25 December 2006

The Bells of Christmas

It was raining this morning when I woke up. I can't remember the last time it rained on Christmas.

I can't say that I was devestated, though. When I first came to this morning, I heard the rain, saw a soft glow gently lighting the trees, then drifted back to sleep. It was nice.

I remember a time when I would be so disappointed if it was raining on a major church holiday like Christmas or Easter. I recall one Easter in particular when it was raining. I thought how horrible it was that the day on which we celebrated the pinnacle of the Liturgical year. Up from the grave He arose admist a light drizzle and grey skies--perfect.

Of course, the underlying message here is that the weather is virtually pointless. It doesn't matter whether it is raining or snowing or sunny or cloudy. The point isn't in the weather. The point is in the birth. A birth that leads to reconciliation, to love, to God.

Longfellow wrote a poem in the mid-1860's which was later converted into a beloved American carol. "I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day" was written in the midst of the Civil War. Initially a respone to a war-torn country, it speaks volumns to us here, and now.

The last verses are as follows:

And in despair I bowed my head
“There is no peace on earth,” I said,
“For hate is strong and mocks the song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.”

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
“God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail
With peace on earth, good will to men.”

God isn't dead. He was just born--ageless, eternal, ours.

On a lighter note:

Two years ago, I wrote this column about my kid cousin's visit to a living navity. I think I'll share it with you again here.

Merry Christmas, and Grace and peace to you and your family.

The Horse’s Gift

“And she gave birth to her firstborn son; and she wrapped Him in cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.”
-Luke 2:7

The holidays are once again upon us. I’m sitting in the Greensboro Airport, waiting on a delayed flight home for Thanksgiving and wondering where all these people are headed to. Are they all going home too? You have those who are clearly business folks, still trying to make deals on their cell phones. Then of course, there are those last straggler college kids (like myself) who, for whatever reason, weren’t able to scream out of their school like their peers did at the end of their last class. And then there are the families.

It always amazes me that cold weather always brings about the desire for family. Maybe it comes from our ancestors cuddled close together in a cave—the more bodies, the more heat. In any case, I’m looking around in this airport and I see them everywhere. Moms, Dads, Kids. They are smiling, sleeping, screaming. But they’re here—together.

And it’s this time of year, complete with abundant family memories, that always reminds me of those great family stories that are put away for a full year but always rise to the surface for a month of humiliating glory. For years we shamefully shy away as our parents and their generation find delight in retelling the age old tales of our past embarrassments. But there comes a time when we each must move on from our own humiliations and begin to initiate the newer generations. In the spirit of passing the torch to the younger members of my family, I tell you this story.

It was Christmastime. Growing up in the South, one quickly learns that we have a penchant for exaggeration and an innate need to paint as realistic a picture as possible. So, in the midst of such merriment and cheer, my family, in true Southern nature of reliving the past decided that it was time to introduce my cousin—five at the time to her first living nativity. Think Civil War re-enactors meet Bible. What better way to help her experience what many in my family refer to as “the Miracle of Christmas” than to take her to a barn called the Corral?

We arrived shortly before the Nativity began, walked in, and my cousin promptly sat on a bale of hay. The lights snapped off (the luxury of dimming the 60 watt bulbs was non-existent, we were in a barn). Music began, and a section of the barn was suddenly filled with light. Lo and behold, it was Mary complete with virgin blue covering her head, riding a donkey, and talking with an authentic Southern Hebrew drawl.

They passed the innkeeper who informed them oh-so-politely that there was no room in the Inn and that they could use his barn. I don’t know what he was thinking—we were already in one. Mary and her man, Joseph, found their way to a pile of hay, the lights went out, and momentarily we had a baby—flailing arms and all. It was actually a pretty clean kid—not what’d you expect.

Of course, the sheep came with papa shepherd and three son shepherds (one of which almost lost his sheep—thank God papa shepherd had a strong grip). The people went “aww” and the sheep exited after munching a little hay from just beneath the manger which looked suspiciously like 2x4 framing materials.
Next we were graced by the presence of the Three Wise Men. A grandiose version of “We Three Kings” began to play as they each came in individually, their horses adorned with beautiful fabrics that matched their own magnificent garments. Upon the beginning of the chorus, they each, with passionate flair, bowed to the Baby King.

It was during the third king’s bow and offering of his myrrh that the horse decided to give his own gift. It too decided to give incense—of sorts. Almost immediately, half the kids sitting on the front row of hay stood up and found their families. Their leader? My cousin. “O Holy Night” was blaring as the star shined its brightest over the manger and the Corral didn’t necessarily witness the remainder of the Nativity. Instead, they saw the second exodus—that of the children.

My mother, particularly, tried to convince my cousin to go back and finish watching—the best was yet to come. She told my cousin that “It’s a barn. It’s gonna stink!” And stink it did.

But my cousin would have absolutely nothing to do with the rest of it. Somehow, the magic was lost in the smell for her. I have to admit, I wasn’t the biggest of fans either. After we left, my mother tried to explain that for the Holy Family, that barn was home. Maybe one day, my cousin will realize that sometimes the best things come from the smelliest of places.


12 December 2006

Back to Life.

Well, here we are. A semester after Denmark. Numerically, if I were to sum this semester up, I would tell you that this semester consisted of 25 papers ranging from a single page to 30 pages, two tests, a final project, a shit-ton of reading (and really, that is the only word for it..no really), 13 chapels, 10 Pilgrim's Peaces, and a whole slew of chapter/organzation/team meetings later (just to scratch the surface), this semester has come to a close.

I wouldn't tell you that, though. I hate numbers.

If you were to ask about this semester, and what I've learned, I could hardly quantify it. Too often we measure life in days and hours and tests, and papers.

I've decided that I would tell you about this semester by experiences. If I had to sum it up in a word--I claim "regardless." I'll explain:

(1) From the get go, I have had the Truitt Center. My four co-directors, as well as the professional staff that work there have been my sanity this semester. From listening to my rants, to reading for me last minute in chapel, I have found a core group who will be there, and love me--faults and all. Regardless.

(2) I came out to my fraternity. Not that this was any grand surprise to them (I mean--I'm not the best at hiding the fact I'm gay), but it was the official "talk." Not only did I come out to my fraternity, but I was re-welcomed with open arms. The promise of brotherhood filled--regardless of where I was coming from.

(3) My call to ministry was affirmed by my church at Elon (Elon Community Church). After working with a small, supportive commitee, I was presented to the Church Council which voted to affirm my call unanimously.

(4) I left Spectrum leadership. It was time to move on, for me and them. It was a felling of success, knowing I had an impact on Spectrum and Elon. It was also devestating to leave an organization so close to my heart. It was a recognition of a fundamental shift that occurred while I was in Denmark. No longer do I need to be a gay minister, but rather a minister who is gay. It's been a long procfess, but one that I am glad happened. God and me--regardless.

(5) I had two classes which offered amazing course material and phenomenal classmates. I regularly was challenged, embraced, encouraged, and supported. Perhaps everything I said wasn't agreed upon, but at least it was heard. Such classroom enviornments are vital. My Senior Seminar class particularly solidified my belief that (1) religious studies majors are smart and (2) some of the smartest, creative, and vibrant people I have met during my time at Elon are religious studies majors and were in my Senior Seminar class.

(6) I lived with my two best friends at Elon. In doing so, i learned that living with roomates who you adore is a million times harder to do than living with people you only really know peripherally. From each of our quirks (Ree's left over milk in a glass in the fridge to Kaylin's purring to my ability to wait insane amounts of time before washing my clothes), to our different schedules, it has been a challenge..but I love them and they love me--regardless.

(7) No car. I was humbled by having to rely on others for rides in a place that has no public transport. The range of emotions I experienced was fascinating (in retrospect, while it was happening, it was a pain).

(8) Growing Up. I'm not sure that I have ever been able to as palpably tell that I am changing as much as I have this year. From living an ocean away from home, to learning new ways of dealing with people, this has absolutely been a semester of change. Good change. Glad Change.

All in all, this has been a year of life. Looking back, I can hardly believe where I was, and where I am now. I have travelled all over Europe and Russia, met amazing people, seen amazing places, and experienced amazing lives and worlds. And now that I can separate myself a little from those experiences, just what happened is finally coming into focus.

Even thinking about it brings me back to life.


ps--The Dog Dooner Cafe' is back. Or at least that's the plan...jan..

