More Day 2: Lessons from the Community Garden

If you’re just joining us, click here to start at the beginning.

Or Continue with part II

Below was written by Mackenzie O’Connell

Today I went to an Open Land farm. Open Land farms are community gardens in Chicago that aim to supply the community with free vegetables and fruit, and raise local property values. My group went to a garden owned by a sweet lady named Queen. Queen is 70 years old, almost completely deaf, and takes care of the large garden all by herself. Before arriving at the garden, everyone in my group was in need of a nap and dreading our three hours of labor in the dirt and hot sun. I thought that this garden would be extremely overgrown and dead, but once we arrived, it was beautiful and filled with blooming flowers and green grass! At the garden my task was to weed, but others in my group mowed the grass, weed-wacked, and organized a compost pile. Throughout the day Queen said whatever popped into her mind, and it was hilarious and helped make our work much easier! I asked Queen what she did with the vegetables after she harvested them and her response will forever stick with me. She said “When you eat the vegetables alone, they don’t taste good, but when you share them with others and eat them together, they taste much better.” Queen’s comment meant so much to me because often times I focus on what I don’t have, rather than the abundance of things I do have. I realized that I should be re-focusing all of that energy towards giving other people what they don’t have and what they need. After we finished gardening, my group stepped back to look at what we had done. The garden looked even more beautiful and every single one of us felt accomplished! I wouldn’t trade this day for anything and being in Chicago has opened my eyes to a different kind of world and because of people like Queen, my life and attitude towards things will forever be changed for the better.

-Mackenzie O’Connell


Day 2: Finding What We Didn’t Know We Didn’t Know

Click Here to Read Day One


The following was written by Abbey Bolinger about an experience as described to her by Hayley Sinclair.

When Hayley got home today she was openly excited about her day and how she saw the effect she had on one man. His name was Millard. He is currently living in a daycare facility for senior citizens with Dementia. Hayley decided to take a seat next to Millard and began talking to him. She was surprised how much he was willing to discuss, and also how happy he was when he talked, even though he had difficulties remembering details about the stories of his life. The man told her how he played in the Chicago traveling orchestra. He couldn’t remember any of the places they went, except Germany. He loved talking about Germany, because he repeatedly told her that it was beautiful. Hayley then asked him if he played any other instruments, however he couldn’t remember. So, Hayley asked if he could play the piano. He responded with, “I don’t know any songs, but I just love playing around on the keyboard.” Millard asked Hayley if she could play for him, but she was hesitant. Surprisingly, she told me how she played songs from Phantom of the opera and Fur-Elise. She noticed how mesmerized he was by her playing, so she asked him if he wanted to be taught how to play the same songs she had just played. I was shocked at how open she was to teach him, but thought it must have been an amazing moment. Hayley was interested when he told her that he could think of absolutely everything in his brain, but he couldn’t get it out to talk about it. He enjoyed just spending time with her, even though they were only playing patterns on the keyboard. At the end of playing, Hayley had made such a connection with this man that she wanted to know more, so she asked him about his family. He was a little reluctant at first because he was having trouble recollecting, but then told her he had children and grandchildren. It was like Hayley was helping him remember music and that was helping him remember his family.At the end of the day, he told her how thankful he was and what a good day he had spending it with her.

 I loved hearing her story.

Sometimes on a mission trip, it feels like we didn’t do any work, and then sometimes we feel like all the work we did won’t do a bit of good, but then other times like today, it all feels like it made a huge difference. I think Hayley made a big difference and I think Millard did too.

Hayley & Millard


Read what happened on Day III


Happy Birthday, Burger! (A Letter to My 1 Year-Old Daughter)



Little Casey,

Five minutes ago, I found out that you were inside mommy’s tummy – or at least that’s what it feels like! But it’s actually been a whole year! Everybody was right when they told me how fast your first birthday would come, and the truth is, I like it! Now, you are turning into such a real live human being!! You already have 3 teeth – with the potential for having many more. :)

You are 27 inches (nice and tall like your mommy) and have a huge forehead with little hair (like your daddy).

