Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Melting Down

As I sat down to write this blog post as a follow up to my earlier Advent post I clicked over to the Huffington Post website as I would be referencing an article I had read off of their website. I had thought about bookmarking the religion section previously but I hadn't done that yet so I went to the homepage where I saw this image:
This was not what I wanted to see. Twenty seven dead. We now know that there were twenty children in that count not 18. Twenty eight total were killed that day, including the gunman.

If there is every anything that could shake a person to the core, this is it. There is no way to explain this tragedy. No words that can ease the pain of these families. As I rode the bus home the day of the shooting a woman was finding out about what had happened over the phone and all she could say was "oh no. Oh no."

The very first comment I read from a non-journalist as details of the shooting still emerged was "I never understood "Gun-free" zones. It's absolute madness." This was the first comment I read. I can't stress that enough. If there is something that could make me more upset when learning about a mass shooting is the argument that schools and other places should have more guns not less so that people can stop those who go on a rampage quickly. The shooters identity wasn't even speculated yet. The number of kids dead wasn't known. And the first thought that jumped into that persons mind was "this is why we need more guns". It is truly horrifying. To complicate matters for myself and the people I know, the night before the shooting my homestate's congress passed a law to allow concealed weapons into churches, stadiums, and yes, schools. 

I would go on to read a comment off of a pastors post explaining how ridiculous this notion is "Well... if that Kindergarten teacher had a gun in her purse..." This shooting is such an insane and incomprehensible occurrence. A Kindergarten classroom. All the victims that were children were either 6 or 7 years old. There shouldn't need to be any sort of threat to the safety of these kids. It is just unfathomable. The last thing a Kindergarten classroom needs is a gun in it.

Children are naturally curious. They don't yet understand societal rules or what consequences actions can have. If you introduce guns into that classroom all that would need to happen is to have one child find the gun owned by the teacher and a stupid, horrible tragedy could occur that should have never happened. In truth school shootings are incredibly rare. Adding more guns to schools does not have any chance of lowering the risk of a school shooting, it only raises the risk.  

This shooting can, in no way, be used to justify guns in schools. That sentence is just a crazy one inherently. Guns in schools? What are we teaching our kids by allowing that? We sow the seeds of inherent distrust of all, we suppose that each new person we meet is trying to kill us, and we teach all of this at school where teachers walk around carrying pistols. People have accused video games and movies and music of teaching kids violent behaviors. What about when we start teaching them violence in school as part of the law? What do we teach them when the ones educating them are ready to take a life?

I took out an examination of the second amendment to the constitution out of this post. While I believe fully that gun-ownership is not a protected right in the bill of rights that argument is for a different time and place. However, it is the time and place for is changing the laws in this country. 

The Wall Street Journal tracked homicides from 2000-2010 in the United States. Here's what they found: 2/3rds of all homicides in the US were caused by guns. over 111,000 of them in that 11 year span. Over 10,000 people killed by guns every year. That's over 27 people a day. See that is ultimately what is so awful and disgusting about this shooting in Newtown. Every single day Newtown is happening. It doesn't usually happen in one location, but everyday 27 people are being killed by guns. That's not just me adjusting the numbers to reflect the Newtown shooting. 10000/365=27.397. And that's me rounding down, not up.

Guns have one purpose and only one purpose. To kill. And they kill over 27 people every day. Newtown was not the exception to the rule. It was the rule, spelled out in a way that we can easily see. I don't know if there's a stronger argument against guns. 

There have been many insightful posts after this tragedy to explain how this was evil, how the God of creation mourns with us, how this should never happen. And there have been some less than insightful things said about how this is "justice" for such atrocities as letting people marry other people who love them. I won't even touch that because 1) I can't hope to do a better job than the insightful people who have already posted and 2) I won't even waste my time tearing down words meant only to inflame.

Instead let us look ahead to the future:
"Many people will come and say 'Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the temple of the God of Jacob. He will teach us His ways, so that we may walk in His paths. The law will go out from Zion, the Word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.'" -Isaiah 2:3-4 
I await the day when we melt down our weapons and repurpose them as tools to feed our children.

Lord, forgive us for the times when we let the broken people slip through the cracks. Forgive us for the times when we sit idly by because we assume that another tragedy can't happen again. Not again. Forgive us for not loving each other enough to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks. Be with the people of Newtown, CT as we continue to mourn because of this tragedy and may your light shine through in this darkest time. We remember oh Lord that a mere 11 days after this tragedy we will remember the birth of our savior. We are in advent now Lord and we must rely on the small candles we light to bring us hope as we prepare for your Word. 
"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was god. He was with God in the beginning. Through Him all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness does not overcome it." -John 1:1-5


Tuesday, December 11, 2012


As I sit down to write this blog post it is currently 50 degrees outside. Remember I live in upper New York. It's December 10th. Outside doesn't really look a lot like Christmas. But it is almost Christmas and we're two weeks into the Advent season. Often times people complain about Christmas music because it seems to start so early and seemingly never ends. And I must admit that I have spent time in this camp. However, my opinion has changed (sort of).

Classical Christmas music and hymns are some of my favorite musical selections. Nearly every song in Church this Sunday was singing about Emmanuel, including one of my all time favorites: Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel. As I write I put on Pandora to Classical Christmas music and got treated to Carol of the Bells right off the bat and then Hark! The Herald Angels Sing. I have favorite hymns that aren't about Christmas but how many Christmas hymns are among your all time favorites?

