Circles and Walls in Youngstown

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

Another day of outreach is on the books! A part of me wants to evangelize (literally, “share good news”) even when it comes to the practice of evangelism: focusing on the positive encounters, relating true stories of the way that it energizes both Christians and non-Christians in a space like Youngstown State University. But another part of me wants to recognize both the rewarding stuff and the challenging stuff. Because unfortunately, it’s not all “Happily Ever After” stories. So, Day Four of our Spring Break trip to Youngstown seems like as good an example as any of the complexity in outreach. It was a day of people discovering both circles and walls in Youngstown.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

Three Circles

Just like our first day of outreach, we started the day with a team meeting in the Esterly Room of Youngstown State University’s Kilcawley Center. We spent some time studying the Bible and praying together. And then we focused on learning a new skill in outreach: sharing the Good News of Jesus through the Three Circles. One of the H2O YSU pastors explained the tool to everyone, and then we did several rounds of practice. It was a really constructive process, and everyone was eager to get out on campus and make new connections.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

I was partnered with Emily for the day. We went back to the bridge between Cushwa and Moser, and we were able to have a number of successful interactions. Still, the space seemed noticeably quieter just twenty-four hours after having been an incredibly fruitful space for interaction. Fewer students generally, and even those who were there seemed to be less open to conversation. We did, however, have one particularly positive conversation with a young woman named Kami. She was really glad to talk with us. When we got to the survey question that asked, “Have you read the Bible at all?” she told us that she had actually just started trying to read the Bible about a month ago. However, when we asked the next survey question, “What do you think the Bible is all about?” she seemed frustrated that she couldn’t come up with much of an answer.

So, when we finished the survey, I encouraged Emily to share the Three Circles with Kami. And Kami loved it! Emily actually ended up showing her where she could download a “Life on Mission” app for her phone, where she could access (and share) the Good News for herself. So it ended up being a “win” not only for Kami, but also for Emily since she had never previously been able to share the Good News with someone else. After our conversation with Kami, we tried to survey a few more people but didn’t have much success.

Hitting the Wall

We eventually decided to leave the Cushwa Bridge and explore a few other areas of campus. We had a couple of meaningful conversations in the buildings housing the YSU Art and Music programs. But I just started to feel run down towards the end of the morning. I was physically exhausted and emotionally exhausted. It made sense, considering the number of conversations we’d been having… Still, it was discouraging in the moment.

Thanks to Emily’s perseverance, we pushed through that wall. We got a few more YSU students to fill out surveys. But we also faced more rejection in that last hour before lunch. Maybe we were putting out “exhausted evangelist” energy… Maybe class schedules just work differently on Tuesdays than they do on Mondays… It’s hard to say! But our second-to-last interaction of the morning may have been the most discouraging one of all. We were walking outside, headed towards our team’s rallying point in the Kilcawley Center. A red-headed guy was walking towards us, and he didn’t seem to be in much of a hurry. So, I had a solid twenty paces to approach him with a smile on my face and the friendliest greeting I could summon. “Good morning! Would you have a couple of minutes for a survey?”

I was mentally prepared for him to say “No thanks” or “Nah, I already filled out one.” But I wasn’t prepared for being completely and totally ignored. The read-headed guy just kept his icy blue eyes locked straight ahead, without even a flick of the eyes in my direction. He didn’t hurry or slow his pace one bit. He just kept on going without the slightest acknowledgement of my existence as a human being.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

Scout Ants

It was helpful to have some time to process with the team over lunch. Especially after that frosty encounter with that one red-headed YSU “Penguin,” it was good to get a Penguin Frosty (chocolate-and-vanilla swirl) from the on-campus Wendy’s. The calories were replenishing. The empathy from others was reassuring. It seems like maybe two-thirds of the team was feeling pretty similar to me. But we were all able to encourage each other and reset for a shorter afternoon of outreach.

Lunchtime conversation with a couple of the H2O YSU staff made Emily and I decided to spend our afternoon looking out for student-athletes. They make up a solid five percent of the overall student body. And they seem to be especially influential in Youngstown (YSU students and alumni seem to be far more enthusiastic about Penguin Athletics than Kent State students and alumni are about Flash Athletics). We didn’t run into as many student-athletes as we hoped, but we did have a random encounter with Pete the Penguin in one of the hallways at the Beeghly Center.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

Through all our wandering and trial-and-error search for student-athletes, Emily and I talked about our function as “Scout Ants.” Our role in Youngstown was kind of like the vanguards of an ant colony, wandering the park for the places where picnic food had fallen to the ground. We could explore every nook and cranny of the University in a way that H2O YSU staff and students might not be able to. And in the process, we could send signals to the rest of the colony for wherever there might be good leads. In our afternoon exploration, we found the best success in the field house where the Track Team was warming up. So hopefully, successive scouts can pick up where we left off. And maybe, over time, some collective insight will emerge.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

Game Night in the Cove

Even before any of us hit any proverbial walls, we had decided that we were only going to spend an hour and a half fanning out over the campus after lunch. Because we wanted everyone to get some down time to re-energize for a game night in the Student Center that evening.

