Monday, December 29, 2008


Brief time lines have never provided much of the intimacy and depth that we tend to desire as those who are image bearers of the Creator.

This is my one hundredth post.

I started blogging on May 18, 2006. That's roughly 956 days which equals a post every ten days or so. My first blog title was, "A Fresh Sort of Start." The post was about how there were no fresh starts... it was about the baggage we carry. It was written two weeks after my friend Eric Harless died. It was written one year and 2 weeks after my Dad died. It was written shortly after my sister told me that she wished I had died.

It was written one year, five months and ten days after my new life started with Laura.

When I read it I thought, "Wow...not a lot has changed sense then." Seriously, if you've kept up with me over the years, you might have thought that this sort of baggage might have been lost on one of my many trip mishaps.

But no.
It's still here. is a new year. A year ago, Mayor Nutter promised it that it was a new day for Philadelphia. A little over a month ago, President Elect Obama promised change for our nation.

And we? We hope? We hope that these guys are right?

More so...maybe we hope that these guys are right in the sense that change is needed. Maybe there is something deep within us that cries out that this life is not as it should be. Maybe the shock and awe of death, destruction and the currents of the "American Way," are convincing us of the truth that most of us (if any of us) don't have it together.

There's hope there because the reality of realization speaks to this sense that there is something more perfect for us to grasp. The sort of raw sense might be looked at as Plato and his Forms, or maybe...more sadly...Hegel and his Dialectic.

The sense that holds more hope for me is the idea of Jesus... of how he comes and says, "'re don't have it together." It's the same thing he told his disciples. It's the same thing he told all the Jewish people. It's the same thing he told the whores and the self-righteous priests. It's the same thing he told the poor and the rich.'s the same thing he's telling us.

And that's hopeful.

On the less serious end, below are the 99 words that started my last 99 posts (titles not included).
  1. My
  2. When
  3. That
  4. There's
  5. Right
  6. In
  7. Without
  8. A
  9. Laura
  10. One
  11. My
  12. If
  13. When
  14. If
  15. Sometimes
  16. Something
  17. In
  18. I
  19. When
  20. We
  21. With
  22. We've
  23. What
  24. A
  25. This
  26. I'm
  27. In
  28. La
  29. What
  30. I
  31. I've
  32. I
  33. I
  34. I
  35. What
  36. It's
  37. NPR
  38. No
  39. Official
  40. A
  41. The
  42. Before
  43. I
  44. If
  45. I
  46. Park
  47. Blessed
  48. If
  49. On
  50. Yes
  51. For
  52. There
  53. Working
  54. My
  55. Everyone
  56. Many
  57. I
  58. We've
  59. Spending
  60. No
  61. The
  62. I've
  63. Sometimes
  64. Lately
  65. Screaming
  66. I
  67. For
  68. So
  69. Tonight
  70. A
  71. Rule
  72. If
  73. Last
  74. Nothing
  75. Unfortunately
  76. If
  77. No
  78. Thought
  79. What's
  80. In
  81. We
  82. I
  83. Lately
  84. I'm
  85. Your
  86. For
  87. As
  88. So
  89. Four
  90. You
  91. I
  92. Crown
  93. Update
  94. You'd
  95. You
  96. If
  97. There
  98. Seriously
  99. Last

Friday, December 26, 2008

Cookies = Ticket to Heaven (with a Jehovah's Witness anyways...)

Last year, Laura and I gave cookies to out neighbors for Christmas. They weren't just any sort of cookie...they were hand made and home baked.

This year, the pressure was on. I literally had neighbors walking by and asking if we were making cookies again.

We were (and did) but, you might ask, "What's the big deal?"

The big deal is that when I talk about neighbors, I mean our whole street - somewhere around 46 households.
We baked around 6 cookies per house.
We are still cleaning.
The words, "Why did I ever do this in the first place," came out of my mouth frequently.

It's always an interesting time though. Some people are very thankful. One kid (he was probably a teenager? mid teens?) gave me a high five. I received a chorus of "Thank You's!" from one house. If you remember our earlier travails, what we received this year is a much more welcome sight than the trash and tickets of yesteryear.

But one person gave something that I would like to share with you: the story of Jesus as seen through the eyes of the Watchtower.

Not really (I mean, he did give me The Watchtower).
Namely, because I don't believe what Jehovah's witnesses believe regarding...well...pretty much almost anything.
But I'll share the story (of how he went about giving it to me).

I stopped by a man's home that we'll call Allen (because...his name is Allen...). No one answered the door at first, so I did what I do with most of my goody packages - hung it out of his mail slot and inadvertently allowed cold air to flow into people's homes. I was a house or two down when Allen poked out and said, "Hey! Thank you! Wait one minute, I have something for you!"

I didn't know what to expect.
Another neighbor gave us a pot of gold for Christmas (I'm not being snide or sarcastic - it's a box of Hershey choco's with that title) and referred to my wife as "27," (we live @ 1427). We've gotten Christmas cards from some neighbors. So, I waited not knowing exactly what was coming out of the door.