Now, I could do without Santa Baby, and the Hippopotamus song. I could live a healthier life if those never existed even. But in my mind there's nothing better than traditional Christmas music. And why should there be? Christmas may not be the most important holiday on the Christian calendar but is there a better holiday for inspiring music? Easter is triumphant and full of hope but first and foremost you have to get past Good Friday. And even then the most famous hymn from the Easter season is the Hallelujah Chorus which is always sung in the Easter service but is actually not about Easter. The Hallelujah Chorus is only the 44th part out of 53 of Handel's "Messiah". And the Hallelujah Chorus takes its inspiration from the book of Revelation. Parts 22-35 are about Christ's passion, death, resurrection, and ascension but those never get sung.

As hopeful and amazing as Christ's resurrection is we have always been much more inspired by Christ's birth than His death. Not to say that that's a bad thing. We draw inspiration from God sending a savior to us to fulfill a promise made long ago. Truly this is a joyous time. There is plenty to take inspiration from and to be thankful for. And I am thankful.

However, there is still suffering in the world that we cannot ignore. AUMS has an annual toy program for the children of our neighborhood. We rely heavily on the Marine Corps Toys 4 Tots program to make sure that we can serve the children in our area. We have already been told that demand for toys is up and donations are down. In this season we know that it's not the gifts and the toys that matter most. However, the children of our area, like so many children around the country and world, don't really have much to call their own. They don't get new toys all the time. Children need to be allowed to be children. Toys for deserving kids should never be something that is taken away. And yet here we are. We keep signing up children on the hope and prayer that a Christmas miracle will happen. That we can rally support and provide for the over 200 children that we have signed up for toys.

If you would like to help us out with a financial gift you can donate online at or you can send a check to PO Box 6896, Albany, NY 12206. If you want to earmark your gift for toys be sure to add special instructions to the online donation or write it in the memo of your check.

Together we can bring a smile to the children of the West Hill neighborhood. God Bless you in this Advent season.

EDIT: This article was written early and scheduled to be posted today. I have kept it in its original form but would like to add that this morning we received word that Toys 4 Tots has approved our request. 

Monday, December 10, 2012

Workers Rights

I spent a couple of days in Baltimore last week attending the National Council for Safety and Health Conference (National COSH). Part of my missionary training came from a former US-2 who served at Interfaith Worker Justice (IWJ) in Chicago. It was broadly focused on worker rights with a particular focus on wage theft as that is a big focus of IWJ.

Serving at AUMS means that I am connected to our local Labor-Religion Coalition (our Executive Director is a member of the Executive Board). Labor-Religion has a partnership with IWJ as an affiliated interfaith group. As one of their affiliates we were asked to send a representative to the COSH conference and I was the lucky one who got to go. I must say the experience was incredible and educational.

I may have been the only non-union person at the conference and many of the people have been to these conferences before. Even so I was not the only person learning what rights workers have. I will avoid going into details on most things to protect the workers involved. But if you are a worker covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSH Act) there are certain rights you should be aware of under Section 11 (C) of the OSH Act. This will get slightly confusing if I don't clear this up now. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is what investigates and protects workers under the OSH Act.

You are covered under OSHA if:

Private Sector Workers

Most employees in the nation come under OSHA's jurisdiction. OSHA covers private sector employers and employees in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions either directly through Federal OSHA or through an OSHA-approved state program. State-run health and safety programs must be at least as effective as the Federal OSHA program. To find the contact information for the OSHA Federal or State Program office nearest you, see the Regional and Area Offices map.
State and Local Government Workers

Employees who work for state and local governments are not covered by Federal OSHA, but have OSH Act protections if they work in a state that has an OSHA-approved state program. Four additional states and one U.S. territory have OSHA approved plans that cover public sector employees only. This includes: Connecticut, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and the Virgin Islands. Private sector workers in these four states and the Virgin Islands are covered by Federal OSHA.
Federal Government Workers

Federal agencies must have a safety and health program that meet the same standards as private employers. Although OSHA does not fine federal agencies, it does monitor federal agencies and responds to workers' complaints. The United States Postal Service (USPS) is covered by OSHA.
Not covered by the OSH Act:

    • Self-employed;
    • Immediate family members of farm employers that do not employ outside employees; and
    • Workplace Hazards regulated by another Federal agency (for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Federal Aviation Administration, the Coast Guard).

Now that you know if you're protected under OSHA there are certain rights that you have that cannot be infringed upon. One of these is the right to report a workplace injury or illness. This right has historically been infringed upon by employers. But workers now have a new weapon in securing their rights. Deputy Assistant Secretary Richard Fairfax released a memo which can be found here. If you don't feel like reading it here is what it spells out in short:
  1. If an employer retaliates against a worker for filing a report of an injury then they are in violation of section 11(C) of the OSH Act. Discipline for reporting an injury is illegal.
  2. If an employer disciplines an employee for not reporting an injury in a timely manner or in a manner against the employers reporting rules they could be in violation of section 11(C) if the employers rules are deemed to be a pretext to discipline workers. Employers do have a legitimate interest to set up rules for reporting and timetables for reporting but they cannot discipline an employee for untimely reporting if the employee did not realize right away that they were injured seriously enough to file a report or even that they were injured at all until a later time. 
  3. If an employer disciplines an employee for getting injured because they broke a workplace safety rule they could be in violation of section 11(C) if they only punish employees for breaking the safety rule if they get hurt but ignore cases of employees breaking the rule if no injury results from their action. Also, there could be a violation of section 11(C) if the safety rule is purposely vague (Work Carefully) and used solely as a pretext to punish employees who get hurt.
  4. If an employer sets up a program that intentionally or unintentionally provides employees with incentives to not report an injury. These programs are widely used by employers and could result in an employees name being taken out of a drawing for a prize if they report an injury or having a prize amount reset for all workers if an employee reports an injury (this turns workers on others). 
This last point is apparently extremely rampant. An airline (who shall not be named) uses the incentive of having your name enter into a drawing to win a new car if you don't report an illness or injury or call in sick for a period of 6 months. They give away two cars a year. While it may seem at first like this encourages workers to act safely what it really does is put workers into harms way. This policy discourages workers (again, airline workers) from taking time off when they are sick and allowing them to infect other workers and passengers so that they can possibly win a car. This "Safety Policy" creates an unsafe working condition and appears to be illegal under section 11(C) of the OSH Act. 

