Pushing the limits

“Crepis, crepis, crepis, crepis…”

The balding Ukrainian pacing behind us kept muttering this word as we sat on the broken fortress wall overlooking the wasteland below while eating our pita, yogurt, and pickles. I don’t really remember who it was the finally engaged him in conversation – probably Dan – and discovered that far from being a crazy person who was planning on shoving us over the edge, he was a passionate student of history who was so excited to be at Masada that he couldn’t contain himself.

“Crepis is… how do you say… fortress…?”

And like that, we started to understand each other – the balding Ukrainian on his vacation in Israel, and the six American college students preparing to hike down the snake path to the Dead Sea for a night of camping in the desert.

—–

A couple of weeks later, we found ourselves at Masada again. This time we were dropped off by our tour bus with the rest of our classmates on the old rubble strewn siege way created by the Romans in the siege of 72 AD. And while the history was as intriguing as always and the stories compelling, the moment that crystallized in my memory was towards the end of the day as we were preparing to leave.

As most of our classmates lined up to wait for the cable car that would take them from the fortress top down to desert floor, a couple of us decided we didn’t feel like waiting and would race the cable car down to the bottom via the snake path. I assume it’s called the snake path because of the switch backs, the way it curves and winds and makes a path out of the nearly vertical crumbly rock and shale (with a little Cenomanian limestone for good measure), dropping down over 1,300 ft. to the shores of the Dead Sea.

I remember the feeling of freedom as we tore down the cliff side, running and sliding, skidding around corners, dropping a hand to stabilize and keep from shooting too far down the sandy slope, and back up to full speed. I remember jumping from rock to rock, teetering on the verge of falling, almost overbalancing time and time again but somehow managing to remain mostly vertical. There was whooping and hollering and joy as we tore down the mountainside, glancing up from time to time to note the progress of the cable car, forcing us to put on a burst of speed, and then the bottom. I don’t think we beat the cable car, but that moment is one of beauty and life that I treasure and am so thankful for.

—–

The other day I saw this clip, and while our jaunt down the snake path doesn’t compare to this: it was what immediately came to mind – running for the sheer joy through beauty, wildness, and danger, revelling in movement and physicality and the body that we have been given that is so much more capable than I give it credit for.

And I wonder what it would take to bring this level of joy and enthusiasm and adventure into my daily runs through the streets of Chicago. How can I find the same joy in dodging cars and bicyclists, skipping over potholes and broken glass, and dancing across boulevards and through parks? Maybe that first step is just in my head. After all, beauty is all around us.  We’re practically drowning in it.  We just need the eyes to see it.

make it count…

“How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” ~ Annie Dillard

So how are you spending your days?


Make them count.

Do justice. Create beauty. Laugh. Forgive. Risk. Give thanks. Dance. Slow down. Pay attention. Smile. Pray. Work. Rest. Celebrate. Drink deeply of today…

(video via Josh Barkey)

Beyond the Blue

Yesterday afternoon my car died.  (Actually, let’s be honest here – I’m driving my sister’s car cause mine is giving me transmission issues, and I hate cars…)  Thankfully it was rush hour on the highway, and so I was only driving about 5 miles an hour when the car stalled.  I threw it in neutral, and tried to restart it as I coasted.  No dice.  I almost had a seamless transition as I flashed on the hazard lights, unbuckled my seatbelt, opened the door, and swung my feet out to push the car off the left lane into the shoulder.

It was dead.  And as frustrated as I felt as I rode in the tow truck to the auto repair place, I was reminded of all I do have to be thankful for:  I have food, shelter, a warm bed, friends and family that love me, abundant provision, a fascinating job, classes that challenge and develop me, a church community that envelops me, a body that is healthy…  And even with a dead car, resurrection life is here and now and I swim in it every day, if only I have eyes to see it.

—–

This afternoon as I ran along the lakeshore I prayed…  A friend with cancer.  A child that is slowly fading away.  Broken relationships.  Hopes that have died.  There is so much brokenness and the broken shards of this world can’t seem to work themselves free from my heart.  Instead, with every beat of my heart, they work themselves deeper and remind me that the price you pay when you love someone is that you suffer with them.