After dinner, we all went back on campus to a part of the Student Center called The Cove. It’s equipped with pool tables, ping pong tables, air hockey tables, and lots of space for other games or whatever. So, it was the perfect spot to meet up with some of the other YSU students who have gotten involved with H2O. And to meet up with some of the other new friends we’d made throughout the week. And fortunately, most of the H2O Kent team members’ energy levels picked back up for this part of the day.

H2O Kent Spring Break Trip to H2O YSU

In addition to the large group in The Cove, a few H2O YSU team members went over to the main dining hall on campus to make connections there. And three of us went to the Rec Center to meet some people while playing basketball. It was a fun evening. Exhausting, too. But hopefully helpful in cultivating these new connections and building a culture for what God could continue to do at Youngstown State University.

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Outreach at Youngstown State University

Our third day in Youngstown was our first full day of outreach at Youngstown State University. The campus was buzzing after a quiet weekend. So, we were excited to get out there and make some new connections. Still totally glad that we had the chance to get oriented on Saturday… Still deeply honored to participate in regular rhythms for worship on Sunday… But really, we came to Youngstown for outreach opportunities. And there was no shortage of such opportunities at the beginning of a new academic week.

At the beginning of the morning, we gathered our team in a conference room in the Student Center. One of the pastors for H2O YSU led us through some of the basics for finding our way around campus, initiating conversations, asking people to take survey helping us to assess the spiritual environment of the University, and pursuing deeper conversation with those who seemed spiritually open. We prayed and paired up. And then, we fanned out across the campus.

The Cushwa Bridge

My partner for the day was Joe. And we had a remarkably fruitful morning meeting people in the bridge between two buildings on the south side of campus. The College of Nursing is headquartered in Cushwa Hall. And the base for the College of Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics is in Moser Hall. In between them, there’s a bridge where people like to sit and study between classes. So we’d just walk up to people and say, “Good morning! Do you have a couple of minutes for a brief survey?” About eighty percent of the people we approached said “Yes.” So then we’d follow up with saying, “Thank you so much! We’re with a student organization here on campus called H2O, and we’re trying to get a better understanding of the spiritual environment here at YSU.”

The people we talked with were remarkably open, friendly, and frank about their understanding of spiritual things. And in many cases, we did little more than ask our seven questions, thank the respondents for their time, and then move on to the next person. But I was surprised and delighted to see how many people relaxed and opened up for deeper conversation.

Vini, Kalista, and Shavon

Just to give a sampling of our bridge conversations, there were the four students wearing red scrubs associated with the University’s Dental Hygienist program who laughed and teased each other throughout each individual survey, but who genuinely seemed glad to talk. Vini was an international student from India who was just two months into his time at YSU — but he seemed so happy to know that there were Christians on campus, and he promised to see us at our Tuesday Game Night. Kalista had a fascinating perspective on the reasons for her devotion to a Catholic Church just north of town, where all of the mass is still celebrated in Latin. And when Shavon answered the survey question, “If God is real and you can know Him personally, how would you rate your interest to know Him on a scale of 1 to 10?” She said, “Like, one thousand.”


My favorite interaction of the morning, however, was our conversation with Tori, a graduate student just one month from graduation. All of her survey answers were pointing in the direction of someone who was unreached, unengaged, and largely uninterested in spiritual things. Still, there was one thing that she said which pointed to a sort of spiritual opening that she’d recently experienced (I can’t even remember what exactly she said). When we finished the survey, I asked if I could pose a follow-up question. And she was very open to further conversation.

So I asked, “What happened that made you more open to spiritual things in that one moment you mentioned in passing?”

So Tori told us about an experience at her grandfather’s death bed. Nothing dramatic. It was a little moment, a feeling that passed through her and her family. And she said that she somehow knew in that moment that there was something beyond the natural world. Something supernatural. So that launched us into a conversation about Jesus, as a sort of bridge between the natural and the supernatural.

The Resurrection and the Life

Eventually, I asked Tori if I could share the story of Jesus and Lazarus, from John 11. When she agreed, I told it all in my own words, but I emphasized Jesus’ empathy for the grieving family, his boldness, and his declaration that “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Now, through the survey, Tori had told us that she’d never read the Bible (“too complicated”). She said she was basically clueless about who Jesus was. And she explicitly told us she was not interested in finding a student organization for worshipping and studying the Bible on campus. Still, she seemed to soak up this story from the Gospel of John. And when I noted her enthusiasm, she said, “Well, I like the Bible when I hear you tell the stories!”