You should also be allowed to work in the safest conditions possible. If you know that your work conditions can be unsafe you should start recording things that seem to create unsafe working conditions. Document hazards in your workplace and talk to coworkers about anything they've noticed. Once you've come up with a list of hazards and hopefully some support among your coworkers come up with possible solutions to the hazards. It is always best to see if you can get rid of the hazard first. Then take your list of hazards and solutions to your employer and document that they have received your concerns and recommendations. 

If you feel you have been discriminated against for reporting a workplace injury or illness you have 30 days to file a report with OSHA. Make sure you document exactly what happened in detail. Get things in writing if you can or create a log of what was said to you and who said it. You can see what options you have to file a complaint with OSHA by clicking this link

Finally, could you take the time to sign a petition to support staff at Rutgers University who were forced to report to work during Hurricane Sandy and are seeking fair payment for the time spent working through a crisis as well as excused absence from work for non-essential staff who did not report to work due to the Hurricane. You can read and sign the petition here.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Equal vs Equitable

Everybody says they love the idea of living in an equal society. But I don't. An equal society might be nice and might be an improvement over our current society but I'd really love to live in an equitable society. These words are fairly confusing since they look and sound similar but an equal society is one where everybody is on the same level legally. Which sounds great but an equitable society is one where everybody is treated fairly, or justly. A good way to distinguish the difference is using schools. In an equal society all children are treated the same in school. In an equitable society all children are given the amount of help and support they need to succeed. So if a child has a learning disability they get more support than a child without a learning disability. This is how our schools are supposed to work so there's some good news.

I posted a link on my facebook page of Fox News interviewing the Romney Policy Director and having him dodge the questions asked of him which was surprising since he was on a network friendly to him and his candidate. The questions were about Romney's tax policy and how he isn't telling Americans which tax loopholes he would close, something the Fox News reporter thought Americans have a right to know before they cast their votes. I would agree. But this intrigued me... What does Mitt Romney actually say his tax policy would be as president if he won't answer such an important question?

I went to his campaign website to investigate and in his introduction the Romney campaign says their are two questions at stake in how we address taxes "How will we generate sufficient revenue to balance our budget without discouraging economic activity, and will the burden of taxation fall equitably on all Americans?" And this is where we run into a problem. See Romney uses the wrong word for his policy. He means "will the burden of taxation fall equally on all Americans?" because that's what his proposal is. He proposes a flatter tax rate for all Americans to try and make all Americans pay the same tax rate. That is treating us all equal. If he wants to treat us all equitable then he must agree more with President Obama and raise taxes on those like the President and himself who have so much money.

There is some argument about who are the "rich" in this country. The President has named it at families who make $250,000 and up and individuals who make $200,000 and up. There can be some argument for this when you consider things like children and costs of college and things of that nature and I won't get into naming what I would consider rich. But if we take that definition and look at Romney's tax plan we can see something quite astounding.

Romney wants to keep the capital gains tax at 15%. Personally I think it should move from a flat rate to an increasing rate as you earn more money. Keeping it low for low capital gains helps the economy. It supports small business owners and encourages investment in small businesses. Small businesses need the investment the most. I'm for a low capital gains tax to a point. And surprisingly, in a way, Romney agrees with the idea that capital gains should be tiered like our normal taxes. He wants to keep capital gains at 15% unless you fall into a certain population of Americans in which case your capital gains tax would be 0%.

Which population does Mr. Romney think shouldn't pay taxes on capital gains? People who earn less than $200,000 a year in capital gains. Basically anybody not considered the upper class by Obama right? So no taxes (in capital gains) for the poor and middle class right? Isn't that what that means? Well that's certainly what Romney would probably like you to believe and it is true. The poor and the middle class wouldn't be paying any capital gains taxes. But neither would the rich. Romney doesn't say that if those making over $200,000 a year from capital gains would pay taxes on that first $200,000 but my bet is that they wouldn't because that wouldn't be equal which as I've already said is what Romney means to say. It would be more equitable for them to pay taxes on that first $200,000 but that's not his goal. Maybe I'm wrong but I think the odds are in my favor that I'm right.

But I digress. Do you have any idea how much money you'd have to have to make $200,000 in capital gains in a year? Let's put it like this: According to this website the average dividend in the S&P 500 is 2.08%. The same website lists the average dividend in the NASDAQ exchange to be 1.18%. And The Dow Jones has an average dividend of 2.89%. Since the Dow Jones has the highest average dividend let's use them. In order to make over $200,000 in capital gains in the Dow Jones you have to have an average of $6,920,416 invested ($6,920,416 X .0289=$200,000.02). And if I'm right about that first $200,000 not being taxed then a person with almost $7,000,000 invested in the stock market would pay $0.003 in taxes on that income. Less than one penny. This is a person who has to have such a ridiculous amount of wealth that they have almost $7,000,000 tied up in stocks. Tell me, does that sound equitable? Now if I'm wrong at that first $200,000 does become taxable then they'd pay $30,000.003 in taxes on that income. Which, for somebody with $7,000,000 to spare isn't even noticeable.

