Desmond

We lost our cat, Desmond, on Friday morning, June 14. He was my buddy.

Karlie and I brought him home along with his brother, Hugo, two weeks after our honeymoon. For 9 years he has been part of our life together and now he’s gone.

I’ve never lost a pet before, so this is new territory for me, and I apologize in advance for my disorientation and uncertainty. I think Desmond was the first animal I truly loved. I’m not sure what I expected when we added two kittens to our home, but I certainly didn’t expect the end to be this hard.

Des was my shadow. My helper. My sidekick. Wherever I went, he followed diligently. Hours and hours of reading with him on my lap. We would build IKEA furniture together (his “helping” consisted of sitting on the instructions and climbing on the finished product). Sometimes I’d lean back on the couch and discover he’d nestled himself in the space behind my back or on top of the cushion behind my head and I’d startle us both. He was just always there next to me.

We even had a nightly routine. He would sit with me as I read late into the night, then he’d follow me upstairs, watch me brush my teeth and take out my contacts, wait patiently for me to get under the covers then saunter up slowly from the end of the bed to lay down by me. He slept curled up like a football under my right arm, propped up on my chest. I became so used to him that I wouldn’t sleep very well without him there. Sometimes I‘d wake up in the night to discover he’d wandered off, so I’d get up, search the house and bring him back to bed so I could calm down enough to fall asleep. Same routine. Nine years.

I’m struggling to understand that he’s gone. Even these paragraphs waver between past and present tense because I’m not totally sure which to use. I’m not fully ready to accept it. It was so sudden and unexpected, and I’m surprised at how emotional I am about losing him.

I’m sure this all comes across a bit ridiculous. My head says, “he’s just a cat,” but my heart won’t let me stay there. It’s weird. Plus, I feel guilty and a bit pitiful because in many ways this is the closest death has come to me personally. Embarrassing to admit, but it’s true.

I’m also stuck trying to figure out what I believe about animals and heaven. I believe in the ultimate restoration of all things, and that all of creation is infused with and reflects the Divine. I also know I experienced love, joy, peace, etc. from Desmond, but my human-centric soteriological upbringing has me confused on whether I’ll ever see my buddy again.

I know I want to see him again. I was out of town when he died, so I didn’t get to say goodbye. I left and he was home, came back a week later and he wasn’t. I don’t even know the last thing I said to him or the last time I saw him. Do I just want closure? Or is there something deeper and more existential going on? Do I just want to see Desmond to say goodbye or do I want to see him because in my bones I believe cats will be resurrected in the end as well? Are there animals in heaven? I’ve never really truthfully considered it because it’s never directly effected me.

St. Francis of Assisi used to preach to animals and plants. He referred to things as Sister Tree, Brother Dog, Sister Moon, Brother Fox, Sister Cow and so forth. The de-centralization of humanity was part of his ministry and legacy, but that wasn’t his goal. That’s just how he saw the world. He knew in his bones that all things reflected the Divine. His ecological understanding was far wider and inclusive than ours today, especially in our individualized Western church and culture, and his praxis reflected that worldview.

Look, I don’t know if heaven is full of animals, but I really hope so. I’m sure there’s a theology out there that comfortably fits what I hope, and I’m sure I could convince myself of its truth and live with that assurance and comfort. And I suppose that’s the point: to hope — to believe in my heart that Desmond and I will see one another again despite how silly and unlikely and unclear it is. His little life was so valuable. It’s strange to say, but he was Christ to me, and it’s disorienting and unsettling to be without his presence now.

Welcome to my grieving process. All caught up in my head trying to figure out what everything means. Gotta get on top of my feelings so I can control the uncontrollable.

Desmond was named after the LOST character by the same name, and if you know your LOST, you know Desmond is the central character in arguably the greatest TV episode ever: “The Constant.” And my buddy was so constant. I took his presence for granted. In fact, now I feel a lack, a void, without him near me. Our home doesn’t feel complete.

LOST’s Desmond also had a bit of a catchphrase: See you in another life, brother.

And, as cheesy as it sounds, that’s what I want to say to my Desmond. But I wish I could say it with confidence. It’s the same message I want to hear from Desmond too. It’s what I want to know in my heart to be true – that I’ll see him again. It’s the heaven I need to believe in and a reflection of the God in whom I place my hope. But for now, all I can do is choose to believe it and live accordingly. I think I believe it. At least, I want to.

Regardless of the future, the infinite, the eschatological…right now, I just miss my buddy. He should be here while I type and he’s not. I can feel where he would be. The space next to me aches like a missing appendage or something. It hurts. It throbs. I suppose it’ll just feel like that for a long time.

We love you, Des. You made our home happier and fuller. You brought us joy and love, peace and comfort. We miss you.

I wish I’d gotten to say goodbye and hold you one more time before you left us. I’m thankful for the years you spent next me.

See you in another life, brother.

Double Cornea Transplant

I’m having a double cornea transplant.

On December 6, they’ll numb my left eyeball, shave off the front of it, replace it with some dead person’s cornea and stitch it back on. Five months later, when my body has accepted it and it’s been given time to heal, it’ll be my right eye’s turn to go under the knife. I’ll also be awake the whole time.

I’ve had poor vision my entire life. Both of my parents have perfect vision, and I remember as a kid trying to convince them mine was flawed, but attempting to articulate something others have no schema for is near impossible. Finally around the third grade we went to the eye doctor. I tried to read the letters off the board while my mom sat in shock in the corner of the room unable to grasp my inability to relay the bold text on the illuminated screen.

I’m nearsighted, but my major issue is my astigmatism, or the misshapenness of my eyeball. I have what’s called keratoconus which basically means instead of being perfectly rounded like a normal persons’s eye, my corneas are egg-shaped, thin and constantly shapeshifting. Which means multiple things:

  • Egg-shaped: My vision is distorted and i see double, often triple. This can be temporarily corrected by thicker toric contact lenses, but never all the way to 20/20 vision.
  • Thin: My eyes are extremely sensitive to light causing headaches and burning, tired eyes. There’s just not enough cornea there to filter the light. If I leave the house without sunglasses, a headache is only about 30 minutes away.
  • Shapeshifting: Since my eyeballs aren’t uniformly spherical, the pressure inn’t consistent in every direction causing the cornea to morph and change slowly every couple months. This renders contact lenses useless after about 2 months of wearing.

And like I said, contacts can’t fix it entirely. They can get me to around 20/40 or so in both eyes, but contact technology has never been good enough. Even if it was, with my ever-changing astigmatism, the lenses I buy don’t match within a few short months so I have to go back and get a new prescription and pay for a new supply. Since insurance only covers a one year supply, this gets expensive really quick.

Glasses aren’t an option for me. Why would I lock in a pair of lenses that are just going to change two months later? They’d be useless almost immediately. Lasik surgery isn’t an option either. My corneas are too thin to fix, and that would only solve my nearsightedness, not my astigmatism. So my only option is a transplant. It’s been on the horizon for a long time and it’s finally here.

I’m not sure what your bodily reaction is to phrases like “shave off the front of it” and stitch it back on,” but I shudder every time. I would say I’m not remotely nervous, just freaked out by the whole idea. Nobody likes having their eyes touched, let alone shaved and stitched. Gives me the heebie-jeebies.

Ultimately, the surgery is one of incredible hope for me. It’s hard to for me to express – or even understand – how limiting my eyesight is in my life. It impacts every facet of my life – professionally, socially, interpersonally, creatively – it really sucks. A couple stories:

  • Professionally: The final straw was when I was trying to research and write a lesson plan and couldn’t read the book I was reading let alone type out a document on my laptop. I sat in my office cursing my eyes, and that’s what finally got me to make the phone call and set up a consultation with the surgeon.
  • Socially: Over the weekend my family and I went to the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. It was a beautiful Sunday afternoon and there were people everywhere. Since I can’t be sure of anyone’s face until they’re like 10 feet away from me, there’s no telling how many people I “saw” whom I knew but said nothing to because I didn’t actually see them. Coffee shops are a nightmare. Meeting people in public places where I have to see them from across a crowded restaurant is the worst. I always try to get there 10-15 minutes early so they have to find me and not the other way around.
  • Creatively/Productively: I can’t write when my eyes aren’t locked in. Whenever I get new contacts, I have about a 6 week window where I’m really productive. Then I can’t do it anymore. I’ve written the majority of this post with my eyes shut, only opening them to edit the paragraph I’ve just transposed.
  • Interpersonally: This one is the most frustrating and it’s different than socially. There are different sizes of social space – public, social, interpersonal, intimate – and interpersonal space is effected differently than social space. The struggle with social space is recognition. The struggle with interpersonal space are things like eye contact, facial expressions and nonverbal cues. Believe it or not, double vision makes it hard to read other people’s faces and all it takes is one blink for my contacts to go wonky. Then I have to look away and blink until they settle back in. It’s rare for me to be able to be fully present with others.

All that to say, this surgery will change my life in every way, and I don’t say that flippantly or without meaning it. This will change my life. I’ll still need to wear contacts to correct my nearsightedness, but without an astigmatism it’ll be a permanent prescription. I’ll be able to call 1-800-CONTACTS and simply renew my previous prescription once a year. No more blurry double vision, no more headaches and burning, heavy eyes. Constant, unchanging, undistorted vision. It’ll be 20/20. It doesn’t totally feel real.

It’ll a long road. It’ll be a full year from now when I’m totally healed and my eyes can be considered my own. It’s weird. It’s freaky. It’s hopeful. Bonus: I think I’ll get to wear an eyepatch for a few days so that’s cool.

The Royals are 0-1

The Royals are 0-1.

I still believe this team can win 85-90 games again this year, and they still have 85-90 to go.

But I keep hearing from other people about how the Royals have no chance against Max Scherzer tonight and are already turning quickly away from hope and positioning themselves strongly toward despair.

Which is frustrating, because this team is the same team as it was before Opening Day. They only lost 1 game. It isn’t the end of the world. And if you thought this team was a potential playoff team this off season, then one Opening Day loss shouldn’t change that.

This Tigers rotation is tough, but if we believe that we’re good enough to make the playoffs, tonight’s game is exactly the type of game we ought to expect the Royals to be competitive in all season long. We nearly beat Verlander on Monday. Why is that the end of the world?

It was just 1 game, against a tough opponent, and we can’t lose hope already.

However.

As Royals fans, we’ve seen this before, and we’ve had our hearts broken before, and we know how this story plays out. We know that 1 loss can turn into 2, can turn into 4 can turn into 6. The Royals cannot let that happen. There are a few things that need to happen over the next week in order to set this season in the right direction and reestablish this fan base as a hopeful one.

1. Moustakas must get a hit today.

We heard all Spring Training how he has finally turned it around. He’s a new player this time, and unlike last year, this Spring Training is going to carry over into the regular season. He’s finally arrived.

But then he went 0-4 on Monday.

Moose absolutely must get a hit today. He cannot start the season 0-8. He just can’t. Moose can’t allow doubt and uncertainty to creep into his head, and an 0-8 start starts him down that path. He needs to get comfortable at the plate early this season, so we don’t spend the whole year grumbling about his lack of production again. For his own sake and for ours, please, Moose, get at least 1 hit today.

2. Vargas must go 6+ innings and give up 2 or less runs.

Can he replace the production that Ervin Santana brought last year? That’s what we all want to know about this Jason Vargas guy that the Royals so eagerly paid $7M this year. He needs to establish himself early in the season as a legit #2 on this pitching staff. He doesn’t even have to win the game. But he must eat up innings and keep Detroit somewhat at bay.

3. The Royals must win their home Opening Series vs. the White Sox.

No matter what happens in Detroit, whether it ends 2-1, 1-2 or 0-3, we absolutely must take the Opening Series against the freaking White Sox. The Royals went 10-9 against Chicago last year while the Indians went 17-2. No wonder they got the Wild Card spot and we didn’t. The Royals should be the White Sox every single time they face them.

