How small is the world?
Aug18

How small is the world?

In twenty-four hours, I’m in Ethiopia. Thirty hours and i’m sitting on the floor in an orphanage in the capital city of Addis Ababa with my friend Kelly. How to feel? My heart is liquid. I’m meeting Kelly’s soon-to-be-daughter along with ten or so other babies between the ages of one and two years-old, sitting or standing in cribs that create a perimeter along the room, eyes locked on we visitors. One girl bounces back and forth from one leg to the other and as soon as a set of eyes meets hers, a smile overwhelms her face, the room and me. I’m convinced her smile provides sustainable electricity to the whole orphanage. Seven thousand miles away, as I write this now, I smile at the memory of her smile. Back in the baby-filled room, my camera is capturing the beautiful moments between Kelly and her daughter. I can’t help but give attention to the other babies too. I connect with another pair of eyes. I’d guess he’s two years old. Remembering how my nephew responded at two years old, I go for the classic peek-a-boo. His eyes see not only through my hands, but right through me. In my mind, I’m saying, “I’m sorry. I’m sorry you’re here and all I’m giving you is a silly game that I’m sure you’ve outgrown.” I’m certain that he’s been forced to grow quicker than the sheltered little people where I come from. I’ve got nothing. But then, his two arms go up and out. Universal for, “pick me up!” I look around to get an okay from one of the women who take care of these babies. Lift off. Yup, he feels like any other baby I’ve held. I put him down on the ground and we start playing with a ball that I will later discover is the holy grail of this place. The baby who holds the ball, holds might in her or his hands. This is fun. But I feel bad for not playing with the others too. And I feel sad for all of them, born at a time and into a place in which parents could not adequately care for them. It is the same time and planet where many babies have more attention and possessions than they could ever need, with a toy to baby ratio not less than 100:1. In this orphanage, the ratio is closer to 2:1. Injustice. An incoming crowd interrupts that thought. It becomes apparent that these are more adoptive parents flooding the room. Babies are lifted from their cribs and wrapped in attention. The center is now a play...

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Why Do I Practice Christianity (Even When the Church Makes it Difficult)?
Mar27

Why Do I Practice Christianity (Even When the Church Makes it Difficult)?

I’ve broken the religion and politics rule quite a bit through this blog. This post may be pushing it too far. Let’s be clear, nobody is asking me the title question. Nobody, but me. And though I think about it often, I rarely articulate an answer. Until now. Maybe. It does seem an especially appropriate question to explore as a Catholic during holy week and just after the election of a new pope. So here goes… Just as we each have unique experiences, I believe we also have unique paradigms through which we make sense of those experiences and by which we live our lives. Religion is an important paradigm in my life. It helps me connect the dots and see a world that is much bigger than what’s directly in front of me. Whether labeled as a religion or simply as a set of values and beliefs, I don’t think it’s one size fits all. Different paradigms work for different people. The paradigm of Christianity works for me. Why? At the center of Christianity is this very human being, Jesus Christ, who 2,013 years ago gave his life because he believed so wholly and preached so ardently one revolutionary, overriding virtue: love. He challenged the existing paradigms; the worldviews that guided the way people lived their lives and acted towards one another. He gave special attention to those on the fringes of society; the sick, the poor, the criminals, the forgotten. He called out the glaring inequalities among the human race. For that, he was crucified. At every chance he had to escape such a brutal death, he chose not to. because he would not sell out on humanity. As if that weren’t enough – as if a fellow human being nailed to a cross for preaching radical love wasn’t momentous enough of an event in history from which we could create a role model, we are told that this human being in particular is God’s only son. Pause. What does this say about the paradigm of Christianity? Think about it: rather than go Liam Neeson on everyone and just obliterate every person who persecuted His son (along with all of humanity for allowing it to happen), this God allows his son to be tortured and horrifically nailed to a cross. What sort of supreme being (father) would allow such a thing to happen? Personally, I turn to the image of God that Archbishop Desmond Tutu so beautifully paints with this story he often references: “One day a man was traveling through the countryside and he came upon a farmer who was surveying his fields of lush corn swaying in the breeze. And the traveler...

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Millennium Campus Conference 2012 Opening Speech
Sep17

Millennium Campus Conference 2012 Opening Speech

I’m still riding the high of this weekend, as I participated in my 4th Millennium Campus Conference. It was a truly inspirational weekend filled with incredible people that I hope to write more about. For the sake of capturing a slice, I hesitantly thought I’d share what approximates the words that I spoke during the opening night. Of course this blog already features more sharing than anyone probably hoped to read, but I hesitated on this one in particular because, well, there is something special about being in the moment when it comes to public speaking. With as much humility as I can possibly convey here, I think this was the best speech I’ve ever given. Many thanks to Sam Vaghar and the amazing MCN team for giving me the space to share it – as well as the MCC attendees who energized it and me! — MCC 2012 Opening Night September 14, 2012 Have you ever thought about your story? I don’t mean like your Facebook timeline story, I mean your real story. Not to get all philosophical on the first date, but I think it can be useful to just step back and reflect on why you’re here; the road that led you to this point and where it’s headed. We all have a story and I think we have these chapters in our lives. I’d like to share a few from my life; what led me here today. 2005, first year at Curry College. I’m chugging along doing my thing, which was a film concentration. Couple months in, I’m at a U2 concert – which as a die hard U2 fan, was one of the greatest moments in my life. But I heard Bono talk about global poverty that night in a way that – well I had never heard anything like it. He said it’s not about charity, it’s about justice. He said we could be the generation to end extreme poverty. And I’m supposed to tell you that was my lightbulb, right? Bam. That was it, the rest is history. Well, I like to think of it as more of a flicker of light and as is so often the case, it dimmed down pretty fast. But I did start investigating this “global poverty” some more. As I learned more, I felt this pull, as I’m sure many of you have felt…like it wasn’t enough to just learn. I had to do something – just wasn’t sure what. I met this student on campus, Peter. He was a so called “lost boy” of Sudan. He shared his story with me, his journey, and what...

