Tuesday, September 27, 2011

YAV Transition Retreat

This last weekend I had the opportunity and blessing to be with 49 other YAVs from the last year in Ghost Ranch, New Mexico. I want to share two writings from the weekend.

Shoulders and Spirits

We talk about a need for closure
I want to go around to every person and thank them
"You did good work. You inspire me."
We all share doubts. Concerns.
Fears for the future.
We are worried.
And despite our smiles and laughter
we carry that fear.
we have supports
shoulders and spirits to hold us up
there? wherever we go after?
We face uncertainty alone.
So this time together
now, este momento
let us be thankful for the people around us.

Chimney Rock

When the world is this open
reaching out miles upon miles
something about feeling this small
makes me smile
it feels right
to feel humbled
the mighty ego crumbles

do I question God?
No...not here.
I question me.
I question our purpose
as something so tiny
so useless

I climb up so high
my modern day tower of babel
to feel strong. worthy.

Yet the higher I climb
the less I feel tall
the more I feel small.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Farewell, Tucson

To my communities: to 1229, to the Vsers and JVs, to CHRPA

I'm leaving
goodbye my friends
this hasn't hit me yet
I'll hug you
wish you well
and cry by myself later

So many good people.

No matter how carefully I construct
our final conversation in my head
rehearsing the things I want to say
need to say to you
I'll falter when I look into your eyes
and know it's really happening.

So many good people.

As soon as you leave my words will return
I'll tell you what a wonderful person you are
but you're already gone.

So many good people.

I'll thank you for the times we shared,
and I'll marvel at how blessed I've been to be here

So many good people.

I know I should be leaving.
I feel my place is elsewhere.
But that doesn't make it easier
My eyes don't stop leaking tears.

What a privilege it has been this year
to be happily surrounded by
so many incredible and beautiful people.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011


How does one privileged
living a blessed life
a storybook life
ever fully understand the plight of the poor
the ones the world has left behind

even if you care
even if you are intimately aware of the problems
that these unlucky ones bear
are you ever willing to fully share in their pain
to throw in your lot with the weak and the lame?


You keep your distance
as they say all social service providers should do.
I'm just not sure that is the truth
or just one more lie we've created
to keep that distinction between them and me.
You and we.

There is this knot down within
that if I truly believe we are equal
that the qualities that unite us as people
are far more important than class, religion, gender, income level,
ethnicity, sexuality, geography...
that every excuse I can muster for
how we are different, separated, unique
pales in the light of our commonalities
that every wall I attempt to build
is simply filled with my fear
my unwillingness to give up the things I hold dear
as a lucky one.
A privileged one.

But walls of fear are lies
and they are thin
for even when we cannot see the problems
we can still hear the cries echoing in our souls.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Job Honesty

It happened today for the first time. Or, maybe not the first time, but the time I have felt MOST responsible. Today I felt the downside of manual labor, of that wonderful work I do that gives me visual confirmation every day of the difference I'm making, the people I'm helping. But today, after 3 days on a gas line, after already scheduling an inspection for tomorrow, I discovered my gas line had a leak.

It was right at the end of the day. We were packed up. The pressure test had held for a half hour. But suddenly we were losing air. Maybe Harvey or I nudged the pipe as we were screwing in support blocks. So, I got out the leak detector and started checking joints. None of the usual suspects were guilty. I checked more. None were leaking.

My frustration was building, as time passed and as I thought of the inspection I had called in. We wouldn't be able to get it inspected tomorrow. Our client, already without gas for almost 9 weeks, would have to wait at least another 2 days. The pride I had felt just an hour previous had already soured into bitter disappointment.

And I suppose that's the downside of my job sometimes. As incredible and rewarding as it can be to see your handwork at the end of a day, you can also see the lack of work.

Success is very visible, but so is failure.

Just another part of the journey.

Keep dreaming,


Sunday, May 22, 2011

Motivational Statement

I just finished my motivational statement for the Americorps application, to be completed under 3000 characters. So, it is brief, but I think it captures why I am committed to the things I am.

