Where Men Win Glory

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s book, Where Men Win Glory: The Odyssey of Pat Tillman. I happened across the book while browsing in the nonfiction section of our local library. I’ve enjoyed some of the author’s other writing, so I was excited to give this one a try.

We’re just now getting to the point in history where we might be able to start to understand the “Global War on Terror” that was initiated by the United States in the aftermath of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. We gain perspective in that transition from “current events” to “history.” So I appreciated the opportunity to read about these military conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq.

The book follows the story of a man named Pat Tillman. He grew up in California and made a name for himself as an undersized, scrappy football player. Tillman scratched and scraped his way into a college football scholarship and shined on the field. He then scratched and scraped his way into a professional contract in the National Football League (NFL). Playing with the Arizona Cardinals, he started out as a reserve role player — but again he scratched and scraped to become a star. Just as his career in the NFL was taking off, however, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 took place. He decided to enlist in the Army, along with his brother Kevin. Unfortunately, Tillman never made it to the end of his commitment to the Army. He was killed in Afghanistan… but not by enemy combatants.

The book explores many angles of U.S. Military culture and American Politics. It outlines some of the dynamics by which international conflicts are managed, soldiers are recruited and developed, accidents are waiting to happen, and accountability is limited. This book provides a sobering story of institutional dysfunction and human depravity. Still, we can learn from these challenges. In fact, as Krakauer writes, we must learn from these challenges.

I recommend this book to anyone who is considering a career in the Military or in Politics. I found the reading compelling, even as a “civilian.” But it’s not a happy book.

Posted in American Politics, Politics, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, The United States of America | Leave a comment

Demonstration

I spent the whole day on campus yesterday. I started in the morning with the H2O Staff team praying together in the grove of trees between Manchester Field and the Centennial Fields. Specifically, we prayed John 17 for the University. We asked God for love and unity as the campus continues to wrestle with racial tension.

And then we got to work demonstrating it.

After prayer, Brooke and I walked around campus trying to meet people. Our church has been following the model of Luke 10, going out two-by-two to share the Good News of God’s Kingdom and be “good neighbors.” Campus was pretty quiet, but we still had a few meaningful conversations. In the middle part of the day, I had a couple of meetings with students (both black and white) — and it was clear that the racial unrest was on everyone’s mind.

At two o’clock, I joined a group of perhaps 300 to 500 people demonstrating against the recent acts of campus vandalism threatening Black students. I felt awkward and insecure again because demonstrations are not really my scene. Especially in the midst of a pandemic. Still, I felt it was important to show up for this one. I wanted to be a part of physically manifesting a community of love, acceptance, and support for People of Color.

So we started on Risman Plaza, in the center of campus. A couple of leaders from Black United Students read a list of demands to the University Administration, while standing on top of the fountain. Afterwards, the group started marching together through campus.

We walked from Risman Plaza past Manchester Field and the Centennial Fields. We walked past Taylor Hall, the May 4th Memorial, and Memorial Field.

Along the way, we chanted slogans like “No Justice; No Peace” and “Hands Up; Don’t Shoot.” The group stopped for awhile at Oscar Ritchie Hall (home to the University’s Department of Pan-African Studies), chanting more slogans, and then we continued towards the front part of campus.

The march ended at the Rock, which has been the center of controversy and tension this week. A number of students and city council representatives made statements. I listened. And prayed.

One of the more subtle, symbolic moments of the afternoon came when my colleague (and friend) Lauren brought out one of H2O’s portable speakers to help the crowd better hear and understand what was happening around the Rock.

She set the speaker on the Rock, plugged in a microphone, and handed the microphone over to the students who were leading the demonstration. It felt like such an apt metaphor. We didn’t need to speak out. We just needed to amplify and support the voices of Kent State University’s Black Community on an occasion like this.

My favorite moment of the afternoon was when a Kent State University senior named CJ took the microphone. He spoke of his hope in Jesus. He shared the Gospel in terms that felt meaningful and powerful in the context of our demonstration. And then he asked everyone to raise their right hands and pray with him — in the name of Jesus — over the campus. It was amazing. I was honored to be able to witness it and say “Amen” with him at the end of his prayer.

