Sunday, August 28, 2011

UPDATE - April 29, 2011


1. I was born September 14, 1849 and died February 27, 1936. I was a Russian physiologist primarily interested in physiology and natural sciences. Through my study of the digestive function of dogs, I discovered the conditioning reflex. Who am I?
A) Ivan Pavlov
B) B. F. Skinner
C) John Watson
D) Edward Tolman

2. I initially wanted to be a writer, but eventually became a psychologist and one of the leaders of the behaviorist movement. I rejected the concept of free will, instead suggesting that all behaviors are conditioned. Who am I?
A) B. F. Skinner
B) John Watson
C) Ivan Pavlov
D) Edward Tolman

3. This former Roman slave escaped from a school for gladiators, then started a revolt with 90,000 soldiers under his command. He had an effective run, but eventually Crassus and Pompey wiped his forces out and killed him. He's better known because he was the subject of a 1960 film by Stanley Kubrick. Who was this leader of the revolt?
A) Cicero
B) Marcus Antony
C) Pontius Pilate
D) Spartacus

4. This man was the lead defendant in the case of United States v. Libellants and Claimants of the Schooner Amistad in 1841. In the 1997 Stephen Spielberg movie "Amistad", he was played by Beninese actor Djimon Hounsou. Who was this African illegally sold into slavery?
A) Dincã
B) Cinqué
C) Dred Scott
D) Malinche

5. This man was captured by Algerian pirates in 1575 and spent five years as the property of the viceroy of Algiers. Later ransomed, he went home to Spain and began working on his writing, eventually giving the world one of its novel-length masterpieces, "Don Quixote". Who was this author and former slave?
A) William Shakespeare
B) Miguel de Cervantes
C) Gabriel Garcia Marquez
D) Chinua Achebe

6. I was the youngest of six children and was very close to my father, a rather well-known psychologist. While I never earned a higher degree, I made numerous contributions to psychology and psychoanalysis, including creating the field of child psychoanalysis and describing the ego's defense mechanisms. Who am I?
A) Anna Freud
B) Melanie Klein
C) Sandra Bem
D) Mary Whiton Calkins

7. My interest in identity began early in life. At temple school, I was teased for being tall, blond, and blue-eyed, while my grammar school classmates rejected me for my Jewish background. I later learned that my biological father had abandoned our family and that the man I thought was my father was actually my stepfather. I spent some time wandering around Europe before becoming interested in psychoanalysis. My contributions to psychology include a theory of psychosocial development and my concept of the identity crisis. Who am I?
A) Albert Bandura
B) Abraham Maslow
C) Carl Rogers
D) Erik Erikson

8. This woman was owned by Thomas Jefferson, and bore him six children, four of whom survived to adulthood (though there is some controversy about the DNA evidence). What was her name?
A) Sally Hemings
B) Hagar
C) Harriet Tubman
D) Margaret Garner

9. This man was the slave of Iadmon of Samos. Later released, he mingled with the rich and famous of ancient Greece (even living in the court of Croesus). Today he is known for his stories of animals, each of which gives a moral meant to teach men. Who was this creator of fables?
A) Agamemnon
B) Thucydides
C) Aesop
D) Homer

10. This former slave, freed by the American Civil War, became an educator. He was the first leader of the Tuskegee Institute, and stayed in that position until he died in 1915. Who was this author of "Up From Slavery"?
A) Samuel C. Armstrong
B) W. E. B. Du Bois
C) Booker T. Washington
D) Henry Huttleston Rogers

11. BONUS - I failed in business in ’31.
I ran as a state legislator and lost in ’32.
I tried business again in ’33 and failed again.
My sweetheart died in ’35.
I had a nervous breakdown the next year in ’36.
I ran for state elector in ’40 after my health improved.
I was defeated for Congress in ’43, defeated again for Congress in ’48, defeated when I ran for the Senate in ’55, and defeated for the vice presidency of the US in ’56.
I ran for Senate again in ’58 and lost.
I decided to try, again. I ran for the presidency of the United States and won.


Last weekend was pretty crazy. It was Holy week last week. My a capella group was asked to sing for a Maundy Thursday event (we didn’t). I Joined a liturgical pray group for a Good Friday morning reflection. I took the day off, and then went to Good Friday service at night. Saturday we held an Eggstravaganza in the park near my home. I hung out with a good friend, Bianca, in the afternoon, caught up with Min on her birthday, and then attended a Holy Saturday Night Vigil at a Greek Orthodox church from 12 – 2 AM. Then I woke up to serve at 3 Easter Sunday services after which I went to a Greek Easter Brunch and played some Greek Easter games. Whew!

My church sends people out on international mission trips each year and really wants to see everyone go on one. We have a team going to Greece in a month so they wanted to attend the Greek Orthodox service and have the Greek meal. It was an interesting experience. One of my favorite writers is like me in that he’s experienced many different denominations of Christianity, and we both take the best of each one. I like the reverence and awe I find in Catholic/Episcopal/Anglican churches. I learn about an excitement and zeal for God from Protestants. The Orthodox traditions, along with awe and veneration, remind me of the mystery of God. Those are simple examples as I could talk even more about specific sects which teach me about service, emphasize the Holy Spirit, envelope mysticism, or promote hope more than others. You get the point.

All in all, it was a great Lent season for me. Lent, if you don’t know, is the period after Mardi Gras starting from Ash Wednesday and going to Palm Sunday (though some might say Easter Sunday). I’m usually one who reflects at night. But one thing I’ve been doing is slowing down the pace of life in general which affects how and when I eat, how much I seek to find out the time, how attached I am to the internet and the phone, and how much I engage with nature. So I start each day with some stillness, quiet, meditation, reading, contemplations, study, journaling, prayer, reflection, etc. I’ve found that, for me, it affects me better if my day starts that way than if it ends that way (and hopefully it can do both). I have a wonderful job that allows me to slow down like that and not have to wake up super early. I take walks each day beyond the walking I do throughout the city. And I usually do it alone because a lot of people here walk too fast. It’s been quite nice slowing down. And it’s in slowing down that I’m able to see and hear. It was then that I knew what I must do with the professor who was harassing me.

Another things I’ve learned in the slower pace is to see sacredness in all things and in all acts. So instead of just practicing my faith, I’m learning to faith my practices. I used to see email as a challenge or an obstacle keeping me from having an empty inbox at the end of each day. So I would hurry to answer an email forgetting that the main reason I love email so much is that it lets me communicate with people far away with whom I otherwise wouldn’t communicate. So now I’ve gone back to being completely ok with a large inbox and cherishing each actual email replay as a point of contact, a chance at relationship, and an extension of community. Back to the basics.

Holy is the dish and drain
The soap and sink, and the cup and plate
And the warm wool socks, and the cold white tile
Showerheads and good dry towels
And frying eggs sound like psalms
With hits of salt measured in my palm
It’s all a part of a sacrament
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the busy street
And cats that boom with passion’s beat
And the checkout girl, counting change
And the hands that shook my hands today
And hymns of geese fly overhead
And spread their wings like their parents did
Blessed be the dog, that runs in her sleep

To chase some wild and elusive thing
Holy is the familiar room
And quiet moments in the afternoon
And folding sheets like folding hands
To pray as only laundry can
I’m letting go of all my fear
Like autumn leaves made of earth and air
For the summer came and the summer went
As holy as a day is spent

Holy is the place I stand
To give whatever small good I can
And the empty page, and the open book
Redemption everywhere I look
Unknowingly we slow our pace
In the shade of unexpected grace
And with grateful smiles and sad lament
As holy as a day is spent

And morning light sings “providence”
As holy as a day is spent

--Carrie Newcomer


Week 2

Each week I hold a community dinner. Now, many weeks it doesn’t happen which my roommate points out. But what he misses is that it’s not important how it ends (we encourage risk and celebrate in failure) or if people decide to come, rather it’s important to try. And I do try. However, I’ve been bothered more and more by the words of a particular Jewish man who lived during the Greco-Roman empire. And those words encourage people to throw a party (dinner party or banquet) for people who cannot pay you back. Now I’ve had trouble understanding this man as I’ve learned to take some of his literal words figuratively and some of his figurative language literally. Currently, I think this was one of the ones you actually could take quite literally (and learn figurative things in the process). Throwing a party for people reminds me of our culture, where it’s (not) really love to give to someone whose will first feel obligated to return it and will then repay it. Giving with the expectation of return. But can you give when there will be no direct or tangible or visible return because the receiver is incapacitated?

Well, I was challenged. After all, I hold a weekly community dinner. Though it doesn’t happen every week due to cancelations or scheduling, I sure do cook and host a lot of friends who ask to bring food or wine, who try to take me out to dinner, who actually try to give me money for the meal, and who invite me over to return the favor. Why wasn’t I hosting and cooking for people on the street? Now, if I had a place where I had full reign I could easily do that. But I don’t live alone and have to be respectful of everyone’s comfort. So in place of doing my first choice, I decided my spark for the week would be to take a homeless person out to dinner.

