Tag Archives: Raleigh

The God Who Sits in the Dark

I first met Hugh Hollowell last March when he came to First Baptist Church of Raleigh to speak to a group of Campbell students, myself included, who were participating in a poverty simulation. I had heard a little bit about the work he was doing through Love Wins Ministries and I was excited to listen to what he had to say about serving the people who are often neglected by the church, about his motivation for social ministry and how he came to Raleigh. Hugh’s enthusiasm for loving people is contagious. His approach to ministry is not typical, but it is important, it is profoundly simple, and it is a faithful representation of what it means to be the presence of Christ in this world.

This video is the work of Craig Spinks, founder of Recycle Your Faith.


Parting Views of Summer






Goodberry's is Good Medicine

There is so much on my mind. So much to say, and so much to do, but then I look at Samuel and everything else seems so insignificant.

I’ve barely had time to seriously reflect on my first semester at Divinity School. My summer classes, and a propitious summer internship, will be starting up next week. The house is a mess, and the remnants of my last few home improvement projects still taunt me when I pass through the hallway, but Samuel doesn’t care about that. It doesn’t worry him, and I won’t let it worry me.

Parenthood is good. Already, it feels as though Samuel has been a part of our family all along. I look at him and love him. I take him in my arms, cup his head in my hands, press my belly into the bedspread, prop myself up on my elbows and just stare into his bright blue eyes. Yes. It’s true. I love him.

So many of our “first” moments are flying by faster than I can register them. We met my former boss and wonderful friend Bing Oliver at McDonald’s (his choice, by the way) this week; once the meal was done and the conversation was moving fast it suddenly hit me that this was Samuel’s first time in a restaurant. Sunday night was Samuel’s first time in church. Monday was his first doctor’s appointment. Wednesday afternoon he made it through his first cookout and Thursday morning he made it five hours without waking mom or dad up.

Today we took Samuel to the photo studio for his first big shoot. He did great. I have to give thanks to Ken Tart for having an infinite amount of patience, and diaper wipes. Ken was also kind enough to lend me a spare lens while my 50 mm f/1.4 is being repaired after conking out during Samuel’s first week at home.

Today we also had our first big scare as parents. I’m a natural worrier. I try to keep things in perspective, and I’ve been doing pretty good about letting things go, but having Samuel in our life pushes the potential for worry to a whole new level. I worry when he cries too loud. I worry when he gets too quiet. I worry that he’s too hot. I worry that he’s too cold. I worry about leaving him alone to rest, and then I worry about over stimulation. I worry. Kristen, on the other hand, is not a worrier. Whenever she begins to acknowledge the validity of my worries, then I know it’s time to get serious.

Today Samuel had us both worried. This afternoon we noticed he was breathing heavy when he was awake and wheezing when he was asleep. His doctor’s visit Monday revealed a healthier-than-normal baby (he had gained 14 oz. since he left the hospital four days earlier) so we took a little comfort in that and just kept an eye on him. Then he started crying. And crying. And crying. He was crying like I had never seen a baby cry before. Every now and then he’d take a break from crying to cough a little. Each time he’d cough, I would have an opportunity to suction a sizable chunk of mucus from his mouth. Then the crying would pick up again, and the cycle continued for about 40 minutes. Once he began to lose steam, I swaddled him up and he drifted off to sleep. I called the doctor for advice and was told to bring him in.

Samuel continued to spit up mucus in the car, but by the time we got to the doctor’s office, he was in a smiling, contented state. We described the symptoms to the nurse and got Samuel undressed so she could weigh him. The moment his diaper came off, though, he spewed a mucousy mess all over table and the nurse. It was like he had a Super Soaker 3000, loaded with slime, hidden in his pants. The nurse courageously threw herself between Samuel and her laptop; I had never seen anything like this before, but clearly she had experience dealing with such assaults. We cleaned up the mess and the doctor came in. He checked Samuel over and couldn’t find a thing wrong. Apparently, Samuel had developed a mucus plug that had given him a little trouble breathing, but he managed to expel it on his own just in time to shower the nurse and a moment too early to give the doctor anything to do.