So, I asked her if I could give her a Bible (written in a more contemporary translation, to make it more understandable). She said yes. So, I took out the NIV paperback that we’d carried along with us for just such an occasion as this, and I opened it to John 11. I pointed her to the story of Jesus and Lazarus, and I bookmarked the page with the follow-up card listing some H2O events and contacts. I said, “I know you’re close to graduation, but I think you’re also close to knowing God. In fact, I believe God is pursuing you. So, I hope you’ll reach out to some of my friends here at H2O YSU. They tell Bible stories just like I do.”

As Joe and I walked back to our lunch rendezvous with the rest of the team, we prayed for Tori and asked God to guide her. Over lunch, we heard more stories, and it was super-encouraging to hear that others had similar success throughout the morning. By the end of the day, we managed to have a high quantity of conversations (133 surveys filled out!) — AND a high quality of conversations! And I’m curious to see what God is going to do from here.

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Youngstown Day 2

We started our first full day in Youngstown with some extended time with God. So, I sat and journaled for a while at a coffee spot called Common Goods. Some other people from the Kent team were posted up there, too. Then I walked to Mill Creek Park and prayed. I prayed for my own heart and for our team from Kent. I prayed for the H2O YSU Team, for the campus of Youngstown State University. And I prayed for the city of Youngstown and the Mahoning Valley more generally.

Our team reconvened for an exclusive lunch at the Chick-Fil-A, out in the western suburbs. (Kind of fun that we had some special connections allowing this to happen on a Sunday, when they’re usually closed!) There we were briefed on our mission, and we had some time to strategize with our combined teams. In the middle of the afternoon, then, we transitioned to the Youngstown State University campus.

The H2O YSU worship gathering takes place in the afternoon instead of the morning. Mostly because the hours of their Student Center are pretty limited on the weekend. So we started with setting up the room and circling together to run through the order of events. Most of our Kent team then went out to walk around and pray over the campus, while the YSU Team made all the last-minute adjustments to the meeting space.

The prayer teams came back to the Schwebel Room in the Kilcawley Center just a little before the worship gathering’s 4:30 PM start time.

It wasn’t a large group that gathered for worship. Still, it felt exciting to be a part of this thing that we’ve been praying for, planning for, and waiting for the last three or four years.

Some of our Kent team even got to help with leading musical worship!

At the end of the worship gathering, we went with some YSU students to the main campus dining hall. The food was mediocre cafeteria food, but again it just fel meaningful to be in that space with those people. God is doing something in Youngstown, and it was an honor to be a part of it.

We ended the day by hanging out at the home of the family of one of the H2O YSU pastors. I was pretty wiped out, but the college students seemed to have no limit to their energy. They came up with witty responses to Quiplash games on the Jack-Box. We all laughed until our sides hurt. And then we went to bed around 11:00 PM, with plans to reconvene on campus for our first day of full-fledged outreach on Monday at 9:00 AM.

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First Day in Youngstown

We left the Bowman Hall parking lot a little after 11:00 AM. Still, we made it to Youngstown before noon. Perhaps you might question of whether one considers Mahoning County to be “exotic enough” of a Spring Break destination. Even so, you certainly can’t criticize the travel time. And personally, I was quite excited about the destination, too. We arrived without incident for our first day in Youngstown.

We had a lovely lunch at the Mocha House in downtown Youngstown. Afterwards, we went for a walk with the H2O YSU Team: Griffin, Gillian, Brooke, AJ, and Josie. Fortunately, we were able to dodge the rain for most of our time orienting ourselves. The walk helped to give us a better feel for this new church has been taking root since last summer.

Youngstown is such a fascinating city. Its heyday was back in the first half of the 20th Century. Still, it seems to me like there’s a powerful, beating heart in the Mahoning Valley. My enthusiasm for the city only grew as we walked and talked.

The Youngstown State University campus is super-quiet on the weekend. One trip participant said that he counted a total of three presumed student sightings during our entire walk through campus. Still, it felt good to imagine what the coming week will hold.

Eventually, we made our way to the public library. And there, we gathered in a conference room to hear the story of H2O YSU. I was a participant for some “chapters” in that “book.” Still, it was freshly envisioning to be reminded of God’s hand through the church planting process.

We scattered for a few hours to settle into our hosts’ homes and enjoy some down time. But later in the evening, our team from Kent regrouped at a place called Steel Valley Brew Works. We enjoyed eating some snacks, watching some March Madness, and playing some games.

