The vase is broken. That much is clear. Pieces are scattered across the dining room floor.

But nobody’s confessing to nothing.

Dad says, “I just want to know how the vase was broken.” He’s got a piece of the vase in his hands. He keeps walking back and forth, looking at the vase and looking at us. He’s trying to catch us with his eyes. “Somebody broke the vase.”

But I know it wasn’t me. Because I followed all the rules. I didn’t run in the house. I didn’t throw the ball in the house. Mostly, I spend my time reading books in my room — like my parents told me to do. Just like I eat my vegetables at dinner and brush my teeth at night. I’ve been doing what I’m supposed to do.

I didn’t break the vase.

“We’re just trying to get to the bottom of things.” Mom says, “Are you sure it wasn’t you?”

“Nuh-uh,” I say.

“So, where were you this afternoon, when it happened?” asks Dad.

“I was down at Pfizer Park, with Jane. You told us we should go outside and play, remember?” I can’t believe they’re coming down on me and my sister.

I want to complain and ask: Why don’t you check with Johnny and Jimmy?!? Because they didn’t come to the park with us. They said they wanted to play at home, instead. And they’re not usually all that careful, neither. But I’m not about to rat on my brothers. I’m good at following that rule, too. But c’mon! It’s obvious. I mean, they’re standing right there, with guilty looks on their faces and baseball mitts on their hands.

“Hmm… Well, none of you admit to knowing anything about the broken vase. So… I suppose we’re going to have to punish you all.” Dad says with a serious look on his face. “Unless one of you is ready to come forward, you’re all grounded for a month: no playdates, no sleepovers, no Friday night pizza parties. You’re all grounded.”

Johnny and Jimmy keep their mouths shut. But I can’t believe it. It just doesn’t seem fair.

“You can, however, keep your phone privileges for now,” Dad smiles. “That way you can FaceTime or Zoom with your friends, whenever you want to.”

Posted in COVID-19, Introspection, Writing | Comments Off on Broken

Portage County Trail Quest

PoCo 2021 as of 2021.07.29

I’m coming to the end of another quest: to hike every trail in Portage County in 2021. If COVID-19 was going to “shorten my leash,” I figured I’d make the most of it! At first, I estimated that it would only take a couple of months to complete the challenge. But here we are — at the end of July, almost 350 miles into the project — and I’m still hiking.

Back in January, I started with all the trails listed through the Portage County Parks District. With their own website boasting “a total of 34.96 miles of trail within our park system,” I wondered if I might complete the whole quest by the end of February or the beginning of March. But in the course of my quest, I’ve discovered that there are a lot of other trails, too!

In addition to all the county parks, there are several state parks in Portage County, as well. Plus state nature preserves! Plus a number of municipal parks and preserves. And a couple of natural areas reserved for institutes of higher learning (Portage County being home to both Kent State University and Hiram College). And even factoring in all of the trails managed by government- and institutional entities, there are still several trails that defy category. Trails through National Audubon Society (Birdwatchers) preserves… Bridle (Horse) trails… Snowmobile trails… Even beyond these categories, there are trails that I haven’t been able to find referenced on a single map — until I explore it and upload it to my Gaia maps online. Many of the “mystery trails” seem to be maintained by someone (though it’s unclear who), and others seem to be emergent desire paths.

It’s been more of a challenge than I expected to hike every step of every trail in Portage County. But I’ve really enjoyed the challenge. The process of discovery. The complex web of bridle trails in the northern part of West Branch State Park has been particularly difficult — and delightful. It seems that the trail managers regularly rotate trail segments to mitigate the effects of erosion. So even when the map seems to indicate a single trail, there are often two or three variants to any given section of that trail! Ropes are used to close off access to the parts of the trail that are being rested. But for my own (self-devised) quest, I’ve decided that I need to hike every step of every variant of every trail in Portage County. At least, to the best of my knowledge.

I’m committed to finishing this “Portage County Trail Quest” — a.k.a “PoCo 2021” — likely within the next week or two. But who knows what other trails I may yet discover?!? If you know of any that don’t seem to be indicated on the map above, please let me know.