Just in case you were wondering, this time he tipped the scales at 8 lbs. 6 oz. (that’s a post-mucus-explosion weight). It looks like he’ll be catching up to Abigail in no time.

Since we’d already made the drive to Garner, we felt obligated to go ahead and share another “first” with Samuel. For his first taste of Goodberry’s, Samuel decided to order his daddy’s favorite: a regular vanilla mint chocolate-chip concrete.

False Perceptions: what is real?

A few weeks ago, James Williams, a 21-year-old WakeTech student, was fatally shot in an otherwise peaceful neighborhood in a small town outside of Raleigh. Moments later, Curtis Lee, 24, called 911 to report the shooting. During the phone conversation, Lee told dispatchers he shot Williams because “He drove up, man — and I don’t know anybody from this area, so, whoever he is he shouldn’t have came over here.” He said that Williams had pulled into his driveway. As he started to get out of his car, Lee shot him. When police arrived, they found Williams in his car, dead from a shot to the torso, according to the News & Observer. The newspaper reported that Williams likely pulled up to Lee’s house by mistake, as a car parked at the home was very similar to a car driven by one of Williams’ friends who lives on the same street. Lee was charged with murder and taken to the Wake County Jail.

This is the saddest news story I have read in quite a while, and I come across a lot of sad news. I don’t want to pretend like I understand this situation, because I don’t. I refuse to begin judging Lee based on the facts of this account. I don’t know what may have happened to him the last time a stranger pulled up into his yard. I don’t know what other things he may have seen when he looked out at Williams that added to his picture of the situation. I don’t know what he had been doing earlier that day that contributed to his frame of mind. I don’t know any of that. But I do know that this is a very sad story; one that leads me to grieve for these families and for our world.

Reading this story — and then listening to Lee’s simple, candid conversation with the 911 operators — forced me to wonder what kind of perception he has of the world. Is it characterized by fearfulness: a world where everyone unknown is an enemy intent on doing me harm? Is it characterized by competition? Are other people seen as equally valuable, or is value based on how much I know and understand about an individual’s story? We all look at the world from unique perspectives. More often than not, we let external influences take control of our perspectives; they begin to overlay the glass we see the world through and, eventually, to define what we understand to be reality. Whether these perceptions we have are at all related to actual reality becomes irrelevant. What matters is perception.

Obviously perception played a huge role in the story above, and I hope working to piece together the varying perceptions of those involved will be an important part of the investigation that follows. How do we keep our own perceptions of the world from becoming so skewed we can no longer see clearly?

“I came into this world for judgement so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”
— Jesus

John 9:39, NRSV

I thought about my own perception of reality. I love the infinitely complex, yet wonderfully simple way the natural world fits together. Life is simple. It is about food, family and community. God made it simple, but we make it much more complex than that. I sometimes kid myself into thinking that, as I continue to seek to serve God in whatever way I can, that I am comfortable living in this barest of all realities. Then I start to think about what that really means. Does this mean I can be at peace with my situation even if my income does not allow me to save for retirement like I would like to, or to save at all? Does this mean I can be content with drawing closer to God even if I am a complete failure at every task I attempt? Does this mean I am satisfied with my life even if my reputation is fallaciously destroyed? Does this mean I really believe that lying beggar downtown is created in the image of God; that he has a goodness in him that is longing to come out, and I have a responsibility to be Jesus for him so that he might overcome his own false perceptions of reality?

I would like to answer yes to all of these questions, to say that I am content to live within the actual reality that forms the foundation of creation, but I don’t always know that I can. I do care about maintaining a comfortable standard of living for my family. I do care about presenting myself to others in a positive light so that I might enjoy their fellowship. I do care about keeping a clean credit report, about earning college degrees and receiving the approval of those who have come before me. My question then becomes: how much of this comes out of a desire to responsibly execute my own free will, and how much has been laid upon me by the conventional wisdom of the world? After all, Jesus has called us to rise above conventional wisdom and to live in the world as it really is; to live in spirit and in truth.

