Thursday, December 25, 2008

Christmas Reflections and a gift

It's a cold night in Rome. I went to midnight Mass at St. Peters but left early because it was too cold to stay outside. I almost lost sight of it there; almost lost sight of the reason we celebrate Christmas. I got caught up in the cold and the frustration of being in a big city, got caught up in the ceremony and the Pope as a rock star, got caught up in even the beauty and grandeur of it. But God is gracious. He steps in and reminds, gently, of what Christmas is all about.

O Come, let us adore Him. This baby, born amidst the animals, born and laid into a feed manger, born amidst the squalor to a poor, working class guy and his fiancee, is the one who is worthy of our adoration. This baby, whose heralds were both great and small, star and shepherd, women and wise men... this baby is the King of Kings. Is the long awaited Savior, the one to bring a deliverance from a more demanding master than Rome, from a master that wars for the soul. This baby, God in flesh, God clothed in the most undivine clothing of a weak and helpless babe, is the ONE to bring peace on earth, peace in men's hearts.

Hosanna in the highest! The angels couldn't hold back from belting out a song of celestial joy. The wise men drop to a knee, the shepherds reach out with rough calloused hands to stroke the soft cheek of the baby and then sit back an marvel, wonder in their eyes. Joseph stand protectively by, exhausted and confused but remembering his dream and knowing that his adopted son's entrance into the world confirms that this angel who appeared was not just his imagination. And Mary files away the memories with a worn out, contented look on her face, not even minding the smell of the shepherds.

O Come, all ye faithful and adore Christ the Lord! The sacrificial Lamb of God who was born to take away the sin of the world. Kneel before Him, for he alone is worthy of the adoration. Joy to the world! Hosanna in the highest! Amen.

I pray that this Christmas music will bless you this day. It is worth the download even if only for the version of Joy to the World.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Vacation: In Words, the Recap

Val Gardena, World Cup Skiing, Mountains, Diving in the Sea, Salerno, caroling around Rome... my life has been full and crazy these past couple weeks, hence my lack of substantial posts. So let me start from... well two weeks ago. My last week on campus here wasn't really spent on campus. Instead, it was spent in leaders meetings, with leaders from Agape Italia congregating in Rome and learning together. The subject was a Leaders Capacity, which basically means how much you are able to do. It was insightful and really I think I just benefitted being around such quality, wise men like Greg L. and Scott K. These guys not only have their head on their shoulders and follow Jesus well, but they also take a personal interest in everyone they encounter. I got some good life advice from them, as I am beginning to figure out what the heck my life will hold in store this next year.

After that, I headed down south to a city called Salerno, about an hour south of Napoli (Naples). The beauty is breathtaking but honestly, headed down there, I didnt care because I was going a day early to suprise my girlfriend. With a complex web of deception, I managed to get into her apartment and start making her dinner :) When she stopped back in to pick something up before headed out to dinner, voila! I was there for the suprise :) Thanks to all who helped trick her and to Marti for the quality recipe; it was so simple yet good that even I couldnt screw it up. My time in Salerno was chill; quality runs, doing a December dip in the sea after one of my runs (cold, but felt great on the legs), and hanging out with Amanda. And we got to watch the first two movies in the Lord of the Rings. It was a relaxing start to a crazy week.

I left Salerno and spent 12 hours headed north to Bolzano, or more specifically to San Cristina where I skiied for two days at Val Gardena, probably one of the best places to ski in the Italian Alps, or the world. I met up with a lot of others who were already there and we blazed the slopes for two days. The views were out of this world; quite literally felt like I was living in some dream world, some Planet Earth documentary on the mountains. The skiing was great and the apple strudel there was fantastic! We got to watch some of the World Cup of skiing and the last day I got to ski down the World Cup downhill course with Mario and Giacomo. Pretty unreal. The other highlight was hanging out with a guy named Finn, who shared his beer, stories and a song with me. Nice guy, freaking sweet moustache, and the guy made some cool pipes (which I didnt buy this time). Check out his picture below and you will get an idea of what he is like.

When I finally made it back to Rome, things havent really settled down too much. Sam is back in Rome which is fantastic. I went caroling last night for the first time in my life; Ella whipped us into a 3 part harmony choir. Basically, I just stand really close to Sam and try really hard to imitate what he sings because I cant do it on my own. It actually kind of sounded good. If I can find and pictures or videos, I will post them. Well, thats about it for now... sorry for the straight up diary but I figured I would catalog it all. Enjoy the pictures.

