Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Listener Releases New Album: Wooden Heart

In Spring 2008, my friend Cameron had a very interesting musical artist named Listener perform at Sozo, the coffee house some friends and I got started in downtown Morgantown back in 2007. The video above is one of his. Oh, and the washing machine that the guy is beating for percussion in the video is actually used for percussion when the artist performs live. It's a very unique and unnerving and unforgettable sound to hear a washing machine getting beat with a baseball bat or sledgehammer handle.

Anyway, Listener has a new album that's getting released on July 6th. It's called Wooden Heart, and it's an album that demands that you listen to it in an undistracted place (as are all of listener's albums). He allowed me to listen to an advance copy so I could write a review of it. Listener has created his own unique genre and calls it "talk music." It's an eclectic mix of elements of rap, spoken word, and poetry. In the background of his songs is an array of instruments that serve to accent the mood of each song.

The album is really a bargain. The album is over one hour long, and consists of each song being performed as a poem as well as a "song." Listener is a brilliant poet and writer, and I appreciate his wit and way with using words to create images and mixed metaphors that leave me as a fellow "listener" contemplating the hurts and hopes we all seem to carry in this world. One of the things I like the most about the album is that each song seems to tell a story from Listener's own life experience. He tells stories of people with broken lives whose paths have crossed his and as I listened, I found myself growing in my own empathy and care for the hurts of others...and myself. I feel like Listener's songs remind us that everyone has a story that needs to be told, and that everyone needs to learn to listen better, and tell better stories. And one of the greatest stories we could tell is one of love.

Listener's music is for everyone, though not everyone will enjoy it. I wish there were an artist I could compare him to, but he is truly one of a kind. If you ever get a chance to hear him perform in concert, definitely take advantage of the opportunity. He's touring the country and playing at cornerstone this summer--if you will be there, check out his music and say hello!

If you follow the links and visit his site, you can listen to his album online and make a decision on making a purchase. If you like music that is a little off the well trodden path of sappy metaphors and overused clich├ęs, I think you will enjoy listener's latest album. And you are already a Listener fan, leave a comment and let others know what you like about his music.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Video Montages and Further Tributes to Robert C. Byrd

Yesterday, I noticed a number of fellow West Virginians who share a deep love for this state had shared links to an array of videos and images that serve as a reminder of Senator Byrd's love for both the US Constitution and the culture and music that find their home in Appalachia. May you be encouraged by the late Senator's appreciation and knack for playing the fiddle (he was self-taught). And may this second video serve as a reminder just how long Senator Byrd served the people of the great state of West Virginia and the people of the United States.

Hope you enjoy these images and sounds.

Iphone4 and AT&T Shortages

Ok, I admit it, I was in line around 6AM to upgrade my iphone. There were already about 40 people in line in front of me. Some had camped out since 11PM. I did not. I figured, I could get an early start to my day, and get some work done while I "waited." Many were just standing in line for the iphone, I just chose to work from the line. Regardless, I stayed in the line for a while.

Local AT&T store staff came out and offered people in line water. I thought it was a kind gesture, and I took a bottle. As I approached the front of the line, the representatives informed folks that they had run out of 32GB models of the new iphone, and that they only had limited quantities of the 16GB model. The guy in front of me asked if AT&T had a 30 day return period. He was informed that there was a $20 restocking fee for the return if he bought a 16GB version and decided to get a 32GB version when they arrived. The employee also stated that there was no guarantee that any 32GB models would arrive in the store during the next 30 days.

At the same time this shortage was announced, employees were taking "pre-orders" for 32GB phones that would be delivered in 5-10 days. So AT&T offered instant gratification of a 16GB phone (also in short supply, but apparently another order of 16GB phones were set to arrive later in the day), or a 5-10 day wait for a 32GB phone.

As I stood in line, I thought, "Neither one of these sounds appetizing to me right now." And then I thought, "why didn't they let the 40 people who were in line behind me know that they might not get their phones today?" The guy behind me told me he was already late for work, and was concerned that he would now not only be late, but he would show up with nothing but a voucher for a future purchase. Needless to say he was less than enthused by his wait.

He and others looked at me in shock when I left the line. How could I leave after waiting for this phone. I could leave because I have a phone that works. I could leave because, I hadn't felt the "sunk cost" of time waiting in line for the product because I just worked while in line. I could leave because I will be on the road over the next 5-10 days, and so I won't be able to claim my phone upon its arrival anyway.

Regardless, I have an iphone that was gifted to me, and I can download the iphone4 software on this phone and experience much of the same advances on a slower processor and an older phone. Also, since this phone was a gift, I'm not locked into a contract.

Are you an iphone user? Did you wait in line this morning? If you did wait in line, how do you like your new phone? One advanced feature that I think is pretty cool is the webcam that is built into the center of the screen--I imagine that feature will be seen on the next iteration of the iPad too.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Death of a Legendary Statesman: Robert C. Byrd

Early this morning, Robert C. Byrd breathed his last on this earth. At 92 years of age, he had seen a lot of our state's history, challenges, and successes. When he was born, West Virginia was just 55 years old. While not every person in the state has been a huge fan of the late Senator, he is as much a part of our state's history and and fabric as coal, the black bear, and the blooming rhododendron.

He was alive during the battle of Blair Mountain in southern WV coal fields. He survived the Great Depression, and had witnessed multiple wars and skirmishes in our nation's history. He witnessed the end of segregation, and although he was adamantly opposed to the Civil Rights bill at the time, he cause his efforts to undermine the bill, "the greatest mistake he has ever made."