What is different than what I normally do is that I would not just buy them food and give it to them (where is the love in that? You can do all kinds of good, humanitarian, beneficial things without love). No, I would take them out to dinner, that means we would share bread and, in the process, lives. We would actually relate. Now in my experience and work, homeless people are most starved of relationship, more than food or clothing or shelter. And it’s this I wanted to give over a meal. I would invite a homeless person in a restaurant (in times past, friends I’ve met on the street don’t want to come into a restaurant due to embarrassment) and we would sit and share our stories. So that’s what I did.

I knew exactly where I was going and who I would take to dinner—this particular man who has an engaging theatrical voice when asking people to buy the DC newspaper that helps the homeless. On my way there, I saw another homeless man begging, and I knew I had to stop. This man’s name is Mike Venables. Mike begs outside the subway stop at my building. I asked him if he wanted to get some food. He said sure. The closest place was Quiznos which he chose. I would later find out he went there a lot. So we went in and we ordered food in line. Mike is a boisterous character and doesn’t worry about politeness when ordering his food, sometimes feeling like the workers cheat him out of enough lettuce, tomatoes, or meat. So Mike always asks for more. I don’t think the workers are supposed to do that, but they did it today as Mike said “Put some more pickles on that. Come on!” It makes me laugh even now.

After we got to the end of the line and our toasted sandwiches were handed to us, I paid and asked Mike if I could join him and have dinner with him. He said sure. He was surprised, but he welcomed it. And we sat down and began to eat and talk. We sat the “man” way, side-by-side on a long bar-table with stools facing the window.

We talked and listened. Well, mostly he talked, and I listened. And most of the conversation was that way. I was trying to engage in a bit of performance art if you’ll allow me to reappropriate the term. You see, Mike and I come from two different backgrounds, socioeconomic levels, regions, and education levels. And in relating to him I was hoping that for an hour we could wash that away as if those differences didn’t exist. But I was very aware while talking that he was a homeless man with very little money and no family and I was a rich man who bought him a meal.

Then something strange happened. Mike had finished telling me about his plight on the streets, and I asked about his family. He spoke about his mother in the hospital. But the strange thing is his response to my question about siblings. He said he had one brother in the DC area. And his brother is a pastor.

“If he’s a pastor I don’t want no part of any of that God stuff.”

“Why? What do you mean?”

“I see what kind of pastor he is. I seen him when he was in seminary studying to get his degree, all the stuff he was doing with women.”

“Oh, you mean he was doing questionable things?”

“Puuuleeease. That guy ain’t no man of God. If you a man of God, ain’t you supposed to lay hands on men and women?”

“Yes, I suppose so.”

“Then why does he only lay hands on women?” We both laughed.


“I mean, I went to one of his “bible studies,” I was the ONLY man in there!” We both laughed more.

“He has a ministry to the women, and I’ve seen what he does with them. Always trying to show them the power of God and God’s thunder.” Laughing, “I don’t want no part in that.”

It was strange, but that was the first time we had laughed while talking, and when we laughed it was as if the flood gates were opened, the draw bridge lifted, and the temperature relaxed. We laughed and laughed.

“I mean all he wants to show women is the power of God.” We laughed more. “God’s thunder.”

We laughed. And it was in the moment of laughing that I felt us become two men. We actually seemed to float from the restaurant, the two stools, the food. We left the labels given to us by the world and each other. We left it all. And we were just two people sharing a joke.

And then it happened once more in a deeper way. After telling me the story of his brother who doesn’t want to have anything to do with him, he mentioned an ex-wife.

“Yeah, you see I would drive trucks and so I would be on the road a lot going up the east coast. And she was back there in Florida. I guess she got bored or tired or something. But she found another man and cheated on me while I was away trying to help provide.”



“Are you still upset? When did this happen?”

“This happened last year. But it’s cool. People can do what they want. She’s a grown woman. The strange thing is that she cheated on me with a friend of mine. Out of ALL the guys she could have chosen, she chose my best friend. Now does that make any sense?”



“So then you’ve been very angry.”

“Naw, I’m not angry.”

“What? Not even a little bit.”

“Naw, she’s a grown woman. She can do what she wants to do. Why she had to choose my best friend, I don’t know. But she can make her own decisions. We just got a divorce. I wasn’t mad one bit, not one bit, not even once. Why am I gonna be mad at her? What do I have to be mad at her about?”

Now it was in this moment that the conversation took a turn because I had a recent break-up at the time, and not only did I not understand what had happened due to seemingly contradictory messages or inadequate (perhaps only for my brain and mind) explanations, but I had a lot of people accusing me of not doing the right thing or doing the wrong thing. And at the time I had visceral moments of anger which I tempered or eliminated immediately by quickly counting the blessings from the relationship and putting myself in the other person’s shoes. But it would come back again later and I would counteract it again.

What was amazing to me was that this man was claiming he felt no anger and was never upset after someone willingly broke a vow and decided not to hold on to the commitment they had. I wanted to know his secret. The reason the topic changed the conversation is that I was mostly listening or asking questions, and he was happy to talk. But now I wanted to know . . . I wanted to know what he thought or if. . . if he had any advice or . . . help . . . .

“You know I had a recent break up where I was left. . .”

And I told a very short version of some story to say I’ve been there. And he listened. And he shared why he wasn’t mad and I listened, and it was in this moment, we stopped being rich man who buys a meal and poor man who eats it. We were two guys who had similar experiences or feelings of being left. . . .where one was showing how a new way is possible, a way without anger. We were just two brothers sharing life together. And that’s when I learned it is possible to ignore class and levels in a moment. One of my purposes in life is to extend those moments as long as I can with as many people I can starting with the outcast, the marginalized, the minimized, and the oppressed. Thanks, Mike.


Today Mike and I are friends. We’ll talk when we see each other which usually means I’m headed home or to something after work and even though I’m going to be late, I still stay and talk to him. He trusts me. He gave me a card once to the person who schedules people at a particular shelter. He wanted me to look into it since the guy wasn’t getting back to him (I’m not sure how, I don’t think Mike has a phone).

But my interaction with Mike makes me think about giving. Now, there are certain philosophical schools of thought that would say we’re all hedonistic or epicurean-like in that we do everything for selfish reasons. If we help someone build a house, clean up the yard of an elderly woman, adopt an orphan, or give money to the poor we do so for selfish reasons. We want to get an award; it looks good on our resumes; others think more highly of us; it makes us feel good; etc. The tough portion about disagreeing with this particular philosophical conclusion is that it’s perpetually defensible. How do you show you’ve done something for an unselfish reason when it can always look good or feel good to do something for someone else or when there were always invisible strings or conditions attached? Imagine a person who gives all kinds of wonderful gifts to a beloved in the name of love. Then when the relationship is over, what happens? This same person might demand certain gifts back evincing that the gifts were never unconditional gifts but gifts given on the condition that the receiver would continue to love the giver in return. Is there a way to commit a real act of love or really give?

Good question. The next attempt to get around this problem is to give without the receiver knowing who gave. Nice. This avoids receiving pleasure from the gratitude of the receiver since the gift is anonymous. However, there is still the joy of knowing the recipient is grateful to someone and that you have made someone happy.

So perhaps a purer gift (our next attempt) would not just be an anonymous gift, but perhaps a gift where nothing is given. A good example of this by philosopher Rollins is forgiveness. When Marcius has wronged you, you can offer forgiveness to Marcius, and you will have given nothing (no thing) because forgiveness is not a thing. The problem, though, is that you can receive personal pleasure from knowing that you did the right thing, looking spiritual, or having Marcius’s apology accepted. So then you might add the first criteria, anonymity, to the act of giving nothing and try to offer forgiveness without telling the offender or without the offender knowing that they have been forgiven. Now this avoids satisfaction from seeing the offender have his apology accepted or seeing you as a super spiritual person. But this anonymous gift of nothing still suffers from the fact that you can feel self-satisfaction or pride for having done something amazing.

So then you can add a third criteria. Give anonymously so the receiver doesn’t know who gave; give nothing; and give anonymously so the giver doesn’t know a gift was given. Huh? This is hard to explain but imagine giving a gift without knowing you’ve given anything. In this way you give a gift so naturally it’s like breathing. At times you don’t notice your breathing. Or giving is second nature like the beating of your heart or the regulation of hormones in your body. It’s natural, constant, continual, and steady. It’s done without thought. This is the type of giving you see evidenced in a woman's life when she is thanked for something and she, the giver, responds “For what?” This is true love of God – a love that gives with the same reflex that causes a bird to sing. It’s a love that gives money to a beggar on the street without stopping to think if he should give or gives of its time to someone who is in pain or in the hospital without any thought that this is any different or special from any other act on any other day. That’s love. And it’s shown not to the loveable but to the unlovable. The trouble is, you can’t simply choose for the reflex to be there. It comes about in another way which we may talk about later.