Many others spoke, and I didn’t get home until five o’clock to grab a quick bite to eat with my family and then bike back to campus for our regular Thursday evening Bible studies. But even though I felt simultaneously wore down and winded up by the day’s events, I’m really glad that I joined the demonstration on campus. I’m praying that God’s Kingdom will come and His will might be done on the campus of Kent State University, as it is in Heaven.

Posted in COVID-19, Culture, God, H2O Kent, Kent, Leadership, Ohio, Politics, Prayer, Small Groups, Social Issues, The United States of America | Leave a comment

Stand

I will not be silent.

I will not be complicit or tacit with those who seek to intimidate.

So I stand up to join the fight against Racism at Kent State University.

I feel clumsy, awkward, and unsure of myself as a white man in these circumstances. Who am I to make a statement? How am I supposed to enact change? I’m not the one who grabbed the can of spray paint and scrawled those hateful words for everyone to see. Still, I can’t let my insecurity pull me back into silence. Back into sitting, passively.

So I stand with People of Color at Kent State University.

These are my friends. My spiritual brothers and sisters. I absolutely believe that Black lives matter. And I’m embarrassed that I’ve ever hesitated to say that (for fear that some might take it as an endorsement of an organization with whom I’m not in 100 percent alignment). I feel ashamed that I haven’t spoken out sooner and more regularly. That I didn’t respond until more than 24 hours after the third incident of vandalism: checking in on my friends and composing my thoughts in this space. I’m still worried about being inarticulate or incorrect in the words that I choose. But again, I cannot let my lack of fluency get in the way of my love for my neighbors.

So I stand against Racism.

Racism is sin. To paint over a “Black Lives Matter” with a “White Lives Matter” message is not a “political perspective.” To scratch out the phrase “Hate has no home here” to write in “Blacks have no home here” is not “an alternative cultural narrative.” It’s Racism. And Racism is sin. God created the world, with all its beauty and variety. But we’ve disrupted His design with our insecurity and self-centeredness. The path to restoration begins with the admission that I’m way worse than I ever dare to admit to others, or even to myself. I’m a part of the problem. Still, my faith in Jesus compels me to not just sit in my depravity.

So I stand for Hope.

I believe that the ultimate Hope is Restoration in Jesus. While spiritual restoration starts with a recognition of my hopelessness, it’s even more true that God’s goodness and grace are far better and more extravagant than I ever dare to imagine. Ephesians 2:14 says that “Christ himself has brought peace to us” and that “he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us.” So part of the way that I proclaim the Gospel must be rooted in the way that I participate in tearing down the walls of hostility in our society.


Note: I’m still revising and improving this message — but I’m not waiting until it’s perfect before I put it out there. I don’t want to sit on the sidelines any more. I want to stand.

Posted in Culture, God, Introspection, Kent, Leadership, Prayer, Social Issues | Leave a comment

September Prayer Letter

All the believers devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, and to fellowship, and to sharing in meals (including the Lord’s Supper), and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Greetings from Kent! In some ways, the last week or so has been like the beginning of any new school year. The air is thick with sweltering heat and humidity. Students are walking around on campus. We all feel a sense of anticipation and anxiety for what the new year will bring. At the same time, we’ve never seen a school year like this one. The pandemic is forcing the majority of classes online. All of the people on campus wear masks and stay six feet apart from each other. Students openly speculate that it’ll be three weeks before an outbreak of COVID causes everything to shut down like back in March.

In the lead-up to Kent State University’s Fall Semester, we were told that groups must not exceed 40 people in any one location on-campus. The University issued guidelines that any gatherings larger than ten people must include a registration process in order to allow for contact tracing in the event of an outbreak. Masks must be worn at all times. Those not living in the same household must stay six feet apart from each other. Event organizers must ensure that all participants adhere to the “Flashes Safe Seven” at all times.

In light of all these restrictions, H2O made some significant adaptations to our ministry model to accommodate these restrictions: multiplying groups to keep everything smaller than usual, meeting either outdoors or online. It’s actually felt kind of fun and creative, and we’ve been getting really excited about the implications for individual growth and leadership development. But then just this week — after twelve students tested positive for COVID — all student organizations were informed that any on-campus gathering larger than ten people must now be virtual. So we’re currently consulting with the University to come up with contingency plans for our contingency plans! It’s keeping us on our toes, for sure. Please pray with us that we’ll stay creative, and quick, and nimble to adapt.