But even with the shards burning, I felt myself being whispered to by a voice from beyond the blue – beyond the blue of the lake, and the sky, and my heart, whispering words of life, of hope, of faith.  It whispered to me from the blazing sun, through the chill air that burned my lungs and made my ears numb and my nose run, through the wind that whipped the waves to a frenzy, through the crashing of spray and froth, and the words of a song that I played on repeat for the last half hour of my run…

“Yellow and gold as the new day dawns
Like a virgin unveiled who waited so long
To dance and rejoice and sing her song
And rest in the arms of a love so strong
No one comes unless they’re drawn
By the voice of desire that leads em’ along
To the redemption of what went wrong
By the blood that coveres the innocent one…

So lift your voice just one more time
If there’s any hope may it be a sign
That everything was made to shine
Despite what you can see
So take this bread and drink this wine
And hide your spirit within the vine
Where all things will work by a good design
For those who will believe…

And let go of all we cannot hold onto
For the hope beyond the blue…”

~ Josh Garrels

—–

I biked to church tonight as the sun burned it’s way down in firey oranges and burnt golds.  We had a Maundy Thursday service, remembering the night that Jesus was betrayed by Judas, denied by Peter, and abandoned by all the rest.  And as I sat in the quiet of the cathedral, I was drawn in.  The juxtaposition of life and death, of beauty and darkness, of hope and despair can leave me shaken and breathless.  I was drawn into the story of Jesus, the tragedy and the pathos that it must have seemed at the time.  For those watching, with no benefit of hindsight, it was the crumbling of all their dreams, the death of all their hopes, the disintegration of their deepest desires.  In an instant, it all turned to ashes.

From the intimacy of the Last Supper (shared wine and bread, the washing of feet, the prayers of Jesus for these men and women who had given up everything to be with him) to the clash of swords and cries of a mob and the kiss of a traitor.  And the flavors of wine and bread turn to ash in their mouths…

—–

12 years ago we were studying abroad in Jerusalem.  I remember going to a Maundy Thursday service at a small church right inside the Zion Gate.  After the service, a few of my friends went to a prayer vigil in the Garden of Gethsemane.  For some reason, a couple of us went back to JUC.  In one of the basement classrooms, Danny and I broke out guitars and djembes and began to play.  It wasn’t rehearsed, but it flowed.  Classmates and friends trickled in to the darkened room, lit only by candles.  A basin of water and a towel sat in the center.  As people felt moved, they would step into the center, cradle the basin and towel, and kneel before a friend, a brother, a sister, an enemy…  They would untie shoes, slip off sandals, peel back socks…  Dirty and calloused feet were gently lifted, placed in the warm water, washed and dried with the towel.  As we played, reconciliation happened.  As we washed each other’s feet, the weak were encouraged, the tired were energized, the hurting were soothed.  And as we followed in Jesus’ footsteps, we felt his presence.

—–

Presence.  May we feel his presence as we enter into the darkness of Good Friday…  And may we have eyes to see that beyond death lies so much more.

“All the death that ever was, set next to life, would scarcely fill a cup…” ~ Buechner

New favorites

The last two months have felt like trying to ride a bike on a treadmill – fun, but you just know it’s going to end badly.  Lots of stuff on my plate as I transition slowly from and to: complicated (in good ways) by beginning school again, work, and the delightful visit of my favorite Korean speaking sister (which included bike rides through the woods, visits to the apple orchard, road trips to Indiana, Peruvian food in Chicago, and lots of laughter and good conversation.)  But in light of all that (plus a few other things here and there), I haven’t made time to write.  But here’s the deal…  I want to.  I need to practice gratitude – search for beauty in my daily life – and live intentionally – and writing here helps me do that.  So, in light of all that, here’s a few things I have been delighting in about this transition:

– fascinating classes, exploring family dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and delving into theories of the mind…  challenging both my mind, heart, and spirit.  I’m loving it.