30 July 2006


"I want to know God's thoughts...the rest are details." -Albert Einstein

Have you ever had one of those moments? You know the kind of moments I’m talking about. The kind that hit you when you bite into a freshly baked strawberry crossant from the local bakery. Or the kind that overwhelms you when are busy working and stop to look up just in time to hear the rain start to fall and a train slice through the gray air—a dark storm blue as its only back drop. Or the kind that swells over you when you hear a long lost hymn that used to be a favorite. Or the kinds that freeze you in time—like when the sun sends its most brilliant rays of peach through your living room window just before it decides to call it a day. It’s almost like you are reminded of something you once were. Not in any mournful sense, but rather as a quiet tap on the shoulder saying “hey, don’t forget me…don’t forget where you came from.”

We, up at Elon, have been having an unusually harsh stint of storms. Not the afternoon thunderstorms that appear at the drop of a hat, and just as quickly vanish, leaving in its path an either refreshed air or a trail of the humidity of death. No, these were violent storms with the electric capability to light up a small town. It was during one of those storms that I was at work in the Sidetrack Grill. I was cleaning a table, and happened to look out through one of our side windows which are rounded on the top just as a freight train blew by, piercing the storm as if it was a sucker-punch by humankind against nature.

And in that moment of timelessness, there was a feeling of necessity. A necessity to be there, to witness that, to feel triumphs and defeats and tears and joy all to their fullest extent. To not simply settle for some meager passing thrill as the ultimate answer that we are all searching for, but rather delve deep beyond such moments into places where we find the sacred and mortal mingling. These places are so often whispering to us, calling us into our being while we are screaming each other deaf. How can we expect to hear the message when we refuse to listen and only find ourselves yelling about the details.

Because in the end, it’s the message that matters. Everything else is details. It fascinates me how much we fight and fingerpoint and get pissed off about the details, when, in fact, they are just that--details. The same message is true. The Resurrection gives life.

24 July 2006

In the hours just before the earth yawns into its deepest sleep, the heavens begin to sparkle with the intensity of a just-born piece of glitter multiplied infinitely--each one endless in color and singular in purpose. And in these moments of truest peace and calm, we find that the world has offered itself to us, and that it is all we can do to claim it, to own it, to love it. Because in the end, when the final votes have been tallied and the last voices heard, it was never about them in the first place. It was about us all along. For God isn't just in the magnificent, but also in the miniscule--those things which are so incredibly small and detailed and perfect that only the word magnificent could describe it. And in thoses details we find ourselves, individual and whole. Connected and uplifted. For God's existence in the magnificent and the miniscule means that God exists in us.

23 July 2006

so much that needs to be said. no way to organize it. yet.

"I'll tell you how the sun rose
A ribbon at a time..."
donald miller

11 July 2006

candles in bottles and things of that sort.

Ever since I can remember, front porches, or porches in general have played some role in my life. My early memories of porches come from my visiting my dad's family in the perfect small town of Southern charm-Crawfordville. Crawfordville, with it's one stop light and Confederate claim-to-fame home of Alexander H. Stephens (VP of the Confederacy), is a dot on the Georgia map, but full of memories. Whenever we would go visit my grandma and Aunt Jane, we would end up on a porch, rocking away, watching cars pass, and killing time.

My new front porch at the house I'm living in at Elon has a front porch. When my Aunt passed away a little over two years ago, I was lucky enough to inherit one of my Aunt's rockers. I've sat in it every day since I moved back to Elon. There is something about that motion--slow and steady and calm. I sit in that chair an am back in Crawfordville. Nothing much to do, and completely satisfied with that.

There is something about rocking that brings peace. Maybe it is the motion, maybe it is the quiet. Maybe it brings back subconscious memories of my mother rocking me to sleep.

I'm not sure exactly why it works, but when I sit on the porch, rocking, and I feel a warm breeze slide across the banisters and envelop me I feel them--Grandmas, Aunts, Uncles, Grandpas--all of them. They whisper through the woodchimes hanging above my head, quiet and calm and slightly restless. I see them blow through the windsock at then end of the long wood slats of my porch, seemingly satisfied that I'm doing alright.

I rode by a lawn that had just been cut again last night. Perfect.

It's nice to be back.



01 July 2006

cut and clean.

The Lady in Pink, as she is called, is a cashier at one of my family's favorite BBQ joints. Her title isn't as romantic as it sounds because the woman, over the years, has fallen into somewhat of a slump in the eyes of the family. To put it bluntly, she's a tad bitchy for us all. Her title isn't one of chivalrous respect, but rather of an air of "you-don't-deserve-a-name."

Now, of course, none of us really despise her. It's just that none of us have had a positive experience with her. Ever.

We were eating there tonight, and for some reason, it hit me that to some extent, we are all the lady in pink. We all have some trait or have had some interaction with someone that leaves us in a less-than-ideal situation when dealing with others.

The way we handle the ladies in pink, though, is all wrong. We are quick to see the pink shirts everyone else wears--t-shirts, tank tops, v-necks and spaghetti straps, but find it extremely difficult to see our own pink. I don't wear pink. I wear magenta. I'm not that bad, you just have to know how to take me.

No. You are that bad.

And so am I.

That's the point. In Christ, our pinks become white, bleached clean again.

On the way home, I past a lawn that had just had it's grass cut. The scent of clean green flooded the car, and I thought, just for a moment, that maybe that is what heaven smells like.


30 June 2006

Sweet and Low.

I've been back in Atlanta since Sunday. Back from Austin, TX that is. I was there for the Excellence in Ministry sponsored by the Fund for Theological Education. The theme of the conference was "The Promise of Ministry" and it brought together nearly 150 would-be ministers all at different places on their particular paths towards figuring out how they are each called to work for and serve God.

It's been nearly a week since I returned. And it has taken me that long to really begin to digest what I experienced there--a task that has begun, but has hardly finished. I have been meaning for the past 5 days to write about it, but this conference was one of those times that one really doesn't know how to begin.

It was four days packed full of amazing preaching, friendships, discussions, prayer, and love. What is unique about all this is that hardly any of us knew one another before we arrived. We ate dinner that first night keenly aware of our denominational differences, but also realizing our two foundational commonalities: a calling and Christ.

Through the hours we spent together, we heard speakers that inspired, attended seminars that challenged, and participated in roundtable discussions that embraced. There is so much to tell about this weekend and the friendships made and the experiences had, so please don't be suprised when these stories pop up throughout subsequent. Here is the first.

The night before we left, there was a wonderful Taize' inspired worship service. Founded in 1940, the Taize' community is an ecumenical community that works to reconcile differences between Catholic and Protestant traditions. Through contemplative and purposeful prayer and song, participants are often able to find themselves on a common plane, a common call--Christ.

We had two hours for worship that Saturday night. Truth be known, I'm not sure any of us were particularly gung-ho about sitting in church for two hours..even if we all were considering ministry, but we filed into the chapel at Austin Theological Presbyterian Seminary at dusk to be greeted by the soft glow of a sanctuary filled with candle light. Around the windows were icons of Saints. Around the chapel itself there were stations for foot washing, prayer, and annointing. We were encouraged to follow the spirit in song, in prayer, and in interaction.

At first, things were awkward. No one was really thoroughly familiar with the process (excepting those who had been to the Taize' community in France), but as the night moved on, we all became comfortable. There was an air of reverence, of holy, of a sacred commonality in that space. We all came from different backgrounds, but Christ was there, and in Christ we were one.

Towards the end of the evening, there was a lull in the music and someone in the back hummed the first strains of Amazing Grace--sweet and low. The next line found itself actually being sung, followed by a small group singing the following line. Soon the entire chapel was softly echoing "was blind, but now I see." Soon the chapel was in full blown song--joyfully, sublimely alive with a song that seemed to express a common emotion and appreciation.

What happened next, though, was simply wonderful. We all finally reached the fourth verse.

When we've been there 10,000 years
Bright shining as the sun.
We've no less days to sing God's praise
Than when we first begun.

We bellowed the words full of joy and hope and appreciation and anticipation. Never have I heard such exultation in such a moving way. We sang it and we believed it. From there, some one started singing "Praise God" over and over to the tune of Amazing Grace.

That's about all we could say, that was all there was left to say. It was the only thing that could possibly sum up where we all were--all because of this amazing grace that brought us each there.


24 June 2006

Two things.

(+) believe the story

(+) love the people


23 June 2006

the pull and promise.

It is 6:45 in the morning. I've decided that I'm really not a huge fan of waking up in the morning, but that once I'm up, I really enjoy the solititude--the ability to be quiet, relax, and be. I think I might get that from my mother.

What's fascinating about this time is that somehow, if you let it, whatever is on your heart seems to rise to the surface. What I am reminded of and what still seems to be alive on mine was the miracle of yesterday. It was a completely full day (pretty typical for FTE, I'm learning), but what it offered to me was astounding. I was able to participate in workshops that enlightened and inspired, and listen to speechs and sermons that challenged, called and loved.

