Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Furnace School

So last week we went to Furnace School to learn about...you guessed it! Furnaces.
Apparently, even in the Arizonan climate, people need furnaces to stay warm in the winter...and at CHRPA, our job is to start/fix them. Hurray!

All this means those of us new to the furnace world went to a professional furnace school to learn everything we needed to know...supposedly.

Unfortunately, furnace school is mostly geared to contractors installing new, pretty furnaces, while we fix and light pilot lights on old, broken ones.

So...the things I learned were of a different nature. I composed some rounds (to be performed like in Harry Potter Puppet Pals...and if you haven't seen that, look it up on Youtube).

Learning About Drafting:

Not enough air and you better beware cuz that furnace gonna make you dead

Carbon monoxide is baaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaad.

Ventilation! We need more ventilation!

Learning about Venting:

Aww man! The flue don't fit! Aww man! The flue don't fit!

Nom. Nom. Nomenclature. Nom. Nom. Nomenclature.

Height. And lateral. Don't forget diameter. Height.And lateral. Don't forget diameter.

D-d-d-da-da double wall vent pipe! D-d-d-da-da double wall vent pipe!

Learning about Furnace stages:

Furnaces are just like rockets. Vroom!

1 stage meow, 2nd stage RAWR!

The secondary stage stops shivers. Brrr!

Watch the white wires. Watch the white wires.

In addition, Daniel and I played some hangman and created treasure maps.

Sometimes, you have to go to furnace school...but that doesn't mean it can't be fun. :)

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

I love my job

Today I spent an hour and a half jackhammering through an 8-inch brick wall.

It was awesome.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010


I should have known when I saw the Oregon plates on his car that we'd have a connection. But, truth be told, I didn't even notice that we shared a common bond with Oregon until he asked me where I was from. The job we'd gone there to do was fairly simple—replacing a grab bar in his shower. Jobs with CHRPA aren't always about the repair work though; this trip would be more about the person than the house.

It turns out he had spent a significant amount of time living in Bandon, Oregon, the same small southwestern oceanside town that my grandma has lived since the 1970s. Mike served with the coast guard in WWII, and simply loved spending time near the water. After retirement, he'd owned and operated a lobster boat out of Maine, gone to Chinese cooking school, and lived out west in Oregon for health reasons. He had quite a story—the kind of story I hope to tell when I reach that point in life.

We finished up the grab bar without problems and went to work trying to fix his screen door. It was exciting for me, as my family had screen doors back home and I knew exactly what to do, at least in theory. As we worked, he chatted with us about his incredible life, laughing with us as we struggled to implement the plans I had in my head to fix the door. He even asked us at one point if we were more than “work partners,” because “you're just both good-looking young people with a natural chemistry.” We laughed pretty hard at that.

Things got a little more serious after we'd finished repairing the door. He was really grateful for us doing more than he'd anticipated, and really wanted to show his gratitude. He offered us a cup of coffee, despite the fact that we were working in at least a 90 degree day. My philosophy on a client offering me something, no matter what it is, is to take it, because that makes our relationship more reciprocal, rather than me being someone providing something for them without them in turn somehow providing something for me. It builds mutual respect, rather than a dependent relationship. Plus, as Mike said, “I can never make a pot of coffee for me to drink one cup. If you have one, I can justify making it.”

While we were munching on the biscotti Mike kept putting in front of us, and as I sipped my coffee, Mike told us about his summer, when a group supporting veterans paid the airfare for any living survivors of World War II to go to Washington D.C. for the dedication of the new WWII memorial. Mike spoke of the emotional experience he felt, the anguish he goes through thinking about his brothers that didn't make it through the war. And, when he said “Freedom isn't free,” for the first time in my life I didn't cringe at the overused platitude.

Mike had seen on my wrist that I wore many bracelets, one of which simply says, “Peace.” He looked at Amy and me and said, “I hope we have peace. And I hope you young people never have to experience what I did. I was hoping after our war we could have peace. I still hope for you.”

Then he looked at me and told me about a bracelet they gave to all the veterans who were at the memorial dedication. “I don't wear it, but you wear bracelets, and I don't have any children or relatives to give it to—would you want it?”
A million things passed through my head in that moment: I don't support the wars we're in, or think they're justified, nor do I typically endorse my country's actions abroad. I knew that my taking that bracelet was incredibly important to Mike, but I didn't want to take it without really grasping and accepting responsibility for the item I was about to receive. After a pause, I told Mike I would be absolutely honored to wear that bracelet for him. With tears in his eyes, he went to a dresser and handed it to me.

Before we left that day Mike showed us pictures from his computer of the dedication ceremony and the memorial itself. Mike didn't need to say much at that point. We were all in tears—the two young, idealistic young people, fervently anti-war, and the aging veteran, a peace-activist in his own right.

I left that day with a rubber bracelet of the stars and stripes on my wrist. It took some getting used to, especially in relationship to all my other bracelets, but whenever I look at it, I can't help but think of that passionate man living by himself, hoping for a better tomorrow. There are times just looking at it and thinking about the powerful way I received it brings tears to my eyes.

When we meet each other face to face, we find our humanity together.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A trip to the border

I was lucky enough to finally get down to the border this Sunday after two months of living in Tucson! I went down with a group from the U of A that was looking into the similarities between the recent militarization of the U.S.-Mexico border and the Israeli-Palestinian border. While we discussed this topic in passing, we actually mostly discussed the economic, social, and political realities surrounding the border at our current point in time.

I hold no false pretensions that I understand the border. I have only been exposed in a select few situations to what is going on, most tangibly on my trips to Mexico building houses during college. While I've been in Tucson, I've learned a lot about the plight of migrants dying in the desert, willing to risk their lives seeking a better life for their families. I've learned a lot about how recent Arizona legislation affects the lives of all Arizonans, not just those of Hispanic descent. But going down to Nogales and seeing and hearing the perspective of an American citizen with dual citizenship who has grown up on the border, freely traveling and visiting family on both sides, brought out more questions than answers.

