you once held, continue to define you?

Bitterness is a silent killer. We think it's okay to hang onto, but I think it eats you, it distracts you, and it can define you. In Ephesians 4:31, Paul groups it in with decidedly less private, secretive stuff: Rage. Fighting. Slandering. Maliciousness. They're cousins of bitterness. Jesus says we ought to turn a cheek if someone wrongs you. There are some things we're just supposed to let go of.

May 31, 2012

Unichallenge 2012

We do this thing here at Campamento del Caribe called the Unichallenge. It's a crazy, awesome, dangerous, energetic, and relevant thing. We put months of work into it and it wears us all out but we love it and I wouldn't change it. It's something we do really well, and I wish I could take credit for it but it started a long time before I ever got here.

Essentially, it's a full day of competition among groups of teens, college, and even older people who come from churches, schools, or social groups. On the surface, it's a competition, but I've begun to look at it more as a ministry, as a sort of lab, or scenario, or outlet, in which Christians are supposed to compete - and act, and live - as Christians are supposed to. We set it up, we plan it, we invite them. We kick it off with a loud, chaotic opening ceremony where each team gets to present itself. After that, we're all deaf, and we spend most of the day competing in the hot sun (or last year, pouring rain). At the end, we worship together. We don't really preach much. There's a little bit of explanation of what this whole thing is about and a few key points, but this definitely doesn't feel like church. In the end, it's the competitors that minister to each other. We're just... providing the environment, I guess.

I, uh... well... ya got me.
This year that environment included a 20 minute run, over balance beams, through tires, into the ocean.

And jousting in the bog.

And extreme gold rush. (In which two teams face off, having to cross enemy territory, retrieve their "gold" and bring it safely back to their side. Typically we play this with little blocks of wood. This year, we used coffee cans full of cement.)

And a Quest For Fire - a scavenger hunt to build a torch.

And an obstacle course.

And some extreme Steal the Bacon.

And some good old-fashioned AWANA games. (Just as I remember them - the bean bag toss, some relays, and Tug of War.)

It sounds cliche and corny, but it's not about winning the events. Sure, we give them a few extra points, and at the end of the day we crown someone the champion and give 'em a trophy. But the points come more from sportsmanship, unity, attitude, and spirit, than from winning each event. Actually, if you're out there to win at all costs, you will lose out in the other categories. You could win every event and lose the Unichallenge. You could lose every event but do it with a good attitude, good sportsmanship, and a spirit of support and positivity, and win the whole thing. Typically, the overall champion has a pretty good mix of friendly competition and athleticism. Sportsmanship is king.

In that environment, you always get a few people who miss the point. But you also see people who do it, and do it really really well. We always see teams stopping and elevating the needs of others above themselves. I saw one team in The Run carrying members of the opposing team to the end.

It strikes me that this is not only the sort of thing that rewards character, but also comes pretty close to the heart of college ministry. The competitors come in all shapes and sizes, but most of them are college age. People genuinely want to come and be a part of this. We had interest from 17 teams, but ultimately drew the line at 14. That's more than 150 people coming out voluntarily to participate, to endure a day full of crazy stuff to enjoy community, to have fun, to spend good time in fellowship.

College and 20-something ministry is elusive for lots of churches, I know. It seems like college ministry is either a priority and the majority of the church - which can alienate other demographics - or it's completely missing. It's all or nothing, it seems. I've walked into a number of churches where there's a gaping hole between the youth group and the young married folks with toddlers. I think some people think when kids go to college, they disappear from the church, or from the faith altogether. Some of them do. But not all of us disappear. We go to places where we feel included, where we have a chance to expand our social circles, where we get fed (literally and figuratively) and where we're engaged or challenged.

They/we want to see faith on display. A competition, like Unichallenge, appears to be a great way to do that.

May 27, 2012

Happy Birthday, Stephanie

Mad props to my little sister Stephanie on her birthday for heroically reaching number 25. I am proud of her. She writes good. But that's not why I'm proud of her. She has, I think, begun to find her place. She is growing into a woman with more sense and wisdom than I think she realizes, which affirms that she's got some sense and wisdom.

So Stephanie, welcome to the second quarter century of life. I suspect this is the best one.

I don't have my journals handy to see where I was on my 25th birthday. It was ]three years and some change ago. I can't really remember it, but if I did have access to the proper documentation, I would probably see that I worked a late shift at Papa John's or something. I think around that time I was trying to figure out what to do with my life, wondering why it was that I was still delivering pizzas at Papa John's and not slowly ascending a corporate ladder somewhere or adventuring off into the world somewhere.

Just a few months after that birthday I was standing at Papa John's, feeling old at 25, wondering if that was beyond the appropriate age to work at summer camp, when Ben called me and asked if I'd like to come work at summer camp. I told him yes, I would very much like to come work at summer camp again. So I did.

And that summer, I really did feel kinda old at 25 because most of my coworkers were in the first half of their collegiate education. Now I feel like 25 wasn't old, not nearly as old as 28 is. 28 is old.

But then I realize... someday I'll think the same thing about 28. I'll be 31 or 32 or something and I'll be like, man... 25 wasn't old. 28 wasn't old. 31 is old. But then someone told me that the 30s are pretty sweet. So I don't know what to think about what is or isn't old, so maybe you just don't think about it. I'm pretty sure the best way to ruin youth is to think about it constantly and worry about how you hang onto it. That's how you become old and crazy; how you get embarrassed about your age even though all you did was get born; how you become "best-friend parent" like Amy Poehler in the movie Mean Girls, which I'm only referencing because my little sister loves it. If I had seen She's The Man or if I listened to Butch Walker, I'd reference them too.