The Royals need to learn to take care of business. Losing to Detroit isn’t the end of the world, but if we can’t consistently take series against teams we should beat, then we have no business acting like we’re a playoff contender. If we win the White Sox series, the worst we can be is 2-4. Baseball is about winning series, and we have to do that against patsies like the Sox.

4. Ned Yost needs to continue to trust his bullpen.

The Royals bullpen is great. And while it’s easy to bash on Yost for taking Shields out with runners on 1st and 3rd late in the game, our bullpen has a track record of getting the job done in those situations and I applaud Ned for trusting them in that situation. I don’t agree with the decision – with Shields on the mound, I’d rather see him work out of it than take the ball out of his hand – but I at least understand the decision.

Ned cannot allow Monday’s blown game change how he wants to use his bullpen. Give the ball back to Crow, Davis and Holland. They’re the guys who got us to 86 wins last year, and they need to be the guys to do it again in 2014. Keep giving them the ball. Especially when it’s not a Shields start.

Don’t lose heart Royals fans. It’s a long season, and I was disappointed after the loss on Monday afternoon too. I was sitting at Great American Ballpark watching the score change torturously from 3-1 to 3-3 to 4-3 over the course of an hour. It was the worst and I had to catch myself from spiraling into despair myself.

But we aren’t anywhere close to despair yet. We’re 0-1, and we could even steal this Tigers series and come home 2-1. It’s possible! Don’t lose heart Royals fans. Baseball is a long long season. I still believe this team can win 85-90 games and make the playoffs.

Let’s revisit this next week. Because we’ll know a lot more about this team’s outlook by then.

-apc.

BOOK PROJECT: FUNDED!!

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It’s official: thanks to the generosity of you all, I will be writing a book on baseball and spirituality this year!

As of 10:45AM CST this morning, my Kickstarter campaign officially reached it’s goal, and my project is now officially underway!

Thank you so much to all who helped make this happen. Whether you pledged to it, posted about it, retweeted it, told a friend about it or just gave me a high five, I am grateful for you and your role in this project.

If you want to pre-order and help support the experience more fully, there is still time. The campaign will be active through Saturday evening at 7PM CST.

Thanks again everyone. What an honor to have the support of all of you. I can’t wait to share the final product of this amazing adventure with you!

-apc.

Winter and Spring, Despair and Hope, and Baseball.

Kickstarter Update: There’s less than 1 week left to pre-order my book on baseball and spirituality. Please help me out by pledging to my Kickstarter here: Exploring Spirituality and Baseball. As of this post, I am at 78% 101%! funded and need your help to make this project happen. Thank you all for helping make this happen.

spring training fl az

Spring is nearly here, and that means that winter is ending. That’s perhaps the best thing spring does: it ends winter. Flowers will bloom, the sun will shine, days will get warmer and soon we will completely forget about the miserable season we all just had to endure.

And, of course, it brings back baseball.

When I think about spring training, I mostly think happy thoughts, but I also think about this depressing quote from A. Bartlett Giamatti…

“[Baseball] breaks your heart. It is designed to break your heart. The game begins in the spring, when everything else begins again, and it blossoms in the summer, filling the afternoons and evenings, and then as soon as the chill rains come, it stops and leaves you to face the fall all alone. You count on it, rely on it to buffer the passage of time, to keep the memory of sunshine and high skies alive, and then just when the days are all twilight, when you need it most, it stops.” – A. Bartlett Giamatti, Take Time for Paradise

Wah-wah. Giamatti, besides being Paul’s dad, was the commissioner of Major League Baseball for nearly the entire 1989 season. His leadership began on Opening Day: April 1. On August 24, he banned Pete Rose from baseball for gambling on the game. And eight days later, on September 1, he died of a heart attack.

Which, after considering the above quote, is either ironic or poetic, depending on your own personal bent.

Regardless, he’s also right.

The season begins in the spring, and anything is possible, but in the end only one team can win the World Series. That means that every fall, 29 of the 30 fan bases finish the season in despair. Whether your team lost in the World Series (Cardinals) or a Championship Series (Dodgers and Tigers) or a Division Series (Athletics, Rays, Pirates, Braves) or a miserable one-game playoff game (Cincinnati and Cleveland) or was eliminated during the regular season – by the time October is over, everyone is in the same situation…

It just wasn’t our year.

And so begins the longest, coldest, saddest time of year: the off season.

Desolation. Despair. Winter.

Something you should know about me: I hate winter. More than anything in the world. Snow skiing would probably be really fun…if it wasn’t winter. Snow would be beautiful…if it wasn’t winter. Stocking caps would be a killer fashion accessory…if their primary purpose wasn’t to keep your ears from freezing off.

Karl Barth believed that hell was a freezing cold desert. Sounds spot on to me.

I mean, winter hits a high point on Christmas Day – which, unfortunately, is only four days into the season – and then it’s a slow depressing decline into a cold and dark, ashy and pale misery until…about yesterday. Side note: this is why Groundhog Day should be celebrated more heartily every year. Shadow or no shadow, we should all be crazy about the idea that winter just might end.

Rogers Hornsby once said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there’s no baseball. I’ll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

Because under the despairing surface of winter, hope is growing. We can’t see it, and we certainly can’t feel it, but it’s slowly collecting as we inch closer to March.

Hope grows in winter.

Spring brings new beginnings. It brings warmer weather and new life. It brings greener pastures – both literally and figuratively. And spring brings baseball. And spring brings hope.

Hope abounds in spring.

Spring brings with it the new possibility that even though last year didn’t turn out exactly as we wanted, maybe this year is our year.

Suddenly, the team that lost 111 games last year (Houston) has a clean slate. And the team that ended the season 34 games out of first place (Miami) is tied for first. Everything is new. Anything is possible, and nothing has been ruined…yet.

Pitchers have a 0.00 ERA.

No errors have been recorded.

No batter has made an out.

Spring brings a new Garden, and it is flawless and unblemished.

Spring is when comments like “Is this their year?” show up on your twitter feed. And not-so-successful slogans like “Our Time” are conjured up in marketing offices somewhere. Spring is the ultimate equalizer, and while you may glance around the league and think, “Yeah, there’s no way we finish any better than 3rd in our division this year,” there is always a piece of you that is speculating. Dreaming. Hoping.

And that hopeful piece of you is asking a small simple question…

“What if?”

What if this is our year? What if the Royals do turn it up another notch and make the playoffs for the first time since 1985? What if the Blue Jays do somehow overcome the checkbooks of the rest of the AL East? What if Rangers do accomplish what they couldn’t in 2010 and 2011? If the Red Sox won the World Series last year after going 63-99 in 2012, maybe the White Sox can turn their 63-99 record around in the same way?

What if this is the year we win it all?

Is it ambitious and unlikely and unrealistic? For about two-thirds of the league, absolutely. But it is not out of the question. In fact, by mid-April, it could suddenly seem very realistic.

The 1981 season was shortened due to a players strike. That season, the Atlanta Braves went 50-56. Not even close to making the playoffs. Then they started the 1982 season on a 13-0 run.

In 1986, the Brewers finished 77-84, then to begin the 1987 season, they also went on a 13-0 run.

In 2003, the Royals were coming off their 7th consecutive season of losing more than 85 games. Just the year before, they had lost exactly 100 games. But then they started 9-0 and continued to climb to a 17-4 record with two days left in April.

But none of those teams won it all.

The Braves got closest of the three: they lost in the NLCS. The Brewers won 91 games but finished 3rd in the AL East. The Royals missed the playoffs too, obviously, but they celebrated a winning season for a change.

But that doesn’t mean their winter wasn’t disappointing.

Giamatti is right, the whole season is designed to break your heart. For some teams, it won’t get any better than Opening Day. For many, it won’t get any better than mid-April. And for a few, it won’t get any better than September.

And yet, today, as Spring Training is beginning, we have hope.

Why would we do that to ourselves? We all know this probably doesn’t end well. Why do we keep asking “what if”?

Because without hope, we are cemented in despair.

Because without hope, we never escape winter.

Because without hope, life is hell.

“Totally without hope one cannot live. To live without hope is to cease to live. Hell is hopelessness.” – Jurgen Moltmann, Theology of Hope

Because without hope, baseball feels like this…

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To use theological terms, hope anticipates new creation. Hope is heaven on earth. Hope celebrates redemption and restoration and resurrection.

Hope roots for the underdog. #gorelish

Hope is why the Lorax is worth reading. #unless

Hope is why we haven’t given up on D’Angelo. #notjamesriver

Hope is why the Cubs continue to play the game of baseball. #stevebartman

Hope is why we spend so much of our life searching for meaning and answers to questions we can’t figure out.  Hope is why we don’t just shrug our shoulders when things like hurricanes and tornados and tsunamis leave cities in splintered ruins or underwater.

Without hope we never move past these things. Hope gives us reason to live and thrive.

When we talk about hope, we’re talking about trusting that God is for us, and that he mourns with us, and that is working things out for our good.

When we live in hope, we are compelled to be actively involved in our world, participating in the restorative work of our Creator. We pick up the splinters and rebuild the homes and feed the hungry and comfort the widow and visit the incarcerated and clothe the naked. (Matthew 25)

“Believing in the resurrection does not just mean assenting to a dogma and noting a historical fact. It means participating in this creative act of God’s … Resurrection is not a consoling opium, soothing us with the promise of a better world in the hereafter. It is the energy for a rebirth of this life. The hope doesn’t point to another world. It is focused on the redemption of this one.” – Jurgen Moltmann, Jesus Christ for Today’s World

I wonder how Pete Rose feels about hope.

I do know that when Pete played the game, one of his mottos was “never be satisfied”. Always want more and always expect to get it. Play harder, work harder, run harder. Be aggressive and never stop.

When Bart Giamatti banned Pete from baseball, he banned him for life. But I still have hope that Pete’s ban will be lifted in my lifetime…maybe in his lifetime too. But most importantly, I hope Pete himself has hope.

And Giamatti, while his quote is correct, doesn’t tell the whole story. The story never ends with despair. Because hope always redeems, rebirths and resurrects.

Baseball always comes back in spring.

And hope always grows in winter.

-apc.

Creation Debate: Genesis 1 & 2

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I had to go back and watch the Creationism Debate between Bill Nye and Ken Ham from the other night. I didn’t watch live, but I did follow along with some of the reaction on Twitter. I dropped in my uninformed two cents on Twitter as well: here, here, and here. Those comments were not in response to anything Nye or Ham said, mostly just my response to how I would anticipate a scenario plotting a “science guy” against the head of the Answers in Genesis ministry.

It’s science versus religion. Again.

It’s creation versus evolution. Again.

I’m tired of these two parties facing off, and I still am unsure why we need to belabor a debate between the two. As I tweeted the other night, creationism ought to be large enough to hold evolutionism within it. In my opinion, these do not need to be adversarial perspectives.

Like I said, I went back and watched the debate later. And it was more or less as I expected it to go.

Actually, I think I even had higher expectations for it than it ended up going. It seemed to just scratch the surface. I really hoped Bill Nye’s voice would dig deeper than it did. There was little information that we haven’t all heard already. Both men seemed too intent on defending their own perspective than actually asking questions about the other’s perspective.

The first 90 minutes was not very exciting, but it was rather frustrating. Ham spent most of his time talking about how it is impossible to prove the past based on historical science, but that you can prove the present based on observational science. He said that while we may all have the same evidence available to us today, we each draw different conclusions on it about the past. In short, according to Ham, historical science is relative to individual bias.

Ham said his belief is that the Genesis 1 account is the only proof we need to know the facts about our origins: that our Creator, in six days, created everything we see, and our world is only 6,000 years old, and that we know that to be fact because Genesis says so.