You love animals (like daddy) and from all we can tell, they seem to love you too (like your mommy). Don’t worry about Mia though, she’s not capable of loving anybody, but we’ll talk about that when you’re three.

You light up at the sound of music (daddy) and are working on palming your first little basketball (mommy). You eat lots of fruits and vegetables (mommy) and shove them in two hands at a time (daddy). You sleep through the night and love to be babied first thing in the morning (frankly, that’s both of us).

For this entire year, you have been the type of baby that tricks suckers like me and your mommy into thinking that we might be able to do it again.

And just recently, you have become very good at leveraging your tantrums to get your point across. This doesn’t bother me, but it is different than your first several months. You really only cried when you needed something, which in your case was either a bottle or a nap.

But now, when you want something you can’t reach, or something I’ve taken away, you’ve become very good at producing the full sound of crying without a single tear. To your credit, it’s usually a matter of seconds before you’re on to your next adventure/obsession.

So here it is, burger, it seems like our task for the upcoming year is to focus on the difference between wants and needs. And I mean both of us.

This past year has been both the most joyful and the most cumbersome year of my life. I’ve had the best problems: great wife, great family, great job, great community, but words can’t tell you all about the hard time I’ve had remembering the difference between wants and needs.

I want more money. I want to be the best youth minister. I want to discover what I’m supposed to do to provide for my family so that you don’t get stuck for what you didn’t sign up for. But I need to be a good daddy. And I need to be a good husband to your mommy. And I need to enjoy all that I am blessed with now before I worry about the future.

We both know that at times this past year, I have confused my wants and my needs.

You see, it’s not that I need to be with you all of the time. Matter of fact, you’re going to need for me to be off doing “daddy’s thing” before I come home to do the daddy-thing a lot of time, as much as I’m going to want to be with you every waking second. It’s just that I’m going to have to work on making sure that I’m not always home when I want to be, but that I am always home when I need to be.

And it’s not that it is a bad thing to want things. Like you may want your B-Ball Bunny or an extra snuggle, or even a little bit of personal space (although that one is gonna hurt at first). I’m going to want things too. It’s just that you and I both are going to be a lot more free when we can identify what we want and what we need.

I want to raise you under the assurance that God’s greatest blessings are those around us. I want you to know the peace and freedom of having everything you need. I even want you to have a few of the things that you will want in this life.

And I need you to know that you and your mommy comes first.

So let’s do it, Burger. Let’s figure it out together.

But now, you’re up from your nap and it’s time for me to join you as we begin your 1st birthday party.

Because that’s what I want to do.

And because that’s what I need.


With All My Love,



P.S. Next time you do something cute, will you remind me to take the camera from mommy so that SHE could get in the picture… it would sure make for a prettier photo!!


Reflections from Donna Schaper: Days One and Four

“Through Earthquake, Wind and Fire, the Still Small Voice of Calm”

The first thing that happened this morning at 7 a.m. was that my seven year old neighbor, Zoe, ran out to visit me in my car, where I was charging my cell phone with my car charger and getting what news I could off the radio. Zoe said, “Let’s go to Stuy Town and see my friend. Her car was floating last night.” Zoe thought this w

as good news but since Stuy Town is two blocks away, in “Zone A” and we live two apartment buildings in from Zone A, in Zone B, I declined. I We could go tomorrow after the cars stopped floating. The high tide was due at 8 a.m., the sun was peeking through the clouds, and the streets were littered with much more debris than usual plus leaves, leaves, leaves. Will the wind ever stop blowing? That was Elmo’s question just now on a blessed NPR broadcast, and I didn’t care whether Big Bird was there to answer or not. Now writing later on Tuesday, which normally would be the day before Halloween, the wind has stopped, the rain has picked up, and we have survived the 8 a.m. high tide, at least on Second Avenue and 18th Street.

Before I could post this, by driving to my daughter’s in Brookyn, where she has email, I drove through and past Stuy Town. The FDR was closed, dozens of cars had trees on top of them, much of the river’s throw-up remains on the street. There are no traffic lights downtown, a unique courtesy on the road, and long lines outside the few open Bodegas. Pedestrians abound. I may also visit my grandchildren in Brooklyn, one of whom is three and announced on facetime this morning, “Bube, I can’t be a good boy any more.” To say that this storm has been long anticipated is to misunderstand what it’s been like Friday through Monday night. I can’t be a good girl any longer either and thus drove across the bridge the second it opened.