Now people who run small businesses, particulartly start ups could probably use a tax forgiveness where they pay 0% in taxes on capital gains. But that's because most start up owners have put most of their money into their business and will continue to pour money into their business for a while. The amount they're actually making would be very little since whatever they make probably goes right back into their company. That is an equitable tax rate. One that recognizes people risking all they have to own a business and employ people. Those are the real job creators of the economy. They are people who don't make very much money at all. The rich invest to get richer and the rich don't spend a larger percent of their money on goods than the rest of us. They buy more expensive items. But they don't really buy a whole lot more than the majority of Americans. A rich person doesn't need more food to survive, if they go out they might buy the most expensive thing on the menu but they're not really spending all that much more than the average American at the table next to them.

I hope Mr. Romney realizes that he uses the wrong word soon. Because he wants an equal society. I want a equitable society. A society that is just.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Knowing God

Hold onto your hats cause this will probably get weird and off track. But you can thank my friend, fellow US-2, and (current) Detroiter, Brandon for providing me with the inspiration to actually write this blog but not necessarily for the weird stuff. Don't blame him for that. You can check his blog out by clicking his name over there -->

That being said my only inspiration isn't Brandon. You can also credit the good and funny people at for helping to inspire this. In fact one of their most recent articles The 6 most accidentally creepy movie romances serves as part of this inspiration as well as their article How Doctor Who Became My Religion. Perhaps you've already gone and read Brandon's blog or the articles I posted, if you haven't then don't do it yet you'll spoil my whole build up and that just wouldn't be any fun. Now to begin.

I titled this post "Knowing God". While walking to work one day I thought about the word "know". I'd rank it as one of the worst words in existence. I use it all the time and I don't hate the way it sounds but it really does an awful job at what it's supposed to do. Know sounds like No which means something totally different and has a past tense Knew which sounds like New which also means something totally different. In fact Knew and New are near opposites. Knew is something older and understood and New is fresh and unknown. It's really just very, very poor. but that's the past tense. Let's get back to Know. What makes Know so bad, and even worse than Knew, is that it's not relegated to one tense. Know is both present and future. You can only tell which tense it's being used in by reading words around it. "Do you know the sky is blue?" vs "Will you know tomorrow?" So which Know am I using in the title? Take a second and actually thing about it.

Now maybe the answer was real obvious to you because how could it be the other one... Well here's how. Present: Knowing God Now. Future: Knowing God tomorrow. These could be worded significantly better but they both technically work. The answer to my question is, of course, both. I love Doctor Who. It is a fantastic television show. And one of the cool things about the show is that it deals with wibbly-wobbly timey-whimey stuff. Know is just like that stuff. The bible helps us know God in the past, we know God right now, and we continue to know God in the future. Do you see what I just did there. I just made know work in the past as well... It now covers all three tenses. But I digress.

I also use Know loosely here. And that is the point of the cracked articles. In the Movie Romance article the author argues that in the movie "Groundhog Day" the character Rita falls in love with the demi-god Phil. Phil (Bill Murray) has to be at least a few hundred years old by the end of the movie. It's quite possible that he is thousands of years old. In fact the script calls for Phil to spend 10,000 years in the time loop. He is over 10,000 years old according to the original script by the end. Even in the final film where it's left up in the air he is still an expert in many fields and to become an expert in a field you need to devote over a years worth of time being trained by another expert. That means it would take him at least a few years to learn each subject that he's an expert in since nobody is teaching him non-stop and he certainly isn't being taught by any experts. So he's at least a few hundred years old when all is said and done. He has knowledge that nobody else can reach, not just in their studies, but in the fact that he has lived multiple lifetimes worth of time. Thousands and thousands of lifetimes worth of time according to the original script. Jesus lived 2000 years ago. Bill Murray might have been over 10,000 years old in the end. He could've been older than Human civilization itself. Could you imagine trying to relate to him after that? How could you. He knows everything at that point. He has lived longer than any city or group of people. Imagine how different our world is from 4000 years ago, around the time of Abraham. Phil was over twice that age. We would be like ants to him at that point.

Now to Doctor Who. I'm going to quote straight from the article from the third to last paragraph. "Lastly, and maybe this is especially true for me as a new viewer, but often the Doctor behaves in ways I don't fully appreciate because he's lived for over 900 years (50 on TV) and there is so much I haven't seen. So many episodes I've missed. And that's just with a TV show. Imagine, for a moment that there is a real God. How many of His storylines have we not been exposed to? That god must have been broadcasting on channels we don't get for millennia. It would take a lifetime longer than the Doctor's to fully understand such a god."

Now I believe that such a God exists. It's hard enough to imagine relating to Phil after he's lived 10,000 years. Now try to imagine relating to God who has always existed. Our Universe is over 14 billion years old. Now I see the rebuttal already "But God is eternal and unchanging". Yes, I would agree. But isn't that even harder to imagine? God is somebody that could go through that much time and not change. Time cannot change God. Phil and the Doctor both change and grow over time. But God is even bigger than that. Bigger than time.

Knowing God? Good luck. People wrestle with parts of the Bible that are difficult to explain. Some have said "God's ways are higher" to explain them and people really don't like that. But really, they are. God is so completely inconceivable to us. He has lived through all of history and hasn't changed. How could we possibly fathom knowing God? We know so very little about the Creator of everything. Here's another article from cracked that shows cool universe stuff. Download the last file in that article if you can. I feel it's necessary to repeat the author... We didn't know that any of that stuff in that picture existed until Hubble took that picture. And I'm going to post a picture of that picture in case you didn't download the file.

Do you know where that image comes from on that photo? That little light on the left hand side of the screen, that's almost directly in the middle of the image. That light is almost too small to even see when you're looking at the whole image at once. That light is a galaxy. And that is just crazy.