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Death Sentences
Jul08

Death Sentences

Recently I finished reading two remarkably disturbing, yet moving books. No coincidence that those adjectives often go together. You could certainly place both books on the “Social Justice” shelf, but they are two very different stories. “What Is The What”, technically a novel, tells the very real story of Valentino Achak Deng’s journey from war-torn Sudan to the far-from-Utopian United States of America. And it is in this country that Sister Helen Prejean tells her story in the book, “Dead Man Walking.” Rather than separating these two powerful stories into a couple of reflections, I thought it might be useful (interesting?) to tie them together. As you may have noticed by my Hunger Games post, I’m no literary critic. Rather, I enjoy throwing some thoughts against the wall to see if they form something meaningful. The journey across Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and then over the Atlantic that so many young Sudanese men made over the course of the 80s, 90s, and into the 2000s is one that I thought I knew a good deal about. Attending Curry College with Peter Nhiany, one of the men who made that journey as a boy, opened my eyes to a world I had been totally ignorant to before college. But after reading “What Is The What”, I realize that I had only scratched the surface of their story. So deep does this book take the reader into the mind of one of these boys and then men, that I found it to be – without overstating – life-changing. That same word, life-changing, can be said of Sister Helen Prejean’s story. Her story is wrapped up with the story of death row inmates, whom she serves as Spiritual Adviser. What I mean by that word, life-changing, isn’t some outward change abruptly pushed upon me. It’s this deep change in the way that I think about, well, life. The frailty of life and our ability to save or take it away. Of course I’ve had my own life-changing experience, fighting (beating) cancer. I’ve had just a small taste of that frailty and the unending gratitude; knowing that my life has been saved. Truly, saved. Maybe it is that past experience upon which my convictions bubble up when reading these two stories. Maybe those past experiences are what makes it so hard to put words to these convictions as I type. If only we had the technology to transfer feelings right onto the page – words 2.0? Hmm, that could be scary. So here is how I simplistically tie these two stories together. In both stories, human beings are sentenced to die. Valentino impressed upon my brain an image I will never forget: some boys, along the...

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The Real Hunger Games
Apr28

The Real Hunger Games

I just finished reading the first book in the Hunger Games series, shortly after seeing the movie, and was surprised by how much I liked both. I suppose whenever there is this much hype around something, like many, I ask the question, “how good can it really be?”. Certainly it is no masterpiece of writing or filmmaking, nonetheless though they are both solid pieces of work. But hey, I’m just one more opinion on a series that already has plenty. So rather than focus on the book or film, I figured I would share some connections to real-life that have been simmering upstairs for a bit (ahem, first of the food metaphors I’ll throw in for good measure). A world where some live in total excess, with an abundance of food to eat, consumed by pop culture that is filled to the brim with every sort of entertainment imaginable, indulging in the latest bizarre fashions, obsessed with appearances and living in luxurious, modern comfort. This contrasted with the rest – who scrape to get by, working back-breaking jobs day in and day out, barely able to provide enough for their family, lacking many modern day comforts and even necessities such as medicine, and of course – consistently, chronically hungry. I could be describing the world Collins’ creates in Hunger Games, but (probably to no one’s surprise) what I’m really talking about is the state of affairs on this planet we share – today. Perhaps the inequality in Hunger Games is more starkly evident, but it is no less real in today’s state of affairs. Let me give you a recent example. For breakfast this morning, with NPR playing in the background, I took my time mixing various ingredients together and pouring them into an electronic machine that exists for the sole purpose of making this one type of food we call waffles. And then I poured some coffee grinds, that came from across the globe, into another machine that exists solely for the purpose of this one beverage. Oh, and why not, I had a glass of orange juice alongside a pill that was manufactured to have all the minerals and vitamins that I should have in addition to what I’ll get from my food today. That was just the first meal of my day – I get to do that at least twice more. And while I was preparing that food and then eating it with a side of New Yorker reading, during that very same time, a child somewhere on this planet likely breathed their last breath from deep within their utterly empty belly, because they had precisely nothing to eat today. Is that a...

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Salem Stands Music Video

Earlier this month Paul Brown & The Killing Devils released their latest music video and my latest project: Salem Stands. Bottom line, in my opinion it’s one of my best. But hey, you be the judge! As satisfying as it is to have this finished project, I think best part of filmmaking is the process (photos below). Then again, that may be true of everything good in life. Interesting, though, how it often is in retrospecting that those memories of ‘the process’ really shine. “Remember that time we lit torches and filmed down an alley in Salem?” Yup. It was a pretty great weekend, book ended by some nice creative time alone, writing and then editing. In particular, what I love about the filmmaking process is how everything comes together; the stages of development, the people, the creativity. The marriage of multiple media comes together through the marriage of multiple people. A bond develops on set, even if it is just for a couple of days. And in this film in particular, a bond developed between the people and the place. There is no escaping the rich history of Salem, MA – it’s all around you. And it soaks in. As we went from place to place to place, the past and the present came together and just sort of filled us. And hopefully that comes through in the video. Because ultimately, the goal is integrity. That isn’t to say this is anywhere near historically accurate. Rather, I hope this captures the spirit – an especially appropriate word – of this place. At any rate, it was a crap ton of fun… [nggallery...

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