Posted in Health, Hiking, Home, Kent, Ohio, Recreation, Sports, Travel | Comments Off on Portage County Trail Quest

The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

I’ve been listening to a new podcast called The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill. It describes the unique legacy of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, along with its pastor, Mark Driscoll. The entire life cycle of this church was relatively short: started in 1996 and shut down in 2014. Still, it’s a powerful case study in church planting, leadership pitfalls, and the broader Evangelical culture in which these things take place.

The “Church Growth Movement” is still with us. Large churches and their leaders / preachers are still the loudest voices in American Christianity. (And I think it’s very important to think criticially about this). But more than prompting thought and emotion about present-day issues, I’ve found myself processing the story of Mars Hill Seattle through my years in Amsterdam.

There are some interesting parallels (and intersections) between Mars Hill and The Amsterdam Project, which I joined in the early 2000s. We operated on a similar timeline. We had similar visions of bringing orthodox Christianity to unorthodox settings in unorthodox packaging. Both Mars Hill and The Amsterdam Project wanted to forge a magnetic ministry presence in a world-class city. Both churches depended heavily on a charismatic leader with incredible talents in communication, team-building, and vision-casting — but also with incredible deficiencies in character. We talked a lot about a shift from “modernism” to “post-modernism” within the culture and within the church.

The whole premise of our work in Amsterdam has been reconfigured, as I’ve listened to this podcast.

Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill influenced the foundation of our Amsterdam years. Even more, however, Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill influenced the conclusion to our Amsterdam years. The arrogance and inflexibility of Mark Driscoll, especially. I saw it in the attitudes and actions of the young Dutch leaders who took the hand-off in church leadership, when our family returned to the United States. It shouldn’t have been surprising (even though it felt that way at the time). They listened to so many Mark Driscoll sermons. They read so many articles and books from that corner of Christendom. And they were so young in leadership. As soon as they shifted to a Driscollian sort of “My way or the highway” rhetoric with the congregation, they lost them.

They didn’t even make it six months in church leadership.

I find myself getting angry, as I listen to this podcast. The personal losses are compounded by the greater losses within the Church. At one point in the podcast, there even seems to be some insinuation that Mark Driscoll may have paved the way for American Evangelicals’ obsession with Donald Trump: idealizing someone who “says it like it is,” no matter how crass, how disrespectful, how hurtful, or how controversial it might seem. I hear echoes of this in the individual arrogance (camouflaging insecurity)… the name-calling… the fear of disloyalty and conspiracies… It really does feel like a surprisingly-direct line from Mark Driscoll to Donald Trump. And to the rest of my Christian brothers and sisters who now feel so enraged and estranged.

Still, I realize that it’s not helpful to demonize any one individual or movement. There’s plenty of pride and insecurity and imperfection to go around, certainly within my own heart. But it feels healthy to at least unpack these matters a little bit. So I’m grateful for Christianity Today and the work they’re doing to share these stories.

Posted in Amsterdam, Amsterdam50, Church, Culture, European Missions, God, H2O Kent, Introspection, Leadership, Preaching, Recommendations, Recommended Listening | Comments Off on The Rise and Fall of Mars Hill

H2O Kent Racquet Club

We’re coming out of COVID. It’s a process, for sure. Nothing easy or instantaneous about it. But we’re relearning how to lean into community dynamics again. We’re relearning how to have fun. And last night’s establishment of the H2O Kent Racquet Club was another significant step forward.

Over the winter, we were largely isolated. Our primary expression of “community” was a Zoom call. Over the spring, we started coming out of isolation to worship together. Though we were still wearing masks and staying six feet apart from each other. Over the summer, however, we’ve switched from a communal risk evaluation to an individual risk evaluation when it comes to COVID precautions. Now that the vaccine has been readily available to all Americans, we’ve started shaking hands again. Singing songs in close proximity. And, of course, playing tennis together.

The numbers at our weekly worship gatherings (at the Amphitheater in Fred Fuller Park) continue to tick upwards, week after week. We had almost 80 together this weekend. That would be a decent size for us in the Summer, with or without COVID. But it feels especially significant after the last sixteen months of intentionally keeping things smaller and more scattered.