Birthdays after 25, I think, decrease in importance. They only matter every ten years when the first digit in your age changes. 26 is a lot like 25. 27 is a lot like 26. 28 is a lot like 27. I am less and less concerned with equating "what I'm going to do with my life" with "what I do to get my paycheck."

I've taken some kind of big, scary, weird step of faith in life each year since I turned 25. Went back to camp. Moved to Saint Joe. Went back to camp again. Moved to Puerto Rico. Stayed in Puerto Rico. Man, my life is weird. And I don't regret one thing about how I've spent my years since the big 2-5. I think this is what your 20s are for. It was A-OK for me, at 25, not to have my whole trajectory all mapped out.

So, Steph... Enjoy 25, it's gonna be great. It's okay not to have it all figured out. Live for The Kingdom, not this kingdom.

your brother,

jim

May 23, 2012

The Ocean is Terrible; Skin is Amazing

(I describe some injuries, some bloody stuff here. If that makes you squeamish, you may want to skip this one...)

I have witnessed firsthand, a few times now, how dangerous the ocean can be. A few months ago, we took a group of guys from Tennessee to a beautiful spot on the Atlantic Ocean. There are some massive rocks there, jagged, formed by lava a long, long time ago. You have to watch your step, otherwise you could tumble and gash yourself real nasty-like. We like to go up there and watch the waves crash up against them, spraying up thirty, forty, fifty feet into the air. You can stand up high above them, at a safe distance, and watch the deep blue water churn and toss and crash. It gives me, as a Midwesterner, a great deal of respect for the ocean and how awful and deadly it can be.

Some of the guys wanted to get close and let the waves crash over them, like an amusement at a waterpark. But soon, the last of a barrage of three big ones crashed and surged, flooding down over the rocks, a fleeting, shallow river, just a foot of water, knocking most of them over. Some of them fell to their knees, one of them lost his footing and rolled down, his body tumbled over the jagged rocks. They cut him like glass and knives would.

It could have been so much worse. Luckily, these were tough guys and they mostly laughed off their scrapes, cuts, gashes like they were merit badges. We sat in the Walgreens parking lot and bandaged their wounds, horrifying the passers by.

Monday, we took a day trip to Isabela, to a beach called Montones. It's a beautiful spot, with the same kind of lava rocks, and a tidal pool where you can snorkel and see colorful fish and crabs, and only a few sea urchins (which I detest). It's a good place for kids.

The lava rocks are ringed by a flat walkway, where the water has collected into pools and flattened out over the centuries. It's like a boardwalk. In one spot, there's a gap where the water surges underneath and splashes upward like a blowhole. I went for a hike around it with John Cox, his foster daughter Lourdes, and Becky, an old friend and our intern for the summer.

As we walked, I watched the waves come up, small ones, gentle ones, rolling by, topping out just below our walkway. It seemed mostly harmless, but all along the way we walked through puddles of water. Soon, one wave rolled gently, barely above the surface, washed over our feet. It was pleasant. But as we went further out, the water really surged. It would rise to our level, then drop ten feet, then rise up again. If I were the type to get seasick, it would have made me nauseous. This was dangerous water - strong, steady, irresistible. It was not for swimming... to end up in the drink, as they say, would very likely kill someone.

Soon, the walkway ended and there was just a jagged cliff of rock down into the ocean in front of us and a steep hill up beside us. "I guess we go up and around," I said, and took a few steps up the hill while John, Lourdes, and Becky lingered on the flat spot.

It's weird when you have a near-death experience. I suppose some of them are immediately obvious, while others, the less serious ones, take a minute to sink in.

I stood there and looked down as one big wave rolled up from the ocean. It was slow and steady as it breached the edge of the rocks, and John, Lourdes, and Becky were suddenly standing in a swift current of water just a foot or two deep. With nothing to grab onto, they quickly lost their feet, and the water carried them determinedly away from me, back toward the edge. The ocean might just as well have had hands to grab them by the ankles. John immediately grabbed Lourdes by the waste, and the two of them struggled against the water, trying to sink their fingers into something to hold onto. Becky fell too, and I winced as I thought about what I've seen those lava rocks do.

All I remember is feeling numb, not so much scared, standing there watching these people very nearly get swept into what could have been their death. I think I saw it coming, I think I said, "watch out, watch out, watch out!"

John and Lourdes stopped just about a foot from the edge. Becky wasn't carried so far, but she got a fair number of scrapes, and I saw her sandals almost immediately 50 yards out to sea. They regained their feet and came up to the edge to inspect their wounds.

Down Becky's legs, a few trickles of blood had already started flowing. Lourdes joined me up on the rocks, remarkably free of any scratches. John had some minor ones on his legs. He's an older guy in his upper 60s, but he's active enough that you probably wouldn't guess it. Becky was missing her flip-flops, so John agreed to hand his off to her and make the trek back barefoot.

And then, as they continued to stand on the flat surface, another wave came up over where they were standing. This one knocked John over again, and Becky quickly fell too. I was close enough now that it knocked me off my feet, but I didn't go anywhere. I grabbed Becky's hand and held on as the water pulled at her. John didn't get nearly as close to the edge this time, but the tumble was enough to add some significant scrapes. As the water receded, they got to their feet and joined me a few feet up the hill.