I think Socrates was onto something when he said “The only thing I know is that I know nothing.” I think the border is an issue that the further you delve into it, the deeper it gets, the more breadth it has, and the more frustratingly complex the system becomes. I left feeling completely overwhelmed by the magnitude of the changes that need to take place for all people to live in a just system, and disgusted that I am part of a system that is blatantly disregarding basic human rights. A part of me no longer feels like a small cog in a giant machine that is creating change, but instead like a small pebble simply washed along with the current of the river.

So how do we react?

I think the main thing I can do personally to start removing myself from an unjust system, and eventually changing it, is educating myself as to how my actions are impacting others. How do the foods I buy support companies that are fair and just to their workers, or support companies that are abusing an economic situation and have created an unjust system for its workers? How about my clothes?

This process continues onto larger levels: How does my church support companies that are doing things right? How about my family? Do my friends know the ramifications of buying that coffee from a major manufacturer that pays its workers an unlivable wage?

Finally, and this is where it gets really overwhelming (but also very exciting)—how do we tackle the government systems that enable Americans to live the most extravagant lifestyle in the world while a)millions of our fellow Americans are stuck on the streets without a job or home and b) while workers in foreign countries lose their jobs because the company they are working for was undersold by an American producer? I'd like to think if we really knew the affects of our decisions we would choose differently.

Mostly importantly, how do we handle these issues in ways that give dignity to all involved, both the oppressors and the oppressed? There are no enemies in this challenge. We are all striving to find ways to live, and each of us have the same blessing, the same sacred right to walk this Earth.

I think of MLK. “The nonviolent resister does not seek to humiliate or defeat the opponent but to win his friendship and understanding. Our aim is not to defeat the white community, not to humiliate the white community, but to win the friendship of all the persons who had perpetrated this system in the past. The aftermath of violence is bitterness. The aftermath of nonviolence is reconciliation and the creation of a beloved community.”

I am an unabashed optimist. And even in the frustration and bitterness and real, passionate, anger that thinking about some of this stuff brings me, I cling to the belief that we are capable of something more. And I don't think it is possible just because we think we can do it. I think it is the type of community that God intends, and the type of love between people that Jesus spoke of.

MLK shared this hope:

“The arm of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Thanks for staying on this journey with me. Keep dreaming.


The last few weeks has been a trying time. One of my best friends from college lost his mother in a sudden and tragic auto accident in Scottsdale, AZ. I have been so grateful to be down here and in a position where I can physically be present for my friend and his dad and brothers. I've never lost someone suddenly, and I've found that while I didn't know his mother personally that well, I've been grieving for Kyle and his family. Part of my frustration has been with wanting to help, but knowing there is really nothing I can do to understand what that family is going through. I wrote about it, partially for me, and partially trying to voice some frustrations with the grief process overall.

We all ask:

Why her?

Reality tells us—this happens to folks everyday

News stations can't even run the stories

they're so common


old news.

But the weight on my heart

the agony ripping at my soul

a suckerpunch to my ability to





These things tell me

this story matters

this life matters

She matters.

So we reach out in the only way we know how

trying to connect

trying to help

trying to ….

feel like we're doing something.

Can I come help? Do you need anything?

I'll send a package! How are you doing?

Do you want to talk? I'm here for you.



For maybe a couple weeks.

And then suddenly it stops

like we've overcome the pain

and life can be normal again.

Are you kidding me?

My grief still feels like an open wound

and it starts to heal when I can be real

with someone and share my sadness

But you all think I'm fine

after all it's been quite some time

I should be recovering

She'd want it that way.

She'd want it that way?

Oh those words always cut to me like the steely edge of a knife

sometimes a comfort

mostly a brutal reminder that

what we are saying is purely conjecture

because we don't know what she'd want

because she isn't here!

This is grief.

This is now life.

We all ask:

Why her?

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Where is Home?

This last weekend I traveled back to Oregon, both to attend the wedding of a close college friend and to see my lovely girlfriend, who is still attending Linfield College. As I came into view of the city of Portland, a city in which I lived near and was involved in for the last 5 years of my life until now, I thought to myself: “This weekend is really going to mess me up.”

I think there is something very dangerous about returning to a situation we've been in that is “comfortable.” I loved Linfield. Scratch that. I love Linfield. It is a beautiful and powerful place that has dramatically influenced the person I am becoming, and influenced the person I am striving to be. But returning to Linfield this weekend was a difficult, straining thing for me, because I felt so content and comfortable there.

My girlfriend gave me a hard time prior to my coming back, because while I was only around for 2 days, news had spread quickly on our small college campus that I would be around.“Everyone likes you Luke! They're so happy you're coming!” Now, I am NOT traditionally good at keeping touch with people if we are separated by distance, and the same has been true in the time I've been in Tucson. Quite honestly, I have failed at maintaining many relationships back at Linfield. But upon returning this weekend, I was so overwhelmed by the support and love I was shown by those I hadn't even talked to in months and months—they wanted to hear all about what I was doing, how I liked it—and they care because they know that what I'm doing matters so much to me. They know me well enough to know that while what I'm choosing to do might not be their personal preference for their future plans, it makes ME very happy and fulfilled, and therefor they are excited for me.

I'm now sitting on the plane flying back to Tucson, and I think that feeling “known” by people is a luxury of being invested somewhere. I'm now around 7 weeks into the program, and while I have made so many contacts and friendships that I am very excited about, I think a part of me is still striving to be “known.”

That isn't to say that people haven't reached out to me. My roommates are all incredible, awesome folks that I feel so lucky and blessed to live with. I think that we've started to break down the barriers that we each come in with, some of us more than others. And I'm excited that as the year goes on, we'll grow more comfortable with each other, and hopefully, feel known, supported, and loved by those who surround us on a daily basis.

Yet it is quite difficult to return to the comfortable situation at Linfield, just for a brief visit, and then jump back into the uncertainty and unknown of Tucson. I long for the feeling of community that I find when I return “home” to Linfield.

