Experiencing another Holy Disturbance on the lake


I love living in the city. Between Buffalo and Philadelphia it’s been 3/4 of my life. I love people who learn how to share, the convergence of cultures, the creativity, and the ability to walk/bike to most places I go. I don’t love various forms of pollution we have to adapt to, especially light pollution. It makes the stars really difficult to see.

I learned three important disciplines that help me stay even though I’m privileged with the mobility to live in another context. The first is to take care of whatever creation I’m living on. That started as spider plants in the house, then growing herbs in pots and now into a backyard garden. Secondly, take advantage of the open/green space we have. Play outside. The third is to leave regularly and enjoy God’s creation in the larger region. This past week I got to enjoy two separate trips to the Poconos – one for a wedding and the other for a two-day mentalizing session with the other Circle of Hope pastors.


I took this pic while thinking about this stuff

My cell talked about two concepts that came to me during an hour chill session on the pastors’ trip while we met at Franny Lou’s Porch this morning. While sitting on the edge of a small lake yesterday, I enjoyed the stillness of the water. It reflected the glorious autumn spectacular of the trees as well as the sky full of chubby clouds. The reflection almost looked like the real thing until something would disturb the water. I think I can sometimes enjoy a copy or reflection of something so much that I almost think it’s the real thing. That might be like listening to a good podcast and imagining I’m in Antarctica or watching my indie sci-fi thrillers and wondering which one of us is a cyborg. While reflecting the Goodness of God is important, we need to experience God directly in order to make a good reflection.

I decided to experiment with the acorn sitting next to me, tossing it into the stillness and got a nice thumpk, producing a perfect circle that rippled out smaller and smaller. I imagined that ideas can be like that – those within the blast radius of it’s goodness feel the big waves, further away you don’t really get it. Experiencing the presence of the Holy Spirit is kind of like that, too. We all feel the Holy Disturbance at one point or another, but most of the time we stick to our conditioning and miss the big ripples. We can easily stay behind our screens, fixate on our anxieties, and keep the earbuds in while doing whatever we need to do for comfort and privacy. The ripple doesn’t move us.

When we learn to open ourselves to the experience of God’s Spirit through worship or prayer, we can become like water still enough to be moveable. We don’t just feel the little ripples or reflections, we experience something that makes us want to joyfully throw acorns.

As we gathered in our weekly face-to-face time, I think we all got some strength. It’s wasn’t just putting gas in the tank so we can do normal life, it’s being present to the reality that a once caged birds have been set free to fly and are soaring. It honestly excites me to worship together this Sunday, when Preston & Ellen have been developing a liturgy for us to be able to draw near to God together. I imagine 200+ covenant members getting together later this month for the Love Feast and my heart is further warmed. I want to live where the Holy Spirit is disturbing me and moving me. There’s nothing quite like the real thing.

Our Surveillance Society, the Hawthorne Effect, and Community

I had a tingly moment the other day under the El. A woman, hunched over, was coming into the store I was leaving. I held the door open for her as she shuffled past me mumbling something. I felt an eerie sensation like I was being observed and recorded, like my reaction was part of an experiment as if some twisted Hawthorne Effect cloud was hovering around me. It could be due to the fact that Liberty Choice has video cameras rolling. It also could be a sort of “cough” due to the illness of our burgeoning surveillance society. What kind of medicine is there for such a sickness? What can speak to the fear, the anxiety, or the indifference to a lack of any privacy?

I remember when Candid Camera had a resurgence in the mid 80s, Folgers Crystals was surprise swapped in America’s finest restaurants, and watched live as Chris Farley lost his mind because he unknowingly drank decaf. To me it was so novel, so clever. Could you get people’s authentic surprise to viewers not connected to the situation? How fun it would be to be part of such pranks! My friend Elisabeth got a bunch of us to make a few skits pranking The Pizza Guy in hilarious ways that Jimmy Kimmel may have made famous.

With a growing movement of civilian-led solutions using surveillance like the recent Phila hate crime and this week’s release of footage in Carlesha’s abduction, it seems good to use the technology available to try to solve crimes directly – or even to hold the occasional mirror up to the US about prejudices. ABC ran this 12min story about a white guy, a black guy, and a pretty girl trying to steal a bike. Youtubers Simple Misfits, in less than 2 minutes, show how people in L.A. reacted to a white dude or black dude attempting to break into a car (spoiler alert: the car is owned by the black dude). What path to healing can point out problems and model solutions? 

Should we set limits for technology that are based on how tools have been used well or try to find out more about the abuse and power to use these same tools for evil? How often do we behave like we are part of some experiment or like the camera is rolling –  where it’s basically impossible to act natural. The Hawthorne Effect describes how people act in response to observers when they are part of an experiment, sort of similar to camera awareness or the bystander effect. I think generally people act better when they know another is watching. Like while riding my bike, I ride faster if I notice a stranger coming up from behind. People driving often speed up when you go to pass them. When it’s people and robots watching through cameras, I think it’s a little different. Doesn’t the constant stress or fear of the possibility/likelihood of being watched and listened to eventually frazzle or fatigue us?