And God is bigger than all of that. God created all of that. And God has been active in all of that. Do you know what's even crazier about that picture? That is an incredibly old photo. Billions and billions of years old. Those galaxies don't exist any more. 10,000 galaxies that might have had life but have all died now. Thousands if not millions or billions of civilizations that have been lost. See I'm not one to think that we're God's only project. We live in a very old universe and we're very young. Why would we be the only place God would put life? Why would the universe need to be so big if all God was creating was life in one place? No, I think there are billions, or trillions, or numbers I can't even fathom of civilizations and species in the universe that either currently exist or have existed or will exist. How can we know a God that has created all of that and loves all of that? A parent to trillions and trillions over a time of billions of years. And he loves our world and our people in a way bigger than we can understand.

So we no, we can't know God now, or tomorrow, or ever. We can learn about God and try our best but in the end the amount of God we will know will be infinetly small compared to the reality of God. And I think that's ok. It just means we have so much left to learn. More than discovering 10,000 new galaxies in one photo.

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Colonialism and the American Dream

I met with a pastor in the area and talked about racial and class differences that have been experienced in Albany. How some have historically thought that the people coming from the suburbs (usually white people) to volunteer in the city (mostly black or hispanic people) had a smack of racism and colonialism to it. The white people were coming to save the poor black and hispanic people. It is a valid point but not necessarily true. Perhaps the people from the suburbs came to the city with a mentality that projected that image. But that by no means has to be the case. 

Even if it is true, to discourage those in the surrounding suburbs to not come to the city would be equally dangerous. It moves from a more colonialistic view point to a view many have started to take on the poor recently. That view is the American dream. Which sounds positive until you remember that the American dream says that anybody can be successful if they try hard and those that aren't successful are probably just lazy. They should be able to help themselves. Of course that's a lie. The American dream exists for those that already have much. Those without are severely disadvantaged before they have any type of opportunities.

There must be a middle ground. One without feeling colonialistic and without ignoring the real injustice of our world. That way is being in ministry with. When we join together and recognize that everybody has need and everybody needs ministry we find out how people from the suburbs can come to the city and be served and be in service with those in the city. Each helps the other. If we don't then our world becomes negative. Our worldview becomes seeing others as lazy or cold. We start to build walls, real or societal, around our cities to keep the other out. Injustice spreads as we do nothing. 

That is not the world I want to live in. The world of the American dream is toxic and dangerous and so is the world of the white hero. We need a world of communal growth and service. The only way to fight back against these worldviews of colonialism and the American dream is to recognize the value of each and every person and find the ways that we can help each other. We are a social creature needing the love and acceptance of our fellow people. We need to not shut them out but welcome them lest we let our world get too small.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Peace and Terrorism

Every morning while riding the bus downtown I read a couple stories off of CNN while taking the 20+ minute ride. Today being September 11th I read a couple stories that I found interesting relating to peace and terrorism.

Let's start off with the state of terrorism in the United States 11 years after the attacks that shook the world. In the 11 years that have passed there have been a number of terrorist attacks in our country. What people might not realize is that Non-Jihadist terrorists are just as likely to be committing the attacks as Jihadist. In fact, there have been more attacks by Non-Jihadist terrorists in the last 11 years than Jihadist terrorists. And when remembering that this is the case it becomes not so surprising to then find out that more people have been killed in the United States by non-Jihadist terrorists than Jihadist terrorists.

September 11, 2001 showed what a well planned terrorist attack could do. Because of that attack we started to fear Muslims in this country. But the numbers suggest we don't need to worry about Muslims so much as non-Muslims attacking us. The men that carried out the 9/11 attacks were the minority. They are the smallest percentage of the Muslim population. And terrorists who get their orders from outside of our nation are the minority of terrorists in the United States. Homegrown terrorists are the bigger threat.

Of course most of our law enforcement has a focus on Jihadist terroists. But if our focus is on them then we are very likely missing many would-be terrorists who would commit attacks on innocent people. But the number of non-Jihadist terrorists isn't the most surprising part.

Since Semptember 11, 2001 there have been no cases of a Jihadist terrorist aquiring or even attempting to aquire chemical or biological weapons. However there have been 11 cases, or one a year on average, of anarchist, white supremacist, or right-wing extremists acquiring or attempting to acquire chemical or biological weapons. So not only are there fewer Jihadist terrorists than non-Jihadist terrorists in our country but the Jihadists terrorists aren't the ones attempting to aquire weapons that could contaminate and kill on large levels. Clearly we need to rethink our policy in this country. And quite obviously we need to end the blatant discrimination against our Muslim brothers and sisters.

Now for peace. Another article I read was about the brother of the current al Qaeda leader has come out saying he wants peace between Islamists and the West and is willing to be the mediator. A former Islamist himself he spent 5 years in solitary confinement in a 6ft by 6ft cell in an Egyptian prison. Now that he has his freedom the new Egyptian government says he is helping them in negotiations with Jihadists in the Sinai area. He has offered a 6 page proposal for peace between Islamists and the West that starts with a 10 year truce if the following terms are met:
• U.S. and West to stop intervening in Muslim lands
• U.S. to stop interfering in Muslim education
• U.S. to end the war on Islam
• U.S. to release all Islamist prisoners.

• Islamists stop attacks on Western and U.S. interests
• Islamists Protect legitimate Western and U.S. interests in Muslim lands
• Islamists Stop provoking the U.S. and the West

Now there is speculation that he's getting his name out there again so that an Islamist group would welcome him into leadership. But I am ever hopeful that we have a man related to the leader of the most infamous terrorist group in the United States who is legitimately working on negotiating peace.

Could you imagine a world where he was succesful? Even if only one group agreed to peace with the West and the West complied with their end of the bargain? It is amazing that such a revolutionary world would be brought about if we just agreed to leave each other alone and stoped killing each other.