Even with all the restrictions and requirements and readjustments, I have to say that it’s really, really nice that we get to be together again at Kent State University.

We still believe that this could be a great year. The Staff and student-leaders of H2O have been making a lot of meaningful connections with the Class of 2024 over the past couple of weeks. And we’re seeing that students are hungry for community. It seems like there may be even more openness to spiritual things than usual, as well. We couldn’t draw big crowds like we usually love to at this time of the year. Instead, we’ve empowered our leaders to go out, two-by-two, like Jesus sending the seventy-two in Luke 10 — and we’ve managed to get about a hundred responses to our typical beginning-of-the-year survey, even without our large crowd events. Admittedly, the quantity of our interactions has been diminished this year, but the quality of our interactions has been significantly improved. We’re praying that God will do His work this year, in spite of the challenges.

Honestly, we’ve been praying for this month for quite some time.

I remember the earliest days of the pandemic, when the air was cold and the campus was empty. On walks and runs, I prayed that God would breathe life back into the cadaver of campus. I remember reassurances that came from the crocuses and daffodils on Memorial Field. I remember walking past Stopher Hall and seeing a message composed of sticky notes on a second-floor window: “BRB.” Be Right Back. And I prayed “Amen, Lord. Let it be so.”

So I smiled when I saw the updated message in the same window last week: “We’re Back.” I prayed again, that God would use this unusual year to draw people closer to Him. And I get the sense that He’s already answering that prayer. Albeit in unconventional ways. God has been reminding me that unconventional problems call for unconventional solutions. And as people of faith, we have one of the most powerful, most unconventional, most supernatural means of engagement that the world has ever known: Prayer.

Our Staff Team has been praying for Kent State University regularly. Especially in the last two weeks. We’ve met on campus in a grove of trees between two large grassy fields, where we cry out to God together. After a few minutes of talking and praying together, we branch out to walk and pray around different regions of the campus. My area is the Centennial Courts residence halls. And as I’ve prayed each day, I’ve walked through a grove of trees between two of the buildings. I pick up a stone from the ground as I pray, and I place the stone in the hollow of an old tree stump. It started out small, but the pile has grown over these last two weeks. And with it, my hope has grown for what God is going to do this year.

Will you please pray with us for the students of Kent State University? You can be praying specifically for Eddie, Aiden, Morgan, Caleb, Hannah, Kia, Jordan, Lauren, Janson, and Sarah (all new students with whom I’ve been interacting in the Centennial region of campus). I’m grateful for you guys all the time. But especially in this strategic season of the year, it makes me so happy to remember that we have a team of ministry partners (that’s you!) who are willing to support us in prayer. Thanks for everything! We’ll be in touch…

Posted in Church, COVID-19, Culture Shock, God, H2O Kent, Ministry, Prayer, Prayer Letters, Small Groups, The Bible, Transition | Leave a comment

To Cor, on the Occasion of His 13th Birthday

Dear Cor,

Happy Birthday! You happen to be entering your teens just as the 21st Century is leaving its teens behind (with that one stubborn vestige of COVID-Nineteen hanging on for old time’s sake). What a time to be coming of age! COVID-19 has impacted almost everything this year — including your birthday. You don’t have to go to school today, even though it’s a Wednesday in early September. We don’t have the option to go to a ballpark or arena for your party, like we’ve done so many other times. Even with a switch to a paintball party next weekend, we have to keep the guest list down to a minimum. All the same, COVID can’t keep us from celebrating your life. Your 13th Birthday, even! This is really and truly a happy occasion, getting to witness the turning of another year in your life.

You’ve grown so much in the last year.

You’ve been growing physically and athletically. Recently, it’s been strengthening your upper body for climbing trees and inventing obstacles for parkour. But you’ve also been working on your three-point shooting in basketball. And you’ve become a leader for your middle school soccer team, helping to anchor that strong defensive line (I love watching and listening to you do your thing in the backfield). You’ve become a surprisingly strong runner, too. I’m pretty sure you would have been a beast in Track & Field back in the Spring, if there would have been a Track & Field season. But even on a more personal level, you set a challenging pace for the two of us in the Frosty Frolic 5K last December. I thought I’d be able to hold my edge on you in that department for a few more years, but I’m not so sure any more. I don’t mind that, though. I love to see you growing so strong and fast and agile.