When one can do the works of virtue without preparing, by willing to do them, and bring to completion some great and righteous matter without giving it a thought – when the deed of virtue seem to happen by itself, simply because one loved goodness and for no other reason, then one is perfectly virtuous and not before.

-Meister Ekhart, quoted in “How (Not) To Speak of God”

The Book Of Love

by Peter Rollins

There is an ancient legend that speaks of God’s struggle to guide the destiny of humanity. It is said that God had grown tired of the way that mortals constantly lose their way, creating disasters as they go. So he sent out his angelic messengers to gather together the timeless wisdom contained in the world and to place this wisdom in a multitude of books that would be housed in a great library—a library that mortals could use in order to work out how they should live and act in the world.
When, after many millennia, the great task was completed, the colossal library stood proudly in one of the world’s great cultural capitals, dominating the skyline. However, this huge building contained too many books for any individual to read. It was all but impossible to reach for the majority of people, and the library’s sheer size was enough to put anyone off even entering it. So God demanded that his couriers compress the essential wisdom into a single encyclopedic book.

Once completed, this single work was widely circulated, but the manuscript was so huge that one could hardly lift it, let alone read it or put what it said into practice. So yet again God put his couriers to work, crafting a booklet with all the essential information. But the people were lazy and there were many who could not read, so the booklet was refined into a single word, and that word was sent out on the lips and life of a messenger.

And the word?

It was love.

I was reflecting on this story recently when I most recently heard that someone felt I was maligning the character of God. So this made me reflect on God at what is God in God’s essence. This story reminds me that all the various rules, laws, creeds, ethics can be boiled down to one word and simultaneously arise from that word. This word wasn’t just the central message of Jesus but it was incarnated by Jesus. Sometimes when I try to dial down the position of belief in faith, people get upset. In no way do I forget that faith is expressed in love. I know this. It’s from a real desire to come to terms what this world means that we come up with theories, laws, theologies, creeds, rules. The problem is when these very structures meant to help us understand the world and the event of God become unyielding.

So at the same time that love motivates us to seek solutions to environmental problems, political issues, and ethical problems in the world, love also motivates us to question the very solutions that we have found to see if these political, environmental, and ethical solutions actual do liberate us from the shackles of these problems. Without love, the political and ethical systems become oppressive and rigid. Without love, we become dogmatic and didactic legalists, serial ritualists who follow books and creeds without regard for human life and the true purpose of those books and creeds.

Remember the law always falls short of justice, the ideal to which it leans. If it did not, we would never need to test it or probe it to see if it delivers the justice of its intent and then amend it when we realize it doesn’t.

The Third Mile

by Peter Rollins

One day a small group of disciples who had embraced the way of Jesus early in his ministry heard him preaching by the side of a dusty road. As they crowded round they heard Jesus say, “The law requires that you carry a pack for one mile, but I say carry it freely for two.”

The disciples were deeply impressed by these words, for at that time a Roman solider had the legal right to demand that a citizen carry his pack for a mile as a service to the Empire. This teaching not only allowed the disciples to turn this oppressive law into an opportunity to demonstrate “kingdom” values, but also presented them with an opportunity to suffer in some small way for their faith.

As it was common for soldiers to evoke this law, the small band of believers soon developed a reputation for their actions. Roman soldiers would often hope that the citizens they asked to carry their packs would be among these disciples, and often a small bond of friendship would develop between a soldier and these followers of the Way.

After a year had passed this custom had become so established in the group that it became a defining characteristic of their shared life. The leaders would frequently refer to the teaching of Jesus and emphasize the need to carry a pack of the Roman soldier for two miles as a sign of one’s faith and commitment to God.
It so happened that Jesus heard about this community’s work, and, on his way to Jerusalem, took time to visit them. The leaders eagerly gathered all the members of the group to hear what Jesus would say. Once everyone had gathered, Jesus addressed them:

“Dear brothers and sisters, you are faithful and honest, but I have come to you with a second message, for you failed to understand the first. Your law says that you must carry a pack for two miles. My law says ‘carry it for three.’”

This story brings up the question of Biblical interpretation (there are many ways to look at this story). So to treat the Bible as a type of religious textbook that provides a sort of ethical framework telling us how to live in each and every situation requires that we approach it in a certain way. Usually this means we must mine the pages and try to discover the answers to specific questions in life or to specific situational uncertainties. Once you find the answers, one then can choose to act according to the textbook or blueprint or to violate it. At the same time, one can ask if the Bible can be read this way without doing Jesus’s teachings a disservice. So was Jesus advocating an approach like that where we open up scriptures for a concrete set of religious conduct or was he promoting a radically different Way of life?

What if it is the latter? What if he is offering a life of love that transcends religious codes of conduct? A religious code seeks to provide a way to work out or figure out what can be done in each situation. Contrastingly, love is never satisfied or constrained. Love doesn’t sit back but always does more than what is asked of love. Imagine a law that says to give 10% to the poor. The person who loves those who are poor will always give more than the required amount. Instead of waiting what out to be done or how much out to be given, the lover doesn’t wait but always gives in excess. The lover’s love exceeds the law and acts in the absence (very important as religious codes of conduct including the Bible, if interpreted as such, never address every situation we face today) of the law. Love fulfills the law by going above and beyond it.

So the story imagines what Jesus might say to the community that took Jesus’s words literally and enacted a religious law in order to follow it. By the instantiation of the law in order to follow Jesus’s words actually undermines the radical nature of it by missing the spirit of the words. The literal following failed to take the words seriously enough. Now we should still admire the ardor and passionate intent of this faithful band of brothers and eschew maligning them. But the example points to the real danger inherent in a literal rendering (at least for these words) and absorbing his living beyond the law back into the law.

So love goes further, beyond duty. The ethical question asks “What must I do?” The love response is “I will do more.” When the ethical guidance or compass doesn’t provide clear direction (and it by nature will have many of those times) love sets out anyway with clear direction, providing a way when there is no way. This is the love Jesus lived, a love that pushes harder and further than any law, a love that is more demanding than any rule or creed. This love experienced in a revolutionary life is faithful to the law by exceeding it.


So as I said, I was reflecting on love because as I’ve heard before and heard recently again someone felt I was maligning the character of God. When I heard and read that, I responded “Yes I do malign the character of God.” I have done it in the past and I currently do it. Hopefully my understanding of the character of God is getting better in time, but I’m grateful for the knowledge or cognizance that my understanding of God or God’s character is incomplete, fractured, and wrong, yet hopefully improving.

The fact that I hear that means people probably don’t fully understand what I’m saying. I have been talking about a move away (a way) from orthodoxy as right belief (ortho – correct, doxy – belief) to a reverse reading from right to left as believing in the right way. In this way, yes we do believe certain things. Beliefs help us to navigate the world, make sense of it, and ponder the mystery of God in the aftermath of the event of God. But to claim that everything that I understand and believe about God, this life, the nature of our world, and the nature of the human spirit-body being is correct is too high and haughty a claim for me to make. I’ve gone too far; I’m too aware how wrong I’ve been, am, and will be. Rather, I believe and simultaneously disbelieve in what I believe knowing that in the future it may change. One way of looking at fundamentalism is based on how one believes and not the content. Fundamentalism can be said to be a way of believing in which one believes in what one believes. I believe and yet hold lightly what I believe while fundamentalism is a way of believing where one excludes all others in correspondence to the proportion with which others’ beliefs differ from one’s own.

For my sake and the sake of others, I’m glad right theology doesn’t mean I rightly know God or else I’d be in trouble.

So when I say wrong things and you feel I’m wrong, I agree. I agree with your disagreement and yearn and crave for more. One experience for me, however is that God is less concerned about my maligning his character are than those who believe they understand (the parts of God’s character I’m maligning) are. My experience is God’s concern with me living out love (believing in that way) and wrestling out faith. So I decided to imagine what I would love to see in a church.

My church would. . .

Spend more money on others than on themselves

Go beyond any seeming law (like in the statement above) and simply share EVERYthing they have. Instead of asking “how much do I give” they will share everything

Meets in buildings, spaces, and outdoor locations so as not to have to pay any fees such as utilities, where all money can go to do good works and redistributive justice

Would somehow have the ability to suspend class, race, economic differences (I’m inspired by the IKON community in Ireland and my conversation with Mike Venables in the Sparks section)

Would be as attractive to people as Jesus was (this paradox of people hating the church contradicts the historical Jesus who drew all kinds of people to himself)

Was completely open and inviting to people of different orientations, religions, nationalities, tribes, languages, ages, genders, etc.