Is peace in our time possible? Yes. Peace is always possible. Peace is the easiest thing to achieve because all you have to do is stop killing. It's so simple. Will the people of this planet stop killing? Convincing the planet to live in peace is difficult for reasons I will never understand. But on this day, 11 years after a tragic act of violence was committed against thousands of innocent people we must remember Christ and His teaching to love our enemies and to be peacemakers. The same Christ that rebuked Peter for taking up arms against those that arrested Him to die. Even protecting the Lord was not good enough reason to take up arms. The innocent died. The lamb was killed and we are called to love instead of hate. Turn our swords into plows rather than use them to slay.

This should be the legacy of September 11, 2001. A legacy of mourning the innocent lost and forgiving those that took them. Violence leads to violence until we are the ones willing to not take an eye for an eye. For “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." Matthew 5:38-42.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A Short Update

This is my blog where I post updates about my time as a missionary... Let's get a little meta.

I am considering creating a monthly or quarterly newsletter as another method to let people find out about what I've been up to. I've been considering how it would be different from the blog to make it worth it for myself and for anybody who reads this and wants the newsletter.

Essentially it would be a far more anecdotal publication than the blog. Relying heavily on telling short stories from my life in Albany. I would give an example but then I'd be down a story for the first newsletter!

Anyway, post a comment if you're interested... Or better yet... click the link to subscribe to my hypothetical newsletter. Or scan the QR code at the bottom of the update! And don't forget to Share on facebook. Ok I've had my fun coming up with different ways to grow a subscriber base. Subscribe so I know to start working on a newsletter.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Getting Settled

It has been far too long since I last wrote an entry for this. But it has been hectic finishing up training, going back to Detroit to finish work there, packing, moving to Albany, and then finding a place to call home for a while. But I have accomplished all of this now. I have started to put my roots down here and it is a relief. There is still unpacking to be done but I'm getting there.

I'm in my second week at the Albany United Methodist Society (AUMS from here on out) and it has been interesting. My favorite parts so far have been seeing our connection to other missionaries that I was commissioned with. We do some work with the Interfaith Workers Justice here and my fellow US-2 Mistead is working at their headquarters in Chicago. I've met with the local Council of Churches and I don't remember who was sent there off the top of my head but at least one Mission Intern was sent to work with the World Council of Churches. Now obviously their work has no direct connection to what the Capital District Council of Churches is doing but Peter, my supervisor, was able to be in on a conference call that included the US-2 that just finished his work at IWJ so I might have to talk to Mistead sometime on official business. It's crazy how that all works out some times.

I have met more people than I can remember and it'll take me a good long time to get everybody's name down. But it has been good so far. Today I spent the morning working in our emergency food pantry for the first time. I picked quite the day to jump on in. We had to have served well over a hundred community members today. Truly incredible. I'll be working in the pantry for the next three days too.

On another note I stopped at a cafe on my way home yesterday. It's close to the big university here but apparently 5:00 on the first day of class isn't the time to be hanging out. Oh well, I'll be trying another place tomorrow. The cafe I went to was really good, and inexpensive, just not a lot of young people when I was there.

All in all it's been good getting settled in. I'm working on getting some precooked corn meal so I can make Arepas soon. Might take the long way home today just so I can get what I need. We'll see.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Life in Transition

I am now a fully commissioned missionary. What a cool thing to be able to say. Of course I couldn't just stay where I was commissioned for my service. I must go out. Doing that first meant coming home. I returned to Detroit last night and this morning went back to work at Motown Mission. I love Motown and the people I work and serve with. But it was such a strange experience today. I came back from being commissioned and jumped right back into life before training. Motown is exhausting physically and training was exhausting mentally. It is a weird transition to make. But even then I cannot go back to my life before training completely. Tomorrow I will take a couple hours off of work to speak about being a missionary. On Saturday I will move out of Detroit and move back to my home. Less than a week later I will arrive in Albany. Life is hectic while being routine.

I moved out of Detroit to go to training. I moved three times over the three and a half weeks of training. I then moved back to Detroit. Moving back home again soon and then moving to Albany is just crazy to me. Over a five and a half week period I will have moved 6 times. I am ready to arrive and unpack (I'm taking your advice to heart Liz!). I need to settle down and plant my roots. I need to join my new community.

I look forward to next week when I can relax a little. Even if it is just a little. Maybe I'll nap tomorrow since we'll get off of work early. Maybe I'll keep thinking about deep social and theological issues. Rest seems distant as it is. My wonderful prayer partner told me to make sure that I'm resting up because self-care is important. I need to do a better job at listening to her. Haha.

It's odd being away from my fellow missionaries after spending so much time with them but it is so good to be back with my Motown community. They are as funny as I remembered. These last couple transitions will be the hardest as I bid farewell to more and more friends.

I think it's time for a little bit of rest though.

Friday, July 27, 2012


A couple days ago the US-2s spent a whole day separated from the Mission Interns. They got vaccines and other work done and we learned about health care and systems of oppression and injustice. The injustice piece was really powerful. We discussed wage theft and workers rights, immigration and concerns surrounding that, and the American criminal justice system and it's oppression of the poor and the minorities in the country. We watched a video of Michelle Alexander talking about her book "The New Jim Crow" which took place at Riverside Church in New York City. Riverside Church happens to be right next to our office and it's a historic place for civil and human rights. I invite all to watch the video on youtube by clicking this link

I cannot begin to unpack what all is covered in that video and what it means for us as missionaries and citizens of the United States. Today's post is short but I hope the video can provide you with the opportunity to discuss things with those around you. Also, I invite comments on this blog so that a conversation could be had with others as well. 