We’ve got a good team. Not many of us were very close with the others on the team before this week. But we’re off to a great start building something here in Youngstown.

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Spring Break

Groningen Group on the Streets

It’s the eve of Kent State University’s Spring Break! I’m excited to help lead our church’s first-ever Spring Break trip to Youngstown. At the same time, this new direction has gotten me thinking about all the different Spring Break experiences I’ve had over the years.

Spring Break '97 on the Beach

Traveling with the church for Spring Break was not a big part of H2O Bowling Green culture back in the late-1990s and early 2000s (at least not so far as I can remember). Then, when we lived in Europe, it was pure coincidence that the Great Commission Europe Missionary Retreat happened to fall on our around the same time of the year. Still, it seems like there’s almost always been some kind of schedule disruption around the time of Elliot’s birthday (March 29th). Here’s a summary of various “Spring Break” destinations over the last 26 years:

  • 1997: Fort Myers, Florida with Jason, Chad, and Jonas
  • 2003: GCE Missionary Retreat in Hungary
  • 2004: GCE Missionary Retreat in Hungary
  • 2005: GCE Missionary Retreat in Hungary
  • 2006: GCE Missionary Retreat in Hungary
  • 2007: GCE Missionary Retreat in Slovenia
  • 2008: GCE Missionary Retreat in Slovenia
  • 2009: GCE Missionary Retreat in Slovenia (plus a side trip to Croatia)
  • 2010: GCE Missionary Retreat in Slovenia (plus a side trip to Croatia)
  • 2011: GCE Missionary Retreat in Greece
  • 2012: GCE Missionary Retreat in Greece
  • 2013: H2O Team to the Netherlands (Amsterdam and Groningen)
  • 2014: H2O Team to Columbiana County
  • 2015: Indiana Dunes and Chicago with Elliot (Sabbatical + Elliot’s 13th Birthday)
  • 2016: H2O Team to Columbiana County
  • 2017: H2O Team to Orlando, Florida
  • 2018: H2O Retreat to the Great Smoky Mountains
  • 2019: Ministry Team Development in Richland County
  • 2020: H2O Team to Stockholm, Sweden (cancled by COVID)
  • 2021: H2O Local Spring Break Experience in Kent (plus an H2O Retreat to the Great Smoky Mountains in May)
  • 2022: H2O Retreat to the Great Smoky Mountains
  • 2023: H2O Team to Youngstown

Crazy list, huh?!? And the sheer quantity of trips I’ve taken just seems incredible to me… Anyway: I thought it was interesting to notice the regional breakdowns for these Spring Break experiences.

  1. Hungary: 4
  2. Slovenia: 4
  3. The Great Smoky Mountains: 3
  4. Greece: 2
  5. Columbiana County: 2
  6. Florida: 2
  7. The Netherlands: 1
  8. Indiana Dunes / Chicago: 1
  9. Richland County: 1
  10. Kent: 1
  11. Youngstown: 1

Depending on how one counts 2021, I’ve been on 22 or 23 different Spring Break trips! So, I’m curious to see what God will do with this upcoming trip to Youngstown…

Posted in Amsterdam50, Church, Europe, European Missions, Family, God, H2O Kent, Kent, Nostalgia, Ohio, Richland County, The United States of America, Travel | Comments Off on Spring Break

Jesus Revolution

Jesus Revolution

A few friends have recently told me about the film Jesus Revolution. It seems to be a pretty mainstream motion picture release, even though its message is decidedly Christian. So I honestly didn’t know what to expect. I somehow went into things with the understanding that it was a documentary, but it was actually a dramatization. Still, I was pretty impressed with how the film looked and felt. The two actors who I recognized were Kelsey Grammer (who has a pretty long list of credits to his name) and Jonathan Roumie (who I know through the series The Chosen). But the rest of the cast played their parts admirably, as well. The writing and production were unnoticeable (which I mean as a compliment). And overall, Jesus Revolution ended up being a worthwhile experience. Especially for a Monday matinee, with five dollars covering the ticket and a small buttered popcorn!

Jesus Revolution Ticket

The Cultural Experience

Before I get to the substance of the film itself, though, I want to offer a disclaimer about the cultural experience. It seems to me like local churches have been mobilized to support ticket sales for this movie. And I certainly understand the reasons why this might be. From the audience’s perspective: it’s an inspirational story, where Jesus and Jesus-followers are handled in a positive (though delightfully-nuanced) way. And from the producers’ perspective: connecting consumers to the product is the name of the game, and it’s the best way to build momentum for similar projects in the future. However, I fear that this cycle could feed into some of the “Culture Wars” that currently plague our society. Where only Christians go to “Christian movies” and only non-Christians go to “Non-Christian movies.” As a result, we become increasingly siloed, packed into our partisan corners.

