Thursday, February 25, 2010

Jubilee Conference

Last weekend I had the privilege of traveling with a talented team of volunteers from Nuru International to participate in a conference called Jubilee. The name of the conference comes from an idea in the Torah which talks about a time every 50 years when all debts are cancelled, property returns to its original owners, and everyone enjoys a time of rest and restoration.

The conference itself is a faith based conference that is hosted by Coaltion for Christian Outreach and seeks to encourage students to live out their faith in a way that meets the deep hurts of this world and works for the common good of all. It asks the question of everyone in attendance, “what does it look like to be a citizen of the Kingdom of God—in the place where you live, work, go to school?” Personally, I find that to be among the most profound questions that any Christian can ask, & it’s one in which I believe the whole world will benefit as we faithfully answer.

I found myself challenged and encouraged by the words of other communicators and the passion and fire I saw in the faces of the students who were participating in the conference. It was wonderful to be present at the conference because I believe that one of the biggest humanitarian issues of our generation is the issue of extreme poverty. It’s not a problem we can ignore, and I believe future generations will look back on our generation and either celebrate or criticize our engagement over this issue.

Being at a conference full of students and professionals who were thinking deeply about how they could actively work to use their time, talents, and resources to engage this problem was hugely refreshing. Imagine being around two thousand people who are thinking about their degrees as more than a means to a paycheck. I think there is something special that happens in us, when we realize that we have the potential to shape the future. We have the potential to be part of the solution to problems that exist in the world. We can say enough, and get engaged!

Seeing so many people who are engaged in these issues was more than a little refreshing for me. And to think, the folks at CCO who have organized the conference for over 30 years have been helping people get engaged for a long time. It is humbling to be invited to be part of this tradition.

If you have the opportunity, I highly recommend you check out Jubilee, and register for their conference next year. And if you can’t make it to the conference, I hope you take the time to consider how you might be used in some way to help make the world a better place.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Through Songs I Was First Undone

Last weekend, I had the privilege of attending a conference in Pittsburgh, PA called Jubilee (more on that in a later blog). While I was there, I had a great opportunity to talk to Singer/Songwriter/Pastor/Philosopher Justin McRoberts and share a bit about Nuru, about music, about the church, as well as about what God was up to in each of our lives. It was a great conversation, and one I hope to continue in the future.

Justin has a new album that is getting released tomorrow, and he gave me a copy of it to listen to and so I wanted to share a bit about it with you. I'd recommend checking out his website too when you have an opportunity, and I would definitely recommend picking up the album.

On my way back from Pittsburgh I popped in the CD, and began listening to the album. I think I've listened through the album four times already--it's one of those albums that grows on you with each listening through. Of course Justin is an extremely talented singer/musician, but this album is significantly different from other releases. This is an album of cover songs and the original renditions cover a wide array of musical genre's. One of the aspects I enjoy most about this album is the fact that while Justin play's another artists song's he doesn't simply mimic every aspect of the original. Instead, Justin's voice and style emerge as unique variations on these songs that in no way denigrate the originals. For instance, when you listen to the cover of a song like Nine Inch Nails' "Head Like A Hole" you do not hear a techno-industrial style song and an impassioned imitation of Trent Reznor, but rather a song that sounds like an acoustic folk musician's re-rendering of lyrics that have moved his soul. I would actually draw comparisons between McRoberts cover of this song and Johnny Cash's cover of the NIN song "Hurt".

The quality of the recordings is great, and the content is highly varied. Not many musicians would attempt to cover artists as varied as Tom Waits, NIN, and Depeche Mode, and George Michael, but Justin McRoberts is anything but typical. I'm at a loss at a personal favorite, but I'd say my top three are "Freedom! 90", "No One Is To Blame", and "You Can't Always Get What You Want". The recordings as a whole were heartfelt, passionate, and thoughtful, and across the album I found myself singing along as much as I was listening and reflecting.

One improvement I would like to suggest is an insert with descriptions of how each of these songs "Undid" Justin. Because we are around the same age, I found that the album was a bit of a walk down memory lane with a few songs across my lifespan that also stirred my soul. Maybe that's part of why I enjoyed the album so much. (On a tangent, after my third listening I found myself on youtube and iTunes listening to clips from several other songs from younger days as a result of my nostalgia!). I also discovered that the album gave an incredible opportunity to reflect on my life as I listened to these familiar songs in a fresh way and considered the profound shaping nature of music in my own life.