Whereas Becky had kept her composure through the scrapes before, she was now wincing in serious pain and had a nasty gash on her knee. Julio later described it as "an open mouth," and I could see in just the briefest glance that it had cut through all of the skin, both sides open and thick like lips. She and John immediately scaled a few rocks and sat down at a safe height as blood from their fresh wounds trickled down their legs the rocks, a little red stream pooling up at the bottom. He took off his t-shirt and tied it around her knee. She didn't need to see it.

Soon, Lourdes was running for help, and I was left standing there, waiting for someone to come to help me help Becky, with my thoughts about all of it catching up to me.

I got to wondering how many different ways this scenario could have unfolded. Had any of us been standing near the edge, instead of where we were, it could have been so much worse. We could have been quickly tossed into the soup. I emerged from all of this with just a few scrapes, nothing more than what walking past a thornbush might do to me. John and Becky had to go to the Emergency Room for stitches, and a tetanus shot, and IV drips for some reason.

Skin is a remarkable thing to me. A few months ago, I had a nasty rash on my arm that came from something I touched in the jungle, I think. And you would have sworn by looking at it that my arm was disintegrating from the inside out. Jokes were made about leprosy, and someone else seriously thought I might have mange. Freaking mange. But this whole crazy battle on my skin was taking place on the outermost layer, the epidermis (that of "your epidermis is showing" fame). Everything underneath was unscathed. It took a while, but it faded into oblivion, and you'd never know by looking at it today that people were making leprosy jokes. And now Becky and John - with 26 stitches between them - have disgusting looking wounds that will simply heal themselves with the help of a little bit of string. It amazes me that our skin fixes itself, without thought, without medicine. Truly, we are well-equipped.

A lot of the time, when we deal with wounds, or blemishes, or lapses in judgment, or anything that involves a mistake, really, we feel a sort of regret that leaves us wondering what we might have done to avoid this situation. Could have stayed on the beach... could have stayed home... could have done anything differently and maybe saved ourselves a whole lot of pain... inconvenience... discomfort... embarrassment.

How could I have avoided this?

But there is another side to that thinking, the side that focuses on the grace, on what the hand of God hath stayed. Becky and John have cuts, but they weren't swept out to sea. We can wonder endlessly about where and when He's been good without our noticing, where He's intervened on our behalf to spare us, to preserve us, to bless us.

Just what did I avoid?

Maybe I'd rather not know.


p.s.: Here is a Simpsons clip that seamlessly integrates all of the elements of this blog: The water, the injury, the epidermis joke, it's got it all:


May 14, 2012

stress and dead horses

Please tell me that I am not the only one who does this. Last night I realized sometime around 2 am that I was stuck in some kind of thought pattern. Just thinking over and over again about pointless, stupid things, mostly logistics about work, about the Unichallenge next weekend. It was like my brain forgot that it was allowed to sleep, to do nothing, to rest, to take its regularly scheduled time off. It decided that this was a great time to fruitlessly attempt to figure out all the stuff that it has the next two weeks to figure out. This used to happen a lot more. Me, laying there in bed, not even realizing that I'm not sleeping.

Scumbag brain, won't even tell me I can't sleep.

And suddenly I realized that I wasn't sleeping, which was enough to break the cycle.  I got up, drank some water or something, crawled back into bed, and fell asleep. It actually used to do this a lot more and I don't really know why. My best guess is that it has something to do with caffeine or stress. I've cut back on the caffeine lately, but there isn't much I can do about the stress this time of year.

Somewhere in there, I dreamed I saw a dead horse on a roof. It was weird... weird enough for me to whip out my phone in my dream to take a picture of it so I could prove it later on. It's the kind of thing that must mean something. Then this morning my brain decided that 6 am - on my day off, no less - would be a lovely time to start back up again. I'm sure the "beating a dead horse" metaphor applies. But also, I really did see a dead horse by the side of the road the day before, and I wasn't dreaming. At the moment, I didn't have the time - or callous attitude - to whip out the phone to prove to everyone that I saw a dead horse. Because nobody here would really care, because it's really not a huge surprise.

And so I was laying there, in the early morning, hearing the waves crash into my back yard as they do all day, everyday, with my brain not-so-sneakily trying to get some work in. If I could remember what exactly it was thinking about, or if I'd made any progress at all, I'd consider trying to count them as work hours. But as it turns out, lost sleep doesn't count for billable hours.

I'm currently in the time of year where there's this huge cloud of undone stuff in front of me for our summer events. (If anyone has pointers on handling this kind of thing, send 'em my way.) One guaranteed way to add to the stress is to think about how I am the last line, the buck, as it were, when it comes to all that stuff. Generally, if I don't do it or tell/remind/delegate someone else to do it, it doesn't get done. Last year, as I learned my way around, lots of little things never got done because I never knew we had to do them and only realized them after they were missed.

One side of camp ministry is there are seemingly millions and millions of tiny details that need to get done. Stuff to move around, people to call, materials to get ready, ideas to scratch out, decisions to make. Not only am I trying to do all of those things, I'm trying to remember and record them to make sure they're not surprises to the person who succeeds me here once I leave. And they're all floating in my head, and on slips of paper, and on slightly more organized pieces of paper. This time of year, that workload of stuff is only going to increase. I'm learning what it means to be responsible for something, and the importance of getting real rest, and the difficulty therein.