I mean, I went to a Monday matinee showing, at 1:15 in the afternoon. The place should have been dead. Instead, the theater was two-thirds full, which felt genuinely “packed” in my post-COVID film-going experience. The audience was mostly people in their 60s and 70s and almost entirely white. To the left of my seat sat two retired ladies who enjoyed stage-whispering to each other through every key plot development. And to my right sat a gentleman in an olive-green military jacket and a military cap who muttered to himself and answered rhetorical questions out-loud. The previews before the featured film also felt slanted towards a particular worldview: designed to get maximum laughs and “Ooh, I want to see that” stage-whispers from the crowd.

It’s hard to explain… It just felt like a distinctly “Conservative Christian” event. So, I don’t know if I would have felt comfortable in that space if I was any younger, more liberal, or more colorful (in any sense of that term). Which is ironic, considering the story that played out on the big screen.

The Film Itself

IMDb summarizes the film (remarkably effectively, concisely, and dispassionately) as, “The true story of a national spiritual awakening in the early 1970s and its origins within a community of teenage hippies in Southern California.” There’s a significant subplot of a love story, which works well to propel the action forward. Still, the main action centers around that “spiritual awakening.” And it felt remarkable to be swept up in that story.

My parents often talked about their experiences in this era. They never went to California. Still, the dynamics outlined in Jesus Revolution definitely shaped their high school and college experiences. A musical artist that my father enjoyed from that time period, Larry Norman, also ended up playing a significant role in my life during my college years. And Larry Norman was in California during that same time period (though he never made an appearance in Jesus Revolution). The movie made me think of Bob and Miriam Phillips, too. And more generally, I recognized some Jesus Revolution dynamics from our family’s Amsterdam years. Youth… Idealism… Purity of Faith… Radical Commitment to Jesus… Miraculous Moments… and Glimpses of Eternal Life in the Here and Now.

Still, aside from personal nostalgic connections, I appreciated the way that Jesus Revolution sketched out this moment of cultural divergence in the early-1970s. The older generations felt estranged from the younger generations on things like the Vietnam War, recreational drug use, fashion and lifestyle, and personal priorities. This divide existed within the church, as well as within the broader culture. But a small church in Costa Mesa, California (Calvary Chapel) found itself confronted with an opportunity to challenge this divergence when the daughter of the church’s pastor (Chuck Smith) picked up a hippie hitchhiker (Lonnie Frisbee) who also happened to be Christian “spreading the Word” among other hippies up and down the West Coast. The hippies find a home within Calvary Chapel, even though it’s initially pretty uncomfortable for the older generations. And something supernatural is sparked.

The film includes some interesting depictions of other figures I’ve heard about, like Greg Laurie and the band Love Song. The film provides context for many Christian communities who include the word “Chapel” in their name, as well as the Vineyard Churches. And indirectly, it describes many of the phenomena that gave birth to the network of churches with whom I’m not associated. Jesus People… The Jesus Movement… The Great Commission Movement… They’re all connected to this Jesus Revolution that’s depicted in the film.


Jesus Revolution embraces complexity. It’s not just a “puff piece.” The film’s protagonists are flawed; they make mistakes. And I think this strengthens the story. A lot of contemporary Christian stories are one-dimensional. But Jesus Revolution shows interpersonal conflict, mixed motives, and crippling insecurities. I appreciate this, and I hope more Christian stories can follow this example in the future.

I like the way that the Calvary Chapel Christians prioritized the Bible. On several different occasions depicting church gatherings, church leaders would say something to the effect of, “This is the word of God. This is life. Let’s open it.” They all seemed to have Scripture memorized, and they wove it into the fabric of their everyday communication. And this is how I remember the generation of Christians who preceded me. We’ve lost some of this in succeeding generations. And I want us to get it back. The Bible is the word of God. It contains life. So, let’s open it, internalize it, and interweave it in our everyday conversations!

Most of all, Jesus Revolution gives us hope for healing our society’s Culture Wars. It shows that diversity and unity are not mutually exclusive. Young and old… rich and poor… conservative and liberal… The Church can be a beacon of hope for the rest of the world! That’s why I hope this film does well. Still, I hope that it’s not just “Christian audiences” supporting a “Christian film” while alienating the rest of the world. The story needs to be a lot bigger than that. Not just a nice movie… but a Revolution.

