Category Archives: Perspective

Observed

I stumble around Youtube from time to time, and occasionally something really captures my attention.  I was wandering about Youtube yesterday in fact, and found a compilation video of a theoretical physicist named Michio Kaku.  To summarize and simplify the first few minutes of the video, Michio shares that everything in the universe is like Schrodinger’s famous cat problem.  For those of you who are unfamiliar, Schrodinger posits that if a cat is placed in a box and unobservable, it must be both dead and alive simultaneously.  It is only when the box is opened and the cat is observed that it becomes either dead or alive.

Schrodinger’s cat is known for seeming to be illogical but theoretical physics has found that it is a viable interpretation of how our world is working at the atomic level.  MIchio takes this concept a step further and talks about how nothing in the universe can even exist if it hasn’t been observed.  He states that the observation of something is essential to it’s creation.

Creation.  Perhaps the biggest argument of science and faith.  How were we created?

Genesis 1:4  And God saw the light, that it was good; and God divided the light from the darkness. 

God saw the light that he created.  God observed the difference between light and darkness and then continued creating, seeing that each new thing was good.  God “sees” 7 different times in the first chapter of Genesis.  In the beginning, God created, God saw.  He observed that which he had made, and called it good.

Psalm 139:16 Your eyes saw my unformed body;
    all the days ordained for me were written in your book
    before one of them came to be.

God saw me when I was unformed, when he brought me forth into this world.  He saw me then, and he sees me now.  I am seen, and I am known.

Perhaps one day we will see that science itself points to our creator, and perhaps in that day we will no longer only know in part, but instead see the entirety of the truth that God has created for us.

Empty

We are always trying to live full lives.  Everyone is fighting to fill their wallet, to fill their stomachs, to fill their homes.  Everyone I know tries to fill their time with as much as they possibly can, racing from one activity to another, making sure to squeeze in as many episodes of their favorite TV show, or spend just one more hour at work.  Many people like to fill their life with experiences or new adventures.  Everyone wants everything to be full.  FULL.  FULL.

I must admit that I am constantly pursuing a state of fullness as well.  I want to have a full relationship, filled with adventures and excitement.  I want to be full of feelings, until they are gushing out from my lips because I can’t possibly hold them in.  I want to have access to whatever I need to fully fill myself.  So I fill my days with work so I can buy new toys, I fill my time off with social media so I can feel loved.  I fill my quiet moments with news so I can be well informed.  I fill my stomach with food so I can feel safe from famine.

I’m always trying to fill myself up.

TheQuarry

The Fort Wayne Quarry on Ardmore. Canon 5dMKIII and Rokinon 14mm. Copyright Joshua Stairhime 2017

There is a concept in art known as negative space.  Negative space is space that is not filled by the subject of the art, but is essentially the nothing that something exists in.  Good graphic design demands that you pay attention to the negative space.  If your artwork is full of stuff, then the whole purpose of your creation can be lost in the extra fluff surrounding it.   Your work goes from something like the Mona Lisa to a  “Where’s Waldo”.  Creating something without negative space makes it hard to really appreciate the beauty of what you are creating.   It makes it hard for others to appreciate what you are creating as well.
One day I was shown the quarry down the road from where I work, and ever since then I keep going back to it.  A quarry doesn’t sound that interesting, it is a place where people dig up rocks and sand.  Instead of filling up, a quarry is a place where people work to empty something.  As the quarry is dug deeper, more and more of the quarry is removed, but at the same time, more and more of the quarry is revealed.  I’ve not yet been to the Grand Canyon, but I know that you don’t go there to see the things that fill it up, but rather how empty it is.  Yes, there are boundaries, but without those boundaries you couldn’t know how empty it is, and you couldn’t be moved by how incredibly large it is.  When something is emptied out, a beauty that can not be taken away remains.

AnightwithStars

A secret location in northwestern Ohio. Canon 5dMKIII and Rokinon 14mm. Copyright Joshua Stairhime 2017

God is a master of using negative space.  He created the sky, something inconceivably large, but something that seems so incredibly empty.  Or at least it seems empty as we run about trying to fill our lives with something.  It isn’t until you stop to appreciate how empty the night sky is, that you start to see the beauty it contains.  It isn’t until you turn off the lights, and slow down that you can see the stars poking through the inky blackness you’re surrounded by.  We couldn’t see the beauty of the stars if they were jammed in tightly next to each other.  It is in the negative space of the sky, that those little pinpricks of light can shine out from and make us feel so small.
I’m hoping to start accepting that emptiness isn’t the curse we’ve made it out to be.  It is, after all, a still small voice that speaks after the wind, after the earthquake, after the fire, that is the only voice that can truly fill us.  After Elijah had confronted the prophets of Bail, after he had won the Superbowl of spiritual confrontations, he had to go somewhere to be emptied out.  He couldn’t handle being full.  He needed a rest, so he hid himself away from the world, and it is in those moments that God spoke to him.  He found peace in those moments.  He found himself in those moments.

