Tuesday, September 30, 2008

In Congo for the First Time

I'm blogging about my first-time experience in Congo over at Hope for Congo. Thanks for clicking through to read it there. Here's a teaser:

Debarking the plane at the airport in Kinshasa spilled us onto the tarmac. The sun was hot here, just south of the equator. The concrete was brown with oil and grease. I wondered if it was sticking to the bottom of my sandals. We followed the other passengers toward a building marked “Aeroport de Ndjili.” We formed two lines at the doors. Uniformed officer were reviewing passports and yellow cards. Unlike the States, diseases like malaria, yellow fever, and typhoid are realistic dangers. We had to show that we had taken precautions. They handed our papers back and stepped aside to allow us up the three steps into the building. Inside out of the sun, we stood in a second line in front of what looked like an old-fashioned theater box office, wooden with a plate of glass and a slot for papers (and cash, if it came to that). Behind it were the immigration officers. At that point, the first set of officers seemed to have no clear purpose, quite unnecessary in fact.

Read more.

Monday, September 29, 2008


The title of this post is the first word to my mind when I finished the 5k. I think a combination of adrenaline, rest, and good preparation helped me beat my goal time.

Thanks to Adam for doing the bragging that I don't feel comfortable doing (see post below). Which got me thinking about my difficulty accepting praise. We place a high value on receiving a compliment and shrugging it off like it was no big thing. Whenever we receive praise instead of affirming it for what it is we like to skirt the matter and move on. It is like there is added value in being able to say "thank-you for the recognition but it's not necessary." So with that in mind thanks to all those people who affirmed my race. I appreciate it.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

4th Place

Forget 18:00 minutes. Forget 6-minute miles. How about

16:05, Baby!!

Props to Mike!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

A Friend(ly) Man Crush

Tell me if you get the logic behind the photo after reading the post. It is a deep and random connection in my head. (Hint:think music)

Months back Adam wrote a post about man crushes. I don't quite have a list (or at least one that I am willing to share publicly) but will jump off the definition he made.

man crush \man krəsh\ n. 1. a feeling of excessive admiration or nonsexual attraction toward a fellow male who embodies many of one’s ideals 2. a desire to imitate the character, skills, or beliefs of another male 3. a strong identification with the values, priorities, or public image of a male figure. The object of a man crush is usually not personally known by the subject.

My man crushes are on anyone who I admire and enjoy being with (I shouldn’t end a sentence with a preposition). So truth told I have man crushes on all of my friends. That’s right; I wrote it.

My friends all have characteristics, skills, and beliefs I identify with. The people significant and close are the ones I value the most. We spend time together not out of obligation but because I want to hang out with them. We spend time together because they have an ethos and personality that compels me to giving my self back to them in friendship.

I’m not trying to make a philosophy or hard and fast rule out of friendship. In the 4th grade when my sister had friends who couldn’t get a long. So she had to spend one recess with one group of friends and the other recess with the other group of friends. (It sounds goofy and it is, but if you knew my sister you would want to hang out with her that bad too!) Any contract takes the joy and authenticity out of life.

This isn't a contract but a truth; I love hanging out with people who bring me closer to God.

This doesn’t mean they are talking 24/7 about Jesus, the church, and theology. Instead just by being in their presence I’m reminded that God works through people to bring glory.

It might be a friend with a lot of energy that reminds me how God is active.

Or a friend who is always empathetic that reminds me how God feels our pain.

Or a friend who sings to remind me that God places a song in our heart.

Or a friend who is challenging my cemented convictions to remind me that God is always radical and new.

Or a friend who loves the homeless to remind me that God cares for the poor.

It’s just good to have friends!

My Math is Bad

Photo's aren't uploading today so use your imagination!

This is an update on an earlier post regarding my 5k happening this Saturday. My cousin kindly reminded me that if I plan on running a 18:00 I need to average a 5:48 mile pace. So I'm not necessarily changing my goal but I won't be too hard on myself if I run closer to 18:38 (which is a six minute pace). Still 18:00 would be pretty nice!

9 things I learned in Congo

More later. For now, briefly.