Allen came out with a big smile on his face and said, "This is especially for you." I looked down...and being disingenuous as I usually am in situations like this voiced a, "Thank you."

"Well, I hope to see you again real soon," Allen said.

Which is, altogether, kind of funny considering the fact that I live only a few houses down. He could presumably come over any time he wants with another copy of the Watchtower. These situations happen about quarterly with us (not necessarily with Allen) and Laura, I think, always prays that we'll be busy as I always enjoy a good debate in discussing why I believe Jesus doesn't believe the same thing that Jehovah's witnesses believe.

In any case, Merry Christmas Allen. Thank you for adding to my pile of recyclables and blogging experience.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas Bells Are Ringing...

Seriously. If you're reading this, you're probably in the bracket of "middle class."

Times are hard for people like us.
In fact, our new president elect and his team are currently working on ways to focus on the middle class and to infuse our economy with some c*a*s*h because things are just that hard.

But if you are in the middle class, you probably have some wiggle room too.
You probably didn't go to bed hungry tonight.

You probably have a place to sleep.

You probably have clean water to drink.
You probably are an American - someone who is a resident and citizen of the richest country in the world.

This is a late plea, but this Christmas, please think of (and pray for) those who Jesus essentially said embodies Him (remember...whatever you do to the least of these?). Overwhelmed by your charitable choices? Check out Charity Navigator to ensure your cash is going to a responsible place.

There are a lot of reasons to think about this and to mention it here, but I'll mention only one. For most of us, the poor are invisible. In fact, the tone of conversation during the election went from talking about the poor (sometimes people were also referred to as, "The Working Class,") to discussing the middle class.

And we loved it.

And we welcomed it.
And we voted our hearts into it.

Remember, however, that Jesus came to we who were and are poor to make us rich. There is this restorative sense of Christ making things right that we tend to neglect in the midst of our own sorrow and desperation.

And so we neglect them.

And so we tend to "our own."

And so we despise them.

This Christmas, please remember the least of these. Please remember that in their humanity, they too are image bearers of the Creator of all things. Please remember that anything you can do to help might mean a meal for someone tomorrow.

It might mean a warm place for someone to sleep.

It might mean a move towards self sustainability.

It might mean the world to someone who will never have as much physical wealth as you may right at this very moment.

As one who tends to have a somewhat orthodox view of Christ, Christmas means a lot to me. At the very least, it means that there is a God who decided to enter into a broken world at a fixed point in history to really show us that He means to do us good. It means that there is a God who is actively involved with the brokenness of creation and that he cares enough to hurt with us. It means that there is a God who has decided to enter into our story...not because he needs us, but because we need him.

In your own [spirtual] poverty this Christmas, please do well unto your fellow man and give what you are able.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Lord, be good to us...

There is this guy who I gave a ride home to every now and again.

His name is Lamar.

We were talking a few weeks after the Philly’s won. I’m not usually one who is much for sports, but everyone else around me seems to be. The Philly’s, if you don’t know (or don’t remember), won the World Series.

It was their second World Series win… in 125 (yes, one hundred twenty five) years.
Needless to say, most people remember where they were when the Philly’s won…

Lamar remembered where he was.
He had only just left the hospital…
Right after they pulled the plug on his cousin…
He died from a gunshot wound to the back of the head.

It’s a jarring thought, I think. Few within my age range deal with death in any tangible way. Fewer deal with it as a reference to the reality of the violence practiced by one man to another.

I didn’t think that there was much for me to say.
I don’t think that there’s much for me to say.

For the rest of the ride that night we sat; we would talk but the conversation never came back to Lamar’s cousin. Towards the end, I really felt that the impetus was on me to ask what I could be praying for Lamar’s family (including the obvious loss).

Just pray that life would be good for us.”

I thought about this on my way home and I prayed for Lamar and his family in North Philadelphia. I thought about my own experience with death – about how, beginning with my Aunt when I was in college, every Christmas and Thanksgiving seemed a little less joyous every year. I thought about how fewer and fewer seemed like they were filled with the joy that usually comes with the holidays. It almost seems as if every year has produced some sort of tragedy (friends who have died, my dad dying, other family members who have died…)

But back to what Lamar asked… isn’t it what we all pray in unnecessary and complex ways?

“Father, I beg you, be good.”

Because frankly, sometimes it doesn’t seem like He is being good to us. Sometimes life doesn’t seem like it allows the room or freedom for goodness to happen. Sometimes (and I really have been wrestling with this in different ways), it just doesn’t seem as if God cares.

Intellectually, I acquiesce to the Apostle’s Creed. I pray the Lord’s Prayer with the Church and I mean every petition (I consciously think about what I’m praying every Sunday with people around the world because I don’t want the word’s to be dead to me). When I speak with God, I ask (in words much less specific), “Lord, be good to me and my family.”

No doubt, things have been good for us in a physical sense.

Though, more often than not, I feel like we have everything we would want…except for a listening ear from God.

God…please be good to us. Amen.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

I heard it on NPR...

If I didn't hear it on NPR first, I would have thought it was a lie (or a joke).

Click here to read the article - it's short.