Posted in Amsterdam50, Church, Culture, Culture Shock, God, H2O Kent, Leadership, Ministry, Nostalgia, Prayer, Recommendations, Recommended Viewing, Recreation, The Bible, The United States of America, Video | Comments Off on Jesus Revolution

Three Liters a Day

One Liter of Water

I made several goals at the beginning of 2023. Alas, some of these goals have already fallen by the wayside. But I’m still making progress on several of the other goals, including my goal to drink three liters of water per day.

One Liter of Water

Why is this such a big deal? I don’t know that it actually is. I chose that quantity in a rather arbitrary way, going with my gut more than any particular science. Still, as I’ve gotten some experience with this level of hydration, I have noticed some benefits that seem worth recording (for my own reference, if nothing else). There are drawbacks, too, most notably when it comes to more regular visits to the toilet. But mostly, I’m finding this to be a positive experience.

Immune System Boost

Ohio winters can be brutal. Cold, Flu, and COVID Season runs from late fall through early spring, but I actually feel like I’ve been getting sick less frequently this winter. And I attribute at least part of that to my new hydration strategy, which started at the beginning of January. Even during the couple of times when I have come down with a little congestion, I feel like the sickness has been shorter and less intense. Now, my evidence is purely anecdotal; I don’t have hard data to back this one up. And as fate would have it, I’m currently fighting something off, so obviously water is not some super-shield against sickness. Still, I seriously think it helps.

A Natural Moisturizer

January and February are especially dry months in Ohio. There’s less atmospheric moisture. And most buildings use forced-air heating systems that dry things out even further. Yet, again drawing from anecdotal evidence, it seems to me like I’ve been less dependent on lip balms and hand moisturizers over these last two months. Because I’m guessing that the extra water in my system works like some kind of moisturizer from within. I don’t know. Is that the way these things work?!? I’m intelligent enough to know that I’m not actually all that intelligent. But my experiences seem to suggest that there’s something to this.

One Liter of Water

Fighting Fatigue

I don’t even know how this one could be quantified, but I swear that I’ve been feeling more alert since I started drinking three liters of water per day. Getting up out of bed in the morning is easier (though I’m willing to grant that this may be just as much about needing to go to the toilet as much as it’s about the benefits of a properly-hydrated system). And I just feel fresher when I’m staying on top of my water intake. The longer this experiment has gone on, the more I’ve been able to listen for the times when my body seems to be crying out for more water. So it feels less like a chore and more like a privilege to be able to continue taking in more water.

That’s Still a Lot of Water…

Even if one is willing to try drinking more water — whether it’s a full three liters of water per day or not — it still takes a while to get used to the habit. There were a couple of days towards the beginning of the year where I had to chug a whole liter of water in the last hour of the day in order to meet my goal. It just felt uncomfortable. With time, though, I’ve learned to soak up the experience: both literally and figuratively. I’ve found it to be the most helpful and the most enjoyable to drink up my first liter of water within the first hour of waking every morning. My body has learned to crave water after the desert of the night. And I’m usually done with my second liter by mid- to late-morning. After that, water intake becomes quite a bit slower. Still, now that I’ve gotten used to it, I’m sometimes choosing for a fourth or even a fifth liter of water towards the end of the day (particularly if I’ve been physically active).

I know I’m probably sounding like some sort of huckster, peddling my water wares as some panacea for all the world’s problems. But let me assure you that “Big Water” is not paying for this “advertisement.” I think there’s really something to it! But you may just have to try it for yourself, to see what you think.

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March Madness

March Madness Watch Party: Kent State versus Indiana

The Kent State University men’s basketball team won the Mid-American Conference championship this year! As such, they qualified for the NCAA Basketball Tournament, also known as “March Madness.” And that’s only happened one other time in the eleven years that I’ve been living in Kent. So it felt like a special occasion: something to celebrate. So a few of us from H2O went to the University’s on-campus watch party in the Rathskeller on the lower level of the Student Center. And while we were there, we hoped we might make a few new friends. We figured, “Why not turn this campus cultural occasion into an outreach occasion?”

March Madness Watch Party: Kent State versus Indiana

And it was great! The game didn’t start until around 10:30 PM. Still, there were maybe 60 or 70 students hanging out, enjoying free food, and cheering for our Golden Flashes. And we did indeed get to make a couple of new friends. One of these new friends, named Luke, reminded me a lot of “Freshman Eric,” back when I started at Bowling Green State University. Proficient enough at conversation if it revolved around sports… but kind of socially-awkward if conversation drifted to other topics. It was kind of amazing that this weird cultural event, this moment of “March Madness,” created the perfect situation where we could get a couple hours to hang out together.

March Madness Watch Party: Kent State versus Indiana

Unfortunately, the Kent State basketball team did not make much of a game out of its match-up with Indiana University. I don’t know if it was just a tough draw, or if we were having an off night, or what. It just never felt like we were really in the game. Still, it was special to just be a part of this beloved American institution. Even if it was just for one game.