Robert C. Byrd has done a lot for the state, and held a record for the longest held US Senate position. He has held his position longer than our current president, Barack Obama, has been alive. There are very few in our state who can remember a time when he wasn't one of our senators, and interestingly, he never lost a single election for any office during his career. He has worked hard over his time in office to secure funding for many projects in WV including moving the state from 4 miles of divided highway to 37,000.

He holds records for longevity in the history of congress, and has served his state passionately for quite a long time. There's a great wikipedia article with more information about his life that is worth reading as well.

Toward the end of his career, he became more vocal about safety and care for coal miners, for the land, and for the people of WV and said something that I've agreed with for quite some time. His quote, "The old chestnut that “coal is West Virginia’s greatest natural resource” deserves revision. I believe that our people are West Virginia’s most valuable resource. We must demand to be treated as such."

I agree with Byrd's sentiments that West Virginia's people are it's most valuable resource, and I am grateful that he spoke these words of wisdom to remind us of the great value West Virginians have.

While I did not personally agree with all of Byrd's politics, I believe that he did have a deep and abiding love for the people and the land of West Virginia, and that is a love and common thread that we shared while he represented this state every day that I've been alive.

In an article on metronews, Byrd hoped he would be remembered thus, "I always said that, when you die, people remember you for about ten days and then the thoughts go elsewhere," he said. "I hope that the people of West Virginia will remember me as one of them, just an ordinary boy raised in the coalfields who grew up in the Depression with a lovely wife and a sweet wife, who loves that wife today as she looks down upon me."

May you rest in peace, Senator Byrd, and may you be remembered as you asked. And as we continue to live our lives here, may we not seek to be remembered for our accolades, but rather for our love for others.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hollywood Endings and USA Soccer

After watching yesterday's World Cup game between the US and Algeria, one could not have written a more heart-stopping climactic ending. Rather than watching a soccer match, minute by minute I felt like I was watching a hollywood story unfold before my eyes.

Two free kicks in the last ten minutes of play, and both of them missed. We needed the goal to guarantee our spot moving on to play Ghana this Saturaday at 2:30PM EDT. If we could win the match, we could win our group and move forward as the top seed from our group, and win we did! With very little time on the clock, Landon Donovan picked up a rebound off a blocked shot, and helped the US to win it's group for the first time since it's first world cup in 1930.

Of course the video isn't of that shot. It's a recent ESPN commercial featuring Donovan getting penalized for his use of the copier. Pretty funny soccer humor, and I hope you enjoy it.

That's not why I'm writing this post though. I'm writing to celebrate USA Soccer and I'm writing to encourage you to enjoy the rest of the world cup action. And I'm writing to celebrate an incredible story.

There's something about a last minute shot to win, that makes the celebration all the sweeter. There's something in us that rejoices when we see a person or a team rise up and overcome overwhelming odds to achieve a goal. (In this case the goal was to achieve a goal!) Team USA was not a strongly favored team in the World Cup this year and so it makes it even more exciting. When someone is the best we don't rejoice as strongly with a victory. We expect victory, and anything less is disappointment.

But when we see someone overcome great odds to achieve, we go crazy--it just makes for a great story. Nobody wants to watch a movie or read a book about a person who just wins easily without any effort.

And maybe that's why our lives have challenges that arise each day. If life were easy, it wouldn't make much of a story. If we didn't have to deal with conflict, our lives would probably be a little bit boring. It's like it is hardwired into our DNA. But part of any great story isn't just conflict, it's what the character is undergoing conflict to achieve--what is the end result?

For instance, if I were working in this life to achieve the goal of driving a fancy car, or have a nice house, that's not a very compelling story or goal. We were made for so much more than this, and yet it is all that many are living for.

What if you lived your life as a story? What would be the hollywood ending that you would hope for? Is it a new car, or is it something more? Let the world know, and then go for it!

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Being Nuru at South Ridge Church

Last Sunday, I made the drive down the highway to Fairmont, WV where I was invited to speak at South Ridge Church, where my good friend Seth Broadhurst serves as the senior pastor. Seth and I have been friends for a long time, and I can remember him coming into a pretty awesome community at Chestnut Ridge Church in the year 2000. Seth and I became friends and running buddies almost immediately, and although I don't believe either of us run as much anymore, the friendship is still incredibly strong.

Earlier this summer, Seth told me about an idea he had for his church's Mission Sunday in which I might be able to share and encourage his congregation to "Be Nuru" or "Be Light" in their daily lives. Seth told me that he likes to have people come in who are working in their lives to serve others, and that he rally enjoys the fresh perspective of having someone else share with the faith community of South Ridge Church.

So I shared a passage from the gospel of John about the state of our world. Sometimes we want to try to come up with a quick quote that mitigates our responsibility in the middle of a broken world. We say things like, "It's probably becaues of that person's sin, or their parent's sin that their life is so messed up." To say something like this is callous and unloving, to say the least. But people said similar things in Jesus' day as well. Jesus responds to these ideas with this, "It is neither that this person has sinned or his parents that he suffers, but rather that the works of God might be displayed in him." He continues to say, "We must work the works of Him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work."

Now what does this mean? It means that perhaps the real answer to some of the problems in our world lies with our God given gifts and talents. Jesus says in another passage that we are "The light of the world, and then warns us not to hide this light.

When I think about the hurts of our world, I feel like there are people who can fall into three camps. Those who passively accept the world as it is, those who complain but do nothing, and those who take decisive action and work toward improving the world. It is my hope that I fall into the last category, but very often I probably fall into the other two. It's my hope that YOU fall into the last category as well, but it is so easy to get drawn into the other two for all of us.