A couple of weeks ago, we started actively encouraging the people of our church to start doing stuff together again. Not that they needed our permission; maybe just a reminder. So I know that a few people gathered to play volleyball together on the 4th of July. Our Life Groups have started more regularly going out for ice cream together and things like that. And now: the H2O Kent Racquet Club. We spell it with a “Q” in the middle to make it more fancy — but there’s really nothing fancy about the group. Skill levels varied widely (one person had never previously picked up a tennis racket!). We focused on fun more than competition. And it was just good to be reminded how it’s fun to do fun things with fun people.

I sincerely hope that this momentum will continue to build. The news reports of the quickly-spreading Delta variant of COVID-19 make me a little nervous that this is a temporary reprieve. (So I’d encourage you to get vaccinated if you haven’t done so already). But while the public health conditions are conducive, I want to prioritize community. In whatever shape or form or spelling it may take.

Posted in Church, COVID-19, Culture, H2O Kent, Kent, Recreation, Sports, Transition | Comments Off on H2O Kent Racquet Club

Carrying Culture

We sing weird songs to children. And we do it without even thinking about it. In the process, though, I wonder how much we’re carrying culture without even knowing it.

Old MacDonald had a farm: E-I-E-I-O

What do those letters stand for?!? What does that refrain mean?

When the bough breaks, the cradle will fall — and down will come baby, cradle and all.

Why would those be the lyrics to a lullaby?!? That’s pretty messed up! I’ve also heard that “Ring Around the Rosie” is a song about the Black Death. Other “nursery rhymes,” too, (whether set to music or not) can be pretty disturbing if you just listen to the words. The “nonsense lyrics,” though, are an even deeper level of intrigue.

Apparently, there’s a song like this in the northernmost reaches of the United Kingdom, on the island of Unst. It’s called Orfeo. The refrain of the song sounds like gibberish — even to the people of Unst (who already speak an intriguing dialect of English). A Shetlander named John Stickle once brought up this song to a friend from London named Patrick Shuldham-Shaw, saying “Have you ever heard anything as nonsensical as this?”

Skoven arle grön. Hvor hjorten han gar arlig.

But here’s the crazy thing. Shaw knew what Stickle didn’t: it wasn’t gibberish! It was Middle Danish! Viking invaders brought the language to Unst 500-600 years earlier. And it somehow survived all those years in musical form — even though no one knew that the “gibberish” was actual lyrics about deer in the springtime.

Early greens the wood. Where the hart goes yearly.

To me, this speaks to the way that we often carry elements of culture without even knowing it. It’s an example of enduring — albeit unconscious — legacy. And it brings me both discouragement and hope.

I’m discouraged by the way that we can never truly escape human sin and dysfunction. Even when we think we’ve moved past some errant way of thinking, we find that we’re carrying culture without even thinking about it. It seeps out, when we least expect it. Like with Racism. There are so many ways that racist thought patterns have been passed down through generations. Voting systems… Economic systems… Stereotypes about athletics and academics… And yes: even our songs. If a Viking song about deer in the springtime can survive for centuries under the guise of gibberish, how can we ever hope to overcome Racism in the United States?!? And that’s just one example of many!

I find hope, however, when I think through the lens of the “Roland Hayes“es of the world. He may not be a household name, but he helped to start singing a new song. About love and surrender and Jesus. The way of Jesus depends heavily upon us continually carrying culture — in both conscious and unconscious ways. I often think of the phrase that discipleship is far more effective when it’s “caught, not taught.” So maybe all I can do is sing. Or maybe just hum. But in so doing, I can pass these songs to my children, or the people in my church, or my neighbors… With a simple rhythm, repetition, and melody, culture is internalized and extended.

And who doesn’t like to learn a new song every now and then? Especially when it’s a good one. Let’s find good songs and sing them regularly — and then see what happens.