I like it that force by police officers drops by 60% and citizen complaints dropped by ten times in one year in Rialto, CA when cops wore cameras. But still…isn’t it kind of freaky to record everything? Can’t it make us less human to know that on some level we are being recorded all the time? I’ve talked to a bunch of people that think God is some kind of cosmic eye waiting for them to screw up so the Great Arbiter in the Sky can swiftly deal out punishment. Yikes.

In this kind of moment, it’s even more important to get to know Christ’s compassion for us. I think it helps us be more human, and truly natural (as in our true selves) when we know Jesus is in our midst and suffers with us. I would rather spying had clear boundaries and we had more privacy, drones did not scout and destroy, and the Google robot recording device did not roam the streets even if it does make my GPS app work better.

The bigger reason why people think we need more surveillance is because they don’t have community. No one will (or can?) hold another accountable for their actions unless they are recorded and can be prosecuted. Wouldn’t it be better if we knew the people who came into our stores, who lived on our block, or had relations with other nations full of mutual respect? Jesus offers this kind of community with himself, others, and all of creation. I’m compelled in the face of nefarious infringement, recording, and snooping to try to walk in that Way.



Catching a buzz on life: six crucial ingredients for unraveling your vexation

You may know already, but I’ve been learning how to assemble electric guitar kits. I love electric guitars for playing and owning but have little experience with tiny tools, finishing wood, electronics, and fine adjustments. I’m glad it was an inexpensive way to spend quiet time alone in my basement workshop learning and failing – as well as finding moments of great joy. I broke through a wall the other night in my first guitar kit (telecaster style) build, overcoming an obstacle that plagued me for about half the project. It was about 12:15am at the time, and the buzz I caught from the sense of accomplishment kept me up for the next hour or so, feeling so great I couldn’t settle down.

When I was there, I was thinking how much I wanted others to experience something similar – or at least tell their story. When I began the project, it was not about feeling good. Actually, the primary motivation was a cost-saving way to have a quality double neck like a Gibson EDS 1275. When I was hanging out with some friends from Neighborhood Film Company and Working Film Estb yesterday, some of these were becoming more clear to me. Dan at Working Film probably said all of these to me as he was describing how wonderful the second round of apprenticeships have been going (follow their link for more). As we at Circle of Hope are discerning our Second Act together, I hope these are encouraging to you. Here are a few crucial ingredients to unraveling a sense of vexation.

You’ll need to pay attention to your attitude. If your experience vexation, your likely to get frustrated or annoyed quickly. Make gratitude part of your daily medicine. Start with the good that you’ve been given rather than what you don’t have yet.

A sense of accomplishment and that lifebuzz really nailed my despair. I don’t think that feeling comes when I stick do doing things that are easy, or filling up my leisure time with entertainment only. Do something difficult – hard enough to need God. Your faith will grow, you will develop trust, and your sense of possibilities will multiply.

Quitting or turning back will likely sink your boat. Don’t give up after failing, or just because you haven’t succeeded yet. Maybe being raised a Buffalo Bills fan was good for my character, but I think the African proverb (at least I’ve read it’s African) “smooth seas don’t make skilled sailors” can bring comfort to the weary. I learned more in the past month about guitar setup through failure than I did in the past 20yrs of playing the thing.

Make a goal that is bigger than your feeling. Sometimes going backpacking gives me the opportunity to “put my horns on” and charge up a steep incline because I know it will feel good to be at the top. That’s a good reason for the day, or maybe even for the gym. If your goal is your feelings, you eventually will probably build up a tolerance to success or accomplishment and will never be satisfied. Make a goal that benefits others, produces something for another, or is something Jesus is giving you to do. You may not get a buzz right away or very often, but your vexation will start to get unraveled – freeing you up for all sorts of goodness.

When you have those rare (if you’re like me) moments of elation, jubilation, or hilltop rally – don’t rush the sweetness. Savor the moment. Every once in a while these moments should be private and are for you alone. Most of the time, I think they are better shared. You don’t need to brag or be proud in a bad way – have some authentic joy and share it. Tell your story.

Lastly, don’t hog the glory. When you do experience a win, acknowledge God’s move as well as others who participated. I have lived in community for so long that I might not even know what it’s like to do something by myself. Even if I contributed, there are always others who went before me or helped the process along. Share the treasure – such goodness is meant to be enjoyed by all.

re: definition

Great day with the family, working in the yard and the house.   I am constantly surprised by how wonderful it is to increase the definition of different areas.  When my yard bleeds into one blob, it feels chaotic to be out there.

