WYC and getting to Turkey

So with the thesis (nearly) behind me, it's time to really start focusing on plans for this summer. There's a lot of things on my plate right now and I'm extremely excited for all of the possibilities ahead. I will be traveling throughout Europe and ending my travels in Istanbul, Turkey at the beginning of August. I've been selected as a delegate to the 5th World Youth Congress and will be meeting with and working alongside an incredible range of individuals - from passionate youth, to UN and governmental officials, and skilled professionals working in the development field. The Congress will be a fantastic blend of cultures from around the world and will be the perfect ending to a year of inspiration, learning and relationship-building.

Below is a quick video introducing the Congress. I am beginning to seek supporters who would be interested in supporting me to travel to the event as well. The Congress is generously covering all costs (from food, housing, and travel) during the conference time period, I just need to find funding to support my travel to and from Istanbul.

If you would be interested in supporting me on this journey, please get in touch through email and visit my support page. I would be quite excited to share my experience from the Congress with you in a way that is most beneficial to you as an individual or organization, and if you have any specific ideas I would be quite excited to hear how I could plug into other efforts.

Time to start planning for the summer!! (and most importantly how I can align which countries I will be in this summer according to when that country is playing in the world cup - it may be a summer of hanging out in the sports bars :) )

washing feet

I was talking with a good friend of mine and stumbled across the story of Jesus washing his disciples' feet. It's a story I've heard many of times but there was one part that really stepped out at me when I reread it the other day.

Quick refresher on what's going on. Jesus is having dinner with the disciples and realizes there's not many days left. In the middle of dinner, Jesus gets up, grabs some water and a cloth, and starts washing all of the disciples' feet. At first, they try and stop him and say their Lord shouldn't be down on his knees cleaning off their dirt. Jesus quickly responds back saying that unless he is able to do this, he isn't their savior. It's a neat story showing Jesus serving everyone else and performing the jobs people consider lowly and unworthy.

The part that caught me recently though was back at the beginning of the chapter in the first verse.
It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.
I had never made that connection. What Jesus considered to be the full extent of his love was not a romantic poem, not a brave act of chivalry, not the giving of some elaborate gift, but rather washing someone's dirty and smelly feet. It's as if all the speeches and parables Jesus explained, all the people he had met with over the last 30 some years were just baby steps, and then Jesus takes it to the final level and washes away some dirt on our feet as the full extent of his love.

What does that tell us about God and his understanding of love, unconditional and everlasting love?

If someone asked me to define love I doubt I would have given washing feet as an answer before. God has a way of doing that whole flip-things-on-their-head type of stuff and it's amazing how often I don't even pick up on it.

I've been doing a lot of thinking over the years about how you show love to those who don't act like they want love or don't reciprocate it back. A lot of us gravitate towards the easy type of love, the kind that is open to receiving it and through such an act, creates a happier environment for both individuals. Perhaps we gravitate at first to this kind of 'easy' love because it's the kind of love most similar to the kind portrayed throughout our society.

But perhaps it's not that the people I find harder to love (the uneasy kind of love) don't want to reciprocate love back to me or receive my love - perhaps it's that they are sick of the love the world is pushing on them. It's their way of saying that the definition for love that our society assigns doesn't cut it, there's something missing from the picture. They're looking for someone to wash their feet.

Maybe that's how we should put flesh to our faith - start washing some feet :)

are you happy?

I'm stealing this post from a good friend of mine. I love simplicity :)

through love and in love

I stumbled across the two films below earlier today which feature Dr.Viktor Frankl, a survivor of the Holocaust and his belief that we must believe the best in others and cling unconditionally to love.

Dr. Frankl was an Austrian neurologist and psychiatrist that was deported to the Theresienstadt concentration camp in 1942. During his time in the camp, he was in charge of a suicide watch unit and used his skills to assist newcomers cope with their shock and grief as they entered the camp. In 1944, Dr. Frankl was moved to Aushwitz and later to T├╝rkheim, during which time, his wife, mother and father were murdered in the camps. Soon after, Dr. Frankl was freed and fled back to Vienna.

Because of his position within the camps, Dr. Frankl worked with people who were utterly depressed and had all but given up on life, yet although he was subject to the same dehumanizing and belittling conditions, he was relentless in his belief in the human spirit and ability to find meaning even in times of suffering.

Perhaps it is best phrased by Dr. Frankl himself:
... We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor's arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his mouth behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: "If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don't know what is happening to us."

That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife's image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth -- that love is the ultimate and the highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love. I understood how a man who has nothing left in this world still may know bliss, be it only for a brief moment, in the contemplation of his beloved. In a position of utter desolation, when man cannot express himself in positive action, when his only achievement may consist in enduring his sufferings in the right way—an honorable way—in such a position man can, through loving contemplation of the image he carries of his beloved, achieve fulfillment. For the first time in my life I was able to understand the meaning of the words, "The angels are lost in perpetual contemplation of an infinite glory...."(thanks to Wikipedia for all of this)

The salvation of man is through love and in love.

Love is one of those simple words that will forever instill a sense of awe, mystery, beauty and struggle within me. It is something I strive for, something that fills me, and something that provides purpose.