Would involve others (including lay people) in the preparation of the sermon, so that we don’t hear a sermon that is the result of one person’s individual study but rather we hear a sermon that is the result of a community wrestling with a topic

Would use interactive discussions or at least a sermon with Q&A afterwards (Mark Driscoll does this sometimes)

Would not feature the sermon as the central point in our gathering, but would have all types of REGULAR gatherings

Would avoid the introspection – service divide, by having service work that simultaneously transformed the inside of people as well, a holistic church
Practice, taught, and lived a law of love rather than of rules not just on the visible or public level but even subconsciously and individually (currently working on what this looks like)

Engaged in art as a means to escape what words can’t describe (by art we look at Jesus’s creative use of short fiction (parables), poetry (Beatitudes), guerilla theatre (cleansing the temple, the triumphal entry into Jerusalem), performance art (healings, feedings, etc.; thanks to McLaren for this understanding)

There’s more, but I’ll stop here for now. . .


People always ask about jobs to which I say read the past updates. Here, I’ll only add new updates to the previous ones. This week I had a phone screening interview with a Yahoo-competitor for a position helping to help design, create, and promote educational learning tools for engineering faculty and students throughout Africa. It would be based in Zurich or Johannesburg and would require a go-getter spirit and lots of travel throughout the continent. We’ll see how it goes.

I have a sitcom audition on Monday. And I’m involved in a 48-hour film festival this weekend. I’ll probably write a bit on how it goes next weekend after it’s over Sunday night. We’ll see. . .


From my vantage point, each day I’m given the opportunity to participate in the story of various people’s lives. Sometimes it’s in big ways, sometimes it’s in “small” ways, but the opportunities are there for those that have eyes to see. And often what seems small is actually big in retrospect. Often your participation doubles back as a gift to you. Often you are adopted into an entirely new family just by joining someone else’s story. That’s what happened with Kalila.

Taren, now a friend (family member) of mine, was doing work in Africa and she met Kalila Mahama a quiet and beautiful Ghanaian toddler. Well, American doctors were doing work in Ghana when they diagnosed Kalila with Tetralogy of Fallot (TOF), a congenital heart defect involving 3 or 4 abnormalities in the heart. The doctors said that Kalila had at most weeks to live.

Now, Kalila’s story has a beautiful ending, but I will tell you that I was not most amazed by the people who helped and participated. I was amazed by Taren who decided that such a verdict on the life of Kalila is not acceptable. This type of clarity and love is where I’m most grateful to find beauty. Taren decided that the physical or congenital verdict or ruling given was unjust and she was going to help bend the arrow of the law towards the justice it ideally tries to reach, a justice based in love. I’m always amazed when I find such faith in the world. You see, for Kalila to have the life-saving open-heart surgery she needed, she had to be flown to a place like the United States. Taren moved quickly.

Taren got on her blog and posted the story asking for help and donations. Taren emailed friends in the States and the email went around and around. This is how I first heard of it, through a common friend. When I receive emails like this, though I receive many, they are no-brainers. You help out, you participate, you give, you join in the creation and the saving of life anytime you have the opportunity. It’s the nature of love. It’s the most important thing. So I helped, and we had to raise money not just for the surgery but for travel expenses for Kalila and her parents from Ghana for the duration of the trip. I told Taren I can help more. Soon Rotary joined in helping. Taren raised the money.

Kalila was flown to Indiana, had the surgery, survived, and is thriving. The joy and tears over the whole super-quick process can never be understated. I met with her parents and talked with them and there were no words. Gratitude is written into the lines of their face. . . . indelibly. I don’t want to write too much about it because I do no justice to the lived experience. I wanted you to hear Taren talk about it after they had flown back to Ghana. I include even financial housekeeping at the end of the story because it tells the continuing legacy of everyone who entered into the story.

Dear friends,

Two weeks ago, Mom and I headed to the Indianapolis airport in our van stuffed to the gills with Kalila, her parents, and luggage packed with presents from many of you. Already emotional, we soon found a reason for tears: Faiza, Kalila's mother, told us that, on legs strengthened by regular oxygen flow thanks to the surgery, she had taken her first unaided steps the night before--her very last night in America. Leave it to Kalila to provide us with such a fitting ending to this incredible journey!

It was an eventful last few weeks for Kalila, her family and all of us. Kalila passed her final medical checkup with flying colors; many of you got to meet Kalila and her parents at receptions for donors in both Greencastle and DC (here are some pics from Greencastle, should have DC ones up soon); and the family landed safely back in Ghana. Along with reports of Kalila's continued progress with
walking, her grandfather wrote to us last week to say:

This is time to celebrate and to thank you for this wonderful event; saving the life of Kalila. I do not know where and how to start the Thanksgiving. Americans have a day for Thanksgiving, and Taren gave me a story about it. Our Thanksgiving has a different twist and angle, the bottom line is that you saved a life.... I would like you to thank all your friends, relations and colleagues, who in various ways assisted in this whole process; the numerous generous contributors, your Rotary friends, the doctors and nurses, the newspaper editors, and all, too many to mention. You have to carry our thanks to them on behalf of my family, Samad, Faiza and Kalila.... Our Thanksgiving day is the day of the successful surgery.

To his thanks, as always, Mom and I add ours. We have wonderful friends!


Now, some housecleaning:
In total, we received $27,433 in donations to the Kalila Mahama Heart Fund from 202 individuals, couples and/or families in the USA. Because Rotary accepted Kalila into its Gift of Life program, we were able to limit our total expenses for saving her life to $11,025 ($5,000 as our contribution to surgery which actually cost many times that amount, $4,199 for plane tickets, and $1,826 for food, medicine, diapers, and other miscellaneous expenses--see attached spreadsheet), leaving $16,408.

As promised, if you would like the pro-rated remainder of your donation returned to you, please reply to this email and let us know in the next 7 days. At that point, we will donate the rest of the money to Rotary's Gift of Life program, where it will help fund a trip by the same surgical team that performed Kalila's surgery. They will travel to the Middle East to conduct lifesaving heart surgeries for children like Kalila and train local doctors. We've been told that $16,000 will pay for surgery for another 2 or 3 children there, which would be wonderful.

With our heartfelt thanks,

Kelsey and Taren
For more from Taren or to read up on Kalila (from Taren), you can check Taren’s blog.


Most things I do in life fail, even the successes. What I think is special about most of the successes is that, for some reason, I decided to try again. . .and again. . . and again. Retrospection is perspicacity, and am I thankful that I did not give up on the following project!

Let me give you the background first. While teaching in the States (I taught 9-12 in a grade 6-12 school), I decided to take a job teaching in a school for kids from low-income communities. My school was an all-day school (till 5 PM) which helped keep kids off the street longer; we had afterschool tutorials until 6:30 PM which were mandatory if your grade was below a certain mark; we had Saturday school; we had mandatory summer school before grades 6 – 10; we had two mandatory high school summer internships between grades 10-12; we had mandatory service hours each month; we had week-long college visits across the country during the spring to different locations for each grade level; we had cell phones for the students to call the teachers for help on homework because “being stuck” was unacceptable; our seniors were required to gain acceptance into a 4-year college or university in order to graduate otherwise they had to stay again for at least another semester until they met this requirement; etc. I could go on. You get the picture.

While teaching there, I wore many hats as do most teachers. Besides, teacher, tutor, informal doctor, informal counselor, I was also a service advisor, a service grade-level coordinator, a summer internship advisor, and various club advisors. What concerned me was that many students wanted to do international summer internships but the costs were prohibitive especially for kids in my school. But, as the story goes, we changed that.

After a visit to El Salvador to see a Peace Corps Volunteer friend (a trip that profoundly affected me, even to this day), at the suggestion of my PCV friend, I decided to organize a group of students to go to El Salvador and join her in her work. This time, however, there would be no prohibitive costs for the students as long as they were willing to invest the “sweat equity” to raise the funds and own the trip. What was difficult however was that the students not only had to raise the money for the projects they were to do, but they had to raise the money for their expenses, as well.

I ran into a variety of obstacles along the way, the biggest of which was my school, opposing me (yet “supporting” the trip). Another obstacle was time. Because this plan came through during Spring Break (which is half way through 2nd semester) we only had half a semester (a month and a half) to raise the money. But we did it. We chose students were available most weekends to raise the money. And, of course, as I always say, the students do not raise the bulk of the money (at least according to plan), much of that is done by me or other teacher-leaders when they go and request money, talk about the program, give presentations, etc. But I wanted the kids to participate in their own legacy not just pass a gift on. I wanted them to sacrifice for what they gave. I wanted them to own it in order to truly give it away.

Needless to say, we overcame the obstacles and raised the money, all the money required, even when it looked like we would fall short, some money coming just in the nick of time. The process was very hard on me as a teacher because I was at a school that was all day and doing tutorials until 6:30, the same school that required 2-3 hours of preparation each night for each subject-lesson you teach the next day, not to mention all the grading you’re supposed to do added onto administrative work, parent-contacting, parent-visiting, service planning, etc. That year I also had the most students out of any teacher in the school, so it was interesting. I would often get a substitute on a test day or slip off-campus during an off period for which no students needed me to give a presentation or a talk at a Rotary club, Lions Club, Chamber of Commerce, or a Breakfast club. I would use off-periods while students were doing tutorial problems to call businesses and request in-kind donations such as airline tickets or transportation or housing, etc. But we raised it.

