Archive for the ‘MBI Jorgen’ Category

As I worked my way through the south side streets I could hear the sound of sirens seemingly surrounding me. I biked on, through the dimly lit streets, back towards campus, back towards the light.

Not a long while before I had been sitting at a dining room table, enjoying a conversation when a gunshot had shattered the night air outside.  The homeowner was barely shaken by this common occurrence; it was something that he had, out of sheer necessity, grown accustomed to. I was on the far other side of the spectrum: unable to grasp the magnitude simply because I was so unfamiliar with it. Sooner or later I knew that I would have to go outside, get on my bike, and return home. Although I attempted to cover it up, a childish fear overcame me. The thought of biking 10 blocks, at 10 pm at night, through this part of town, was scary. I know that this is such a part of life on the south-side, and yet I didn’t know. I didn’t know how my life fit in here. I was scared.

Needless to say, I made it home safely, if not a bit shaken.

***

As I sat there in the circle of mostly familiar faces I fought a mental battle between two opposing points of view. On one hand there was the sheer joy of hearing the stories, strengths and struggles of these authentic brothers and sisters. A deep joy, as I was reminded that I am not an island, I am not alone. I was strengthened anew by this re-realization that we are all experiencing some aspect of this complexity called life. Not all were going through hard things, but all were going through something. It was a chance to realign my thoughts with the reality that this movie is not about me. I am not the main plot, a subplot, or even a bit-part; no, I am only a blurry extra, standing far off in the crowd, with my back turned towards the camera no less.

On the other hand, though, there was that crushing thought of utter insignificance. I let that wimpy whisper rear up its ugly head, and treated its words like a presidential decree: your petty life and petty pain pale in comparison to these around you.

There is a world of difference between acknowledging your rightful place and believing that your part does not matter or worse, does not exist. Thus I struggled. I wanted to engage with those in the room, but something deeper was trying to convince me that my engagement was unwanted, unnecessary, and that I had nothing to offer of value. I felt insignificant.

***

A guy walked into class with an extremely heavy burden. See, one unique thing about the program that I am in is that I get to interact with a wide variety of non-traditional students. My classes never consist of only “college-students” but also community members, real Chicagoans with stories all their own and all different. There was that one lady who was rescued from domestic abuse, and that lady who came from a family of 17, and there was that struggling musician who was sold-out for the Gospel, and there was that lady who was going back to school after 20 years because she was called to be a missionary, and there was that south side hair-dresser who worked so hard to make ends meet,  and that Chicago city cop who told us of that one drug bust and the foot race that ensued, and there was that former drug dealer who got completely turned around by Christ’s love, and, and, and, etc.

So, this guy walked into class with a heavy burden. He works as a violence interrupter in a brutality wrought Chicago neighborhood. By his own admission he does not like his work to be talked about, he doesn’t want it to get idealized or idolized. I will honor that. But I will say that his words were overwhelming as he revealed bits and pieces of his week of horror. Stories of the pain and suffering that consume so many families.

It was hard to know what to say or how to respond. I was overwhelmed.

***

I cannot give an answer for why some people experience pains that I do not/will never have to. But this I am sure of: whether I am facing the realities of the south-side, or fellowshipping with faithful brothers and sisters, or hearing the stories of authentic Chicagoans as I sit in class, my story is my story. Feeling scared, insignificant, or overwhelmed is not altogether bad, getting depressed because of those feelings is.

See, we are given the exact amount of suffering and pain that we are supposed to go through. We do not need to feel compelled to compare ourselves and our struggles to those of the people around us. Yes, bear one another’s burdens in love, but do not be disheartened when you feel as though your life does not match up. Your success, your suffering, and your story have immense value and importance. Do not be deceived, rather, let any sense of powerlessness and shame drive you to your knees, over and over again.

Floccinaucinihilipilification of yourself is wrong, viewing your life as part of something bigger is not.

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life in motion

Posted: April 6, 2011 in MBI Jorgen, UChicago Jorgen

I had a healthy double-pace going from the start, in an attempt to avoid the fate that eventually happened anyway: seeing the bus pass my stop just before I got there.  Rather than be thankful for this moment of forced rest, I quickly turned my head around and stared down the street to see how far away the next bus was.

I re-live this experience, or something similar, multiple times a week; running to catch a bus, rushing to catch a train, repeatedly checking for the next one to come while I impatiently wait. My mind is constantly focused on what’s next.