In essence, Ken Ham believes Genesis 1 to be observational science and not historical science.

The problem with that, unfortunately, is that Genesis 1 wasn’t written until way later by individuals who were trying to record their own origin stories for themselves.

The Bible didn’t just fall from heaven with Genesis 1 already written out for us. Scripture is written by humans. Inspired humans, sure, but still humans. And the humans who were writing the book of Genesis were living in the 1000-500s BCE. And the world, according to Ham, was created in the year 4000 BCE. So the authors of Genesis were writing 2500-3000 years after the fact.

Which means they weren’t using observational science at all.

They were using historical science.

Which, if I understand Ham correctly, doesn’t prove anything at all.

From where I’m sitting, his own argument is working against him.

What complicates this situation even further is that entire book of Genesis wasn’t even written by any one person. You may have noticed I said “authors” before…as in plural writers. These writers were coming from different regions and had different accounts for their origins.

Ever noticed how in Genesis 1, God speaks everything into existence ex nihilo – out of nothing – yet in Genesis 2, God actually forms Adam and Eve out of the dust of the ground?

In chapter 1 he speaks humans into life.

In chapter 2 he creates them out of materials.

Why the difference? Because these two chapters were compiled together later to tell the entire story, and they were written by totally different people groups. This also accounts for the 500 year gap I have in the time they were written (1000-500 BCE). Genesis 1 was written by a priestly group around 500 BCE during the Babylonian exile, while Genesis 2 was written much earlier around 950 BCE in the southern tribes of Judah.*

* – In fact, the entire Torah – Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers & Deuteronomy – were written by four major people groups over that 500 year span, and then compiled together later. This is called the Documentary Hypothesis. It’s ironic that is a Wikipedia link, because it too was compiled by multiple authors with multiple edits all over the world.

All that to say, Ham’s foundational understanding of the Book of Genesis is mistaken. Which, is somewhat embarrassing since he’s created an entire museum and ministry based on his beliefs on that misconception.

And if the two narratives are different – did God speak us into existence or form us out of materials? – they can’t both be factual, can they? If two different eye witness accounts are given at a crime scene, then one of them is inherently false, right?

Not necessarily.

Something doesn’t have to be fact for it to be true.

Did God create the world in six actual 24-hour days? Personally, I don’t think so. But I don’t think that’s the point of Genesis 1. There are lots of beliefs on this: Maybe he’s been orchestrating everything from the Big Bang and beyond. Or maybe he set everything up the way he did so that it would look like it’s 4.6 billion years old. Or maybe it literally is 6 days worth of creation.

But again, I don’t think that’s the point.

The point is that Genesis 1 is not a list of facts or an eye witness account or a history book or a record of events.

Genesis 1 is a poem.

It’s a poem about our origins, and poetry doesn’t have to be fact to hold truth for our lives. In fact, I would submit that poetry, music, art, or dance can convey more truth than any string of words on a page.

Because these things evoke emotion and beauty and love and can transcend the facts. This is something that an order of events cannot do.

Genesis 1 opens with three sets of separations: light and dark, sky and water, land and sea. And with each separation, God looks at what he has done and declares it “good”.

And then it fills those three separations with various items: the sun, moon and stars*; birds and fish; plants and animals. And each time he fills up a space, he declares it to be “good”.

* – If the sun wasn’t created until day four, then how did God measure the first three days?

But then he saves the best for last.

“So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;*
male and female he created them.”
Genesis 1:27

* – Something I just noticed, and need to look deeper into…there was no punctuation in the original Hebrew text, which means this semicolon could be a comma and the two commas could be semicolons.  Seems insignificant, but that would draw the focus of what it means to be made in God’s image away from “his own” and toward the “male and female” part instead. The image of God is both genders, not just male. Hmm.

Finally, God gives mankind a few pointers. He says to “be fruitful and multiply” and to “fill the earth and subdue it” and to “rule over every creature” and to “eat fruit for food.”

Ultimately, what we have here is a poem about who we are, where we came from, and how we are supposed to live. Genesis 1 was never supposed to be read as a list of facts, history or “observational science” (as Ken Ham calls it). It was meant to evoke a greater Truth: that the Creator of the Universe made all of this for us.

For us.

I’m currently writing this from the ski lodge at Monarch Mountain in Colorado. I’m speaking for a middle school ski retreat, and our sessions have centered on creation and that we are God’s masterpiece (Ephesians 2:10). We’re currently getting completely dumped on with snow: 17″ yesterday and it’s still coming down. Amazing conditions.

God created these mountains for us to enjoy. The Creator designed these ski runs so that we might experience joy – “Life to the Full” as John 10:10 says.

So the point of Genesis 1 is found here. This creation is for us, his masterpiece, to enjoy and experience.

That is how Genesis 1 plays out. And Genesis 2, while different, has other truths for us to encounter. This is where we meet Adam and Eve. Let’s take a look at these names really quick.

Adam: Hebrew for “man”. Derived from the Hebrew word for earth (adamah).

Eve: From the Hebrew word “to breathe” (chawah) or the related word “to live” (chayah).

“Then the Lord God formed a man from the dust of the earth and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.” Genesis 2:7

Wait. What?

When God breathes into the dirt, we find both of these names. Adam: man of the earth. Eve: to breathe or live. One doesn’t have to scratch their head long to piece together the fact that these feel less like names, but more like representations for all of humanity.

Which begs the question: were they even real people? When we draw our our family tree back to the beginning, will we actually find the names Adam and Eve there? Or are their names there to illustrate something bigger?

I don’t know. None of us do. Because this chapter is believed to be written even longer ago than Genesis 1 was. It’s our origin story as God-worshippers. It’s our creation narrative. It’s a story, and the point isn’t whether Adam and Eve are our great-great-grandparents.

The point is to tell about how things came to be. It’s backstory. Pre-history.

It’s setting the stage for how Abraham would father a nation of God’s chosen people, Israel, and how they ended up in slavery once in Egypt, and how they were delivered out by Moses only to find themselves back in bondage in Babylon years later.

The point of the first few chapters of Genesis is not to record the beginning.

The point is to explain who we are, why we are here, and how we got to this point.

Anyway, I’m getting sidetracked. This was supposed to be a post about the debate, but instead I got carried away with Genesis. That was a long long way of explaining the fact that Ken Ham’s argument is slightly misguided and doesn’t really thrill me to support his perspective from the start.

During the audience Q&A session, someone asked Ham whether he would still believe in God if he knew for certain that the Universe is not only thousands of years old.

And he didn’t answer the question.

How can someone who’s belief in God is so foundational for his way of life not immediately answer that question with a “yes”? If your entire theology is based only on the fact that the Universe is only 6,000 years old, the I question your faith and direction.

Is your God not big enough for that possibility?

I mean, it sure feels like the Creator of the Universe ought to be.

In fact, when we refuse to ask ourselves the difficult questions about life and doubt, I think we are being as faithless as possible. Is it really faith if you’re avoiding the tough questions? Are you scared? Are you afraid that the God you believe in is suddenly going to abandon you because he’s been around longer than you thought?

Ultimately, I was struck with how pointless the discussion really seemed in the end. Bill Nye was honest and curious and admitted when he genuinely didn’t know the answer because science hadn’t figured it out yet. But creationism can use “God’s Word” as a crutch for avoiding the struggle of doing the work that faith requires.

I believe in a Creator who reigns in my life and in the world. God is bigger than our questions and our doubts and our unbelief. It frustrates me when we get so caught up in the facts that we miss that point.

Anyway. There was way more I was going to discuss about that debate, but I think I’ll just leave it there. I just wish we could quit labeling evolution/science as a rival to Christianity. I support teaching scientific fact in schools, and I hope it propels us all to ask deeper questions about our God, our world and our theology.

Okay, I’m going to go ski now.

-apc.

nfl picks.

the NFL gets underway tonight in the meadowlands – cowboys at giants. i’ve spent the majority of my day writing a research paper, but i’m taking a 10 minute break to put together my picks for the 2012-13 NFL season.

just like the guys on espn, i’m no expert, but i like to make my picks on the following formula:
– 70% logical reasoning
– 30% emotional response

okay. let’s get to it. already 2 of my 10 minutes are up. in light of tonight’s game, let’s start in the NFC East…

NFC East: New York Giants – Dallas and Philly are both going to be better, but Eli is in his prime now and Reuben Randle is on both of my fantasy teams.

NFC North: Green Bay Packers – Strongest team in the strongest division (excluding the Vikings). Lions and Bears are both going to be great, but the Packers are simply better. As long as their defense improved slightly, they should still win this division easily.

NFC South: New Orleans Saints – Bounty scandal? They’re lucky there isn’t another elite QB in this division otherwise i’d be worried. Freeman, Newton and Ryan are all good, but Drew Brees will be Drew Brees and the Saints will still win 11 games.

NFC West: Seattle Seahawks – It’ll be a dogfight between the Hawks and the 49ers for this division. The 49ers defense simply can’t be as good as it was last year and Pete Carroll is just great. Russell Wilson wins Offensive ROY and the Seahawks make the playoffs with 11 wins.

NFC Wild Cards: Chicago Bears, Dallas Cowboys – Bears are maybe the 3rd best team in the NFC, but barely the second best team in their division. I’m very interested in the North this year. Too bad Jay Cutler is the worst. Eagles could take this spot from the Cowboys – Vick/McCoy/Maclin/Jackson are just so fast – but I think Dez Bryant is going to be huge this year and Romo will make it happen.

AFC East: New England Patriots – Tom Brady is just so good. But this team isn’t even about Brady anymore, it’s about their unorthodox offense and unlimited weapons. Should win this division easily.

AFC North: Baltimore Ravens – This will not be won easily. The Bengals and Steelers will both come to play, but Ray Rice will just run over people this year, and Joe Flacco is always good enough to get the job done.

AFC South: Houston Texans – This team is dangerous. To me, New England is the only team that stands in the way for the Texans. If they miss the AFC Championship game, I’ll be shocked. Premier defense, elite RB and WR combo. Actually…this team is like the upgraded version of the Chiefs…

AFC West: Kansas City Chiefs – Homer pick? Maybe. Most people are picking the Broncos here because Peyton Manning is the man, and I understand that. But with the exception of QB, the Chiefs are better than Denver at nearly every position. Charles + Hillis could run for 3,000 yards, and Baldwin is going to be great by the end of the year. As long as Cassel minimizes mistakes and we win the games we should (read: Oakland) we should be in a good position.

AFC Wild Cards: Cincinnati Bengals, Tennessee Titans – I’m high on Cincinnati. Maybe it’s Dalton. Maybe it’s the fact that the Law Firm is awesome and never fumbles. Maybe it‘s the fact that AJ Green is awesome too. The Titans are a sleeper pick obviously – Chris Johnson is just as good as he was supposed to be last year, and I think he’ll have a monster year, but the rest of the AFC doesn’t impress me much. This spot is up for grabs for a lot of teams in my mind.

NFC Championship: Bears over Giants
AFC Championship: Texans over Patriots
Superbowl: Texans over Bears

There’s my picks. My head tells me to pick NE, GB, or NY to win, but my heart says Chicago and Houston. I was born in Houston…there’s a fun fact.

Also, You can tell I’ve been typing a research paper all day because i’ve capitalized this entire post. whoops.

