Thursday, November 3, 2011


"Go into the arts. I'm not kidding. The arts are not a way to make a living. They are a very human way of making life more bearable. Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven's sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something." -Kurt Vonnegut

Remember that scene in the movie "Garden State" where Natalie Portman tries to convince Zach Braff to do a crazy/weird/silly dance move in his house because she says that he will be the first and only person in the history of the world to do that specific move in that specific place? That is what this quote makes me think of. I want to achieve extraordinary things, to live a life that is significant and influence the people around me for the better, but I also want to be creative. And I want to be creative without fear of what others think. We get so bogged down in how we look and whether or not what we created is "good" that we lose sight of the most fun part--which is the process of creating. So look at the clouds today and imagine the weird things that you see in them are real. Fail miserably at cooking when trying a new recipe. And for goodness sake, sing in the grocery store when your favorite song comes on. I don't want to be the only one that does that.

We all need to loosen up a little.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011


My morning meeting was cancelled this morning, so I came to a coffee shop to kill time and relax before my work day starts. What that ended up turning into was a 45 minute foray online into all articles I could find related to the famine in the Horn of Africa--specifically the situation right now in Somalia. As I sit here with my warm cup of coffee typing on my Mac computer in a heated coffee shop with the smells of fresh pastries wafting around me, I can't help but be a bit uncomfortable at the thought of justice and the accident of geography so I get to have everything while others are dying.

This article broke my heart this morning. I read stuff like this all the time, but I pray that my heart will continually break, and that the man in the story (at least read the first page) finds comfort through the loss of his 3 year old daughter, Kadija. If it was my daughter, I would want people to mourn with me and hear my story.

We are incapacitated by the need. Sometimes I put my blinders on and live my life intentionally hearing only good things, and sometimes I need the perspective of darkness and pain to again smash me in the face so I again remember that a death of a child from starvation in Somalia is just as tragic as a similar death would be in Seattle, even if the former happens all the time and is 'old news' to me.

So what does justice look like for me today? I will be fasting, and giving the money I would have spent on food to UNICEF or Islamic Relief; 2 groups that seem to be able to get around the Shabab (al Queda like group that is blocking aid from reaching anyone, and killing lots of Somalians) and actually help people get some food in their bellies. I will think of Kadija and I will mourn her death, I will pray, and I will feel a little bit of hunger so I can understand a bit more about her pain. And I will share her story here on my blog. Maybe someday I will be a lawyer, and can help in a larger way to execute justice on behalf of hurting people.

It is not much. I feel small and insignificant. But that is what this blog is about. Small drops in a large bucket.

"It is important to remember that however plagued Somalia is, however routine conflict, drought and disease have become, however many Somalis have already needlessly died, Somalis are not somehow wired differently from the rest of us. They are not numb to suffering. They are not grief-proof. I’ll never forget the expression on Mr. Kufow’s face as he stumbled out of Benadir Hospital into the penetrating sunshine with his lifeless little girl in his arms. He may not have been weeping openly. But he looked as if he could barely breathe."

This post does not have a happy ending, because Kadija did not have one either.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


You know those people that can create cool moments regardless of the circumstances around them? There always seems to be something to glean, or some encouraging word to share in whatever is happening? Do you have any of those people in your life? I have one--her name is Natalie. She is currently traveling the country as a musician, performing shows and writing songs about things she sees and experiences. She is shamless in her love for romance and beautiful language, so I always like hearing her talk about her favorite books or poems or music or art, because I know she feels genuinely moved and doesn't really care if it is thought of as silly, or if the piece of art affects anyone else the way it did her. One thing she recently mentioned on her tour's blog page was a quote by one of her favorite writers, and I saw a lot of beauty in it. It is a short excerpt from "The Thief" by Brooke Fraser.

"You're ruining me with secrets and gestures and looks.
With sonnets and second-hand books.
Playing the chords in me nobody knew how to play."

