Friday, May 28, 2010

Mulberries and Memorial Day

IMG_0211, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
This morning, as I made my walk from the house to downtown Morgantown to begin a day of planning, writing, and strategy for Nuru I walked by a mulberry tree. Of course I walk by this tree along with a few others every day, but right now, mulberries are on the tree and fully ripe. Mulberries are a personal favorite of mine because they take me back to the place I grew up on 15th street in Parkersburg, WV. I filled my mouth with a small handful of mulberries, closed my eyes for a moment, and I was carried back to my childhood home.
When I was small, I can remember there being a concrete walkway in the back of our house (I’ve heard that this house was once a farmhouse, and being that it was built with a root cellar, I tend to believe it). That concrete walkway would get stained with mulberries every spring. It was one of the prime indicators that the school year was about to end, and my summertime fun was about to ensue.
I don’t think my mom ever made pies from the mulberries (we had a small grove of cherry trees on our land that we used for pies), I can remember eating mulberries until my stomach was full for about a week each May.
I also remember an old piece of barge rope my brother salvaged from along the Ohio River. When I was five or six years old, he climbed really far up into the mulberry tree and hung the barge rope to make a swing for us to play on. At the time, it felt like he was climbing fifty feet into the sky, but it was probably more like fifteen feet. He tied the bottom of the rope into a knot so people had something they could sit on. (Because I was smaller than everyone else, he had to tie the knot much lower to the ground than most wanted.
We had a four foot tall fence that went around our property, and my dad built a gate where the rope swing hung. You see, the tree was on the edge of our property, and the limb that the rope hung was situated perfectly in front of the gate. The gate also opened into a field that was part of my grandparents property. That field served as a football field, soccer field, baseball/wiffleball field and the prime location for catching lightning bugs (fireflies).
I think back to those times, and life seemed infinitely less complex. My brother and my dad were superhuman, and there was nothing they couldn’t accomplish (I actually still believe that about both of them!) My sister and my mom, were two of the most compassionate people I knew (still true!) and my life was filled with love from my family and an enjoyment of simple things like a rope swing and mulberries staining the pavement and my hands as I picked them to fill my belly with joy.
As we begin this memorial day weekend, I hope you can take a moment and journey back to your past and to some good memories. Where did you play? What brought you the greatest joy? Who were your heroes? It’s always good to take time to remember and reflect, particularly on weekends like Memorial Day Weekend.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

An Invisible Children Video Blog From The White House

This isn't the actual signing of the "LRA Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act", but it's still pretty cool. If you haven't read my earlier post about Obama and Invisible Children, read that before watching this video. It will give you a bit more context.

I'm posting this video mainly because of the excitement and energy of these guys. I'm posting it because they are living proof that our voices matter, and that we can influence our government. This was the most historic bill related to Africa to come out of the senate. Because of the hard work of these young people, an international villain will be brought to justice, and a new generation of children in northern Uganda will have opportunities.

If you don't know about Invisible Children, you should check em out. Thank them for their hard work, their persistence, and for the tenacity with which they went after this goal.

I think many of us have hopes and dreams that we long to see realized, but what we lack is the passion and the discipline to push toward them. Not every dream can be realized (For instance, I will never be able to run a sub four minute mile), but many can be realized. They need focus and determination.

What is stopping you from pursuing your dream? Has Apathy crept in and told you to give up on pursuing justice in an unjust world, have your friends and family told you that your contribution doesn't matter? These guys are just one example, one VERY tangible example of how every day people like you and me can make and are making a difference in this world.

May you dream in big ways today, and may those dreams of a more beautiful world become reality.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Country roads

So this afternoon my dad and I took a little drive down some beautiful
country roads from Morgantown to Elkins WV. While driving I just could
not believe how beautiful the sky and the weather was today.
Over the last several months I've been traveling a lot, and that has
been incredibly fun and exciting, but it's nice to be back on these
roads that are about as straight as a question mark.
It's good to get away, and even though I'm posting this blog from a
secret underground bunker, my Internet access is spotty at best.
I guess what that means is that for a few hours, I'm 'off the grid'.
But, I will return soon, and I'm hoping that this time in a cabin
along the shavers fork will help me to plan & focus.
I think I might just be compelled to enjoy a bit of this daylight
before I start into all of that though.
Hope you can carve out some space to enjoy a little bit of this
woundrous world today.

Obama Signs Historic Legislation with Invisible Children!