-apc.

yeti found in siberia.

note: the picture above is unrelated to the news regarding the yeti. this was taken in 1994 by some fishermen in Nepal. it is still uncertain whether the individual in the photo was one of the fishermen or not.

thirty minutes ago i got an email from my friend john with the following subject line:

Yeti.

could there possibly be a better email subject in existence? there is literally nothing coming to mind that would beat the excitement of reading an email with that subject. i suppose “Sasquatch” could maybe compete, but to me, the Yeti is much more interesting due to its supposed climate and extremely reclusive nature. also the Yeti is foreign – Asian, in fact – which adds to its curiousity.

i opened the email and found a link to an article all about how a group of russian researchers have found “indisputable proof” that a yeti has been discovered in siberia. the research team can honestly say, with 95% confidence, that there is a Yeti living in northern Russia somewhere. let’s review their evidence and draw our own conclusions…

the evidence is rather exhaustive – strands of yeti hair in a cave, complete with footprints nearby and a bed-like sleeping structure. not only that, but they found dozens of signals that the yeti uses to mark his territory. the report claims that the yeti is a muscular creature with “grayish or reddish-brown hair” and slightly larger than a human male – “around 6-7 ft tall and between 200-400 lbs”.

cave + hair + prints + bed + territory markers = muscular gray/red/brown haired slightly over-sized humanoid. clearly this is indisputable. how could anyone argue against it?

i suppose one might say “6-7 feet is a large range…so is 200-400 lbs.” or maybe they could say, “they have a tuft of hair, but they think he could be three different colors – red, brown or gray?” or even, “didn’t they think to set up a video camera or something in the cave?” i guess one could ask, “couldn’t it be a bear? or a wolf or something? doesn’t that fit the exact discription?” or how about, “what did they gather that makes the yeti muscular? clearly there must be some females on that research team just hoping he’s a muscular heartthrob.”

one might have asked those things, but obviously they would be misguided possibilities. as stated before, this is indisputable, so it would be unwise to suggest that it could be disputed. this is obviously factual. can’t wait for it to be captured and put on display in a museum or a zoo somewhere. i think i’ll name him Abe (short for abominable).

-apc.

jacob’s well.

outside of a couple book reviews, i’ve been rather silent on the ole blog. life transition will do that to you, i suppose. i hope that as life moves into it’s new phase that i’ll slowly find my rhythm and writing again. writing is truly a value to me. i’m not entirely sure that i’m even a good writer, and i’m also uncertain if i write for the benefit of others or simply for myself. regardless, i enjoy it and i tend to find myself living a fuller and fresher life when i get to write. so here i am.

as you may or may not be aware, over the last 4 months i’ve transitioned from my role at Hillcrest Covenant Church in Prairie Village, KS, into a new role at Jacob’s Well Church in Kansas City, MO. different states, yes, but only a few miles away from one another. i am so thankful for Hillcrest and the years i was apart of the culture and life of that church. it will always feel like home being around the people of HCC.

being a Jacob’s Well is terrific. such a fun and lively climate, and it is truly an honor to be apart of that community and that staff. my new role has me taking on more responsibility and ownership of the ministry i’m involved in, and i’m quickly learning and growing in ways i haven’t been able to in my previous years of ministry. being apart of a new culture is so interesting – learning, listening, and discerning every little detail of a culture that i am trying to infiltrate. i’ve made my short term goals to get to know all the kids names and connect with anyone who could have something to say as far as the youth ministry goes. i have loved getting to knew a new staff and group of volunteers, and can’t wait to see what God has in store for the youth ministry at Jacob’s Well.

i’m also learning that i don’t exactly know what i’m doing. gasp. which if funny to think about following a month of interviews trying to make myself sound like everyone’s dream hire answering all questions like i have a clue what i was doing. which, at the time, i tried to convey as best i could that i didn’t yet know what the answers to their youth ministry needs were. students would ask me, “will you take us to worlds of fun/power play/the moon?” and i would respond with, “probably, but i can’t guarantee anything yet because i don’t yet know what will or won’t work around this place.” i am slowly meeting people, developing relationships, and trying to discern what’s next for a ministry that i am learning more and more about every day.

the last thing i’ll mention is what i’m learning about the importance of relationships in ministry. everyone who read that sentence is like, “well duh.” i guess what i’m saying is that its really hard to teach, love, learn and grow together when we haven’t actually experienced any life yet together. even something as simple as teaching on sunday morning is proving to be difficult until i know my audience on a deeper level. until we have some fun together, i don’t have a clue what these kids are interested in hearing or how i can best speak into their life. without relationships, ministry is next to impossible, and jumping into a new environment has taught me that first hand. as i’m getting to know each student, my love for them increases and so does the ministry capacity within me.

ah, i’ve just written 650 words in 5 solid paragraphs. clearly this won’t be a well read blog post – that’s why twitter is so effective. all that to say, i am so thankful for this new opportunity. i get really excited every time i think about how God opened doors and aligned everything for me to step in at Jacob’s Well. what a joy and a blessing to be apart of this new place.

-apc.

review: water for elephants.


check out my Water for Elephants review over on the Ultra Manly Book Club blog, or read it below. if you’re a dude, i recommend checking out the site.

————-

Disclaimer: I feel I am required to adopt somewhat of a defensive persona when beginning this post. Yes. We are a bit embarrassed to have included this in our book club. However, part of our guidelines for iUMBC is that we are culturally aware of the “popular” books of the day. Sara Gruen’s 2006 novel, Water for Elephants, is considered by many to be “so hot right now. “ So hot, in fact, that felt the need to make a movie out of it starring the Twilight Heartthrob himself (who shall remain nameless due the fact that his name escapes me and I refuse to increase his popularity by Googling it). The convictions of those affiliated with iUMBC tend do disagree with this “so hot” notion. Also, this review contains *spoilers*.

 The book’s protagonist goes by the name Jacob Jankowski, and although his surname would suggest it, he does not play hockey. Instead, Jankowski is a disgruntled old man living in a nursing home. The majority of the text is spent in Mr. Jankowski’s flashbacks to the time he spent in the circus as a college kid. In his final year of vet school tragedy strikes in his family and he copes with the difficulty by running away and boarding a circus train. Seems reasonable enough.

Through a series of events, young Jacob discovers himself working amongst the carnies. He is torn between the circus hierarchy: Workers and Performers. His friends are all workers; Camel, an old sick drunk addicted to cough syrup, and Kinko, a midget whom Jacob once encounters masturbating in their sleeping quarters. So awkward. The reader learns to love and cherish these two quirky men. The tension mounts when Jacob falls in love with a performer, Marlena, who rides an elephant in the circus finale. Unfortunately, Marlena is married to an abusive man, August, who is also Jacob’s boss.

Thus far, this book probably sounds fine, and I will admit that the first 2/3 of this book is decent. The tension builds, it’s an entertaining read, and there are even a couple split lips in the first 200 pages. It’s what happens next that derails this book completely.

The two most lovable characters are easily Camel and Kinko, and at this point in the novel they are both living with Jacob in a storage car near the back of the train. Camel has been poisoned by his cough syrup addiction and is losing feeling to his entire body. Jacob and Kinko are able to make contact with a relative of Camel’s who agrees to meet up with them on their tour and take Camel away to help him recover. Kinko has just overcome his initial hatred of Jacob (partially due to the embarrassment of being caught in the act), and is turning into a terrific companion. What’s going to happen with Camel? Are they going to make it to Camel’s cousin in time? What is Kinko’s roll going to be as the plot develops further?

The answers never come. One night, while Jacob sneaks off to the Performers’ cabin, the author decides that it would be a good idea to have the two most likable characters thrown off the train.

So that’s what happens. Rather than finish their story and have them play a role, their characters are just inexplicably killed off like the unnamed extras in a Predator movie. Only these aren’t just unnamed characters; they’re important names in the book who have storylines of their own. Rather than try and tie all the loose ends together in the end, Sara Gruen decides to take the easy way out and end all storylines that aren’t the sappy love story. It’s lazy writing and it can’t be tolerated.

Once Kinko and Camel were killed off it was easy to find issues with this book I suddenly hated. For example, it becomes very obvious that the inner monologues of Jacob are actually the creation of a female author. Gruen uses situations that play directly to a woman’s emotional state: cruelty to animals, an abusive husband, and a depressed old man who’s younger self was the vanquisher of both the animal cruelty and the domestic abuse.

No wonder women love Jacob Jankowski – he’s a sad old man (tear) whose 23-year-old self loves and cares for animals (sniff, sniff) and who rescues a woman from a psychotic abusive husband (more tears). Talk about dreamy…and a complete waste of my time. These scenarios don’t appeal to men. Don’t misunderstand me here – there are certainly ultra manly men who care about these things – but this is not the sort of thing that gets men amped about reading a novel. It’s geared to women, and it took a poor decision by the author to make that clear.

While iUMBC does not recommend this book to our followers, we do believe that bringing awareness is crucial. Read it if you must, but please continue to spread the word. This book is not well done and is far from manly.

-apc.

life transition: The Decision.

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as you may or may not be aware, I am entering a transitionary stage in my life. my contract is up at Hillcrest Covenant Church at the end of the month bringing the end of an era in my life. i was first hired at HCC in May 2005 as a summer intern following my freshman year at K-State. since graduating high school I have either been a college student, or an employee of student ministries.

my wife and I have decided to enter into this transition in what we believe to be the best way possible: by traveling to Europe for 3 weeks. both of us will be unemployed for the first time since college, and we figure it is much healthier to view it as an opportunity rather than freaking out and frantically worrying about the future. we may never have a chance like this again. let’s take advantage. the trip has allowed me to be extremely calm about the transition. rather than filling out applications and scrambling to discover my next job, I have been researching airfare, plotting daytrips, and learning the histories of the cities we will be experiencing.

maybe this freedom has been too nice at times. saying that it has “allowed” me to detach from the situation makes it sound like I’m not taking it seriously. to quote darth vader, making it “all too easy”. that is probably somewhat true. I am hoping that the three weeks abroad will give me a little time to process and understand what it is that God is calling me too and where I will land next.

which is where I end up pondering this idea of “calling” over and over again. it amazes me when people say that they are distinctly “called” to a ministry or occupation. I feel like what I will end up doing is weighing my options, picking the one that excites me most and makes the most sense at the same time. which is what, i believe, we all do anyway. no one makes decisions based on nothing. they choose based on pros and cons and they step out in faith that their decision is the right one.

the place where I get tripped up is where I start believing that there is a “right choice” and everything else is the “wrong choice”. that is the way I think. when I pull up at sonic and I have to make a drink choice, I stare at the board and weigh the 32,086 different options trying to determine which is the “right” one for my current state of thirst. do I need a refreshing Ocean Water, or a classic Cherry Limeade, or a spritzed up Dr. Pepper with Vanilla and Lime? this process takes a while and ticks off those waiting for my Decision (capital D, a la LeBron James).

the trip up is a theological one: if i make the “wrong choice” does that effectively limit how God can use my life? obviously not – the omnipotent Creator can and will use me no matter what. so why is there so much pressure to make the “right choice” that God is “calling” me toward? what if I don’t feel “called” to anything right now? is it inevitable that I choose wrong? or does it not matter to God as long as I do it to the best of my God-given abilities? “whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do all in the name of Chirst Jesus.” so who decides what the “whatever” is that i am to do?

so in the end I choose to weigh options, make internal pro/con lists and determine the joy I would experience working in different areas. what are my values and how do those factor into the Future Formula? yes, I pray, but it is usually limited to, “God, use me in whatever it is I’m going to do in life.”

so as I go on “holiday”, as they say, that is the current state of my mind. not worrying (yet), but definitely feeling some angst about the decision making process. I’m just thankful the national media isn’t following my every thought and scrutinizing my Decision as if it wasnt the right one. poor LeBron.

-apc.

why i jumped from blogspot to wordpress.