If you are like me, you automatically think of a relationship with someone you like, but Natalie thought about her relationship with God.

I love when people flip my automatically generated perspective on its head like that.

Can God woo us to himself? Does he? If He can and He does so like the words above, I would feel moved.

I think Natalie is on to something.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Awesome quote

I have a dear friend who is about to go to Rwanda for a few weeks to work with refugees and she sent me this quote. It was so good I had to share.

"Sometimes I would like to ask God why he allows poverty, suffering and injustice when He could do something about it.

Well, why don't you ask him?

Because I am afraid he would ask me the same question."


So, what are you doing to help those around you today?

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


I gave a speech over Labor Day weekend, and it focused on 4 questions I have been thinking about. Here are the four questions and a bit of my notes. Any thoughts? Leave me a comment.

1. Why do we continue to live in our world rather than moving into the world of other people?

2. Why do we fear when we should lead?
There is a perceived danger in loving each other. Actually, there is a real danger in loving each other. We start loving other people and our lives become messy.

3. Why do we react when we should choose?
I am a part of a generation of privileged, angst-filled former church-goers, and we are searching for something real that actually resonates with the deep desire of our souls to be connected. At our worst, we travel on our parents dime to remote areas of the globe searching for some sort of purpose while trying to work out our issues through “serving” the poor, returning adorned with strange jewelry, judging every friend and family member for their lifestyles but not changing anything about ourselves. Good leaders seem to not simply react to the situations around them, they choose how they are going to be and then they are consistent in being that way. Not tossed by the wind. So at our best, my generation embraces the tension of living in a global society, and then we dig our heels into figuring out who God created us to be and confidently living into that the fullest that we can, using all the energy and passion of the world.
"If your daily life seems poor, do not blame it; blame yourself that you are not poet enough to call forth its riches; for the Creator, there is no poverty and no indifferent place."
Rainier Maria Rilke

4. Why do we repeat when we should change?
What inter-generational relationships have taught me:
Given me perspective
Taught me not to fear
Shown me the line between prosperity and entitlement

Leaders should be changing conversations

How do I change the conversation to move into the world of others?
How do I change the conversation so I am leading instead of fearing?
How do I change the conversation to choosing instead of reacting?

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Easter and Interfaith

I spent a whirlwind 24 hours in Kirksville, Missouri this week doing a speaking gig at Truman State University. I got to be the only passenger in an 8-passenger plane, eat delicious Mexican food, and hang out with a group of amazing students from the MSA (Muslim Students Association) on campus. We spent a lot of time talking about the obstacles to doing interfaith work, and why people are so afraid to participate. I always go through a kind of inner turmoil in these conversations, because I don’t think people have anything to fear.

And it is incredibly challenging to tell someone who is afraid simply to not be, and have it make any difference.

If interfaith cooperation is really just the engagement of religious diversity to a constructive end, how can people be against that?

Because people are afraid of what they don’t know.

In the early 1960’s a Jewish rabbi by the name of Abraham Joshua Heschel heard about an African American Baptist preacher from the South by the name of Martin Luther King Jr. Rabbi Heschel was inspired by King’s action in the civil rights movement, and decided to join in. King and Heschel became good friends, and, after marching with King, Heschel said “When I marched in Selma, I felt like my feet were praying.” They were different as night and day. A Jewish rabbi from New York, and an African American Baptist preacher from Alabama. But they agreed that all lives should have equal value, and they saw the power their actions had together.

Working with people different is not about watering down what you believe or pretending you don’t think anything different than the next person, but instead respecting the fact that all lives have equal value, and that we can agree on shared values like compassion and serving others.