Conventional wisdom is a culture’s way of seeing the world that gives advantage to those in power and defends the social status quo. People internalize this “wisdom” and live out of it, unless they are able to see a different kind of wisdom. Marcus Borg identifies these characteristics of conventional wisdom:

  • It domesticates reality for the convenience of those in power.
  • It is based on reward and punishment.
  • It is a world of hierarchy and boundaries.
  • It produces a life of anxious striving and conformity.
  • The spell of conventional wisdom produces self-preoccupation and selfishness.
  • Conventional wisdom views God as a lawgiver and judge and sees the religious life as a set of demanding requirements.
  • Conventional wisdom is not confined to a particular society or time; it pervades all traditions.

Jesus spoke of conventional wisdom as “the broad way” and God’s wisdom as “a narrow way.” He depicted God not as a judge but as a compassionate being who offered cosmic generosity. He spoke of the kingdom of God in parables that described God’s kingdom as a place populated by marginalized people — nobodies — not by those with wealth and power. Jesus was repeatedly criticized for being host to meals that included sinners and tax collectors. These meals were enacted parables of inclusion that subverted the conventional wisdom of privilege, purity, and exclusion.

Richard Hester and Kelli Walker-Jones
“Know Your Story and Lead with it: The Power of Narrative in Clergy Leadership,” 46-47
Herndon, Virg: The Alban Institute, 2009

Prompted by a school project but pushed on by my own interest, I have begun to look at the emerging field of Narrative Leadership. At its core, Narrative Leadership prompts people to begin looking at the world, looking at others, and especially looking at one’s own life, as stories that are being lived out. These stories have recurring themes, but they are constantly open to change. Whether we recognize it or not, our own story directly influences the way we understand the snippets of story we read about the people we come in contact with. These stories combine to form our perception of the world, but as anyone who has ever been touched by a powerful novel knows, every book always has at least two stories to tell; usually many more. Adopting a curious stance and digging into the stories of others allows us to dig into our own story in ways we haven’t been able to experience before. Retelling our stories, allowing others to reinterpret them for us, listening to their stories and piecing the complex narrative together allows us keep our own interpretations in check with reality, to bring them into sharper focus and to develop a clearer image of the world as it really is.

Stories are best when they are shared.

What sort of space gives us the best chance to hear soul truth and follow it? A space defined by principles and practices that honor the soul’s nature and needs. What is that nature, and what are those needs? My answer draws on the only metaphor I know that reflects the soul’s essence while honoring its mystery: the soul is like a wild animal

Like a wild animal, the soul is tough, resilient, resourceful, savvy, and self sufficient: it knows how to survive in hard places. …

Yet, despite its toughness, the soul is also shy. Just like a wild animal, it seeks safety in the dense underbrush, especially when other people are around. If we want to see a wild animal, we know the last thing we should do is go crashing through the woods yelling for it to come out.

Unfortunately, community in our culture too often means a group of people who go crashing through the woods together, scaring the soul away. … We scare off all the soulful things, like respectful relationships, goodwill, and hope.

Parker J. Palmer
“A Hidden Wholeness,” 58-59
San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2004

If this discussion has turned into a pot-luck dinner of thoughts that you have no taste for, I apologize. I’m not really sure where I’m going with all of this right now, but I thought the first step in making any sense of it was to get it out of my head and into words.

It’s far too messy in there to keep anything straight.