Just let you know, ladies... it's my sanctuary too.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Naked and ashamed.

You know those dreams where you know you've forgotten something only to find out that what you're missing are your pants? It's a shameful, embarrassing thing, right?

Today, I forgot my GPS.

I felt like I couldn't remember how to drive. Seriously.

On my way home, I started to give myself directions like, "In 500 feet, turn right, if possible."

So interweb, if anyone out there is listening anymore, I have effectively dumbed myself down to the point and as evidenced by my inability to drive well without a machine telling me what to do.

Is this what our first parents felt like in the garden? Disoriented by their own nudity? Thrown off by trying to find their path through life without the clear directions that emanate from just under their rear view mirror?

This is another reason why I love the city. At least here, things are on a grid (like a waffle).

Saturday, September 13, 2008

We're moving to Canada!


I posted this a few months ago and have only just now gotten to changing things around so that my SS# doesn't show when you view my documents (thanks to Jonathan, I pulled the post quickly). At the end of the day, there was resolution on this but no apology from the IRS.

Not surprised.

I recently read through their letter again - I love how they use blame shifting to try to implicate the taxpayer with these form letters, "If you would have filed electronically..." Nice.

And if you never read the post, read it now and all of this will make sense.

"Gene, I've got some bad news," she said over the phone.
I was in Connecticut. It was already late and I was coming off a long day (having been up since 4:40am).
"Um. What is it?" I expected something about the neighborhood or something abo
ut one of our friends. Maybe something about crime in the city.
"We got a letter from the IRS."
"Yeah, a letter from the IRS."
"What does it say?"
"Well, I just skimmed it."

"Can you read it to me over the phone?"
"It's kind of long."
"Okay, I'll read it when I get home."

For the last three
years, I've prepared our taxes. The past two have been with Turbotax. I've always been worried that something like this would happen. Needless to say, my stomach's been kind of upset all day.

So what did the IRS write? They need proof of my withholding entry of $404,500.00. I looked at my 1040, the actual number on line 64 is $4,045.

So I called the number listed on the letter. After 49 minutes of waiting on hold, a person finally picked up. She basically told me that I needed to send over another copy of my 1040.

"Is the IRS going to pay me for the time and postage that is required for me to send this to you since it was a mistake the IRS made?"
"Um...most likely I'm thinking no. But you can contact your local branch to ask."
"Gah! I hate the U.S. Government!" and I hung up the phone.

Lately, on a lot of different levels, I just feel like I'm getting screwed. If you want to hear it from me, then ask because this hits on a lot of different levels. More on topic, however, is the face that our government hates to take responsibility for what it does. It's the reason we wait 230+ years to apologize for something as inane as slavery. It's the reason we destroy countries and leave them desolate and claim that it's all for the fight against terror. It's the whole reason that an ignorant, belligerent and imbecilic administration looks to destroy our natural lands in the short term for a fix that doesn't have a long tail.

My written response to the IRS:
"Dear Madam:

In regard to your letter number <> dated June 26, 2008, please check the original Form 1040 that I sent to the IRS earlier this year. The amount listed on line 64 is actually $4,045.00 and not $404,500.00 (as described in your letter). I called 1-800-829-0922 and was told that I would have to send in another copy of my 1040 but find this an unnecessary and unreasonable expense of time and money on my behalf in lieu of the fact that the mistake was that of the IRS and not of my own making.

Thank you for your time."

Hence, we're moving to Canada to escape Bush (See video below) and his authoritarian, unlawful patriot act bearing and shortsighted regime.

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Sunday, July 20, 2008

City Sense...

You'd like to think that it's something you get when you live in the city - a transformation caused by some of the pollution around you that gives you an innate and super ability to live, work and play in a city.

But really, it's just an understanding you come to.

Sure, after living in an urban environment, you develop some "abilities." For example, you should learn to parallel park a car - when I use the word, should here I don't use it in a suggestive sense, but in the sense that it's something that will happen as you park your car over and again on a curb in any populated neighborhood.

You learn how to feed a meter. Regularly.

You learn that bicycling is a more environ-friendly mode of transit and that it's generally faster than driving.

You learn (and this is something that I've hit on before) that amidst the beauty of a thing created (like a cityscape) comes the reality of a world that exists in brokenness caused by sin.

It's a funny place where everything can be simultaneously right and wrong. It is right for you to be where you are because you know, in one way or another, that you're called to be here. It's wrong because there are others calling you to move away.

It is right because in the confluence of ideas, art, culture, science, education, government and technology there is understanding that image bearers are able to imitate and reflect the God they may or may not know and recognize. It is wrong because in the confluence of crime, destruction, racism, discrimination, murder, greed and indifference there is an understanding that image breakers are willing and desirous of rebelling against the same God.

There's not really any one thing that got me thinking about this on this time out writing. If you've stopped here before, you know that it's something that comes up from time to time when I write; meaning that I'm thinking about this a lot. A few good examples would suffice to describe the sense that my city (Philadelphia) exudes.