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i’ve been blogging since 2003. i was on xanga in high school and into college, but as blogging and social media really took off, i decided i needed to make the jump to more legit hosting site. in december 2006 i made the switch to blogspot. some of my friends jumped to the ever-so-trendy tumblr around 2008, but i held strong to blogspot because i saw value in staying loyal to a domain. people would remember it. no one would have to update their RSS feeds. over time, if i invested entirely to one space i would likely have a much more robust blog to show for it.

but last week i finally decided that it was time to move on. here are my reasons:

1. wordpress allowed me to import my old posts from blogspot. one of the reasons i was reluctant to move was because i didn’t want “lose” all my old posts on my new one. plus, my new blog to look like i never wrote anything. it looks a lot better to have posts dating back to 2006 then to have them starting just today. but when i found out i could move all my old posts over from blogspot, it was an easy decision. (although, when i transferred everything, all my old posts got a “>” in front of the blog title and first character in the text body. i’ve deleted it from my most recent posts, but removing it from 500 old posts may take a while. hm.)

2. wordpress is more mobile friendly than blogspot. wordpress has an iPad version of their pages that is way more user-friendly (and awesome looking) than just a stagnant webpage. it also has much better posting apps than blogspot does. when i was in guatemala and trying to update on our trip from my phone, the app capabilities were all third-party and not super easy to utilize.

3. wordpress compiles it’s own site stats. while on blogspot, i had pasted in html for sitemeter, then google analytics, but they were always a little janky with the web stats and they always felt somewhat cumbersome to have to leave my blogspot dashboard and travel to an external site to view the info.

4. wordpress seems to understand where blogging and web presence is moving toward while blogspot hasn’t done much of anything to reinvent themselves as the online world is advancing. this partially has to do with WP’s mobile friendliness, but beyond that there is just a sense that they are moving along faster than other blog servers.

5. wordpress page templates allow for a more interactive blog. i haven’t really begun to utilize everyhting that wordpress is capable of, but i can definitely see how pages can look fresher and flashier than pages hosted on blogspot. i’m excited to explore and see what more there is to WP that i haven’t tapped into yet. WP friends, i could use some guidance here.

anyway. no hard feelings blogspot. you did nothing wrong necessarily, wordpress just seems to be doing a lot of stuff right these days. we’ll see how this goes.

-apc.

dr. martin luther king jr. – the white church’s stance on social injustice.

I have been so greatly disappointed with the white church and its leadership…I do not say this as one of those negative critics who can always find something wrong with the church. I say this as a minister of the gospel, who loves the church…When i was suddenly catapulted into leadership of the bus protest in Montgomery, Alabama, a few years ago, I felt we would be supported by the white church. I felt that the ministers, priests, and rabbis of the South would be among our strongest allies. Instead, some have been outright opponents, refusing to understand the freedom movement and misrepresenting its leaders; all too many others have been more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained-glass windows…In the midst of blatant injustices inflicted upon the Negro, I have watched white churchmen stand on the sideline and mouth pious irrelevancies and sanctimonious trivialities. In the midst of a mighty struggle to rid our nation of racial and economic injustice, I have heard many ministers say: “Those are social issues, with which the gospel has no real concern.” And I have watched many churches commit themselves to a completely otherworldly religion which makes a strange, unbiblical distinction between body and soul, between the sacred and the secular…There was a time when the church was very powerful – in the time when the early Christians rejoiced at being deemed worthy to suffer for what they believed. In those days the church was not merely a thermometer that recorded the ideas and principles of popular opinion; it was a thermostat that transformed the mores of society.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Letter from a Birmingham Jail
as transcribed in Soong-Chan Rah’s Many Colors: Cultural Intelligence for a Changing Church

-apc.

osama bin laden is dead.


osama bin laden is dead, and our nation is celebrating heartily.

a man who orchestrated the deaths of thousands of people was brought to justice yesterday at the hands of the united states military. almost ten years after september 11, our government has finally taken out the man they swore to find and kill.

this is potentially problematic for those of us who identify as both americans and christians.

on the one hand we want to celebrate with our nation because the man who epitomized evil in our eyes finally faced what he had forced so many others to face: death. even as christians we are to seek justice and strive to eliminate darkness.

Micah 6:8 – He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

Psalm 106:3 – Blessed are they who maintain justice, who constantly do what is right.

Isaiah 1:17 – Learn to do right! Seek justice, encourage the oppressed. Defend the cause of the fatherless, plead the case of the widow.

yet at the same time, we remember the words of Jesus concerning evil:

Matthew 5:39 – But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.

Matthew 5:43-45 – You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.

so already there is some conflict with how to respond as christians. act justly, but love mercy. we are to defend those who have lost loved ones, but pray for those who persecute them. seek justice, but if someone strikes your cheek, offer them the other one. this is certainly one of those times where we wish God was a little more explicit in his opinion on what justice looks like in a nasty world.

thus, the conflict i felt last night as i watched the nation rejoice. was justice served yesterday? was the murder of a murderer a justifiable act? i felt that we had fought for those who had lost loved ones. our nation was defending the widow and fighting for the fatherless. justice was being sought, but was the death of osama bin laden something Jesus celebrating?

Leviticus 19:15 – ‘Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great, but judge your neighbor fairly.

Romans 12:19 – Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”

Ephesians 4:31-32 – Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

justice is for God to decide. he will have his vengeance if he wants to have his vengeance. we are to forgive others and allow God to judge the unrighteous. killing osama bin laden is something that i struggle with because it’s broken human beings bestowing judgement upon another broken human being. when we decided that someone is worthy of death we are judging them as only God can. do i think God would’ve judged him the same way at the time? probably. but more than anything else, God seeks redemption.

Ezekiel 33:11 – As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign LORD, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live.

God takes pleasure in wicked people turning from their ways. there is no pleasure in the death of the wicked.

a few days ago i was watching a national geographic film called “science of evil”. part of the story centered around serial killer jeffrey dahmer. dahmer was convicted of murdering 17 men from 1978-1991. these murders were the some of the most gruesome the world had ever seen.

after three years of his life sentence, dahmer requested to have a pastor come to the prison and baptize him. the pastor interviewed him about repentance, salvation, and reconciliation, and after a lengthy discussion, determined that jeffrey dahmer’s motives were legitimate and he was baptized in a bath tub right there in the jail.

just months following his baptism, dahmer was murdered by a fellow inmate. 15 years later, the pastor was interviewed about his experience and he maintains that he fully expects to see jeffrey dahmer in heaven someday. there was still good in him. [insert darth vader reference here]

we can celebrate the redemption of jeffrey dahmer. we do not celebrate his actions, but we can absolutely celebrate his deliverance. one can only assume that we cannot celebrate the redemption of osama bin laden. i wish we could. i wish we at least had hope that we could.

one can argue that the 3,000+ lives on the hands of osama bin laden is vastly greater than the 17 gruesome murders committed by dahmer, and i would likely agree with that stance. my point is that pure evil is abundant in this world, that we cannot deny.

1 Peter 5:8 – Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.

evil is on the prowl, and it will always be on the prowl. we should be alert and seek justice as best as we humanly can. but God does not celebrate with us in the death of a wicked man. i wish there was another way. it is so good to fight for those who need it – the fatherless, the widows, the poor, the sick – and i think american was right in seeking justice. i’m not certain that america’s concept of justice is the same as that of God’s.

i just wish that osama bin laden had the opportunity to be won over by Jesus Christ. that’s all. maybe there was still good in him. who are we to say there wasn’t?

i’m happy for the families who have been in mourning for the last 10 years seeking justice. i’m happy that they feel vindicated, but i’d be even happier if i knew that bin laden could be redeemed.

-apc.

IT’S A TRAP.

…i’ve always wanted to use that blog title.

i’m not sure if people saw this, but apparently someone went around setting up “hipster traps” in new york city – fake ray-bans, american spirit cigarettes, a pbr, holga camera and a bike chain on a large bear trap. let’s take a moment to reflect on how perfectly hilarious this is.

hipsters are so funny to me. and funny is the perfect word because they fit both definitions of the word: i literally laugh at them, but i’m also so perplexed by their peculiar ways. they may be the first trendy lifestyle that is completely aware of their strangeness. most labeled groups aren’t conscious of how ridiculously classic they are – ditzes are oblivious, computer programmers look down on others and think they’re the most un-weird people around, drama kids like to sing musical renditions in public settings completely unaware of their embarrassment – but hipters totally understand who they are and are just fine with falling into a perfect stereotype. funny haha, yet funny peculiar as well.

i posted a link on my twitter to the traps knowing full well that my abundance of followers would want to share in my chortle. the next day i received a response via google buzz from a friend of mine that said:

“what would be in your trap?”

at first i was stunned. because i realized that, just like the hipsters, i certainly fall under a certain umbrella too – the only difference being that my umbrella is much smaller than theirs. i recovered well – i soon was able to fully embrace myself, and i started thinking about the five items that would be found in an “apc trap”.

i felt like there needed to be some rules too – obviously i’d be enticed by an iPad or a $100 bill, but wouldn’t everyone? the things needed to be relatively inexpensive, and enticing to me and very few others. my list had to be of equivalent value to the items on the hipster traps. so i needed to put a dollar value on the items and match them accordingly.

so, here are the items i came up with:

pabst blue ribbon: $2
my replacement: a lego boba fett keychain

last time i was in chicago i picked up an admiral ackbar and a stormtrooper at the lego store on michigan ave for $2.50 on sale. i could do a chewbacca, C3PO or lando too. even greedo.

american spirit cigarettes: $5
my replacement: a pack of 2010 Bowman Chrome
baseball cards
the hobby packs retail between $4 and $7 depending where you go. i still want that bryce harper usa card, but i could certainly also go for a stephen strasburg, or a jason heyward auto or an aroldis chapman red prospect.

yellow bike chain: $10
my replacement: “rome” – danger mouse & daniele luppi
actually, this would come in the form of a $10 iTunes gift card right now because the album doesn’t actually drop until may 17, but i’ve pre-ordered it on iTunes for $9.99. producer danger mouse (cee lo’s partner in gnarls barkley, creator of the grey album – jay-z’s black album mashed with the beatles’ white album, half of the duo broken bells) is duking it out with kanye west and the neptunes for my favorite producer(s) in the music business, and supposedly this collab with luppi (an italian producer and composer whom i honestly know nothing about) is five years in the making and it’s what danger mouse is truly most passionate about. it was recorded in a church-converted-studio in rome and utilizes vintage instruments and was inspired by the pair’s love for 60’s italian film soundtracks. all i know is that if DM is amped about it, then so am i.

fake ray-bans: $20
my replacement: a dharma initiative metal lunchbox – anyone who loves LOST like i do understands the awesomeness of the dharma initiative and would pounce on that trap if saw something so awesome. would i actually use it to take my lunch in? not a chance. i’d use it to keep secret items in: memories, artifacts, ancient coins, prized possessions, etc. i’d probably hide it under a floor board or in a vault behind a photo of abe lincoln on my wall or something.

holga camera: $30
my replacement: two tickets to a royals or cardinals game in a stadium i’ve never been to before. like san francisco, or new york, or seattle or boston, or los angeles. cheap seats would be fine – whatever price value is equivalent to a holga camera works for me. one of the greatest aspects of baseball is the beauty of the stadiums. the grass, the dirt, the irregular outfield wall shapes with nooks and brick walls…or that strange hill in houston. it’s a gorgeous game and tickets to anywhere would be super rad.

that trap would clamp down on my ankle in a heartbeat, and it might even be worth it. now it’s your turn: what would be in your trap?