My mother called. She had clearly been watching too much television. We posted on the church site where the pastors would be, how to reach us and how ill advised it would be for people to come to us. Two nurse friends of ours moved in, early, to our apartment because they thought they would be pulling double shifts at NYU Hospital up the street. They brought their partners. They live in Brooklyn and couldn’t walk in on subways that had closed or bridges and tunnels that closed right after. “No man is an island,” they like to say, but right now Manhattan is more than an island than imaginable, 24 hours earlier. The NYU Hospital generator failed so they were sent home, and all the patients moved to another hospital. They had tested the generator on Friday and it was working then.

At the height of the storm, we had to take a walk. Three of us made it arm and arm in a four-block circumnavigation; two of us made the full eight blocks. The streets were vigorous. The avenues strenuous. The W hotel lobby was jam packed with people aggressively using their cellphones. Our partner who left us was standing in the foyer, praying for our safe return.

Now we pray for a few more things. First, can we find a way to live without power? Of the electrical kind? Second, what will happen with this many people being without goods or services? We already know to walk the avenues, not the streets, from now on, due to the inevitable need for people to pick pockets and steal from each other. How will we ever mourn the loss of the New Jersey Shore line? Is the Atlantic City Boardwalk really no longer with us? What will happen to the subways? Who was thinking about infrastructure anyway? How much of it is gone, as in gone, I mean gone? What will happen next October? Last October it snowed. This October, the East River moved to First Avenue. What will we tell the children about the floating cars? Is there really an environmental and economic opportunity in a crisis as inconvenient and comprehensive as this one? Maybe now we can think about nature and the economy in new ways. Imagine being grateful for Sandy!

The pleasures are as large as the worries. My next-door neighbors on both sides agreed to help bail, if we needed bailing. My upstairs neighbor came down to ask what she could do. One of the nurses brought a chicken. Amid things crashing and trees touching their toes in the street, there is an odd “I told you so”, a validation of the midnight thoughts of both heart and mind. Nature always trumps technology. And electrical power. And political power. That great sense that we are living wrong, too addicted to plugging in, too soft, too dependent on the wrong things or at least undependable things, has increased. Maybe after the storm is cleaned up, we will do more than buy generators or better flashlights. Maybe we will bridge and tunnel our way to deeper connection with each other and with what power really is. For now, these questions are too large. The smell in the street is increasing, as the sewers back up. People wonder whether to drink what water there is coming out of faucets. There is an odd and full freedom in these moments. I have the cleanest Tupperware drawer in Manhattan. My sock drawer is sorted, and I have matched last year’s orphaned gloves with each other. Later, I will sweep the street and kiss the trees that didn’t fall and go to my friend’s house, where she has power

Day Four:
So the sounds of the fourth day: many whistles from cops who are makeshift traffic lights, the whirring sounds of generators, outdoor grills firing up, then quiet, quiet, quiet. People don’t’ even bother tooting their horns. No where to go, nothing to do. The scale we are using is bonkers/bananas/ or the bonkers/banana combined metric. Personally I am an 8.5 on the combined scale…and I know

 people who are doubling that. The only people left in the village are schizophrenic people, addicted people and pastors….and the first two groups are faring much better than the third. Yes, Bellvue evacuated…but today in the lobby no one seemed to know where the patients had gone. “Where is my brother?” said one man in, the hard way, from Jersey.

Happy SoundTech Appreciation Day!!

Some of us have jobs where we never get noticed… unless we screw up.

Last night, during the 7th inning stretch of what will be the last baseball game for 6 months, what first sounded like bad music, turned out to be a faulty sound production.



That’s right, half of the microphones weren’t working…like, the half that had the melody.


I implore you tonight, to find your SoundTechs, the people who cover your butt, and tell them thanks. Thank them for making sure your worst day never winds up on YouTube.