Christmas Vacation: In Photo's

For these pictures to make sense, you probably need to scroll to the bottom of this post, then scroll up. Otherwise you are beginning at the end... but suit yourself. Enjoy a taste of my crazy Christmas break so far :)
I skied the World Cup downhill course!
Exhausted after their 6th straight day of skiing, my second
Jimmy was trying to do a 180 on a tow rope... it didnt work :)

They were holding World Cup races that week in Val Gardena

The skiing crew that day
Yes, I was really there, in Val Gardena
The view from my apartment window!
I met and shared a beer with a guy named Finn, who makes pipes and writes songs
After 3.5 days in Salerno, I said goodbye to Amanda and headed north to Bolzano
Catching the rocking band The Cellar,fronted by GianLuca
I surprised Amanda by coming to Salerno a day early and cooking her dinner.
We skyped with Miami Crusade at 3 AM
The week before we got off break, there was a leaders conference in Rome. Amanda was here :)

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Love of Stuff

I know, I havent written about my life here in a while. I apologize. This week was crazy. Good in some ways, tragic in others, but definitely crazy. Sunday night one of my close friends found out his Mom died. Pray for him. There were four days of a leadership conference here in Rome. Yesterday I left my apartment at 8:20 in the morning and got back at 10:00 pm. So that gives you an idea. I would love to write more on all that later but where it stands now is that I am tired and want to go to bed. So I am simply going to post this editorial (by Leonard Pitts Jr, an Pulitzer winning columnist) my Dad sent me... you can find the original at THIS WEBSITE.

Love of stuff is a holiday tragedy
Saturday, December 6, 2008 2:53 AM
By Leonard Pitts Jr.

I like stuff as much as the next guy.

My closet is stuffed with stuff, my shelves groan with stuff, boxes full of stuff jam my garage. I like stuff just fine.

But I would not kill for it.

Last week, a 34-year-old man was trampled to death by a mob rushing into a Wal-Mart to buy stuff.

Jdimytai Damour was a seasonal worker manning the door of a store in Valley Stream, N.Y., as shoppers eager for so-called Black Friday bargains massed outside. The store was scheduled to open at 5 a.m., but that was not early enough for the 2,000 would-be shoppers. At five minutes before the hour, they were banging their fists and pressing their weight against the glass doors, which bowed and then broke in a shower of glass. The mob stormed in.

Four people, including a pregnant woman, were injured. And Damour was killed as people stomped over him, looking for good prices on DVDs, winter coats and PlayStations. Nor was the mob sobered by his death. As authorities sought to clear the store, some defiantly kept shopping; others complained that they had been in line since the night before.

And here, it seems appropriate to observe the obvious irony: Black Friday is the traditional beginning of the Christmas shopping season, Christmas being the holiday when, Christians believe, hope was born into the world in the form of a baby who became a man who preached a gospel of service to, and compassion for, our fellow human beings.

It is hard to see evidence of either in the mob's treatment of Jdimytai Damour, and if your inclination is to heap scorn upon them, I don't blame you. But I would caution against regarding them as freaks or aberrations whose callous madness would never be seen in sane and normal people like ourselves. That would be false comfort.

You might think I'm talking about mob psychology, and to a degree, I am. From soccer riots to the Holocaust, human beings always have had a tendency to lose individual identity and accountability when gathered in groups. You will do things as part of a crowd that you never would as an individual. Theoretically, anyone who lacked a strong enough moral center and sense of self could have been part of that mob in Valley Stream.

But it's not just our common vulnerability to mob psychology that ties the rest of us to last week's tragedy. It is also our common love of stuff. Indeed, it is hard to imagine a starker illustration of our true priorities. Oh, we pay lip service to other things. We say children are a priority, but when did people ever press against the door for Parents' Night at school? We say education is a priority, but when did people ever bang against the windows of the library? We say faith is a priority, but when did people ever surge into a temple of worship as eagerly as they do a temple of commerce?

No, sale prices on iPods -- that's our true priority.

Damour died because too many of us have bought, heart and soul, into the great lie of American consumerism: Acquiring stuff will make you whole. "You, Happier," is how a sign at my local Best Buy puts it. As if owning a Jonas Brothers CD, an Iron Man DVD or a Sony HDTV will elevate you to a level of joy otherwise impossible to attain. Hey, you might be a total loser, might not have a friend, might not have an education, might not have a job, might not have a clue, but it will all be OK as soon as you get that new Canon digital camera, especially if you get it for 50 percent off.