If you like Justin McRobert's other albums, I highly recommend making this addition to your collection. And if you've never heard of Justin McRoberts, I think you should look him up. He's an incredibly talented and thoughtful musician with a rich voice and a passion that comes through vividly as you listen. The album is available Tuesday February 23 via iTunes.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Ash Wednesday 2010

It is once again the lenten season, and this year, I thought I would take advantage of facebook and twitter to get some input on what people are doing for their lenten commitments. Of course feel free to read these blog posts from 2007-2009 to find out more about why I take time to examine my life during lent.

So people are giving up everything from red meat to sweets, and some are just drinking water so they can give the money they would have spent on other beverages to help make life better people in the developing world. Some are choosing not to eat out, or to maintain healthy habits like exercise. There are even a couple of people who are giving up snow (but there may be Someone else who has a say in that). It’s actually pretty cool to see so many people making commitments to yield areas of their life and practice self-control.

As for me, this year I’ve had a bit of difficulty. I mean the point of the lenten fast is to draw closer to Christ. We give up bad habits to know Christ better, or we commence new habits that help us draw more closely to Him. I’ve been trying to what things in my life distract me from knowing Christ more intimately, and I feel like it’s a little bit of everything, but none of it is essentially bad in and of itself. Part of the idea of lent is that we give up or add in order that we can better identify with Christ during his fast in the wilderness as well.

So here’s what I am thinking for myself this year. I think I’m going to attempt to make a habit of fixed hour prayer. In one sense, it’s nothing huge. I mean I’m not planning to spend 2 hours/day in prayer or read my Bible for 45 minutes or anything like that. Rather, I’m thinking about taking a few moments at 6AM, 9AM, noon, 3PM, and 6PM to just pause and reorient and center my life on Jesus. Just a few seconds—again it’s nothing huge like giving up soft drinks or caffeine, but my hope is that it will be pretty significant.

I don’t know if anyone can relate, but I feel like I can so easily get distracted during my day and miss out on the idea that whatever I do, I should do it with my whole heart and as an act of worship to God. Often, I find myself just doing tasks for the sake of people or organizations, or because they are good habits. I am also going to reduce my food consumption and do a partial fast during the week and increase my giving and service as I practice simplicity, but this year I just want to be intentional about knowing Christ better.

If you think of it, say a prayer for me as I strive to take a different tact with lent. I’m praying for you as I write this. My prayer is that if you participate in lent, regardless what you choose to add or take away from your life, that you would grow to be more like Jesus, and be more centered on Him.

Thanks for reading, and I hope you have a great lent, maintain your commitments, and know Christ better!

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

More Snow

Well, old man winter keeps grinding forward here in WV, and it's becoming challenging to keep up with it. The tree in the photo looks really pretty arched over my driveway like that, but it typically doesn't look like that, that's just from the weight of the snow on the limbs.

There's a set of stairs that head downtown that run near my house. The other day, I tried walking down them and nearly feel four times. One of my roommates wasn't so agile--he fell seven times walking down those stairs. They were snow covered, but now they are packed snow and ice.

It has served as a reminder to slow down and simplify life, and it has limited my personal travel over the last few weeks as well. Most of my travel these days is on foot. The snow is coming down at just the right pace to make the roads near my house pretty treacherous. The main roads in town are staying fairly clear, but any other roads are becoming challenging to manage. The great thing amid this challenge is that most locations in town are within a 40 minute walk of the house.

Things are looking like there will be a break soon. Another 2-4 inches are expected by Thursday morning, but then the weather should be reduced to flurries . . . at least for a couple of days. I bet there is some great skiing right now somewhere . . .

As I was watching someone slip down the stairs near my house this morning, I came back to my computer to find this article about the snowfall in Preston County. I have a few friends who live out that way. One told me that there were 5 foot drifts across the long driveway leading to their house.

Be sure to pray for those living in rural areas who may be snowed in. Hope you are staying warm, wherever you may be.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

2009 Year of Transitions

I realize most people have already contributed and written about New Year’s Goals and reflections on the previous year, but I wanted to make a better late than never contribution to the mix. I was talking with a good friend recently a little bit about the last year, and I realized that there was a lot happening in my life. Here are a few of the more significant events that made up my 2009.

I spent a full year dating a wonderful lady, and that single feat easily exceeds the longest I have been in a romantic relationship with anyone. And Jamie is truly a gem too! I’m amazed at her ability to put up with me.