As a Christian, this is especially true for me. I am honestly tired of hearing from campus after campus that the Christian groups are the ones least likely to respond positively to this message. That is frustrating to me. I am a committed Christian, and I do interfaith work. Because it matters, and getting to know people who believe differently than me makes me a better Christian because I have to articulate what I believe and why, and see if those statements make any difference about the way I live my life. And I really think Jesus was/would be now surrounded by people different from him so he could listen to their stories, and love them exactly the same as he would with people who believed what he was saying and followed his teachings. I think he loved everyone. Equally.

And we should do the same. Not throw rocks at other people we probably just haven’t taken the time to understand, but instead be brave enough to respect each other and form friendships.

It is Easter weekend. A time Christians remember Jesus’ sacrifice for us all. Sounds like as good of a time as any to love other people…since that is what Jesus was doing.

Am I right?

Monday, March 28, 2011


A few days ago, my credit card got stuck in the parking pay machine on a street in downtown Seattle. I was annoyed and called the number on the machine, and was told I needed to wait in the rain for a person to arrive and fix it. Fifteen minutes later, a man shows up who looked to be of east-Asian descent. While I proceed to apologize and tell him how my credit card had since emerged from the machine before he got there, making his trip worthless, we strike up a conversation. I find out his name is Thomas, and that he moved to Seattle from Laos 30 years ago. He told me some amazing stories about his experience when the regime changed to communist, and how his family had to flee since his father was in politics and feared for his life. They had to start over completely in the USA. He told me about his kids and his wife, how they always tease him that he still has a thick accent, and about how much he loved the rain in Seattle. It struck me as I was listening in fascination how everyday people that come in and out of my life don’t have to be random if I can just slow down. Thomas ended up paying for my parking, telling me to feel free and call their fix-it number any time I was in the area (even if the machine wasn’t broken) because that was his area and he would be happy if he could see me again. Then we said goodbye. I don’t know if I will ever see him again. But, Thomas, thanks for the reminder that there is a larger world than me and my trivial inconveniences.

I hope my credit card gets stuck again soon. Who knows who I could meet?

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Date a girl who reads

I saw this today, and liked it a lot.

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve.

Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag.She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow.

She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.

Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.

It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by God, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.

Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.

Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.

If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.

You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.

Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.

Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

— Rosemary Urquico

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

religious discourse

I was asked by Interfaith Youth Core to write a short blog for them about the discourse around religion in America for their new website, which is launching this week. Here is what I gave them.

I grew up in an Evangelical Christian church, and I really liked it. Even saying this sometimes makes me want to cringe, or makes me think I have to sandwich that ‘confession’ with words about how tolerant I am, about how I am not what people think, etc. Why do I have to do that? Has the civil discourse of this nation deteriorated to the point where I have to admit my faith background with hesitance out of fear of others dumping me in a box labeled “Crazy. Don’t interact with?” I remember going to Sunday school as a child, and learning a song where I grabbed my tongue and sang: “Keep your tongue from evil, and your lips from speaking lies.” It was completely silly and targeted for five year olds, but the message being conveyed was important. The song is based on a verse in the Old Testament book of Psalms, and I have been struck lately by the thought that the discourse surrounding American Evangelicals (and religion in general) is anything but “keep your tongue from evil.” Quite the contrary, actually. Christians as a religious group seem to be known for being close-minded and publicly condemning people in the name of our faith. As a result, others poke fun at us because they (rightfully so) see the blatant hypocrisy between our words of “love” and our actions of blatant rudeness. As a young Christian leader who sees the value of interfaith cooperation, I am sad to say I have often felt push-back from my own community. I am sometimes asked what the point is of working with “those other people,” whether they be Muslims, atheists, or just different denominations of Christianity. What I have come to find is, once I give “those other people” a chance, we are not that much different. Peace doesn’t have to be the world peace pipe dream out of the mouth of a ditzy beauty contestant. Instead of searching for our theological differences and hurling them in each other’s faces as proof we could never get along, what if we wrote a different story? This story involves going out of our comfort zones and risking friendship with someone of a different faith without ulterior motives, independent of the fallout. This story involves saying what we are for, instead of what we are against. This story praises the good work people are doing, instead of just pointing out the bad. This story is one I am writing with my Muslim, Sikh, Atheist, Buddhist and, yes, Evangelical Christian, friends. We are part of changing the conversation around religious discourse in America, and my life has been changed because of this story.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