That's what we're all striving for, I think. Community, on so many different levels. Community with the people we're living with. Community with the people we're working with. Community with the people we attend religious services with. Community with the folks who attend the religious service across the street that we might disagree with. Community with the people in our neighborhood. Community with people who share our passions, our innermost yearnings for peace, reconciliation, alleviation of poverty, inter-religious understanding.

I don't know how we accomplish a sense of community similar to the one I feel at Linfield in one year instead of five. Maybe we don't. But I know from my experiences that community doesn't necessarily happen because we try to make it happen. The most genuine communities of which I've been a part have occurred organically, when people simply meet each other where they're at, with open hearts and listening ears.

Open hearts and listening ears.

I want to share your pain and multiply your joy.

I want to give you room to speak, room to process, room to vent, without an agenda of my own, but with the desire to have your voice heard and respected.

Open hearts and listening ears.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

On My Own

Earlier this week I had a couple really cool experiences at work. Monday I was working with Dan Regier, a longtime CHRPA worker, and we visited a house with both a swamp cooler problem and a toilet/tile problem in the bathroom. Dan and I looked at the two jobs, and then he looked at me, and asked “Do you feel comfortable working on the cooler by yourself?” And I was able to say yes.

Tuesday I was working with Kristi and she wasn't feeling well, so after we built a new banister for a client and stopped to eat lunch, she went home to rest and recover. Scott (my director) turned me loose for the afternoon to finish the job that Kristi and I were originally going to do. It wasn't something I'd done before, but Scott explained what I needed to do and felt comfortable sending me, so away I went!

There's a certain pride about working on a job (or even an aspect of a job) by yourself. I noticed that I felt a great deal more ownership of the jobs, taking full responsibility, rather than being a helper for the more experienced employees. Suddenly I became a lot more of a perfectionist. I questioned everything I did: Is this good enough? And, without anyone else there to sign off on the work I was doing, I had to have confidence in what I had done before I could walk away.

I'm still learning, but it was a great feeling to be adequate enough at my job to go do it alone. I've been here just over a month now, but I've already learned so much.

I think we all have a lot to learn, if we are willing to put ourselves in positions where we are bad at things. I tend to avoid things I'm bad at. As I've gotten older, this has only become more prevalent—I see people that are really, really good at things, mostly because they've been doing them a long time, and rather than admit I don't have experience, or am scared to try, I simply avoid the activity altogether. How ridiculous is that? How much of life am I missing out on?

I know that it is uncomfortable to not be good at things. I know that I really enjoy being good at something, known for something, just to have that one unique way in which you are an authority (for me, I look at tennis. I love tennis, but if I really critique myself, I think a prominent reason for my playing tennis is that it was something I did that not very many other folks did, something that I could be the best at, and known for). I think the challenge I'm learning through my early time here at CHRPA is that presence is more important than competence. Even if we are terrible at something, incapable of helping out in any real way, our very presence can speak to a great deal. We grow through things that are uncomfortable and difficult.

I'm trying to grow. I recently started reading a new Paulo Coelho book (the author of the Alchemist) in a thrift store, and in the very first chapter the character stated that there is one moment in every day in which we can either choose to really live life to its fullest or simply live life. Sometimes we seize the opportunity and sometimes we watch it go by. The first step is recognizing the moment for what it is. The next step is jumping into those situations where we are struggle and embrace them as something new and life-giving. Honestly, I think that most of the time I miss those opportunities, every day.

No more. I want to be more willing to lose at games, to be incompetent with a new tool, to make an fool of myself in a unfamiliar social situation. And why? Because those are the situations in which I have the most to learn, and have the most room to grow. I only hope I have the courage to follow through.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Deep Roots and Thin Air

Deep roots
Deep deep roots
Reaching down
Taking hold

Ancient ties
keep us close
deep roots
deep deep roots

Different colors
skin tone smudges
that captures diversity

Languages older than our discovery of the land

Reaching down
Taking hold
This is what keeps us grounded
close to the Earth from which we came.
Deep roots.
Deep deep roots.

Thin Air

Instead of altitude sickness
instead of hallucinating
I feel stronger
think clearer
as I get higher.

I feel so impermanent
Yet invincible.

I could die any second
or I could live forever.

Take away moments like this
And I'd know something was missing
Those moments when

I could die any second
or I could live forever.

Deep roots was written at church last Sunday at Southside, which was a celebration of the Native American heritage of the congregation. Southside was originally started as a mission church, due to its proximity to the reservation on the south end of town. Sunday, church members with native origins stood up and introduced themselves and spoke of their genealogy, many of which are tied to the Tucson area for at least 4 or 5 generations. I was really struck by the rich history Southside had with the Native American population, but also by the pride and dignity with which the Native Americans spoke of their past.

Thin Air was written at the top of Mt. Wrightson, during a few moments when I managed to sneak away from the massive group of 14 and sit by myself. I don't know that the poem really captures those moments that I feel on top of mountains...that transcendent feeling of being so big and so small at the same time. But it tries.


Ok, so it's been a long time since I posted, and when you've waited this long, it's hard to pick back up on the posting. And, more to the point, I'm almost at a loss for where to update. Do I fill in my daily acitivities, or weekend fun? Or do I share my recent thoughts or writings?

I'll start with a few pictures from a hike we took a
few weeks ago to the top of Mt. Wrightson...the tallest mountain in the Tucson area! Exactly what my body and spirit needed. :)

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Let me tell you about the work I'm doing.

Let me tell you a little about my work. I'll let the CHRPA Handbook for new volunteers shed some light on their overall mission:

"The mission of Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona, Inc, is to assist the disadvantaged of our community to live in and maintain humane housing. We accomplish our mission by being by being a client-centered, quick-response, cost-effective provider of emergency home repair services to low-income homeowner/occupants in Tucson and Pima County. We prioritize projects that address health of safety conferns, reduce high utility bills, or otherwise preserve the livability of the home."