When you're walking the streets here, you can experience two (or more) entirely different "cities," in the course of a mile or two. It's not uncommon to walk down a street and see a home valued at $600k+ next door to one that's dilapidated, condemned or (even worse) the base of a drug dealer. Center City is what you'd be familiar with if you came to visit, however. Center City is where all the large buildings are. It's where all the fun stuff is - the kind of things you do when you visit a city. While there, you'd probably also visit the Art Museum area and Old City. You'd notice that the streets in Center City are relatively clean, that there are friendly people to help you when you're lost and that there's a healthy police presence.

The sense of Philadelphia changes, however, if you go a mile north or a mile south of Center City. As you travel down Broad, away from the big buildings, it wouldn't be uncommon to see a neighboring car's window roll down and watch trash free float from there to the ground. Towards the fall, there are sometimes whirlwinds of trash as the weather gets a little more windy. The trash thing spans all colors of skin and economic status, apparently...

If you ride a train in, you might be awed by the striking beauty of the city (if coming in from the North or East, this view is to your left). Looking off to your right, it's easy to be sickened by the amount of garbage piled beside the train tracks - the amount of bad graffiti tagged on train tunnels and abandoned buildings.

The sense of a city, mine at least and I imagine most, is conflicted. The sense you develop in interacting with it is the same. It's easy to question trust in other people. You wonder when and how you should trust them. While in a town watch course, La learned that when you're walking the streets in any part of the city, you should always be aware of what's around you by turning your head every few seconds.

We've found too that there can be a cultural mistrust at large. It doesn't always seem like a good thing to some that younger people of a different color of skin or background would be moving to their neighborhood. Gentrification has detrimental ramifications and years of discrimination won't be left buried under the guise of hope and promise. In my mind and heart, I don't believe that anything apart from Christ can really work to heal this sense of deep sadness and betrayal that some (not all, trust me, not all) of our African American neighbors hold - it's complicated and ingrained in a few generations who have learned that you can't trust and that you'll never get anywhere for it.

City sense is not necessarily something you get, but something you become a part of. The sense of a city will exist with you in it, or with you away. It isn't a super power or ability, but it is something to interact with - something that can affect you and something you can affect.

Thursday, June 26, 2008

A World Removed (thoughts on glacier)...

Crown of the Continent.
It's another name for Glacier National Park in Montana.

It's all kind of weird. I think that I had just come to an exuberant love of the city (more specifically - Philadelphia). I love the fact that there are people everywhere. I kind of half expect life with Jesus to be like that (what, with one glorious city and all). I love the fact that I can take my bike onto the train to ride to work. I love the fact that I can walk down the street to buy the sandwich.

Montana was something different though. It wasn't just was wild. Literally, Glacier is said to have some of the most pristine and still untouched wilderness on our continent. There has not been a place that has gripped my core like Montana did, and it has really been hard to get over the experience of just being there.

We visited a few places - we stuck it out in Kalispell while waiting for Laura's folks (unfortunately, they had a 12 hour flight delay). We checked out Whitefish, which was more or less a touristy ski town. We bought groceries in Columbia Falls.

Nothing, however, matched the view we had when we awoke in the morning. The view on the top of this blog is Lake McDonald. The time is around 4:30 in the morning - we were on our way home.

The sun didn't set until after 11:00 pm.

Most mornings, by the time I was out of bed, it was already impossibly bright outside. I would step out into the crisp June air (this isn't a typo or a misplaced colloquialism - it snowed in Montana the day before we arrived in Montana) and took in a deep breath of mountain, spruce, wildflower and glacier. The abundance of wildlife was incredible (to include flora). I've never seen so many deer in my collective life as I did while just hiking the park.

Glacier didn't have the highest peaks I've ever seen.
She didn't have the deepest rivers.
But she was a breathtaking view of unkempt wild.

When I board the train to go to work...I close my eyes and imagine being there again. I know that the unfortunate fact is that a place like that is just not where I'm supposed to be. I don't know if a place like that is where anyone is supposed to be permanently. There's a sort of wreaking of havoc going on when the desire of man to obtain beauty destroys that which it is trying to contain.

If you'd like to see it, go soon - they say at this rate, the glaciers will melt by 2030...

And, for those of you wondering - My love for the city is still there, it's just that something else is trying to crowd for space.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I read this story tonight.

Funny how people with stardom, with talent, with ability...all live lives that seem to be a little empty - kind of clawing at the air to find satisfaction.

The story made me think of my aunt. As far as I know, she didn't have much talent and definitely didn't have stardom. She was born during a time in which racism was institutionalized (the 30's) and a place where it was accepted and at times promoted (Atlanta, GA). Towards the end of her life, she started working on our family tree.

She also smoked.

I remember visiting her in a hospital in Atlanta. I didn't want to be there. I've never stopped to think of how many hospitals I've been in since then, but it's been a lot. I remember seeing her in a gown. I remember being in a room with windows that didn't open, with machines that never shut down... with tubes and tape attached all over my Aunt Nelda's body.

She also had emphysema.
The doctors said that if she didn't quit, she would kill herself.
So she quit. She quit for about a month or two, that is.
Now...she's quit for good.