Such is the life of a commuter. I spend nearly two hours a day in transit on the CTA. Every moment is about movement, even when I finally get on the train, that takes me within two blocks of work, I can rarely divorce my thoughts from the hurriedness that awaits me at the end of the line. And while I sit in class two nights a week, I regularly reflect on the long journey home.

What’s worse is that outside of the actual commute, I have also found myself picking up habits of a life on the move in my interactions with people.

A few weeks ago, for instance, I got on campus and rushed into ‘the commons’ to buy dinner. I quickly threw a few pieces of pizza onto a plate, filled a cup with coffee, and jumped in line at the register. As my total was being calculated, I was entirely focused on getting out my wallet and grabbing a few napkins. All the while I was shooting glances into the dining area to keep an eye on my stuff. Without even digesting what my total was, I slid my card through the reader, picked up my stuff, and started to exit.

Then I looked up for a second.

The cashier, a college-student, a girl, was staring at me.

She looked like she had just been hit by the debris from a speeding tornado.

I recognized my folly, attempted a limp smile, and walked to my seat a little bit shaken.

It is much too easy to lose sight of the people we interact with for all of the things we “have” to do. And there I was, acting like this person, this human being, was less worthy of my time than my stuff, my food, and my petty little insignificant life.

I decided that I needed to make a change. Not just a metaphysical or psychological promise to “be better next time”, but a real, tangible change that would actually result in a slowing down of my busyness.

Solution: Sunday.

No more school or studying on Sundays. Whatever I do not get done on Saturday can, and will have to, wait until Monday evening.

I tried this out for the first time this past Sunday.

I’m not sure if it was just a placebo, but the day went by almost unnaturally slow, and I found that I was able to spend quantitative time with a multiplicity of people. After church I went and played “Settlers of Catan” with a few friends. In the early evening I was able to meet up with my brother and play squash with him for over an hour. The night was still young, however, and I went home got cleaned up and ate dinner, before heading out again. I met up with another friend and we talked for a long time, hours.  It was 71 outside, so we meandered around the main quadrangles with no agenda, nothing else to do, just a chance to slow down and share life.

Sunday was beautiful.

Sunday was slow.

Have you embraced slowness lately?

Open your eyes to the people around you, be sensitive, be affected, and don’t let yourself get to the point where all you get to see is the dust from your whirlwind hitting people as you pass by on your way to do something eternally unimportant.

Just because you have a life in motion, does not mean that you must constantly live in motion.

whatever

Posted: March 29, 2011 in MBI Jorgen

The gruff, rather demanding man grabbed my hands and marked them with large black Xs. I was then thrust into a darkened room to wait. As I took in my new surroundings I noticed that black was the dominant color in this room’s motif. There were lights, but they were dimmed and tended towards the darker side of the spectrum. There appeared to be only one other door (besides the one I had entered through), a dirty, black door marked with the words “NOT AN EXIT.”

I did not have a very clear concept of why I had been brought here, or what was to be expected.

Then it started.

The first sound was that of loud beatings, if one tried, a rhythm could be ascribed to them. In and of themselves these beatings might have been tolerable, what followed the beatings was not.

Joining the growing cacophony of the room were the loud, drawn-out, agonizing screams of a man.

***

At least that is one way to describe the experience I had.

I was encountering Chicago’s indie music scene for the first time, and I felt overwhelmed and out of touch. As I sat there listening, soaking in the first few melodic notes of the band on stage, I knew I faced a choice: Depression or Expansion. There was no third option, no middle ground. I knew myself well enough to acknowledge that I needed to fully embrace the situation or I would walk away defeated.

***

My brother and I were attending a show in the north-side neighborhood of Belmont; a completely different slice of life than I am used to on the south-side or downtown. One of my brother’s friends is in a band that was playing at this small bar/music venue known as the ‘beat kitchen,’ and I had tagged along for the experience.

I had no idea what kind of music was going to be played, and I’m still not sure what it was (especially since classifying musical styles is nigh impossible these days). The first two acts were characterized by loud music, accompanied by indistinguishable lyrics screamed into the mic. Standing there, I could feel the pulsating bass flow through my body like the tremors of an earthquake. The combination of the other instruments presented a harsh sound like the thrashing of a violent thunderstorm. I tried so hard to find something that I could cling to, surely there had to be some sense in this thing that I did not understand. I strained to hear the lyrics, but I could not. I felt like the songs were pointless because the words were being lost in this inharmonious mess.