I often have a hard time understanding what it means for God to love unconditionally - independent of any actions or thoughts or desires I have, his love is constant. God's love towards us is described as an everlasting love (Jeremiah 31:3); in fact, God himself is love (1 John 4:16), they are one and the same. What an incredible day it will be when we begin to learn and understand what love is truly meant to be about. A love that is able to see the suffering surrounding a place as unloving as a concentration camp and still find purpose and beauty among those around us. 

I have been blessed in my life and have yet to experience great suffering. I can't even imagine what an experience like Dr. Frankl's would be like and my heart aches to take some of that grief and pain from him. But I realize that I don't have that ability, and as much as I'd love to shoulder the pain and suffering for so many others, eventually I would fail and be unable to carry it myself. Perhaps I too often step in front of Jesus and try to play his role alone. As Christians, we are called to reflect Christ's light in the world, not to be our own battery-operated flashlight independent of him. I know I am guilty of sometimes feeling that God is able to recharge my batteries whenever I need it and then I can go out in the world with my flashlight wherever I need to. But Jesus isn't in the business of just recharging batteries - he wants to be our light source and our power source. Where in your life are you taking the light source away from Christ?

Sustainability and Community

Well the thesis is officially sent and turned in! So much for updating everyone on the status of our US Thesis Tour over the last three weeks - turns out bouncing to a new city every two days is somewhat time-consuming, and my writing takes a backseat during such times.

After a long 16hr nap, I finally made it back to Sweden though where I have two weeks in Karlskrona before the European Summer Tour begins.

As the last few weeks have taken me from city to city, and I think about the many cities I'll be heading to over the next few months, I can't help but think about the people that define each one of those places. From the old friends that I was able to reconnect with to the new friends I've made over the last few months, this year has been one of true relationship-building.

Reflecting on this during my trip back to Sweden, I was wondering why sustainability for me has suddenly taken on a new level compared to years before. At Penn State, I was involved with many sustainability projects, and as exciting as they all were, they were still simply a series of global challenges that I had the privelege to tackle. Now don't get me wrong - I'm all for trying to solve massive problems like those - but it was the challenge and uniqueness of the problem that primarily motivated me.

This year, I've added a third motivator - community.

As my master's program in Sweden comes to an end and I begin to understand the true power and beauty I've experienced, I continually come back to the idea of community. Community, built of all sorts of relationships and bonds, is a force that I believe is only just beginning to be tapped by the sustainability movement.

Looking at the past few years, we can begin to see a shift in how sustainability challenges are tackled:
- We have begun to move away from boycotting (with the attempt to separate the good guys from the bad guys) to collaboration (like Walmart's attempt to work alongside all retailers and suppliers to address the sustainability supply chain problem).
- Communications have changed from pushing information to the public (which separates the knowledgeable from the unknowing) to campaigns designed to unite groups and various ways of communicating sustainability (like the efforts which took place with the 350 campaign).
- The way in which companies have marketed their products has followed a similar pattern where once greenwashing was extremely prevalent to now where transparency is beginning to be stressed through the use of social and networked media.

We are beginning to see how the power of community and relying on others is critical to adequately address the challenge and uniqueness of sustainability. But I believe there is much more to be learned.

Community has always been a critical element when I think on my personal and spiritual life, but I have only just begun to realize it's importance in the work that I do.

At Penn State, I was involved with a variety of things. There was my traditional mechanical engineering education. There was the Jamaica project which more closely fulfilled what I ultimately wanted to do in the future. And there were the faith-based groups I helped start that formed the core community which surrounded me. For the most part, those three areas stayed separate.

My master's program thought it would be a good idea to merge all of those together, which was a much bigger shock then I realized. But now, after understanding how those various areas of life fit together, I'm beginning to see why developing and fostering a strong sense of community is the glue that keeps the puzzle pieces together as one picture.

During my trip back to the US these last few weeks, I was able to reconnect with a bunch of friends from over the years, and it was amazing how many of the conversations ended back on building communities. As someone who deeply cares about the state of the world and problems we face as a society, I can't help but think occasionally about the urgency of the problem. My thesis was focused largely on the role of individual behavior change and how our personal decisions can lead to broader cultural change - but if we want to truly maximize the role of the individual, then we need to understand how to grow the communities to support those individuals.

One exciting organization working on similar ideas is Global Action Plan (GAP) who "focus on people and how they can take practical action in their everyday lives for a better world." (more here) One of their programs, EcoTeams, forms communities of individuals (neighbors, coworkers and friends) who work through practical environmental issues together to improve their way of life.

Personally, I believe the sustainability movement has a lot to learn from the church when it comes to community building. The church has historically been extremely powerful and successful at fostering communities to serve a larger purpose (although perhaps some of those purposes are not always for the best or what I believe Christ would instruct us to do). Many churches I have been a part of rely heavily on small groups, life groups or bible studies to work through personal questions of faith together.

While at Penn State, it was those communities that really helped me grow and work through who Christ was calling me to be. My time in Sweden has shown me that the same sense of community has helped me grow and wrestle with the difficult questions of sustainability.

Perhaps the way to face the urgency of sustainability challenges is to foster thriving communities, both in the work that we do and the personal relationships we develop each and every day.

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