She was able to quit before my dad did - neither, by their disdain for cigarettes, but by the sheer inability of a corpse to inhale the sweet nectar of nicotine.

I haven't thought of her much. Now that I think about it, I can't remember much about her - nothing except how excited I was to give her a call when we visited my granny.

Now...I'm thinking of all the times I've been in a hospital in the past few years...

Saturday, June 21, 2008

I feel like I belong...

"You eat like one of us," she said with an enthusiastic and purposeful smile.

"I'm sorry?" because I didn't understand what she was getting at - plus, it was hard to hear over the box fan.

"You eat like a black person; we like to put hot sauce on everything!" Merl told me this, the smile never leaving her face.

She's the owner of a new breakfast / lunch corner restaurant appropriately named, "Merl's." If you can believe it, for lunch (at this point, a couple of weeks ago) I had fried salmon patties (covered in hot sauce), fried eggs, grits, and wheat toast.

The meal was pretty good. The service was outstanding. Merl's hospitality made me feel like I belong.

There's a lot to make me feel like I don't belong here (that is, in my neighborhood).

The color of my skin.
My family origins.
An accent that slips out every now and again.
Where I work.
Where I play.
My age.
The multiple tickets I've received.

Sometimes, there are stares. When we first moved here, someone saw my truck as an object of their hatred - I think I may have written about this earlier (the scratches). After the truck came the trash - not just normal Philly trash, but the kind that is intentionally left in front of our home in a bag. Following that, there have been at least two people (neighbors - I know where they live on our block) who have asked us for money.

But then, there are the smiles.

There's Mr. Henderson, our next door neighbor who tells us he's missed us when we travel and who tells us he's glad to see us again.
There's Bill and Juliet (members at Tenth Presbyterian) who always greet me with a smile, who always have something to say about what's going on with them or something to ask about what's going on with me.
There's Rahim - our little buddy Rahim - who waves at me from down the street and yells "Hi," to me. He remembers my name too.
There's also Rahim - the adult Muslim who lives down the street - who always has a honk , a wave, and a smile as he's driving past.
There's our neighborhood association - a group of people who want to see a difference in our neighborhood.
There's our church - a group of like minded believers who want to see Christ make a difference in our city.
Now, there's Merl's - a corner restaurant with an owner who tells me that I eat like a black person.

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Travel (By the Numbers)

Four airline tickets purchased with frequent flier miles.

32 nights spent in hotel rooms.

7,000 miles traveled by air.
$0 paid to see One Mormon Temple in Salt Lake City, UT (more to come)...

Sunday, May 25, 2008


So, I'm thinking of a new format here - something that would be a bit more regular while incorporating both personal and impersonal content. Though, I suppose it will all be "personal," as I don't intend to enlist others to write here.

The plan would be to write 3 or 4 times a week. I'm thinking something along the lines of, "By the Numbers," (I always love segments / articles like that) "Where I've Been," (Travel), Probably something more serious for the weekends, and the "or 4," would be whatever I feel like doing.

Feel free to feed back anything you wouldn't like, would think is wonky*, or just generally uninteresting.

So, I guess this would qualify as a blog about a blog.

(*Wonky is a word that I got from Laura, she heard this from her mother. It is slang for stupid, British slang for unreliable. On an unrelated note, we recently watched the season finale of Extreme Home Makeover ((on our laptops - for those of you wondering, we've still been television-less and will remain so indefinitely)) that featured "Willy Walker" as one of the two owners of a renovated property - a church. So, perhaps the Rev. Willy Walker would be a more appropriate name. All I could think of is to associate him with Willy Wonka and think that he was living in Ray Nagin's Chocolate City. Wonky > Walker > Wonka).

Saturday, April 26, 2008

A truck bed full of wood...

As you may be aware (from Jotting Ajar), I have a truck bed full of wood. I'm trying to be a little industrious here by making some outdoor furniture - it's coming along okay.

In regard to that, I was out yesterday with a handsaw making legs for an outdoor table I'd like to make. As an aside, standing outside of your truck bed with a saw and some cut tree stumps is a great way to meet neighbors in the city.

Everyone wanted to know what I was doing.
Some even suggested that I use a chainsaw.
My response, "That costs too much."
"But it's only $20 at the Home Depot!"
"I already have a handsaw though." *smile*

That kind of idea is lost in a culture of waste - theres no value in doing something by hand. No value in the care and attention it would take to do something slowly...purposefully. Part of this definitely feeds into our cityscape trash. Part of this definitely feeds into our city's rate of murder (less than last year, still climbing).

Either way, as I'm cutting Raheem (or, Rahim?) our new little from friend from down the street comes bounding up with a jump rope in tow. We met Raheem during our record breaking city wide cleanup a few weeks ago. Raheem helped us clean up the neighborhood and was probably a lot more enthusiastic that we were about it. We wave at him any time we see him and enjoy talking with him when we have the chance. Right now, he's training to beat his mom at jumping rope. He's in the second grade and his favorite subject is math (especially multiplication, division, and addition).