After receiving a renewed call to social justice by Father John Dear, my afternoon was filled with the reminders of graduate school applications. But then I was able to return to my roundtable. This group of 9 guys and a leader has become my base at the conference. They are funny, open, inspiring, and wonderful companions. Dinner followed. Then came worship.

At this conference there are multiple worship opportunities. Well, really, the whole conference is a form of worship which allows us to lift up one another and our experiences. This was the big worship service of the day, though. It was a Gospel service. We sang in community, celebrated, listened, then sat for the sermon. The Gospel text used for the service was that of the story of Christ calming the storm as the boat he and his disciples was on headed for the other side of the Sea of Galilee. Here's a brief summary of was the pastor (a pheonomenally energetic speaker) shared with us.

(1) We are all being pulled. Pulled to the other side. Called to do something. Inspired to touch.

(2) We need to search for a pattern of partnership, not competition. He reminded us that, in the vocation of ministry, it is easy to want to compete--to be number one on the charts. That's not the point, he claims, but rather it is to connect with other people, to partner with them to make it all more successful.

(3) The promise. We have the promise that if we decide to follow the call the we hear, someone will be blessed.



22 June 2006

The Promise of Ministry

Yesterday, I left for Austin, TX. After a somewhat bumpy ride (which had several would be ministers praying their hardest), I arrived at the Austin Airport, which, sadly, is hardly as big as I assumed it would be citing the very apparent Texan obsession with size. I made it to the UT campus (where I am staying in the largest dorm in the world. no lie.) and began to meet people.

I suppose I should first explain exactly what I am doing in Texas. In March I applied for a fellowship from an organization called The Fund for Theological Education. Well, much to my surprise and delight, I was given one of the fellowships. As part of the deal, I am required to attend a conference on Excellence in Ministry...which is in Texas...hence my reason to travel to the Lonestar state.

It is amazing.

I don't think I've ever been in a place with so many amazing young minds gathered together all alive with discussion and thrilled with the same opportunity that I feel like I am having. Granted there haven't been any fights yet (which I'm sure will come later down the line), but what has really amazed me is the ability of these 120 folks to come together with the single commonality of Christ and find fellowship, friendship and home.

Can't wait for today.


18 June 2006

Happy Father's Day, Pops.

So, I have decided that it is time to start updating my blog again. After what seems like an extended hiatus, I feel like it'll be nice to have the outlet once again.

I got home two Fridays ago after nearly 16 hours of traveling (which is way better than on the way over, so really, there aren't any complaints there) to be greeting by my two best "home" friends as well as my parents. After a quick detour to Chick-fil-a (the real one, the original) I made it to the home place, and then on to the one and only Speedy Pig BBQ which just about made my life.

The next day, the whole family made their way out to greet me which was nice.

The next week found me completely exhausted and sick. I think the stress of traveling (which is just part of the deal, whether or not you intend on it being involved), the extreme climate change, and just plain tired caught up with me and did me in. Two doctors appointments, lots of medications, and nearly a week later, here I am, finally feeling slightly under-the-weather, but overall, well.

But I think what has really done me good (like that grammar?) has been my parents. They have been wonderful. Nearly as glad to have me home as I am to be home. They have taken to my whims, allowed me to be bitter as I miss Copenhagen, and listened to innumerable stories that start with "One time, in Denmark..." What has become really apparent, however, is just how lucky I am that I have had this opportunity to cross the ocean and have my life changed. And it's all because of them. So thanks, y'all. It was great and completely worth it.

And Dad, I know this is Father's Day and such, so, at the risk of being too sappy, thanks for all the rides to Busey and Woodward in the mornings, for all the Pinewood Derby cars you helped carve, for the restless nights sleeping on rocks for Boy Scouts, for letting me play in your woodworking shop when I was really in the way, and for making sure I knew I mattered.

I won't forget it.

love. always.


10 June 2006

Welcome Home, son.

Home. Finally.

In some ways, my return to the states yesterday began on the day I left. You know how people say that the moment you are born, you begin to die? Same idea. The moment I left the states, I began my journey to return home.

My coming home was greatly anticipated by not just myself, but also my parents and close friends (two of which even made it out to the airport to greet me). I'm not sure whether it has lived up to its expectations or been a disapointment. I have certainly enjoyed my own bed. Internet Access, personal shower, etc. But there is also something plain about home. It is what it always was.

That being said, there is some new life here. Well, perhaps not new life, but newly discovered. Copenhagen and the people there and my experiences there opened me to a world which is so far beyond the one I knew before. But what it also did was it helped me to realize that there is so much more here. So much that we pass by everyday chalking it up to normalcy or boringness.

My 4 months studying and three weeks travelling taught me many things. Here are some of the lessons that I have learned off the top of my head.

(1) We don't look, we overlook. I initially read that phrase in a book and it became a mantra of sorts. I would think it over and over as I travelled to other countries or walked down the streets. Don't overlook. Detail. Pay Attention. All good things to do.

(2) Give to Beggars. You know, some friends of mine would see me give to beggars and would immediately offer the counsel that the people I donated to would "just buy alcohol with it." See, here is the problem with that mindset. It assumes people are bad. It automatically labels people as uncontrollable and unable to use money "wisely." Instead, we should give the benefit of the doubt. You could deny the money and thus alcohol. Or you could deny them money and help them starve.

(3) Public Transportation is Amazing.

(4) Always order food at an eatery if you sit down there during meal time and always finish what they put in front of you.

(5) "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions for the journey." This was my guiding principle throughout this adventure. Looking back on my last five months, I realize that it's true--there are companions. You just have to search for them sometimes. Othertimes, the stick their heads out of windows above you like one did in Barcelona when my group and I were lost.

Just some thoughts.

I'm glad to be home. And even happier to be heading to bed.



01 June 2006

The Stars of France.

I have finally arrived in Barcelona and am preparing to meet up with a couple of Elon kids. I actually came into Spain yesterday and had some good alone time which really allowed me to reflect on some of the experiences I had in Nimes.

Firstly, I should say that I had orginally planned to stay in Nimes as a base camp of sorts--a central location for day trips throughout the Provence region. It functiioned as such, but it also allowed me to meet up with and connect to people I would have never even imagined meeting. From Fred the Dutchman to Ilka the German and Noel the Angry Brit, I had a colorful stay of singing, eating, travelling and growing.

I visited the markets in Arles, Ste. Maries del le Mer (where the bones of Mary Magdalene and a couple other Marys are), spent a lazy day in the fountain gardens, sung on the streets of Nimes for money (we made enough to cover one night of camping and my breakfast the next morning!), had late night bottles of wine and discussions with exceedingly interesting people, slept (a lot, which was great), visited Avignon where I randomly ran into an Elon friend and recent graduate, and simply had a marvelous time.

It was one of those times when you wonder why you decided to come to a place, and leave realizing that there was so much in store for you, that there was a reason and that that reason is still unfolding even after you have left the place that inspired it.

Despite a BAD sunburn, a 45 minute trek from the trainstation to the hostel, and the 6:31 am train from Nimes to Barcelona, I have yet to have more fun in Europe.

Oh, and my last night in Nimes, I remembered to look for the stars. Almost as pretty as home.


26 May 2006

The Train Ride to Nîmes

I left this morning from Bordeaux to make my way to Nîmes (pronounced something along the lines of neem--but then again, I'm certainly not French, and honestly have no freaking clue how to really say it...stupid Americans). The majority of the train ride went well. No problems, just 5 hours of the train, tracks, and my ipod which, amazingly, did last that long. Like I said, no real issues, excepting that slightly sketchy time when the police walked very authoritatively down the aisle. I'm not sure what they were after, but I suppose they found it because they didn't come back.

I had made it to within 40 minutes of my stop sitting alone when we had a temporary detour at a forgetable station at which hords of people stepped on the train, and my solitude was lost...to a french woman...who had (apparently) five new designer scents...which she was fairly intent on trying...on the train...beside me.

Forty long minutes later, I had made friends with my companion (who did smell nice--no denying that) and found myself at my train station in Nîmes. I found my way to the bus stop and some 30 minutes later at the base of a hill which I had to trek to find my hostel. Exhausted and sweaty, I entered a hostel paradise--newly renovated, clean, English spoken--well.

I dropped off my stuff and headed into town by foot (which I reached a mere 30 minutes later).

Great weather, good hostel, charming walk--finally what vacation is supposed to be!



24 May 2006

The Roses of Notre Dame.

Yesterday was amazing. Finally, the weather improved. It was much less tempramental than it was the day before. In the morning, I ventured out of Paris to see the Chartres Cathedral. I had heard of the Cathedral for two reasons. The first was because of its famed stained glass windows (so famous, in fact, that the color Chartres Blue references them). The second was because of an annual occurance at Elon--the arrival of the Labyrinth. The Labyrinth that Elon uses is actually the template of the one in this Cathedral. And with as many times as I had walked it at school, I hoped to be able to do the same on the orginal. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to.