But there is a changing tide. There is a trend in our world where more and more people are saying "Enough is enough" and they are beginning to use their time, talents, and resources to benefit others. Multi-billionaire Warren Buffett has recently pledged to give away 99% of his wealth toward serving the public good by the time of his death. Nearly one million high school and college students lobbied congress to bring about the end of what has been called "Africa's longest running civil war."

With a willingness to stand up and make a difference, it is amazing what one can accomplish. Less than two years ago, the organization I work for started it's first project in Kuria, Kenya. In less than two years, 75% of the initial community has bought in to Nuru's programs and many Kurians are now living with choices and opportunities they have never known or experienced before. All because of a growing number of people here in the United States who are saying, "I Am Nuru," and taking action in the fight to end extreme poverty.

There are others working tirelessly to end similar injustices globally and locally. The point of my message, and the point of this blog isn't to say that you should support Nuru's efforts. Rather, it's to say that you should begin to light your world, your neighborhood, your home, by doing something with the time, talents, and resources with which you have been equipped. There is soooo much that can be done just by choosing to be present at home and at work. Be the best spouse or child that you can be. Be active in care for your neighbors both locally and globally. Seek not your own self-interests, but rather care for your fellow human being.

It was an honor to share with the folks at South Ridge Church this weekend, and it's an honor to share with you today. May you be hope and light in your interactions today and every day.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Star Wars and Adidas?

I had never envisioned Snoop Dogg rollin’ into the Mos Eisley Cantina before, but looks like he can take care of himself amid rough intergalactic crowds.  I don’t know if you’ve seen the new adidas advertising campaign featuring their new line of star wars inspired shoes, but it is sooooo cool.  Seeing Snoop Dogg spliced into classic Star Wars footage along with David Beckham, Daft Punk and others is just too funny.
If you haven’t seen it, I hope you enjoy it.  And if you have seen it, I think it’s worth watching one more time.  You're welcome!

Monday, June 21, 2010

Father's Day 2010

Of course, aside from being West Virginia’s 147th birthday yesterday, it was also Father’s day. And thankfully I was able to spend a little bit of the day with my dad, tell him I loved him, and thank him for the way he raised me. Not everyone has had the same kind of dad that I have had, and while my dad is not perfect (he would be the first to admit it), he is a wonderful father. He and my mother were instrumental in helping my siblings and I become the people who we are today.

Last night, after visiting with him briefly on Lake Floyd yesterday afternoon, I gave him a call. I called to tell him just how wonderful he was, and how much it meant to me that he and mom invested in me, my sister, and my brother. He can safely say that he has not wasted his life, and he still has more of it to live and to enjoy.

I can remember Sunday mornings being a very sacred time for us growing up. Now for all of my Christian friends, you probably think I’m going to talk about going to church and getting dressed for Sunday school. That wasn’t the case. I didn’t put my faith in Jesus until my junior year in college (and my life has been radically altered since then). No, it was a different kind of space my dad and I visited. Sundays around 10AM from the time I was in junior high (maybe earlier), we would go into my high school’s gym. He was a custodian at my high school and so we would use his keys to get in. I would practice free throws and do different drills, and we would spend a couple hours together. I never blossomed into the next Magic Johnson, as I had hoped, but dad and I had some pretty special Sunday memories together.

Not only that, my dad has always been a tremendous example of hard work and dedication to family and friends. Dad would always make sure all of us kids had enough to eat, and were able to take advantage of any opportunity to better ourselves and give us further possibilities to have better careers than he and mom had. He would work a full day, come home, and go to work in our family garden, cut grass and take care of several chores around the house. And then, before it got dark in the summer time, there was always time for playing basketball, helping me work on fielding, pitching, and hitting with baseball, kicking around a soccer ball, or going fishing in our little “Sea King” boat at Mountwood Park or the Belleville or Willow Island locks and dam (or wherever the fish were biting!).

He always encouraged us to do our best growing up. We had total freedom to fail, as long as we gave our best efforts. Dad and mom spurred us on so we might have the opportunities that he and mom did not have. He worked hard, he loved us well and truly helped us become the people we are today.
Dad has never been one for going out to eat a lot, but I can remember trips to places like Becky’s Hot Dogs in Parkersburg and sitting with our food hanging from the window as we drank root beer slushes together.

As we got off the phone last night, he was making his way into the hospital to spend time with my uncle who was in pretty intense pain after his knee surgery last week. My dad has always given selflessly of his time, and really strives to care for others around him. I hope that as I grow older, I can love people as well as he does, and I hope I can help him realize what a great example he has been to all of us kids.

And as for you, I hope you can take time to hug your dad and love him, and I would challenge you to do it, even if he hasn’t been the most loving to you. Maybe you can change the trend. I realize not everyone has great relationships with their fathers, but I hope that somehow you can mend those ties. And no matter what, I encourage you to do it soon if your father is still around. After reading Nick Kristof’s NYT article and my friend Charles Lee’s post yesterday as I was lying down for sleep, I can’t help but be reminded of the importance of taking advantage of the short time we have with people. Give em a read yourself, and then call your dad, or better yet, visit him!

And Dad, if you are reading this, I love you very much, I’m honored to be your son, and I know Becky and Chuck are as well.

Happy Birthday West Virginia

The Ultimate Gift, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.