Now of course, everyone has an opinion on the President, and no one person is perfect, but what happened yesterday for the organization Invisible Children was quite remarkable. I'm really proud of our President for taking action and recognizing the hardwork and grassroots efforts of a generation of activists.

If you've been reading my blog posts for a while, then you probably already know about the organization Invisible Children and the mission they have been on for the last five years to see the government intervene in a horrible situation in Northern Uganda. Literally thousands and thousands of people have been moved from their homes into Internal Displacement Person Camps (IDP). They are over-crowded, and undernourished. They don't have access to adequate sanitation. They are suffering because of a warlord named Joseph Kony and his "Lords Resistance Army" (LRA).

Sure, our world has some bad people in it, but Kony is among the worst. He has been stealing children for decades from the villages and IDP camps of Northern Uganda. He goes after children between the ages of 5 and 12 because they are big enough to carry a gun, and small enough to sneak into communities to steal more children. Generations of children have lived in fear of the LRA. Literally thousands of children have been abducted each year to resource Kony's militia group. They are KIDS! They should be going to school, playing sports, laughing, and having fun. Instead they are being forced to kill other people. They are being forced to lose their youth and innocence out of fear for the death of themselves or the ones that they love.

As Invisible Children has lobbied over the last several years for the abduction of Kony and for intervention in Northern Uganda, they have been met with a groundswell of support. The organization was started by some recent college grads when they came face to face with children who made commutes each night from their villages into cities where there was additional protection for them. These kids slept in bus depots and hospital basements out of fear of being abducted.

Literally millions of american young people between 15 and 35 have gotten involved in this organization's work. They have believed in the ability of the people to be involved in government. People hosted video watching parties and learned more about the organization. They wore T-shirts, and donated money. They wrote letters and visited their congressional representatives. All because of a desire to see justice done in Northern Uganda. All because folks said enough is enough.

I'm writing this post today in celebration of what Invisible Children, Enough, and Resolve Uganda have been able to do through hard work and intense commitment to seeing change happen. Many of us gripe about politics but avoid getting involved in the process. We gripe about problems in the world, but aren't willing to get our hands dirty. We complain about injustice but then act like we are helpless to do anything.

I'm really proud of the folks at Invisible Children. I'm really proud of the activists who were catalyzed by this organization. I'm really proud to see a generation stand up for something wrong in the world, and see results. It's never easy to stand up for the right things, and it's always easy to just give up, but these folks persevered. They persevered and saw a bill go before congress, get passed, and then watched President Obama sign that bill into law. They saw what happens when people get engaged and stay engaged in the political process.

I hope you will take time to celebrate with them and their hard work. Many of my friends have worked, volunteered, and/or financially contributed to seeing this become a reality. I hope it increases your confidence that we can REALLY make a difference in the world. It takes hard work, but more than that, it takes many people making their small contribution to get in the fight.

As you go about your day, I encourage you to consider what you can do to continue to make a difference in this world as well.

Congratulations again Invisible Children!

Monday, May 17, 2010

Should We Fire God?

That’s the question posed by my friend Jim Pace’s new book—it’s also the title! Should We Fire God? Finding Hope in God When We Don’t Understand. Jim was kind enough to send me an advanced copy, but unfortunately I was unable to write a review in a timely fashion. The good news for you is that you can now buy a copy in bookstores and not have to wait. It was released about a month ago (April 8th).
I really enjoyed Jim’s book, and saw a number of ideas presented that I found to be particularly intriguing. In fact there were a couple that I wished he would have expanded upon. They were so intriguing to me, and I feel like there is much more to be said about the ideas than his book was willing to delve into. One of these ideas shared briefly was the idea of mirror neurons. What are mirror neurons?
Well, these are neurons that fire when we experience empathetic pain with someone else. Have you ever seen another person getting injured and felt a shudder run through you? Maybe you watched someone get hit playing football, or saw someone prick their finger with a needle, and you winced. It is something beyond empathetic pain though—it’s as though our nervous system is registering another person’s experience as though we were injured. What this means is that we are much more connected to the suffering that we see in the world than we would like to think or realize. While Jim doesn’t delve much deeper than that, I kind of wonder if we reach a point where we wall off some of our emotions because we get so overwhelmed by the suffering around us—maybe it’s a coping mechanism for attempting to deal with the massive degrees of hurt we experience in this world.
Anyhoo, enough about mirror neurons . . . for now. I want to tell you a bit more about Jim’s book. I will keep it brief though. If you are looking for a deep philosophical book—this probably isn’t it. But, if you have a background in the Christian faith, and can appreciate insights from both the scriptures and from real life as people work their way through difficulties that are both overwhelming and make little sense, then you might want to check out this book. Jim led his faith community through one of the most heart-rending campus tragedies I can imagine. He leads one of the largest campus churches in the country, and this church is in Blacksburg, VA. In April 2007, a young man shot dozens of people one morning at Virginia Tech, and an entire nation wrestled with the question “Why?” And Jim was charged with answering questions from the media during this trying time.
Beyond that, he was challenged with the even greater and more important task of walking with his faith community through an ongoing period of mourning.
Jim writes not from the ivory tower of theology or philosophy, but rather from the hard school of experience. I believe that this is the greatest asset of Jim’s book. He’s writing as someone who has had to think through some really difficult stuff about God and about human nature. In fact, in some of the closing chapters, Jim brings in another interesting thought. Maybe one’s desire to fire God has a lot to do with one’s own cognitive biases as well as other less wonderful things that we have chosen to invest our time and energy in.
Give it a read if you are wrestling with a question about the goodness of God.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Going Viral With The Good News