"Why you got all this wood in the back of the truck?"
"Well, someone was giving it away for free, so I just picked it up out of their yard on my way home from work."
"Oh. All this wood would be good for camping."
"Um...yeah, I guess that it would."
"So when we go we can make a big fire out of it."
"Uh...excuse me?"
"You know when we go camping..."

Now, this wasn't said with any presumptuousness. Really, it was said with a sort of innocence that I guess you'd expect from a second grader moving into the third grade. When I told La, she melted...

"So, whatcha doin' March 13th?" asked Raheem.
"What was that date again?"
"March 13th."
"I dunno."
"Well, next week, we're going to a farm!"
"We are?"
"No, we are."
"You mean you?"
"Yeah, me and my family..."

He went on to tell me how excited he was to go and to talk about the things he wanted to see when he went there.

I would like to go camping with Raheem. Maybe that's a little strange. La and I talked about how we could work in a trip with other folk from City Church or something - that way it becomes something that might become more palatable by his grandmother (who he lives with).

As always, this story is probably funnier if you here me telling it. Though, it was definitely worth sharing...

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Slavin' Saturdays...

For the past few Saturdays, we've worked...a lot.

It's not necessarily uncommon for us to work on Saturdays, but the amount of work we've been doing has kind of been tremendous. No deep thoughts here, no introspective reflections tonight.

Nope - just exhaustion.

The past two Saturdays, we've worked at a community garden to try to get things cleaned and cleared so that other people can plant (and some people already are). Jason and I pulled, hauled, and stacked bricks. Later, I grilled up so burnt wieners and some not so burnt hamburgers. Laura planted bulbs and talked to a lot of passerby's.

Maybe later I'll talk about crossing the racial / gender / socioeconomic divide and the implications of in this garden. For the rest of the night, however, I'll be watching Into the Wild with my wife.

PS - There is a winner from our contest; I've been informed, however, that I have to hold on putting out the results until both Twilley's can write about it...

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Our Back Yard

Your vote matters...

Laura and I are doing a little project in our "back yard," and need your help to make a final decision. The final results will be posted next week (when we will commence our work, weather permitting).

This is what we currently have:

Here are our choices:

Horizontal Wood

"In my design, I want to create simple backdrop that warms up the space. I want the plants to be the first thing you notice, not the woodwork."

(click to enlarge)

Vertical Beams

"In my design, I want to create a surface that warms and expands the space. I want the woodwork to create a functional space for some climbing plants while also encouraging the viewer to look beyond the garden itself."

(click to enlarge)

Now vote!

Sunday, April 06, 2008

"Stupidest thing...ever..."

I'm trying not to get sucked in to this...
However, I've noticed that some people complain seemingly for the sake of complaining.

In a class that I was teaching, there was a person who had difficulties accessing certain online courses (sorry to be so vague). In any case, I gave her the correct person to contact. She essentially ignored my advice, and then complained about how the people she called weren't helping her. I told/asked no less than 3 times if she had made any attempt to contact the person I told her to. The answer was no.

When the problem was fixed, she continued to complain about how hard of a time she's had in the past in trying to get it to work.


On the plane ride back from Manchester (on U.S. Air), the stewardess informed everyone during her safety speech that all the windows needed to be open for the sake of safety (albeit strange, it was not difficult to comply).

A guy behind me, when told to close his window, exclaimed "This is the stupidest thing ever."
On our descent, he was asked again to open his window and exclaimed a second time, "This is the stupidest thing ever."

Really? I should have turned around to ask.

Kind of interesting to look from the outside in to see how small inconveniences are literally ruining peoples lives and how, when it happens, they want to suck you into their world to be a complainer too...

Friday, April 04, 2008

Hope through a valley named "Trouble..."

Lately...I've felt owned by the city.
I don't try to talk about that subject as much, you know?

Sometimes, people say, "It's so cool that you live where you do." While there's some truth to that, it's also so difficult to live where we do (at times). It's so hard to live where we do.

Sometimes, it feels like a lot of trouble.

The other night - really, at this point, about a week ago - Laura and I were sitting and I told her the same thing. We're coming up on our first full year in Philly. During that time, I've literally lost count of how many times my truck has been vandalized or damaged. I've lost count of the number of hours I've spent on the road for work (whether for travel or just commuting). I've lost count of the number of fights Laura and I have gotten in (no doubt, the burden of our city weighs on this). I've lost count of the amount of trash we've picked up off the street (sometimes, even placed in front of our house intentionally).

I've lost count of the fights on the street.
The number of parking tickets we've gotten.
The number of times I've had to contact the gas company due to their immense ineptitude.

Last week - March 25 - things even took a turn for the worse. If you know me, you know how much of an advocate I am for taking public transit. Come to find out, I may be the only one who uses it out of an office of 400. Seems SEPTA (Southeast Pennsylvania Transit Authority) has found out to - which is why they cancelled the route to my office - I now have to walk over a highway that definitely has signs forbidding pedestrian traffic and then 15 minutes at a clip to my office building.

Oh, by the way, I found this out after I sat in the bus for an hour.
Oh, and don't forget, I overslept that morning and missed my Amtrak out to my office's area and had to take a later train.
I left my bike helmet on that same train.
Too, work was really hard that day.