And from another section:

"Client-centered means we care about our clients. We are not as concerned with productivity as we are with helping the people that we serve. You will find that many of them need someone to talk with more than they need a new faucet. Although we strive to repair emergency situations and offer clients an adequate living space, it's ok to sit down and have a soda or some tamales with them. Hearing the clients' stories brings additional meaning to the work we're doing."

After a full week of work, I can now begin to see how these values come into play. This week I've labored for a full 8-hour day digging a ditch for a new gas line while the homeowner sat in a lawn chair smoking marijuana watching me (more coming on this one). I've played peekaboo with a young girl at one of the sites. One client's "emergency" was a slow drip coming from her faucet--I think more than a helping hand she needed a listening ear. And you hear people's stories: why they came to Tucson, what they hope for, the things that make them happy.

And at the end of the day I come home (for the some reason the 9 miles home after work seems to go by much quicker than the 9 miles there) exhausted and drained. I typically collapse on a couch, eat some dinner, help clean up, and go to bed.

Life in service is not glamorous. No medals are awarded on a daily basis. But, I would be lying if I were to say that a life of service is not rewarding. Because every day I see the smiles of people that will have one less worry in a life full of them.

The work we do at CHRPA is admittedly a band-aid. We are not addressing larger issues of the policies and systems that force people into poor housing and a lack of funding to maintain their homes. But lets face it, this is one more opportunity to practice the values that Mother Theresa spoke of when she said that"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."

We're all small parts of a much larger and beautiful collective whole. I'm one tile in a beautiful mosaic that changes people's lives. I'm dreaming big, but I'm acting small. Or, at least...I'm trying.

Pictures: Further below is about 18 feet of a metal awning that bent over onto the other part of the awning in a windstorm. We had to remove this ruined part while trying to keep the existing part intact! Problem solving 101!
Immediately below is a swamp cooler my co-worker Margaret and I installed. We also extended the exhaust from a vent and secured it, along with setting up a water-drainage system(this is the PVC pipe you see) for the used water that the client can attach to a hose and water plants with!

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Work, Day 1

It is 9 pm and I am utterly exhausted. That's really all you need to know. By the time I bike 9 miles to work, perform manual labor (today I repaired a leaking roof and helped fix a semi-functional swamp cooler), and then bike 9 miles home...I've got nothing left. It's a wonderful feeling though. The first family we helped won't have to choose of having a house that is comfortable and cool to sit in (but making the roof leak) or having a house that is hot hot HOT but preventing the roof from leaking. That changes their daily lives. And the second people have been without hot water for almost 2 months because they couldn't get the pilot light on their hot water heater to ignite. By the time we walked out of there, they had hot water available, plus we ordered a part to make sure we were providing a long-term fix.

I really like helping people.

This is the swamp cooler we disassembled, moved, repaired the roof underneath, and then reassembled. I should note that I left a little bitty chunk of finger in one of the cooler pads...it smashed my left index finger as I was installing literally the LAST thing...so I ended the job covered in a bit of tar and a bit of blood. Must have done something right. :)

And now, bed...another early morning, another 9 miles there, another day in the sun, and 9 miles home! I should start before and after pictures now for what I'm gonna look like by the end of this year. :)

Thanks for reading. Keep dreaming!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010


Here are some of my thoughts from the past few days, w/ a brief explanation of when they were written:

(written on the plane from Stony Point to Tucson)

This is the lie that our individualism tells us.
You're unique.
You're happier alone.
Who wants to just be one of the crowd?
You know what I found out?
I do.
Because when the beloved community comes together
we realize we were meant for it.
We were meant for something greater than individualism
a collective unit
that gains strength from each of its parts
complementing parts, fitting together
this is the good life
and when you lose it
you realize what you had
all too late.

Yet I'm grateful for the time we had together.
Yes, perhaps it would have been easier to avoid the process of growing attached to people
only to see them move to the very margins of your life.
But at least you felt it.
At least you felt that love
that support.
People that care.
Young people that care.
About each other.
About the world we live in.
People of action.
Caring requires reaction.

We go.
We go to be, not to help, not to try to change how people live
but to be in their lives.
A beloved community of their own.
Because the beloved community does not require money.
Status. Religion.
All the beloved community needs is each other.
What a beautiful thing.
All we need is each other.

(sitting on top of a hill/mountain at the park 6 miles outside of town)

Even in Tucson
the mountaintop brings
A moment of rest from everything swimming through my head.

As I climb upwards
the things bogging me down
slowly lose their pull
their strength
their power.
And the heart
the soul
the mind
feel peace.
Look at the desert.
It doesn't ask for more from the Creator.
It finds peace where it is at.
No more
no less
Be still.
Be quiet.
Be content.

Keep dreaming!

Monday, September 6, 2010

Some pictures!

From top left: Sitting on a ledge in the mountain park 6 miles outside of Tucson.
Top right: An Inuksuk on top of the peak.
Middle: My roommate Meredith on top of the bluff.

Middle left: My favorite picture from the Mountain Park hike.
Middle Right: A night view of Tucson from the top of Tumamac Hill.
Bottom Left: The 4 of us (3 from Tucson, one from San Antonio), going to our commissioning service in Ossining, NY.
Bottom Right: My small group at orientation in Stony Point, NY. (playing King Frog)
Bottom of the bottom: My family here at 1229 N. 4th Ave! From left, Me, city supervisor Brandon, Stevie, Ali, Meredith, Jill, Jacob!

A week gone!

Well, I've been in Tucson almost a week now. And boy, has it flown by. We arrived last Monday around 7 pm and were greeted by literally the most incredible sunset we could ask for, one of those cacophonies of color and light that just makes your heart feel like it could dance. Our site coordinator, Brandon, picked us up and took us to his home, the third floor of a multi-level community house where he lives with his wife, Jodie, and two daughters, Jakelynn and Lucia. Brandon has been down in Tucson for years now, long enough to sink his teeth into the events and efforts that are taking place here, and he will help us get involved with those efforts as much as we want.