March Madness Watch Party: Kent State versus Indiana

Even when our family lived in Europe, we enjoyed this American sports obsession through participation in the competition for the March Madness Traveling Tropy (yes, “Tropy,” not “Trophy). We’ve been doing it as a family for 15 years (going back to the kids’ preschool days!). We don’t take it too seriously. But, in case you’re wondering, Cor picked Kansas State, Kansas, San Diego State, Texas for his Final Four, with Kansas State as his champion. Olivia picked Furman, Gonzaga, Oral Roberts, Kent State for her Final Four, with Furman as her champion. Elliot picked Kansas, Purdue, Arizona, Kent State, with Kansas as his champion. And I picked Kansas State, Alabama, Xavier, and Kansas, with Kansas State as my champion.

Our brackets are already busted pretty badly. But we’re still having fun.

Posted in H2O Kent, Kent, Ohio, Recreation, Sports, The United States of America, Traditions | Comments Off on March Madness

Son of the Morning Star

I recently finished reading Evan S. Connell’s history, Son of the Morning Star: Custer and the Little Bighorn. It’s about the 1876 Battle of Little Bighorn. In this battle, the 7th Cavalry of the United States Army was annihilated by a coalition of indigenous peoples from the northern Great Plains. You might have heard of this battle as “Custer’s Last Stand.” But the individuals, nations, and cultural dynamics involved in this event go far beyond that title. This book unpacks it all with scrupulous attention to original source materials. And honestly, I was fascinated by everything I learned.

"Son of the Morning Star," by Evan S. Connell

I guess you could say I’ve been on something of a “Wild West” kick. It started with reading Lonesome Dove last summer. Then I really enjoyed our family’s travels through Utah and Nevada over the summer… I’ve watched a few other television series and films set in the Western United States… My expanded imagination for the West also played a minor role in deciding to travel to New Mexico last month… And (while reading this book), I even decided to opt for “The Custer” when it came time to shave my beard for Presidents Day.

Anyway: back to the book! Son of the Morning Star is a thick one: 442 pages. And the level of detail can be either fascinating or frustrating (or maybe a little of both). I was pretty disoriented for the first quarter of the book, since it has very little preamble and jumps straight to the battlefield. However, as I kept reading I was able to piece things together. George Armstrong Custer is certainly a distinctive figure from this period of American history. He embodied many of the character qualities associated with this era.

Specifically, he had a flair for the flamboyant and romantic. He placed a high value on chivalry and gentility. And, of course, he made a name for himself as an “Indian fighter.” It sounds like he wasn’t particularly astute as a military officer. But as a public persona, capturing the hearts and minds of the American people, he had few peers in the Gilded Age. He wasn’t not exactly a villain, according to Connell. But he wasn’t a hero either.

Even though the book’s title is a reference to a name associated with Custer (a name bestowed upon him by the Native Americans), I especially appreciated the book’s attention to Sioux and Cheyenne leaders. Sitting Bull, Rain in the Face, and Crazy Horse stand out as particularly powerful figures. They were complicated in their own ways. Still, they emerge from this narrative as more sympathetic figures. Their courage, strength, and perseverance stand out as especially remarkable. Even though they won the Battle of the Little Bighorn, they ended up losing the war. The story of Sitting Bull’s death was especially tragic.

Back in 2018, our family got to visit the historic site where the Battle of Little Bighorn took place. And I definitely appreciated the place’s significance at the time. Still, I think I would appreciate it more now. The Battle of Little Bighorn was a resounding victory for the Native Americans, but it kind of ended up being the beginning of the end of the United States’ “Indian Wars.” The story of this battle spurred a new wave of military recruitment and public furor for the complete elimination of indigenous tribes within United States territory. So, the Battle of the Little Bighorn is a tragedy of American History, on many different levels. But I appreciate the way that Son of the Morning Star brought many different angles of this tragedy to light.

Posted in American Politics, Culture, Reading, Recommendations, Recommended Reading, The Dakotas, The United States of America | Comments Off on Son of the Morning Star

Let’s Go Get Something to Drink

It’s Fake Paddy’s Day in Kent: the Saturday before Saint Patrick’s Day. And even when the official Saint Patrick’s Day happens to fall on the weekend (as it does this year), Fake Paddy’s is always the bigger deal in this college town. Students dress in green and go out early in the morning (bars usually open at 7AM or 8AM). They wander between bars and house parties until they’ve drank so much alcohol that they can’t stand up straight. And they consider this to be the height of fashion and pleasure.