I get something inside when there are boundaries in the garden.  Different areas for different things.  Places where you don’t walk.  Weeds pulled up and other junk that collects between plants.  It feels so tranquil.

This is not my first post about such things.  But it is the first post about yard work when I thought of a song-not a ton of connection beyond me stealing the title.  This is a great video, too.

Cop:  [To Hi-Tek] “are you deaf?”

Tek:  “nah, he’s Def.”

Mos Def:  “he’s Hi-Tek.”

Law & Disorder in where?

Jenni got me watching this BBC special hosted by Louis Theroux called Law & Disorder in Philadelphia.  Below is the first of 6 parts that you can view on youtube, or on Jenni’s blog (link above).

I can’t help but feel a lot of things while watching.  It’s pretty good in the sense that I wanted to continue once I started.  Pretty brutal in that it portrays a dangerous and seemingly unsolvable cycle of poverty in violence.

If you live around here you might recognize some of the sights (maybe even people).   People around the neighborhood do act like this sometimes (and so do the cops), but the sensationalization bugs me.  People are going to look even crazier when they have such a narrow-viewed interrogater looking at violence in the city at one level.  It’s almost to say “this is why our city sucks” or “be afraid to live here because these people are on the loose.”

Well, our city does kind of suck sometimes.  I’d like to dig a bit further at some causes of poverty, Louis.  I’d like to explore why we’re not working together to keep illegal guns off the street.   I’d like to consider the American way of life that leads the “haves” to run to a place of relative safety, sometimes at the expense of the “have nots”.  I’d like some more options for people who get stuck in the ruts of their surroundings.

I guess it would be a boring movie to explore corporate profit on the street drug industry, sale of illegal handguns, letting neighborhoods languish before buying them up, etc.  At least boring in the sense that you don’t have a person with a crack addiction yelling into the camera to reinforce a lot of stereotypes.

The culture of violence or the cycle of poverty are not easily explained or solved.  We really do need Jesus in Philadelphia.

look, mom, we’re on TV

My rather cool friend Josh Camerote has been working on a piece for Current TV on Circle of Hope for a few months.  The finished piece is now on their website and will be on their tv station at some point.

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Pardon the whacky description on the Current TV website (here is the video).  That wasn’t Josh, it was written by zippy editors I guess.  God is doing some cool stuff, though, in Philly.

I’m having trouble with the imbed, sorry about that.  If anyone has any experience with their player and wants to give me a hand posting it into wordpress that’d be awesome.

chillaxin in the Mohawk Valley

I love Philadelphia.  I also love vacation, and it feels like it doesn’t happen all that often-we have a lot to do.  Wednesday night we rolled up to my mom’s house in the center of New York State,  Thurs morning drove to my aunt’s house outside of Buffalo, chilled for a few hours and then drove back.  That made me tired.

Friday was much kicking it and not buying stuff.  We got to play late night Rock Band with my long-time amigo Nick and his wonderful wife Ann.  And we took some rock-out shots (set here) to commemorate. For good or for ill, on RB1 there is a default character called Moosejaw Bordeau (mostly known as Amber Alert, though) who some say bears a resemblance to someone we know.  Not sure who, but he’s a great lookin guy-for a video game.

amber alert

amber alert

RB1 is better than karaoke

Today my brother Buddy had a basketball scrimmage-this is his senior year.  He dominated-so good to see him rip it up.  Me and the kiddos walked back from the school through the woods that I used to play in.  Their minds are always blown by the woods.  City slickers.  We had dinner with my old man and then rocked out on Lazer Tag.  No doubt an incredible time (set here-why not?).

Hanging with more old friends tommorow, (and the Bills are on TV here!!!) playing some b-ball ourselves, maybe the sacred Baseball Hall of Fame on Monday-it’s only like 40min from my mom’s house.

Things Better Left Unsaid #247: talking to kids about torture at the dinner table

So last night we’re having dinner (me, MG, Jay, and my 2 daughters Helena-7 and Lily-4) and Martha’s cell comes up.  She is thinking about what to talk about next week (Tues night in Fishtown at Lindsay Mae’s house) since they are doing a sort of short series on world events and justice issues.  She brainstorms Guantanamo Bay.

That’s where I come in.

Things Better Left Unsaid #247:  Talking to kids about torture at the dinner table.

JGrace:  “yeah, that’s a good one.  where are you going with it?”

MG:  “learning more about what goes on there and why.  It’s been in the news lately.”

JGrace:  “yeah, isn’t Bush going to pardon all those who have anything to do with organizing it?  Including himself?”

MG:  “that’d be a good idea.”

JGrace:  “yeah.  the people behind Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo are connected.  We have that book upstairs that might be helpful.  It talks about water boarding and stuff.  You know [children really interested at this point], they strap a dude down and throw a towel over his face and then start…

MG: [interrupting] uuhhhhhh…maybe not right now?”


yeah.  good call, honey.   but that El-P video for Smithereens is pretty good.