A Mid-Week MissionTrip Update 2012

One of the exciting opportunities that comes with being here at the Franklinton Center is the chance to run a full program on our own. Everything from the work (in consultation with FCAB staff), the daily theme, the games, the small groups, the rooming assignments, the devotionals, the challenges, is all something that we have worked to plan and coordinate.

With our group (57 students 13 chaperones) we also have found that we need to be flexible with our scheduling in order to accomplish the goals for both the development of our work projects and student relationships.

Last night for example, our group was tired. Willing, but tired. We figured an extra hour of sleep was much more conducive to a friendly community than an extra hour of Forced Family Fun (for their has already been HOURS of that).

All that theobabble to say, we are having a blast!

It was our expectation that we would have a student blog every night about the days activities. They reminded us last night though, that if our major goal is to build intimacy and community, then tearing away from community to right a blog didn’t necessarily fit the objective.

And that’s our group for ya.

They want to meet the objectives, and “Raise the Bar” and they own their mission.

So, here is a brief synopsis of our week:

Our weather has been beautiful, in the 70s, and sometimes cooler. A couple drops of rain, which is miraculous considering we were expecting to have to shut down for the day yesterday after looking at the radar… but for some reason… no rain.

Our group has worked hard, building food pantry shelving, sealing windows in the old school building, building picnic tables, and all kinds of other projects.

They’ve mixed extremely well. The boys were working on a way to organize in ultimate frisbee tournament during free time. Right when I was ready to go all youth minister and step in and over-control the situation, I walked into the common area last night to see them dividing up the teams, mixing gender, and age, negotiating until everybody was on a team that was fair.

The FCB staff continues to compliment us on the quality of the work our students are doing. I’m not sure if community makes good work or good work builds community, but I would suspect it’s some combination of the two.

One of the ways we have been complimented has been through Ms. Mary’s cooking. This is not the best “camp” food we’ve ever tasted. It is some of the best FOOD we’ve ever tasted!

Today, our evening program takes a shift.

We have been focusing on building community, and our students have owned it. One group is responsible for leading worship each night, and it has been incredible!; Energetic, Real, Honest, Relevant, and fun!

Our themes have been “Welcome Home”, “Sankofa” (A mythical bird that flies straight ahead while looking backwards), and “We are Family”. Today’s theme: “teacher, teacher.”

Our students are now leaders. They are truly a different more intertwined community than they were just two and a half days ago. And now we ask them to lead further… to “raise the bar”.

This afternoon, we will be having a special worship/celebration led by Greg and Rodney Milton, whose father Ervin directed the FCB for years. They are phenomenal teachers and musicians, we cannot wait for that.

After that Gary Grant, from the Concerned Citizens of Tillery, NC will come and speak to our group.

From this point on, we will be challenging our students to raise the bar in terms of how they understand justice, loving their neighbor and walking closely with their God.

Over the next couple of days, in addition to all the manual work, we will be having a Guided Meditation walk around the grounds and a Group Communion Feast.

The best is yet to come for sure!

Be sure to check out a live stream of our evening worship at sometime between 8 and 830 tonight. Without WiFi, here’s to hoping that the cell quality around here is sufficient enough to transfer just a portion of the energy of this wonderful, committed, driven, and vibrant group of students!

Hang in there, parents, you’ll get them back soon. In the mean time, you have much to be proud of.


I leave you with a (forced) blog entry from one of our students, Seth Williams, who tells of his day yesterday:




Today in the life of the youth of Community Church many an exciting event occurred during this glorious Wednesday at the Franklinton Center. The day started off with as cold morning with a slow start as the groggy youth shuffled about attempting to prepare for the day to the best of their abilities. After the exodus to the meeting area under the magnolia tree next to the dorms we have taken temporary residence up in we were told of todays themed scriptures which included the story of Jesus healing the blind and crippled and of Jesus feeding the four thousand people who had followed him with a loaf of bread and fish. After this short briefing the youth and counselors alike made their way to the dining hall where a delicious breakfast of pepper and onion eggs with other side dishes were waiting for us. With our basic human needs met it was time to work like we were meant to do in this place. Today the work for my group, group four, was to help to finish refurbishing an old pool house that’s wood has degraded over time and was rotting and become structurally unsound. The group the day before us had done much work and we came in as sort of a finish up group. Our main task for the day was to finish up the back wall to the pool house and to get a coat of paint on it. I spent most of my day on and off a ladder with a hammer almost seemingly in my hand nailing up the wooden walls and back boarding. Throughout the day the people in my group acted as expected with someone named Andrew reciting trivia and being of a lighter mood than I generally am. There was also the occassional people putting their lives in my hands while they were on the ladder no big deal. At one point during this all I was told to strengthen some of the support beams for the ceiling with some pieces of wood to give some cross support. This led to me spending a horrible ten to twenty minutes of my life in a room where and entire family of twenty spiders had decided to take up haven in. through every repetition of the hammer against the nail I was anxiously waiting for one of those evil little eight legged demons to descend upon my head. Once I got out of that room of horrors I spent the rest of the work day finishing up the trimming on the outside walls and then finally helping to paint. At some point during this there was a brief lunch break but this is irrelevent to everything else that had happened. I will say it was composed of chicken, rice, brocolli, and strawberry shortcake that I sadly could not partake in because of a gluton allergy. Now I am sitting here on my freetime that was given to me after work was all done listening to my youth pastor and some of the youth sing songs and perform some renditions of some classic songs and some newer charting songs that I don’t care about. That is how this glorious sunny day at the Franklinton center went.

Generation M – It Is What It Is

I’ve had the opportunity to start doing some presentations centered around the Social Media Revolution, how it is changing our world, and what we as educators, ministers, or youth workers need to do to capitalize on it (if not, manage it).

However, one thing we as adults need to understand and recognize is that our teens (and adolescents) are more entrenched in this revolution than we are.

Sure, the fastest growing population of Facebook users are “Female Speeders” (Women, 55+) – that gap is narrowing, but we as a generation of adults are still behind where are teenagers are in terms of embedding this technology into their everyday lives.

What this means is that we have yet to identify how this technology has affected today’s student. Yes, we know (to some degree) how it is changing our world, but we continue to teach and work with today’s teen as if they are the teenagers we had 20, 10, or even 5 years ago.

Fact is, the teenager we are dealing with is differently affected by media than any other student in the history of the world.

They are over-processed and under-developed. They have the access to answers, yet have less capacity to develop thoughts. They are more connected than ever before and have less capacity for intimacy. They are more programmed than ever, yet have less time for personal growth and development.

I’ve always said that the needs of the teenager have not changed. However, what has changed is the spectrum of which needs are being met vs. those needs which our youth show up having unfulfilled.

We can no longer assume that teenagers need the same things they needed from teachers, youth ministers, ministers, etc. that they’ve needed over the past several years.

And, we can no longer debate whether or not media, specifically Social Media, is “worth it” or not.

It’s now time to talk about how to adapt to this new age, embrace the potential and guard against the dangers.

Generation Multimedia – It is what it is.

And what are we going to do about it?

(Image Courtesy of

To Be Continued…

The 23rd Psalm (Homeboy Style)

While doing some research for my book, I came across an episode of The Dog Whisperer (“Homeboys and Hounds”) where Cesar Milan works with the dogs of rehabilitated gang bangers who are now employed by a group called Homeboy Industries. According to their website, Homeboys International

serves at-risk and gang involved youth with a continuum of services and programs designed to meet their multiple needs, and runs four businesses that serve as job-training sites.

From a charter high school to tattoo removal to poetry classes and solar panel installation training, comprehensive services are offered to all who walk through Homeboy’s doors.

After completing job-readiness programs, clients can be placed in one of our four businesses, where former rivals work side by side baking bread, learning to silkscreen, developing retail skills, or running a restaurant and catering business.”

In sharing his epiphany story, one man recalled thinking, “Come on, God, you’ve always been my favorite homeboy, guide me.”


I thought that was just awesome.

I figure, for David, author of Psalm 23 and a shepherd, God was his “shepherd.” How fitting then, that in the eyes of this self-described homeboy, God was HIS homeboy – the true O.G., if you will.