I meant to leave it at that, I had no grand vision, honestly, at least I don’t remember having one. But something strange happened. I came back to the school the following year, and teacher after teacher after parent after parent came up to me and ask “how did you do it?” I of course had no idea what they were talking about when they made a general opening statement like that. Then they would say “Alex” or a name like that. They would point out how he was more kind, considerate, others-focused, responsible, and dependable. They would point how that he thought less of himself and had a greater awareness of his surroundings and the needs of others, his school, his city, even his teachers! So I said, I don’t know but that’s great to hear. Around the same time, people would ask if the program would be offered again. When students started asking me, there was no way I could say no. The answer was of course, YES. So we did.

The same process ensued. I contact Peace Corps country directors during the summer to ask them to send my email out to PCVs. They would read it and some would respond. We would also contact NGOs and we would evaluate the project options put before us by the PCVs or NGOs. We always did groups of 10-12 for a specific reason related to group dynamics. We always sent a team back to the same countries we visited the previous year because we were doing relational service. We always added a new country each year. We always had one primary tangible project that the students could see (the concept of service is somewhat narrow at that age, and this helps to solidify the service work done while at the same time destroying that concept of service through other secondary projects) and a multitude of secondary projects both tangible and intangible. There were other (quite beautiful) components to the program but I won’t bore you with the details. Suffice it to say that the students met throughout the year for 4 reasons: training for the work they would do in the country, fundraisers, language training (though this could be done individually), and pen pal letter drop-offs or writings. They wrote letters to students of the same age and younger so that when they arrived they had already established relationships with the kids.

That second year there were 3 countries teams – a Ghana Team (GT), an India Team (IT), and an El Salvador Team (EST). I usually spend my summers abroad doing international service work to balance local service work I do, and I had some travel myself and couldn’t be everywhere, so I was soo thankful the second year to have a team of teachers on each team. They were truly wonderful. That freed me up, thanks to the good counsel of one teacher, to help manage them all and fundraise for all 3 trips while each group focused on their own. We even had mixed groups – where a team like GT or IT had students from more than one school (but the same family of charter schools).

So I flew in and joined GT (the Ghana Team) after they had been there for 2 weeks (I was in China on an educator trip) right about the time they met an amazing, still, and inspiring woman named Sophia. It is the words of Sophia that I share with you, today.

I still remember sitting by the fire that night with all the kids and the PCVs and teachers and sharing the good news. Only two months earlier, I was invited to the National Public Charter Schools Conference to speak about “Service in Education.” Now, the program, only in its 2nd year had been nominated for a National Character Education Award, and it won. The kids didn’t really get it, but we were flabbergasted. I think what struck me most was that I was always asked one question by potential funders: why should we give money to send these kids over when we could just fund the projects directly without sending the kids over? The very first time I heard this, I had answer for this without ever knowing that I knew what to say. We are raising future service-driven leaders who are not only being taught how to do service and serve relationally, but they are being taught how to raise up service-driven leaders themselves. This isn’t international development, I would say; it’s international as well as community development. You’re developing your own community at the same time.

This is the story into which you enter. The Ghana Team encountered a lot of problems along the way. I fought with the school even more. Some people wondered why I would do that, but to be honest, I’d rather be someone who fought a good fight and lost then one who worried about being on the good side of a school or the good side of the administration. And believe me, it put me on the bad side and raised all kinds of questions (and accolades) for the school. But as always, you have to remain beyond reproach and no criticism can stick. And even if it does, you remain honest and vulnerable. So I did. We almost didn’t make it. It was tough. The school seemed even more “supportive” than before (by that I mean less actively supportive beyond verbal/aural support). I advocated, emailed, discussed, criticized, and fought for my kids. And I did it because it was for my kids (both in the States and in Ghana). So to fly into Ghana after leaving China and see my kids and meet Sophia and the teachers and tell them that what they are doing works—I don’t know; it touched me.
So the kids brought the money to start a project which I think was initially conceived as an adult education center that would allow for night classes. There would be books and desks and the opportunity for learning. The kids raised the money not only for the construction but for their expenses which always doubles the costs but it was worth it. Often times, with some of this type of work, you never know what happens with what you did, brought, started, or gave. But Sophia kept in touch with the students. And I want to share Sophia’s story.

You see, the students started something along with Sophia and her townspeople of Wamfie. Everyone helped with the housing, food, construction, and work. The kids were also busy doing other secondary projects like HIV/AIDS workshops, permacultural sessions, classes at the school, etc. My kids were actually not able to finish the work they started in conjunction with Sophia and the town of Wamfie. They never saw the building completed. I stayed in Ghana about 2-4 weeks longer and helped out a bit more and saw it developed even more. Now I want to share the legacy of what my Ghana Team started.

Sophia will correct me if I’m wrong in saying this, but I don’t believe the building would have been built or started when it did if Sophia hadn’t received our request, that we wanted to go to Ghana to work with her. Most PCVs tell me that the work the students do in 2-4 weeks (it was only 2 with Sophia because our students worked with another PCV in another location for half a month) is the work an individual PCV would take to do in 6-8 months which is close to half her time there. It’s not only a big work boost, but also an emotional boost, a spiritual boost, a mental boost to have the kids visit and share their lives (for the kids, too). So as I was reading Sophia’s update, I was crying (I cry a lot these days) because the story is beautiful. It’s not a story written by my students alone, for many joined in the work with the kids and continued it afterwards. But my students planted a seed. Now you can always go further and further back. Teachers emailed the Ghana Peace Corps Country Director who passed it down. And I was over the teachers helping to run this program. And I was invited to go to El Salvador with my kids the year before by my Peace Corps friend. I only became friends with her because I accompanied another person down to El Salvador for spring break to see Peace Corps work firsthand. Etc. etc. But there you have it—life, in all its entangled and interconnected glory, is made bare and plain through letters like this. And the impact of what the kids did has never lost its effect on me. I love the Peace Corps practice of having new volunteers take over in the same place as old volunteers. I love the practice of having them overlap for a brief time. I love the practice of continued work which Ann, the volunteer after Sophia, actually did. And Ann carried the work until completion beyond Sophia (or my) wildest dreams. When I have opportunities like this to co-partner with people in creating beauty in this world in a way that liberates and transforms people—it’s like something within me resonates. This is how life is meant to be lived, and it’s something that can be done every day. As you read, pay special attention to all the many people involved in the project even after the kids left the first summer (they came back another summer without me after I moved abroad). The town is called Wamfie. It truly took a village to raise this library. And to be honest, it’s much more than a library.

Greetings YES prep former or present teachers and staff,

First and foremost, I hope you are all well. It’s been a while since
I’ve written, and I regret the extent to which I’ve fallen out of
touch with you all. However, I write bearing good news! The Wamfie
Community Library/Youth and Community Center has opened its doors to
the public! I made a return trip to Ghana last month, and visited
Wamfie, where I was able to help physically stock the bookshelves. It
felt good to slide those books into place, I feel lucky to have been
involved in the final phase of the library’s development. Although I
realize it sounds corny, my heart was literally overflowing with love
and happiness the entire week I spent in Wamfie- and you are all part
of that happiness. I wish each of you, and your students, could have
the rewarding experience of stepping through the doors and seeing the
awesome culmination of our efforts. While that may not be possible, at
the very least I can share with you some photos of the finished

As you can see from the photos, the library is a pretty impressive
sight. The construction is totally complete. The walls have been
plastered inside and out, painted, and decorated with world, African,
and Ghanaian maps. (Ann- the volunteer who succeeded me- painted these
with local kids.) I should mention that all the masons, carpenters,
electricians, and other artisans who helped with the construction
worked at half price for the duration of the project- an act I think
really demonstrates the community’s commitment. In addition to their
labor, there have been countless days of community labor, during which
individuals donated their time- hauling water, mixing cement, laying
bricks, weeding, or cooking food for those who were laboring. This
obvious commitment helped us (me and Ann, the volunteer who came after
me) convince the District Assembly to chip in money for a beautiful
ceiling, complete with ceiling fans. The DA is also paying the
electricity bill, and hired a night watchman to guard the facility in
the evenings. They also helped us get in touch with Ghana Youth
Employment Services, a national agency that has agreed to send 2
librarians to work full time in the library. All 3 jobs will be filled
by residents of Wamfie, the librarians will also get periodic training
in computer record keeping and library cataloging. Ann was able to
work with Books for Africa, a non-profit organization based in the US,
to get 50,000 donated books- an entire container! She also did an
enormous amount of fundraising to pay for shipping and transportation
costs. One neat partnership she formed was with the Ghana Book trust-
she gave them a share of our books in exchange for assistance within
country transportation. They also did a bit of a swap- where we traded
out some of our English books for books written in Twi and English by
Ghanaian authors. Even after all of this trading and exchanging, there
were still so many extra books that the library couldn’t possibly hold
them all- so we donated the excess (sets of classroom textbooks) to
the District Education Office (who will distribute them equitably to
Wamfie Junior Secondary Schools), and to Mansen Secondary School
(where we did our HIV Education with the YES prep students).
Meanwhile, we used excess funds from construction to build
bookshelves, tables, and chairs for the interior- and we purchased 2
computers which will have intermittent internet access courtesy of MTN
cellular network.

