Archive for the ‘UChicago Jorgen’ Category

journey

Posted: May 11, 2011 in UChicago Jorgen

I have often thought of participating in an official public race. After moving to the city I was delighted that there were so many options to choose from, I have yet to choose any of these options.

This past weekend I finally found the perfect race for me.

It was, however, most definitely, unofficial.

Say hello to the Journey to the End of the Night: a 750-person, paranoia-filled, foot-race, through Chicago’s north-side.

***

The race started at a small park at seven p.m. First, each participant had to wait in a long registration line to get supplies and sign their life away, or something close to that. There was an one-sentence liability release asking me to acknowledge that my participation was voluntary and I had only myself to hold responsible. Without blinking I put down my John Hancock. I was then handed two ribbons (one red, one blue) and a map. I was instructed to pocket the red ribbon and tie the blue one around my arm, I did so. The map was of the surrounding area, and contained six “checkpoints” each with an accompanying “safe-zone.” Briefly the rules are as follows:
– Run to each checkpoint (in order) and get your map stamped.

– Avoid getting caught by the chasers while doing the above.

Ready.
Set.
Go.

At the outset, our trusty band of UChicagoans (and myself) consisted of five people. We quickly selected a route and started on our way. After running for two blocks, we realized that running the whole time was going to be unsustainable, we slowed our pace. The race is equal parts strategy and speed, i.e., the course you take is extremely important.

Getting from the start to checkpoint one was mostly uneventful, a few moments of fear, but nothing really dangerous. The same can be said about checkpoint 2, except by now the sun had set, and darkness was closing in. Checkpoint two itself was horrifying, horrible, and in absolutely all respects horrific. Enough said.

The drama started heating up as we made our way to 3. As we stood on a corner, waiting for the light to change, we noticed that a chaser (as evidenced by a red-ribbon on his arm, rather than the blue) was directly across from us. We made a huge ruckus and started running north, the chaser gave a half-hearted, across-the-street pursuit but gave up before long. We then jumped on a bus which dropped us off within a few blocks of safety. As we walked those few blocks, another chaser came into view which prompted us to run wild once again. After reaching the checkpoint one girl in our group realized that she dropped her map, which is your life in the race, my brother and her went back to find it. Luckily, they found it and we took a short mid-way break.

That short break turned out to be the end of our little group. When we were a few blocks out of the safe-zone I noticed a chaser on a bike (yes, they let some chasers have bikes), he started pursuing our group and we scattered. I was in the front of our pack, and ducked into an alley that, thankfully, connected again to the main road. I never saw that chaser or my comrades again.

As I ran away I knew only this: I was still alive and I was now alone.

I stumbled into the dimly lit residential streets of a north-side neighborhood that I had never set foot in, lost except for a map that I could barely make out. Early on a chaser on foot started running after me, I shot ahead with my best burst of speed, and looked over my shoulder in time to see him skid in the street and let out a high-pitched yelp. I did not stick around to see if he was okay, I guess that is what this race can do to you. A few moments later I found myself plastered against a dumpster to avoid yet another chaser. While I had no more close-calls between three and four, my mind was now fully on the alert.

As I departed from checkpoint four, I ran into a girl from our original group, we shared a large hug and felt like two soldiers who had been separated in the heat of battle. She and I made it safely to 5. Alas, though, things got hairy again after that.

As we we’re walking together, with another runner that we had just met, our trio got ambushed by two chasers. I was on the street-side and thus was able to escape into the street. Without looking I bolted into the oncoming traffic and narrowly missed getting hit by a car, unfazed I ran straight ahead for the next few blocks. Once again I was alone, this time, however, the surrounding area was less inviting.

After outrunning another pair of chasers, I started walking down Howard St. which, unbeknownst to me at the time, is a bit of a seedy part of the city. As I walked along, passing boarded up buildings and neon-lighted liquor stores, a much more authentic fear started to sink in. I walked as briskly as I could while still trying to avoid drawing attention to myself. Then, a nondescript maroon car started pulling slowly towards me. My spine began to tingle as I tried to quell the intense fear rising up. Then, all of a sudden, the car stopped across the street. The two back doors flung open. Two police officers jumped out, grabbed the two guys standing nearby and pushed them against the hood of the car. I let out a breath, and kept on walking. I overheard one cop say something about drugs, I had no motivation to stick around any longer.