I didn't even realize where it was until I was practically standing upon it. It is in the heart of the nave. Spanning the width of the church it winds and curves its way to its center--a metaphor for the soul's journey in this life towards a spirital City of God. I meandered around the rest of the church, taking in the detail, and soon, I was back on a train to Paris--suprised at how quickly the afternoon had passed.

When I returned to Paris I made my way to Notre Dame (which, call me stupid--because I sure felt like it, I realized maybe 3 days ago means Our Lady. Duh. Ok. Moving on.) I reached the Cathedral and entered along with throngs of other tourists. Even in the midst of hundreds of people, I felt at home. I think this is a true power of the church. Millions and Millions of people united in spite of language barriers and nationalities. There is a common experience which connects us, in the way that many faiths connect their faithful. I suppose I just didn't recognize it until I really had the chance to experience it.

I left the Cathedral and realized that I had another hour or so to kill before I met some friends studying in Paris, so I went exploring around the cathedral and through a charming park beside/behind it.

And that's when I saw the roses of Notre Dame. Peach colored, pink tinted--smelling as sweet and fragrant as they ever would. Complete with the towering catheral keeping watch over its most delicate additions of beauty.

It all made sense.


23 May 2006

Goodbye Copenhagen, Hello Paris!

I have officially made it to Paris. After a whirlwind last week at DIS and in Copenhagen, I have moved on to more relaxing (or maybe not so relaxing) adventures.

It was a bittersweet farewell to Copenhagen and many much loved friends. It was an amazing semester, full of fun, some bumps in the road, and amazing people. It's hard to leave that. But then again, Paris is tempting--not to mention the prospect of going home.

A friend of mine, named Gretchen, summed it up pretty well in a letter she wrote for me to read during my wait in the airport. Here is some of what she writes about meeting again, someday: "And it's hard to admit that someday is really some day, and it won't be many even then. Denial that goodbye is goodbye, that I won't be able to bike ride at top speed to the s-tog [s-train] to see you again."

Someday is just some day, but at least it's a possibility. Not just a necessary polite saying, but rather a genuine--"I will see you again" thought.

I realized today on the flight to Paris just how lucky I am. The quotation that I include on all my emails reads "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you companions for the journey."
I was blessed to have those companions on this journey--people who listened and laughed, who opened their arms and gave me rest. I can't even begin to tell you the connections we've made.

In anycase, the goodbyes are finished and I am in Paris. My experience so far has been the train from Charles de Gaulle and the Metro. I found a great trio of international roommates who (through friend connections) have agreed to keep much of my stuff for the next three weeks as I travel through the south of France. After spending a couple of nights here, in Paris, I head to Bordeaux, then to Nimes for 5 nights (it's serving as a base camp for several day trips). Next I head to Barcelona to meet some Elon kids, then up to Nice (with a trip, I hope, to Monaco), then a grand return to Paris!. A full three weeks. Kinda backward seeing as though I took 5 years of Spanish and 0 years of French. But I'm trying. I just keep joggin my memory to remember Beauty and the Beast to see if I can learn anything about the language. No luck yet.

Before I leave you, I wanted to include one more thing that my friend wrote in her letter.

"Sieze that moment, damnit, run out that door with a water bottle, a rain jacket, open eys and heart. Try the smoked herring, go to Sweden at 8 am, and remember that you never lose all by loving, but you always lose by holding back."

That's the goal. Minus the smoked herring.

Thanks for reading, I'll probably send two or so more--one during the trip and one once I make it home.

Congratulations to all the seniors. You are going to be amazing. I feel it. As Paul Monette says "Go without hate but not without rage. Heal the World." I know you can do just that--heal the world.

blessings and peace.

ps-I will be making my return to Elon on 1 July 2006. Be ready.
pss-the picture is of me grilling out on my last saturday with friends...we decided to show the Danes what American food was all about. all I can say is (in true Grady style) S-U-C-C-E-S-S, that is how we spell success.

20 May 2006

When I look back at my semester here in Copenhagen, I can't help but wonder--how did I get here? I did I end up typing on my laptop in my dads' office at 11pm on the night before I leave? How did four months simply disappear?

The answer is that they didn't disappear. They were lived.

When I first came to Denmark, I was constantly asked the same question--Why Denmark? My inital response was easy--English...it was my language and they spoke it too (for the most part at least). Not to mention it had an attractive program and a slight mystery surrounding it (I mean, really, who studies in Denmark?).

If you asked me that question now, I would have a very different answer. As a University Guide at Elon, I am often asked why I chose this school. I always make a point to tell the questioner that the reason I chose Elon and the reasons I stay at Elon are not always the same. The same idea proves true for my experience in Denmark.

I came to Denmark for a few reasons, but I stayed for a myriad (you like that vocab usage?) of other ones. I stayed for the two wonderful men that opened their arms to this stranger. I stayed for the people I met in airports, on buses, trains, and cafes. I stayed to reach out to people, and to be reached out to. I stayed to find rest for these pilgrim feet. I stayed to have a story. I stayed for the friends and the laughs and the memories. Memories that include:

-random airport meetings turned superclosefriends.
-night church and candles.
-nights of partying and nights of quiet
-Nyhavn afternoons
-Bike Rides around the Harbor
-Trips around Europe
-Platter Toilets

just to mention a few.

Now that I look back and wonder why I made it here, I have to wonder how it happened. I happened through endless readings, funny accents, and inside jokes. I happened through the people. I adore Copenhagen--the city, the charm. But what I really love (and will miss the most) are the people I met along the way. They made it fun when it was depressing. exciting when it was grey.

I think it' s easy, when adventuring on a journey like this one, to cut yourself off from other people. In doing so, you avoid the pain of having to say goodbye. I can't help but think, though, that living like that is limping through life. The Indigo Girls wrote a song called "All That We Let In." In it, they explain that "we are better off for all that we let in." They couldn't be more right.

So, here's to all those that some how made it in to my heart and, by some Grace, let me into theirs.

Take these memories with you, and remember who we were. These were some of the best days of our lives.

blessings and my love.

14 May 2006

Mother's Day

I find myself sitting on my sofa-couch, suddenly bombarded by the realization that it is, in fact, Mother's Day--the Hallmark holiday created to remember mothers and boost sales of flowers and gifts in the slow month of May. I can't be too cynical, however. Some of my best memories surround the holiday. I remember going up to Crawfordville (Pigeon Creek if you've ever seen the film Sweet Home Alabama) and waiting patiently as my Aunt Jane pinned a red rose bud on my lapel--the rose for my mother, red because she was still alive. I remember the first year my dad had to wear a white one because his mother had passed.

But more importantly, I remember the little memories that give reason for the holiday. I remember waiting for mama to pick me up from Ms. Carrie's after she left work. I remember trips to Fayetteville--from Dunkin' Donuts to MJDesigns and seemingly every place in between, we seemed to own that place. I remember sitting at the upright in our living room and singing hymns that she loved and played (quite beautifully I might add). And decorating the house for Christmas--white lights. I always wanted multicolored. Little did we know that 7 years later, I would be the one pushing for the classic white while she would be arguing for the colored ones. I seem to recall visiting shut-ins with homemade cookies on every holiday. My mother has a way with older folks--she just talks and talks and they listen and talk..and somehow, everyone ends up on the same plane--I'm here for you and thinking about you. I won't forget you.

I remember a terrifying car ride towards Conyers where somehow I had worked up the guts to tell my own mother that I was gay. And that the love she met me with was staggering, overwhelming and amazing.

More recently, I remember her driving to Crawfordville one morning just to hear me sing in a little Baptist church (the one she got married in). I never did, it was the day my Aunt Jane got really sick--she never was the same. But mama was there. I remember watching mama take care of my aunt as she entered her final year--like a sister, though there was no blood. It wasn't about that.

I recall awaking every morning since my first day in college to my daily email from my mother. When I wouldn't respond in a week or so, she'd kindly ask if I was still alive--translated in motherspeak-- "write me now." At first I found the emails a little overwhelming, but now, if I don't have one, I wonder what the matter is, why I don't have one, and even find myself growing a little disappointed not to hear the news from home.

I always look forward to seeing her, even though she thinks I don't want to ever come home. And when I need advice or sympathy or motivation or hope, she is always the first one I call.

Call me a mama's boy, or a sap, but the fact is she's my mama. I miss her like crazy and love her like whoa.

Thanks, mama, for everything. I wish I could be there to hug you and spend the day with you and eat some of your damn good fried chicken, but I suppose that will have to wait until June 9.

I'll be home soon.