I was unable to attend the grand ceremony for the opening, but I wrote
a small piece to be read, which I am attaching to this email. Ann
tells me that the ceremony was huge- there were 3 canopies set up to
create shade, and chiefs from all the surrounding areas came to bear
witness to the opening. The present and former DCE (you met the
former) also came to show their support, as well as representatives
from the regional and district education offices, and numerous local
teachers. (I think they may have canceled school so students could
attend.) Our Peace Corps country director also attended, along with
most community members. Ann is sending photos which I will forward

There is one remaining task left… Ann and I would like to collect
photos from all phases of the library’s construction. We are planning
to make a nicely bound photo book to place in the library- and we
would like everybody that was involved in the project, start to
finish, to be included. I could just rely on my own photos- but I have
a feeling that you all have some good ones too. I am therefore
requesting that you send me your photos (if you still have them) from
your time in Wamfie, to be included in the book. If you are interested
in a copy of the photo book, I’m happy to let you know how much it
ends up costing to print- otherwise I’m happy to burn all the photos
onto a CD for you. For now, I’d really appreciate access to your
photos- however I need access to the full file (as opposed to a
condensed shared file). I think the easiest way to do this might be to
request a burned CD? CDs can be mailed to my address, which is listed
below. THANK YOU in advance, and THANK YOU again for all the work you
put into this project… I hope you can see for yourselves the fruits of
your labor, and feel immensely proud!

Hope you are all well,



Greetings to my dear friends and family in Wamfie. As many of you
know, I was recently in Wamfie, however my visit was too short. I
apologize for my inability to greet many of you due to the very short
visit. Although the visit was short, I was happy to have the chance to
visit the wonderful library, and help with the final stages of its
organization. I wish I could be here with you today, to celebrate the
opening, but instead I am with you in spirit, and have sent Ann these
words to read.

The library has been a long time in the making, and there are so many
people to thank. I think, however, that it is best to first recognize
ourselves, and thank each other for all the work we have put in to the
library. This is truly a community library- together we have cleared
the land, hauled water, mixed cement, helped dig a solid foundation,
and raised these very walls with our own two hands. Families have
helped by cooking for the laborers, or offering housing to those who
traveled from far away to help with the project. Our carpenters,
masons, and electricians have generously given their time and
expertise, even the young children here have helped put books on the
shelves, and have enthusiastically helped sweep the floors. There is
one person I would especially like to thank in Wamfie, and that is Dei
Prince. He has
been involved with the library from the very beginning, selflessly
giving of his time and efforts. I am happy to announce that he has
been selected as a librarian, and I can’t think of anybody who
deserves the position more... I think he represents everybody’s
enthusiasm for the project. As he told me yesterday, “Today, our
dreams are finally coming true.” I hope you all feel the same. This
library belongs to all of you, because you have all helped in some way
to build it. Without your help it would not be standing here today,
full of books.

There are also so many people to thank who have contributed
financially to the library. YES Preparatory School from Houston,
Texas, in the USA, send not only money, but they sent their students
for two
summers to help with construction. We also received funding from St.
Paul’s Catholic Church, in Juneau, Alaska, where even young children
gave their small change, all to help build this library. So many
individuals in Juneau, Alaska, my hometown, hearing of the library
project, approached my mother and asked to make a donation- some gave
money, some gave books, some gave games and toys… all of which my
mother carried with her when she came to visit me. All of these things
are now in the library! The donations didn’t stop there. Reading of
Wamfie in my hometown newspaper, schools and clubs and individuals who
I don’t even know came forward and donated to the library. Without all
of these donors, we never could have afforded the cement, bricks,
timber, roofing sheets, plaster, and paint to build the structure.
Today, I know they are all thinking of Wamfie, wishing us well. I know
they are very happy that our collective partnership has led to such a
beautiful library.

There were also many donors here in Wamfie that gave generously to our
project. In Wamfie, I would first like to thank Nana (PLEASE ADD HIS
NAME). Nana granted us use of the land, the very foundation of our
project, and even joined us to break ground. He has been very
supportive of the project, sending rice, oil, and charcoal to help
feed our visiting laborers. We will never forget his generosity, and
we thank him for being here today.

Ben (LAST NAME), former DCE of the Dormaa East District, has also been
incredibly supportive of our project. He joined us for the ground
breaking, and provided my sister Ann with support in carrying the
project forward. While I did not have the honor to meet NEW DCE, Ann
tells me that under his direction, the district assembly has continued
to be supportive, performing necessary roof repairs, providing funding
for the ceiling, paying the electric bill, and helping to secure two
librarians from the Youth Employment Office, as well as a night
watchman. We are very grateful for the districts support of the
project, and hope they continue to support the library in the future.

Last, I wish to thank the Peace Corps, for supporting me as a
volunteer. I can’t thank them enough for sending me to Ghana, and then
to Wamfie- which has become my second home. I also thank Peace Corps
for sending Ann as my successor. Not only has Ann done a wonderful job
carrying the project forward, she has helped it evolve into something
greater than I ever imagined. Most importantly, she has the same love
of Wamfie, and cares deeply about the community. I am happy to count
her as my Wamfie, Mansen Habitat Sister.

When I first arrived here, in 2006, most people did not know of Peace
Corps, and often asked of my mission. I struggled to come up with an
appropriate response. I hope that today you know my mission here was
not just to be involved in this library, but to learn from you and
share in your culture so that I could share it with people in America.
I hope you know how many people around the world care about you. You
will forever be in my heart, and I hope to come back and visit often.
I love you all.



There’s a jazz vocalist I like name Gretchen Parloto. I actually didn’t know she was that big, that the accolades around her were quite high, that her stylings are so laudable. But she’s good and she sings like. . . another instrument in the band somewhat. Funny, I heard her say in an interview that if she could croon like Chaka Kahn or Aretha she would. She said she tried it and it doesn’t sound pretty; no one would want to hear her (I laughed at this). So she does what she’s good at, and boy is she good at it. It’s an understated sound and singing so it may not be for everyone, but I wanted to mention her since I was listening to her recently.

The other reason I like her is that she teaches and does workshops. I think this is the greatest thing an artist can do. It’s that connective link that’s so important. There’s more. When she’s passing on what she does or trying to give a workshop, it’s very important to her that it’s more than just the music, more than just working on or learning about rhythm, phrasing, interpretation, and improvisation. She wants to drink tea, talk about who you are and why you’re doing what you’re doing. She wants to know where you are going. She wants to also work or tap into the emotional and spiritual side of music and release its potential to transform both the artist and those that are listening.

The other artist I’ve been listening to is Bobby McFerrin. I’m not sure what to say about him. I actually view him as a gift to the world and the type of artist that doesn’t come along very often. I have been recently rediscovering him, again. I’m especially amazed by him because he treats the voice in a similar way to the fashion an instrumentalists treats her instrument. Normally in music, we use the term singers to denote someone who sings but isn’t a musician. Vocalist is carries much more connotations of musicality with it. But in all honesty, even if you are a vocalist, you get by with less. You can practice less than a non-voice instrumentalist. You just learn your notes (way faster than it takes for instrumentalists to learn theirs which actually deals with physically moving the hands, feet, and body fast enough and with dexterity and agility in order to play it technically correct). Bobby sings songs that vocalists don’t normally do. For instance, my FIRST interaction with Bobby was to sing “Flight of the Bumblebee” for my senior recital in high school. I did it as a duet with a cellist, just as Bobby did it as a duet with Yo-yo Ma whom I love (Yo-yo is so willing to improvise and play with anyone to create beautiful music). Vocalists don’t sing Flight of the Bumblebee. It’s too. . .technical. It’s just a bit crazy to do that. But he did it, so I did it. Bobby will also sing arpeggiated accompaniment to a song like Ave Maria exploiting the range of the human male voice. No one did that before him (I haven’t really heard anyone do it after him). It’s hard to do that and play your voice like an instrumentalist but he did it and does it.

His intonation and accuracy, his ability to shift between his full-voice register and his falsetto and head voice at a moment’s notice is unparalleled. He jumps back and forth between them with ease and not only is able to do that with learned songs, but he can do it while improvising. This is quite . . . amazing. He is able to really go on and on and on improvising which is important for vocalists to learn—not to stop, keep going. Anyway, can you tell I like him and his work. Once Bobby came and did a workshop with my choir, and Bobby actually said “God is in the music.” Literally, God is in the music.