Eventually I began making my way south again. And soon found myself across the street from the final safe zone, my life (both in the game and otherwise) was still intact, I did not even think to check for oncoming traffic as I jubilantly ran. A moment later I walked up to checkpoint 6, waiting there to greet me were my four fallen comrades. I got the final stamp for my map, took my badge-of-merit, and walked away feeling accomplished in so many ways.

It had taken me three hours and 40 minutes to complete the race. The next day I mapped out my exact course and discovered that I had run 12.86 miles.

All in a night’s work.

(This concludes a four-part series)

I exited the locker room and walked with a sense of purpose towards the pool. I hadn’t swam intentionally for almost three years, and I felt excited and accomplished just to have made it this far: at the gym, changed, and almost at the pool deck – I had intended to go swimming many times over the previous 8 months, it had never come to fruition, until now(!). As I “neared” the “pool entrance” it struck me that I had no idea how to get to the pool. Though I had been a gym employee, and pointed numerous inquisitive patrons in the right direction, I myself was wandering around on the 2nd floor with absolutely no clue. I walked back into the locker room, and, in elegant nonchalance, waited until I saw someone who looked like they were headed to the pool. Not much time passed before a guy, in swimming attire, walked out of the back of the locker room. Casually, I walked over to the door and read the sign on it: To Pool.

***

We were instructed to keep our eyes closed as they paced behind us, wielding the pole of fate. The tension rose with each passing moment, and the occasional splash of a comrade falling into the water. And then it was my turn, I felt the pressure of the pole push between my shoulder blades, I fought and floundered but fell anyway, fell into the deep.

***

I was pretty out of shape by swimming standards, and was, therefore, rather out of breath after swimming only a handful of lengths. But, I could still swim. The water was not overwhelming, it did not consume me.

After so many years of not swimming purposefully, I was decently pleased with my ability to get back into it. This was, however, only possible because I did learn to swim at one point, I was not jumping completely blindly into the water. In fact, I had even learned water survival tips and safety. Most notably was that story from scout camp mentioned above, where they came around and pushed us into the deepest part of the pool (granted, it still wasn’t that deep). At that point it was sink or swim, we had to get ourselves safely to the side of the pool. This seems like a piece of cake to those of us who have the slightest swimming ability, but what about those who do not?

It is possible to drown in an inch of water.

***

Sometimes we are thrust into situations that are much deeper than that.

Sometimes we are faced with tragedy.

Sometimes we are overcome by fear.

Sometimes life is needlessly frustrating.

(Please note that in these anecdotes I am not claiming that “I have truly suffered, look at me,” no, I already established that we cannot compare ourselves in this past post.)

Tell me how, if you have not learned to swim, you are supposed to handle situations like these that come your way?

It seems much more likely to me that you will“…be children, tossed here and there by waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by the trickery of men, by craftiness in deceitful scheming;…” (Ephesians 4:14)

Unless we have a deep sense of what it is real and what is good, we will be sunk when depth charges are cast upon us. Unless we understand how tragedy, fear, frustration and the like, fit into a master plan, we will be destroyed when we come into contact with these things. (We have a guarantee that these things will come: John 16:33.)

The beauty is this: once we learn to manage the deep, it makes our enjoyment of the shallow (used here only as “less-deep”, not as a judgment on its worth) that much better. Once we have conquered the deep, outlasted the depth charges, we can rise to the surface victorious again, ready to embrace a multi-faceted, amazing peace.

Those who are the best at swimming will make the best waders.