But the other side of camp ministry is that the stuff that absolutely has to get done has a way of getting done. Everything else just fills in the cracks, non-essentials, details, which actually are the majority of the things that cause my stress, that keep me up at night. Or wake me up in the morning.

April 30, 2012

Life can suck

Following Christ is hard.

It really is, and sometimes life can suck when you follow him.

Please don't misunderstand that - it's undeniably worth it to follow Him, the joy of doing so easily makes up for any displaced temporary happiness that would come from living for yourself, and the eternal reward is unquestionably awesome, but...

sometimes it sucks.

sometimes it's hard.

sometimes it's overwhelming.

I've been chewing on this thought for a couple weeks. I started to write about it a few times, but nothing took because, well, writing a post called "Why Life Sucks" is hard and kinda sucky in and of itself. But over the weekend, we had an event here and one of the speakers helped fuel some thoughts about the suckyness of life.

He preached the prosperity gospel.

I had heard lots about it, thought about it, heard John Piper rail on it, seen it from a distance on the internet, held it as an abstract, seen it on television, but never encountered it in person.

Have you heard it? It's the teaching that it's God's will for you to be wealthy...

and healthy...
and rich...
and living in luxury...
and extravagance...
here on this sucky, broken, sinful planet.

It says you have the dominion and the power that whatever you proclaim, it will come back to you. But only if you've got the faith.

The problem is that most of the heroes of faith were incredibly poor.

And that Christ makes it abundantly clear that if that's the kingdom you live for, you'll have no place in His.

And that it fuels a pessimism and despair amongst those who are dealt terrible circumstances, a perspective that God is not in this, whatever this circumstance is, instead of a hope that God has something better ahead.

...Something that didn't roll off an assembly line in Germany, something that wasn't printed by the U.S. Bureau of Engraving in Fort Worth or Washington, D.C.  The abundant life Jesus promises in John 10:10, and the glorious riches from Philippians 4:19 have nothing to do with a BMW or a stack of cash.

There should be nothing more appalling than the idea that coming to Christ will lead you to riches, to circumstances which, in Christ's own words, make it more difficult for you to enter his kingdom than for a camel to squeeze through the eye of a needle. Christ doesn't need to come with a bonus offer.

On the contrary, being a disciple of Christ comes with a heavy load. It makes life harder.

Look at every hero of the Bible. We overlook the fact that essentially every one of them endured a desert of some kind. Moses' desert was literal. Joseph was a slave. Jeremiah cried all the time. Others were thrown into lions dens or furnaces, spent years on the run. Jesus himself went through a literal desert too, 40 days facing any temptation that man could experience.

I'm sure their struggles didn't come for lack of faith.

We shouldn't overlook this.

Come to Christ and you'll inevitably find yourself in a desert.

Life can suck. Life is allowed to suck.

----

"God is most glorified in you when you are most satisfied in Him in the midst of loss."
- John Piper, in the video I not-so-sneakily linked to above. Not sure he's the original, but we'll run with him for now.

April 17, 2012

What I'm Reading


Currently reading: Ordering Your Private World, by Gordon MacDonald

Funny how you can only embrace a book when the time is right. My friend Kim loaned me this book years ago. It's been on my shelf for years. I even tried to give it back once. He asked me "Did you read it?" and I think I politely told him - "I er um uh... no." And so he insisted that I keep it. Welp, I thought, if you insist it's that good, and you don't need it back, maybe I'll hang onto it until I finally decide I need to read it. Or more likely, the day comes that I have a shortage of books and nothing else seems right.

That title, Ordering Your Private World... that is not an attention-getter. That wasn't going to drag me into the book. Even now, I recoil at it a little bit. Order my world? Like a pizza? It doesn't even sound Christian, and if it is, it's probably that Joel Osteen brand or something. It sounds like it should be sold at self-help seminars, like a book for executives or office people, for pastors who give people sound advice, for... for grown-ups. I place myself firmly outside of all of those categories.

And yet... And yet...

I find myself recoiling at the title of the book a little less these days. Maybe I'm creeping toward genuinely needing to get my private world in order.

Ugh. And so here I am, reading this practical book with all of it's practical advice. And there's not a whole lot of that deep, abstract, mind-blowing mystical mysterious Jesus stuff I've gravitated towards, the kind of stuff I thought Kim might recommend. Nope. Common sense. Like how not to suck at budgeting your time. And how to keep your brain in shape.

And It's kinda refreshing. I don't like that it's refreshing, but it is.

This is not a new book, it's an old book. It's not high on the best-seller list, it's not hip (sorry, Gord, but you knew that). But it's a good read, for sure.

I've always wondered how to keep track of all the stuff I'm supposed to know. So I added a little notebook to my life so I didn't have to hold it all in my brain, and I started to write things in it. It's small and I carry it everywhere and I'd be destroyed if anyone ever found it and leafed through all the half-truths and unfinished thoughts and terrible story ideas in it. I write stuff like "buy bananas," and "always tell the truth because it's easier to remember" and "Swearing a lot in my head is probably a violation of Ephesians 4:29... or is it?"