I am from

I am from curiosity.
From dissatisfaction in "other"
From smoke rings and quinine tablets.
From casual profanities offered
to speak words no one could seem to articulate.
I am from cool waters and dark toes
intermingling with pale white ones.
Unanswerable questions and practical optimism.
From friendship despite
thick walls generations old
between and around us.

I am from expectation
From feelings of needing to live up to
Yet desperately aching for a course distinctly my own.
From broken leaders and lost potential
And from hungry eyes asking
if there could ever be more.
I am searching
wanting to find that answer.

Thursday, January 6, 2011


I am bad at New Year’s resolutions. I think I wasted several years feeling incredibly guilty over not exercising enough, or not spending enough time doing “spiritual” things that were basically just legalism anyway (at least for me). So the last few years I have decided to pick a word, and dwell on it for a year. To think about how I can have more of it in my life, how it affects the way I behave and treat people, and how it can change me for the better. The word I picked for this year is whimsy. This at first felt like an odd choice (I mean, I am still not even totally sure what it means) but I am getting more excited about it. While working at International Justice Mission a few years back, I noticed how the people in leadership were constantly confronted by real and unimaginable evil, and yet seemed to be able to maintain a sense of whimsy—humor and lightness in the midst of massive tragedy. They took their work seriously, but also led balanced lives with healthy families. I think I often feel bogged down by the problems I read about and see around the world, and then immobilized and uninspired and resentful of my own comfort in the States, especially since I have experienced (however small) what poverty looks like elsewhere. Choosing whimsy will mean constantly checking my attitude, and living in the tension of wanting to be in other places experiencing more difficult things while knowing I need to be here where I am, for now. Choosing whimsy means letting go of trying to control every step I take, and choosing to trust that I will go different places when the time is right; and remembering I don’t always get to name when that time is.

This is going to be hard.

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

standing still

I am currently finishing up a book called “The Poisonwood Bible” about a family of missionaries in The Congo in the 1960’s. The father figure is fairly horrible in the book. In my mind at least he is pretty much everything that is wrong with stereotypical Christian missionaries: completely culturally insensitive, unwilling to listen to those around him, and a horrible father and husband. The mother character is a pushover and lives a rather horrible life, but then has a moment of bravery and leaves her husband when her youngest daughter dies. She has a moment (sort of her spiritual climax) that really struck me. She says: “I finally moved, and he stood still. His kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. Whether it’s wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is always the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them.” She goes on to say that “to live is to be marked. To live is to change and acquire the words of a story, because that is the only celebration we mortals can actually know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I’ve only found sorrow.”

I have thought a bit about this the last few days, and I think the mother character is on to something. Standing still in life seems to make you irrelevant and ridiculous very quickly. I feel like I am barely standing in the middle of a torrent of movement in my own life, this season seems filled to the brim with change and the unknown and questions about purpose for myself and my friends. Sometimes I wish I could just stand still and have my life “how it used to be.”

But I can’t.

And when I am truly honest with myself, I don’t want to. I want to engage the inundation of ideas my friends and I are confronted with on a daily basis. I want to bravely venture ahead, moving, into a story that becomes distinctly my own. And I want to say that I was always moving. Not fleeing from something, or hiding in busyness, but engaging in the world around me and being willing to change. That is my hope today for my friends and I of different faiths: that we maintain our vibrant uniqueness that makes us each who we are, but that we risk failure and embarrassment to have relationships with each other regardless of the fallout. I think the only other choice is to become like the father character in the book, preaching to an empty church, because no one thinks you have anything to say.

Am I right? Or am I crazy?