1. The Simpsons don't lie. The toilet does flush in the opposite direction south of the equator.

2. Mistrust drains more time, more energy, and more resources than trust does.

3. The Graber family inherited its loud conversations and love for life from the Congolese.

4. The Congolese dress well.

5. I love efficiency, order, and getting things done. It's modern, it's American, and I'm okay with that.

6. I don't care who the next president will be, I'm thankful to live in the U.S.

7. Chaos is not beautiful.

8. Skol is made in Kananga, Congo.

9. There are others out there taking good into their own hands.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Writing Just Because

Sorry about the hiatus, it gets hard to write consistently. I'm honestly just sitting here looking at this screen trying to think of something to write about.

Well I could tell you what going on in my life (see photo). That is easy because it is just information and I don't have to reflect on anything.

I'm getting ready to do a canoe trip tomorrow and I'm looking forward to that.

A friend has a pig roast tomorrow night too, should be fun. Yep.

There's a pretty kicking concert in Wheaton tonight with Derek Webb, Sara Groves, Charlie Peacock. If you have the evening free I would suggest that.

If anyone wants to watch some soccer on Sunday I'm playing in Naperville. We would love to have some fans.

Ummm....football season is into full swing and my fantasy teams stink, like always.

What else is going on? Thanks for asking. My phone was dead the last two days and I powerwashed a deck.

I'm getting ready for that 5k next Saturday if anyone wants to come and run with me.

Classes are starting up soon. Last year, sweeeeet!

Work at the Ropes Course is still keeping me on my toes. It's a pretty random but fun job.

I have found a new passion for oatmeal with honey.

And that's all I got. Peace

Monday, September 15, 2008

New Poll

Since Adam is gone in the Congo I put up a new poll just for when he gets back. He returns in 7 days so vote often!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

101 Goals in 1001 Days

My brother-in-law Eric is writing a blog about his task to complete 101 goal in 1001 days! On Labor Day we went canoeing together and ran into a bit of trouble. It is all prep for our big canoe trip next summer when we are going from Aurora to St. Louis.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Why I'm Going to Congo

Shortly after my dad returned from Congo last year, we met up at Qdoba on our lunch hours. He’d spent two weeks in Congo, after leaving when he was 13. He told me stories about their trip. The old, six-passenger Land Cruiser that carried 10 and broke down after traversing a temporary lagoon that had covered the rutted dirt “road.” They’d slept overnight in bandit territory. My mother and aunt had felt like they were Princess Di, surrounded as they were by African children reaching out to touch them. They’d been given Tshiluban names by the Congolese the same way my father had received one when he was born. On this trip, my father had met the son of his own namesake, Chief Baditu. The runways were made of dirt, and those that weren’t had no lines painted on them. The stories went on.

I added these to the stories I heard growing up. Between two tribes, ready to do battle, spears, bows, and shields in hand, my grandfather walked out and called them to make peace. Along with my grandmother and their youngest daughter, he’d been captured by the revolutionary Simbas and later evacuated in a U.N. helicopter.

“When are you going back?” I asked. My dad’s eyes sparkled, the way they do when he’s consumed with the idea at hand. The way he talked, I knew this trip was the first, not the last.

“Maybe a year from now. We saw too much not to be involved, not to invest and provide them with resources. It gives them hope.”

“I’m going with you.” I said. I’d resolved in my own mind that if he went again, I would not be left out.

“Okay,” he laughed. “I’m ready. I’d go back tomorrow.”

A now tomorrow is here.

There are a lot of reasons I’m going on this trip, selfish and unselfish, small and big. I’m going because I want to travel and see the world. I’m going to experience a foreign culture, and to experience the culture shock of returning to the United States. I’m going to see the remnants of the place where my father grew up, a place that shaped him. I’m going to understand him a little bit more, and maybe, so also, myself. There are other reasons too.

Changing others: I’m a dreamer and an idealist, which go together, I suppose. Because of that, I bought into a very grand plan. It was called “changing the world.” It’s a noble idea, but I’ve decided that it’s also a sham. No one can change the world. I don’t think anyone ever has (there may be one exception). The pressure of changing the world, the blurriness of it, and the unbearable burden it is is all too much. It’s paralyzing. But I’m still a dreamer, so I can’t simply give up the dream. Instead, I’ve traded one dream for another.