All that to say: there's too much in life to balance and remember on your own. We forget stuff. Little things. Big things. Deep things. Spiritual things. Practical things. So sometimes we need other people to teach us new practical ideas and remind us of some of the ones we're obviously supposed to remember. Every now and then you need to read a book like this.

Maybe you don't need it. I do. I'm disorganized. (Pleeease do not read my little notebook.) And so this book is written for me. And Kim probably saw that I needed all those years ago, and it's a good thing I finally took his word for it. Some of us have a messy private world, which I think is a very concise way of saying we've got a big tangle of stuff we have to privately remember and think about and decide in our heads, hearts, souls. And if that inner world is messy, the outer one will be too.

MacDonald argues early on - and I would agree - that a private world can never really be in order without Christ. He writes in such a way that it's not preachy or overbearing. Even though I'm reading an edition that's as old as I am, it still fits today. For what it's worth, MacDonald has written an updated version that mentions Twitter and stuff.

I won't bother to write much more about it, because MacDonald has covered it fairly well in the book. Which you might want to read.

Someday.

When you realize you need to.

March 22, 2012

I am still a man in need of a Savior

(I hear the hot new thing is titling blog posts after lyrics from overplayed DC Talk songs. I can still hear Michael Tait singing it...)

Last night, I read an essay by C.S. Lewis called "A Slip of the Tongue," and it resonated deeply with me. He tells how he once said the wrong thing while praying. I do that all the time, and I thank God that He understands my heart over how much I bumble through the words coming out of my mental mouth. But as Lewis says, what he actually said in his prayer may have been a sort of Freudian slip, like he accidentally said the thing he really meant. He meant to ask God - in far more sophisticated words than I'll use here - to help him get past the temporal, earthly stuff and finally focus on the eternal. At least I think that's what he was trying to say, the words were pretty sophisticated. But what he accidentally asked was that God get him through the eternal stuff so he could finally focus on the temporal. He suspects he might be a little more attached to the temporal kingdom than the eternal one.

Lewis, even as the apparent spiritual giant I think he is, admits to always having this sense of caution in his prayer and his devotions, almost to the point of cutting them short, for fear of committing to something that might be tough to carry out in his "ordinary" life. Once he's done praying, is he really gonna follow through on what He promised God in the moment?

He compares it to going down to the sea (Metaphor time: God is the sea) and not diving in, floating, splashing, and fully enjoying it, but instead staying at the edge to dip his toe in. We're afraid to get too far out there and lose our lifeline to everyday life.

Okay, enough C.S. Lewis paraphrasing.

Even that guy, the great theologian, that smart dude who figured a lot of stuff out, who wrote brilliant books and used sophisticated words... he struggled at times to fully grab onto the eternal kingdom.

It gives me some relief. Because as a missionary, as someone who lives in ministry, you're supposed to have a handful of stuff figured out. You are, aren't you? Surely, if you're going to leave life behind and move somewhere else to help people learn about Jesus, you must at least be following Christ. And yet, I'm pretty sure I'm the one learning about Jesus in all of this.

I know I'm not done with growth and epiphanies. I've had enough of them, sometimes over and over again, and I've seen enough people well beyond my years, older heroes of the faith, confess to discovering things about God, that I know this takes some time.

I'm still working out what it means to truly follow Christ. I see C.S. Lewis talking about lifelines to the shore, to normal everyday life, and I'm convicted because I know that I have them, even when I thought I'd left them. I read him talking about approaching prayer, devotions, time in God's presence with caution, and I'm convicted because I know I'm afraid of where he might ask me to go, or what he might ask me to do or give up or sell, or what higher standard he might have me pursue, if I were fully submissive to him.

I think all of these things, and I'm out here serving him. Not that it makes me feel inadequate but... it kind of does.

After all, we're all inadequate. We all fall short. We're never complete, no matter how old we get, no matter how wise we get... no matter how far we move away to serve Him.

I think the thing is this: Pursuing Christ, following him, is not a one-and-done decision, it is a continual one. Your salvation experience is not the end of your testimony, it's the beginning. We do not make one decision to follow him, we make them all the time. We embrace the nature of following him. We don't abandon our lives once, we do it everyday.

Obligatory link to song with lyrics from title of post, harkening back to 1996: 


March 17, 2012

No Comprendo, Part Tres, in which I accidentally curse at a child.

(Learning a new language is hard. I've written about it before, a while ago, here and here.)

Wednesday night is Club Alas night at John and Kerry's house. For those of you who know about Cubbies, Sparkies, Pals and Pioneers, and all that, it's a lot like AWANA. Kids show up, run amok, we calm them down, they say verses, they hear a Bible lesson, they play games, we give them sugar and send them on their way. The games are always relays of some kind. You wouldn't believe the thousands of variations on relay races.

The other night I was there, listening to verses like always. Adalis was her usual energetic, sarcastic, kind of obnoxious 6th-grade self. I forget exactly what led to this, but she was cackling maniacally about something, tapping her fingers together like Mr Burns, ("Excellent.") like an evil plan was coming together. She looked kind of sinister, in the kiddish "I'm being funny" way.

Now's as good a time as any to give you a basic Spanish/Latin root session. The Spanish word for bad is mal. Bueno is good. Malo is bad. Very bad = muy mal. You can see that English and Spanish have a common ancestor when you think of the word "Malevolent," like evil, bad, sinister.