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.

vantage point

Posted: April 18, 2011 in UChicago Jorgen

We pushed our way through the dilapidated doorway and ascended the entryway steps. On the right side of this little lobby was a large hole where the marble siding had been smashed and broken to reveal the old, ugly bricks underneath. A few steps later, we went through another door and entered the public stairwell of the building. A depressing grayness worked its way down from the old skylight three floors above and a certain unpleasant stench permeated the area. The dated tile on the floor was grungy and gross, and every step we took gave notice of the sticky grime that was splattered all over the ground. We walked to the door of one of the first floor apartments and my friend offered a gentle knock. A faint voice from the other side of the door responded, bidding us to enter. Then, Like the curtain going up and revealing all the change that has occurred in a moment of obscene (literally: “off scene”) devastation, the door slowly opened to reveal the aftermath of the previous night’s festivities.

***

Our perspective on things rightfully changes when we see them in their true colors. When we remove the deceptive covering of darkness and night and let the light come in.

***

We were entering the apartment in which some of the brothers from a fraternity reside, on a Saturday morning, after an ‘epic’ party that I had not participated in.

It was a surreal moment in many ways. It felt much like walking into a wasteland might – but that is not quite a complete enough picture; it was not just a wasteland but a wasted land. It was a place that had been intentionally wrecked, and the remains were left out for us to observe as we walked around. The place smelt of alcohol, although it was not quite an overwhelming sensation; it acted more like the backdrop, adding to the experience without dominating the landscape.

And oh, what a landscape it was.

The viscous ground was crisscrossed with thousands of filthy footprints, left there unintentionally by the many guests who had trekked there the night before. It would be foolish to even attempt to guess how many substances were present in this mucky mess of stains. Undoubtedly, however, much of it was alcohol that must have slipped ‘twixt the cup and the lip.

In one corner of the living room there was a table that was covered with all sorts of bottles, cans, pitchers, jugs and cups with varying amounts of volume left in them. The table itself, at least what could be seen of it around the above articles, could not be seen because of the intense filth that acted almost like a polish.

The walls in the living room were marked and scuffed to a remarkable degree, evidence of any number of activities that I either cannot or choose not to dwell on further.

Just outside of the living room there was a large hole in the drywall. We were informed that a bro’ had punched the wall while in state of unchecked, uncontrolled and ultimately unjustified anger. Down the hall we were shown a room with a broken doorknob. A different person had done it, but under similar circumstances, mindless destruction.

***

We didn’t stay for long. But there really would have been no reason to. The place lacked, from what I could see, any furniture intended for creature-comfort. Instead it was left purposefully sparse to manufacture as much open space for people as possible. And people come; they utilize this space. But, they come at night, by cover of darkness, when the lights are low. Few people come the day after. Few people want to acknowledge the empty reality that shines forth when the light reveals the true nature of the darkness.

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.

The knock of the pins hitting the floor was drowned out by the sound of the music blaring through the speakers. Our conversation was limited as we strained to hear each other over the cacophonous background. I was speaking with the owner of the company, for the first time ever. Though it was hard to communicate due to our settings, I had the opportunity to honestly share my life with her.

The above happened three weeks ago at my companies quarterly outing, which happened to be at a bowling ‘lounge’.

The place was very dimly lit, on top of this, most of the lights were black-lights which gave our clothes an eery glow. The lanes were painted with these distracting squiggles, which heavily detracted from the bowling. Everyone around me was drinking, I held a disposable plastic water cup. My co-workers were all dropping expletives, I fought (successfully) the urge to let my tongue slip. Finally, the place was packed, our group alone represented 35 people on just three lanes.

Fast forward to this last Friday night. We walked out into the rain, it was cold and windy. Moments earlier I had been fighting going out at all, my brother had urged me to join this late-night expedition. We were headed to a fraternity party (?!?!).

It was much brighter than the bowling alley, and there was no bowling, but otherwise it had a pretty similar feel. Everyone was drinking and using language. The whole apartment was packed, we had to literally squeeze our way into the crowded room, only to find ourselves backed up against the hallway wall trying to make conversation with those who were directly next to us. I had only one partial conversation while in the confines of those walls, and even that was a chore of straining to hear the others voice. But even in that limited context, I was able to be open about my life.