-apc.

theology of hip-hop: questions.


i got halfway through this post on friday morning, but then i deleted it because it wasn’t taking form the way i wanted it to. but when my bro CDoubleDizz over at justbeingchristian.com posts on the theology of kanye’s “jesus walks” just three days later…well, i just can’t help myself.

i grew up in suburban kansas city. most of you know this. if not, welcome to my blog. when i was young, i thought hip-hop was evil. i based this on the fact that rap used cuss words and was nothing but the sex-drugs-cash trifecta. i decided that DC Talk was a better route – meet rap halfway, i guess. wouldn’t want to fill my mind with unholy filth. i have an inkling that this thought process was (and would still be) supported by the church i grew up in and am now employed by. this isn’t a dog on my church – but more a truth about the western suburban church in general: act like life is perfect. don’t doubt God. hide your sins, etc. the church isn’t a place for hip-hop.

i supposed this may be partially true – guys like snoop dogg and soulja boy likely have very little to say regarding theology, faith and spirituality – but a strong collection of the rap/hip-hop artists have a great deal to say. it’s honest, and that honesty makes the christian world uncomfortable. but if we were as honest as the rappers out there, i think we’d would realize that the hip-hop community has just as much (dare i say more) to say about life and theology than the white suburban culture that i’ve been raised in.

where does rap and hip-hop come from? it comes from the ghettos and the public housing systems – well, at least the honest stuff does. it comes from the 12 year old drug hustlers who have dreams of getting out of life they’ve been handed. it comes from the kids who didn’t have a shot at “the good life” that i was raised in.

they’re telling their story.
and their story is what frames their theology.

it’s no wonder the suburban church struggles with concepts like “hope” and “mourning” and “doubt” – our theology has been framed by simplicity and ease, comfort and shelter. we avoid the challenging questions and speak in generalities like “Jesus help me to trust you more.” we don’t ask questions like…

“Jesus, why was there another earthquake in Japan last week?”
or
“Jesus, why was i born into an upper middle-class home and not into a slum in india?”
or
“Jesus, why do so many people have to suffer so greatly?”
or
“Jesus, why don’t my parents love each other anymore?”
or
“Jesus, if you’re so great, why couldn’t you heal my friend’s dad?”
or
“Jesus, why don’t i even remotely feel your presence?”

and even when we ask these questions, we give answers like, “well, we live in a fallen world,” or “we don’t understand God’s plan,” and immediately extinguish a legitimately terrific theological question. a question that we ought to wrestle with, but instead we can forget about because of the ease of the culture that defines our theology.

hip-hop does not forget about these questions. why? because it can’t.

the artists and musicians that feed hip-hop culture has defined their theology in a culture that isn’t allowed to ignore those questions because they live it. it is their story. the people of Japan aren’t allowed to ignore the answer to the “why was there another earthquake?” question. if someone from the Indian slums asked me, “why was i born here and not where you were born?” and i answered, “we just don’t understand God’s plan,” then i would hope they would slap me. cause the next question would be “so God’s plan involves me growing up on pennies a day?”

hip-hop is a voice for the oppressed, for the less-fortunate, for the marginalized.
it’s a voice for the people who never had a chance at a different life.
it’s a voice for the individuals who wrestle with the toughest of questions.

hip-hop is truer theology than most people realize – or maybe better phrased, than most people allow themselves to realize.

listen: The Roots – Dear God 2.0

-apc.

the greatest story ever.

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i am in a book club with a handful of my closest guy friends. it was suggested by someone that we read this book called “water for elephants” which was supposed to be a real gem.

we were reluctant at first – the book was written by a woman and this is the “ultra manly book club” (iUMBC* for short) – but we all agreed that if it was so highly acclaimed that this book must be worth some literary value.

we should have followed our hunch – the book is awful.**

the book developed well at first. it was entertaining and interesting and had all the details that made you ask, “man, how is the author ever going to get this story to come together in the end?” i like books like that. books that make you think there are going to be loose ends, but end up coming together beautifully in the end. where you turn the last page and you think, “wow. that was impressive work.”

then suddenly, about 2/3 of the way through the book – on page 299 – [spoiler alert/saving you the frustration] two minor characters with developing story lines are thrown off a train to their deaths. no resolution. no answers. no real reason – they are just ditched from the story, and the reader is left to wonder why they cared so much about their well being in the first place.

the Bible does not do things like this.

the Bible is a mysteriously ancient book full of questions, creation, destruction, war, letters, songs, prophecies and stories. there are thousands of pages. there are countless stories – some historical, some metaphorical, some prophetical. the first 2/3 of the christian Bible – the old testament – is comprised of 39 different books written by a bunch of different people, but despite its varying authors, tones and styles, all the pieces fit together to develop the most incredible back story ever written. and what makes the Bible even more amazing is that everything comes together in the end. there are zero loose ends.

everything is fulfilled to perfection.

tonight i had the privilege of partaking in a passover seder dinner with this year’s confirmation class and their parents. i had never had been to one of these jewish traditions before, and i didn’t know exactly what to expect. i knew it would be a lot of symbolic foods and actions that pertain to the delivering of the Israelites from Egypt following the Exodus “passover”. that’s about all i knew.

i was amazed at the power of this meal. every piece of this Jewish tradition pointed to Jesus. granted, we read a modified script that detailed exactly how each piece of the dinner perfectly foretold the coming, suffering, dying and ressurecting of our Lord. i found myself thinking, “how can anyone read this text and be blind to how wonderfully Jesus fulfills everything foretold in the Scriptures?”

in Exodus, God sends an angel of death to Egypt to kill every first born son – man and animal – and the only way to avoid being subject to this killing is to kill an unblemished lamb and – without breaking any bones – spread it’s blood across the doorframe of your house. that is what will save you from death.

1000 years before he was even born, God was already pointing toward Jesus – the sinless man who would bleed to death while hanging on a wooden cross.

just as the Israelites were delivered from bondage, so we are delivered. through the death of this “lamb” that was foretold about 1000, 800, 600, 450 years before he even shows up. the links between the old and new testaments are too perfect to be anything but God-breathed.

as we near the beginning of Holy Week, i am struck more powerfully than ever before by story of our God and how perfect his ways are. there are no loose ends or unexplained storylines. everything works together exactly how it should.

and that includes my storyline.
and it includes your storyline.

the same unchanging God who delivered his people from the grip of Pharoah, the same God who parted the Red Sea. the same God who miraculously provided food and water for his people in the desert. the same God who spoke to his prophets. the same God who sent his foretold son so that we too may be delivered.

that same God – the one who knitted us in our mother’s womb and set us apart by his grace – has included you and me in his perfect story. and you better believe that he isn’t going to chuck us off a train and dispose of our storylines because he’s having trouble working us into his perfect plan.

cause clearly, that’s not something our God does.
just look at the book he wrote.

-apc.

* – the “i” has since been added because one of our members is now in the country of columbia – making the word “international” essential to our title.

** – and i’m going to go out on a limb that the movie will be entirely worse. casting cedric diggory/mr. twilight/robert pattinson as the protagonist was the perfect move in making a bad book into a worse movie.

educating myself in the art of mystery.

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over the last few years, i have grown to discover that mystery is something that deeply intrigues me. it has probably always been present, but only recently have i become totally self-aware of now mystery affects my soul. if i were to make a short list of the things that have sparked this discovery, the list would look like this:

1. LOST
2. exploring the old, rundown attics and bell towers on kstate’s campus.
3. traveling to spain and seeing the alhambra.

suddenly i am asking questions like, “i wonder if someone hid their baseball cards between the walls of my house,” or “i wonder if we drained this lake if we’d find all sorts of treasures from 100s of years ago at the bottom,” or “if i hide a note in a random book the library, i wonder how long it would take for someone else to find it.” those are the questions i find myself thinking on a daily basis. i wonder, i wonder, i wonder.

but here’s the catch: i’m not certain that i really want to know the answer to any of these questions. the mysteriousness of the question greatly outweighs the knowledge of any of the answers. j.j. abrams (creator of LOST) says that “mystery is a catalyst for imagination…and there are times when mystery is more important than knowledge.”

i want to discover what it is that makes mystery so potent. i want to edcucate myself on the art of mystery – books, movies, history, stories – i want to find the best examples of mystery and pack my brain with tales of curiousity and questions and wonder. i don’t want answers. i just want to learn of new ways to cultivate questions.

it’s a large task, i know, but i already have a trio of ideas on where to start:

1. the classics according to the world
– sherlock holmes – sir arthur conan doyle
– the maltese falcon – dashiell hammett
– anything by agatha christie

2. every book seen in/referenced/that influenced LOST – amazon has a handful of LOST reading plans, and LOSTpedia has an extensive list of references and influences. i will begin this list with:
– “the mysterious island” – jules verne
– “the third policeman” – flann o’brian/brian o’nolan
– “everything that rises must converge” – flannery o’conner
– “20,000 leagues under the sea” – jules verne

3. The Bible* – the greatest mystery ever recorded.

so that’s where i’m beginning my quest. i want to feed this new self-discovery. hopefully this is a launching pad into all sorts of adventure.

-apc.

* – side note here: how cool would it be to create a YouVersion reading plan reading the Bible from a “mystery” perspective? who knows what that would look like, but it’s a fun idea.

guat 2011: from san juan to antigua.

>our last day of teaching was terrific. the art group did face painting, science had space day, english taught about foods, but most importantly, some amazing relationships blossomed. what a bummer it was to leave the kids; it is amazing the bonds you can develop over 5 days, but they are strong as ever. we will miss the san juan community greatly.

last night we had the opportunity to share a meal with the teachers and then exchange encouraging words with them. they are such amazing people. its such a joy to see a group of people so committed to the growth and development of these kids. so many times we have talked about what God is already doing in san juan…they are a great part of it.

this morning we awoke normal time for breakfast and by 9am we were being escorted to the docks by the 6th grade class! the boat ride across was quick and flawless and we were to panajachel and on to antigua by 130pm.

the last hours have been spent shoppingand bartering, laughing and lounging in our new home in antigua for the next day.

it is sad to be away from san juan, but we know the missions trip hasn’t ended yet – even though our teaching is over, we are still seeking for places to serve and aid in God’s call. pray for our final 48 hours and for safe travels. see you all soon!!

-apc.

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guat 2011: art class has expressionism day!

>generally, the kids in san juan struggle to think creatively and abstractly. our translators tell ua that a few weeks ago they were asked to draw something they are talented at, and almost all the kids found a picture in a book and traced it.

so when the art class presented “expressionism day” we were all curious to see how Picasso-like they could be with their self-portraits. here are a few of the finished products:

they are so talented! our art group is doing an incredible job getting the kids to think creatively and think outside the box!

-apc.

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guat 2011: wednesday student blogs.

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two days, two sets of student blogs! today we get to hear from four more of our students (tori, hannah, meredith and marcus) on how God has been working in them and through them while in san juan la laguna:

Hola from San Juan! Today is our third day of teaching and I could not be more excited. In English we have talked about the weather, our emotions and our families. Today we are taking about food. One of my favorite memories is from Monday. We taught the older kids (3rd-6th) grade the phrase, “How do you feel?” and the response “I feel happy”. We also taught them the phrases “How is the weather?” and the response “The weather is sunny”. As the day ended one little chico approached me and asked me both questions. That made my heart soar! We were successful in teaching them a little bit of English and connecting with them. I have really seen God working through the teachers. As we teach they listened attentively and I really admired the fact that they were also really interested in what we were teaching and it was very encouraging. I am off to teach, adios!

Tori H.

Hi! I am sooo happy that I got the opportunity to go on this trip. I can’t even explain how amazing it is to be here and in a totally different culture and environment. The weather has been perfect and it’s just beautiful here. Everyone here is so nice and welcoming. The kids are absolutely amazing. They are so eager and willing to learn and they are also interested in getting to know us more personally as well. I heard that the food wasn’t going to be very good but contrary to that it’s been really good! I have also gotten to know the people who are on the trip with me and they are incredible and I am grateful that I have been able to get to know them!

Hannah S.