You’ve also been growing academically. Honestly, we were worried about you back in March and April, when everything shut down because of the Coronavirus. It’s hard for almost everyone to stay focused on schoolwork when it’s completely online (at least I can speak from my own experience with online work training modules that I’ve completed in recent months). It’s just so easy to get distracted in that virtual environment. But I think the switch to online learning was especially challenging for you because you’re such an active, social person who thrives in an environment with more stimulation and support. Still, you learned how to learn. You figured out systems for keeping track of what needed to get done, and you worked your way through your online projects with patience and perseverance (at least most of the time!). I love it that you’re focused on getting all “A”s and “B”s on your report card this year. You can do it! I believe in you! I’ll love you no matter what your grades are. But I do hope you’ll be able to keep doing your best in the classroom, even in this weird COVID / Two-Days-a-Week / Cohort A-B-C school year.

In addition to your athletic and academic growth, I think it’s amazing to see the ways that you’ve been growing administratively. A big part of your school success in the Spring was getting more organized (thanks to Mom!). Your new room seems to be working out great as a new opportunity to keep things tidy and systematized. And I think it’s significant that you learned to save money this year, as well. It used to be that you’d try to spend every dime that came into your possession as quickly as possible — but this year, you learned to save and to work odd jobs for extra money. And as a result, you were able to purchase your very own Nintendo Switch! That’s a pretty big step, and I think you’ve learned a lot in the process.

All of these are good skills for adulthood. I’m really proud of the way you’re growing up, Cor. The “baby of the family” is no longer a baby. But that’s a good thing. A healthy thing. You’ve got what it takes to be a man.

I think I’ll always look fondly back on our time together in New England this summer. I loved camping and hiking in the High Peaks region of the Adirondack mountains. It was so epic to climb together to the top of the highest point in the state of New York. When we jumped into that cold water of that pool in Phelps Brook, after about fifteen miles on the trail, it felt so refreshing! And it was so lovely to drive together through the Green Mountains of Vermont, scrounging around for lunch until we ended up at the Pizza Palace in Bellows Falls. We made the most of our time at the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame, too. Such an epic experience! I just enjoyed being with you. I appreciated your appetite for adventure and your readiness to rest. 

I hope you’ll always remember that time with fondness, too. And I hope you’ll remember the marks of maturity that we talked about on that trip.

As you continue to transition from childhood, through adolescence, into adulthood, I pray that you will continue to Reject Passivity. Don’t be that guy who just fills his days with video games and YouTube compilations (though, of course, there is a time and a place for video games and YouTube compilations!). Stay active. Stay social. Stay aware of others and keep engaging with the world around you. I encourage you to take initiative and serve others — instead of sitting back on your heels, waiting for others to serve you. I’m happy to know that you’re already doing this, to a certain extent. I just pray that you will continue to grow into full maturity, in Christ.

I also encourage you to Embrace Responsibility. We all deal with insecurity on a regular basis. But you are kind. You are smart. You are important. I look forward to seeing you embrace more and more responsibility in this world because I know that you can handle it. You don’t have to go it alone or play “hero ball.” Your family is here for you. Your friends are here for you. And, most importantly, God is here for you. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight” (Proverbs 3:5-6). Still, you’ve got a role to play in this world — and I look forward to seeing you embrace that.

I’m praying for you, Cor, that you will be emboldened to Lead Courageously. I love to see the way that you’ve stepped into some leadership roles for your soccer team this year. It shows guts. It shows strength of character. And I hope that your confidence will continue to grow, even as you encounter obstacles. I think it’s so beautiful that you wrote “Be Strong and Courageous” on your soccer cleats for this year. I’m totally praying that for you these days. “Be Strong and courageous,” Cor. “Do not be terrified. Do not be discouraged. For the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

Finally, Cor, I just want to remind you to Keep your Eye on Eternal Things. Life is not about the accumulation of possessions or prestige or power. We’ve got our eyes on a bigger prize, right? I know it will get confusing at times, through adolescence. Dating relationships and sports rivalries and post-graduation options will each feel like the biggest thing from time to time. But they’re all insignificant in the grander scheme of things. What matters most is loving God and loving the people around you. I’ve seen a spark of that love in you, Cor, and I pray that you’ll fan it into flame in the months and years to come.