– four fun guys to share a home with – an oasis (and occasional place of celebration) in the middle of the city and the busyness.

– runs down by the lake, enjoying the play of colors on the water, the way the city looks like a different place depending on whether it’s a gray rainy morning, a blustery fall afternoon, a crystalline sunset, or the contrast of city lights shining in the darkness – the interplay of light and shadow…

– a cohort of solid, passionate, compassionate students who are learning with me.

– the gift of being with people who know you and know you well, even if it’s unexpected and short.  Spent a weekend w/ Liz and Car – we’ve been present in each other’s lives for over 20 years, and sharing a plate of ceviche and lomo saltado while savoring a pisco sour just made it that much sweeter.

– glimmers of community, belonging, rootedness, worship, and a place of service that I’m VERY excited about.

– reminders of beauty, hope, adventure, laughter, community, creativity, and play, such as this video by Ben Howard:

 

 

– near daily reminders and challenges (both in class and out of class) to take risks, to engage, to move forward, to enter into relationship and life with others, and not simply be content with safety and comfort…

Today in class, we talked about C.S. Lewis (in The Four Loves), who says:

          “To love at all is to be vulnerable.  love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung, and possibly broken.  If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.  Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness.  But in that casket – safe, dark, motionless, airless — it will change.  It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”

Sobering words, as I ask myself, what do I really want?  Comfort?  Safety?  Normalcy?  Complacency?

Or do I want risk?  Adventure?  Movement?  Growth?  Discomfort?  Failure?  A life lived for others?  Giant slip-and-slides down mountains?

Yes.

I’m thankful for the big “Yes” that this transition has been so far.  And I’m excited and eager to see what unfolds as I continue to respond “Yes…”

 

Wonder and Nature

So I just moved into Chicago about a week ago – the start of a new beginning, of good things, of growth and challenge and adventure – and I’m excited about what the future will hold.  However, even in light of the move and the rightness that I feel about it, after watching this video on Yosemite and climbing, I’m about ready to pack up and drive out for a visit…  Anyone want to join me?  (I’ll bring my guitar, and we’ll eat tacos at least once a week.)

On Assignment from renan ozturk on Vimeo.

(Although, maybe I need to get into climbing shape before I attempt any of those slack-lines…)

Joy

In the midst of the craziness of life, when busy-ness threatens to overwhelm, one of my most useful disciplines is to slow down and name the things that are bringing me joy…  There are so many.

A few of them from the past month would include:

Tough Mudder (a 10 mile adventure race up and down a mud-covered hill, full of obstacles to climb over, jump off of, swim under, run through, slide down, and generally try to not hurt yourself too badly…  so much fun, and so glad to share the day w/ Josh.)

– The reminder that our world is bigger than I remember.  Wanna go explore somewhere?

– Rafting in Wisconsin w/ friends – laughing, swimming, telling stories, and enjoying being outside in the sun on the river (w/ my favorite part the waterfall at the end.  If you jump through the waterfall from the right spot, you end up behind it, feeling thousands of gallons of water pour down all around you, all noise drowned out by the roar of the rushing water…  and then you go under and it shoots you down the river so hard that you don’t pop up til you’re 30 feet downriver…)

– This, and what it represents about our world and the people in it…

– Celebrating life with family that I don’t get to see all that often.

– Freshness, newness, and continued hope as I step with eager anticipation into the next good things God has in store…

There is much to be thankful for.  And joy all around.  Even here, where you find yourself today, if you will only stop and look…

Paying Attention

Paying attention is hard to do.

When I was a home-schooled first-grader, I would often get in trouble for being distracted.  My teachers (mom and dad) would talk about diligence and what it meant to be a hard worker.  My five year old self had a hard time connecting those concepts with penmanship, math, and spelling.  I remember feeling especially wounded when, in an attempt to keep me focused, they pulled the curtain closed in the window of our one room school-house.  It didn’t work though, because I just ended up staring at the patterns on the red and white checked curtains.

