Off to the World Youth Congress

So quick update of what's on the schedule for my travels in the next two weeks. Today is my last day in London and then tomorrow morning I will be flying off to Istanbul, Turkey to participate in the 5th World Youth Congress. Turkey will be my last stop in Europe for this summer before flying back home to the good ole US - I can see the end in sight.

In Turkey, the Congress will bring together 1,400 individuals from around the world to focus on global development challenges and ways of properly addressing the UN Millennium Development Goals. It will be full of cultural performances, workshops, action projects and plenty of interesting people! Part of me is not entirely sure what to expect, well actually most of me :) I hope to be updating this blog a bit more frequently while I'm there, I'm hoping to do short posts each night with something new I've learned or experienced.

To start things off a bit, here's a few interesting links I stumbled on while I've spent the last two days catching back up on internet.
Also, if you haven't been following, check out my other blog at Curb to Curb for more conversations and opinions about sustainability as I travel around Europe talking to different people on the streets. Some interesting thoughts have been popping up over there...

simply discovering the beauty

The water crashes on the boulders beneath me in no particular order,
Each wave, colliding violently with the immovable force in front of it.
The water churns below and frequently demonstrates its all-encompassing power.

Yet in the crashing, colliding, and churning,
A glimmer of sunlight reflects off of each crest.
A shimmer of beauty in the middle of repetitive violence.

Off the coast of Cinque Terre, Italy
I wish we would learn how to see those shimmers of beauty more easily, but sometimes we get such a sensory overload from the violence in the world that the beauty seems to disappear. I think this is one of the keys that I have come to learn from Taize. By developing a lifestyle of simplicity and communion with god, I have come to see those moments of beauty so much more clearly.

After leaving Taize, I traveled south towards Italy once again. I stayed a night in Torino, then met up with a friend of mine in Genova and then spent the following day hiking Cinque Terre - five fisherman villages all within hiking distance along the cliffs on the ocean. I have really seen the beauty in simplicity here at Cinque Terre. As the sun was setting and the small towns were quieting down, I found a secluded area of rock along the cliffs and laid down to watch the sky paint itself over. As I laid there, a single fisherman paddled his small boat out into the open water and when he was far enough from the town, stopped and laid back to watch the setting sun. I don't think he even noticed me along the coast as I watched with him, but it felt like I was sharing that moment with a good friend, even though we didn't talk a word and knew nothing about one another.

My time traveling alone has been an incredible experience, and one that I will cherish for quite some time. But as I sat on the cliff, with the fisherman and his boat drifting out in front of me, I realized the importance of sharing these moments with close friends and family. Perhaps that is why I enjoy writing posts for this blog so much, so that you all can share in my experiences.

After my time in Cinque Terre, I traveled briefly to Pisa to see the tower and then flew off to London to help a friend with a workshop at an Arts and Music festival in England. I think this experience in itself needs its own dedicated post, but it has been filled with creative and whacky people. But in the middle of the hecticness, I also found myself in a tent where Ian Goldin, former VP of the World Bank, was giving a speech on humanity's future in 2050.

With any presentation on this subject, it had it's fair share of scary ideas and possibilities - from pandemics to conflicts, and climate change to population rises. Yet in all the violent images and scenarios presented, I managed to find peace in knowing that their will always be a simplistic beauty to be found in all of those situations. Beauty will continue to flourish, despite the number of weeds that may try to crowd it out.

I wish I knew the secret that would change our society from one which thrives off of negative ideas to positive ones, but it seems that news programs have done the research and found that we for some reason prefer negative and conflicting stories to those which are uplifting. Perhaps we like hearing about all the crap in the world because it makes our own personal crap seem not as bad. But in always presenting the crap, we forget to look for the beauty.

Maybe the secret is simpler than I thought, and is simplicity itself. If we learned to slow life down and focus on simplicity, then we may learn to trust more fully in God and see the world as he intended it to be created.

Maybe simplicity is the secret...

jumping into faith

Four centuries after Christ, Augustine wrote:
"If you desire to see God, you already have faith."
I think too many people are afraid to venture into that journey with god because they aren't entirely ready to swim in the gold-medal race. We like to have things figured out and practiced before signing up for something. But god doesn't seem to require any prerequisites or special training, he just encourages us to jump right in, regardless if we're in the shallow or deep section.

Brother Roger of Taize wrote:
"Faith is not the result of effort, but is a gift from god."
I have to remind myself of this sometimes, because I can get confused that the faith I have is created out of the experiences I've had and questions I've asked. But faith is nothing that I have made through my efforts over the year, but is rather freely given to me, and to all of us, by god. Now the experiences and questions along the way have significantly molded and shaped my faith, but faith in itself still remains a gift.