Tuesday through Sunday has basically been an intense week-long introduction to life in Tucson. We've been biking almost everywhere, and Tucson is a WONDERFUL city for biking. With that in mind, much of our time has been spent at a local bike shop that gives us a great discount! Brandon spends our entire transportation budget to buy us bikes, and those are the way we get around! I'm pretty excited--this Friday I'll get my new Raleigh 2011 Sport road-bike...usually listed around $650, but with the discount and the money Brandon had for each of us, I'll end up paying around $35. By far the best bike I have ever owned.

We've also gotten settled into our house, a nice little 4 bedroom place pretty close to the U of A campus, and just a few blocks from a nice little downtown area called 4th Avenue. Everyone is sharing rooms, with the 4th room set aside for any guests we have come (so make plans to come visit!). I'll give a quick recap of my roomies:

Jacob: My roommate, the one other guy! Jacob is originally from Asheville and went to school at Montreat College in North Carolina. He's working here in town at Southside Presbyterian Church as an organizer for the day labor program for migrant workers.

Jill: A registered dietitian from California who just finished her masters degree at Virginia State! Jill is going to be working at the food bank in town, and is excited to put her food skills to use! She'll also get to do some farming, which will be great fun!

Meredith: Just graduated this spring from Gordon College, back north of Boston, MA. Meredith will be working at the Primavera Foundation, focusing on their homeless ministry.

Ali: A native of Virginia and recent graduate of Virginia Tech, Ali will be working with Borderlinks this year. For those who don't know, Borderlinks is an program that works with both sides of the border to educate students of all ages as to the complexity of the issues that surround the border. Check out their website at borderlinks.org

Stevie: Definitely from Texas (I've already been caught somehow emulating her nice little drawl), Stevie went to Austin College (where she knew my good friends Megan McCarty and Tad Hopp!). Stevie will also be working at Borderlinks this year.

So there you have it. There's an intro to my life here in Tucson. Now I have to go get ready to cheer Boise St. on against Ali and Virginia Tech!

I'll be back with some thoughts/reflections later!

Until then--Keep dreaming!

Monday, August 30, 2010

Final Night At Stony Point

As I sat in worship tonight, our final night together as the 62 YAV youth going to every different corner of the world, I thought about our week together, and the bonds that we'd made as a community. Here are my thoughts.

This community will not be broken.
There is
too much love
too much compassion
too much hope
too much energy
too much contagious enthusiasm
too much life.
We are full of life.
This community is a living thing.
This community will not be broken.
We separate tonight
so many different directions
to many places
to endure many pains and sorrows.
We will struggle.
We will hurt.
We will cry out to God
and ask, "Why do you let this happen?"
But the community will not be broken.
We will lift each other up
in prayer and in action.
the kind word.
the loving gesture.
God has put us together,
a community that will stand in solidarity and partnership
with the poorest of the poor, the victims of
that would have us believe they aren't human. Not worthy.
We will ache.
We will feel a longing for God's love for all unlike anything
we've ever felt before.
We will cry.
We will yell.
We will break down.
Hit rock bottom.
But when we need someone
that very moment
when we feel we're useless
powerless against forces so far
beyond our control
we'll stand as a community
we will not be broken.
and we will change the world.

"We can do no great things, only small things with great love."
--Mother Theresa

Keep dreaming with me.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Report from New York!

Howdy ya'll!
Yup. That's right. I've been hangin out with so many southern folk that I've been working on my "ya'll." In fact tonight at dinner some friends asked me and another Northwester what we said when we wanted to get "ya'll" across to someone...and the best we could come up with was "you guys." LAaaaaaaaaame.

Anyways, here's what's going on! I'll break you down on my average day:

8 am- Wakeup, shower, breakfast
9:15-Bible Study
10:30-Discernment, quiet time
Noon: Lunchtime!
1:30-Seminar till 5!
5 pm-Break
7-Small Group
8-Vespers (closing nightly worship)
9-etc...Free time

As you can tell, our days are just packed! We actually spend a lot of time sitting and listening, so it's been important that we find ways to run, take personal time, etc. But, even though the seminars are really long, they've actually been quite informative! I'm jealous of the folks that have already been to their sites for a week or so before coming here--it would make it easier to focus on the specific things they're talking about! However, all of my roommates are INCREDIBLE! I have really enjoyed spending time with them already...it makes me even more excited for the year!

At this point, it's feeling like it's about time to get out there on the job....No more talking about it. Lets do it!

At one point we were talking about self-care...making sure that we're taking care of ourselves despite the temptation to martyr/sacrifice (not literally, but you know what I mean) ourselves because of all the needs we see around us. We talked about taking care of your mind, your spirit, and your body--what do you need to rejuvenate? For me,
I decided that when my mind needs me to write, my body needs me to relax (for a lot of people this is exercise, but for me, I'm doing physical labor everyday, so it'll be more important to just relax), and my spirit needs me to get away. One of the first things on my list when I get to Tucson is to climb the highest point I can find....for some reason I always need to do that!

Ok, that's all the time I have for now! I've taken walks the last two nights down to the waterfront of the Hudson (last night to clean off after playing frisbee in the mud) and it's been really beautiful. However, it is a nice little 4 mile hike, so I've been sleeping well. :)

Until next time...keep dreaming!

Friday, August 20, 2010

As I pack...

As I'm looking across the things that I have strewn across my brother's room (my staging area for packing) I'm thinking about the way in which I've selected the things I'm bringing for the next year, and it is actually quite fascinating. I've stuck to the packing list the YAV program provided as best I can, but mostly I'm packing much as I would for a 2 week trip. However, this two week trip also has the oddest assortment of sentimental/useful/favorite items possible to bring. I have shirts that belonged to my grandpa, shirts that belong to my girlfriend, at least 3 of my dad's old shirts (so soft!), all the shorts that my mom has made for me...it seems like, even looking only at my clothes, that I am truly a conglomeration and sum total of so many people on this adventure. It is hardly just me leaving for Tucson--it is so many people, so much support, so much love and well-wishes and gifts and everything just surrounding me as I prepare to leave. I feel so lucky and blessed to have so many people backing me supporting me as I leave...