So I know that mal- is a prefix for bad stuff. Sometimes, when you're not sure about which word to use in Spanish, you just have to guess. So I wanted to say, "So evil!" And I know full well "Que mal!" would have done the trick. But for whatever reason, I said "Que maldicion!" I've probably heard/seen that word in movies, subtitles. Like much of the world, I'm learning how to swear from movies.

This stopped her immediately, and her eyes widened. Like, "Oooohh, You said something naughty!"

Oops. Swing and a miss on guessing at Spanish. It was bound to happen sooner or later.

She went to another leader who told her, yeah, in that context, that's a curse.

As it turns out, instead of saying, "So evil!" I said "Damnit!"

I had a good laugh about it. Then I realized I had cursed at a child. And that's the sort of thing you're supposed to apologize for, so I told her I was sorry.

Lesson learned.

March 12, 2012

Somethings, and retreats from start to finish.

By now I oughta have this whole "retreat" thing down.

We did a pair of them last February, a few months after I got here. We did another set of them in the fall, and just finished up another set of them over the last couple weekends. So I've handled six of these things, three for older kids and three for younger kids. They're full of excitement and anticipation and stress and sunburn and gratitude. And each one has its own lifespan:

First, the planning stage where we dream big and everything's perfect, and we want to get the giant inflatable moonbounce thing for the kids and have this absolutely mind-blowing life-changing heart-impacting weekend, fully saturated with opportunities to minister. The planning is really fun, and it always looks really great on paper.

Then you get the marketing all finished and mailed, and book a speaker. You get someone (Suleika or Bubu) to make some phone calls, and the list starts to fill up. You write devotions, make sure the speaker has everything he needs, start filling out the schedule. Then the reality of limited resources sets in. No giant inflatable moonbounce thing.

For the week leading up to the retreat, it's slightly less fun. In my experience, no matter how many checklists of tasks I make, there's always this hovering blob of undefined, undone stuff that probably has to get defined and done but I probably won't realize it until kids start to arrive. I'm always forgetting something, and realizing I'm forgetting something, without knowing what that something is.

That last week, the list really starts to fill up. For my first retreat, we ended up with some 60 kids signed up, and around 50 attended. The next retreat, we crept up over sixty on the signup sheet, and had 54 show. This time, we had 79 kids sign up, and 62 actually came.

And by the time they arrive, you realize that regardless of the perfect little details you never thought of until too late, camp is here, kids are here, and to some extent things begin to run themselves. Doesn't stop me from running around like a mad man, but 60 often screaming/mostly enthusiastic teenagers have a way of pumping you up. It's something, it's Holy-Spirit-infused enthusiasm.

From Friday night, until long into Saturday, that enthusiasm and a dose of adrenaline run the show. I take note of the stuff we have to do better, like: no more registration in our tiny office if 62 kids are gonna have to check in individually. Getting kids towels. Band-Aids. Maaaaybe some behavior management, but the older kids usually stay in line for the 42ish hours we have them with us.

It's fun until the sunburn kicks in sometime late Saturday afternoon. They have free time. I stop. Enter my nothing box. Maybe have a couple of long blinks in there. Saturday night, after a decent meal, we go go go until the sun is down. Some of them want Capture the Flag more than anything else. Some of them refuse to play it. Can't please everyone. Later, they go to bed. Lots of yelling, pillow fighting, stuff that might not fly at Summer camp. I should enforce lights out. I probably don't.

Sunday - it ends too quickly. Up and at 'em. Ejercisio. Desayuno. Tiempo a solas. Tema en la capilla. Empacar y limpiar. Almuerzo. Adios.

They leave. Then: More kids are on the way for the next weekend.

I guess maybe you never get these retreats "down." You try to improve them every time, making improvements and changes that may or may not work, or make things better, or keep kids happier, or help them go deeper. Something.

This Spring, they were successful. Of course they were. Glory to God, I'm supposed to say, I think. But that's a given. I'm the last guy to try to take credit for a camp going well. I always forget things, fail to write them down, something. Most program directors probably feel the same way. The older kids retreat was a blast, and kids were parroting back to me stuff that Nick, the speaker, talked about in Chapel. They loved it. Raved about it on Facebook.

The younger kids retreat - it's been a bit of a struggle to get kids to show up. It's a little deflating when only 14 kids are on site, but it's still a success. They have fun, they love it, they learn, they can't wait to come back. But there's gotta be some way to reach more of 'em.

I say they're successful. But I really don't know how you could deem anything a failure in ministry. And I'm not saying that in a hopelessly optimistic way, but I really mean it. Maybe I haven't been around long enough. Regardless of how I feel about a retreat's attendance, or if I bumble through a talk, or a game goes south or gets boring really fast, or I fail at navigating a behavior issue, I know that something probably happened, something good. God gave some kid a lesson he'll recall one day. A counselor, a cook, a staff member learned how to do something better. I learned something. God did something, regardless.

February 24, 2012

Great Ministry Donation, or Greatest?

Every now and then you stumble across something so amazing, that you have to stop and blog about it even though it's the day of a retreat and you have a lot to do.

I was looking for pencils for our retreat this weekend when I..

well, when I hit the jackpot.

A few weeks ago, a ministry donated a bunch of suitcases full of school supplies and other stuff that we will most certainly put to use. Not least of which: A suitcase full of hats. Trucker hats. Good trucker hats, real trucker hats, not poser trucker hats, hats made for real truckers, not to be sold in Hot Topic to teenagers who couldn't drive a stick shift if their life depended on it.