I’m so proud of you, Cor. I love you so much.

Happy Birthday, 

Dad

Posted in Children, COVID-19, Family, God, Introspection, Nostalgia, Prayer, The Bible, Traditions, Transition | 1 Comment

First Day of a Different Sort of School Year

New school years are always a jumble of nerves and anticipation. But this year is a very different sort of school year, with COVID-19 adding extra layers of uncertainty and awkwardness.

Our kids are scheduled to attend school in-person two days a week: on Tuesdays and Thursdays. This will be supplemented with remote instruction and homework to be completed online, at home.

Olivia is starting her junior year at Kent Theodore Roosevelt High School today. She’s going to be starting a new program in the Career Technical Education department called Teaching Professions. In an interesting twist, her in-person, classroom instruction on the role of an educator is going to be provided by a teacher electronically-streamed into the classroom (presumably because of some health concerns), overseen by a classroom monitor. Olivia will also be a part of the school’s top choir — which will have some carefully-controlled in-person instruction. But no performances.

That all sounds about right for 2020, doesn’t it?

Cor is starting the 8th grade, his last year at Kent Stanton Middle School. He’s excited about playing a leadership role on his Soccer Team, and he’s looking for a sponsorship deal from Adidas. He’s most excited about his American History class. And he’s most anxious about playing trombone in the band (also with a lot of precautions that have been outlined for us by email). I never thought we’d be sending him to school with a mask carefully-slit in the middle to allow passage for a mouthpiece…

But again, that’s 2020 for you!

I’m confident that they will learn and grow this year. Maybe even in extra-meaningful ways that they wouldn’t normally be able to learn and grow. Here’s wishing, hoping, and praying for the best this school year!


(In case you were wondering, Elliot started his freshman year at Kent State University last Thursday. All of his classes are remote this year, but he also seems to be making the best of things.)

Posted in Children, COVID-19, Family, Kent, Photography, Traditions, Transition | 1 Comment

100 Kilometers

I started the year with a goal to run at least four half-marathons this year. And I actually managed to complete two races — the Run to Read Half-Marathon in West Virginia and the Cowtown Half-Marathon in Texas — before the pandemic hit in March.

Since then, however, the race calendar has gone up in smoke.

Even if races were still being organized in the Era of COVID-19, I wouldn’t want to cram together with thousands of people on a confined race course where every runner is physically exerting himself and breathing hard into the air-space through which everyone else is running. (Honestly, it seems a little bit crazy that I’m willing to do this under more normal circumstances!).

So I did some long runs with a small group of friends — all staying six feet apart from each other — throughout the Spring and into the early days of Summer. But after we finished our self-devised COVID-19.755 Three-Quarters Marathon at the beginning of May, I took a break from running. The people from that group moved on to other projects.

So when I came back from my two-week break, I decided to choose a different sort of fitness goal. Some friends and I started cycling on the weekends. It was more fun than I thought it would be to see our mileage increase from week to week: 15 miles… 20 miles… 25 miles… 30 miles…

We started to dream about how far we might be able to get before the end of the summer. 50 miles seemed like a nice goal. So we were working our way towards that goal when two things happened: (1) Vacation season hit, when our small cycling group wasn’t able to go out together for several weeks, and (2) just as we might have been able to start training together again, one of the guys started to experience occasional episodes of vertigo, taking him out of cycling all together.

I thought about going back to running. But August is my least favorite month of the year for running. It’s so hot, and humid, and sticky in Ohio at this time of the year. So instead of setting a running goal, I made it my ambition to finish a 100-kilometer (about 63-mile) solo ride before the end of the summer. It’s Strava‘s definition of a “Gran Fondo,” and I just thought that would be a fun achievement.

This weekend, I made it happen.

I felt surprisingly strong for the first half of the ride. Even though I was climbing to the highest point in Portage County, I maintained a good pace. And the scenery was beautiful: corn fields, orchards, vineyards, pumpkin patches, forested hills, small towns… It was Ohio at its best.