The other thing I've noticed is how much stuff I'm still leaving at home. HOLY COW. It's unbelievable. I have so stinking much junk! Ok, maybe not junk. But stuff that really isn't all that useful. 30-some dvds. Hundreds of books. Blankets, pictures, paintings, a computer, guitars, amp, keyboard...the list goes on and on. And while I'm sure I'll miss having some of this stuff (the instruments really come to mind) I think in a way it is liberating to be freed from some of this stuff, if only for a while. I think of the Buddhist idea of attachment (forgive me while I go religious studies major for a second) and how one of the steps to achieving enlightenment is detaching yourself from the world, notably your material possessions. One of my professors at Linfield this spring was detaching himself from some of his dearest possessions, his book collection, because he felt like he treasured it too much! I think this year is a unique opportunity to experience living with less, and, dare I say at this point, realizing that you rarely feel like you're lacking!

I'm excited however, as I invite friends over to borrow/rent/take stuff of mine that will be sitting useless here at home. One more argument for a "community" style of regarding our material things.

3 days till departure! So much to do!

Until next time...Keep dreaming!

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

My Sermon about my Story...

Here is the transcription of the sermon I gave August 1st, the Sunday I was commissioned by my home church as a Young Adult Volunteer. Keep in mind, this was only ever spoken word, and I never wrote it all down, so bear with any rough parts that appear particularly slangy. :)