I gave up.

That was when I heard something beautiful.

I stopped striving to apply something that was not there, and accepted what was being offered. These men were presenting real art. Once I let myself be affected by the music itself I was transported, albeit for a short time, to a different world where it made sense. What had been nonsensical became so real to me that I had to close my eyes and listen.

After my brother’s friend performed we started talking to his wife, and I was quickly deposed from my place of understanding.
— “How did you guys like it?” she asked.
–“It was good,” we dutifully responded.
–“This was much better than the last time I saw them,” another friend interjected.
–“Yeah, for once you were actually able to hear the words,” said his wife. Oh well, I felt like I got it for a moment there.

***

The night concluded with an act that was entirely different: one guy on an acoustic guitar. It was a gentle, easy-to-understand conclusion to the night. One of his lines in particular really resonated with me:

“You can’t go on like this forever, saying, “Hey man, it’s like whatever” for the rest of your life”

Why? Because, newsflash, it’s not whatever; choices have consequences and people have feelings. As C.S. Lewis put it, “Each day we are becoming a creature of splendid glory or one of unthinkable horror.” There is no magical land or magical time where we can live outside of consequences. There is a mountain in front of you right now, are you going to get depressed or are you going to expand?

I’ve tried the depression route before, I recommend expansion.

I walked into a restaurant called “Mr. J’s Dawg N’ Burger.” Seriously.

After we get past the absolutely ridiculous/awesome (ridiculously awesome?) name of this place I will continue.

There is this fear of judging or stereotyping people that we all have. We don’t want to put people into an unfair box based on things they have no control over. But this begs the question, how do we respond when people put themselves in the box?

Behind the counter, making the food, were two people who you’d expect to be making food in a local fast-food restaurant. They didn’t speak perfect English, and they were trying to maintain control over the environment.

The disturbance was sitting in one corner of the room– now here is the rub, am I allowed to write reality and not be called a bigot? Unfortunately no, so I will let the reader fill in this blank – anyway there were these two young guys in the corner. They were wearing extremely baggy clothing, talking in very slurred English, and noticeably tipsy from the multiple beer cans sitting on their table.  They were speaking way too loud about obscene content, and not caring at all about their surroundings.

The man behind the counter was very agitated with these young men, rightfully so since they had not ordered anything since entering the restaurant (at least that’s what I gathered).  He was at once trying to take orders, make food, and threaten them to leave. They only ignored him and became more arrogant, loud and abrasive.

A white guy walked in, he seemed perfectly normal, he ordered his food take-out and left with a quick glance of disdain at the rowdy boys.

After this culture-shock bath, I left the restaurant and headed towards school. A drunken street-person came up to me and begged me for money. Through the course of our 15 minute conversation he spoke only a handful of words of truth. He told me he had a lot of money, but he needed a few dollars more to buy a bike; he had 3 dollars. He told me that the strong smell of beer and his slow mind were due to the only beer he’d had in his entire life, many hours earlier. When I left him I felt completely dissatisfied.

So, who is my neighbor? The man who made my food, the two guys who were complete louses, the white guy who refused to even sit down in the restaurant, or the drunken liar who asked me for money? Yes.

But the bigger question for me is this: how do we break through the stereotypes when people all around us are so stereotypical?

u-fail

Posted: February 11, 2011 in MBI Jorgen

I planned a little extra time before the meeting began to run and pick up my pre-printed, CTA u-pass. As a returning student, I would not have to deal with any fiasco like the one in the fall.

No, this fiasco turned out to be much worse than that.

After I had stated my reason for coming to the office, the lady went into the next room to retrieve my u-pass. It was a bit of a red flag when I saw her return with the whole box, a stack of papers, and a notebook.

“What did you say your name was again?” she asked. I repeated my name. “And you say that you are a returning student”

“Yes”

“Well we don’t have you a u-pass for you, and you’re not on our list of students who are eligible for one”

For those who may have been with me in the fall, my response this time was much more cool and collected. Within a few minutes (most of which we were waiting awkwardly for her boss, in the next room, to get off the phone) it was established that I was indeed eligible, that they would order me one, and that I would be contacted when it arrived; I was also assured that this would be a week or less.

The next week I made an extra, unnecessary visit to school, just to get my u-pass. I hadn’t been contacted about it which made me worry that it may not have arrived yet. Good thing I checked.