It would be nice to think -- I will not hold my breath -- that Damour's death would lead at least some of us to finally see that for the obscene lie it is, to realize that seeking wholeness in consumer goods is an act of emptiness, not joy.

You, Happier? No.

Just you, with more stuff.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Christmas Shopping

My brother wants to start a website called It is already taken but the principle of it is that you support the things that you spend your money on. This Christmas season, a lot of shopping is done, even if you are truly honoring the spirit of the season and thankful for the birth of Jesus. I thought I would let you guys know about some things that I think are worth supporting. These would make cool gifts for your friends and family, so check it out and think about supporting these companies:

Jedidiah: Found this company and really like the way they run their business. Check out their website even if you arent interested in their clothing. One of the things I thought was cool (besides their mission statement/core objectives) was their HOPE clothing line, which has currently raised over $200,000 for charity.

TOMS Shoes and BuyShoes.SaveLives: For every pair of TOMS Shoes you buy, they will give one pair away to a child in need (so far they have given over 50,000). BSSL (also called the Preemptive Love Coalition)money they make from shoe sales pays for heart surgeries for Iraqi children whose parents couldn’t otherwise afford them.

graftedBranches: I have become friends with 3 of these 6 guys from Napoli (Naples). They have talent, they want to impact Italy for Christ, and I want to support them. Check out their music, if you like and want a CD, let me know and I will do what I can do get it to you. If nothing else, I can get you emails and you can write them to encourage them.

Cards/Calenders to support work going on in Malawi: Agape Italia (who I work for) has a partnership with Malawi. They are working on building a school, digging wells, building housing for the teachers in a village. Last summer they laid the foundations and built walls; this summer they need to put the roof on the school and do other construction projects. These things cost money. If you want to be a part of it, let me know. They are selling greeting cards featuring pictures from last summers trip for 2euro each and calenders for 5euro each. Let me know if you are interested in buying (in bulk would be good...) and I will arrange shipping for you.

Monday, December 1, 2008

It's December... crazy... here are some videos

First, check out this article... beautiful, thought provoking writing called The Silence of the Priest. Then check out these two videos. The first is of my buddy Matt Reis... check it out and love the Christmas season. The second is a video that Giacomo (Jimmy S) made, featuring the song "God of this City" and photos that he took around Rome (and one or two of my photos are thrown in).

Thursday, November 27, 2008


“We are all living to be beautiful and it is crushing us.” JAmmons

Here in Italy, I live in a culture obsessed with beauty. I often greet girls “Ciao Bella” (hello beautiful) or even from time to time, greet the guys “Ciao bello.” Bella is used to describe just about everything, from a day to a meal to a time with friends. And yes, Italian fashion is much more beautiful that the States. I don’t know if I have every rocked a sweatshirt here in public, as least not when I am on campus.

This obsession with beauty isn’t completely a bad thing. They appreciate aesthetics, appreciate and value the ability to create something valuable, and in this way I can often ap
preciate what God has created even more. But as Jeff said, “it is crushing us.” What we become obsessed with controls our life and when we base our worth on whether or not we are beautiful, it has the same potential to control and devalue us.

Because it isn’t true beauty that we are measuring. It is a synthetic beauty, a beauty that is superficial and fades with time. Whether that is the emaciated “beauty” of fashion models, the rugged good looks of the latest Hollywood star, or even the beauty of a priceless work of art. The model will gain weight and wrinkles, the actor eventually will lose his muscular physique, and the work of art, unless carefully maintained, will deteriorate.

Though I think people are quick to say we do, we rarely appreciate t
he beauty of the woman who has lived and loved for 95 years, like my Grandma. Or the beauty of wrinkles permanently ironed on the face of a woman because her smile has brought love to hundreds (Jane A). Or the emaciated beauty of a man who has worn himself down serving his people, like Ghandi. We may admire these people, envy their accomplishments, but rarely do we call it beautiful. Or the patched up quilt, broken down building, worn out pews, or beat up Bible, all that tell more stories that a shiny new car.