I was also struck while reading in Luke 17:6 when Jesus says:
"You don't need more faith. There is no 'more' or 'less' in faith."
Sometimes I feel like faith is a big measuring cup and as life progresses, I slowly fill it up. But there is no quantity on the amount of faith we have.

So how do you define faith?

Regardless if we consider ourselves religious or not, we all have faith in something. Whether that be our family, our friends, or our skills - faith is a critical component for all of us. But it can be hard to define.

As I was reading some thoughts from Mother Teresa, it became very clear how faith impacts so many other areas of my life. And at the same time, it pointed out some areas that could use a bit of work. When Mother Teresa would meet someone, she would hand them a business card with the following message on it:
The fruit of silence is prayer.
The fruit of prayer is faith.
The fruit of faith  is love.
The fruit of love is service.
The fruit of service is peace.
silence --> prayer --> faith --> love --> service --> peace

The prayer and silence part of that list specifically stand out as areas I'd like to focus even more on. But I find it quite interesting that it is from silence in which prayer, and eventually faith, develops. Of the many things that I would have come up with to define faith and what molds it, I don't know if silence would have been on that list. Spending my time here at Taize, I have come to see the beauty and importance of silence and am slowly learning how to silence not only the eyes, mouth, and hands, but the mind as well.

holy hope

I like 'hope.' For most of us, hope is a term that brings encouragement, anticipation, and trust. When I think of the suffering in the world, I like to think that there is hope for a brighter and more beautiful future in those places. For the most part, I think it's fair to say that hope is a primarily positive idea.

But earlier this year, I was listening to someone talk about an old Buddhist saying, which talks about the danger of putting our trust in hope. I'm not sure of the exact phrasing, but the saying talks about the danger of hope because hope and fear serve as two sides to the same coin. If you rely on either one of them, sooner or later you will begin to see and feel the effects of the other side.

As an example, the speaker was talking about President Obama's election. Most of Obama's campaigning was built on the idea of hope, and he was very successful at rallying so many people behind him through this strategy. Hope was probably a large reason he got the presidency. But after a few months in office, the public opinion towards him and his administration started to decline because many of the things Obama had hoped he would accomplish, were not there yet. As the speaker explained, this was simply the other side of the coin, despair and fear, starting to show themselves. By placing too much trust entirely in hope, then we set ourselves up to becoming even more prone to feeling the effects of fear. The harder you rely on hope, the harder you may be hit by despair. It seems there's some truth in that.

But is this really the case with God?

Brother Roger, the founder of the Taize community, wrote
"the Gospel offers such a shining hope that it can bring joy to our soul."
Does 'gospel hope' offer something different, is there a despair side to God and his gospel?

The more I've been reading through the gospel, most specifically John's account, the more I've been noticing the many times that hope is referred to. Jesus brings hope to the world. But could it be that we put so much trust and faith into the hope that is presented in the bible, that eventually we begin to feel the other side of the coin and experience despair? Does faith in god set us up to feel despair more easily?

I've been praying about this thought over the last week and I've come to see that gospel hope is in fact something different.

The despair side of the coin is always with us, it is found in the weak and sinful human condition that we can't escape, regardless of how hard we try. We were born sinners and as strong as we feel we are, we are truly weak (just think of how many times you have walked past a homeless person and not had the strength to stop and get to know them and their story). But the difference between gospel hope and good-ole human hope is that Jesus enters the picture through the gospel. The beauty of Jesus is he takes the despair within our lives and erases the sins we were once tied down to. That's the whole purpose of the cross - to wipe clean the despair side of the coin that has been present throughout all of history.

As I reflected on this, another quote came to mind.
"Do not depend on the hope of results...but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself." - Thomas Merton
With the work that we pursue in this life, this is truly the case. Hope in our work is a two-sided coin, and if we don't see the results that we expected we would, we can fall into the trap of despair. But the rightness and truth of the work - that is the part that concerns what is holy. Perhaps the quote could be rewritten.
"Do not depend on human hope, but on holy hope."
Holy hope finds its source in God, "a god who simply loves and can do nothing else, a god who never stops seeking us." (Brother Roger)

If you want to read more about hope and fear, check out this article which talks further about the idea.

humbly giving

Something I have been trying to remind myself recently is to focus on the true source of happiness and joy for our lives. Brother Roger was the founder of Taize nearly 70 years ago, and offered many words of hope and inspiration to those who have found themselves coming to Taize each and every year. One of the things Brother Roger said was:
"the source of happiness is not in prestigious talents or great expertise, but in the humble giving of oneself."
Especially within the rapidly growing field of sustainability, it's easy to get caught up trying to know the most about some area or desiring to gain a wealth of experience to be taken as credible, but we should remind ourselves that such pursuits only lead towards burnout or frustration. If we learn how to be selfless and put our lives on the line for others, then we will begin to find true joy in our lives.