I waited at the office door for the girl who was there before me to finish her business. It didn’t take much time to realize that this girl and the lady in the office were having a social interaction, and thus I should content myself with waiting for a while. Eventually, the girl bid adieu and exited.

“Hey, I’m here to pick up my u-pass”

“Oh, you get those next door”

Right, so I did not have to stand here and wait for you to finish your conversation. Plus I should have remembered that from last time I came to your office to get my u-pass, because you sent me next door then as well. Wait, actually, scratch that last sentence, because it’s not true.

As luck would have it, the guy in the next room was gone; instead, I saw a little sign that informed me that he would return in a few minutes. At least I knew I was waiting for my u-pass, which made it all worth it. Upon his return I was informed that no u-pass was there for me. He went on to tell me that my name was not on the sheet of paper that I had put it on the week before. This I flatly denied, and soon found my name on the sheet. It was in the middle of a page, with green highlighting over every other name on the page (which signified that that person had picked up there u-pass). I showed him my name, he went and showed it to the lady in the other office.

A few moments later she came in, “Oh, yes, see we don’t have a picture of you on record, as you can see, that’s whats written here by your name.” I glanced at the page and saw the words, “NO PICTURE,” in the column that said, “delivered,” for everyone else. She continued, “And we don’t notify for that.”

Right, because, obviously, I’m just going to realize that you don’t have my picture and that I should come back and check.

“So what can we do?” I asked.

“Well, see,” she replied, “I already checked with the office downstairs and they can’t send me your picture. But, I do have this camera here that we used to take the u-pass pictures with.”

“Okay,” I prodded her along under my breath.

“But, it doesn’t have any batteries.”

Right, so let’s not do something radical like, say, put batteries in it.

She sent me downstairs to talk to the office. The guy there was super nice, and equally unable to help me.

“Well, you have a picture on the screen here. I can see it, it’s the same one that’s on your ID there. But the strange thing is, it doesn’t appear to be connected to a file on my computer.”

After hearing this, the lady next to him chimed in, “what? It’s not a file? I’ve never heard of such a thing with any student.”

“Yeah,” he continued, “this picture is not really on my computer. I can see it, but I can’t do anything with it. Effectively, it does not exist.”

At least this efficient group of basement dwellers had a camera with batteries. There was a bit more drama down there, but nothing of major consequence. They sent my picture upstairs, and I was told to come back in a week or so.

The next week there was a blizzard in Chicago, I didn’t make it to school.

On Monday I bought myself a transit card with enough money to go downtown twice. I used it to get there on Tuesday morning. That night I returned to school and decided to check on my u-pass. As luck would have it, they had it. I finally had my u-pass no less than a month after getting to Chicago and paying to ride public transportation every day.

 

As I walked to my train that night, I passed a poorly lit bus stop with a man huddled inside. I walked over to him.

“Excuse me sir, how would you like a transit card?”

He looked at me skeptically, as I held out the card.

“It has five dollars on it, that should be enough for a few rides plus transfers.”

“Oh, you’re trying to sell it. No thank you.”

“No, sir, I want to give it to you.”

His face began to deny his skepticism a little bit. “Why would you give me card with five dollars on it? What are you going to use?”

“Don’t worry about me, I have a u-pass that gives me unlimited rides. Take it, so that you can stay warm tonight. See, I am a student at Moody Bible Institute, and I am giving you this card because of the love that God has given me.”

He began to beam, “You have been feeding me for nine years, every Tuesday night, at the YMCA. Not you, but Moody has been, students like you. And now you are giving me a free bus card? God must be truly at work.”

On Thursday night I got off work at 5 and headed over to school for what I thought was a three-hour class, as it turns out the class was/is three-and-a-half hours long, so my trip home was delayed by 30 minutes.

After class got out I needed to go the bank to make a deposit. The bank is one block further from school than the “L” station that I take home, which meant I had to walk right past the entrance that I would normally take. I went to the bank and completed my deposit, a process that delayed my journey home by a bit more.

When I came out of the bank I walked towards the train station; by this time there were two young men on the corner asking for some money.

There are a lot of people in Chicago that sit around and beg for money. That statement may be blunt, but it is true. Often times we who are materialistically more “well-off” are torn about how to respond. Do we give money when “we know” that they will use it for untoward purposes, or do we convince ourselves that by ignoring their state of destitution we are, in fact, truly helping them because we are not encouraging their behavior?