Posted in Church, Culture, Culture Shock, Europe, H2O Kent, Introspection, Language, Leadership, Ministry, Music, Recreation, Traditions, Travel | Comments Off on Carrying Culture

Roland Hayes: Blotting and Seeing

I recently heard the story of Roland Hayes on an episode of RadioLab. It’s part of a larger series called The Vanishing of Harry Pace. The whole series is interesting, but I haven’t been able to stop thinking about this particular episode featuring Roland Hayes. He was a ground-breaking musician in the first half of the 20th Century. In part because of his vocal talent and his unique ability to perform and interpret a broad cross-section of musical styles. But also — probably more significantly — because of the way he crossed racial barriers.

He was literally crushed and abused by an exploitative social- and industrial system, in early life. His mother was a slave in Georgia. And his family struggled to survive, as he grew up. When he was just sixteen years old, he was working at a factory to support his mother and his siblings. And while working, his clothes got caught in a conveyer belt. He got dragged through the machinery three times. The other workers at the factory thought he was dead when they pulled out his body. And even though he did survive the machinery, his chances for recovery were still minimal because of the medical care available to the Black community in Georgia at that time. Still, against all odds, he recovered.

He took this “second chance” at life to develop a singing career. The music industry was stacked against him, just like everything else was stacked against him. But he forged a career through perseverance, creativity, and a little bit of help from some friends. He got his big break when he was invited to sing “Were You There When They Crucified My Lord?” at a church service in England. Apparently, he brought so much emotion to his rendition — presumably from his own life experience and his own relationship with Jesus — that even the staid, stiff-lipped, British congregation was brought to tears. The next day, Hayes was invited to repeat his performance for the King and Queen of England. And from that point, his musical career took off.

He sang in concert halls across Europe — even though racist crowds frequently antagonized him — and his European success eventually paved the way for North American success. It’s a really inspiring story. Especially this one concert in Berlin. (But I’ll leave that one to RadioLab because you really should listen to the podcast episode). The thing that stood out to me the most, however, was a prayer that Roland Hayes would pray before every performance:

Lord, blot out Roland Hayes, so that they only see Thee.

Roland Hayes was a deeply religious man. He loved Jesus. And even though RadioLab is not a religious podcast, the faith of Roland Hayes showed through their story-telling. I’m quite confident that Roland Hayes, himself, would give God the credit for much of what he was able to accomplish. And able to endure. But the heart of Roland Hayes’ story is that his prayer was answered. Maybe even more than a lot of us would like it to be.

I mean: Had you ever heard of Roland Hayes before now? Did you learn about him in any of your history textbooks or history classes? Does he appear on any of your music playlists? Probably not. And I think a lot of that has to do with the fact that he never sold out to broader corporate interests. But I think he also succeeded in making more of Jesus than he made of himself. I don’t think it’s any accident that he found a broader audience through the song, “Were you There When They Crucified My Lord?“. Hayes was willing to identify with Christ in his crucifixion. And in his resurrection, as well. Even if that meant more glory for God than for Roland Hayes.

I regularly struggle with my own desire to leave a legacy. I want people to remember the name, “Eric Asp,” with a smile on their face and an interesting story to share. The truth of the matter is that I want to be admired. But Roland Hayes inspires me to keep praying that prayer. “Lord, blot out Eric Asp, so that they only see Thee.” Amen.

Posted in God, Music, Prayer, Preaching, Recommendations, Recommended Listening | Comments Off on Roland Hayes: Blotting and Seeing

Negen Jaar Geleden

Last Day in Amsterdam - GCM-NL Family

Negen jaar geleden, woonde we nog in Amsterdam. Onze huis stond wel leeg met een boordje in het raam: “Te Koop.” Maar onze vrienden… onze kerk… onze gezinsgeschiedenis… Die waren allemaal nog steeds daar, in Nederland.

Tot de ochtend van 10 juli 2012.

TRANSLATION: Nine years ago, we still lived in Amsterdam. True: our house was empty, with a sign in the window saying: “For Sale.” But our friends… our church… our family history… These were all still there, in the Netherlands.

Until the morning of July 10, 2012.