This photo was taken of a sunset behind my house in Morgantown, WV.
Not only was yesterday Father’s Day, but it also marked the 147th year that West Virginia has been a state. We are not western Virginia, and we have not been part of the Commonwealth of Virginia for over a century. We are the Mountain State, even though there’s not a single point in our state that exceeds the 5000 foot qualification to meet the topographical definition of a mountain.
Our state has produced amazing athletes like Jerry West, the man whose silhouette is the NBA’s logo. We have a rich history of a close relationship with the land, and have a history of conflict within these hills we call home as well.
West Virginia’s chief export isn’t coal, but people. Contrary to what most people outside our state might think, our capital has never been Richmond, although it has been Wheeling a few times. West Virginian’s are resilient, thoughtful, highly adaptive, and persevering people. We have been the site of major challenges, including some of the most greedy, deceptive, and downright evil exploitations of humanity outside the slave trade in this country.
West Virginians have always risen above though. Some of the most wonderful people I have ever known were born or raised in this state, or along its borders. As our motto states, Montani Semper Liberi or Mountaineers are always free!
Our state also possesses some of the most beautiful and wonderful parks and wilderness spaces in the country. If you have never visited, I suggest you take time to enjoy a much more simple and affordable vacation away from the hustle and bustle of the city. And if you are a resident, consider a weekend vacation within the confines of our state—it’s a great way to celebrate our state’s birthday! Visit places like Davis, Thomas, and Elkins and take in the beauty of our state. Take a ride on the Potomac Eagle Train, turn your phone off for a spell and enjoy reconnecting with a little bit of our natural world. Or slip on your hiking shoes and hike across North Fork Mountain Trail or visit the Dolly Sods Wilderness Area.
Looking for a little history, cross the Shenandoah river and enjoy a walk through historic Harper’s Ferry. If you are feeling really adventurous, take a thrill ride down one of many West Virginia whitewater streams.
I love this state, and I love the people of our state; filled with gratitude to have called this place my home.
How did you celebrate West Virginia’s Birthday?

Friday, June 18, 2010

World Champions Back-To-Back Los Angeles Lakers

OK, I'm a Laker fan. Not as huge of a fan as i once was, but I'm still a fan. And as you probably know (or could guess from this blog title), the Lakers have won the NBA World Championships, and they beat the Boston Celtics to do it.

Growing up, when I started following professional sports, it was a given that I would be a Laker fan. My brother moved to Los Angeles when I was starting seventh grade, and sent me a Laker T-shirt for my birthday to move the process along for me a little more quickly.

I was fascinated by Earvin "Magic" Johnson and his no-look passes, and wanted to be known as an assist guy with sweet passes on the court and ankle-breaking moves to the basket. I also wanted to develop my own form of Kareem Abdul-Jabbar's Sky Hook and Magic's Junior Sky Hook and shoot from the outside like Michael Cooper. And at times, I admit, I even wanted to grow my hair out and wear glasses like Kurt Rambis. (PS the rambis link is pretty cool--even an anti-mchale site there too!).

As a Laker fan, I had two jobs. Cheer for the Lakers and have nothing but disdain for the Celtics. I loved both of them. Larry Bird, Kevin McHale, Danny Ainge, Robert Parrish, and Dennis Johnson were like super-villains. I put them in the same category as Skeletor, Cobra Commander, and Darth Vader. The truth is they were some legendary athletes, but I guess that's why they made great super-villains and not just regular villains.

I've followed the Lakers pretty consistently through the years, but never as passionately as I did during the Showtime era. I even had a pair of the Lakers' Magic Johnson style Converse Weapon. Man did I think I was cool, but wow was I so far off from the truth.

This year's NBA Finals just had me feeling a bit nostalgic. While I still cheer on the Lakers, I really thought the Celtics had an incredibly talented team, and I couldn't look at them as Super-Villains. Maybe I'm getting soft.

What did you think of the series? Are you a fan of either team? Did you have a childhood basketball player that you looked up to? Who was it and why did you like him?

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Graduation Day

This album cover image of my nephew, brother, dad, and myself was taken on one of my nephew's last visits to West Virginia. He was born in New Jersey, but did most of his growing up in California. He's only been on the Terra Firma of Almost Heaven Soil a handful of times during his eighteen years, and he's about to graduate. (Interestingly, we didn't plan the light brown shirts and dark brown shorts; it just happened, and I don't think anyone noticed it until after we had left home. btw this is one of my dad's favorite places to visit back home, it's called Fort Boreman Hill Park.

But that's not why I'm writing this blog. I'm writing this post because tonight, my nephew, Nicholas Charles Williams will graduate from high school. It's a pretty monumental achievement. He's one of the top students in his school (it's a school that focuses in science and technology and a national blue ribbon school called Troy High School. Here's it's website if you'd like to read more about it.

My nephew is crazy smart and athletic (much like his parents), and has played sports ranging from soccer, to fencing, to water polo. He is also an Eagle Scout, and likes to play guitar and would love to be in a band one day (I think just about every person who gets a guitar has similar dreams).

He was one of a small group of southern Californians who were accepted for enrollment at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana where he will attend this fall. Now, being a Mountaineer true blue thru and thru, this is a hard pill to swallow, but I'm proud of my nephew for his pursuit of academic excellence, his pursuit of physical fitness, and his pursuit of skills and character that become refined in groups like the Boy Scouts of America. He will be starting a little earlier than most students at Notre Dame because he was accepted into a special program for minority students to orient him to life at the university. The program starts early next week. Yikes!

None of our side of the family could make it out for his graduation, but everyone on this side of the country is really proud of him. Graduating from high school is a pretty big deal, and from the looks of what he has done with his life thus far, I'm sure he will continue to do great things.

They refer to graduation ceremonies as "commencements" because they seem to mark not so much an end, but rather a new beginning. Whether you have finished high school or been as successful in endeavors as my nephew, each day is really a new beginning. Each day is another chance to work on becoming the best version of yourself that you can be. Take advantage of it.