So maybe it is time for you to stop trying so hard to be full, and to instead allow yourself to be empty.

Make room for something bigger.

Make room for the breath of God to fill you.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.

To be hungry, you must be empty.

Be empty.





Snake Bite

I wasn’t supposed to be there.

I knew I should leave.  If the growing sickness in the pit of my stomach wasn’t an obvious enough indication of the danger I was facing, then I suppose my brain never had a chance as it begged me to stop, to turn around, to run the other way.

I didn’t.
Not only did I not turn around, but I moved closer to the danger.  I drew the danger closer to me.  They say you should keep your friends close and your enemies closer, but there is very little reason to hold a poisonous snake by the tail.  I wasn’t just holding the snake by the tail, I was putting it in my lap, expecting it not to bite.

I had been warned.

I didn’t listen.
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Understanding (DOP #2 2016)

25 Days of Peace is back for another year of compelling posts from nearly 10 contributors.  This year you can check out the action on Facebook, or at 254peace.org!  I can’t wait to hear from some of my favorite voices as they wrestle with peace, and what it means in their life during this Christmas season.  As always, subscribe to get my latest posts delivered directly, and head over to the Facebook page to connect with the rest of the contributors.  


I’ve (very) recently started trying to learn Spanish.  I’ve been to a Spanish speaking country several times in my life, and I currently live in an area with a reasonable number of Spanish speakers, a coworker who can speak Spanish, and I’ve recently met someone who has inspired me to finally make an effort to learn.  I’ve learned just a few words over the past few years, mostly just enough to apologize, or ask to be excused.  I might be able to ask how old you are, and if you are less than 10 years old, I might even understand your answer!  (Thanks to Seasame Street!)

I’ve often marveled at the ability of others to speak another language.  As someone who struggles to communicate in English, to me it is a miracle to be able to communicate with people from another culture.  Even though I can’t speak Spanish, when a situation would arise requiring me to communicate with a Spanish speaker, I would just make gestures and repeat the English words until I made myself understood.  It is a crude method, fraught with frustration, but it is usually worth the effort in the end.

When I have to gesture and point my way to communication, it reminds me that we as people often don’t put in enough effort to really understand the people around us.  When you speak my language, I automatically assume that you use words in the same way that I do, that my thoughts must be your thoughts as well.  Obviously, this is not true, and misunderstandings happen regularly in my life from a lack of effort on the part of both parties to really communicate.

When I take the time and effort to try to communicate outside of my own language, I find there is a connection that happens when meaning is finally communicated from one person to another.  The struggle and confusion can absolutely be worth it.

So why do I want to learn to speak Spanish if I can usually make myself understood when necessary?

I want to fully understand.

As our nation becomes increasingly polarized along nationalistic lines, l want to be available to be a bridge between two cultures that are not at peace.  I want to use my ability to communicate in English to tell the stories of those around me who can’t make themselves understood by those who won’t put in the effort to listen.  When a whole people group is maligned, made out to be the enemy of our success as a nation, I know that unless people are willing to stand up on their behalf, there is a genocide of sorts, lurking around the corner.

In every culture here in the United States, you can find good and bad.  In the same way that not every immigrant comes here illegally, I understand that not every immigrant obeys the laws.  I hope to celebrate the good, and expose the bad.  Dividing rightly the truth of the matters at hand from the false and terrible rhetoric.

In the pursuit of peace, sometimes we all need a little help understanding.  I hope to one day learn enough to be the beginnings of that bridge of understanding.  No lasting peace has been found without dialogue between the parties at war.
No lasting peace has been found without reaching understanding.

Feliz Navidad!

