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).