And Nick, if you are reading this. We're proud of you, and we all hope you will take advantage of each day to work on being the best version of yourself you can be too! You are pretty quality!

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Review: Leavings by Wendell Berry

I’ve always been a little slow to use gift cards.  I feel like they are innately a special gift, and so the use of such a gift should also be a special occasion.  Jamie’s mom and dad gave me a Barnes & Noble gift card for Christmas, and it took me until May to make a purchase with it.  Regardless of the reason, I finally did make a purchase, and I’m incredibly glad I did.
I picked up the latest book of poetry from Wendell Berry.  It’s called Leavings.  It’s a mixture of musings from day to day life, and latest of Berry’s Sabbath poems—which are of course a series of Sunday reflections afforded to the writer on his day of rest.
Wendell Berry himself is an agrarian or ecological writer, and his writings center on the land of his sojourn in rural Kentucky.  He has worked his farm for most of his life, and understands a little better than most in the West our close tie to the good earth.
As I picked up Berry’s book of poetry in the Morgantown Barnes & Noble, I felt like I was reading letters and reflections from an old friend, someone who has seen all of the ill of our myriad technological advances and increased consumption habits and tried to resist in the simple yet profound protest of farming a small plot of land and subsisting off those offerings.
He writes about the greed of our age and how it is costing us our lives.  He writes of tragedies that come from a careless lifestyle of hurry and haste.  He writes and reminds me of my own need for simplicity as well as my own complicity in using and abusing the land and our resources.
Last week, I picked up some of my own old poetry and began to read it out loud.  Jamie listened and was unaware that it was mine.  She thought it was Wendell Berry’s writing.  It’s one of the greatest compliments I’ve ever received.
I don’t know Wendell Berry at all, but I’m tempted to write him a letter.  I’m tempted because I want to thank him for being a voice crying out against our own diversity of gluttony, and reminding us that we do have a choice.  There’s always a choice . . .
In light of the recent oil spill that is consuming our oceans and covering our wildlife with a reddish brown indictment against our greed, I highly recommend that more people give Berry’s latest installment a read.
If you do give it a try, please let me know what you think.  And also, do you think I should try to write him?
Regardless whether you read his or any other book of poetry or prose, I hope that you can make a small step of courage to use less today.  The irony is that you might feel somewhat useless yourself if you choose to do so—that’s why it takes courage.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Uncle Bill's Knee Surgery

The photo in this blog is an image of my dad and one of his brothers, Uncle Bill, who I am named after.  The photo was taken about three years ago in front of Camden Clark Memorial Hospital (CCMH) in parkersburg, WV. I took it during one of my mom's last visits to the hospital on a day when three of my dad's brothers stopped by to see how she was doing. (I should have gotten a photo with all of them together!)

Last night, I found myself in Parkersburg again visiting CCMH to check on my uncle this time. He has had really bad knees for several years, but has refused to get surgery done. One of the main reasons I believe he has refused is because of his great love and care for his wife. Ten years ago, knee surgery meant an inability to walk for several weeks, and my aunt has had her fair share of illnesses over the years as well. My uncle waited to get knee surgery until it was so debilitating, he was hardly able to walk.

When I visited him last night in the hospital, I asked him why he got the surgery, and he said it was because it was getting to a point that he was hardly able to walk. I asked him if he would be getting his other knee done, and he said that it depends on how fast and uncomplicated this first surgery was, but he was looking forward to being able to walk again with relative ease.

If you've never seen the after effects of knee replacement surgery, the apparatus is pretty amazing. There is a pump that keeps ice water flowing around the joint to keep inflamation down, and the leg is placed in a contraption that keeps it working through it's range of motion constantly so one can recover more quickly. While it is a bit painful, my uncle had the machine running constantly while we were there. He wants to walk again as quickly as he possibly can.

Why? Because he loves his wife. Sure, he will enjoy being able to move with less pain, but I believe it means more to him to be available to care for his wife with greater mobility than he would be able to experience otherwise. In a culture where people seem to place less of a value on commitment and love and more on the idea of "personal happiness" I am really touched by my uncle's commitment to care for his wife and to do everything he can to be back home and out of the hospital quickly.

I certainly hope my life can be defined by that kind of care for others, don't you?

May you and I grow to be the kind of people that love deeply and who commit ourselves to the care of those around us. In a world filled with tragedy, there's a beauty to be found in seeing people who love sacrificially and care deeply for others.

Greater love has no one than this, than someone lays down his life for his friends. John 15:13

Monday, June 14, 2010

Great Chesapeake Bay Swim

This past weekend, Jamie took a step or two, along with several freestyle strokes as she completed a goal for which she has been training for several months. At the beginning of the year, she registered to swim in the Great Chesapeake Bay Swim on Kent Island, Maryland. Swimmers came from all over (but most were from the bay area) to participate in the one mile swim. This swim was a qualifier for a second tier goal that Jamie had at the beginning of the year. The second tier goal, swimming 4.4 miles across the bay next year in an even more limited and competitive race.

In order to participate in the 4.4 mile race, one has to complete the one mile race in less than forty minutes. Jamie's time was 27:02, and she finished in the top 100 finishers for the race (there were 500 who registered). The 4.4 mile race takes over two hours for most to finish, and looks like it would be incredibly difficult. (In all honesty, the one mile race Jamie participated in didn't look like a walk in the park either!).