Improvisational duet - Lullaby of Birdland


UPDATE - April 2011

I’m stopped at a red light and I look to my right past the right lane to the right sidewalk. A noise draws my attention. I see a group of three black youth in an open circle (arc) looking to the left at an older white woman on crutches (the type that are just poles but have a holder for your forearms and a horizontal bar protruding from the pole for your hand to hold). The women is medium build, about 5’5’’ with disheveled brown hair; her complexion looks as if it hoped to be fairer if only it had a good wash and scrubbing down. But her mind and complexion seemed to be out of relationship so she plodded along.

Now the three youth were looking at her because she appeared to be . . . rapping. What was strange is that she provided a steady beat to the rap by hitting her pole crunches against the ground. She could only do this by moving forward or backward as if walking. So when she would get really hype into a great part of her rap, she would hit a quick “bmm bmm bmm bmm” (left right left right) which would quickly walk/crutch her backwards away from the kid down the sidewalk. It had a funny look. Imagine a physically handicapped person trying to have her crutches keep up with her fast rap, having to walk-crutch-limp faster to thud faster to the rhythm of her rap all the while the three youth looking at her like “What in the world is that?” I promise you that’s the look that I saw. At first I thought they were all friends and they for someone reason couldn’t understand what she was saying. But then I saw that they were as mystified as I was watching her hobbling to tap and crutch-walk herself in rhythm with her fast walk. Too Legit—bmm—too legit to qui-bmm bmm bmm-say what?-bmm—too legit—bm—too legit-to quit--Crutch-walk, tap tap tap-Can’t touch this-- bmm bmm bmm—You hear what –tap—cause this is a beat-bmm bmm—you can’t touch--crutch-step, crutch-step, crutch-step.

Then she comes to me . . . bmm bmm bmm bmm . . . . with the biggest smile on her face.

“Did you see that?”


“I was spitting some truth to those kids. Those kids didn’t know what hit ‘em,” she said proudly as if she had just discovered a new chemical element or finished her career-ending concert finale.

“You got some change?”


“I’m flipping and ripping a couple of lyrical styles y’all never heard “ Bmm Bmm Bmm
Trying reach dem partners dat be on dat cornah sipping syuurp.” Bmm bmm bmm

Green light.

Hidy-ho. It’s good to be in touch again. I’m starting a new series which may require me to write once a week again. One thing I’ve learned is that though I don’t enjoy writing these updates as much as people think, there are vast majority of the 6 of you who do enjoy getting them. For that reason, I keep on writing them when I’m tempted to stop.

You’d like to know what’s new with me? Well, all the same old stuff. I’m still doing a few mentoring programs and volunteering here and there. I am still in my fellowship program doing international development work for big people. I still sing in a few groups and enjoy that.

What’s new since the last time I wrote is that I auditioned for a science education show and got the part. I’m the physics content host for a science education video series that helps science teachers understand the science they teach. The science education organization hired a production company to handle the videos, and the production company thought “We always get actors to host things. Why don’t we get actual scientists?” That’s where I was lucky since I’m at the intersection of acting and science. Either way, they hired me after the audition. There are 20 units, and 6 are in my area—physics. Each unit has 20 lessons, and I go through the 20 lessons and choose 8-12 that warrant extra explanation via a video. Then I write bullet-point descriptions of what would be in the video. Then I write the scripts for it. Then we shoot. They’re a good group of guys, and I’m really enjoying the process to work at the intersection of education, science, and acting. It’s the first time I’ve worked with a teleprompter, too!

Another new thing is that I went to book talk on a social justice book (in the Arts section below). The editor was a really nice and humble man who is charge of Christian student life (or something like that) at Princeton. Anyway, I didn’t realize he was also the religion editor for the Huffington Post. I was the last person to talk to him that night before going home. I just wanted to say hello with no ulterior motives. He asked about me. When he realized what I did, he told me the CEO of my fellowship organization has written 3 articles for him over the past few years. He said he would love for me to write articles on the intersection of science and faith. So he told me to submit some ideas to him. I was surprised, but told him ok. I sent him an idea the next day. He said he looks forward to seeing the full article. Wowzers.

Also my a capella group got serious and had a December holiday concert. We were going to do a joint concert with a barbershop group but they pulled out so we had a Christmas party and sang a few tunes at that at two different points during the 2-hour party. It was a hit and people LOVED it! So we’re currently working on a spring concert. Unfortunately people have left due to drama (yes guy groups can have drama, too), other commitments, and moving away from the city. So we’ve been auditioning. We’ll see if we can still have the spring concert in time. Most likely we’ll move it to the summer/fall or just do a nice Christmas concert.

But the big thing people have been asking me about is what I’ll do next year (September 2011). My fellowship program is over in August, so all the 2nd year fellows are job-hunting. There are various opportunities, but I’ll tell you about the three related to my current fellowship.

1) I’ve applied for a Congressional Fellowship (so doing the same program but in Congress)

2) I could get hired on (there budget problems and it seems unlikely)

3) AAAS Fellows at my department/agency are the only AAAS fellows allowed to do a 3rd year extension overseas as one of the missions. There are 20 countries interested in hosting a 3rd year AAAS Fellow, so I’m in talks with them to see if they would like to have me. Unfortunately it’s a matching program. They don’t want a general intern who can learn what they want her to do, they want someone who is already an expert in a certain field and language to come in and hit the ground running. So I’ve had 7 no’s so far. Ghana will no longer host a fellow. Zambia has competing priorities and also won’t host a fellow anymore. Russia said no due to money (which doesn’t make sense because there is Washington money available). Egypt said they have to wait for a new government before they decide what they will do with science & technology (S&T) work in Egypt. Mozambique and DRC said the fit wasn’t good. DRC wanted a French-extremely- fluent biodiversity expert who uses GIS in land surveying conservation efforts (I really liked this position as it was a regional position and required you to go around to different parts in the area, and you wouldn’t be stuck in the office, but out in the field a lot). So that’s that. We’ll see what happens with the others.

Outside of that, I’m applying various things, mainly social enterprises since I love those whether joining one, joining a social enterprise incubator, or starting one. We’ll see. It’s an exciting field and I’m glad I’m a part of it from a donor and experimenter side. Since I’m looking at jobs all over the map, I will tell you about one in science education that floored me. An HBCU in Baltimore has a center for Excellence in Mathematics and Science. My name was given to them (by AAAS due to work as an adj. prof of Ed for AAAS through George Washington University, working with DC public school teachers). The center’s director resigned or retired. The associate is taking over for the time being. They are interested in me coming in to be the interim director and applying to be the permanent director (competitive post). I told them I’m interested. So we’ll see how that goes.

In the meantime, I’m still doing weekly community dinners, watching plays and concerts, and preparing to teach a salsa dance class this summer. Still I really love singing with my a capella group.


The reason I’m excited about my a capella group, is that, honestly, in the past year they’ve been one thing that has given me a lot of joy amid a lot of sadness. There’s a strong darkness that has had a grip of me for some time, and I have to actively work to keep it off or from controlling me.

And I’ve been very sad lately. Sometimes I can’t shake it. People always ask “what are you sad about?” There is so much to be sad that in many ways I’m continually sad while I’m continually happy. They co-exist (it is possible). I’ve been especially sad because I have a dear friend who was diagnosed with cancer. It was in the late stages, and she had to have an abdominoperineal resection, colostomy, and a hysterectomy. She’s infertile and must now consider adoption when she ever has time to reconsider kids again. And the colostomy, if you don’t know, is when they create a new exit for your poop through your lower abdomen. I was really sad to hear this and it has been gnawing at me and bothering me for a long time (some of those doubt questions that you will see below start creeping up).

Then another good friend is getting a divorce after 10 years in relationship (I think). When she told me I could do nothing but cry. I seriously just cried. I was so surprised because it was a deterioration that I did not witness. Either it was kept from being visible or it’s just because I’m far away from most people. Regardless, I was shocked. She told me love isn’t enough. I wondered what she meant by love.

One thing I’ve learned is that good things come and bad things come. Good events happen and bad events happen. When the bad comes, you’re not too bogged down because you know it will pass but, more than that, you understand that you have no understanding of what worse was avoided because of this bad or what lives it saved or what greater purpose can be pulled out of it. You learn to detach yourself from desire and control and want. So the bad doesn’t affect you as much (may still affect you), and when there is good, you simply enjoy it for what it’s worth while it’s there, knowing that it’s fleeting as well. Of course this deals with things beyond your control. And that makes life hard because people put their trust and faith (I have done this) in things beyond their control. Many times, outside of your control, that thing or person or concept can crash and you don’t have anything to hold on to. So we learn to enjoy the good when and while we have it, knowing that we not only lack control, but we don’t own it either. It’s made me not question the concept of human rights, but made me question the use of the term “rights” as the best way to represent the concept of human rights.