To all those women who have so kindly subbed for mama when she was in Atlanta, and I wasn't: I can't help but remember the times when you hugged, supported, pushed and, yes, even nagged, me to do the right thing, move on with my life, or simply be happy. To you, I have to say thanks too. I love you all.

And to my two dads who have opened their home and hearts to me the past semester, and been both mother and father--you guys are awesome.

oh, and dad--don't worry, you'll get your time when June rolls around. If you're nice that is.

blessings and love to mama.


10 May 2006

The Perfect Day

It is 12:26 pm and I am beaming. It has been the perfect day in Copenhagen and probably one of the best days (if not the best day) I've had here.

Firstly, I should note that the icing on the cake is that I am currently chatting with my dear friend LB (from Elon) for the first time in nearly 2 months online.

The day started of with a late morning wake-up (which are the best kind) and an amazing shower that felt wonderfully clean. I ate left-over frikadeller (if you've been to Denmark, you know...if you haven't, request it...amazing) for breakfast then made my way to DIS to do work. Right, check. Work? On this day? Try again.

After lunch with two good DISers outside (yes, that's right, outside) I bought two oranges and sat on the steps of the Cathedral of Our Lady of Copenhagen eating them. The grooves in the columns there just happen to be the right size to cradle my back. It was wonderful. Sun, oranges and people watching.

I then attempted to do more work at DIS. Right, check. Work? On this day? Try again. I went to Nyhavn with my two dear friends Mike and Andrea. We sat by the canal and had a few drinks and simply enjoyed the weather. While we were there, I requested a jazz band to play "Georgia on My Mind," which they did. It was simply wonderful. Earlier in the semester, about two weeks in, some friends and I met at a jazz club. I was in the middle of my hostile stage of culture shock and just bitter. We were all talking when the band began to play "Georgia on My Mind" with the most lyrical musicality I think I've ever heard. I simply had to dance to it. Then, 3 months later, I find myself with a week and half to go and hearing the same song--no longer weeping, but lively and hopeful. Perfect.

Later, my friends Gretchen and Elizabeth would join us. Gretchen and I soon set out on bikes to ride around the harbor and soak up the sun. The water was the bluest it has ever been, all the flowers are blooming and the fountains running. We rode through an old fortress and sat outside on the grass in front of an amazing Anglican church for a while talking. Then we headed back to DIS where I ate Italian food and watched Harry Potter (the first one) with my Witchcraft class. No, really.

Next, I headed out for a glass of wine with two of my non-DIS friends at this great low-key place near my apartment. Granted on the way home, I lost my balance on my bike and fell--hard. But, considering that was my first fall in nearly 4 months, I'm saying I'm doing pretty well. (No, I wasn't intoxicated...athankyou).

I came home, and realized that I leave tomorrow for a conference in Spain.

Do I still have 2 papers to write, 3 exams to study for? Sure. But honestly, I couldn't think of a better way to spend the day.

Pictures to come.


07 May 2006

You Know You've Been in Denmark too Long when...

…you always prepare to catch the closing door if following too closely behind somebody
.…you think there is no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothing
.… the first thing you do on entering a bank / post office / pharmacy / etc. is to look for the queue number machine
.… you accept that you will have to queue to take a queue number
.… your hallway is beginning to resemble a shoe shop
.… when a stranger on the street smiles at you, you assume that: a. he is drunk b. he is insane c. he is American d. he is all of the above
… silence is fun
.… it no longer seems excessive to spend 800 kr. ($140, £110) on alcohol on a single night in town
.… you know that “religious holiday” means "let’s get pissed."
… you use “Mmmm” as conversation filler
.… the word “yes” is an intake of breath
.… you have only two facial expressions, smiling or blank
.… you buy your own drink at the bar even when you are with a group of people
.… traditional dinners may not necessarily mean a cooked meal
.… you forget how to open canned beer
.… can’t remember when to say "please"and "excuse me."
… you will leave a pub if you can’t find a seat
.… you don’t mind paying the same for a 200-metre bus ride as you do for going 10 kilometres in it
.… you know the rules of handball
.… you don’t look twice at businessmen in dark suits wearing white sport socks
.… you start to believe that if it weren’t for the efforts of Denmark, the world probably would collapse pretty soon
.… you find yourself speaking part Swedish with Swedes
.… you find yourself more interested in the alcohol content than the name of the wine
.… you know the meaning of life has something to do with the word "hyggelig."
… you are very surprised when you receive compliments about anything - including your appearance or clothing
.… you’ve completely forgotten what a “date” is - no one ever comes to pick you up and unexpected gifts are very unexpected
.… you don’t think it is strange that no one ever comes by to visit without being invited, and you never show up at anyone’s place unannounced either
.… you wouldn’t dream of coming even 10 minutes early to a party. (Once around the block is always an alternative)
.… you find yourself lighting candles when you have guests - even if it is brightly sunny outside and 20 degrees Celsius
.… you offer people strange-tasting brown alcoholic liquids with their coffee in the morning!

06 May 2006

It's Logic.

I was recently reading an article that my father wrote for a woodworking magazine. He writes about his career, explaining that engineers like to follow plans--they like to know how things fit together. Logic is logic for a reason--it makes sense that way. Later in the piece, he describes his fascination at watching a master woodworker building a chair by creating one part of the piece of furniture. Next, he built another part to fit the first. No plans, just creating. Logically, it shouldn't work. But somehow, it all fits together.

I had an experience a week or two ago that really left me wondering what I was doing thinking I would be heading into ministry. One of those classic "I-can't-believe-I-did-that" moments, where you look at yourself and think "I'm worthless." The actually happenings of the event are beside the point. What matters is that I was left with that question a lot of us ask ourselves at one point or another--what am I?

About two days after, I was (typically) avoiding work and checking away messages. One of my favorite screennames to check was online, so I dutifully rightclicked and scrolled and left clicked and read what he had to say that day. This person always has such beautiful insights into life, God and the Christian journey. I thought about how much I enjoyed his away message, so I decided to IM him to let him know. Later that night he sent me an email.

He asked me how things were going and I told him how great Copenhagen was in addition to how I was really questioning what I wanted (or needed) to do with my life. In that email, I wrote this:

How can I pull crap like this and still be a spiritual leader? Do I even deserve it?

A week or so later (it's exam time, you know how it goes), he replied with this:

How can you pull crap like that and still be a spiritual leader? Do you even deserve it? You do need leading most of all. You don't deserve it. And I guess that's what grace is - being called to this thing that we aren't deserving of or capable of. And with grace I guess comes discipleship and actually dying and letting Christ live, and living "a life worthy of the calling you have received."

But you see, it doesn't make sense. That's not logical. If you don't deserve it, then you don't deserve it. End of discussion.

I think that logic is a big issue at the heart of why many people reject God. They don't want to believe because it doesn't make sense. It's not logical. Here's the catch. It isn't about logic. In fact, it is the completely illogical that calls us to God.

God sent a man to the earth to die for us. Right, that makes sense. That man was born of a Virgin? Check. And He rose from the dead three days after he was definitely dead? Not possible, right? Not according to logic. But sometimes God calls us to replace logic with trust--trust in God.

In a world where it is terrifyingly hard to make sense of anything, maybe it's time that we redefine logic--or, if not redefine it, give it new parameters. Perhaps logic shouldn't be understood in human terms, in an earthly context. Maybe logic needs to be seen in Divine terms beyond the human.

Believing that I and you and everyone on this planet is a beloved child of God is extreme. God loves terrorists? God loves the unlovable. Because God is love, and we are all reciepients of that love, it's logic.


04 May 2006

The Top Ten.

A friend from Elon, who I really met in Copenhagen (go figured) asked me to compile a list of my ten favorite religious/spiritual books that have affected/influenced me the most. Before I list them, I should note that these are in no particular order and can easily change depending upon what new texts I pick up and where I am in my life on a personal level.

The Top Ten.

Reaching Out by Henri Nouwin.
I read this book the fall semester of my sophomore year. In it Nouwin, an amazing spiritual thinker and simply wonderful writer, encourages the reader to mold their life in God by transitioning in three key ways. My favorite quote (which, incidently is included in each of my emails) reads "In everything keep trusting that God is with you, that God has given you Companions for the journey." Brace yourself for page after page of lyrical encouragement and solid hope.

The Essential Rumi, trans. Coleman Barks
My interest in Rumi was first sparked when Coleman Barks, who translated the poetry in this book, visited Elon and read some of Rumi's works. Rumi was a 13th century Persian poet and founder of Sufi mysticism. This book is filled with insights that sneak up on you when you need them most. It is certainly a collection that you can open whenever you need rest, and you will undoubtedly find the peace you search for.