This is a sensitive issue and calm conversation with open minds will be key to understanding what others think and feel. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Tough it out

We have been training to be United Methodist Missionaries for a week and a half so far. We have left the comforts and quiet restfulness of Stony Point and moved into the loud and constantly busy NYC. At times grace has been hard to share with those around us and some have started to notice a reluctance to talk about certain issues as a group. That being said we are welcome to those conversations in small circles. I titled this post "Tough it out" because we are at a point where we're tired and longing for rest but also because of the hard conversations we're moving into and working through.

Today we spent the entire day talking about community organizing. But perhaps that's getting ahead of myself. We started off with devotions as we always do. But for the first time we didn't come back together as a group to talk but instead met with our prayer partners. Personally I really needed that since I've been awful at communicating with my prayer partner. It's something I want to have down really well by the time we're commissioned because I know I'll need the prayer once I move and I know my partner will too.

On to community organizing. We had a just finishing US-2 who has been working with Interfaith Workers Justice in Chicago with us to talk about what community organizing is. This was especially helpful for Mistead since he will be taking over at Interfaith Workers Justice. But I also found it especially helpful. After working through a semi-serious scenario and then a real life scenario out of Atlanta we moved out into the city. We took the subway down to Union Square and participated in a rally for raising the minimum wage in New York. We heard clergy speak as well as low income workers who have a hard time living on their wages. We heard how they left a golden calf in front of a JC Penny as a symbol of their corporate greed as they practice firing workers and then re-hiring them for lower wages. It was truly an awesome experience.

I also just realized I have updated this blog in a while and that means I haven't had the opportunity to talk about Harriman UMC. I was invited on Sunday and I'll be going back next Sunday, to Harriman UMC. It's quite a ways out of the city and the bus is a long one to sit through but it was well worth it. Harriman has two parts of their service that I instantly fell in love with. The first is "Favorite Hymns" where they start off singing three of four of the congregations favorite hymns. Congregation members just yell out a hymn number and everybody sings it. Truly awesome and inspiring to see. It really touched the Methodist inside of me.

But more than favorite hymns, I fell in love with their "Scripture Shower". They put a five minute timer out and people stood up, one after another, to recite their favorite scripture passages. They do this to encourage their children to memorize scripture so that in times of need they remember them. It sounds like this particular tradition was started by Jermaine Paul who was preaching at the church that week since the pastor was getting licensed. It is his home church as well, he wasn't a guest preacher so much as a member filling in. If you don't know who Jermaine Paul is than I recommend you google him and definitely watch the youtube clips of him. Harriman UMC was so full of the spirit and I cannot wait to go back on Sunday and see all the great people there again.

We might be tired but God is guiding us through this process. Amen.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Devotional Reflections

I'm going to briefly share some of my devotional notes from the last two days. This is not long and the context is slightly removed but I think it's important. Yesterday, when thinking about mutuality in mission and what mutuality means I wrote the following:

"It means not casting people aside for differences but listening to how those differences can lead to a more whole mission. By ourselves we cannot hope to accomplish anything but self praise and a pat on our own back for mission requires the other and the other requires mutuality; for if mutuality is not there the mission will collapse, the other will leave, and even a pat on the back will seem impossible."

Today we struggled with doubts and encouragement. We read the call story of Jeremiah and I found that so refreshing to point out the call of somebody who is not Isaiah. This is my reflection on it:

My doubts are numerous and constant.
Can I live the life of a missionary?
Can I do what's expected of me?
Will I fail for lack of trying or fail even with my whole self being devoted?
Can I stand up for my faith?
Will I crumble under pressure?
Is there no one better?
There must be for I am too broken and frail. 
My comfort is not words.
It is not trust.
It is not.
No, I know God will be there.
I am not so foolish to think God would abandon me.
He stays with His prophets.
But prophets die and they cry out: 
"My God, my God! Why have you forsaken me?"
Even Jesus cries out in this way.
My call is not so large.
Not so difficult.
Me message is not so dangerous as:
"Repent o' Israel for you have broken your covenant."
But if that should be of any comfort it is not.
No, indeed my comfort is scripture.
It is Jeremiah, and Jonah, and Jesus.
I am not the first to doubt.
I am in good company.
"Not I Lord" is Biblical. 

Sunday, July 15, 2012


We used a hymn as a launching point for devotionals. The hymn comes from The Faith We Sing and is number 2130 called “The Summons”. It goes like this:
Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known?
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?
Will you leave yourself behind if I but call your name?
Will you care for cruel and kind and never be the same?
Will you risk the hostile stare should your life attract or scare?
Will you let me answer prayer in you and you in me?
Will you let the blinded see if I but call your name?
Will you set the prisoners free and never be the same?
Will you kiss the leper clean and do such as this unseen,
and admit to what I mean in you and you in me?
Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?
Will you quell the fear inside and never be the same?
Will you use the faith you’ve found to reshape the world around,
through my sight and touch and sound in you and you in me?
Lord Your summons echoes true when You but call my name.
Let me turn and follow You and never be the same.
In Your company I’ll go where Your love and footsteps show.
Thus I’ll move and live and grown in You and You in me.
Is is a frightening hymn. The first line is “Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?” I am a missionary. Called by God and I listened. But the answer to this question is not so easy. 
The answer is “Yes Lord. But...” 
I struggle mightily with this. I don’t know if I say yes to follow God or to show others that I follow God. That “but” hangs me up. I don’t just say yes. Just saying yes is scary and not just for myself but for all who are called. God never calls you to keep doing what you’re doing which means you have to change something and that’s hard.
Perhaps the rest of the hymn is needed to alleviate this fright. But the second verse is only more scary. Can I leave myself behind? Can I care for those who are cruel just like I care for those who are kind? Can I put myself at risk in dangerous places for God? This call is not a simple one but one that is dangerous.
The third verse is still too frightening to bear.
Lord can I even let the blind see? How can I set the prisoners free? And isn’t kissing the leper dangerous again? I cannot heal them. What can I really do? And this is the problem. The entire hymn has 14 questions in it. I have already responded with 7 of my own.
Yes Lord but...
But there is more. There is the sweetest verse left. The fourth verse, and in my mind the last verse for the fifth is to be our response but it is clearly not mine. But the fourth verse? It is so sweet. 
“Will you love the “you” you hide if I but call your name?”
My God, why should I love this person that says “yes Lord, but...”? who says “can I even do what you ask of me”? How can I quell the fear inside of me when your call is what gives me fear? And how can I hope to reshape such a broken world?
“Will you love the “you” you hide?”
You see I hide these doubts these “buts” these “I don’t knows”. I don’t respond with “Here I am Lord. Send me.”
But then I remember the prophets of old. I remember Isaiah responding with those words “Here I am! Send me!” but I remember that Isaiah is not the rule in the Bible but the exception. I remember Moses saying that he could not speak well and would not be a good servant. I remember prophet after prophet trying to say no. Jonah, who tried to run away from his call but was forced to follow it anyway.
“Yes Lord, but...” doesn’t seem so bad any more.
Doubts are not so bad. Doubts are Biblical.
So yes Lord, I can love this hidden me because I know you do. Yes Lord, I can heal the sick because you have called me to. Yes Lord, I can leave myself behind and enter into the dangerous places because you have called me. Yes Lord, I will go because you are with me.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Missionary in Training