But that is just beauty around us. Aesthetic beauty. Even the pursuit of that, though not inherently wrong or bad, will leave us feeling empty. Bethany Dillon penned a song that says “I want to be beautiful, to make you stand in awe, look inside my heart and be amazed. I want to hear you say who I am is quite enough, just want to be worthy of love and beautiful.” While I think that this song was written focused on women, I think even guys, at the core, want to be “worthy of love.” We want to be worth it and the way that too often we seek to be worthy is to be beautiful. Or to have great accomplishments. Or to stand out about the rest.

The tragic, sad, beautiful thing is that we are not enough in ours
elves. But we are worthy of love. We are because He said we are. Because you are God’s creation, you are worthy of love. At the end of the song, she says “You make me beautiful, you make me stand in awe, you step inside my heart and I am amazed. I love to hear you say who I am is quite enough, you make me worthy of love and beautiful.” I think there is a telling difference, a shift of focus, from me to you.

In this culture of beauty, I want to share this message with others here. That they are worthy of love simply because He, the Creator of the Universe, has loved them. And because He offered His Son to make a relationship with Him possible. And when we realize t
his, it enables us to truly love others. “We love because He first loved us.” When we realize this truth, the chains fall off. We can live in freedom. We can live in His beauty.

People I am thankful for

There are hundreds of pictures I could upload here. My friends and family, you guys know who you are. I love you all. Praise God from whom all blessing flow.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

My dream.... and unrelated photos of Paestum

I was looking through some old things I had written and saved on my computer, old memories and journal entries. I came across this, from a dream I had last year. When I reread it, it was still a powerful experience for me. So I thought I would share it with you all...

"I just had the most amazing dream I have ever had in my life. I was walking along the top of a building, I don’t know where, I don’t know why. I had just managed to con my way out of passing out fliers for a homeless ministry and I was walking back and it was around Christmas time. For some reason, I saw two musicians I knew and was kind of following them because they were mildly famous in my eyes. I followed them to the edge of a building where they stood watching three other musicians playing guitars for some audience over the edge of the building. I climbed up to the edge and looked over and was stunned by what I saw.

It was a huge tower/building of made of cardboard boxes and abandoned trash and empty barrels and who knows what else. It was crawling with children. I don’t know why, but it was tons and tons of street children. I was horrified as they were playing that every once in a while, one or two would fall off. These were destitute children, no where to go but play on their mound of trash, no hope in sight. There were some other people watching and one of them reached out and grabbed. Then they pulled and I saw they had grabbed one of the children who had jumped towards our side. A couple more children realized that they could jump to our building, to safety and started running and jumping across the divide. People on my side started coming to the edge, holding out hands, trying to help those that were jumping to safety. I got on my belly and edged my way to the side, stretching out my arm to try to help catch whoever jumped. But then what brought me to tears (in my dream) was that someone from our side ran and jumped into their building. Just dove into the midst of their trash to help them. We were on the safe side, trying to pull those kids in danger to our side, to catch them, and this guy just dove right into their trash tower to help. I then woke up. I don’t know what this means but it seems like a picture of Jesus to me. A picture of what I should be like. Living in my “safe side”, seeing those who unknowingly are falling off the edge of their “trash tower”. No hope. Yet someone needs to run and dive into their trash tower, not just lean over and help them as they jump."

Below are some pics I took from a trip to Salerno two weeks ago to visit Amanda... enjoy

The girls got funky up top the Greek ruins at Paestum
Were we supposed to be in the temple? Probably not, but no one complained too loudly

Yes, that temple behind us is real.
Take a guess at who is the real Italian. Hint: It is the guy who is actually dressed fashionably in the middle.

Monday, November 24, 2008

"No One Knows Their Name"

This past summer, a friend and I were talking about her work in Central America at a convent with a group of nuns who served the poor in that area. The way she spoke of their simple life was in a beautiful way that made me envious of the little that they had. They truly connected with God in a way that wasn’t distracted by the many things that we need in this modern world. And I think in a lot of ways, they are probably more fulfilled than most but most of us are too scared to give up what we have for the risk of something less. To scared to truly “die to self” as Jesus calls us to do. But that is another conversation…

The thing that she told me that has often come to mind this year was that, “No one knows their name.” For every Mother Teresa that the world venerates, there are thousands of people like these nuns that labor for the sake of the Gospel, that labor with all of Christ’s love, and no one will ever know who they are. Instead we hear the horror stories of those who work “in the name of God” because they sell more papers; those who abuse their position and use God for selfish means. But these women, who in all likelihood don’t even consider what they have left compared to what they have gained, labor on in obscurity.