I've spent my life doing community service in one form or another. My parents had me involved with various service projects from an early age, participating in the CROP Walk, buying animals for HEIFER for holidays instead of traditional gifts, saving my pennies in a Unicef bank. For me, there have been two particular transformative moments in taking ownership of these habits and lifestyle choices that my parents taught me early on: the 30 Hour Famine my senior year of high school, and my homebuilding trip to Mexico my sophomore year of college.

I had participated in the 30 Hour Famine a couple years prior to my senior year, but it was my senior year that we watched a video showing human aid workers delivering needed food, water, and medical supplies to those in desperate need. I watched that video, and something clicked. At that moment, spending a life working to alleviate the poverty of those in need, a life working to change the systems that put people in those situations, seemed the most fulfilling and meaningful life.

I tried to put that mentality to work in college, volunteering in a variety of capacities until my sophomore year I was able to join a coalition of 9 Yamhill County churches that yearly drive down to the Tijuana area of Mexico to build homes with Amor Ministries. I learned a lot about myself on that trip—I had the unique opportunity to join with 70 people I barely knew, and could redefine and reinvent myself. I worked so hard on that trip, and tried so hard to keep a positive attitude, that it became reality. More importantly, I saw poverty face to face for the first time, the kind of poverty that is around every corner in the U.S., but is pushed out of sight and out of mind by our culture.

I think when one sees that poverty, confronts that poverty face to face, with real people and real stories, one simply cannot help but act. There is no other option. For me, it is both a moral obligation and a obligation of faith. One thing is certain though: my life cannot look the same as it did with the knowledge that there are people who are suffering, who are not given the same opportunities and resources as I was. It is now about justice.

Over the past year I have worked as a full-time volunteer through the Presbyterian Church USA. My horizons keep expanding, the world keeps growing bigger, the problems more complex. And my sense of justice, my internal demand for equality, only continues to expand. Perhaps it is a blessing, perhaps a curse. Regardless, it is my motivation.

Mother Theresa said, “You can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Despite my awareness of the magnitude and gravity of the problems that surround us, I am desperately trying to live in that belief. I cannot change things by myself, but I can never underestimate the power one person can have on another person's life.

Borderlinks Trip

I apologize for the near-monthlong break between posts....I've had so much running through my mind lately that the time to digest and write has been somewhat few and far between.

I had the opportunity the first weekend of May to be a part of a Borderlinks delegation, a participant on the trips that my roommates Ali and Stevie routinely lead as part of their jobs here in Tucson. Borderlinks strives to educate about the border through experience and conversation, relying on the participant to push themselves, to ask questions, to learn through the experience. I want to share a few of my writings from the weekend.

One of those most powerful experiences was watching Operation Streamline, a required courtroom appearance for migrants picked up by border patrol to plead guilty to the misdemeanor of "crossing the border without going through a legal entry point." If migrants believe they have an actual case for an immigration judge, they will go through a different court system. But for these individuals, about 75 the day we were there, there is only one answer to all the questions asked: "Si. Yes."
They each wore chains around their wrists and their ankles, with an additional chain holding those together. Every movement was marked with the sound of bondage. An as they were called up in groups of 6 to plead guilty, swept through the legal system in a solid hour and a half, I have to ask....is this the justice?

on all sides
we look at them
pity in our eyes
but that's still the power card
just another part of the lie
they look at us
lost, alone, abandoned....defeated.
Friends or foes?
Every face in America
must seem hard and bitter.

People in power mill around
smiling, chatting
flaunting the fact that they aren't
seated, cuffed in two places,
unable to move without the
jingling of chains haunting every movement

what drove them to try
such a dangerous, difficult, STUPID task?
they look healthy, capable
just like me
their eyes tell their stories
some sad, humiliated, defeated
others defiant, proud
some even twinkle
and for those
I have hope.

Do they really know what is going on?
Is the the idea of justice they are getting?
Maybe they'll find out Arizona isn't all that great anyways
now that they're here
but that is desperation for you
no choices
you have to act
without thought or regard for what could happen

I feel so much anger
but I'm not sure at who
is it purposeful?
Does it help?
Does it DO anything?
No. Definitely not.
But this is an outrage.
I want to stand up and yell it!
If everyone could see this
if people in the States could SEE this
it couldn't stand....could it?
We aren't that inhuman, are we?
It reminds me of Bradley Manning
even an American citizen and soldier can't get justice
and we are still unwilling to act.
And that is apathy. Insulation.
This will be our downfall.