These two guys were trying to get home, or so they said. I’m sure they just wanted my money so that they could waste it. So, I responded in the proper way. I turned myself about, walked into the nearest store, bought a random item and got some cash-back to give to these men. Why? Because they asked, and if I don’t take people for their face value (at least initially) what kind of treatment can I expect for myself should the tables be turned?

Needless to say, this little excursion delayed my trip further.

My school offers students the U-Pass, unlimited rides on public transit. I do not have mine yet for this semester. This means that I am currently paying for all train rides. As such is the case, I needed to reload my card before I went home.

I stood at the machine quickly trying to calculate how much I money I would need in order to get back downtown to procure my U-pass. I thought I figured it out correctly.

At the other end of the line, the wait for the bus was short and we (for by now there was a decent crowd) lined up to board. For some reason the CTA pass of the man in front of me was not accepted. The driver instructed the man to exit through the rear of the bus. Being the next in line, I slipped my card into the reader and happened to notice that my balance was higher than I expected it to be.

I reached the man just before he got off the bus, and offered my card to him. At least he was able to ride that night.

I didn’t know that my class was longer than normal, I took a rare trip to the bank, two young guys needed help, I needed to add money to my card – How many trains did I miss in that delay that put me at the bus stop at that moment? I got into Chicago too late to get my U-Pass (which can only be used by me, and can only be scanned once at a time), I added extra money onto a card that you can swipe as many times as you want, I happened to be right behind this guy in line, I NEVER carry cash so ordinarily I could not have helped out in this situation.

I do not mean to toot my own horn, but If you reach out, open up your wallet and your heart a little bit, the poor and needy (regardless of how they got there) will be much more helped than by your eye-aversion “teaching” tactics.

People who hear no all day are not going to be changed when you look away.

book worm (part 2)

Posted: November 27, 2010 in MBI Jorgen

After leaving the public library, I went straight up the stairs of the Library-State-Van Buren “L” station, to wait for the brown line, which gets me within one block of school. There was a light mist when I was ascending the covered stairwell, it quickly turned into a light rain. As I traveled around the remaining two sides of the loop, the rain battered the top of the train-car and droplets streaked across every window pane. I was not looking forward to walking through that at the other end.

Luckily, it stopped raining just as we pulled into my stop. I walked to school in the rainless wind, and entered the building which contains the library, it was 3:45 in the afternoon.

Moody’s Crowell library is nice, it has a great atmosphere, and a good collection of books. Despite being mostly underground, it also has this large, glass skylight that floods the area with natural illumination. It was under this skylight that I chose to make my stand for the day, I found a desk, got my books out and turned on my computer. After about 10-15 minutes of finding the books that I needed, I returned to my headquarters.

It was a rather overcast day, but that was not such a bad thing, it just made the natural light Grey and depressing. The real problem was when it began to rain. Not just a light rain, either. It was pouring. The sound of the rain beating against the glass made it quite hard to concentrate. Whether the rain expedited the demise of the sun or not, it soon got very dark. As the sky darkened, and the rain increased in velocity, I attempted to focus myself on my studying.

Then it hit me, literally.

A drop of water splashed onto my arm.

Or so I thought, but alas it must have been psychological because my arm was dry. I kept reading, and then another drop hit my arm, but it was, once again, dry. Soon I noticed little speckles of water on my computer, and on the pages of the library’s books, and there was no denying that this third drop had made my arm wet. I shot a glance upward and noticed a stream of water running down the inside of the metal, skylight spine. It was running directly above my desk, and had already made a small puddle right next to my chair. Quickly, I pushed my computer and books under the ledge of the desk, and out of harms way. I was determined to keep my spot, however, as I had already “suffered” through the Grey sky, and the loud rain.

As I sat there, obstinately getting wet, a man came over to me. He was something of an employee/custodial character.
“Are you working over here?” He asked.
“Yeah, I am.”
“Oh well, it tends to leak right about where you are, and it’s raining pretty heavy right now.”
“Yes, I can see that, I’ve had a few drops hit me already,” I responded.
“Okay, well I just wanted to let you know, so you don’t hurt your computer. I make sure to tell everyone that works over here that the skylight leaks,” he said, he then walked away.

I though to myself, it’s nice that these rainy days keep him busy. After all, someone has to be looking out for the poor students, and unless someone wants to invest in the $5 tube of silicone to fix the problem, there really is no better solution.