I'm not sure that I need to explain this.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
This book is amazing. Lamott takes you from laughing hysterics to tears in a matter of pages, all the while taking you a journey with her through struggling with Christianity and life. A breath of fresh air and supremely reassuring that wherever we are on our journey, we're OK.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
Like Lamott, Miller offers a huge breath of fresh air as he takes the reader on an accessible journey through a series of short essays. This evangelical author easily whirls the reader into the challenges of being a Christian when everything else seems stack against that. Never thought the word liberal and evangelical could go together. Miller is proof that it can.

If Grace is True: Why God Will Save Every Person by Phillip Gulley and James Mulholland
This is on of the most transformitive books that I have ever read. Based on a single, simple sentence "I believe God will save every person," the authors simply and elegantly explain their belief in universal salvation by focusing on a different word in that sentence for each chapter. With delightful stories and extremely relative tales, the authors will certain make you wonder about the temptation of exclusivity in Christianity.

The Complete Stories by Flannery O'Connor
Flannery O'Connor is one of my all-time favorite authors. This Catholic, Southern writer makes adept observations in her gothic/grostesque stories that cut to the quick. I've oftentimes found myself shocked throughout reading her works, but I always finish them with a sense of having gained something. In a letter to a friend, O'Connor wrote "While the South is certainly not Christ-centered, it is definitely Christ-haunted." This assertion haunts her own works, making them seductively meaningful and transformative.

New and Selected Poems by Mary Oliver
Mary Oliver is amazing. Her poems are wonderfully descriptive. Read "The Summer Day" or "The Journey" and see what I'm talking about.

The Art of Pilgrimage by Phil Cousineau
I was required to read this book before embarking on my time in Copenhagen. Cousineau takes the reader on a path to prepare them for a journey, not just a trip. In a word, wonderful.

Anam Cara by John O'Donohue
Meaning "Soul Friend," Anam Cara explores the ideas of Celtic spirituality in an way which not only makes it accesible to readers, but life-altering.

It's May. Whoa.

May has arrived in Denmark. And, I must say, The past couple days have been brilliant. Sun radiates everywhere, there is a palpable sense of contentment among people, and for once you can actually see what people really look like underneath their heavy wintercoats.

So, here's the challenge. I have just under 2 ½ weeks left in Copenhagen. As if this was not intimidating enough (it was once 4 months), I have realized I have so much left to do. From needing to visit Tivoli and Hamlet's Castle in Helsignor to the 4 papers and three finals I have coming up in addition to an international conference in
Spain, I have realized that this is it.

The end is near. Every morning, I get up and strike another day off my calendar. One step closer to home. One more step away from the experience that has been life-altering.

There is no use in pretending that this semester has been anything but a rollercoaster ride. From walking aimlessly around Købehavn just to walk and see and be--happy to be here--to sitting in on my bed right before I go to sleep thinking "what the hell am I doing here?" A couple years ago, I wrote this about college, and as I've been writing today, these lines have been constantly on my mind.

"College is a whirlwind rollercoaster ride—sometimes it’s scary, sometimes it’s fun, sometimes you just want to get out of the car. It is the incredible people at Elon that help you to realize that while you may not like rollercoasters, you are still at the fair."

I think that is quite applicable to my time here. Study abroad has been crazy. It's been one of the most influential experiences of my life. I've changed in so many ways--some I can realize, others I can't. I have dealt with the realities of being on your own an ocean away from the people who really know you. But one thing I have learned through it all (and perhaps this is the most affirming lesson one could gain from studying abroad) is that I can make it. Sure my bankcard number was stolen and I couldn't access money for two weeks. I took care of it. So what if they speak another language all around you. You can handle it.

I have also realized, however, that while I can make it, my success really lies in others. My ability to make it was not the triumph of a single individual, but the realiziation that other people are critical to that success. Perhaps being independent means you realize that it's alright to rely on others--rely on them to keep you company, for hugs, for life.

A couple days ago, one of those people who has become a sustainer through the semester wrote me this in an email: "In high school, you say goodbye, but you'll be back at Christmas. It's gradual, and the "we'll see each other again someday" sounds alittle more plausible. Sure I've said goodbye to people, but not a whole group of them, everybody at once, my Denmark family."

And so begins the end. I, like my friend, would love to say "Of course we'll see each other again--in fact, I'll make a flight reservation to Portland right now!" But realisitically that lies outside the realm of what is really an option for many of us.

We all came to Denmark as strangers--excited to be in a new place, scared for the change, ready for the challenge. We're leaving as more than friends. As corny as it sounds (excuse me for my
sappiness, but I'm sure my friends here will agree), we will leave this place as family. For the past four months these have been the kids that took care of me when I was sick, called me when I missed class to be sure I was OK, bummed around Europe with me, ate tacos with me on my birthday, supported random urges to go to Sweeden, and brought me back to reality when I had the tendency to get a little off topic.

It's a little scary to think that 4 months ago I had no clue who these kids were and that in four months, I probably won't remember most of their names. But what I will remember is the common experience and reality. We lived in Copenhagen. We worked our asses off for school (while our counterparts around the world--at least some of them--drank theirs off). We navigated the s-trains, dealt with the coldest and longest winter in a long, long time and together realized that there ain't nothing like the real thing.

So to those who I've met and grown with, Thanks. These were some of the best days of my life.


29 April 2006

Night Church and Snoring.

The two obviously go together, right? Well, maybe to the untrained eye, they seem like a randomn noun and verb placed together with a super cool conjunction. But I promise they are connected.

You see, my dads snore. Not obnoxiously, or in any omygodthereisabearinthehouse sort of way. They snore in the sweet, I'm-safe-here sort of way. I came home the other night, after a long evening of hanging out with friends and other misadventures, and as I walked through the kitchen, I heard the soft rumbles. I got closer to their bedroom and sure enough, they were sound asleep. And I felt safe. The same way I feel when I hear my dad cough in the morning in the bathroom growing up. He does it every morning after he gets up. Just part of the routine. Or the way I would listen to my mother walk around downstairs in the early hours before I had to get up. Safe. At home.

The next night or so, I discovered night church (or NatKirke, in Danish). I went to Our Lady of Copenhagen Cathedral on a whim and entered a candle light beacon of peace. Quiet, but not dead. Peaceful, not sad. You could go light candles, sit and pray, or just be. Every 7 or 8 minutes, a soloist would sing a prayer for a couple of minutes then the church would again plunge into reflective silence.

And I found it there. Home.

This past week has been rough. After three amazing weeks around Europe, coming back to Copenhagen and realizing the amount of work I have left has been nothing less than daunting. That in addition to missing home has really just worked its magic on me.

But these two highlights reminded me that home is here and at Elon and in Fairburn. Home can be where you feel safe and wanted and loved. I'm that with my parents. I'm that at Elon. And I'm that here.

I can make it for sure.


26 April 2006


250,000 disabled
9,000 homosexuals
1,900,000 poles (non-jews)
5,000 Jehovah's Witnesses
500,000 Gypsies

6,000,000 Jews

remember what happend, so it won't happen again.
remember the holocaust.
[yom hashoah]
holocaust remembrance day

Day of Silence.

Please understand my reasons for not speaking today. I
am participating in the Day of Silence, a national youth
movement protesting the silence faced by lesbian, gay,
bisexual and transgender people and their allies. My
deliberate silence echoes that silence, which is caused by
harassment, prejudice, and discrimination. I believe
that ending the silence is the first step toward fighting
these injustices. Think about the voices you are not
hearing today.
What are you going to do to end the silence?
Today, thousands of students will be passing out cards with the statement above printed on it. They are remaining silent to raise awareness about the silence imposed on people around the world everyday because they are Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual or Transgender. Though I cannot join them in action today, I support them with my whole heart--and encourage you to do the same.
check out the website.
In memory of those who lost their life to silence. Be the voice for those who can't have one.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
One day you finally knew
what you had to do, and began,
though the voices around you
kept shouting
their bad advice--
though the whole house
began to tremble
and you felt the old tug
at your ankles.
"Mend my life!"
each voice cried.
But you didn't stop.
You knew what you had to do,
though the wind pried with its stiff fingers
at the very foundations,
though their melancholy
was terrible.
It was already late
enough, and a wild night,
and the road full of fallen
branches and stones.
But little by little,
as you left their voices behind,
the stars began to burn
through the sheets of clouds,
and there was a new voice
which you slowly
recognized as your own,
that kept you company
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do--
determined to save
the only life you could save.

24 April 2006

Copenhagen: Three Months Back.

Recently, I have been waking up with the creeping suspicion that time is fleeting. It’s not really a pervading thought, just a soft awareness that the time I once had in Copenhagen is no more. Then I look at my Calendar. 4 weeks. Wait, hold on. How did 4 months become 4 weeks?