The emptiness grows
that knot in my stomach that started when I walked in and
saw the men and women on "trial"
And as each person leaves the courtroom, one less person
here in this experience with me, the
emptiness grows
the loneliness grows
as this cavernous courtroom becomes larger and
more desolate, lacking the warmth of any humanity
my emptiness grows
my aching accelerates
my heavy heart
feels like it just might
fall out of me.
We lose in this scenario too.
We leave empty.

And that is what is bothering me the most about all this. We're losing a war against ourselves. Our own fears, our insecurities. We feel entitled. Entitlement breeds laziness, laziness breeds ignorance. And sadly, that is reality for many in the border region. There is no reason to understand the situation of someone that has a different color skin or speaks a different language. We're scared to try. Because when we do, we no longer have the luxury of framing the situation as "us vs. them." They are us. And we are them.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter Sunday

A couple years ago, this was my Easter Sunday experience. I wrote about it that same day. And I think about it every year.

Easter Sunday
 I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today 
He's 43 looks 65 but he's got a lot to say 
He says to me "son listen up right quick we don't have much time 
The good Lord gives and he takes away but things have turned out fine
  I ran away at the age of 18 learned the ropes from a wine-o others took to be mean 
I pick up cans and eat from the trash I've had gangs in LA kick my ass 
But Luke I tell you theres nothing that I need the Lord provides and takes care of me  
But do one thing if you would my brother
 Just pray for me  
 Pray for me. 
Pray for me."  
I spent a little time talking with a good man by the road today.  
I sat there in my slacks and tie and I listened to what he had to say.  
He tells me of the time he was making big cash but the roof caved in
 I took my eyes off the Lord he tells me and he turns to me with a grin  
"I tell you son you gotta have big faith the Lord will smile and show his face
 I trust people Luke and it can turn out bad but Luke I'll tell you bout the times I've had
 I've had a court date for 20 years but I've never shown up and I stopped drinking beers
 I choose this lifestyle is that so wrong? Me and "real life" just never got along..."  
I said "Damn..Wayne. I agree." 
He raises an eyebrow and he turns to me. 
 Before he said anything a car drove past...they waved for Wayne and he hopped up to greet them. 
 They gave him a flannel to help keep warm...and he gave it to me. Instantaneously.  
Without question. Or recognition. Wayne gave it to me.
I sat there, speechless for a couple long moments. 
I said thank you Wayne for thinking of me. 
He smiles, says “I got my coveralls bro but you don't got nothing!” 
 As I got up to leave I asked him one more time "Wayne how can I help I feel I've wasted your time!" 
And he thanks me then for stopping by 
and I gave him my number as we said goodbye
 God will take care of me he said he's always given me a place to lay my head 
So go on home and don't you worry but Luke please 
Pray for me.  
Pray for me.
 Pray for me. 
I spent some time with a wise friend on the road today.  
He's a child of God and he preached a sermon worthy of Easter Sunday.   

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Snow in the Tucson Mountains!

We were supposed to go on a rafting trip, but due to forecasts in the 50's with rain, the trip was cancelled. Instead, we ended up in a cabin on Mt. Lemmon, the matriarch of the Catalina range that borders Tucson to the North. The second day there....it snowed.


The snow makes noise
did you know that?
How often is it quiet enough to hear the snow come down
calm enough to feel it lightly kissing your lips
as it falls, dances, blankets the world.
The trees wear it as only royalty can
white, the color of purity and innocence.
the captivation of the eye
notable not for its lack of color
but for its lack of hue.
to be in the presence of this, the ceremony
bestowing the crown onto nature, with each
leaf, needle, flower, or pedal wearing it differently
consider yourself lucky
Many don't have the opportunity to see it.
Many don't want to.
Many can't.
So if you can
if you are there as the snow plays a quiet beating
drum as it ordains all of nature as kings and queens
You are lucky.