And they're all gold, as far as I'm concerned.

Classie Plant Co.
Myakka City, Florida.
Chilean Nitrate.

So good.

It's a great day.




February 18, 2012

Write Your Life

I'm trying to blog more. Really, I am. At least 3-4 times a month. And it's not that it's slipped my mind or anything, I genuinely want to, I really plan to. It hangs over my head like a cloud, a big unfinished cloud, like homework used to.

But I do my best to follow two guidelines: 1: Blog only if you have something to say (this does not apply to Facebook statuses) and 2: Don't blog about really personal stuff (I wish everyone would apply this to Facebook statuses). There's a limit to the depth of stuff you ought to dig out of your private life and share with the internet. And it doesn't necessarily need to be scary, depressing, dramatic, dynamite stuff to be too private to share. Some people can blog like that, process life that way. I guess I try not to.

So in recent months as I've been sorting through some bigger life questions like, I don't know, I'll just throw this out randomly, "How long should I stay in Puerto Rico?" I've been inspired to write a lot, just not here. I have lots on my mind, lots to say, just not all of it needs to be detailed on the blog. But hypothetically, if I was asking myself how long I should stay in Puerto Rico, I would hypothetically have decided that I'll head home after about two years, which happens to be this fall. (Whoa. Two years.)

I say I've been writing. During this season, I have a lot of extra time in the evenings, so I decided it would be good to start a project. About a month ago, I created a sort of outline of my life (so far). I broke it down into 28 chapters (sidenote, I'll be 28 next week, send birthday cards / large presents / Dr Pepper to: PO Box 1416 Juana Diaz, PR 00795). Each of those chapters is a different piece about what has helped me become me (so far). Some of them are time periods or seasons, like "before I was born," and some of them are places, like "Grace Adventures," and "Tanzania," and some of them are both, like "High School," and "Grand Valley State University." It's been fruitful, and I have yet to experience writers block. I've got a notebook that is nearly full. And I'm glad it's a notebook, writing by hand is... different, better, more permanent. Only serious writers and lunatics fill notebooks. And I'm not a lunatic. So far. Lunatic notebooks, I think, have more diagrams and threats and secret codes and are probably better organized than mine.

I started it without knowing where it would go. Maybe a memoir one day. Maybe just a collection of notes for me to feel good about, or for my descendants to judge me by. Anyway, It's helped me to notice some trends in my life that I otherwise might not have recognized, and brought back a lot of memories that I've forgotten (or repressed?). There has been some cringing, too. "Yeah, I did do/say/eat that... eesh."

As for this blog: I haven't really written much recently about the work that I'm doing here, and I feel like I ought to fill you all in on the goings on of CDC. Much has happened. I'll do my best in the coming days to fill you in. Thankfully, it's a leap year, and I've got an extra day to get to that 3/4 post threshold this month....

Took this on Monday. My apologies, in advance, those of you in cooler climes:


January 29, 2012

Book of James

The barber finishes one man, and the chair opens. Another man, young, too young to be here, too young to have hit bottom, has been sitting impatiently, bouncing his knees, tapping his feet, and elbows another man out of the way to get into the chair first. The barber shrugs and dutifully, carefully buzzes away while The Dentist on the microphone welcomes them, announces birthdays, thanks volunteers, shares prayer requests. When the barber finishes, the young man gets up and pulls a women's compact from his pocket while another guy sits down in the barber chair. He looks at himself in the tiny mirror, turning his head back and forth, checking the fade in front of his ears, furrowing his brow, noticing something isn't quite right. He still has his vanity. There's pride, intensity, don't-mess-with-me in his eyes.

The Dentist prays, and the barber has his head bowed, but the young man starts to elbow him. He looks at the barber, tries to get his attention, then looks at his fresh do in the tiny mirror, then at the man trying to get him to shut up while The Dentist prays, then back at the barber, then back at the man trying to get him to shut up. The Dentist finishes and the barber silently makes an imperceptible fix on the young man's sideburns. He whips out the compact again, and nods approvingly.

Volunteers hand out meals to all the men and women at the tables. The rule is, you don't get clothes until you've eaten. No more clothes at seven. But the young man with the fresh haircut comes, stakes a claim on a pair of shoes before he's had his meal.

Don't give it to him, Jose. Because soon, they'll all be up here.

Jose hands him the shoes he wants.

Crap.

Soon, there's a crowd. Clothes start flying, in all shapes, shades, sizes, just like the addicts here.

Big ones, with beer on their breath. Size 38 waist please.

No tenemos 38.

I shuffle through the pile of pants.  

Aqui, 40. Pero no hay 38.

The words I'm most comfortable with come out in that lispy, cut-off Puerto Rican accent that I'm trying not to pick up. He rejects the pants for now, but comes back for them later.

Another one, with no voice, no teeth, lips curling over his gums, holds up nine fingers and points to his feet. This is a language I can understand. I dig for size nines in a shopping cart. They're already gone.  

Lo siento, señor, no hay nueves.

Another one, so very skinny, asks for size 30 pants, makes his request with gravel in his voice, it's rough and jagged like volcanic rock, the roughest I've ever heard. It's a wonder he can still use it. I fish him out some 29s.  

Size 29 jeans?