Hola mis Amigas! Today I woke up refreshed and energized, and for the first time didn’t wake up to the clucking of the roosters outside my bedroom window. Throughout this week Nate has been stressing the idea that our nervousness is a good thing – that our nerves allow us to enter into situations with a humble attitude and force us to rely on God. God has surprised me every single time I have been anxious from the zipline to leading devotionals, to teaching classes, he has come alongside of me. Today the science group is focusing on chemistry and all of the kids were given their own packet of pop rocks to be exposed to a chemical reaction. Juanito responded by saying “Ah! I feel miracles in my mouth!” Their joy has been an incredible source of encouragement and energy for us as teachers.

Today I am thankful for recognition. Yesterday I was able to talk with a mother across the street named Gloria. Last year I met her and was able to hear her story and pray with her and to be able to talk with her again was amazing. The moment I called her name she embraced me and welcomed me into her house/art gallery. Gloria is now a single mother. Her husband was killed two weeks ago last year. At this time last year her children didn’t yet know of their father’s death and after being told that “he is with Jesus” they would walk up and down the rows at church searching for his face. Gloria would like us to pray for her family, she fears that her husband is in purgatory for their having children out of wedlock. Relationships here are not forgotten and I am convinced that while I am at home in Kansas City praying for Gloria, she is here in San Juan praying for me as well.

Meredith S.

Last night I got the opportunity to play futbol (soccer) with some of the sixth grade boys. It was totally dark outside and we were playing every man for himself, by the end of the night I was drenched in sweat and had a tan line of dirt around my ankles. We played without words, just grunts and gestures, and it is probably one of the top highlights of this trip so far.

Another enjoyable moment was when we went to a café that hosted the best coffee in Guatemala; alejandro was crazy for the stuff. I ordered a cappuccino, which was delicious, and while waiting for it we had great conversation about the trip and Ezekiel’s ministry, I am pretty sure that we are going back again today.

If you can, I would like you to pray for Chris, Mary, Jacob, and Eric all of which who have been sick. I would also request that you pray for the whole team that we would just do God’s work and join him where he needs us.

Marcus L.

our trip is more than halfway over! what a joy it has been to be here over the last few days, but God is still moving and working! our prayers – and yours – are changing lives here in san juan. thank you so much for your support.

-apc.

guat 2011: monday student blogs.

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as promised (only about 12 hours late): here are some thoughts from our group after our first day of teaching! read on to hear from alex, kj, trent and mary kate!!!

Hola mis amigos. Mi nombre es Alexjandro, y este dia ha sido fantastico! Alright, so that is it for the Spanish, but after speaking it for a whole morning and being in this culture, it just sticks. So far this trip has been amazing and I can’t wait to see what is still yet to come. We have become such a bonded group and it comes out in the way we teach these kids. No matter how hard it may be with language, together we work so well with the kids and we all feel that it is more then just doing activities, but truly teaching and making a difference.
Alex R.

Greetings from Guatemala,
This trip has been absolutely incredible, other than the fact that today has been one of the most stressful days of my life! In our first day of teaching I was in charge of teaching biology and anatomy to hyperactive kids who need to be constantly moving. It is however impossible to get upset with them because they are beyond adorable and melt your heart every time they smile at you. Now that my teaching is over I am able to lay back and enjoy the rest of the trip without stress.

I can’t look at the mountains enough; they are so gorgeous and take my breath away.
KJ R.

To those it interests
After a full day of teaching now under our belts, while being here for 4 days, I do know that we all are starting to feel the stress grow. However, none of that matters as much due to the amazing times we have had as a group. I feel that as a group we are having a blast and are really getting to know each other. Great bonding like standing for an hour-ish in the bed of a who only knows how old Toyota Tacoma driving down a steep, dangerous, road while coming back to the hotel from some of the most fun I have ever had in my life at the world’s highest zip-line.

Now that a day of teaching is done, I feel so much more relieved. I am assuming that most of that is from the fact that today was the day I was in charge of and it is now over. Still I am looking forward to the last 3 days and I am sure I will be sad again when we have to leave. Can’t wait to be home though so I can sleep without be serenaded at night by tuk-tuk’s, roosters, and Marcus trombone snoring.
Trent F.

Hello from Guatemala! I wanted to share with you guys a moment that happened to me today, while teaching to the kids. I am in the art group and I taught in the classes today, and through that whole experience I could feel God giving me strength to keep going and talk in front of those kids for the first time. In trying to communicate things to kids, I would try talking in Spanish and one person would get it and be able to explain it to another person. Through all of that I just saw God in helping break down the communication barrier. This trip has been amazing so far and I can’t wait to see what happens with my life through out the rest of the week.
Mary Kate P.

as i type this, we’re halfway through day two of teaching and things are going great! the p.e. group is playing hockey, the english group is teaching family terms, the science team is using homemade catapults to teach physics, and the art group is having every student and teacher paint a piece of fabric that they will be sewing together to create a massive tapestry for the school to keep!

more updates to come – thanks again for your countless prayers. also, just as a reminder, you can see the short twitter updates (complete with photos) at my twitter account here: @adampaulcooper.

-apc.

guat 2011: prayer tour, zip-line, san pedro.

>we have been in san juan for over 24 hours now, but it already feels like days. after a gorgeous (and a little longer than anticipated boat ride) we settled into our hotel, grabbed a late afternoon lunch, and quickly set off on a prayer tour around san juan.

our first stop on the tour was the school we will be teaching at over the next week. the school is run by a man named Francisco with whom we have developed a tremendous relationship with over the years here in san juan. Francisco has taken the elementary school from a 3-room schoolhouse to a multi-level school with around a dozen classrooms and an adjacent basketball court with a brand new roof! Francisco gives all credit to God for providing groups like us to help. we prayed for our teaching, for Francisco, and for the kids at the school. what a joy and an honor to be apart of God’s story here.

our next stop was a church where Francisco’s son serves as youth pastor and worship leader. from there we went to a demolished home on the north side of town. it had been left in ruins by a mudslide. the house was the home of a family whose children go to the school. it was so humbling to see the hardship that this family had gone through. we prayed for the community, for the lives we come in contact with, for the divine appointments we will encounter that we don’t even have in our schedule. what a rich time of convo with God.

this morning we woke up and after a quick breakfast we jumped in a truck and drove to the zipline!! we all did it! what a great time of bonding for our group – everyone was so encouraging for those of us that were a bit nervous (i.e. meredith and karlie). so awesome and so fun.

dinner is in san pedro tonight. san pedro is the neighboring town to san juan and a fun place to hang out and grab a meal. but its early to bed, early to rise tomorrow cause the teaching begins in the morning!

thanks for your prayers! stories from the students are coming tomorrow night!

-apc.

guat 2011: tori’s bag is found.

>quick update this morning: tori’s bag has made it back to the guat city airport and is en route to us in panajachel! what an answer to prayer.

the weather is PERFECT this morning for a boat ride. 70s, sunny, no clouds, gorgeous volcanoes. boat leaves in 72 minutes!

keep praying. love and miss you all in the states.

-apc.

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guat 2011: made it to panajachel.

>we have made it to lake atitlan!

our trip from KC > OKC > houston was flawless. we found our shuttle to the hyatt place hotel for the night. this morning came very early – left for the airport at 7 am – but our flight was delayed a bit so we were able to kick it a bit at the gate before departure.

flight was smooth, customs was a breeze, and we all got our money exchanged with no trouble at all. the only hiccup we have experienced thus far is that someone took the wrong baggage and accidentally grabbed tori’s by mistake, leaving his behind! continental seems to have it under control though, and her bag should find its way here soon. the other girls have been great leaning her stuff, and she has been a great sport throughout. pray that her bag finds its way safely!

we spent the rest of the day on the windy roads of guatemala, pulling into panajachel around 8pm. the weather is gorgeous and we are all so thrilled to step outside and see the beautiful scenery in the morning! what a gift God’s creation is.

a few of us have been chatting about how interesting it is that there are guatemalans all around us, all who have their own story and their own encounters with the same God we know back home. looking out on Guatemala from the plane thinking, “man, there are so many places that God – this one same God that we know and love – is working at the same time.”

prayer: take time to slow down to notice things like the encounter above.

we are a tired bunch, but spirits are high and very eager to cross the lake to san juan in the morning. we had some dessert and sang some karaoke up the street from our hotel tonight, but we are all turned in now ready to see what Jesus calls us to for day 3 of 10.

we appreciate your prayers! stay tuned for an update from san juan tomorrow!

-apc.

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hillcrest covenant church: guatemala 2011.

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over the next couple weeks, my blog will serve as a domain for our hillcrest student missions trip to san juan, guatemala. we leave tomorrow afternoon and return sunday, march 20, and in that time i, along with others on our team, will be updating this space to keep you up to speed on the ministry our group has the honor of being a part of in san juan.

hillcrest has been doing this trip for 7 years now, and in that time we’ve had the opportunity to teach children, do different construction jobs, and build lasting relationships with the people of san juan. this year we are teaching science, art, english, and p.e. to around 150-200 elementary school children. san juan is on the south-eastern shore of lake atitlan in the solola region of guatemala. we fly from kansas city to houston, and into guatemala city on friday morning. we then drive to panajachel (on the north shore of the lake), and then taxi across by boat on saturday morning, march 12. feel free to explore the area on the google map below.
http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=San+Juan+La+Laguna,+Solola,+Guatemala&sll=14.713791,-90.725098&sspn=0.009609,0.016201&ie=UTF8&hq=&hnear=San+Juan+La+Laguna,+Solol%C3%A1+Dept,+Guatemala&t=h&ll=14.695776,-91.286087&spn=0.029058,0.036478&z=14&output=embed

check back often for updates, photos, and prayer requests, or follow me on twitter (@adampaulcooper) as i will be linking each update there as it is posted.

pray for our group as we take part in what God is doing in guatemala. here we go!

-apc.

superbowl xlv.

>so the superbowl happened last night. congrats to the pack. here are some thoughts that i had during and following the game:

1. the emergence of jordy nelson – the k-state alum led all receivers with 140 yards – twice as many as any other receiver on the field – and scored the first points of the game. in 17 regular season games he put up 500+ yards – in the playoffs he had nearly 300. jordy suddenly emerged as aaron rodgers’s favorite target: 15 times in the superbowl (of course, the injury to donald driver helped that). on most teams, jordy would be a legit #2 receiver. unfortunately he’s playing 3rd or 4th fiddle behind jennings and driver. his future looks great – especially as driver is aging.

2. black eyed box heads feat. usher surprise – finally. we are redeemed from the janet jackson mishap. we’ve been subjected to mick jagger’s 80 year-old midriff and the boss’s camera crotch slide as punishment during this pop-music purgatory. glad that’s behind us. however, i wasn’t sure the black eyed peas were the answer.

rough start, but that’s to be expected when you’re leading with tracks off an auto-tuned lackluster album. couple that with fergie’s microphone issues, and her overall lack of musical talent, and i thought we were in for a real bummer show. it hit a low point when fergie was grinding on slash. just unfortunate.

but then they turned a corner with “pump it” and “lets get it started”. all i was hoping for was one track off Elephunk and Monkey Business, and i got both. phew. all my hopes and dreams were fulfilled that easily. but then…surprise! will.i.am broke into “omg” and usher decended from the worlds largest hd screen to blow our minds with his white kerchief. did i fist pump? yes.

the whole “LOVE” theme they ended with? total throw away for me. you can’t grind your booty on slash’s guitar and expect anyone to think you have a healthy concept of love. they saved the show with the box head dancers – felt like a Von Trap family/youtube sensation/flight of the conchords “humans are dead”/TRON mash up – and i absolutely loved it. then they heel clicked and i gasped at the greatness of the choreography. so simple. so silly. nailed it.

overall – 6/10…which was 3/10 more than i was anticipating.