So, I thought I’d give it a whirl. Without further ado:

23rd Psalm

The Lord is my homeboy, I ain’t fittinda acta fool

He keeps it chill

and on the real.

He keeps it fresh and poppin.

He shows me love and helps me rep for the glory.

Even though I ride through hoodz that ain’t no joke,

I ain’t trippin, for He’s ridin too.

G-(stuff), it’s no joke. He gets me.

He hooks-it-up legit in front of all my haterz.

He puts on, lets me know what’s up, and gets me where I’m spposed to be.

No doubt, ain’t no party like this party, we gonna go all out for all time!

May we all know the “bigness” of God, that we are made in God’s image, and the “shepherding” touch in the way we understand it most clearly. Amen.

(Top picture courtesy of

Israel 2012 – Day Five Part: Leaving One Paradise…

Click Here to Link to Day One
Click Here to Link to Day Two
Click Here to Link to Day Three
Click Here to Link to Day Four

From Galilee to the Dead Sea, birds to humans, today was a day of healing and rejuvenation.

Today was our last day in Galilee. I woke up with that feeling in the pit of my stomach similar to what I always felt on the last day of camp – afraid to leave, afraid to lose the experience. I can only imagine how I will feel when it’s time to leave Jerusalem.

After breakfast, we left to go to out behind our hotel down to the Sea of Galilee. We boarded a boat and headed out to the middle.


Our readings:

“On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat so that the boat was already being swamped. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?”” Mark 4:35-41

“The Sea of Galilee is the only significant body of fresh water in the Middle East. The ancient people of this region had no word to distinguish between a lake and a sea. They called these waters, only thirteen miles by eight miles in size, Kinneret, or Genessaret, or the Sea of Tiberias.
Then and now, powerful storms spring up suddenly on this Sea, as winds blow violently down the gorges, causing deep waves. Yet we are told that Jesus had the capacity to still the wild and chaotic winds and calm the waters. He simply spoke the words: “Peace! Be Still!” Hear those words today in the whisper of the breeze, the cries of the shore birds, the lap of the water on the boat’s hull.” – Casey Baggott


The sea was so flat and peaceful. We could look out at all of Galilee, we could see most’ve where we have been over the last four days.


Is There a Doctor on the Boat?

We moved around the sea for a few minutes until the captain announced we were going to be delayed for a few minutes. A small distance from the boat was a small mass of white, what we realized were two seagulls tied up in fishing lines and multiple hooks, so tight together like puzzle pieces, one of them was face up on his back.

The captain explained they (the crew) were going to do what they could to help the birds.

It reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan. These guys had every opportunity to say to themselves, “There will be other boats coming through that will be able to help these birds.” because there would have been,” Bob said moments later in his sermon. “Or they could’ve said, “There are plenty of birds near the sea” because there were.”


But they didn’t. And the rescue began.

For what seemed like an eternity, the crew worked to circle the boat near the birds and bring them in to the boat using a net, a pole, and a bucket.

It seemed like a doubled eternity while the team of bird doctors (not really, but they did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night) worked together to clip the wire that had wrapped itself around the birds several times.

On and on they worked as our crew gathered around and watched.

Christians, Muslims, and Jews, praying for a miracle. I felt God’s smile.


We could see it too.

On cue, the sun burst through the clouds in a way that only a picture could describe.


As they clipped the last of the wires I realized that the fact that the sea was calm enough to remain still may have been a miracle in and of itself.

Eventually, they launched on freed bird back into the sea. He flapped his wings long enough to show his appreciation. I felt God smile again, and we were smiling too.


The other bird didn’t seem to be as fortunate as he landed back in the sea unable to turn over on his stomach. We were all a little sad. I decided that that bird was on his way closer to God, and in many ways, in the middle of the Sea of Galilee, so was I.

We got off the boat just a mile and a half away from Magdela and visited a museum run by Messianic Jews (People who recognize Jesus as messiah but keep their practices with the Jewish traditions of Jesus) where they showed the preservations of a boat dated to have been 2,000 years old.