One of the most remarkable things I’ve learned about Denmark, Copenhagen, and the Danes is that they all have the ability to be supremely redeemable. Take, for instance, the 3 month long winter we just experienced. “It will surely be spring by the time you get back!” That’s what my peers and I heard from every direction before we left on our three week long study tour break. Spring was coming! Get excited. I came back. Spring, apparently, didn’t come with me. Maybe it didn’t get the memo to show up in Copenhagen right around April 19.

But just when you have that day that you think, in the words of my friend Montana “weather be damned, the Birkenstocks are coming out!”and you suffer through a day of wet and cold and windy (the triple blow) without substantial footwear, and you go to bed thinking ‘what have I done? Is there such a thing as spring in Denmark?,’ you wake up to a warm morning. Well, at least warmer. And as the day progresses, you find yourself sitting by the lakes in central Copenhagen writing about Spring. And you think, “God, I love this place.”

Upon closer examination, it does seem like spring is certainly on its way. Trees, if you get close enough, are flooded with buds bursting to bloom (like that alliteration?). The Jon Quills are all out as are Daisies (which are surprisingly more vibrant in sunshine). People are soaking up the relief of spring—sitting on benches, running, walking, and just being…outside. At long last the winter spent in a series of connected buildings, bus rides, and train stations has given way to spring.

I’m not sure that I’ve ever been so glad to see this particular season in my life. Ever. I’m sure I was always excited for its beauty. But at home, in Georgia, it meant not only were flowers in bloom, but also pine trees. Everything turns a putrid neon green. And I mean everything. If you are outside long enough, you come inside looking like you have an eerily green jaundice. No lie…OK, well maybe exaggeration (but, hey, I come by that honestly—just talk to my parents).

But as I watch people (my favorite hobby at present), all I see is happiness. Smiles and contentment—each one glad to be relieved of their heavy winter coat (even if that coat is only to be replaced with another “spring” coat). But all the same, the heavy is gone. Swans are sprinkled along the lakes, white tales high in the air like wedges of Swiss cheese (complete with holes—sorry…I had to) as they search for food.

And sunshine. There is sunshine, and, believe it or not, this is the best kind of sunshine. It’s the sunshine that doesn’t allow itself to be beaten by wind, nor does it make you too hot—just warm and perfect.

Now, three months back, had you told me that this day would come, I probably would’ve believed you. Two months ago, I might have believed you with all I had in my heart to believe with. A month ago, I would have found me resigned to the lackluster winter (and just excited to be turning 21). If you had told me a week and a half ago that Spring was on its way, I would have looked at you, scoffed (at least in my head) and labeled you a wacko (again, at least in my head).

But as Gurney would say (a life-long neighbor in Fairburn who makes delightfully good cakes), “Well, I’ll be…” Sure enough spring came. And with it, Spring brought redemption to Denmark. As well as a whole bunch of pasty white legs in running shorts.

Spring also is a reminder that I will soon be departing. The day will come, in the near future, where I will have to say goodbye to all the friends I’ve made that have practically become family. To the two men who have wonderfully functioned and transitioned from substitute parents to real ones and told me that the tattoo WASN’T going to happen. (Actually, Per said “Jon, it’ll be hot now, but what will you look like when you’re fifty? Stupid, you’ll look stupid. And saggy.”—that was more than enough convincing for me). I also have to say goodbye to this place which welcomed me with open arms, even when my arms were closed to it.

Whenever you get sad about something ending, some chirpy little brat always pipes up and exclaims, with great conviction “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Yeah, check. I always want to slap that person. I’m not sure I won’t be able to be sad to leave. But this is for certain, I will be smiling—primarily because it happened. What an amazing three months I’ve had here. And what a work filled, but exciting month I have left.

Here’s to the experience of a lifetime and realizing just how lucky I am to have had it.


22 April 2006

The Art of Pilgrimage.

Recently, I was avoiding work by browsing past writings, and stumbled upon this essay I wrote as part of a scholarship to study abroad. I had to read a book entitled The Art of Pilgrimage, and was asked to reflect on it. The book, by Phil Cousineau, is marvelous. In any case, I thought it was interesting to look back on how I was feeling and what I was thinking before I left on this journey. I've included pictures from my study break. For more (there were three separate trips), look here. Also, you can click on the photos to make them larger.

“Go without hate, but not without rage. Heal the World.” –Paul Monette

“Yet the Lord pleads with you still: Ask where the good road is, the godly paths you used to walk in, in the days of long ago. Travel there, and you will find rest for your souls.”
--Jeremiah 6:16

When I first approached the idea of studying abroad, it was more because the opportunity presented itself than an actual overwhelming desire to live a different life. The notion of studying in a country half a world away became appealing to me after I began to be introduced to the far stretching differences that exist in the way that different people lead their lives. I knew we all approached life differently, but what really grabbed my attention was the ability of others to be happy in their lives that were so drastically unlike my own. Even more fascinating, was that the more I researched, the more I realized that while on the surface we all seem different, there are threads that run deep through the essence of humanity and connect us together.

These threads became even more apparent to me this past semester as I worked with People of Faith Against the Death Penalty. This experience threw me into a world of realized injustice and the revelation that such injustices are perpetuated because of ignorance of the ways and means in which others must exist. The real turning point for me came when we I read the quotation above. Monette’s simple yet piercing plea challenged me to look into the possibility of the world that lay beyond my classroom experiences. Maybe in order to heal the world, you have to experience it from another perspective.

Cousineau’s book, The Art of Pilgrimage, encouraged me to take my newly renewed passion for change to a deeper level. One of the lessons that struck me was to look beyond the mistakes or mess-ups, and find the holy in everything. Also striking was a Kabir quotation he referenced. Kabir writes “If you have not experienced something, then for you it is not real.” Cousineau comments on this quotation, explaining that pilgrimage is the same way. He describes pilgrimage as “the art of movement, the poetry of motion, the music of personal experience of the sacred in those places where it has been known to shine forth.” My obligation on this experience is no longer to simply study, but it is now to learn and live. I want to know what it is like to be the outsider, the new guy.

My months of preparation for this trip have been marked by visas and permits, ID cards and e-mails, but more importantly, they have been made alive by deep thought surrounding the purpose of the trip. The author notes that “all our journeys are rhapsodies on the theme of discovery.” As I study, live and grow in Copenhagen, I don’t expect to stay unchanged. I see my Atlantic crossing as a crossing into a self of new possibilities. It is the chance to truly experience a different life, another culture—all the while grasping and discovering the commonalities that cross cultural and geographical barriers.
Most vital to my journey, The Art of Pilgrimage has offered the reassurance that it is acceptable to search for God in the midst of my travels. It is easy to relinquish one’s faith to the prospect of adventure, but this text has allowed adventure and faith to mingle as I search for the spiritual roots of my beliefs.

Denmark seemed exotic—who really goes to study in Denmark? As I read the book and thought about the journey I was about to embark on, I realized that it was hardly about the book smarts or the name value, but it was about realizing the call within and the necessity to answer it. Maybe in my search for the answers, I can begin to identify with those who feel like strangers in the land I call home. And maybe, through that ability, I can find another avenue to access my faith and my God.


16 April 2006

My Grandmother Died Today.

Well, not today this year. But on this day in 1989 she passed away. I was four when she died. The only real memory I have of her is a single hallway in her nursing home before her death. I remember pushing her down that hallway in her wheelchair and her roommate eating something that seemed like soap. I remember her cold funeral and mama crying. I've seen pictures since and heard stories. Grandma Pittman was beautiful. I miss her, even though I never really knew her.

This morning I was in a taxi with my friend Ree on my way to the Dublin airport, when I suddenly thought how I'd like a little coke. To outside people, this thought might seem like a passing thought. But what is unique about it is that my grandma would always ask (or so I've been told) when you came into the house if you'd "like a little coke." Then I remembered that today was the day we lost her.

I think Easter might very well be my favorite holiday. It makes it all ok. It's easily the most dramatic of the Christian holidays. It's a veritable rollercoaster ride of emotions. Beginning with the penitential season of Lent, we are walked through the weeks leading up to Easter constantly being reminded of what lays ahead of us for Christ and ourselves, always trying to prepare for what's in store. Then comes Palm sunday and the triumph of that day. Things are going well, right? Think again. Maundy Thursday arrives and we are faced with the grim reality of what the next day holds. We share the Lord's feast, breaking bread and passing the cup commemorating the first time it was eaten. In the simple actions of sustenance, we find ourselves dreading the next day.

Good Friday arrives, and with it comes the solemn reality of death. It seems like we lost. Crosses are draped in black, churches are dark. Saturday doesn't hold much improvement.

But just when you think you've had all you can take. Just when you think it's hopeless and pointless and over. Just when Christ's words "It is finished" take on their most direct meaning--it is over--Easter morning dawns and defeat is no longer an option...only life.

Only life.