There have been a number of things (personal and public) that have caused me to question whether hope is lately. I don't write this lightly - because without hope, there's not much of a reason to continue forward.

At the end of the day, when I finally made it home (helmetless, cold, angry, etc.) I overheard a conversation down the street.

girl (questioning) - "You're in the fourth grade, right?"
boy (proudly) - "Yeah, but I'm supposed to be in the sixth. You know, they held me back for a while."

The same boy came walking down the street. As I struggled to get my bike into the house, the same boy walked up to me and asked, "Hey, can I ride your bike?"

me (incredulous) - "Where do you want to ride it?"
boy - "Around the corner to my house."
me - "That's a little far."
boy - "How about down the street?"
me - "The bike might be a little big for you."
boy - "It'll be aight."
me (hesitantly) - "Um. ok."

See, this kind of crap doesn't happen. This is the kind of stuff of naivety that leads one to losing their bike and never seeing it again. But...I felt compelled to do it.

So, he rode slowly on the bike, but only after switching it to the lowest (slowest) gear. He rode down one block. Then two. I locked my door - I thought to myself, "I can catch up if I need to - the shoes are okay to run in."

At the end of the 2nd block he turned around and began the work of riding the bike back. As he approached, two older boys rounded the corner.

older boy - "Where'd you get that bike."
boy on my bike - "It's not mine."
older boy - "Then whose is it?"
boy on bike - "My friend's over there."

He was pointing at me.

I was reading through Hosea earlier that morning and thought a lot about the pursuit of the Church by Christ. I thought a lot about how that pursuit of an individual part of a whole...looked.

See, I at the end of the day, I can look at my situation and feel like I've been owned. I can feel like there is no hope. But our feelings, by definition of a reality that has elements of ruin intermingled with the capacity of understanding, can stand erroneously and in contempt of what is.

More often than not, my problem is not that God is destroying me by my environment. More often than not, my problem is that I don't understand my circumstance to be subordinate to the hand of God - to His providence, grace, and mercies.

So when a fellow image bearer, who I've determined to be of ill repute in my own heart - to be of low standing, of little trustworthiness, and disparate motives - embraces me (whether literally or metaphorically), it strikes a cord. I've lent that same understanding to my environment too.

Instead of seeing the boy as an image bearer, I see him as a thief.
Instead of seeing the earth as a means of God's providence, I see it as a prison.

And so what is real is defined by me. I make myself a god. And for that, I deserve to believe that life is hopeless (as, in that context, it is).

Seriously though, thanks be to God - who can show me that through the Valley of Achor (trouble)...there's a door of hope.

Right now...I'm glad to be in this valley, because I know that this valley...this city...isn't the whole of reality. Right now...I know that it something be be engaged - something that I can grow to understand and love, or something that I can fear and hate.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

A rare quote...

I rarely, if ever, post during the day.

I overheard this though, and thought that I couldn't pass up the opportunity to post it out into the blogosphere.

"Hey , I didn't see you come in. I mean, you come in and out unseen - just like a ninja!" (A woman said this, and yes, there was emphasis added by her when the word "Ninja" came forth).

I'm only glad she's not throwing stars, jumping off walls, or throwing pepper bombs.

Also, I'd like to shoot this link out there. I thought it might be helpful for me (because I travel a good deal for work).

However, I already do all of this. Everything, that is, except for bypassing all the "dawdlers."

Helpful info for those of you who may be traveling soon. And if you can't read, there are pictures to help you along (though, if this is the case for you, you probably can't read this...).

Sunday, March 09, 2008

NY Met = Awkward

We spent the better part of yesterday at the New York Metropolitan Museum of Art next to central park (just in case you didn't know where it was). We've actually been to the "Big Apple," 3 times in the past year (Laura's actually been 4 - so, 3 together).

Like most high-profile public venues these days, the Met has a self-imposed security check at the entrance. We actually stayed in Times Square on Friday night (for free @ the Hilton Garden Inn) and so we had two backpacks - one for clothing and one for electronics (a camera, books, cords, and a laptop).

So, walking through the line - I get to one checkpoint and they tell me I have to go back and have my laptop "checked," by other security personnel. Once there, they ask me to turn my laptop on. I obliged. Apparently, they just wanted to make sure that it was a functioning laptop.

A word to the wise - make sure your laptop is working if you bring it to the Met.
Apparently, you're screwed if it doesn't.

So the guy tells me, "Here, you'll have to show this piece of p
aper throughout the museum if anyone asks - that way they won't have to check your bag again."

"Wait," I say, "Can't I just check this at the coat check."

"No, things tend to fall off the rack in there - when you see it, you'll agree that you wouldn't want to check it," he retorts. "Oh, by the way, you'll have to wear your back-pack on the front. There are a lot of people here today and it would be kind of awkward to hit someone with your backpack as your walking through."