This boat would have been on of the rarer boats of the time, as it was bigger than most could’ve afforded. The odds are that Jesus was either on that boat, one like it, or certainly knew the owner of that boat.

Get On the Bus

So now we’re on a bus driving some two hours south along the Jordanian border toward Jerusalem, into a much dryer, rockier geography, and a terser more intense social climate. Today we go to the Dead Sea and Jericho


I watch the West Bank, the Mountains of Samaria turn from grassy and rocky to complete sand and rock. A shift is underway for our group.


I think of Jesus’ life in Galilee. And I think of how it shifted when he got to Jerusalem. In a different way, our time in Galilee has been necessary to transition us into what will happen in Jerusalem.

Even still, now going past security check points into Palestinian occupied territory, we are anxious but ready for whatever God has in store for us next.

Crossing into through Jericho into the Dead Sea, we are now some 1200 feet below sea level. Aside from the mountainous topography, this nothing like what we left. I think of Jesus’ first journey into Jerusalem as a boy. What went through his mind?

I’m in culture shock before I even reach Jerusalem. I imagine how Jesus must’ve felt as a boy! And I have the internet!!

The Dead Sea

We arrived to our hotel at 3:30pm local time and had about an hour and a half until sunset – though it was already growing dark. Some of us immediately changed into bathing suits and headed in our robes, crossing the street to the Dead Sea.

Behind us were tall orange mountains that look like caves that went as high as if to imply that the world stopped there.

We know better, though.

We went into the Dead Sea one at a time. Somebody had to be first and prove it was tolerable. It was 64 degrees!!

It was so worth it though. The Dead Sea has a salt density ten times that of the Atlantic Ocean. What does that mean? Well two things.

#1 – don’t drink the water. A rule that I tested, and now agree with.

#2 – It was so salty not only was it easier to float, but it was hard not to! Literally! When my feet hit the ground (only once) they would immediately bounce up as if I was hopping like an astronaut on the moon. Once you got the weight shifted to your butt (read for the kids: tooshy) it took many of us a good four or five tries to get back upright.

For kicks and giggles a few of us tried rolling over to our stomachs to give it a shot – now there was a sight to see! Wish I could show you folks back in America the video, but you know, what happens in the Dead See… (wait for it)… stays in the Dead Sea.

The Dead Sea is supposed to have healing power. Because of the natural salts and minerals in the Sea, many lotions and scrubs, salts and smells have been processed and sold not just in the Middle East but all around the world. (I wrote that last sentence for anybody who has never been in a shopping mall before)

Yes the Dead Sea is supposed to have healing power for your skin and beyond.

We arrived today, achy, tired, travel-logged, and perhaps a bit cranky (over emotionally-processed). We ended our day, many of us, laughing like children, flipping, and giving each other hugs and high-fives of encouragement. The Dead Sea is supposed to have healing power… and I would have to agree.

We have been revived by the Dead Sea!


Now On to Jerusalem!

A Note To Friends, Family, and Readers

Neither Phil or I feel like we are sacrificing by writing this blog.

But it has become, at times, a bit cumbersome. Phil has at points become worried about me sacrificing my time to process this once in a lifetime opportunity in order to journal. I tend to think that this is helping me process immensely (that’s one of the reasons I wanted to blog), yet other times I grew concerned he was right.

Today at lunch (lunch was a whole other story! We ate at a placenamed Temptation Restaurant after the overpoweringly high mountain where Jesus is believed to have been tempted! Boy were we ever tempted at this meal! The plates of food just kept coming! but I digress…)


Many of our travelers were asking me what Phil and I were working on. I explained that this is a personal lens of what I hope is a group picture. They are excited to have a travel log of our time together, and Phil and I are excited to be able to portray at least a portion of their feelings (at least as a part of our travel group) to their loved ones as well.

All that to say this, when we got back to our room between the Dead Sea and dinner we were greeted by several of your comments – both on our blog and my facebook page.

It is incredibly humbling to realize your support and care for us while we are here. Thank you, thank you, thank you. You have been in our prayers, and I pray that you have been as blessed as we have been by your care and prayers.