While there was some truth to my parent’s critiques, I don’t think that the whole problem was how easily I became distracted, or how I quickly became distracted from what I was supposed to be working on.  I think the problem was that I was aware that there was SO MUCH to pay attention to!

The clear blue Andean sky with clouds pouring in over the mountains every afternoon of the rainy season, turning from fluffy white cotton balls to grey, threatening monsters – Tubby the German Shepherd running and barking and chasing birds, just dying for me to come outside and join him in the joy of movement – Florencio the gardener planting new flowers next to the office building…  Every moment was pregnant with meaning, and surprises were just waiting to spring out of nowhere to thrill me – IF I was paying attention…

As I’ve grown older, it’s become that much harder to stop and really pay attention and see what is going on around me – in my own life, in the lives of the people I love the most, or even in nature and the people whose lives cross mine for the blink of an eye.  I get so focused on my agenda.  I am running late for work, or have to take care of errands, or am quickly running into the store to avoid getting wet.

And while I see the need for responsibility, sometimes we just need to stop and SEE what is going on around us – to let wonder transport us away from the ordinary, and let us see that the mundane is really extra-ordinary.  Sometimes we need to stop running, put away the umbrella, and let the rain soak through our clothes, trickle against our skin, and turn our eyes up to the heavens and experience the rain.  Splashing in puddles, watching the lightning dance upon the clouds, tasting the raindrops on your tongue – this is worship.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

~ Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last week I came across an account of an experiment performed in 2007 in the Washington DC metro system.  During morning rush hour, a violinist opened his case, removed his violin, and began playing.  He played for over an hour and in that time frame only a handful of people stopped to listen.  Most ignored him, distracted by cell phones, iPods, minds lost in thought as they prepared for work and the demands of the day.  Only a few truly heard him and saw him for who he was – Joshua Bell, a world-famous musician who routinely sells out concert halls, playing some of the most difficult violin pieces composed on a Stradivarius worth 3.5 million dollars.  He was right there in front of them, but people couldn’t see him.

The most fascinating aspect of the story was the following:

There was no ethnic or demographic pattern to distinguish the people who stayed to watch Bell, or the ones who gave money, from that vast majority who hurried on past, unheeding. Whites, blacks and Asians, young and old, men and women, were represented in all three groups. But the behavior of one demographic remained absolutely consistent. Every single time a child walked past, he or she tried to stop and watch. And every single time, a parent scooted the kid away. ~ WP

I love how the children were able to recognize beauty.  I love that they had not yet lost their capacity for amazement.  And I wonder how we might go about becoming people who never lose (or regain) that sense of childlike wonder?  I wonder how we might become people who learn to see?  I wonder how we might learn how to pay attention?

Maybe if we could learn to see, we would recognize that the world is charged with the grandeur of the glory of God?  Maybe if we could pay attention, we could see the wonder that surrounds us?  …  maybe…

The Mountain from TSO Photography on Vimeo.

via JR Briggs

Waste Land

This past weekend we watched the documentary “Waste Land.”  Set in Jardim Gramacho, the landfill (one of the largest in the world) which collects most of the trash from Rio de Janeiro and the surrounding communities, it brings us in close to tell the stories of the men and women who work there collecting recyclables.  It is a fascinating glimpse into their lives, their stories, their choices, their hopes, and their dreams.

The film chronicles the journey of Vik Muniz, a Brazilian artist who begins the film hoping to use art as a way to give back to “the poor.”  He plans to create portraits of the workers made from the very trash that surrounds them on a daily basis.  As they collaborate to create these works of stunning beauty from waste, Muniz ends up getting a little bit more than he bargained for as he begins to connect in real ways with the people who live and work in Jardim Gramacho – and as they enter into relationship with each other and come to know and love each other, they are both changed.

There is something profoundly grace-filled, as U2 would say, about making beauty out of ugly things.

Watch Vik Muniz, Valter, Tiao, Zumbi, Irma, and many others find goodness in ugly things.  Watch them make beauty out of trash.  Watch them find joy, hope, and dreams in unexpected places.  And be inspired to go do the same…