Snow separates humanity from nature
As the elements, as Mother Nature is blessing the
land with moisture, with beauty, man hides away.
The trees rise as they always do, but now their garments are
gilded, shining white to offset the stately greens.
The ground itself is no longer brown, dull, dead, but instead
white! Pure! Innocent! NEW!
Man hides from such baptism.
We deny our true place in the royal order, naught but a servant,
in favor of playing the king, the queen....the tyrant.
We have neither the patience nor the fortitude to wait for nature to crown us
as only She can.

Lessons in Vietnamese Hospitality

This is a bit after the fact, but I can't get over it.

Daniel and I were sent out to a water line the other day. On the way, Daniel told me how when he and Dan Wilhelm had been at this job before to assess what we needed to do, the homeowners had bought them lunch. I was stoked. It's one thing for a client to bring a glass of water, soda, coffee, or something like that, but I had yet to be fed on the job by a client.

Daniel and I showed up at the house and began working, mostly communicating with our client through his nephew, who came with his wife and daughter solely to help translate what we needed to do, or what they could help with. About 5 minutes after starting, Daniel and I were each given a 32 oz bottle of deliciously cold Evian water. "I have water!" I said, gesturing towards the truck. "Maybe later!" But they insisted, telling me that this water was cold, it was much better.

So we worked, digging, preparing our line, until half an hour later, 2 more bottles of water were produced. I looked at the first bottle they'd given me, barely half empty, and tried to tell them again, "I have water!" But once again, they stressed the need for a new, colder, bottle.

You get the idea. By lunchtime we each had 3 large cold bottles of water in our possession. I have never been so hydrated. It was so, so lovely. And then they brought us lunch. Sonic, no less. I've been trying to cut down on the meat that I eat (which is rare at my house anyway), but I knew that the gesture on their part was one that could not be turned down. So Daniel and I sat there and munched on our Sonic burgers, tater tots, and large Cokes. Our clients ate their own, making sure we were well supplied with straws, napkins...anything our hearts could ask for.

And the day continued, our clients continually wanting to help us, give us water, thank us for the work we were doing. At one point they brought out new bottles of water, and after seeing Daniel and I both grab for the one with a big chunk of ice in it, they started putting the water bottles in the freezer and bringing us half-frozen ones! They were in the way trying to help us move things, watching raptly as we soldered the final pieces into place. I have yet to interact so heavily with a client throughout the day in such a positive way.

And as we were gathering up our tools, preparing to leave, our client came out, this little old lady who spoke very little English, to hand us each an envelope, and to hand the both of us a bag. The bag was for the two of us, she said, and each of us had an envelope for ONLY ourselves.

After we were a half-mile away from their house, I couldn't take the suspense anymore, and opened up the bag for the two of us. 4 GIANT apples lay inside. I then opened up my envelope, and I looked at Daniel and said "No way." We had gotten paid! Quite handsomely, actually.

I think it is important to note that A)I'm a volunteer that doesn't make money very often, B)It's rare enough for any client to offer a single glass of water, not to mention 5 bottles and provide lunch, and C) I genuinely expected a handwritten thank-you note in the envelope, which I was excited for in itself!

Daniel and I had to talk to Scott to check on CHRPA's policy for being paid as a volunteer worker, but that didn't even matter. I was just in awe of the hospitality we were shown throughout the day: we were supposed to be the ones providing a service for them, but instead, it was them serving us.

How humbling it is to fancy yourself as a servant, only to be shown what unselfish servanthood looks like.

Saturday, March 12, 2011



Green, green, green,
it calls to me
a bee to honey
the wealthy to money.
License plates constantly excited me
Look! Another one!
Wait. They're all Oregon plates.
The rain on my face
biking as fast as I could
feeling the cold darts
on my skin
Gave me life.
Sunlight and water,
a plant needs both to grow.

Alone in the Desert

2 weeks ago we went to the desert for a solitary retreat. Now I know that some people might be surprised if I were to say how excited I was, knowing my social tendencies, but I was stoked for this opportunity. For at least 2 or 3 years while I was making new years resolutions (it hasn't happened for a couple) I planned on taking a 2-3 day camping trip by myself. In my mind, this solitary retreat was a long time coming. However, what I found was that I didn't respond the way I thought I would. I was not happy. I was not relaxed. I was stressed out, mostly by creations of my own mind. I had no agenda, nothing to accomplish, nothing to fear, yet I struggled. It was really, really hard. I guess we always have room to push ourselves, room to learn something we didn't know....room to still grow.