Hip Shots

Last weekend Kristen and I found ourselves in downtown Raleigh on the first truly beautiful, warm Saturday of the year. We had a purpose to our visit, and it was not photography, but I couldn’t resist trying to get a few shots off. I have been longing to just take a day to myself and explore the city, gathering pictures of people as they go about their lives. I want to improve my portrait techniques, and I want to take more portraits of real people, doing real things, in an effort to better represent real life. Part of my problem is I don’t afford myself the time to go out to practice photography simply for photography’s sake. I bring a camera along when I’m out for another purpose and end up feeling awkward when I try to break away from that purpose to figure out how to set up a good shot. My other problem is I feel awkward taking pictures of strangers who just see the weird guy with the camera and must be wondering what he’s up to; but I love looking at the simple beauty in life, at the way people interact with one another, and sometimes that’s best appreciated as an outsider looking in. Some of these photos were cropped with a viewfinder, most were simple quick-shot street photography. My favorite ended up being a serendipitous hip shot taken outside of the Museum of North Carolina History. There are four people in the picture, a group of guys, maybe family, maybe friends, all sharing a quick meal. The camera only found one face though, and that face is what caught my attention right away. If the picture had been of the men laughing and finishing their hotdogs would you have even noticed the boy sandwiched between his guardians? I couldn’t have set it up any better.

Making Friends

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”

And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

Matthew 25:34-40 (NRSV)

This past weekend, I spent 25 hours in downtown Raleigh with a group of other divinity school students participating in a poverty simulation. It gave me a small taste of what it feels like to be helpless in a city without a dollar to my name. We slept outside, rummaged through thrift store handouts and trash cans and somehow made our way through the weekend.

We also made a few new friends along the way. I met Willard, a 59-year-old retired mail carrier (probably 60 years old now, Happy Birthday Willard!) who wanted to go back to college just for fun, but needed a little help on his entrance exam. We talked about writing for a while before he had to hurry into the soup kitchen to be sure he had a bit of warmth to get him through the rainy night outdoors. “I’ve got a pretty nice sleeping bag,” Willard said. I remembered him later that night as I scoured for a spot to set up my synthetic-fiber, 15º backcountry fortress from REI. I wonder just how nice Willard’s sleeping bag really is.

I met Raheem, a guy about my age who moved to Raleigh from Philadelphia to be closer to some of his family, just to find out they didn’t really want to be closer to him. He’s spent months searching the newspapers and internet for job listings, but hasn’t found anybody willing to take a chance on him yet, despite his incredible gift for rhetoric — “I can sell you anything!” Raheem told me as he gave his only sweatshirt away to another friend who felt chilled at the thought of spending one more night alone in the park.

I met Steve, a New York native who spent decades building a good life with his wife in North Carolina. Then she died unexpectedly in 2003. Steve got by alright until 2008 when he lost his job. He didn’t have anybody else to turn to, but that wasn’t a big deal. He could make it through. But the months passed on and he still couldn’t find any work in Raleigh; he couldn’t sell the home he had spent the last half of his life working to pay off. A year later, this hardworking, well-spoken, clean-cut, “normal” guy found himself without a place to stay when the banker came to collect his due. Now he hangs around City Market.

I learned a lot this weekend, but the thing that has stuck with me most is something I’ve known for a very long time, I just tend to forget it when the situation makes it convenient for me:

Everybody is different. Every individual is so, incredibly, wonderfully unique. And how awesome is it that God knows each one of us, inside and out.

Early in my undergraduate work, I wrote an in-depth essay on stereotypes. The primary thought that drove that paper was my determination that stereotypes are a necessary evil. Without them, we would simply be overwhelmed by the abundance of information, of power and detail in the natural world that we try to make our way through. We would be unable to function if we tried to truly understand every individual that comes our way, beginning with a blank palette; so we use stereotypes to help us cope.

Unfortunately, though, our stereotypes also blind us to the beauty of the real world God has made for us. We go through our lives like we’re sitting in on an original performance of Beethoven’s 5th, choosing instead to slouch down in the back row and listen to Spongebob Squarepants singing on our iPods.

We have stereotypes. Often times we’re aware of them. We may even try to put them aside occasionally and get to know someone for who they really are. But I would venture to say that of all the stereotypes we hold, those that protect us from the homeless are the last ones we are willing to give up.