I made it from Kent to Parkman in one hour and 45 minutes (for reference: it would take 40-45 minutes to drive there). I thought it was interesting to notice a lot of yard signs in support of Joe Biden’s campaign for U.S. President, as I traveled northeast.

When I turned south in Parkman, however, there was a noticeable political shift. Through Nelson, Garrettsville, Drakesburg, Ravenna, and all of the countryside in between, I’d estimate that yard signs for Donald Trump’s re-election campaign outnumbered Biden signs, maybe ten to one.

2020.08 Gran Fondo Badge

I felt pretty strong until I hit Ravenna; however, the last 10-15 miles hurt pretty bad. A headwind and some inclined sections of roads didn’t help, but I was also just running out of gas. My testicles hurt almost in the way it would hurt to receive one long, strong, slow kick in the crotch. (I honestly don’t know how Tour de France cyclists do it!). I held on until the end, though, and I have to admit that I’m pretty darn proud to have received my Strava “trophy” for finishing this epic ride.

Posted in Bicycling, Health, Ohio, Recreation, Sports | Leave a comment

First Day of Classes at Kent State University

I’ve been praying for this day for quite some time.

I remember the earliest days of the pandemic, when the air was cold and the campus was empty. On walks and runs, I prayed that God would breathe life back into the cadaver of campus. I remember reassurances that came from the crocuses and daffodils on Memorial Field. I remember walking past Stopher Hall and seeing a message composed of sticky notes on a second-floor window: “BRB.” Be Right Back. And I prayed “Amen, Lord. Let it be so.” I thought I got a picture of that window, back at the time, but now I can’t find it anywhere on my camera roll. Even so, the memory is strong.

So I smiled when I saw the updated message in the same window last week: “We’re Back.” I prayed again, that God would use this unusual year to draw people closer to Him. And I get the sense that He’s already answering that prayer. Albeit in unconventional ways.

The majority of classes this semester are remote. Even those who live on campus spend much of their day holed up in their rooms, at their desks, participating in virtual lectures and virtual classroom discussions. Those who live off-campus — like our own resident freshman, Elliot — are similarly instructed. Consequently, the Commuter parking lots on campus are maybe a quarter full (even on the first day of classes, when attendance is usually at its peak for the semester). It just feels weird on campus, with so few people spaced so far apart. It’s still too early to say how all these dynamics will affect H2O ministry on campus. Still, it seems that virtual interaction will have to be at least part of the mix for us as well. Unconventional, but workable.

I feel like God has been drawing me into conversation with Him, through prayer, over the last six months. He’s reminding me that unconventional problems call for unconventional solutions. And as people of faith, we have one of the most powerful, most unconventional, most supernatural means of engagement that the world has ever known: Prayer.

Our Staff Team has been praying for Kent State University regularly. Especially in the last two weeks. We’ve met on campus every morning since the beginning of last week, crying out to God together. After a few minutes of talking and praying together, we branch out to pray over different regions of the campus. My area is the Centennial Courts residence halls. And as I’ve prayed each day, I’ve walked through a grove of trees between two of the buildings. I pick up a stone from the ground as I pray, and I place the stone in the hollow of an old tree stump.

It started out small, but the pile has grown over these last two weeks. And with it, my hope has grown for what God is going to do this year.

We’ve all been learning a lot about ourselves, ever since the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted the Spring Semester last March. And today, we get to combine our knowledge of our inner selves with our knowledge of the wider world. We get to reintegrate ourselves socially, academically, and — I pray — spiritually. If the Class of 2024 (and other students at Kent State University this year) can overcome the challenges of COVID-19, they will be empowered to do great things for the rest of their lives.

So I want to keep praying, as the Fall Semester continues. I want to see that stump become full of stones, to the point of overflowing. I’m praying that God will pour out His blessings on the Faculty, Staff, and Students of Kent State University — for His glory. Amen, amen, amen.

Posted in Children, Church, COVID-19, Family, God, H2O Kent, Prayer, Small Groups, Traditions, Transition | 1 Comment

A Very Different Sort of Blastoff Experience

Kent State University classes start tomorrow.

In some ways, it’s like the beginning of any new school year. The air is thick with sweltering heat and humidity. Students walk around on campus. We all feel a sense of anticipation and anxiety for what the new year will bring.