My good friend JR Woodward just compiled and edited a wonderful book. I think it is actually the first publication of Ecclesia Press which is the publication arm of the Ecclesia Network, a church planting network started by JR, Chris Backert, Jim Pace and a few sundry other friends who love Jesus. If you are interested in learning more about planting churches, or getting networked in a group that is highly thoughtful in it’s practice and execution of church, I highly recommend Ecclesia.
I also highly recommend JR’s book, Viral Hope: Good News From The Urbs to the Burbs. It’s a delightful book, and it can easily be read in an afternoon or over a longer period. It’s a series of short essays written by fifty different authors from around the world. Each author was charged with the challenge of summarizing “What is the Good News?” and to consider the audience being a local newspaper.
What came out of the exercise was a beautiful picture of the beauty and diversity of the Gospel as it makes it is translated from community to community in a unique way.
I love the title of the book as well—viral hope. Often in today’s world we talk about viral movements and we mean something either really bad or really good. When something “goes viral” it spreads really quickly and viruses themselves tend to adapt as they spread from location to location—all without compromising the integrity of the virus itself.
So we all know how viruses can spread, but what about hope. What if hope spread like a virus. What if hope passed from community to community adapting and getting stronger as it spread? What if instead of massive amounts of negativity in the world there was a massive movement of hope?
When Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God, he talked about it in terms of hope, but he also talked about it spreading really quickly—like yeast working it’s way through dough, or like a tiny seed that grows into a tree where all of the birds of the air can find rest and make their homes.
I highly recommend you read this book—it was originally intended to be read between Easter and Pentecost, but it could be read any time during the year. It could also be read in a group as well. Maybe a group could read to each other as they gathered in a home or another relaxing space.
I also highly recommend that you consider the question as well. What is the good news? What would it look like if the Kingdom of God broke forth in your workplace, in your classroom, your home, or even your city? Personally, I think it’s a good question for any Christian anywhere to strive to answer. What does it look like for the Gospel to take root in your community? What differences should we see? What would it look like to be “infected?”
I hope you will give some thought today about how you might see this message of hope spread like a virus in your community and beyond.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

The !deation Conference

Recently, I had the extreme pleasure of attending one of the most creative and innovative conferences I’ve ever attended. The name of the conference was The !deation and it was organized by a really sharp group of people led by one of the most industrious individuals I know, a guy by the name of Charles Lee @charlestlee on twitter.
Besides being a proficient blogger and utilizer of multiple forms of social media, Charles also teaches at a college in Los Angeles, pastor’s a church in Torrance, and co-founded a nonprofit that works to serve the poor and hurting both locally and globally. It’s called “Just One” and I recommend you check it out.
In his minimal spare time, Charles and his team put together an amazing gathering of non-profit leaders who worked toward realizing the tag-line of the conference. “Love Human. Do Good.” I arrived with Nuru’s CEO, and my old friend (and now boss) Jake Harriman on Monday April 5th for this two day conference, and although I had been to two other incredible conferences that Charles had assembled, I had very little idea of what to expect.
The environment of the conference was incredibly intimate. I think there were between 200-300 people in attendance, and this added to the very special atmosphere. But the team that designed the space really made that large group feel even smaller. From the arrangement of seating to some great opportunities for interaction in the space itself, it provided the perfect contect for networking with other likeminded people. In fact, the first night of the conference ended with a fashion show and mixer that allowed some very intense leaders from the non-profit world to relax a bit and interact with one another. I truly wonder what great organization and foundation connections were made under the umbrella of “loving human and doing good” at the ideation conference.
Instead of several days of long sessions from really sharp speakers, the !deation featured morning sessions that consisted of many influencers sharing their personal stories of getting involved in the non-profit sphere. There is something deeply soul-stirring that happens when you fill a room with people who have dared to step out in faith to help fight injustice in the world. There’s also something beautiful that happens when many of these individuals who may experience a bit of a rock-star status share from their mistakes and failings in an effort to help others learn from their experiences. I think the humility that I witnessed in the space was among the most touching aspects of the conference.
Each afternoon, there were a handful of “workshops” that consisted of someone who had done a great job in some aspect of non-profit work sharing his/her successes and failures as he/she guided a room full of passionate and idealistic leaders in ways that they could move forward in greater ways.
This was the first conference of its kind that I have experienced, and I hope it is not the last. Next year, I hope Nuru is among the non-profits invited back to participate in this wonderful event. I also hope that if you are in the greater Los Angeles area and you are interested in loving humans and doing good that you will make it a point to attend the 2011 !deation.