3. why are the commercials so bad? is it really that difficult to brainstorm a 30 second concept that makes people laugh? i’m supposed to think that a grizzly cowboy singing “tiny dancer” is funny? godaddy dupes the nation into lusting after joan rivers? not funny. half of the commercials were either FOX promos or movie previews (though i was very intrigued by that new j.j. abrams movie…though i am very biased.) i was glad that they companies ditched the “lets make fun of the male gender” theme they went with last year. but they replaced it with…nothing. doritos seemed to be the only ones who came to play.

but the mini-darth vader VW commercial was so great.

welp. that’s all i’ve got. you stay classy, internet.

-apc.

REVIEW: kanye west – my beautiful dark twisted fantasy.

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every review i read is telling me this album is phenomenal. rolling stone gives it the often-talked-about-rarely-seen 5/5 stars. PMA blog gives it a 95/100. consider me confused.

maybe i’m just selfish and want kanye circa 2007. maybe i just throw my guard up when someone (kanye) messes with near-perfection (Graduation). there has to be something off about how i’m approaching this album, because this album certainly doesn’t warrant phrases like, “It’s kanye’s best album” (rolling stone), or “It’s Kanye’s most complex and complete release and one of the most consistently impressive hip hop albums in recent years” (PMA).

so is it me? or is it them? something is just off.

the album is good. i will admit that, but it is certainly not “consistently impressive”, nor is it “the best”. its better than 808s, and that about it. individual songs can potentially compete with some off kanye’s previous 4 albums, but this album ought to be viewed as a complete album rather than a collection of individual tracks. that makes it a bit dicey for me.

don’t get me wrong though, there are bright spots: Dark Fantasy is a perfect lead track – the sampling draws you in and you catch your head bobbing to the back beat almost immediately. the aptly titled “Power” makes me feel like i’m about to take over the world in slow motion. it’s chanting, clapping Afromerica sample puts off a dynamite underdog uprising vibe. pretty sure it has already been adopted as the team entrance music in 40% of NFL stadiums. “All of the Lights” is truly brilliant. it flows beautifully from “Power” and continues the world-domination feel.

but there are also spots where i think, “who in the world thinks this sounds remotely appealing?” tracks like “Monster” and “So Appalled” make up a dismal heart to the album. if the beginning of the album is beautiful, then this is certainly the dark and twisted portion of the album. “Monster” may give me nightmares, and “So Appalled” may never make it past five in my itunes play count.

this album stands as a whole, and i respect that a great deal. i also respect the fact that kanye pulls samples from rad old school tracks (smokey robinson, cold grits, the mojo men), but he also tosses in artists i’ve never even heard of on nearly every track. both of these bits, now that i think about it, revert back to his College Dropout and Late Registration days. i was spoiled with MJ and Daft Punk samples on Graduation, but he seems to have found a certain aspect of his roots while transforming them into something new and musically forward…even if i don’t really care for where he’s progressing at certain times.

maybe the most impressive sample on the album is the use of the original “Soul Makossa” track that is probably better known (at least by me) as a Michael Jackson reference. he throws it down as the backtrack in the Bon Iver collaboration that winds the album down to a close. the shortest track on the album (a whopping 4:17), it leads with an Imogen Heap vocoder feel that builds to an and 808-heavy Soul Makossa beat that i dig quite a bit (though its possible that he wins me over simply with the blending of the sample and the “mamakusa” line in the first verse).

it starts and finishes strong (though i can’t help but be bummed out by the track 2 Kid Cudi collab – i tried, but i’m just not a Cudi fan). ultimately, save for a few songs that do anything but get me excited, the album is solid as a whole. though if i had to weigh the songs i love versus the songs i hate, it’d be an even split.

i respect the album (which i certainly did not expect to). the samples i thought were gone are present and are, truthfully, very strong. and i can ALMOST understand how this album passed with flying colors according to so many. depending on the moment – i both love it and hate it, but honestly – despite a handful of tracks i find TERRIBLE – kanye has again proven that he truly is a genius. insane? that too, but he utilizes his insanity relatively well.

ugh. i hate that i just said all that.

overall, the album is good. but not great. certainly not as good as others have claimed it to be. but as kanye says in his 35-minute film “Runaway” – “first thing in this world baby, don’t pay attention to anything you see in the news.” it’s not a 5/5 or a 95.

i give it a 78.

-apc.

blogging from my new phone.

>so I got a new phone on tuesday. its the EVO 4G and it is changing my life rather rapidly.

you probably have no interest in this blog…in fact, the only reason I even have any interest in it is simply to test if this Blogger app I just downloaded actually works.

anyone recommend anything? EVO related or Blogger related or app related? I’m new to all this.

-apc.

word verification balderdash.

>typically when i go to comment on a blog, it annoys me a great deal to have to type in the jumbled set of letters. supposedly by typing these letters in i can prove to the interwebz that i am, in fact, a real-life human being and not a robot apparatus. it’s truly amazing that this is enough to convince the “www” that the comment is not fake – and it’s even more amazing that no one has figured out how to create a computer that can stump word verification.

the most obnoxious scenario is when you can’t even read the letters – they’re all distorted and overlapping and you’re can’t be sure if it’s a lowercase “L”, a capital “i” or the number “1”. so you get it wrong, the page refreshes with a big red box saying “you failed to successfully reproduce the letters! go back to 1st grade!” and sometimes you even get to retype your whole comment cause it was lost in the refreshing. what a joy.

however, blogger does an exceptional job with this – their letters are legible, non-worbled, and if you get them wrong it doesn’t delete your entire comment in the refreshing process. but my favorite thing about blogger’s word verification, is that it creates a jumbling of letters that actually appear to be real words: drego, ligro, idesto, croida – but they’re not real words. they just happen to contain some standard proto-indo-european letter clusterings and look like real words.

so what do i do? i play balderdash. i make up the definition of the “word” i see. examples…

dregonoun – an east-asian plant known for its uncharacteristically high levels of vitamin B.

phstanoun – a deceptive, albeit illegal, maneuver in the game of chess where one is able to dupe their opponent by moving the knight only 2 spaces rather than the correctly moved 3 spaces.

ligronoun – a baseball term developed in the 1930s as an insult to non-black individuals playing in the negro leagues.

croida noun – any organism with a brightly colored exterior skeleton (e.g. ladybugs, scallops).

apparently i can only come up with nouns.

now it’s your turn! i have turned on “word verification” on my blog. comment, and make up a definition for the displayed word! what a genius idea. maybe i’ll even make it a competition and pick a winner!

hizzah! happy balderdashing!

-apc.

relationalyouthministry.com: i am not worthy.

>my first guest blog is up on relationalyouthministry.com! what an honor it is to be a part of a conversation on how to navigate youth ministry more successfully. you can read my post below or check it out here along with many other youth worker voices.

i am not worthy of this calling.

i have this thought on a daily basis – sometimes multiple times a day – and it burdens me. i am not worthy of leading anyone anywhere, let alone toward the only perfect being to ever live. there is no reason i should be allowed to be a voice for students. i’ve got junk in my life just like they do – i mean c’mon, i almost swore in that last sentence! i have no business even writing this blog! i don’t even use proper capitalization!

i’m not sure if you’ve ever felt this way. my inkling is that if you’ve been a youth worker for very long, then you have. i constantly feel unworthy. broken. messed up. completely unqualified to be working in “the trenches” of youth ministry. maybe you have too. maybe you haven’t yet. maybe you used to feel it and decided you had to get out of the trenches before it ruined you. maybe you’re toying with that thought right now.

the reality is that none of us are worthy of being His hands and feet. we are not Jesus. we are imperfect people trying our best to model Him in this fallen world we live in, and the moment we think we’re worthy of this calling is the moment we need to reevaluate our heart because somewhere along the way we decided we really were Jesus instead of the cracked and bruised version we truly are.

but here’s the other reality: it’s a calling. there was a moment – maybe 5 or 6 years ago – when i actually thought, “shoot. i could do youth ministry for the rest of my life. i feel God calling me to this!” in retrospect that feels like such a pompous thing to even consider. i actually thought i could be the hands and feet of Jesus on this planet? must’ve been dreaming.

it really is a calling. where were you when you heard God’s soft voice prodding you into life in student ministry? i was in 12th grade in a 15-passenger van on my way back from a middle school event. it wasn’t a monumental evening – probably just a killer scavenger hunt or something – but i heard it. it was God’s voice through one of the adult leaders in our ministry.

“you know, you’ve got the right skills for youth ministry. you ought to look into it more seriously…”

whoa. so it wasn’t my idea after all. it was someone else’s. and it wasn’t really someone else’s either – it was God’s. it was his idea for me from the beginning, and i think it is his plan for you too.

you know what else reminds me that i was made for this? when i get to observe the lives of the students i have watched grow up. sometimes we don’t get to see the fruits of our labor in youth ministry for many years to come. we lead a Bible study, and we think, “i wonder if they even understood that.” or we meet with a student who is going through a tough situation and think, “i feel like my words weren’t the slightest bit helpful.” or someone comes to you grieving and you have nothing to say to them so you think, “i literally just sat there and said nothing.”

but then we hear of those moments years in the future: “remember what you said at Bible study that one day?” or “thanks for helping me out with that one thing.” or “thanks for listening to me vent that one time.” treasure these moments. they are few and far between, but remember them always. they are the fruits of our labor and they remind us that we are following God’s calling. as unworthy and as human as we are – this was God’s plan for us, and these are the fruits of our ministry.

and lastly, remember that God knows the plans he has for you and look forward to what you are yet to accomplish for the Kingdom. after establishing an understanding of why i’m here and what i’ve done, i can regroup and focus on the future. what is my next step in ministry? what does God yet have in store for me? how will he use me next?

for what it’s worth, here is the advice of a broken, imperfect, burnt out and messed up youth worker:

1. understand that you are broken.
2. remember you are called.
3. celebrate where you have been.
4. look forward to where God is taking you on your journey.

those are my daily prayers. actually, not daily. i wish i could tell you i prayed this as often as i feel unworthy, but i can’t. maybe it’s an inverse relationship – the more i pray that prayer, the less i feel unworthy. i think i’ll try it and see what happens.

hopefully this post is an encouragement to you – wherever you are at in your journey in youth ministry. i urge you to not give up. you were made for this. celebrate the past and look forward to what God has in store for you and your ministry.

-apc.

fantasy football roster.

>welcome to my 2010 fantasy football opening day roster:

qb – drew brees – new orleans saints
qb – matt schuab – houston texans
qb – vince young – tennessee titans
rb – deangelo williams – carolina panthers
rb – cedric benson – cincinnati bengals
rb – jerome harrison – cleveland browns
wr – desean jackson – philadelphia eagles
wr – johnny knox – chicago bears
wr – dwayne bowe – kansas city chiefs
wr – arrelious benn – tampa bay buccaneers
wr – terrell owens – cincinnati bengals
wr – antwaan randle el – pittsburgh steelers
te – visanthe shiancoe – minnesota vikings
te – jeremy shockey – new orleans saints
d/st – packers
d/st – browns
k – neil rackers – houston texans

quarterback is an obvious strength, but running back leaves a bit to be desired.

picked up the packers defense/special teams early and added the browns defense/special teams (mainly becuase of return man josh cribbs).

my receiving core is decent – led by desean jeackson – i’m putting a lot of hope in t.o. and rookie arrelious benn.

i won our league last year. here’s to shooting for a repeat. yikes.

-apc.

episode one: the pancake molds.

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episode one with my new star wars pancake molds happened yesterday after church. it went okay – it was exciting, even though execution wasn’t perfect. i put too much batter in the molds and they got stuck and wouldn’t come out. vader ended up looking more like darth hillbilly with that grill. and yoda ended up with a lobotomy. TK-421 turned out great, but wasn’t at his post long cause he ended up in my belly.

episode 2 may be entitled “attack of the chocolate chips”. here’s to hoping.

-apc.