So I left on a Friday morning and returned on Sunday morning, with the two days in between spent...worrying. I never entered a state of peace, of letting myself slow down to really just “be.” Whether or not my fears or worries were rational, they refused to leave.

This is a poem I wrote early on Thursday afternoon, during a two-hour “test” solitary time.


Don't go any further.

What if?....

And my mind filled in the blanks.

Snakes. Slips. Spiders.

Fears filled my heart.

And I almost stopped.

Gave in as courage gave out.

But I paused.

Took a breath.

Blocked out the fears that bound me.


And as I climbed higher

into clearer air and clearer thoughts

I realized

My demons are not extraordinary

They are the doubts inside of me.

Now, all of that being said, having recognized that my fears were simply products of my own creation, you would have thought I could have overcome them alone in the desert. But I didn't. There was always something else to do. Some scenario to create. What should I do in the case of?...

Poem/Thoughts #2:

I'm restless already

I've read, I've written

I've read, I've written

I've walked.

I talked aloud without even thinking about it.

I was going to try not to do that.

What I haven't done yet is relax.

Don't nap, what if you sleep through dinner and can't sleep at night?

How can I set up camp to be as safe as possible?

Set ground cloth.

Pull out tent.

Reset ground cloth.

Set up tent.




Walk to the highest point one way.

Walk to the high point the other way.

Smack at all the bees and flies cruising around.

I need to slow down and be silent.

Find some silence.

Be still and listen.

Even lacking a plan, I created one. I planned my days around meals because I didn't know what else to do. That was the one way to divide that hours and hours that lay between me and...freedom. Freedom from this self-imposed kingdom of worry.

Just as the sun was setting Friday night, I experienced, briefly, peace.


I feel so blessed that the bird lives above me.

I just felt my first moment of rest.

Watching him fly laps over me

80, 100 times, back and forth

small wings flapping furiously

deftly darting back and forth, back and forth

the wings stop for a just a moment as he banks to turn around

you have to be quick or you'd miss it

the last glimpses of light

couldn't be spent better.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


This is a poem I wrote after we had water troubles during Tucson's coldest temperatures on record! It's meant to be performed aloud...maybe I'll record my performance of it at CHRPA's annual meeting Friday night and include it!


They say compassion is being able to put yourself in another's shoes.
But to be honest is that really news?
I'd like to think if we were each given the chance
we wouldn't choose to turn our backs on our neighbor
to refuse them a favor
to neglect to see things from their point of view

But when I didn't have water at my house...
something clicked.

Instead of a name on a sheet of green paper
I was the person in need of some help
(and even though I could do it myself)
my lease said I couldn't, I don't own the house

And when you're waiting around all day you wonder:
Why are they so late?
Where are they at?
What are they doing?
Don't they know that I should be the priority?

I should be the priority.
And suddenly the apathy with which
I sometimes acted ceased to be.
I know it's a frustration
how each client's situation
seems a forceful declaration
into my own inner pacification

Because the problems never end
and my days...they do.
Those leaking roofs
those faulty outlets
that plugged sewage line?
I'm really sorry. Those will have to wait until tomorrow. Maybe Monday.

But I'm starting to feel your pain
I won't claim it's the same, but I am trying.

They say compassion is being able to put yourself in someone else's shoes?
Maybe compassion is learning to sing along with someone else's blues.

Here's the video from CHRPA's annual meeting.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011


I hear adults (ie...people older than me) talk about catastrophic events that occurred in their lifetimes, momentous occasions that forever burned into their memory the place they were, the people they were with. I've experienced that only rarely in my life (which I consider to be a blessing), but the last few days have given me another to grapple with. The shootings that occurred on Saturday, January 10th, did not just affect the people of Tucson, but as a current resident of the city, I am affected much more than I would have been in Oregon. How affected? I'm still finding out.