Flowers are everywhere, crosses are dressed in pure white, celebrating the ressurrection, and all the doubt you had about it all happing according to the plan vanishes in the triumphant simplicity of "it worked."

That's why I can't really be sad for my grandma, for not knowing her. Because It worked, I know that the loss of this life is inconsequential in comparison to what we have coming.

Easter is a grand reminder of the promise we have and of the future we look forward to.

Thank God.


14 April 2006

It is finished.

So they took Jesus; and carrying the cross by himself, he went out to what is called The Place of the Skull, which in HebrewAramaic is called Golgotha. There they crucified him, and with him two others, one on either side, with Jesus between them. Pilate also had an inscription written and put on the cross. It read, ‘Jesus of Nazareth, the Nazoreanthe King of the Jews.’ Many of the Jews read this inscription, because the place where Jesus was crucified was near the city; and it was written in Hebrew,Aramaicin Latin, and in Greek. Then the chief priests of the Jews said to Pilate, ‘Do not write, “The King of the Jews”, but, “This man said, I am King of the Jews.” ’Pilate answered, ‘What I have written I have written.’ When the soldiers had crucified Jesus, they took his clothes and divided them into four parts, one for each soldier. They also took his tunic; now the tunic was seamless, woven in one piece from the top. So they said to one another, ‘Let us not tear it, but cast lots for it to see who will get it.’ This was to fulfil what the scripture says,‘They divided my clothes among themselves, and for my clothing they cast lots.’ And that is what the soldiers did.

Meanwhile, standing near the cross of Jesus were his mother, and his mother’s sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. When Jesus saw his mother and the disciple whom he loved standing beside her, he said to his mother, ‘Woman, here is your son.’ Then he said to the disciple, ‘Here is your mother.’ And from that hour the disciple took her into his own home.

After this, when Jesus knew that all was now finished, he said (in order to fulfil the scripture), ‘I am thirsty.’ A jar full of sour wine was standing there. So they put a sponge full of the wine on a branch of hyssop and held it to his mouth. When Jesus had received the wine, he said, ‘It is finished.’ Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19. 16-30

12 April 2006

And so it begins....

While they were eating, Jesus took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to the disciples, and said, “Take, eat; this is my body.”Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you; for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will never again drink of this fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new with you in my Father’s kingdom.” When they had sung the hymn, they went out to the Mount of Olives.

Matthew 26. 26-30

10 April 2006

Moscow, St. Petersberg, London...you know how it goes.

The past week and a half have certainly been a whirlwind.

St. Petersberg was the first stop. They city itself, particularly at night, is amazingly beautiful. It's really a rather romantic city. But it's cold. (I know, it's Russia...right?) And it's dirty. There are apparently no emmisions standards because there is some hardcore pollution. And it's angry. Not in any particular GRRRR sort of way, just pissed off. Everyone seems mad, and it rubs off.

Everything was huge there too. From the monumental Winter Palace to the 4 minute long escalator rides down to the Metro, it seemed like everything was 10 times bigger than it needed to be.

After a visit to the Hermitage and several walking tours, we made our way to Moscow on the night train. Seven hours later, we arrived in Russia's capitol.

(I should state somewhere along here that I felt like death-on-a-stick for the better part of my time in Russia, so obviously that reality colored my impressions of the massive country.)

Moscow was much different. Very metropolitan, the city is vibrant with life. What was particularly fascinating was the extent that Russia's soviet past lingers on. From constant walking through metal detectors to a very present police and military force, it was clear that the country was a people working through a lot.

In Moscow, we toured and rode and walked and toured. The most surreal moments of the trip were spent in Red Square, where I had flashbacks to the 1989 World Book Encyclopedia set that my mother brought home from Palmetto High School when it clossed around 15 years ago. I remember reading about the USSR, and seeing pictures of St. Basil's Cathedral (with its colorful coupolas). I was there! I saw Lenin's moseleum, walked around the Kremlin and by the river.

I think Russia, while offering an amazing experience, also gave me real insight into the reality of America. We think we are better than everyone else.

I can hear the scoffs now. "No, we don't!" Yes. You do, and so do I. I walked around Russia half the time that I was there, mumbling in my mind about the lack of efficiency, commenting on the constant military presence, or making general assumptions about the culture. All of which point to one thing--the thought of superiority. And what irritated me even more about it was that I didn't want to be. I'm not supposed to do that, to think that. But I did. It was there, regardless.

Something to work on, I suppose.

Right now, I'm in London. I'll head to Dublin on Thursday, then back to London for two more days then home to Copenhagen to finish out the semester. Crazy.

much love to all at home.


01 April 2006

The Top Memories (Good and Bad) from Vienna/Budapest Spring 2006

After a day of rest, I have decided that a good way to debrief Spring Break Part 1 would be to list out some favorite memories of the trip.

Bus Ride:

(1) Whoa. 24 hours. Enough said.

(2) Upon entering Slovokia after a mean looking Passport agent passes by. Jon to Mike: "If he wanted me to pee my pants, all he would've had to do was say 'boo!'."


(1) Needing reassurance and the apperance of St. Stephen's Basilica.

(2) I don't care who you are, farts are funny.

(3) warm weather, what? Do I still know how to dress for that?

(4) What a view!

(5) Folklore show in which it was clear that our group was American, with a capital A.

(6) Gellert Baths, massage, warm water, naked people. faded elegance. wonderful.

(7) Climbing to the top of the tunnel overlooking the chain bridge and watching Budapest at night for and hour or so. Simply amazing.

(8) Outdoor Cafe's


(9) Don Giovanni at the Statsoper and falling asleep.

(10) Having a nun and priest mistake Brittany for my girlfriend.


(12) Some of the most beautiful churches.

Just some thoughts.

Check out pictures of my adventures during spring break here. This is NOT the same link as before.

31 March 2006

My Aunt Jane was a world traveler.

She never knew it. The only place she ever traveled was London. And even that left her insanely homesick. She wasn't really much of one to explore the world--at least not until now.

Jane Blair Chapman, or Aunt Jane as she was known to me, died on May 19, 2004. I was devestated. So was the rest of my family. Aunt Jane was our matriarch since I can remember. In reality, she was more of a grandmother to me in role than Aunt. I adored her. She loved me.

I remember the day she died, the only thing I could find to express what I felt was this passage from Lamentations 1.16. "For these things I weep; my eyes flow with tears; for a comforter is far from me, one to revive my courage; my children are desolate, for the enemy has prevailed."

It was true. The cancer won. I'm not sure any of us are over it. Maybe we won't ever be.

For the past week, I was lucky enough to spend time in both Budapest and Vienna. These cities were both beautiful, particularly Budapest. I had traveled to Vienna before, only in the snow the first time. This round found Vienna rather rainy and grey. Budapest, however, I had not previously visited.

Coming from the States, I knew very little about Hungary. They only thing I really associated with it were ideas of communism, the eastern block, and dispair (after all, the country was named Hungary). What I found was a laid back, thriving city--full of faded elegance and imperial majesty of days gone by.

We drove to Budapest first, leaving Copenhagen at 6:30 Friday night, driving through the night as well as the next day and arriving in Budapest (pronounced more like Budapesht) nearly 24 hours later at 530pm.

After that excruciatingly long, yet not miserable, bus ride, I found myself in a city full of charm. European facades loomed over wide avenues. And, it was warm! No need for a winter coat--a welcome change from Copenhagen's random weather patterns. I also found myself need a break from my companions. So, with a small group of friends, we headed out to explore the city by night.

I tried to be jovial, making jokes and laughing. Even joking about my major by quoting Bible verses like "I am the way, the truth and the life." But in reality, I needed space. A group of 3 or so had grown into 7 or 8. I did enjoy everyone's company, but there was part of me that just needed solititude.

I became irritated, and right when I thought I might have to say somthing, our group turned a corner and saw St. Stephen's Basillica looming over us, lit beautifully. Cue the choir of angels. It was amazing. I remember being in awe. We were on the backside of the massive stone edifice. As we made our way to the front, I, at least, was dumbfounded. Right above the entrance to the church were the words "I am the way, the truth and the life," in latin, of course, but still there. Perfect.

We ventured on to see the Danube (which I eventually got to hear the song inspired by the river...played beside river), and I realized what an amazing place and moment I was in. And I thought about Aunt Jane, and how beautiful it would be to her too.

As my time in Budapest and Vienna moved on, I decided to visit churches. I like going inside them because there is a connection to something so much greater than us in them. You feel attached to a history that just isn't present in the States. At many these churches, there are alters in side chapels which you can light candles and say prayers.

I lit candles for a safe journey home, for friends and family, but mostly for Jane. You see, she might not have traveled the world, but I am getting too. And each time I light a candle for her, I know that she is there with me.

My Aunt Jane is a world traveler.