Instead of “somewhere out there,” it’s right there, or maybe it’s right here. It’s not changing the world but changing one person, whoever it might be, whatever it might look like, wherever it might crop up. I think that can be done. It can be touched and pointed at. It’s a story I can tell and a name that I can say. Maybe that’s in Congo, or maybe Congo will simply send me back to accomplish that here.

When we leave, we’ll be taking hand tools we bought, with ease, at our local Home Depot. We’ve packed carpentry and masonry tools in our bags among our clothes. I hid mine inside the pants of my jeans, hoping to fend off luggage-handling theives. When we arrive in Kinshasa, Congo’s capital, we will spend a day finding a hardware store and purchasing more tools. We will also be buying medical supplies: a new kerosene-powered sterilizing unit to replace the cast iron kettle that they heat over an open fire. We already provided them a power generator to light their surgery room.

These are practical necessities, physical goods that will meet basic needs. They will empower local doctors to do surgery sooner. They will empower students to actually practice their carpentry and masonry skills, not just talk about them. These are not spiritual needs. But they have a spiritual impact. Saving a life by having cleaner instruments or safer shelter is a spiritual matter.

Providing lights and sterile instruments allows doctors to perform surgery immediately instead of waiting until daylight to break. That saves lives. And Life is a spiritual matter.

Being changed: This is my first foray off of North America. I do not expect to come back with the same beliefs, same worldview, same expectations, same pride, same humility.

Experiences are ephemeral, but you carry the remnants of those images and feelings in you for the rest of your life. The things you see and experience can change you subtly or dramatically, and those changes can persist. This is my hope and fear.

Finding a bigger God: Who is this God who is at work in Congo? How is he working? What does he look like when you see him from Africa? What does his kingdom look like in a country corrupted by power? Who is this God who sees the way these people live? Is this the God I worship here?
I hope to come back with stories about all these things and share them with you. (My dad is hoping to post on his blog while we are in Kinshasa. Check back at “Hope for Congo” for an update. You can find our itinerary there right now. Likewise, if I can here at Watching Gravity, I will.) As you’re reading this, please say a quick prayer for our group’s health; our travels; that the tools we’ve purchased will not be stolen in transit; and for us to be aware of where, when, and how God is working so that we can be a part of it. Thanks.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

Get Creative

I love being around artist because of their creativity. Unfortunately being an "artist," has become a professional title. So the arts have been relegated to the standard fare of visual mediums, music, plays, etc.

I believe everyone is an artist. I don't mean this in some wishy-washy-hippie-inclusiveness. In Alan Hirsch and Michael Frost's book The Shaping of Things to Come, they refer to "the death of art," being the absence of creativity. From an organizational position these authors argue to embrace the imagination. But I want to bring it to a personal level.

In Marva Dawn's book, A Royal Waste of Time, she describes everyone as being an artist. Everyone in the church helps with worship because we are all artist. The Holy Spirit gifts everyone in unique ways and when we exercise those gifts, passions, talents, we are really worshing God. Our acts of creativity are ways to celebrate our created self. The act of creating/creativity is our particpation with God, our ability to play along with the Trinity. (Eugene Peterson, Christ Plays in 10,000 places). When I am most creative I am most faithful to God.

Here are some ways that I have seen people be creative...

Telling Stories

Writing a Blog
Asking Questions

Repairing cars

. Reading taps into your imagination and as Einstein said, "Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world."
Having conversation. Some conversations are the typical, where are you from? what do you do? But beyond that a lot of conversations are just fun to listen to as people exchange stories, ideas, suggestions.
Organizing social events. Again this is all about the imagination.
Taking photos. Obviously that is a standard "art," but with the increase of digital cameras photography has become a more accessible art form.
Dressing. Ok, I know everyone wears clothes but everyone exhibits their creativity with how they dress.
Styling hair/facial hair

Leave a comment and tell me some more if you think of them

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

"Imperfectly, as in a cloudy mirror"

As our departure nears, my anticipation rises for our trip to Congo. I spent the weekend reading a few short books on Congo, mostly by missionaries who’d been there prior to 1963: Congo Wayside Reflections, An Unfinished Revolution*, and some others. I have more on my short list. I’m reading about a place I have not been and have yet to see. Reading others’ accounts has helped nurture the excitement in me.