Her swimming (btw she's the one in the center of the photograph) is a great reminder about setting goals and staying focused. She set the goal in January to participate in this event, and has been training regularly for the last six months in order to be ready for this race. I'm really proud of her for her discipline in training, and her incredible performance on Sunday. She was pretty tired after the race, but I was just tired watching the mass of competitors swim into the open tide-water.

Jamie was incredibly tired as she stepped out of the water and crossed the finish line. After the race, she said that there was no way she could be completely prepared for that experience without actually swimming the bay herself. But, she couldn't do that, so she prepared by swimming A LOT back in West Virginia. There is nothing that quite compares with actual events.

It was a bit ironic too because one of Jamie's anticipated rewards after the swim was to eat some seafood while the five of us (me, her, her parents and my dad) were on the bay. It was ironic, because she wasn't as interested in seafood or as hungry as she thought she would be. I kind of think that for her, accomplishing her goal was more of a reward than eating a meal.

Are you training for any races or working toward any goals? What are they? How do you maintain your focus? I hope Jamie's swim can inspire you; I know it has certainly inspired me.

May you maintain your focus, and crush your goals as you pursue them!

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Oliver Luck Returns To WVU and Morgantown

Last night as I was going to bed, I read a tweet from @hoppykercheval that former WVU and Houston Oiler's quarterback, Oliver Luck would replace Ed Pastilong as the Athletic Director at WVU. It's amazing to me that his Wikipedia page was already updated before 7AM this morning.
Luck led WVU in one of the greatest mountaineer football victories of all time in 1981 when WVU defeated Florida in the Peach Bowl. Not only was he an incredible athlete, but he was also an extremely gifted student. He was a finalist for the Rhodes Scholarship and had a nearly perfect GPA as a student athlete. He was a first round draft pick for the Houston Oilers when he graduated from WVU, and is considered one of the all time WVU greats. In 1997 he was inducted into the WVU Sports Hall of Fame.
What do you think about West Virginia's new athletic director? I'm sure Houston will miss him, but personally I'm curious to see what a legendary and brilliant student athlete will bring to West Virginia University.
I imagine there will be a press conference in the near future with more details so stay tuned to your local TV and news coverage. Also, I'm sure there will be ongoing coverage at MetroNews and MSNsportsnet.

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Mrs. Stewart & Her Amazing Sixth Grade Class of World Changers

San Antonio School Teacher Being Nuru from billy williams on Vimeo.

For those of you who read my recent post, you know that Nuru had a nationwide awareness campaign that had 1500 hundred people participate at 26 sites. But what you didn’t know was that there were others who were inspired to take part in their own “Be Hope To Her” events.
In fact, just a few days ago, Mrs. Stewart, a sixth grade teacher at Nimitz Middle School in San Antonio, Texas helped her students organize their own “Be Hope To Her” Event. Collectively, starting at 830AM and ending with the last bell at 330PM these sixth grade students logged over 100 miles carrying buckets of water. They all wanted to be able to say that for one day they “walked a mile in someone else’s shoes.”

These students not only walked through the day, but they have been learning about the issue of extreme poverty throughout the school year. In fact, these students read Greg Mortensen’s Three Cups of Tea as part of their studies this year.
Mrs. Stewart first discovered Nuru through an article that made it on the apple website in November about how Nuru uses Macs in our efforts to end extreme poverty. When she read the article, she was personally motivated to do something, and she got her students involved in Nuru’s work.
These students have been scouring the Nuru website and reading staff blogs to become better educated activists. I am thoroughly impressed with Mrs. Stewart and her students because they are educating themselves on the issue of extreme poverty, and they are taking action.
On June 3rd, I was able to talk with her class through skype. It was amazing to be able to applaud this incredible woman and her world changing students through video technology. We spent about a half hour sharing with each other, and the students had some really great questions to ask. They are serious about ending extreme poverty, and they know that their involvement in this issue matters.
Some would possibly tell these boys and girls that they are too small, or that their efforts don’t matter, but I told them, and I will tell you as well, that everybody has a contribution to make toward the end of extreme poverty.

The goal is huge, but it is achievable. Because Mrs. Stewart took the time to educate them, and encouraged them to get involved, they are joining a generation of world changers, and I sincerely believe that together with your help, all of us can see the end of extreme poverty.
I hope you will follow the lead of these students and get involved in the issue. Together, we CAN end extreme poverty. Together, we can be part of a generation that sees the end of the greatest humanitarian crisis of the contemporary era.

Monday, June 07, 2010

Can One Person Really Make A Difference?

On Saturday morning, I participated in "Tire Amnesty Day" in Monongalia County by taking a few old car and bicycle tires to Sam's Club in Granville to be recycled. Usually there is a small fee associated with such efforts, but this past Saturday, it was free. I thought I would take advantage of the oppportunity to rid myself of some of the tires that various roommates have left at the house over the years, and do a good turn for the environment.

While I was there, I received an info packet containing ways to recycle virtually everything I might ever want to get rid of. Unfortunately it was packaged in what looked like a non-recyclable (at least locally) #4 plastic bag. Bummer if so, but maybe it is a compostable bag. In one of the pamplets it listed the top ten myths about recycling. The #1 myth is "One person can't make a difference."

Here's the Monongalia Solid Waste Authority's response to that statement.

In [Monongalia county], one person makes a big difference in the recycling rate. Each day, one person in WV generates 4.07 pounds of trash, which becomes 1485 pounds over a whole year. About 48% of this trash is recyclable.

