I recently worked on a video for the community where I live (and grew up), called Jesus People USA (JPUSA). This was really challenging, and when I tell people that it took years to make, they often look confused because it seems so simple. But, believe me, distilling community into 5 minutes is not easy. This video is the result of many conversations and much input from individuals in JPUSA. I had a great DP/ editor (Ian Harris) and co-host (Rebekah Troche) as a part of the team and I was able to use some music that a good friend and former JPUSA member (Scott Knies) gave me. Lastly our master mixer, Ed Bialach, smoothed out all the audio bumps.
Thank you to all the people who helped make this project happen and thank you to the members of JPUSA who have dedicated their lives to following God in this crazy communal adventure.
I had been warned that the trail south of Tettegouche State Park was a particularly challenging stretch of the Superior Hiking Trail. “Pssssht!” I thought, “How difficult could a trail in the midwest be.” I dismissed the warning, only to have it mock me as I leaned on my trekking poles. I looked up, trying to find breath and courage in the face of the vertical rocky trail. I had to keep telling myself, “One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.” All while uneven rocks and tree roots beat my feet with every step, and the steep, uneven grade of the path tried to topple me over steep cliffs.
I stopped often to sip water and wait for the quivering in my legs to subside. In those moments, I would look around at the nature surrounding me and marvel. It was a wonderful, momentary distraction. The kind that comes upon you in midst of life’s struggles. The kind that doesn’t let you forget the pain but reminds you that there is beauty all around; and when the pain is done, beauty will be there waiting for you. Enough rest would eventually come to encourage me to continue and one foot would move out slowly and deliberately with the other cautiously following it.
There were many of these challenging slopes in the first 2 days of my backpacking trip. Some more challenging than others. However at the end of each challenge was a reward, a reward of spectacular views and scenery. These vistas of the north woods abutting the great Lake Superior, were amazing. I would have called them breathtaking but the journey up had already taken any breath out of me.
The first such scene that I came upon was a monumental relief. I had just trudged up a particularly difficult section. All the while, my disrespect for the warnings given mockingly replayed in my head. As I came to a clearing in the ridge, I saw what I had been fighting for, and it was worth every ache and wheezy breath. I stood on a cliff overlooking a valley of lakes and north woods sprawling before me. In the distance between two bluffs, Lake Superior delineated itself from the sky by it’s deeper, colder blue. I stood for a while taking it all in. I felt the cool breeze on my face and my panting slowed as I reclaimed the breaths lost in the difficult climb up to the top of the bluff.
I know intellectually that God is with us always but it is not often that I feel Him in an intense way, except when I am in nature. He was there on the top of that hill with me. I felt His joy and delight in my awe of His creation. I felt no shame in geeking out to Him on how cool He is to have made all this amazing stuff. I would have asked Him to sign my t-shirt but celebrity signatures are so passé. I settled for a selfie with Him instead.
After a few minutes had passed, out of nowhere, a line from a poem came to me.
“The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.”
At the time I didn’t remember who had written it (Robert Frost). I vaguely remembered memorizing it in school, but puzzled at why it would come to me now? I looked back at the trail from where I had come. It looked different. It wasn’t the same trail. I think I had assumed that looking back on something would reveal a mirror image. Wasn’t it, after all, merely the reverse of what I had just done? But no, I could see the path I had come up on; and though it was geographically the same and it’s features similar, it was a different path. The path I had come up on was not a path I could take again.
Then I looked toward the trail ahead. “I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” These pauses in the woods are refreshing and invigorating. They open your eyes to the beauty around you. But I have promises to keep and miles to go before I sleep. And I did have miles to go that day before I could sleep. So I shifted the weight of my pack, tightened my straps, and said “One step at a time. One foot in front of the other.” I walked onto the next challenge of the trail; which led to the next beautiful view and the next revelation of God, His glory and beauty.
Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
BY ROBERT FROST
Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
My little horse must think it queer
To stop without a farmhouse near
Between the woods and frozen lake
The darkest evening of the year.
He gives his harness bells a shake
To ask if there is some mistake.
The only other sound’s the sweep
Of easy wind and downy flake.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
I host a weekly movie at Wilson Abbey, a community center in Uptown Chicago. Every (almost every) Tuesday at 7 PM I show a film in their small screening room. This January I am showing a series of 1950’s alien movies. So come on by 935 W Wilson Ave on Tuesdays at 7 PM. Enter through Everybody’s Coffee and stop to grab a treat and a coffee on the way.
Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1954), Jan 6
War of the Worlds (1953), Jan 13
The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951), Jan 20
Forbidden Planet (1956), Jan 27
God said to Moses, “I am who I am. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I am has sent me to you.’” Exodus 3:14
I AM. So complete, so all encompassing, so simple.
It kind of reminds me of the campfire song “There’s a Hole in the Bottom of the Sea”. It starts out with a hole in the bottom of the sea and each time around you add another thing in the hole in the bottom of the sea. But it always comes back to that hole. Every verse and object added is still in a hole in the bottom of the sea. No matter how long or complex the song gets one always ends up in a hole in the bottom of the sea.
Life is pretty complicated, full of questions and variables that can seem overwhelming much of the time. But if you remove the fear from the questions and seek the answers in peace, a deep voice resonates from the being of the universe that echos those words spoken to Moses from the mountaintop. “I AM.” No matter how many complexities you bring to God, each query begins “Who is? What is? Where is? Why is?” and ends with “I AM.” No apologies, no explanations just a statement, an eternal truth that is the foundation of the universe, time and space.
There’s a man in the city, in the state, in the country, on the continent, on the planet, in the soar system in the galaxy, in the universe, in heart of the great I AM.
The universe, time and space are part of an info-graphic that displays God’s glory.
We represent a tiny particle of an atom of a dot of ink that makes up the color of one line printed on a billboard.
Yet he knows each of our names.
We are physically insignificant, but spiritually monumental.
A man I didn’t know but still loved died today. I think one my favorite performances of his was The Genie from Aladdin. That and Good Will Hunting. Between both of those performances he made me laugh and he made me cry. Robin Williams gave us all something energetic, beautiful and heartfelt. I read the quote from his wife and I watched the commercial for Zelda with Williams and his daughter Zelda. Tonight they are mourning the loss of a husband and a father. My heart goes out to them.
The initial reports are saying it’s a suicide and that Williams had been struggling with depression. I have many friends who struggle with depression and this is a very real reminder that it is a serious condition which can be fatal. It most certainly reminds me to be present in every moment with people suffering from depression. I don’t know if it will help or change their condition but it will change me. If their depression does consume them, in friendship they will have gifted me with deep memories which I can share. Keeping their story alive though the body is gone.