It is also humbling to realize how many of you have shared that you feel as though you’ve been able to SHARE in the experiences with us. That is as fulfilling to me as the other miracles I have experienced on this trip.

Thank you for your willingness to share. I assure you, it has gone both ways.

God of abundance, I celebrate how big you are. Big as the Mountains. Big as the Seas. You are big enough to be at one end of paradise. And the Other.
May you give us the blessing of being able to feel what it’s like atop the Mountains of our lives. And when we are there, may we radiant enough, by your blessing, that those we love feel the warmth too. In the holy land where it began, and in all the holy land where it continues, Amen.

Click Here to Link to Day Six
Click Here to Link to Day Seven
Click Here to Link to Day Eight
Click Here to Link to Day Nine

My Trip to Israel: Holding Fast

So, a coupla things. I’m going to Israel in five days. And I’ve been on a liquids-only fast. Allow me to explain. See, what had happened was…

Israel 2012

It’s always been a dream of mine to visit the Middle East, in particular the places where Jesus might have walked – although I just can’t bring myself to refer to it as The Holy Land, isn’t it all holy land?

I also feel compelled to better understand the history and present state of the Middle Eastern Conflict, though I don’t mean for that to sound as simplistic as it sounds. I just expect understanding struggle in that region to affect how I understand my day to day “struggle”.

I confess that my prayer for peace is unfortunately often confined to just those I live with…

So anyway, true to the way the rest of my life is going, I was blindsided with good fortune when I was asked (I’m not sure “asked” is the right word, but whatever) to travel with a group from my local church to Israel on a ten day trip that will visit Ceserea, Capernaum, Tanbgha (feeding of the multitudes miracle site), visit the Mount of the Beatitudes, the Dead Sea, Migdal (as in Mary of Magdela, the River Jordan Baptism site), Qumran (Dead Sea Scrolls), Jericho, Bethlehem, the Dehaishe Refugee Camp, the Garden of Gethsemane and Mount of Olives, the Upper Room, Jerusalem, and the garden tomb.

However, I am most excited to meet with a group from the Nazareth Galilee Academic Institute – the first accredited Arab university with students and faculty representing Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. We plan on discussing the feasibility and opportunities for bringing a group of American students on an emersion/mission trip on a regular basis.

HOW COOL IS THAT?? And yes, the other half of The Odd Couple will be going with me, we’re a package deal, you see. Phil has earned this opportunity, I’m just going to cash in on his passion and hard work.

A Liquids-Only Fast 2011

The other night on Doug Pagitt’s Radio Show (“Religious Radio that Isn’t Always Right”), Doug explained his juice-only fast as being a way to not only detox from the Thanksgiving gluttony (my paraphrase) but also as a way to “fasten” himself, of “hold fast” to whatever it was he was trying to center himself towards.

When I realized that my Israel trip was coming up – I had all but forgotten about it amidst the clutter, first-world anxiety, and over-eating/indulging of the past 8 weeks – it occurred to me that I had an opportunity to focus myself for the upcoming journey of a lifetime.

What a great opportunity to detox my body and remind myself that what I need to survive in abundant health is so much less than what I have been consuming!

What a great opportunity to center myself on being ready, and more importantly present for the days that lie ahead.

With sacrifice comes awareness. With discipline comes balance.

With liquids-only comes great irritability.

Fasting is Hard

So let me tell you, fasting is HARD! My head aches, my legs feel weak, and I swear my lower lip is beginning to quiver. My body is not physically hungry, yet every physiological signal in my body craves the healing of a Golden Corral.

When this fast first began, I was proud, resolute, steadfast to the commitment I had made and the purposes for which I had made it. And now, I am weak, vulnerable, and an idiot for not just trying to go “low-carb”!

It’s not that I mind that my 5-months pregnant wife have her splurge day dinner of Digiorno and Ben & Jerry’s, but does she have to make it smell SO STRONG?! My will has been broken, it will take everything I have to carry on!

Still, two things bring me solace in my present state of misery.

First, the reasons for this fast (health, simplicity, focus) are things I need and believe in.

Second, it’s only been one day!

Solidarity, brothers and sisters!