At the same time, we’ve never seen a school year like this one. A pandemic is forcing the majority of classes online. All of the people on campus wear masks and stay six feet apart from each other. Students openly speculate that it’ll be three weeks before an outbreak of COVID causes everything to shut down like back in March.

I still believe that this could be a great year. The Staff and student-leaders of H2O have been making a lot of meaningful connections with the Class of 2024 over the past couple of weeks. Students are hungry for community. And it seems like there may be even more openness to spiritual things than usual. But we’re all still learning as we go. Things are a lot different from how they usually are.

One of the most obvious points of contrast was this week’s attempt at a “Virtual Blastoff” event, where students get connected to different student organizations on campus. Usually, Kent State’s Blastoff looks like this:

Last year, nearly 800 students filled out the H2O Interest Survey at our “booth” in the veritable “carnival” of Blastoff. We had dozens of returning students running our Goldfish Game, sitting at our Info Table, and offering other students the opportunity to fill out a survey in exchange for a coupon for some free pizza from Guy’s Pizza downtown. All in one three-hour stretch in the heart of campus.

This year, we followed the University’s directives to prepare for two nights of Blastoff activities online. We opened ourselves up to anyone looking for a Service Organization on Monday, and to anyone looking for a Religious Organization on Wednesday. We staffed our church’s Zoom account with ten pairs consisting of one Staff member plus one student-leader, waiting in Zoom Breakout Rooms to interact with visitors.

Total visitors to this year’s Virtual Blastoff: seven. Not seven-hundred (which would have been a slight drop from the previous year). Seven.

My Breakout Room was lucky in getting one of the visitors. But even at that, the student initially joined our conversation with his video and audio disabled. When we registered confusion, he turned on his video to show that he was there. Still, he never enabled his audio, nor did he give any explanation for why he had it turned off. Even though he seemed to be alone his his dorm room, he had a mask tight over his mouth. And even his text communication (through the chat function on Zoom) was halting and awkward. My Breakout Room partner, Meg, was a champ. Together we made it through our awkward, one-sided conversation with the new student. But it was painful. A far cry from the fun of our typical Blastoff experiences.

It’s a weird start to a weird school year at Kent State University. But I’m still hopeful. We empowered our leaders to go out, two-by-two, like Jesus sending the seventy-two — and we managed to get about a hundred responses to our survey, even without much Blastoff engagement. The quantity of our interactions has been diminished, but the quality of our interactions has been significantly improved. We’re praying that God will do His work this year, in spite of the challenges.

Posted in COVID-19, Culture Shock, H2O Kent, Kent, Ministry | Leave a comment

The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes

I just finished reading Suzanne Collins’s book, The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes. I borrowed it from my daughter, Olivia, who borrowed it from her friend Maddy. But it was a quick read, so I didn’t feel too guilty about extending the loan.

This book is a prequel to the popular Young Adult trilogy: The Hunger Games. It traces the origin story of Coriolanus Snow, who’s an antagonist in the original trilogy but a protagonist in this book. There also seem to be some hints that the other main protagonist in this book — Lucy Gray Baird — has a hand in the origin story for Katniss Everdeen (the hero of the original trilogy).

The story centers around Snow’s struggle to remain among the elite ruling class of the Capitol. Part of this struggle includes serving as a mentor to Baird in her fight to survive as a tribute in the Hunger Games. But that’s really only about half the book. The other half is exposition and resolution. The romance between Snow and Baird serves as a significant subplot throughout the story. However, the way it all ends disappointed me — both as a reader and as someone invested in the characters.

I’d say the first 85 percent of the book was about 85 percent as good as the original trilogy. In other words: pretty good. The last 15 percent of the book, however, was perhaps 15 percent as good as the original trilogy. In other words: pretty bad. The characters acted in ways that were hard to believe. Story-lines were tied up too quickly and too cleanly. I’ve got some theories about what the author was trying to do, but I won’t spoil anything for anyone else. Just hit me up, if you ever want to talk about this book.

All in all, I enjoyed reading The Ballad of Songbirds and Snakes, particularly as a summertime recreational read. It probably won’t make it into my Top Ten for the year, but it wasn’t a waste of time either.

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