Upstate New York

Most people are busy. That's what we say to each other. 

"Hey, Fred, how are things? Are you keeping busy," asks Barney.

"Yep, looking forward to a break," says Fred.

And they pass each other thinking that that is good, normal, and productive. Keeping busy has become an expectation. We expect to be pulled in different directions and we expect others to also go from one activity to the next. And we hardly give such things a second thought.

But busyness is not a sign of good work or productivity. Busyness, in fact, may be a form of lazyness. It may be a way to avoid setting priorities and it may be a way to numb out and it may be something that is simply not good.

Traveling recently to upstate New York to get away, I found a sense of rhythm again. Unforced and unrehearsed. And guess what? I was still productive. I still managed to get some things done.

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Dubai: Reflections on Modern Change

On the way to Africa a few years back, I stopped in Dubai. It's like Phoenix, with way more money. The airport is impressive and the clash between what's modern and what's tradition and what's western and what's eastern is both dazzling and dizzying.

If you've seen the MIssion Impossible: Ghost Protocol film, you'll note that Dubai is prominent as the heroes navigate tall buildings and sandstorms. Dubai encapsulates modernity's rise in a centuries old desert. Os Guinness notes in his book The Last Christian on Earth that "Christians have always shown a curious inability to consider things from a long-term perspective." The latest isn't always the greatest.

How, then, do we hold on to ancient wisdom in an era of restlessness? What happens to long-term or longview leadership in an age of start-ups?

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Whiteside County, Northern Illinois

At some point, though, I will have THAT conversation. The one about how girls should be avoided and how boys do stupid things and at some point, the conversation will turn toward the physical. My son currently doesn't care much about certain singers or bands, he likes Arkham video games more. At some point, though, girls won't be yucky and not all will look like his sister. The first kiss for me happened in Whiteside County in Northern Illinois. Do I remember her? Yes. Does she remember me? I have no idea--not the point. Did I know what I was doing? Not at all. But, don't we all think we have something, even love, figured out until the idea of the thing crashes in to our daily life? 

This is an inevitable conversation, not because sex absolutely must be talked about in explicit terms, but because love is physical and to deny that is more than Victorian sensibility or aristocratic decorum.

Champaign, Illinois

Currently, my office sits on the campus of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. This public University is home to more international students than any other public institution in the U.S. Currently, we have nearly 10,300 from all over the world.

What is being brought to campus is ingenuity, creatviity, and expertise that will in turn go out worldwide. In other words, the Illinois footprint extends beyond the borders of its own state. Over 2000 students also leave the U.S. to study abroad. So, a constant exchange is going on. This sparks some fascinating conversations and has meant that we consistently learn to cross borders.

And to this end, let me ask you, what borders have you crossed today? From a spiritual perspective, many acknowledge that we are part of something bigger than ourselves. We are not the center of all things. From a diplomatic or community perspective, we are also not the center of all things. In each case, we must listen. We must learn. We must engage with that which is different from us.

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Why Israel?

I have often wondered why the world is so fixated on Israel. I get why most Christians like Israel. This is the Holy Land, the setting for the biblical narrative. This is the place where Jesus was born and lived and died and came back to life. Jesus ascended to heaven from Jerusalem, Israel’s 3,000-year-old capital. He will return to the same spot at some time in the future.

That’s the Christian story, which explains Christian interest. But what about the other five billion people on the planet? They don’t care about the biblical narrative and the life of Jesus. So what is it about this slender slice of land—you could fit seven Israels into my home state of California—that attracts such attention, such controversy, and such historical hatred?

Recently my wife and I traveled to Israel for the first time as part of an organized tour. We visited many important sites—Caesarea, the Sea of Galilee, Masada, and Jerusalem were highlights—and we heard dozens of lectures by local guides as well as our own tour experts.

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Washington D.C.

A recent Georgetown lecture aired on public television featuring former President Bill Clinton. I find him to be a remarkably interesting speaker and he did not disappoint. His grasp of politics, history, and the world stage are engaging and whether you agree or disagree, he's worth listening to.In the Q/A, he said some profound things about leadership, which stuck with me a bit. For example, each person needs to have the skills and the psychology that fits their context for the times. The latter point was rather new to me, but outstanding. Yes, the psychology of a leader must be an asset to the context he or she is in. Incidentally, the one indispensable book Clinton recommended is the Meditations of Marcus Aurelius...I will look it up.

He also referenced Franklin Pierce, who was President leading up to our Civil War. On the way to Washington for the Inauguration, Pierce and his family were in a train accident and Pierce's son fell during the wreck, broke his neck, and died. Simply awful. But, is it any wonder that Pierce struggled to gain his footing in the White House? He started with that horrible beginning.

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London, England

The first time I traveled abroad was to study abroad. And this was in London, England. While there is not space here to recount the impact that experience has had on my life, let me take the opportunity to list out a few lessons learned for any that may study or travel abroad.

1. Think beyond College and beyond the next semester now.


When I studied abroad, while at College, some well meaning people called it a "once in a lifetime" experience. I always disagreed with this. Instead, I saw this as part of my pathway and journey and as soon I left London, I knew I would return. I did not know I would return over 10 times, but I knew I would return because I saw global citizenship and humanitarian work as part of how I would live my life. Your life is the thing that you get one shot at....not your travel.

New Orleans

Minutes before arriving at my hotel last week, an armed man put a gun in front of the desk clerk and ran off with the money. I arrived shortly after the robbery with cops everywhere and a shaken up desk clerk. Note to self: pay attention.

The last time I was in New Orleans was to discuss relief efforts after Katrina with friends of the non-profit I was working for. We organized a training event together after that which focused on worldview and applied theology. This trip was vastly different. It's one thing to see the effects of a violent storm, quite another to see violence come from the hand of a human being.

Residents of the hotel were shaken up a bit. The workers talked about it the next day at breakfast. I was impressed with how the desk clerk handled herself and put the hotel and its patrons first. The world is capable of handing us bad days and sometimes what we mean by the world is that other men and women sometimes have the desire to be so violent that they threaten our view of things.

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Piswa, Uganda

Last week, I was in Gulu and Kampala, Uganda, respectively. The two cities are about a seven hour drive by car from each other and they are two of the largest cities in the country.

The last time I was in Uganda, I visited Piswa and frankly, Uganda has a little bit of everything. There is the amazing congestion of Kampala, where history and modernity are competing for space. There is the regional poverty on the way to the next city and there are Universities tucked almost out of sight, yet still accessible.

 

One thing, though, that sticks out in traveling to a place like Uganda is that you are confronted, assaulted may be just as appropriate, with the obvious extreme poverty as well as striking beauty at the same time.

Edinburgh, Scotland

Standing at the window, I watched a young person vomit on to the street. The drinking binge officially ended and while I never met the person nor did they look up to my 4th floor room, I simply noted that vantage points matter.

A few days later, I sat at a table in a coffee shop and a plaque stated that this is where J.K. Rowling had written part of Harry Potter. She’d been a regular before Harry became huge. And I figured on that day, sometimes where you sit matters.

A friend gave us a tour that recounted the martyred covenanters and the day ended at Blackfriar’s cemetery. Once again, vantage points matter.

Yet, the waitress in a local pub is someone I remember as much as anyone else.

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