I am in Stony Point, New York right now. Just north of New York City and a little southwest of Albany. I'm in a very strange place right now. Detroit is fresh on my mind and indeed I will be going back to Detroit before all is said and done, but I'm also so close to my new home. But I am getting settled into training. We will cover a great many things while I'm here. Not to start off lightly we have already covered Missio Dei, or the Mission of God, and the theology of mission. We have begun to share our call stories with one another as well as our life stories. Needless to say the people here are pretty awesome.

And so I'm in my third day of a training that will last for three and a half weeks. Next Friday we will move back to New York City and then on August 1st we will move to Crystal City, Arlington, Virginia. All of this is on a Charter bus. Which I suppose isn't too bad. I just hope that traffic in Albany is nothing like traffic around here. We are so geographically close to NYC but it took so long to travel out here. It's amazing how many people are constantly traveling to and from the city.

We have learned our top five strengths from Strength Finder 2.0. I read the description of my 5 strengths and laughed as I realized how awesome I sound coupled with the fact that everybody else sounds equally as awesome and how there are so many other strengths that make you sound awesome that I do not have. I think it would be good to hear where a few of our weaknesses were too but that's not the purpose I guess.

Tonight we will have a campfire. I'm on the campfire committee (because we're United Methodists). I'm looking forward to it. I'll just need to take my semi-free time today to make sure I know some campfire songs on my guitar. And I'll have to try some strange and intriguing concoction called a banana boat which is essentially a s'more but on a banana instead of graham crackers. I'm looking forward to it.

God has brought me here among some amazing people to learn some amazing things. I pray that my heart may be open and my ears attentive. That I may hear and know all the things and all their nuances being taught. May I be a servant of the Lord and may I join into His mission to do what I can and then to get out of the way. The best thing I can hope to do over these next two years is make sure that nobody needs to follow me. That the Albany United Methodist Society is in a good place to continue accomplishing great things and being open to the people that God would bring into them.


Sunday, May 6, 2012

New Chapters

Yesterday I graduated from Central Michigan University.

Today I start a blog.

You may have noticed that the main title is "Uneducated." Such a title may seem odd to describe somebody who just graduated from college. But it is such an appropriate title.

I am still so young even if I claim to be an old man. As we grow up we are constantly shown that we're not young anymore. I've been through pre-school, elementary school, middle school, high school, and college. I've "graduated" often. I've graduated on average every 4.4 years. Less than a year ago I thought I'd be going to seminary in the fall. I am not. But if I was I'd be graduating... again... three years from now. That would've bumped me down to graduating every 4.1 years of my life. At that point I might as well get a PhD just to knock the average to under 4. Each graduation marks a new segment of my life. Within these segments there are more segments. Turning the big one oh. A decade of life. My 16th birthday and getting the freedom to drive. Turning 18 and getting the freedom to do (almost everything else). Two decades of life. Finally, 21 years old and given full rights as a citizen. If you combine all of these segments I've gone through so many events in my 22 years on this Earth that I'm averaging something big to celebrate every couple of years.

My most recent celebration was yesterday. Again, I feel old. So many big things to celebrate over my life. How could I not feel old. As I've gotten older the celebrations have happened more rapidly. In the last 8 years I've had 7 big things to celebrate just between important birthdays and graduations.

Yet I am young. According to the average life expectancy of a man in the United States I'm not quite 30% through life. I'm just getting started.

So what does this all mean for a new college graduate?

It means I know absolutely nothing. I've studied my entire life up to this point and yet I know I haven't even come close to learning everything I'll know at the end of my life.

This blog is a record of my reflections on my journey, and education from here on out.

I may someday return to a formal education for a Masters of Divinity. But until then I look forward to learning what the world can teach me.

In a few weeks I'll be moving to Detroit where I'll work this summer in ministry with some really great people helping to mend our city in whatever ways we can.

In August I'll be moving again. Right now I have no idea where I'll be headed but I know it'll be somewhere incredible. Wherever it is, I will spend two years there serving as a missionary.

I invite you to read my story, and the stories of the incredible people I meet along the way.

In my graduation I have not begun a new chapter in my life. Life isn't as simple as a book.

No, instead I've begun new chapters. A multiplicity of new stories each deserving of their own chapter in my life, all happening at once, and all intertwining together. Complexity at its best.

Life couldn't be more beautiful.