Over the last year, I would say that I traveled more than I have in many years. I spent multiple days in the following locales. Most of these trips were directly tied to work, or were remote locations from which I was performing work.

Pittsburgh, PA
Los Angeles, CA
Joshua Tree, CA
San Francisco, CA
Palo Alto, CA
Washington DC
Charleston, WV
Parkersburg, WV
Columbus, OH
Elkins, WV
New York, NY
Winchester, VA
Amsterdam, Netherlands
Atlanta, GA
Charlotte, NC
Deep Creek, MD
Lake Floyd, WV
Muncie, IN
Blacksburg, VA

Aside from this, I spent an intense season in prayer, and emerged from that time of prayer with a clear direction that I needed to leave my long time vocation (8 years) in college and young professionals ministry at Chestnut Ridge Church as an employee of Great Commission Ministries to work in the realm of justice by joining my long time friends Jake and John more directly in a venture to end extreme poverty. I believe this issue is the greatest humanitarian crisis of our generation, and I further believe that future generations of people will look back on our generation and either applaud or critique based on how we respond to this issue.

In late April, I thought I was going to lose my dad. He had major blockage around his heart, and spent almost two weeks in a hospital after a massive heart attack. He is walking about 6 miles/day (at a 4mph pace) and exercises 3 days a week on top of that now. It was a pretty scary time for our family, and the emotional trauma has been hard on my dad too. All of this happened less than two years after losing my mom, but we continue to adjust and adapt.

In the Fall, my brother came to visit for the first time in two years. It was a huge surprise for my dad and sister, and we even had my best friend Willie bring his family down to join in the surprise and the joy. Our family is pretty tight, but it’s hard to get us all together very often. When we do get together, it becomes some of the most wonderful time of our lives.

Also in the fall, I started my full time role with Nuru International. It was a very event filled fall, and a challenging transition.

The year has been full of transition and change for me as well as for many people who are close to me. In fact I’ve heard many others refer to 2009 as a year of transitions.

I’m hoping that 2010 will be remembered as a year in which many good things happened, and will be a year of focus and progress in relationships, in vocation, and in the wellness of those who are close to me.

What was your 2009 like? May your 2010 be clearer, brighter, and more full of life than any previous year of your life. May you contribute to making the world a better place and to giving of your time and resources to better the world. And may you have a more intimate awareness of the sacred than you have ever experienced.

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Winter Morgantown Views

Well, we received an additional six inches of snow in Morgantown this week, but as of today it appears people are starting to be able to move their cars. On the streets around my house there's only about two inces of crushed snow and ice on the roads, and there are two grooves that go down to the pavement in some places now. We are expecting snow for most of the next week, but nothing on the scale of what we have experienced this past week. It's just really cold and that makes it difficult to see this snow disappear.

At the same time, there has been a quiet over the city as fewer people are on the roads, and people are realizing that driving around on icy roads in a city built on a hill is probably not the best idea. It's quiet, and the views have been really stunning as I've looked around this town in which I live. The photos in this post were taken from my neighborhood, and as I walked to Starbucks the other day to get internet access, I snapped them to capture the moment.

I'm grateful for the fact that my house has had power over the last few days, and we've been able to stay warm. We've also been fortunate that we can travel on foot to most places we need to travel. There are still people without power as a result of the storm. Remember them. Our federal government closed for part of the week because of the snow that has fallen in the greater DC area.

Hope you are staying warm wherever you may be as we prepare for the next few days of snow here in West Virginia.

Monday, February 08, 2010

Lookin Out My Back Door

This past weekend (as many of you know), Morgantown received a heap of snow. I have heard a varied range for total accumulations, but I feel like 16" is a safe bet. Before the initial snowfall, there were several hours of rain and sleet that became a layer of ice in the early evening hours Friday night. While the snow covered the ground and seemed to cleanse the area with a mat of soft quiet white wonder, it also did a fair share of damage.

Much of the region was without power over the weekend, and some locales will not have electricity until this coming Friday at the earliest. At the house, we only experienced a cable outage for the weekend, but it came back in time for the superbowl. Oh, and the internet was out until this afternoon as well (so I'm writing this blog from Starbucks).

The snow shut down most of town, and the University is going to re-open tomorrow at 6AM. Interestingly, while I was writing this blog, I heard reports of an additional 5-9 inches of snow are to be expected tomorrow, and snow is in the forecast every day for the next ten days . . .

Hope you like the photo, and and I hope you are staying warm wherever you are!