I’ve been wanting to record what expectations I have of what it will be like. Until I truly experience Congo first hand, articulating my own preconceived ideas is like telling a story based on the title of a novel I haven’t read. My expectations will be held in sharp relief against the story Congo has to tell.

Nonetheless, I wanted to try, like a child, my hand at telling the story as best I know. Once I’m there I know, in the same moment that my misconceptions are most clear before me, Congo will be shattering and replacing them. It’s the curse of knowledge: We forget what it’s like not to know the story. We can’t even remember the story we’d believed before, and some of us fool ourselves into believing that we’d always known this.

So, this is my attempt to articulate my foolishness so that I may later laugh at my confident naïveté. When I started to write this, I had listed a few categories in which I wanted to record some expectations, but I find those categories inadequate. I had written out, “economic,” “political,” “infrastructure,” and “spiritual.” Those categories could outline some thoughts and perhaps might still be useful, but they wouldn’t be sufficient. I could list some second-hand facts I have, but they wouldn’t capture the meaning. I could wrack my brain looking for a way to articulate ideas and beliefs. Instead I find myself retelling the stories I've heard and approximating experiences. So, here are two stories.

Three weeks after Hurricane Katrina, I drove to Mississippi and then Louisiana to serve the evacuees and victims of the disaster there. Everything I saw there was simply in the wrong order. Where you expected cars to be parked along the roadside, you saw boats leaning over on one side. When you looked in the front window expecting to see a chandelier, you instead saw the blue sky. There was dried mud and garbage that only weeks before were living rooms and playgrounds. I kept asking myself, “What was it like before?” and “How was this supposed to be?” I couldn’t really tell. I’d never seen it the way it was supposed to be.

I expect Congo to be a bit like that. I expect to see things out of order. And grasping the depth of disorder will mean first imagining how it was meant to be. Then, after that, the depth will go deeper than I thought. I will look again and understand.

I asked my dad this weekend, “How can we, as over-fed U.S. citizens, accept food prepared by people who have barely enough to eat themselves?” My dad recounted a meal he’d had last year: chicken prepared and presented by his host. When it was served, he looked at it. There was no meat.

Where am I going?

This post started out as something entirely different. Originally it was suppose to be a reflection on theological training. Instead it has turned into me musing about my future...

Seminaries change. In the past when you graduated students were mostly fed into a system to find a job. Denominations would assign pastors their positions (which is still done in many Lutheran and Catholic schools) or students would go through an interview process with the proper denomination leaders (like many "free church" schools, Baptist, Brethren, Mennonite)

Since I've been at Northern I've noticed a change. There are fewer and fewer students getting jobs after graduation through a formal interview process. A lot of my friends are already connected to a church before they graduate. Instead of looking for a job when they graduate they are laying to foundation while in Seminary.

I have my doubts about a formal/traditional interview system. The process seems quite outdated and impersonal. I graduate next May and feasibly I could get interviewed by any church anywhere in the United States (or the world for that manner). That is still a big possibility for me. God definitely uses that process and method for many men and women. I'm not saying it is wrong.

However, in thinking about my own call I am drawn to finding a place to minister based on relationships. My relationships here in the Chicagoland have been built from the last two years of living here (and the 4 years of summer dwelling while in college). For me to uproot myself next year and go to a new city is maybe what God is calling me to do. However, to gain the depth of relationships I have here, and the networks, and the knowledge of the community will take at least another 2 years.

When I was talking to my professor a couple of months ago he humbled me.

He asked, "Where do you want be next year?"

I answered, "I've always wanted to go to Seattle. I've always wanted to minister to really secular areas."

"Oh yeah? Who do you know there?"


"So what makes you think that you can go there and be fruitful all by yourself? You need to start to look for people if you are going there."

I'll have my degree but I'll still need people.