I forgot that when I send these updates people often see inaccuracies with what I write, take offense or issue, or don’t like it. Now this isn’t the case with every remark I remember below. But since I made the marks publicly I want to correct them publicly.
Last update I wrote this top 10:

10 Reasons You Know You’re Serving the Homeless in the United States

10. When serving a plate of food, a homeless man says to you “Would YOU eat that?”

9. When offering food to a homeless, hungry man he says to you “Is it cold? I don’t eat cold food.”

8. When offering salad to a homeless woman, she says “No crunchy pieces. Only salad with no croutons.”

7. When offering salad to a homeless person, he says “I don’t eat salad.”

6. A homeless man looks at the food I’m offering him and says, “Hey, even homeless people have standards! You know what I mean?”

5. A homeless man sees you without a phone and offers you one of his two cell phones.

4. A homeless woman in a soup kitchen turns down your Moroccan chicken soup saying, “No, thanks. I’m a vegetarian.”

3. A homeless person offers you a job.

2. A homeless man pats his tummy and says to you “I’ve decided I need to lose a few pounds.”

1. A homeless man complains about rising prices and backs it up by showing you his energy bills.

Now someone pointed out that it’s offensive or seemingly offensive. In fact at least one of the readers was homeless for a while and it’s not a good place to be. I want to acknowledge the plight of homelessness in the U.S. and the often subtle bias against them that shows up in our actions in conscious and subconscious ways. This was not meant to poke fun at homeless people. I didn’t make up any of the items. They’re all true. And yet they are things that I can smile and laugh about with homeless people (not at them). I took each item from true happenings between homeless people and me. They each had names, though, I didn’t name them. For instance, one man, my first homeless friend in DC, really did offer me a cell phone. I’ve really been shown bills. True story, comedy-filled, but true. I think the funniest aspects of life are true. It’s like truth is somehow embedded into the fabric of that mysterious quality that makes us smile and laugh. And that is what is in these stories.

Secondly, someone pointed out that they have experienced this abroad. My friend experienced it abroad and this does happen outside the U.S. The point isn’t so much that it is a US phenomenon, but it’s a phenomenon that happens in places that are relatively more affluent or wealthy than other places. In other words, in any situation in which homeless people are steadily or regularly receiving food through whatever source, they have an option of being particular or picky. This can happen in developed or developing countries. And I was highlighting the cases I experienced in D.C. However, I have yet to experience this in a region of hyper-dire need and hunger, seeing people reject my food due to taste, for instance. This may happen but it’s outside my experience.

Next, someone wrote to explain to me that the Jewish prisoners at the camp in Terezin did not sing Verdi’s requiem because they somehow believed Jesus was God or were converting to Christianity. I asked some others about this to see if this is the message others received. So far, I think only one person seemed to have sensed this in the words I wrote, so I hope it was just one. My point was that the tension was beautiful—the tension of a group of Jewish prisoners singing a Catholic mass and the greater tension of the prisoners singing a mass for the dead in order to both inspire and retain life. I find life doesn’t exist without tensions. If we see none, it’s probably because we’re not yet awake.

I don’t remember all the comments I was to correct from the various response emails, but I do remember one last one deals with sharing what others say. I’ve shared what many people said about me anonymously, never with any problems. But an anonymous story breaks fiduciary trust (confidence) according to some or one. So please excuse me for sharing anything you might have said about me in an email to a few people. Please feel free not to share with me answers to questions such as when I ask “what do you think I want.” I don’t interpret anonymous stories as breaking trust so that was probably the difference in ethical behavior there. My guess is that the feeling of betrayal committed by me is worsened if the story I share is one that is critical of me (making the person feel bad) versus a story when someone is praising me (I don’t think every story would elicit a response).

Lastly, someone asked why I would not have more questions or fight more when told he was not into God anymore. My guess is that my point in the last update was completely missed. So to repeat, I said something like this. It is evident more and more to me that there is an undercurrent of atheism that runs central to the Judeo-Christian tradition. There is a dual tradition of the priest (who works in the service of God) and the prophet (who speaks out for God against God (the god being served by the people)). There is a strong tradition of religious people who fall into rituals of serving God in their image rather than one greater than their conception. And so a multitude of voices (usually a prophet) usually speak out revealing glimpses of a greater understanding. Through the arc of the Torah and New Testament Bible one can find a pattern of people coming into a deeper understanding of God and trading in old images of God for better ones. You can see this developmental understanding of God through the trajectory of the Bible regarding people’s understanding of God’s uniqueness, God’s agency, God’s character, etc. This list goes on. This is a process I, myself, have engaged in throughout my life whether I knew it or not. And I still do it today. It occurred with Jesus’s disciples after he was crucified, with the Christian church through Luther and Calvin, with the church during the movement from slavery to abolition, etc.
So it is evident then that we can engage in certain dialogues that, though seemingly subversive, lead us into a deeper meaning such as

God, rid me of God” Peter Rollins
Forsaking God for the sake of God” Meister Ekhart
Before God and with God we live without God.” Dietrich Bonhoeffer

It is always difficult to stuff ideas and lessons that have taken years to learn or ideas I’ve picked up from others and share them in a short email or blog, but think of it like this. I’m not surprised when a friend has left the faith or questions God. First, the act of questioning God and this crazy world is a very godly act, one I feel is desired by the God of Judeo-Christian tradition. Think of the one name that was given to the people who would be God’s chosen people (remember; they were chosen not at the exclusion of others [old understanding], but chosen to be a blessing, for the inclusion of others—one example of a developmental understanding through the arc of the stories of the people of faith)—Israel. The one, singular, defining name given to the people of God means “wrestles with God. . .” Really? Wrestles with God? Not holy or sanctified or righteous or good or perfect or better-than-you or best or anything else that is perfect? Really? Really. It seems to be the nature of God to allow the tension that is humanity to find beauty in the mess, the quagmire of questions.

The story of Job is probably the oldest dated writing of the Torah and Bible. In the story a man named Job loses everything (business, money, etc.) and his friends come around to comfort him with. Job has even lost his children; his wife tells him to curse God and die. His friends come one by one and reason with him. They tell him this and that (for example, “you must have committed some sin in order to be dealt a blow like this”). The perfect cookie-cutter answers, given to me by church people for why God was happy with Job and unhappy with the visiting friends, never made sense to me. The friends said reasonable things (according to some wisdom). Job just struggled and questioned God. And therein lies the answer. The friends offered . . . theology. Theology isn’t bad in and of itself. It’s quite natural in the after math of the event of God to have thoughts about what happened. We form beliefs. But it’s what happens when those provisional, inadequate thoughts take the place of final authority that a problem arises. And here Job didn’t deal with theology. He wrestled with God. He questioned, he pleaded his case. And I honestly think, at the end of the story, when God shows up in a huge whirlwind and asks all these impossible questions about “Who put the stars in the heaven? And who put the sun in the sky?” God doesn’t answer Job’s questions because it’s not about the set answers or understanding or . . . theology. It’s not central. Rather, it’s about a conversation and the growth that happens in that engagement with God. God then honors Job and not his friends because Job didn’t cling to theology; Job clung to God by wrestling with God (just like the name Israel would come to mean when given as a new name to Jacob). It’s the same reason David was so close to God. David wasn’t close to God because he felt close to God all the time. No; he was close to God because even when he felt distant from God he expressed his feelings of distance directly to God thereby maintaining the closeness and connectedness even in the center of feelings of isolation (I may have to reread that a few times to let that sink in). He struggled.

And the most mature of us realizes that our images or pictures of our God are provisional. That’s why we trade them up. That’s why when I question God I realize and understand that I’m never questioning God but I’m questioning my understanding of God. So when someone becomes an atheist, I’ve learned that they are not rejecting God but they are rejecting their understanding of God. And if that is the definition of atheism then I’m a type of Christian atheist because I reject my understanding of God all the time as I learn to hold a better and more accurate (closer to who God actually is) image of the increasing mystery that is God.

So in a sense because I understand the tensions, the wound, the rupture that is in the scripture (a recent book called the “Encyclopedia of Biblical Difficulties” tries to resolve every single problem; unfortunately it creates more problems than it solves due to the inadequacy of the unsatisfactory answers), I understand that at the same time I name God, I must engage in a process of de-naming God so as not to create a conceptual idol (think of the contrast between “our father who art in heaven”—the familiarity of a dad to “Hallowed be they name”—actually God’s not like a dad, he’s also wholly other). Does that make sense? So fundamentalism can be looked at as a particular way to believe rather than referring to the content of beliefs.

Fundamentalism can be said to be a particular way of believing such that you exclude all other people who believe differently in accordance to the amount that their beliefs differ than yours. Rather, I try (key word is try, I also fail) to include everyone especially those that differ the most from what I believe understanding the belief isn’t central. To put it another way, fundamentalism is believing in what you believe. Because I know the current picture I have of God is wrong (though I don’t know what will improve in the future), I, rather, disbelieve in what I believe. I love that, and I thank Rollins for that thought. It’s so true.

So no, I don’t get mad at a friend becoming an atheist. I understand many of those friends were driven there by reinforced hurtful images of God manifested in us. Rather, I try to love those especially and increasingly in correspondence to how much the beliefs of others differ from me.