Jesus says in John 15:12 "Love one another the way I loved you. This is the very best way to love. Put your life on the line for your friends."

Put your life on the line, be selfless and sacrificial to those around you. When I think of putting others ahead of me, the first image that comes to mind is when I'm standing in line. Whether it be a line to get food, enter a movie theatre, or get seats in the student section at a penn state football game (ok maybe that last one is too hard to put others ahead of ourselves), I try to practice being selfless and letting others go first. But perhaps there are deeper examples for how to be sacrificial for our friends, and even our enemies...

Would you lay your life down for your enemies, sacrificially and willingly? May we learn to humbly give ourselves to those around us, in both the mundane and difficult moments of life.

eyes of love

So one of my favorite verses has to be John 12:25
"...for anyone who holds on to life just as it is destroys that life. But if you let it go, reckless in your love, you'll have it forever, real and eternal."
I just love the term 'reckless' because there's so many times where I find myself too cautious in my love. I gravitate towards easy love. I've been reading some quotes from Mother Teresa and one of the things she says is:
"It is easy to love people far away. It is not always easy to love those close to us. It is easier to give a cup of rice to relieve hunger than to relieve the loneliness and pain of someone unloved in our own home. Bring love into your own home for this is where our love for each other must start."
It can be hard, especially in areas with sufficient wealth and minimal material poverty, to be fully reckless in our love. We can write the check to send money to "people far away" and then spend the next minute driving towards a restaurant to buy triple the amount of food we just sponsored with our check and to throw half of it out. Perhaps we start at the wrong place, for their is nothing wrong with writing a check to help others far away, but is our love truly sincere if it is not shown at home?

During the last supper, one of Jesus' disciples asks him "Master, why is it that you are about to make yourself plain to us but not the world?" Jesus responds by saying: "Because a loveless world, is a sightless world."

How clearly do we see the poor around us? Not just material poverty, but spiritual poverty as well. WIth selfless and sacrificial love, it's as if we have a new set of eyes to see and act in the world around us.

Mother Teresa says:
"Looking at your eyes I can tell whether there is peace in your heart or not. We see people radiating joy and in their eyes you can see purity. If we want our minds to have silence, keep a silence of the eyes. Use your two eyes to help you to pray better."
What do our eyes tell us about ourselves and our hearts?

May we learn to pursue peace, for there is truly no limit to love.

this one sows, that one harvests

I've been reading through John this week and came across this verse which I hadn't entirely noticed before.
"This one sows, that one harvests. I sent you to harvest a field you never worked. Without lifting a finger, you have walked in on a field worked long and hard by others."
I find myself too often feeling as if I'm meant to do both the sowing and the harvesting in life - for many things, but especially when it comes to relationships with people. But after reading Jesus' words, I'm reminded that we are not meant to solve everything on our own, perhaps our role is to only find the corner piece to a puzzle and then hand the rest over to someone else.

I've been close to a few people who have struggled with some really hard stuff in their life, and after a few years pass, I sometimes look back and question how important my role actually was to that person.

During those hard times, I try to make decisions that I won't regret later, always moving forward and keeping my gaze on Christ leading me ahead. But sometimes I confuse regret of 'I could have done more' with regret of 'I could have solved it.'

But reading John 4:37-38, I was reminded that we are not intended to fully and entirely solve problems. No single individual is capable of such a feat.

Sometimes our role is simply to sow the field and let it wait for someone else to come and harvest the crop. In other times of our life, it may look like we came into a situation, had a conversation with a person, and immediately made an impact to that individual. I've had a few moments like those and sometimes I wonder what I did differently for that person compared to others who may have responded differently.

But perhaps it's not what I did, but rather what role I was designed to play for that person. Was I sowing the ground through our conversation, or was I harvesting the work done by many others who had come before me?

It's hard to be the sowers in life, because you don't always see the fruits of your labor. You work long and hard, tending the soil and carefully nitpicking every detail of the field. But all that is left after that is a field ripe for growing something, and it is the harvesters who see the true beauty emerge from your hard work. But we are not to be discouraged for serving that kind of role in life, rather we need to trust in the rightness of the work we are doing.

I recently learned that I played a significant role as a sower to someone very close to me, and although I knew that the work that had been done there involved many hours of conversations and prayer, I wasn't entirely aware of the true beauty that emerged from that field. There were other people who played the role of harvester. But after hearing that person say how important I was to them as a sower, I was humbled by the true mystery of God's work in our lives.