Monday, May 03, 2010

Dad: One Year Later

Well, sort of. Last year on April 27th, my dad was taken to Charleston, WV to have a routine test done to determine if his arteries were blocked. He found out that four of the arteries around his heart were 99%, 95%, 90% and 69% blocked. A few minutes after this determination was made, he had a massive heart attack.
I was in San Francisco, CA for a week of meetings with Nuru’s Senior Director Team. My friends at Nuru, bought me a plane ticket and took me to the airport for a red-eye flight to Charleston so I could meet up with my dad, sister, and best friend in the whole world, Willie, at the hospital.
My dad spent about two weeks in the hospital in recovery before he came home. When he came home he was week from the surgery (they break open your chest to do a quadruple bypass), he was really weak, and had lots of pain and discomfort. He was accustomed to walking about 12 miles per day, and he was unable to walk around the block for several days.
For all of you medical people, before his heart attack, he had an ejection fraction of 55%, and afterward it dropped to 35%. When he had an echocardiogram done last October, he had increased his ejection fraction to 40%. I imagine it has increased since then as well.
Last Monday, I went to work out with him—he has a membership at a local gym, and after twelve weeks of cardiac rehab last summer, he has built a habit of exercise (beyond walking). He goes three times a week, and works through a circuit of resistance machines as well as 20 minutes on an exercise bike, seven minutes on a rower, and 45 minutes on a treadmill. He’s no slouch as he goes through this routine either. He spends the first 35 minutes of his treadmill workout walking at 4.0mph, at a 4% incline (try it sometime). At 35 minutes, he increases the incline to 15% and continues at the 4mph pace for an additional 4 minutes. Then he gradually lowers the incline back to 4% to finish his 4mph walk. At 68 years of age, he’s probably in better condition than most people I know at my age.
It’s pretty amazing to see his level of recovery at about one year. I’d even go so far to say it’s been miraculous. I’m so thankful that he was in one of the best cardiac hospitals in the region when he had his heart attack, and I’m extremely grateful for his fast and strong recovery.
Friday night, he and I went to the blue and gold WVU intersquad scrimmage. Last year when we went, he was complaining about a tightness in his chest. This year, he was feeling much stronger, and looking much more energized.
For those who have been reading this blog for a while, thanks so much for your prayers. Together, we walked through a pretty difficult season, and I’m truly appreciative for the opportunities that I have had to spend time with my dad as he grows stronger day-by-day.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Shavers Fork 2010

I just realized the other day that it's been about a month since I
last blogged. The last year of transitions has posed some fair
obstacles as I have attempted to adjust. Recently I recalled that I
can mobile blog thanks to the gift of an iPhone from my best friend in
the whole world, Willie.
So, as I traveled down 92 toward elkins w Jamie & my dad for a day
away at our cabin, I figured I would try this mobile blogging thing
out. The last month has seen me travel a lot with minimal convenient
Internet, but with the help of AT&T the Internet is much more
convenient than I initially thought.
So this is the view of the river in front of our cabin. It's kind of
nice to get away & spend some time here. It's also interesting to see
the flood line where the water came near our cabin.
The stream was just stocked on Tuesday, but it's highly likely that
locals have fished out most of that stocking. I may give it a try
Regardless, this little stream is a pleasant place to get away to
enjoy the early spring. Hope you are able to get out and enjoy some
unseasonably warm weather today too!