I found out about the shootings via a text message from one of my roommates as I was on my way out for a hike. The details came intermittently through the morning as we came in to and left service on the hike, giving us a decent idea of what had happened, although no one knew many details at that time. I got back that afternoon and spent most of the rest of the evening reading reports, recaps, and responses to the shootings.

While I felt an incredible sense of loss at the senseless deaths of innocent people, I had no personal connection. I've only been in Tucson 4 months. But as Saturday evening progressed into Sunday, my connectedness got closer. Jacob and Brandon run w/ the father of Gabe Zimmerman. A couple in Brandon's community are very close with the family of Ron Barber. And when I went to church Sunday morning at Southside Presbyterian, I met with many people directly in relationship w/ those involved in the shooting. Even though just Saturday night I felt insulated and unable to connect with the tragedy in my community, I was quickly reminded how interconnected we all are.

And Sunday mornings children's time at church was the gut check for me. And really, should be for all of us. For when the pastor asked for the prayers of the children, the children spoke for little Christina Green, age 9, who was killed. And they prayed for Congresswoman Giffords. And they prayed for the families of all those who had been shot. And then one little girl said "We should pray for the man with the gun, because he was lonely and didn't have any friends."

The church was silent. So many adults who preach peace hadn't been feeling very peaceful in their hearts. I was one of them. But maybe when Jesus said we must be like children to enter the kingdom of heaven this is what he was talking about. Instead of drawing a line between us and someone who had committed a heinous atrocity, instead of trying to call attention to how different he is from all of us, the little girl identified with the part of him that is real and human. And I think that's what Jesus would do too.

Tonight I was part of a bike ride/vigil that went down to the University Medical Center where Congresswoman Giffords is being cared for. The hundred or so bikers I was with slowly made our way down to the vigil, and found at least 200 people already there, gathered in a grassy knoll covered in candles, notes, signs, balloons, and flowers. As I stood there with my candle, I looked at the faces around me. Even when we don't feel it, we are connected. Every person there probably had their own reasons for coming, but they were there...and so was I. Whether I even know it or realize it...I'm a part of things down here in Tucson now.

Thank you for all your thoughts and prayers in this difficult time. We may be in the darkness of the night...but I have hope and faith that daylight is coming, and the dawn will break through.

Keep dreaming.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Reflections on a Holiday at Home

Or perhaps my title is misleading--perhaps, instead, this post should be entitled "Searching for Home" or "Finding Home?" or "What does it mean to be homeless?"

Going home to Baker City for Christmas was absolutely wonderful. I have never, ever, even in my time at Linfield, or last fall with Jed, been so desperately happy to drive down Campbell street and turn left on Grove to go home. Perhaps it's some growing pains being away from home--really away from home, on my own adventure, in my own place. Perhaps I'm still adapting to that. I don't know. I just know that going home...which, as much as I like Baker, I'm pretty sure is only part of the solution. I'm pretty sure my home is wherever my parents and brother are present.

Now that might sound like a corny, or maybe even a bit childish, thing for a 23 year old living 4 states away from his parents to say. But they've been talking about retiring, and it's made me think a lot about how my "breaks," my Christmases and whenever else I get off from work for the rest of my life, look if my parents aren't in Baker. I can relax where my parents are. I am taken care of. And I realize at some point I won't be going where my parents are for the major holidays, but for me....well...that's what the holidays are for. Christmas day itself this year was not so great a distinction for me as Christmas Eve, when I got home and saw my family.

Further adding to my sense of fulfillment and completion while home was the presence of my girlfriend Kady, who came to Baker on the 26th and stayed until I left. One more precious piece of my world was present. Suddenly, instead of feeling spread thin between Tucson, Baker City, and McMinnville, I felt very whole and happy with so many people I love around me in Baker City.

I was also able to speak at church the Sunday I was home, which was incredible to touch base w/ the people that have been doing so much to support me while I've been in Tucson. I always feel so loved and joyful when I'm a part of that community. My energy grows. I feel empowered. I feel special. It's an unbelievable feeling to feel as special as I do among the members of that congregation.

Being home is very little about a place. Being home is very, very much about the people. People make a home. I'm so thankful that while my physical location seems to be in a constant state of variation and change, I have people I can call home.

Keep dreaming!