Why? Their stories should be told, we should hold them up as shining examples of what it means to follow Christ. But that even more important, in my own life, is that it bothers me that people don’t know these women. Because the honest truth is, it bothers me, not because I think of their stories and how they should be told, but because I think of how I want my story to be told. Selfish, I know, but honest.

Because, sad though it is to admit it, I want people to know who I am. I, too often, give in to this desire for “fame and fortune.” No, I am not trying to work my way to the top of the corporate ladder and make my millions and willing to step on everyone in the process. No, I am not actively seeking fame (unless you count this blog). But I do want to be known. I often desire for people to tell me, “Well done.” And I think this desire, though not inherently bad, is often just as selfish as they guy climbing the corporate ladder. Far too often I care about the opinions of others more than I care about whether I am following God closely.

I want to be a sellout. Sold out for the cause of Christ. I want to be so committed to the cause of Christ that it won’t matter to me if no one knows who I am. I want to be listening to God so closely that I am willing to work in a place where I see no results for years and years, if that is what God has called me to do. But I am not there yet. I know, I know, Mazlow’s hierarchy of needs says that we all need affirmation, but I want to be working for the “Well done, good and faithful servant,” the one opinion that truly counts.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Italian Student Protests... and American issues

For those who dont know, there have been some intense protests here in Rome (and all across Italy) because of recently passed laws/referendum. The result that students are especially angered about is that cost of university is very likely go up, too high for a number of students here. Some of the other parts of the laws and changes being made dont seem so bad. But to educate yourself, check out these two articles below. And the pictures below were taken by Sam and I was there at this one. At La Sapienza's main campus, a number of the science faculties (majors) were taken over by students, who closed them down for a time being. A number of the protests were like the pictures, while some of them were classes held in public squares or things like that. An intense, interesting atmosphere to be sure, one to pray that God uses in some way (I dont know how) to reach students for himself.
A Case for Change - published in The Economist
Student Protests Paralyse Rome - published on, a great website for Italian news.

In other news, I am cautiously hopeful for Barack Obama's presidency. I will pray for him, for the United States of America, but this is something I feel pretty strongly about. I hope this blog never gets political, but here is a rare (hopefully) foray into that. Obama is endorsing something called the Freedom of Choice Act. I disagree with that. To see what the Freedom of Choice Act is, click HERE. Quite specifically, the thing that gets me especially angry with this bill is that it proposes that "a government may not interfere [with a womans right] to terminate a pregnancy after viability where termination is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman." While this may sound reasonable to some (this is not intended to be a pro-choice/pro-life argument and forum but I am willing to take this risk), this means that the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act will be repealed. This is a heinous act, sanctioned murder in my eyes. I use strong words because I feel like it is necessary to defend the defenseless and a baby ("a pregnancy after viability" at the very least) qualifies. So if you want to do something about this, go to Ok, I am off my soapbox but I dont apologize for making this statement. I realize that for many, if not most, women who have had abortions, it was not an easy choice and there are many who still experience emotional pain from this. This isnt an attack on a person(s), please dont take it as that. But this is a strong stand against this bill, against the action of abortion, especially into the second and third trimester. My brother was born in the second trimester and was supposed to have a whole host of medical problems... he survived and is great (Praise God!)... so this is personal for me too.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Venice by Photo

Two weekends ago I went to Venice... this is my journey in pictures. To truly see it time-wise, start at the bottom and scroll to this picture a the top

I am thankful for the pic... and that I didnt fall in...
I had to step out onto this thing... what fun, eh?
I love the Roma STINT Team
Enjoying cappucino along the Grand Canal... capuccino but nothing to eat
Check out the moon over the Grand Canal
My team showing their back...err...better side

The dudes I get to live with in Roma
My own private concert... until I was kicked out
Oh yea, that is my team in the crazy boots... L-to-R Kanda, Sam, Ella, Jenny, Brian, Kerry, Giacomo, April
Flooded but beautiful
Me and Giacomo Campobello in flooded Piazza di San Marco
Can you find Jenny, Kerry, Sam, Jimmy, Brian and April? And the crazy people in yellow boots?
Notice how the water is over the banks?
The girls, looking sweet as ever
Waking up is hard to do... unless you are on a sweet boat in flooded Venice (Venezia)
To start, we all piled into this 9 passenger van with Giacomo as driver