Needless to say, my view of a ‘party’ does not mesh with these modern incarnations of such. Why show up at all then? I don’t participate in the signature activities available at these parties, never have, have no desire to do so. I did not go to these parties in order to divulge in debauchery, that is really not my cup-of-tea. No, I went to a) see, and b) speak.

I have heard a lot of people defend attending college parties in order to “You know, try it. How can you say its wrong if you’ve never been there.” I assure you this was not my line of reasoning, I had no intention of ‘trying’ anything. (On a side note: I missed the part that said you need to try something before you can know that it is wrong.) I simply wanted to be there, to see what the experience was like.

Secondly, I was given an opportunity at both parties to speak. Even though it was strained, short, and staccato, it was still genuine and honest.

It would be a lie to say that I was comfortable for any real amount of time at either party, nor should I have been. However, if we are not going into places that make us uneasy, I would argue that we are either not living in the world enough or that we are too being much of the world. It is not enough to simply be in places that we do not belong and attempt to fit in, we must waltz into these parties and consciously be distinctly different.

tortillas

Posted: February 13, 2011 in UChicago Jorgen

My bike slid out from under me and I caught myself with my leg just in time, as I skidded across the icy patch of sidewalk. I recovered my control a little bit and then, with my heart beating faster after this near crash, I sped off into the darkness of the night. Splashing through puddles, dodging potholes and snow piles, I maneuvered my way along the streets until I reached the Walgreens 12 blocks away. It was 11:30 pm and my schedule for the night was now drastically altered.

A few minutes earlier I had been sitting in my room, watching a movie, moving quickly to that dormant state one reaches late at night (if indeed I was not already in it). I had been inside since noon, and had no plans of venturing beyond those (safe?) walls. Earlier that afternoon I had taken a long nap, which at the time I thought was simply to catch up on sleep, I soon learned that it was to get me rested enough for the night ahead.

I had gotten a text from a friend informing me that another friend was in need of some help; soon that friend called me and apologetically enlisted my assistance. I became a man on a mission: acquire 20+ flour tortillas, and do it quickly.

Unfortunately, I soon discovered that Walgreens does not carry tortillas. I called my, extremely harried, friend and informed them of the bad news. Luckily, they knew of a grocery store, some 6 blocks away, that was open for another 20 minutes. I hopped on my bike and continued my late night adventure. As I got close to one of the cross streets I asked a gentleman which direction I needed to turn and he pointed to my right. I came up and stopped at the red light, ready to turn right when the light switched. I happened to glance over my left shoulder and catch an old sign in the corner of the parking lot that had all but given up its former glory; it was the grocery store I sought. I released a sigh of relief, realizing that if I had turned my mission would most likely have failed. I got into the store, got the tortillas, and then biked the mile and a half back to campus to help my friend.

When I walked into the kitchen, in the basement of the old dorm building, I surveyed my surroundings: big bowls of chopped vegetables, a pile of grilled chicken, and my friend who had been working on this lunch for the previous 6 hours. It was a meal for our church, and my friend had tackled the task single-handedly.

It was midnight when I arrived. At about 2:30 the wraps were completed and we began to clean up the kitchen. I decided that we needed to bake cookies, especially since my friend had all the ingredients already. We made these eggless, chocolate chip chocolate cookies with nuts; they turned out delicious by the way.

We didn’t finish cleaning the kitchen and baking the cookies until almost 4 in the morning.

All the while we talked, shared, and strengthened our friendship.

I had to get up at 7 the next morning for work, but I don’t regret this time for a moment.

Sometimes we have this concept that love is a checklist. That we give our pre-determined amount of it, and then we can rest peacefully. Anything beyond the normal (or should I say, the comfortable) is considered above and beyond the call of duty. Baloney.

The command is this: “Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Unless you have given your life up for your friends you haven’t even reached the goal, let alone gone above and beyond.

Let’s stop worrying about our time, our schedule, our sleep and start loving from a genuine heart. This is not about me, or any sacrifice I made, I am a work-in-progress taking another step towards the goal.