Scripture Readings: Psalms 10:1-2, 12-13; 30:1-5; 55:16-19; 74:1-3

You know what I like about David? David keeps it real. David speaks what’s on his mind. And you know what? David crosses the full spectrum of human emotions when he does that. The verse that we just read talks about David being angry with God, feeling that God has deserted him. Then four psalms later, he’s talking about how grateful he is, that God has done the things he’s done in his life.
We can learn a lot from David. When I am having trouble connecting to something in the Bible, I usually end up going back to David. The guy screwed up a lot for one. So that’s something good that I can relate to. But then for two, it seems like David had a very very honest relationship with God. He wasn’t afraid to tell God what he thought at any given moment or time. That makes David human and very relatable to me. I think that makes it a good connection to us.
David is a character in a story with God. We are each characters in a story with God. And the Bible is full of characters in stories with God. And those are the same stories we are living today. Just like those characters in the Bible. It is all about people who are walking with God and what their stories are like.
So, think of a story from your life. This isn’t rhetorical, literally….think of a story in your life.
Now in that story, who are the main characters? Probably you, for one. Then a few other folks. Then the other thing to think about in that story is what do those characters want? And would you know what they wanted if you didn’t get to ask them? Or have prior knowledge of it? If you were watching this story of your life as a movie, would you like the characters? If you didn’t know why they were doing what they were doing, would you be able to connect with them? Would you think, “Yeah, I understand where they are coming from.” Or maybe their actions are just baffling you?
I think of the stories in my life, one of the most frustrating characters is me. Right? And its because, I have this natural tendency—well, you are always more frustrated with the things that you do. And so, if I watch a character, even if it’s another movie, and that character reminds me of some aspect of myself, I get so frustrated with that character. I’m just fed up with them!
But then I think about other characters, and I think sometimes in our stories that the other characters are just misunderstood. We just don’t understand them.
If I am watching those characters in a movie, I never get an opportunity to see that character in a different situation where I would understand them better. Instead I only see them in a certain situation.
So I think that stories are somewhat difficult things, especially if we look at ourselves from the outside perspective. I think the characters that you like are often the characters that easily portray what they want, what they are going for. They have a goal, they have a destination.
I think of Star Wars. OK? Star Wars has pretty clear goals. Luke Skywalker and Leia and Hans are all about…well, Hans kinda does his own thing. Luke and Leia are all about helping the Rebels defeat the Empire. And this sort of thing. It is very clear what they are going for. And that makes someone watching that movie able to relate to the story. They are able to get into that story and feel connected.
So then if you look at our own stories in that light, how do we allow others to be a part of our stories? How do we allow each other to be a part of the stories we are writing? Because it’s not just individual stories that we are writing. We are writing stories as families, we are writing stories as a church family, we are writing stories in Baker City. It just keeps going to larger and larger scales.
So when I started thinking about MY story in relation to where I am going in 22 days, it becomes a much larger story than about me.
I want to refer to a book several times today called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years by Donald Miller. A few years back during my freshman year in college, I read another book by Donald Miller called Blue Like Jazz. Essentially Blue Like Jazz was a huge hit within the Christian community. People loved it. It was easy to relate to.
A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is all about what happened when two movie producers approached Don and said “Hey, we want to make a movie about Blue Like Jazz”. And Don said “Well, uh, ok, let’s try it.”
Basically what Don discovers when he starts to see the movie about his life, because Blue Like Jazz is a memoir of stories and thoughts, and so as Don is watching his character on the screen, he says, “I don’t like this character…What do I do about that?” The movie producers are saying well, “We think Don should do this”. And Don is sitting there going “No, that isn’t what Don should/would do!” But I think it is easy when he is trying to connect to that to look at it and say, well, “Don, you should be doing this.” Right? When you are watching a movie, it’s like “Come on!? Seriously?”
OK, scary movies for instance. You’re always like “Don’t open the door!” Right? But you know what is going to happen. It always inevitably happens. And that’s part of that story. You say, please don’t do it. You know, you can’t get them to stay away from it.
And so I take what Don is saying about the stories, watching his life as a story. Literally, he gets to do it. We don’t all have that luxury. It isn’t that easy. Wish I could get a movie…..No, I don’t wish I could get a movie of myself. That doesn’t actually sound like a real good idea. But the fact of the matter is because he was able to have this movie done about him, he was able to look at himself in a new light. An opportunity to see himself from an outside perspective. He discovered some things about himself that he didn’t like.
Sometimes I think that’s important for us too. Because throughout different chapters that are the stories in our lives, I think sometimes we might not like our characters. Our characters might not be making great decisions. Our characters might be hurting people, maybe inadvertently. Maybe watching your life as a movie is the only way to realize, “Oh wow, the things I am saying are really hurting that person!” Because you never directly see it. And so it is important to think about “If I’m watching myself from that outside perspective, how do I like this person? I don’t know anything about them. I am just watching this movie.” Because with characters in a movie, if you don’t really like them, if you can’t connect with them, then you aren’t really going to be in the movie. Right? You’re like, whatever, I don’t care what happens to you. The movie is making no connection to you whatsoever.
So I think that we have to think about the lives we are living. Our lives right now.
Think about your life right NOW. Not just the story from earlier, but right now. Who are the characters in your life at this moment? They might be sitting next to you, they might not be here. But then, if you are watching the way you interact with those characters, is it a positive thing? Do you act in positive ways with those major characters in your life? Do you LIKE those characters in your life? Are they good influences? Do they push you? Do they help you grow? Because that’s what a story is about. A story is about growth. A story isn’t about the beginning and an end. The story is the middle. If we don’t have growth as characters, we are writing some pretty boring stories. Right? Characters that aren’t growing, aren’t going anywhere.
And so I think that sometimes it is easy to get caught in the same chapters of our stories for too long. You ever read that book, when it’s like the chapter goes on forever? You’re like, come on, just give me something new! Because a new chapter means something happened at the end of the old chapter, something is developing, the story is moving along in a direction. And if the story isn’t moving and the chapter isn’t ever willing to end, then we are stuck. We are just stuck there.
How does a chapter end? How does the story progress? You guys can answer. Oftentimes you get that nice cliff hanger at the end of the last chapter. Dun dun dun. What’s going to happen? And then you turn the page immediately because you have to know.
Our lives aren’t always quite like that. But I think sometimes what we need to change is what Donald Miller refers to as an inciting incident. Something has to happen. Something has to push us just a little nudge that we need.
I want to read just a brief passage from the book.
“Humans naturally seek comfort and stability. Without an inciting incident that disrupt their comfort they won’t enter into a story. They have to get fired from their job or be forced to sign up for a marathon. A ring has to be purchased, a home has to be sold. The character has to jump into the story, into the discomfort and the fear, otherwise the story will never happen. “
So how do we push ourselves to be willing and open to start a new story? It takes a lot of courage. The old story is comfortable. It’s nice. I can just keep going. Nothing has to change. But my character isn’t growing. And that’s where I come to today.
Almost 18 months ago now, probably longer ago than that, I started my application for the program I am finally going on in 22 days. I had it probably 2/3 done for the entirety of all last year. But I never pushed myself to finish it, push myself to enter that story. Where it was like, hey, I’m going to go do something new. Cause I was pretty comfortable where I was at. I was doing good. No need to change anything, right?
So now, I find myself in a month going to Tucson. I will be working with an organization called Community Home Repair Projects of Arizona. I will be plumbing, doing electricity work, roofing houses and all sorts of things that I don’t know if I ever really pictured myself doing.
It is a chapter in my story, a chapter that I knew what coming, but I didn’t know what that chapter was going to look like. But that’s the exciting part of a story, right? You don’t know what’s going to happen. And so I will be done there for a full year. I will get back August 15 next summer. I will live with 5 other young people, more or less, like myself, a lot of us in similar situations. Not all of us are working in the same place. Some of them are working other places along the border. Many are multi-lingual which I am not. Maybe I’ll be able to speak Spanish by the time I get back next year.
But my point is I missed my opportunity to jump into the next aspect of my story. I missed my first opportunity to start a new chapter. But the cool thing is…we have a co-author that is kinda stubborn. Our co-author is God. And if I think I am stubborn, I don’t think I have any idea what he is like. But the thing is… God gives us the choices to be writing our own stories. But he also knows us. He isn’t just looking at us on film screen from a distance and saying, “Oh, that wasn’t a very good decision.”
It’s like when you are an author….if you are writing a short story. I know we’re not all authors, but all of us at some point in school had to write a short story. At some point your character develops a life of their own. Right? So sometimes you have to let that character develop as they want to. You can try to help them in that story, but you can’t tell them “this is what’s happening in your story”. You can put an event in front of them, but how they react might surprise you.
That’s kinda the way we are. God knows what’s going on in here, and he knows what’s good for us. But we get to choose the way we react to our events and the things that surround us in our lives.
And I think that even if we miss the first opportunity to jump into a new chapter, another opportunity will present itself. Maybe it won’t be the same chapter, maybe sometime totally different, but I think the opportunity is always around us to do something to push us to growth. Because, as characters, we need that growth. We need to develop.
I think that that’s where I was when I finally sent in my application, finalized, in February of this year. I knew I needed to do something different. I’m restless. Nothing’s really fulfilling. I’m fine, I’m comfortable. I can keep on doing what I’m doing, nothing will be wrong. But I’m just not where I want to be, where I think I should be.
And that’s an unsettling feeling. Shoot, I’m jumping into a story. I don’t know if it’s the right story. I might get down there and say, “Man I’m miserable!” I doubt it, but I might!
And you never know that with the next story, the next chapter you are starting, you don’t know what it will be like. And that’s why it’s scary. That’s why we are so hesitant to jump into it. I know that we are all in various places in our lives. It’s easy for me to talk about starting a new chapters. I’m 23, I don’t know what I’m doing in my life yet. Whereas it might not be so easy for someone in a different chapter. But I think that that’s where it comes down to: it’s YOUR story. And what the new chapter in your story looks like isn’t dependent on what I think. It isn’t dependent on being on the same level. You don’t have to move anywhere to start a new chapter in your life. It can be a new hobby. It can be a determination to do something different about a certain aspect of your life. New chapters, new story lines will take on lives of their own if we are just willing to start through them. That’s what helps our characters, that’s what helps US grow.
There is one other thing that I wanted to read from and I think it is a pretty cool thing. In Million Miles in a Thousand Years, Donald Miller talks about the book of Job. He talks about Job’s resilience and Job’s willingness to continue praising God through all the terrible things that are happening to him. And Donald Miller says something that I think is really interesting: he says that Job understood that the story is about more than himself. Job is a tree in a story about the forest. And I think that’s where we are. We are each trees. We are each unique, we are each individuals, we are each writing our own stories.
But the story is so much bigger than any of us. The story is about redemption! It’s about love! It’s about community! It’s about relationship! That’s an exciting story! That’s a story line that pushes growth. That is a story line that makes the characters develop into someone you like, that you relate to, that you enjoy.
That’s the kind of story line I want for us, as a church, and for everyone here as individuals. A story line that allows us to go forward in our relationships with each other and with God. That’s a pretty special story. In the Bible, there are some places in Numbers and Deuteronomy where you get lost in all the genealogy. At the end of the sentences where they recorded about the kings, it’s basically like “The king is good. The king is bad.” You just keep going and going. It talks about the king. It is pretty brief in that Old Testament. It doesn’t talk that much about what the king does specifically. And it says, “The king walked with God”.
That’s my wish for each of us. That our stories, essentially, that’s the huge story line. That’s the larger story line. Inside that are individual chapters. For our large story line, I want it to be, “And they walked with God. “ I think that’s what we have to be all about. If our story, at the end of it, can say, “So and so walked with God.” Fill in the blank there. Then I think those are the stories we want to write. Whatever that looks like for you, I don’t know, but don’t be scared to jump into a new story. Don’t be scared to start a new chapter. It’s easy for me right now. My parents and I are in the same place. Isn’t that weird? I’m talking about doing what’s new for me, and they’re talking about what’s next for them in retirement! But the fact of the matter is we are all that way! We all have those opportunities to do new things and start fresh. I just hope we have the courage and strength to walk with God on that story. Amen.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Back in Pennsylvania...