Bags Packed, Ready to Go

A lot has happened since the 10th of July, 2012. We expected change when we waved “Tot ziens” to our friends at Schiphol Airport that morning. Our family knew that we’d be speaking a different language, using a different currency, getting around with different modes of transport. We knew that we’d be making new friends, building into a new church community, and writing a new chapter in our family’s history. Still, I don’t think we were prepared for how quickly the time would stack up — putting separation between our family and our life in Amsterdam.

Crawford County Fair - John Deere Exhibit

The kids were so little. Elliot was ten years old. Even though he was not born in Amsterdam, a whopping 92% of his life had taken place in the Netherlands. Olivia was almost eight years old, and Cor was almost five years old — and they’d lived in Amsterdam since they were born. 100% and 100%. I look at the picture taken while visiting the Crawford County Fair a couple of weeks after our move to Ohio, and it strikes me how jarring that transition must have been: from urban Europe to rural Ohio. I’m proud of the way they took it in stride. Still, we asked a lot of them with that move.

Now, they’re all teenagers. Elliot is 19. Olivia is almost 17. And Cor is almost 14. The percentage of their lives spent in Amsterdam continues to shrink with each passing year. They can all still say they’ve spent about half of their life in the Netherlands (Elliot’s percentage is now 49%; Olivia’s is 47.5%; and Cor’s is about 56.5%). But in the months and years to come, that percentage will grow even smaller. And somehow, that feels really weird to me.

Even for myself, after another six months here in Kent, I’ll have lived in this town for longer than I lived in Amsterdam. Longer than I’ve lived in any other town for my entire life.

Nine years ago, some of our closest friends weren’t even acquaintances. Our extended family was still relatively far-flung and independent. I thought that the way H2O Kent did church felt kind of weird. And I had no idea that I’d come to love the sport of running as much as I have. But a lot has happened in the last nine years. We’ve put down roots here in northeast Ohio, and we’ve established ourselves.

This date in history will probably always feel significant as a closing of the Amsterdam chapter of our lives. But it was also the opening of the Northeast Ohio chapter of our lives. I want to remember and appreciate both. So: proost to all of you who have played a role in our lives, either Amsterdam or Kent. We houden van jullie. We love you.

Posted in Amsterdam, Europe, Family, Home, Kent, Nostalgia, Ohio, The Netherlands, The United States of America, Transition | Comments Off on Negen Jaar Geleden

Building the Buckeye Trail

I’ve been a big fan of the Buckeye Trail for a few years now. But today I gained a new level of love for the Buckeye Trail when I became one of its builders.

I happened across Bill Jindra a couple of weeks ago, as he was doing some trail maintenance on the north side of the big lake at West Branch State Park. He was very friendly, but not too friendly. Just the right amount of pleasantry that put me at ease. I told him I appreciated his work to maintain the trail. He told me he appreciated the way I reminded him that people are making use of the trail. In the course of our brief conversation, I learned that I could check out the Events section of the website for the Buckeye Trail Association and join on a work day sometime. There was no sizing me up or “sales pitch” like I might have expected in a situation like that. It was just, “You’re welcome to come help sometime, if you want.”

And that “sometime” ended up being today.

I had a couple of ministry meetings in the morning, so I didn’t get to join the volunteer work crew until mid-day. So when I arrived at the parking lot identified by GPS coordinates on the Buckeye Trail website, I followed a series of orange ribbons that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had tied around vines and tree branches. These orange ribbons provided a meandering route to the work site, about a quarter of a mile into the forest.

When I reached the work site, Bill handed me a tool called a McLeod and gave me some brief instructions in how to build the trail. First, start with scraping off the duff (dead leaves and small brush). Next, cut down any larger brush crowding the trail. Then, hack off the roots on either side of the trail. And finally, keep this process moving to connect the orange ribbons with a trail about four feet wide. All scraping, raking, and hacking. So, it didn’t take long for me to start sweating. I worked for two hours and managed to clear perhaps 100 meters of trail. I got stung by bees after accidentally hacking into a nest. By the time Bill said we should wrap up our work for the day, I was wiped out.

But I was also super-happy. Any time out in the woods is good time, in my mind. Still, there was a deep sense of accomplishment to have such tangible progress. And it genuinely felt like an honor to be a part of building and expanding the trail system that I love.