This means, in one person has the potentialto recycle:
332 pounds of cardboard and paper products
74 pounds of metals
193 pounds of plastic
116 pounds of glass

Averaging current yearly recycling rates over the county population, one Monongalia County resident actually recycles:
49 pounds of cardboard and paper products
3 pounds of metals
3 pounds of plastic
12 pounds of glass

Even though a very small percentage of this county's population is currently recycling, in the past year, this small effort has saved:
1.9 million kilowatt hours of energy (enough to power 174 homes in WV)
171,596 gallons of oil
81,797 trees.

One person really can make a difference. Imagine if you recycled. Imagine if your business recycled. Imagine the possible energy savings and the positive good that YOU would be doing for future generations, whether you live in Monongalia County, WV or some other part of the world.

Today, may you take the time to begin to make your contribution to bettering this world.

Sunday, June 06, 2010

Remembering Mom Three Years Later

My best friend in the whole world, Willie wrote and recorded this song on youtube to honor my mom shortly after she went to be with Jesus on June 6, 2007. It's hard to believe it's been three years since she laughed with us, or told stories about our family and our heritage, hugged us, or shared her wisdom.

This morning I went through some old blog posts and journals because sometimes time seems to take the vividness out of focus. As I began reading and watching Willie's video I wept. I wept because of the brokenness we experience in this world, and the sense of loss that we all feel on this side of the veil when a loved one leaves this world.

It's good to take time to remember. I remember two years ago, on the one year anniversary of my mom's leaving of this world to be with Jesus that I made the decision to cut my hair, and leave it short. I remember also taking a day to be away and remember, reflect, grieve, and rejoice. Rejoicing at someone's death could seem a bit morbid, hateful, or sadistic. I don't rejoice my mom's death in the sense that many think of it. I rejoice that she is free from cancer, from diabetes, from arthritis, and from pain. I rejoice that she is in the presence of Jesus, the One who loves her (and us) with a love deeper than we can even imagine on this earth.

I still grieve too. At relay for life this year, I found myself choking down tears when I saw her luminaries. They were just some candles in paper bags with my mom's name written on them, but they elicited so much emotion from me. When I saw her name and in memory, I think every memory I had of her flooded my mind all at once. I think it started with the relay for life in 2007 for which my sister and I organized a team. My mind went to the hopes we had back then that my mom would beat cancer, and that she would walk a lap as a survivor in 2008 like my uncles and my sister were able to do. Then I found myself confronted with the reality that I will never see her again in this life, and that made me sad. Not only because she is my mother, but because she is also one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever known.

As I sit here reflecting, I can't help but be filled with hope as well. My mom, will be better than I could ever remember her when I see her again. She will be more beautiful, more loving, and more filled with joy. But that day is not now.

And so now, I strive to imitate the qualities I saw in her and loved while in this world. And it's ironic, because even those qualities were just shadows of the fullness that we find in God himself. My friend Trey once said something like this--when we see or experience something that gives us great joy, it's like we are seeing the handiwork of God, and that God is shining through that thing.

Aa the writer of the book of Hebrews reminds us, "Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith."

May we all cherish the opportunities that are given to us on this earth to allow God to shine through us, to bring others joy, and to love deeply.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Reflecting on Nuru's BH2O 2010 & New Video Release

BH2O+ 2010 Highlights from Nuru International on Vimeo.

Earlier this spring, 1500 college students and young professionals on 23 college campuses, 3 city centers, and one international site, decided to take a walk. This wasn’t a protest march, but rather a solidarity experience that allowed men and women in the western world to grow in better empathy and understanding of part of the daily life of one in eight people on our planet.
The event was called “Be Hope To Her” or “BH2O+” and was organized by Nuru International in an effort to inspire people to confront the crisis of extreme poverty.
The participants in the event placed a yellow five gallon bucket on their head and carried the bucket through their town or campus to a water source. At the water source, they filled their buckets with water, and began a journey through the area with about forty pounds of water on their heads.
Each step these men and women took made statistics a reality. No longer were they hearing about the reality of women and girls spending several hours each day gathering water for their families. No longer were they considering the opportunities that these girls and women would not experience because of the consuming need to gather water for their families. No longer was the problem of extreme poverty a far-away issue that affects people “over there.” When these men and women walked in mid-April, they were awakened to the issue of extreme poverty in a way that a statistic or a story of another could never do.
The story of nearly a billion people living in extreme poverty became the story of these men and women who gave up time and other choices for one day so that the people of Kuria, Kenya and beyond might experience a life filled with choices and opportunity. Now there are 1500 new storytellers who can tell about their experience of one day, and the daily experience of millions.
And as you watch this video, these young men and women invite YOU to join us in the fight. Make a donation, or just tell a friend, but get involved. These men and women invite YOU to be part of the solution, to be part of the END of extreme poverty. Will you join them in the fight?

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

LOST: A Reflection

After watching the series finale of LOST with my good friend Cameron King and many others, I found myself in a very reflective and pensive mood. My tweet following the end of the series was “Absolutely Beautiful!” and Cameron added the word epic. Epic and beautiful.

So why these two words?

Well I will start with the word epic. When watching LOST the first few times, the element that drew me in was the depth and intricacy of the story itself. LOST is the story of a group of survivors on a plane crash. As one watches the series, one discovers that the survivors of this plane crash have had their lives cross at previous occasions, but during their time on the island they do not realize how close their lives have come together previously. So this group of individuals seemed to be fated to come together, but as they come together, they enter into a story much larger than any of them can imagine. They each receive a fresh start, and it is the myriad array of strengths from their experiences that allows them to form a sense of team and of family as they struggle to survive on this island.
The setting of the island has its own array of strange twists that take it from the typical castaway desert-island trope to emerge as a strange location where polar bears and smoke monsters live, and where an array of strange properties are witnessed (i.e. healing of cancer and paralysis). And yet there is more. This same island proves to be a crucible for testing character as well as a fresh starting point for this unlikely mix of passengers on a plane. The story mixes the natural and the supernatural in such a way that the story grows in intrigue and mystery. There are knowns and unknowns, and just when one thinks they have figured out the island or the plot, a new twist emerges.