We will never understand the intricateness and detail involved with God's work, rather we will only see that small part of the bigger picture which we are meant to fulfill. But without playing that part, the rest of the field could never be harvested.

We all have people in our lives who have been both sowers and harvesters to us - take the time to really think who those people are, and tell them thank you. It truly means the world.

simple words

So I've been learning to hear God's call through simplicity this week, and here's a few of the things that have stood out as I read more through John's gospel. It's amazing how much you can dwell on such simple teachings.

John 1:39
"Come and see for yourself."
John 9:25
"I was I see."
John 11:35
"Jesus wept."
John 14:27
"That's my parting gift to you. Peace."
John 19:28
"I'm thirsty."
John 19:30
"It's done...complete."
John 21:16
"Do you love me?"
1 John 4:17
"God is love."
1 John 4:18
"There is no room in love for fear."


Ok, so the last two weeks I have been out of touch with my beloved internet, so in celebration of our reunion, I am slowly sharing thoughts I've had stored up over the last few days. Here's the first of many to come...

One of my favorite quotes from this past year in Sweden was made by a classmate of mine: "How do we bring love into the boardroom?"

So often, terms like love, peace and beauty are kept distant from the business world,  a place where efficiency and success are declared trump over most other things. But is what the world defines as successful in fact the direction we really want to be moving?

This week, I have been living at Taize, France and absorbing myself in God's word and in prayerful conversation with him everyday. Taize is truly an incredible place. Every day, the entire community (around 3,000 people) comes together three times for group prayer. I have spent around 4-5 hours in prayer every day, most of which is either in silence or through the simple repetition of a single phrase, of which most is in another language. There is no lead pastor and no sermon. There are no seats to sit on, just the floor to kneel on. It is so simplistic, and so beautiful.

I've had a lot of time to reflect and pray during these few days, and many of the following posts will have thoughts developed from this time. But the first thing that struck me was the power of simplicity.

I often find myself in tune with the complicated and busyness of life. I like constant change (just ask anyone who has lived with me and noticed how many times my bed moves to a new position). I enjoy times of complexity and hecticness. Maybe it's my personality, maybe it's the culture that I grew up in.

But during my time here at Taize, I have found myself at a strange peace through simplicity and silence. Silence is something hard for me to deal with, I can't think of many times where music isn't being played from my computer. Even just this instance I had to hit the pause button on the computer, and suddenly I can hear the birds singing and crickets chirping in the tall grass beside me.

During the first night of prayer, these were the thoughts that first came to mind:
"I can feel when my heart beats in rhythm with God's. The chatter in the air around me turns to silence, and a calm pulse moves up and down my bones, like a gentle breeze sweeping through a wheat field. Closer than ever, I can see and feel love. God appears in a variety of ways, and I pray that I begin to hear God in the silence more clearly. My time with God is often supported by music or conversations with friends, but I am longing to know the God of silence more intimately. This pen, and the keys of my computer, have been a critical means for me to grow as a person and transcribe the thoughts in my head, but it's time to really dive into silent prayer, just Christ and I. It's too easy nowadays to push that time off, and as I sit here, those are the words I hear Christ telling me - that's what sends the pulse through my bones."
The simplicity of silence, repetition and community have really stood out to me recently, and now I find myself asking the question: "How do we bring simplicity into the boardroom?"

Taize was designed to be "a community where kindness of heart and simplicity would be at the centre of everything" (Brother Roger, founder) and as a result, has flourished and been a light to so many around the world. Where are we welcoming simplicity and silence into our lives? What clutter needs to be cleaned out? And how, if at all, does simplicity play a role in the work that we do?

Picture update

Ok, one last post before heading off, here's a bunch of pictures from the last little bit - plenty more to post at some point though :) And they're mostly in the correct order, except for the last one, ha.

Curb to Curb

After a few days in Paris, it's time to move on once again. I've spent the last two weeks traveling from Italy to France with the rest of my family and tomorrow they head back home. So as they head towards the airport, I'll be finding my way back to the train station where I'll be catching a train down to Taize, France for a week. I will be staying at the Taize community for a week long retreat and time of reflection. I'm not entirely sure what to expect but am really looking forward to meeting up with some new people and writing a bit more. I'm not sure what my internet status will be so I may be posting a lot of those thoughts later on, so stayed tuned. But in the meantime, you can check out the other blog that I've been working on this summer: Curb to Curb - City to City.

I've been working with some friends from Sweden to record conversations about sustainability with various people throughout the summer. As we travel from place to place, we will either be writing up blogs or posting videos about our conversations. Feel free to check it out and let me know what you think :)

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