Because this isn't awkward:

It wasn't until later that I though
t that I should have been taking pictures of others like me - people who bought into this idea that it was more awkward to hit someone with your backpack than it was to walk around with it on the front of your body like some sort of Baby Bjorn for a laptop. Despite the enforced awkwardness of the day, it was still pretty fun and tiring. Here are a few more pics from our day - one awkward, the rest not so much so.

Friday, March 07, 2008

But what is, “Normal?”

In Alabama, there’s actually a place called, “Normal.” In Normal, there is a historically black college called Alabama A&M.

In high school, some friends and I visited the school. It was our senior year. We had a few “college,” days (days where you could cut school to visit local colleges) and we thought that it would be fun to go to A&M for half a day and grab lunch together afterwards.

Normal is normal in the sense that its school is like so many other public education institutions in Alabama. The outside seemed pretty amazing (to be honest, we weren’t expecting much). The inside of the school was literally falling Apart.

But that’s not really Normalcy.
Things aren’t really meant to fall apart.

My city is similar. The other day, the rain washed the streets of her accumulated filth. Grime, salt, trash, and decay cover her during most of the winter. When it rains like it did the other night, there’s a freshness to the pavement and a reminder of how things are supposed to be.

While the outside streets speak of the beauty of ingenuity and industrialism, they don’t speak to the reality of the people who walk them.

It’s a funny thing to think about. When friends visit (and friends, trust me, I mean no harm in this or disregard for our love of your company) I think that it’s hard for them to see the reality of what these streets hold. What we and many of our friends come from in terms of context is prime American suburbia. I think we even still see our home as an adventure rather than a place to live – a place to be, to engage, to hurt with, and to be angry about and for. When friends come, they see it much the same way – a fun place, exciting, cool, or scary.

But it’s not normal.

It doesn’t often compel us to worship.

It doesn’t often compel us to bow a knee to the most High Who has created the drug dealer, dentist, priest, or prostitute in His image. More often, it causes us to ask, “What are you doing? Can you hear us? Can you hear them?”

When God puts you anywhere, He intends to elicit some sort of action from you. That action at its very core is to Worship Him – that’s the normalcy of the life that He has drawn us (meaning me and my wife) in to.

More often though, I’d rather keep things just like Normal though – a quirky place to visit with friends just to have a day off from life, but not a place I’d like to learn, to grow, to minister, or to change.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Lazy Blogger...

What's better than thinking of posts that will make one ponder, inspire others, and draw the blogosphere to laughter?

Posting videos that will do the same.

Think (Ponder - we live in a dangerous world)

Inspire (This is one of the reasons I'm leaning heavily towards the man - the speech, not the celebrity endorsements)

Laugh (we did...)

Lazy weekend. Lazy post.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Recent Reads...

Thought I'd put a few of these out there for your perusal - I've been on a pretty "sad," and desolate way as of late (as far as the reading goes). When I say "sad," I'm speaking more about content (really, about the first two books listed under "What I've read").

Although, it may also be sad that the double edged sword of Oprah's Book Club is usurping more and more books (double edged that it's getting more people to read good books while also labeling me as a "book club" reader when people see her ever present "O").

Currently finishing up:
Spiritual Leadership
When Sinners Say I Do

What I've read:
The Road

Coming down the pike
possibly, Into the Wild
Love in the Time of Cholera
A Thousand Splendid Suns
Some stuff on "Gospel Communication," and "Pastoral Counseling"

So, I've been on a bit of a reading frenzy lately (which is definitely better, I suppose, than playing games - at least more productive than). With The Road, the question may obviate towards, "Have you seen no country for old men?"

My answer: "No, but I want to."

In any case, I'm going to attempt throwing up some reviews here (one at a time so as not to overwhelm both you and myself).

The Road; The Review
The road is the ubiquitous experiential path that all men walk - that same place that causes you to hate life and mistrust others. Cormac McCarthy describes this metaphorical place by taking us through a post-apocalyptic world where happiness is hollow and hope scarce. At the end of the book, you're left wondering, "Who were the, 'Good guys,' and why is evil so rampant?"

Here is where McCarthy really connects with us on a gut level as at the end of the day, I think a lot of us are asking the same question.

We, however, do not live in a post-apocalyptic world.

At its very core, The Road compels us (or at the very least, me) to really confront themes of trust, hope, peace, and justice within our day to day goings. The Road is certainly a glimpse at how merciless and self serving man can be when driven to the point of dire self-preservation.

I don't want to ruin it all for you, but I would say that the end of the book really reveals a lot of grace and goodness that's hard to see through the father and son interactions throughout the course of their wanderings - it was (without any hesitation) a great relief.

Apart from the nature of the text, this is a very easy read (I read it on a round trip bus trip to NYC from Philly). McCarthy has a style that can be quite disarming on the one hand, and quite confrontational in another. There are no chapters, there are few breaks, and the prose is written is a sort of stream of consciousness style while still retaining the composure of being logical in what the writer is communicating.

While not for the feint of heart, it is worth the read for those who are willing to have their own assumptions about the goodness of self challenged.

This is definitely a brief (I may post it to Amazon as well), but I hope it whets your appetite enough to want to read it yourself (and then to call me so we can talk about it).