Posted in Health, Hiking, Ohio, Recreation | Comments Off on Building the Buckeye Trail

Post-COVID Family Reunion

In June of 2019, my parents, my brothers, my sisters, and our families all got to participate in a broader family reunion for my Mom’s side of the family. There were official T-shirts and waterpark outings and catered dinners. It was really just family being family — a lot of sitting and talking in between official reunion events — so we didn’t think much of it at the time. We figured it would happen again soon enough.

But we ended up being more scattered for the holidays at the end of that year (thinking that we’d try for a big family Christmas in 2020). And even when the COVID-19 shut-down happened in the Spring of 2020, we figured it wouldn’t be that long before we’d all get to see each other again. But then weeks stretched to months. Easter stretched to Christmas. And we went 25 months from that family reunion in Texas without all getting to be together.

Until this week.

My brothers both traveled from out of state to spend the Independence Day holiday weekend in Northeast Ohio. So we made the most of the opportunity to catch up. Still a lot of sitting and talking, really. But we got to do it in a variety of different places. Our family’s back deck… my sister’s dining room… a public fireworks display… a swimming hole in the Cuyahoga Valley National Park… a back-yard cook-out… multiple rounds of ice cream…

It felt like family. And it felt like summer.

I don’t want to take any of these opportunities for granted. Who knows if we’ll have to deal with another pandemic (or another phase in the COVID-19 pandemic)? How do we know the course of my parents’ continued struggles with Parkinson’s Disease (in the case of my Dad) and Multiple Sclerosis (in the case of my Mom)? What will things be like as the younger generation continues to gain independence and move on to other pursuits? When will we all get to be in the same space again?

God knows. We don’t. So I just want to take time to remember, reflect, capture some of the images from these last few days, and thank God for the here and now.

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Betty’s Fire

I love my family so much. We get along remarkably well. We support each other in our widely-varied life pursuits which run the gamut from oil painting, to church leadership, to running a Stonewall Sports League. Even in matters of politics and religion — which can be so troublesome for so many families — we maintain a respectful dialogue and familial unity that seems rare in today’s world.

We do not get along so well, however, when we’re competing against each other.

This weekend, we pulled together an informal family reunion here in Northeast Ohio. My brother Alex flew in from Minnesota. My brother Jay and his wife Brandi drove up from Texas. And we’ve spent most of our time drinking coffee and catching up on all our widely-varied life pursuits (this is our first full-family gathering since COVID-19). But we did decide to play a game together this afternoon. A “Boys” against “Girls” game of Four on the Couch. And for whatever reason, that team-versus-team environment put us back in a very familiar place of competition and consternation.

We heaped pressure on our teammates when the time came for a critical decision in the game. Sometimes, we cheered loudly when our teams made progress. Other times, we accused each other of cheating when we suffered setbacks. And we made a point to take portraits of the “Winners” and “Losers,” as you can see above.

Asp Life 14

It’s not like we were about to start throwing punches or anything. There wasn’t even full-fledged yelling or mean-spirited name-calling at each other. But we took the game way too seriously. It took us a good while to cool down afterwards. And the experience connected emotionally with a host of other experiences when my family and I got caught up in the spirit of competition. Usually in the context of sports.

I think we should call this phenomenon “Betty’s Fire,” in honor of my grandmother.

The Asp Family (Dave as Infant)

Something clicked in my mind when Marci, Elliot, Olivia, Cor, and I visited the graves of my grandparents last month. In trying to tell my children stories of their great-grandparents, I realized that there’s a pretty direct line from my grandmother, to my father, to me and my siblings, and to our children. A line of athletes. A line of competitors. And a line of deep, internal flames that get stoked when it’s “game time.”

Grandma Asp had fiery red hair in youth. And she was a basketball player (even playing at the collegiate level). My Dad learned many of his basketball skills from her — and he took it to the next level in his high school days. He earned himself the nickname “Floorburns” for the way he dove after loose balls on the basketball court. He also played smash-mouth football, breaking his nose more than once while playing full-back and line-backer.

Posted in Children, Culture, Family, Home | Comments Off on Betty’s Fire