It’s pretty much the same every year. But I happened to notice something new this year, when I passed through the area between downtown Kent and the Kent State University campus. Many students on the streets of Kent were carrying gallon jugs of brightly-colored liquids. A friend explained to me that these were BORGs, or Black-Out Rage Gallons. College students presume them to be safer: less susceptible to someone dropping some kind of “date rape drug” into the top of an open container, and with the alcohol supposedly “balanced” by extra electrolytes and water (and flavoring). But my initial impression of the BORGs was that they were an inelegant means to a dubious end: getting as drunk as possible as quickly and as cheaply as possible.

This seems consistent with the way that young people use alcohol in the United States. They want to lower inhibitions so they can vent their rage and their lust and their fanaticism more quickly. More forcefully. And of course, this image of “college life” has been reinforced for decades now. So, it’s cyclical. And I honestly do understand why this has become the norm for today’s practitioners.

But more and more, with each passing year, this way of using alcohol strikes me as sad and immature. And I’m finally (after years and years of trying to understand) getting a better idea of why this might be.

A Perspective Shift

I didn’t really grow up with alcohol, as my family was a part of a Conservative Baptist denomination. Even so, I’m not anti-alcohol. Through my twenties and thirties, I learned to enjoy an occasional beer, wine, or whiskey. I happened to live in Amsterdam for many of those years, and I got a very different image of alcohol consumption while living there. Ironically, tourists go to Amsterdam to get drunk, to get high, to get laid. But Dutch people regularly live by the mantra: “Just act normally; that’s already crazy enough.”

In terms of alcohol consumption, I observed that most Dutch people consume alcohol on a pretty regular basis, but it’s highly irregular to see Dutch people getting black-out drunk. Binge drinking sometimes happens with high school students or college students, like their cohorts here in the United States. But almost never with adults. They act normally. The whole tone of drinking is less bombastic, more mature. And as I grew older myself, maybe marginally “more mature,” I started to better understand the meaning of a drink. Not just in the Netherlands, but in other settings as well.

The Meaning of a Drink

You’ve heard the phrase, “Let’s go get something to drink,” right? Sometimes a guy will try to pick up a girl by asking, “Can I buy you a drink?” Or a business relationship or friendship will be initiated by saying, “First round (of drinks) is on me.”

I used to think it was strange that so many books and films were set in cafes. They often made a point to indicate what each character was drinking. And honestly, all just went over my head. “Who cares?!?” Bourbon… Cabernet Sauvignon… Coffee… Tea… “They’re all just drinks!”

What I’ve come to realize is that all of these drinks are meant to create space to slow down and cultivate a relationship. The meaning of a drink is facilitating relationships!

It’s not about the buzz that comes from alcohol or caffeine. It’s about investing in the time it takes to carefully consume whatever beverage people may choose. A fine wine reflects unique elements of the place in which the grapes were grown and how the wine was crafted. Scotch whiskey is a complicated beverage that uses the slightest deviations in craftsmanship to create subtle distinctions in flavor. So, anyone who chugs a fine Barolo misses out on the unique flavors and textures of Northern Italy! And anyone who shotguns half a bottle of 21-year Glenfiddich is not just wasting the experience, but also a ridiculous amount of money!

And these principles are not just true of alcoholic beverages. Coffee and tea, for instance, are traditionally served piping hot. So hot, in fact, that it’s unpleasant to drink quickly. A good cup of coffee has to be sipped. Savored. You have to take your time. And since you’re taking your time to enjoy the drink anyway, why not make conversation?!? Why not build a relationship?!? Drinking as much as possible as quickly and as cheaply as possible misses the whole point.

What Your Drink Says about You

Whether you’re getting drinks at a bar or drinks at a coffee shop, what you order can say a lot about your social class, your education, and your personality. The older I get, the more I understand the way that different drinks are perceived. But even without having a full “answer key” for what each beverage choice says about the person who orders it, I know that there are meta-narratives at play. I prefer to choose drinks that match the tone of the person with whom I’m trying to build a relationship. But in the absence of any other information, I usually go with something I know and like (in case the drink prompts a story), something medium-priced (to not appear neither ostentatious nor outclassed), and something simple (not requiring a lot of extra ordering instructions).

There are no hard-fast rules. Still, I can tell you that a BORG breaks almost any rules that I could think up for myself. It seems like there could be something fun in the naming conventions and the color of the BORG. But mostly, it just says, “I’m trying to get black-out drunk as quickly and cheaply as possible.” And if that’s what you’re trying to say, I hear you loud and clear.

If you’re looking to develop a more mature understanding of some more nuanced options for drink signaling, however, let’s go get something to drink and we’ll talk about it.

Posted in Culture, Introspection | Comments Off on Let’s Go Get Something to Drink