There are women, too. One was up front, for her birthday, they sang her at least three variations of the birthday song, as Puerto Ricans like to do. Big bandages on her arms in three places, three places where there was pain, and then escape, and now healing. Someone told me the puncture wounds get infected and they often leave them untreated and the skin rots away, down to the muscle, to the bone.

For some of the people here the symptoms are obvious. You can smell them on their breath, hear them in their voice, see them in the wounds on their arms, on their face, so clearly struggling, sitting on the bottom of society, providing examples of "At least I'm not..."

For some of them, the symptoms are not clear. They're clean, they're getting by with clean clothes and fresh haircuts, you wouldn't know it by looking at them.

Here, they're fed, they're clothed. Their wounds are treated, they're bandaged, welcomed back whenever they want.

Christ is followed here.

January 11, 2012

Enlightening the American Teenager

Every class has that one kid who makes everyone else groan when he raises his hand to ask a question or speak.

I was Skyping with my friend Kendra's Spanish class last week when that kid raised his hand to ask a question.

"What's the technology like there?" he asked.

 "Ohhh my God!" escaped from the lips of some poor, embarrassed girl in the second row. No doubt she was vastly more culturally aware and knew the obvious ridiculousness of the question. She was probably a few social rungs higher than the kid who asked it, and he had clearly violated some protocol asking about technology. But Middle and High school social hierarchy aside, this scene underscored the divide between our cultures, and the value of what we were doing.

I appreciated the question and I didn't laugh at him, like I did to the kid who asked if there was anything to do here. At least he asked something.

"Well," I said, "Technology here is really similar to what you guys have there. I'm Skyping with you over the internet, most people here have the internet in their houses. A lot of kids have PS3s and Xboxes like you guys. There's a Gamestop in pretty much every strip mall. Kids have cell phones and iPads like you guys."

A few times now, I've had the privilege of using Skype to talk to a class of kids thousands of miles away in Michigan. I probably don't make for a great Spanish language lesson, but I hope they at least enjoy the chance to talk to someone in a far away place and learn a little bit more about a different culture. There's always a little bit of nervousness on my part because a kid in an advanced high school class just might have a better grasp of some grammatical rules than I do, or they may ask a question I don't have a good answer for. Luckily, nuanced rules of Spanish never come up.

Instead, it's typically a variation on the same set of softball questions. What's the weather like? What do kids do for fun there? What kind of fast food do they have?

That last one always comes up, and I think there's a quintessentially American perspective behind it. I've asked it too. Our love for greasy, cheap fast food aside, it's a pretty good gauge for a place's standard of living. Or at least we think it is.

I've had a number of conversations with Puerto Ricans who've met Stateside Americans who always ask the same dumb questions, and it annoys them.

I understand their offense. Many of those questions come across as, "do you have what I have?" If you can imagine an annoying kid from down the street coming over to compare toys and being shocked when yours are just as nice, it's kind of like that.

Don't get me wrong, Americans are terribly blessed. The United States enjoys a great standard of living and a great deal of freedom, but they're not the only ones with nice toys. Or the internet, or PS3, or movie theaters. Or fast food joints. Besides, having McDonald's in your country is hardly an indicator of economic stability.

Puerto Rico, like much of the world, has a middle class with some disposable income. In Puerto Rico, like much of the world, there are lots of people who can speak flawless English or another second language. And Puerto Rico, just like the rest of the United States, has a large lower class that has embraced a potentially unsustainable and unhealthy consumer culture. Kids here may have iPads and XBoxes, but that doesn't mean they need them or can afford them comfortably. It's no different in the States.

That was something I discovered myself telling the high school kids over and over again, and I hope they got the point - kids here are just like you. The biggest divide between the States and Puerto Rico isn't how different they appear, but how little one side realizes they're the same.

January 2, 2012

Time to go back

Okay. Power blog. It's getting late and I need to go to bed because

I'm flying back to Puerto Rico tomorrow.

This was my third trip home, and it will be my fourth flight to Puerto Rico. It never gets easy to say good bye, but I think I do understand them a little better.

It's good to come home. Good to be around family and friends and snow, and separate from the pace of life and work in Puerto Rico, from salty air and daily routine, so I can go back and approach it anew, refreshed. I saw lots of people here. I missed many more. When you have finite time (and it's all finite, isn't it?) you just can't plan it all. That's no break. That's no vacation. That's not refreshing. So - sorry if I missed you.

The inevitable question people ask is - how much longer will you be there? If you've read this blog in the last few months, you may have sensed that I won't have a very specific or concrete answer. There are times when I'm sure I'll be finished there this fall, and there are others when I think - I'm doing good work, I feel useful, I'm growing, why ever leave?

It's a tough decision to make. It's almost certainly tougher than the decision to go there in the first place. It's not one I've got my mind fully made up on. I know I'll be there at least through this fall. Maybe longer. Maybe not. Professionally, I should stay. Personally, I'd like very much to return here, to normal.

But of course, "normal" is gone.

The decision to stay or go (or what to do or where to move or when to go or what to wear), in my unprofessional, non-seminary-trained opinion, is not the same as following or abandoning the will of God. To stay there, I can see where He would use me. To go home, I can see where he would use me.

It would be easy to obsess over it. Regardless, It is good that I have been there, and it is good that I am going back now. There's a lot to do.
Lots of camps to plan
Staff to train
Kids to reach
Places to explore
Stuff to learn
Advice to follow.

Let's go back.