Krispy Kreme Makes Everything Alright

I saw the new City Plaza on Fayetteville Street in Raleigh for the first time this morning as public works staff were scrubbing the sidewalks and pruning flowers in preparation of the street fair Saturday. I have to say that considering all of the hype, and then the controversy that followed from residents upset about any obstruction of the view between the Capitol and Memorial Auditorium, the plaza was pretty unimpressive. It’s a nice bit of open space in a district that is already very pedestrian friendly. The light towers people were so concerned about are barely taller than the awning of the Sheraton that borders the square on the south, but they are blanketed in stainless steel oak leaves, which is a nice homage to the city’s history.

The best thing about the plaza is that it gives the Capitol District its first Krispy Kreme Doughnuts. Four identical, smoked glass cottages sit at each corner of the square. Three of the buildings are slated to hold a Jimmy Johns Sandwich shop, a shish kabob restaurant and an arts & crafts center, but none of them are close to being ready to open. For now, doughnuts and coffee are the main attraction as the new Krispy Kreme stays busy churning out sweet snacks to passersby.

Terror of the South

museum2The last time my brother Jacob spent the weekend with us Kristen and I took him to the North Carolina Museum of History, where we could spend all day studying photographs and learning about how people lived in our state years ago. Jacob enjoyed the museum for a few minutes here and there — a new pirate exhibit and the complete gun-making workshop of Dunn-native “Carbine” Williams caught his interest — but for the most part, he dutifully followed us around and told us how bored he was. We promised the next time he stayed with us we would go to the more kid-friendly Museum of Natural Science. We got the opportunity last weekend.

I visited the science museum often as a child when my dad would take me and my younger brothers strolling through on Saturdays while my mom was at work. At that time, the coolest things in the museum were a fake T-Rex skull in the foyer and an impressive blue whale skeleton that hung high overhead in its own exhibit hall. Years ago the museum underwent a major renovation, and though I had stepped in from time to time, I hadn’t taken the opportunity to really soak it all up before.


Obviously bored with his audience, this guy made his own perfectly sized hammock to chill out in.

One of the highlights of the museum is a prominent exhibit hall with a fully-developed dinosaur display. The old T-Rex model still greets guests as they walk up the stairs, but the star of the show is a full size display of Acrocanthosaurus. The dinosaur supposedly lived 45 million years before the first Tyrannosaur arrived on the scene. More importantly, “Acro” as he’s affectionally called at the museum, lived in the southern states from Texas to Maryland (including North Carolina) while his larger, younger and better-known brethren hung out on the West Coast.

Acro circling his prey.

Acro circling his prey.

The skeleton at the museum in Raleigh is only 53 percent authentic, with the rest being cast models of bone. Still, this is the most complete Acro remains found to date. Only four sets of Acro bones have ever been found, making this dinosaur one of the rarest known to science. At just 40 feet long, Acro doesn’t have the size of T-Rex, but he made up for it with an aggression all his own. While T-Rex is largely believed to be a scavenger, Acro was taking on dinos twice his size to grab a bite of lunch.

As strongly as I believe our state needs to keep a better grasp of how they spend money and reign in some dollars that aren’t being used in the best way, I am very proud to have such fine museums in our capital city. These projects represent a great use of state funds because they are offered to the benefit of everyone, everyday, free of charge. Most of the exhibits, including the $3 million Acro skelton, are funded through donations and grants from companies and individuals. The state keeps the doors open, the lights on and the payroll staffed with experts who can educate the citizenry — school children, seniors and guys like me who just like to know stuff — whenever they take the time to ask.

An open rainforest exhibit, staffed by teenaged-volunteers, is planted on the top floor the museum and is free and open to the public. A similar attraction costs tourist $13 each in Myrtle Beach before business dropped off and it shut down.

An open rainforest exhibit, staffed by teenaged-volunteers, is planted on the top floor of the museum and is free and open to the public. A similar attraction cost tourists $13 each in Myrtle Beach before business dropped off and it shut down.

Kristen and Acro

Kristen and Acro