So I'm back East for my Grandpa's funeral...a great time to see family I see so rarely and celebrate the life my Grandpa lived! My mom and I had the opportunity to sing...it was really, really uplifting to just sing...especially because I know it's something my Grandpa would have enjoyed so much. Here is a video of part of the song.

View the video

Friday, August 6, 2010

Soon to come:

A video and transcript of the sermon I gave on Sunday, August 1st, as I was commissioned for my year in Arizona and presented the first half of the money the church has pledged to support me! I just need to get home from Pennsylvania so I can upload the video! :)

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Some thoughts from today

Prepare for rambling...NOW.

I recently finished the book Ishamel, by Daniel Quinn, which is absolutely a keeper. Fantastic read. Basically, the point that it is trying to make is that humans have an attitude towards the Earth unlike any other being in creation, and that through our understanding of our role on the Earth, we misuse it. Parts of it reminded me of my American Nature Writing class my senior year, when we discussed humanity's "Abrahamic" view of the Earth, referring to God giving land to Abraham, for Abraham to use for his people. Man has taken that reference very literally, believing that the Earth belongs to us for our consumption, and that we are God's ultimate creatures, designed to control all others. While these ideas are certainly up for debate, the main idea that I want to take from Ishmael is an idea that man would be better suited by observing and adapting to lifestyles embodied by our fellow creatures around us, understanding that we are but one part of a large and complex world.
That being said, I'll insert the other idea I'm grappling with here: violence. I sat in on a Christian non-violence and social change course this spring, and while there are many interesting tidbits I could share from that, there is one in particular that got to me. When discussing how a group of people can go about changing a culture (like ours) that feeds so much on violence, a buddy of mine named Stephen mentioned sports. He basically said that sports completely embody the violent method--your whole goal is to prove your physical and mental dominance over another person. That idea shook me. Even sports, something I dearly love, are at least in part violent.
With that in mind, I come back to Ishmael. If humans are indeed better off to observe and change our behavior more towards that of the animals around us, we basically HAVE to be violent. Much of nature, similar to sports, is based around physical and mental dominance. Only the strong survive. How can these two things be reconciled?
Is non-violence indeed simply an idea, a concept to strive after, but never achieve? I have denied that for years, and cannot bring myself to come to such a conclusion now. Perhaps our lesson could be found from a creature lower on the food chain. I suppose (at least, I'm guessing) that a gazelle on the African plains does not dwell on whether its life should be violent or not. It doesn't really have that option. Its life is mostly about food and water. And when a cheetah/lion/predator attacks said gazelle, the gazelle attempts to flee, and maybe it fights back, but I feel like mostly it accepts death in a graceful way unknown to mankind. The herd moves on. Perhaps our fear of death is what makes us violent...we so desperately want to survive that we are unable to recognize the inevitability, and also the grace, of becoming just another part of the food chain, a small cog in a much larger machine, part of an unending circle of life. (Yea Lion King!)

Well...if nothing else, that helped me put some thoughts down on paper. Soon I'll write a post that actually relates to going to Tucson. :)

Monday, July 19, 2010

I've done it!

Ok. So...I'm going to be honest. Just making this blog stepped up my excitement/nervousness quite a bit. I leave in just over a month! Plus, I haven't blogged since I crossed the country w/ my lifelong buddy Chrodgers (and our furry little stuffed animal friend Harry the Haribou!). I hope to expand on this initial entry soon, but for now, thanks for stopping by!

Oh, and can I say my home church is INCREDIBLE? Within a week of submitting my request for funds to the Session, they committed to covering the full $5000 cost for my YAV experience. However, while I appreciate the peace of mind that comes with this gesture, I am still continuing my fundraising efforts, so that some portion of the money that would otherwise be directed to me can instead go to other worthy missional efforts!