I could wax on about the epic simplicity and complexity of the show, the island and the characters, but I’d like to suggest that the there is much more to be said about the beauty of the show and the finale. The show leaves many questions unanswered, and in a way reflects the lives we live. There are subjects we know innately, experiences we can’t explain, and as much as we explore, there are new mysteries to be discovered. And yet, at the same time the numinous should not be a stumbling block. In LOST, of course there were unanswered questions—in some ways it is hard to fully ‘get it’ when watching the series. And yet, the way the story is told, and the endearing qualities of virtually every character draws the viewer in.

Perhaps the most beautiful aspect of the show to me was how it wove great truths together in a beautiful way. We enjoyed watching the characters live out lives of sacrifice, grace, forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. In a whirlwind way as the series drew to a close, it appeared that each character discovered his/her unique purpose, and began to live it out in a way that benefitted the whole group.

I believe that there is something beautiful about seeing someone discover their unique purpose in this world, and even more than that, I believe that the most valuable part of our lives when we examine them is not necessarily our exploits and travels, but rather our relationships. Part of the beauty of LOST is that it enthralls the viewers with the characters of the story, but also that it allows us the experience of watching the development and cherishing of relationships. At different points in the story, we watch as characters work to serve themselves, but as the series draws to a close each of them works together to accomplish something truly beautiful. As Jack Shepherd remarks early in the series, “We can live together, or die alone.”

If you are a LOSTIE, I hope you enjoyed these thoughts. I’m tempted to write more, but this post is already a bit long. If you haven’t watched LOST, I believe it is one of the best written television shows in the short history of the medium.

And whether you watch LOST or not, I hope you will work hard in your life to live with a purpose that serves your fellow human beings and that puts a value on relationship, forgiveness, grace, redemption and reconciliation, those, I believe are among the views we will cherish and savor the most as the beautiful and epic stories of our own lives unfold.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Happy 69th Birthday Dad!

Dad's Birthday 2010, originally uploaded by chanchanchepon.
Recently I gave an update on my dad’s health and just how impressive his recovery has been. Today, I want to let you know that he is now officially 69 years old. (I’m sure he will be really thankful for me sharing his age).

It’s pretty amazing to think back on the way my dad has poured into his children to spur us on to success. Growing up, he and my mom were our number one cheerleaders. He rarely missed a sporting event, choir concert, or academic accolade for any of us kids.

In fact, some of my fondest memories of dad center around how much care he brought to our family. Each day, he would rise early and be off to work. When he would arrive home, he would start taking care of household chores (along with mom). I can remember him working hard in our family garden (and sometimes us kids would even help), and then after mowing, gardening and sundry other activities, he would still have enough energy left to take me to a baseball field and help me work on my batting and fielding, or we would go fishing, or even play basketball together.

I guess I got a little more nostalgic because yesterday my dad and I spent some time walking and fishing around the small lake where my girlfriend grew up. He and I took our fly rods and worked our way around every structure we could find to see who could land the most and the biggest. It was a close race, but I’d say he probably won (How could I out-fish him on the day before his birthday?).

At the end of our fishing exploits we stopped in for a coke and some popcorn at the concession stand on the lake. It completed a fun journey for the two of us as we thought back to our numerous fishing trips over the years, successful catches, and even more wonderful times of being together with family.

I’m grateful for every year and every day that my dad has walked this earth, and I’m grateful that he demonstrated servant leadership at its finest by the way he took care of me, my siblings, and my mom. He taught us about the soil, about taking care of what we have, and how to love well.

I’m glad I have been able to sit under his tutelage for a few of the years he’s been walking the earth. If you have ever met him, you know what a privilege it is to know him.

Happy Birthday Dad!

Amanda Nicole Davis

Yesterday evening I heard this story about a young girl who is a student at Liberty High School in Clarksburg, WV named Amanda Davis. Amanda is finishing her junior year at the school, and is a finalist for a full scholarship to West Virginia Wesleyan. The final hurdle she needs to make it over is an online voting program that is being hosted by WV Metro News.

I met Amanda last summer at a high school girls basketball camp that was held in Morgantown, WV at WVU. She is tenacious on the court, and I later learned that basketball is one of three sports at which she excels. (She has also received honors on the local, regional, and state level for soccer and volleyball). While her athletic accolades are impressive, she knows that sports aren't everything, and she applies herself with the same level of discipline in the classroom. She currently has a 4.0 GPA, and to maintain that level of academic success while being involved in the rigors of successfully playing three sports is very rare.

Beyond her strong sense of discipline in the classroom and on the playing fields, she also serves in her community. She has served with her local hospital, the Salvation Army, and even the Red Cross. She mentors and tutors others through the Fairmont State University Gear Up program as well.

After hearing her story, I felt like it was more than appropriate to vote for her to have an opportunity to gain a full scholarship to West Virginia Wesleyan. I also felt like I should share the opportunity with you. She was selected as a finalist from an initial pool of over 100 students.

Will you take a minute and vote for this young lady to have an opportunity to receive this scholarship and attend West Virginia Wesleyan College? Click here to vote. Make sure you confirm your vote by opening the email they send you once you vote. The whole process takes less than a minute.

Thanks to everyone who votes, and I hope you have an awesome day!