Rookie Mistake (DOP #14 2015)

I’ve been out of the country about a dozen times now, and most of those trips were what the North American church likes to call “mission trips”.  I’ve been to Germany, Haiti, and Nicaragua on these trips.  If you know anything about me, you know that I hate looking like I don’t know what I am doing.  So when I first started going to Nicaragua and Haiti regularly, I spent a lot of time before I left trying to learn how to be a good “short-term missionary” and not make any rookie mistakes.  Some of the simple tips I remember are: 1.  Talking louder doesn’t help them understand English any better, it just makes you look dumb.  2.  Don’t drink the water.  3.  Don’t rinse your toothbrush in the water.  4.  Don’t assume that you know the best way to do something.  5.  Don’t give handouts.

On my first trip to Nicaragua I did my best to follow all of these rules, except the last one.  I really struggled with that one.  I mean come on, this kid needs help, and giving him $5 isn’t going to ruin my day or his right?  So there I am on the bus after the obligatory hour at the market waiting on the straggling group of women to finish up their purchases and get on board.  I had “met” a young kid in the market who kept following my group around and trying to be helpful.  He did such a good job that I felt like we owed him a bit of a tour guides fee for his help.  Well, they had warned us against giving away money in the market, so my plan was to wait until the bus was just about to pull away and I would toss some cash out of the window at this boy.

I don’t know where all of the kids came from, but as soon as I had dropped some cash to the one kid, it seemed like the bus was surrounded.  They started throwing grasshopper things they had woven out of grass in through the open windows, all of them hoping to get a small piece of the pie.  While the last stragglers struggled through the chaos to get to their seats, the seated team members were all doing their best to throw the grasshopper things back out of the windows.  As I look back at the memory my brain is trying to tell me that the kids outside started rocking the bus to tip it over!  (That last part isn’t true…but it was a pretty traumatic experience…so my brain is exaggerating a bit.)  The driver managed to get through the crowd without hitting any of the kids and we sped off.  I slid down into my seat and refused to acknowledge my role in the chaos.  I’m not sure if anyone else knew that I had started the riot, but if they did know they let me off the hook.

I was pretty embarrassed, and frustrated!  All I had wanted to do was help a kid who looked like he needed help, and it had nearly turned into an international incident.

So I learned from that experience that I was going to follow that rule in the future, because it is a good rule.  For the next 3 years and 6 trips, the rule served me well, keeping me from starting any international incidents on my future trips out of the country.  The idea behind the rule is good, and it kept me out of a certain kind of trouble.  I even began to teach the rule to first-timers, so they would know better and wouldn’t have to learn from their mistakes the way I had.

Overall it was a good rule, until I started to use it as an excuse to ignore the needs around me.  I eventually became so trained in “the rule” that I stopped seeing the needs and responding to them on a case by case basis.   I’m afraid that I’ll never be able to forget the woman who asked for our help on my 4th trip to Nicaragua.  We had just finished eating at “Tip-Top” and we were already late for the next event we were supposed to be at.  I was the only guy in the van, and had taken it upon myself to make sure that all of the women were safely inside the van before I got in.  This left me in charge of closing the door.

The woman saw us getting in the van and moved towards us in a quick shuffle, which I assume was the fastest she could move.  I don’t speak any significant amount of Spanish, but it was obvious she was looking for something to help.  As I think back to the memory, even though I know she was speaking another language, I can hear her pleading for our help, just something, anything, to help her and her family.  The ladies I was with had squeezed into the van by this time, and I had found my seat and was reaching back to close the sliding door, but the woman had put herself in the way of the door.  I slowly slid the door closed an inch at a time, and eventually was able to close the door without hurting the woman.  The van started and we drove away.  We left the woman standing outside the restaurant, with even less than she had when we first met her.  We had taken the small glimmer of hope from her, and drove away with it.

I don’t know who that woman was, or what she really needed.  I don’t know who she went home to that night, or if she even had a home to go to.  The fact is that I will never know.  I gave up my chance to know her in any way when I closed the door in her face.  We didn’t talk about what I had just done in the van, but the silence was enough to know that we were all thinking about it.  We arrived at our event  and quickly got to work, slowly forgetting about the woman we had left behind.

Except I haven’t.

I had $5 in my pocket.  It would have taken 5 seconds to dig it out.  I could have done something, and I didn’t.  I’m crying as I type this, tears rolling down my face crying.  I made a choice to ignore her, to ignore her humanity, and to drive away.  It has been more than two years, and it still hurts me to think of that day.

I haven’t forgotten.
When I was in Haiti this year, we found ourselves in a little boutique that served cold soda and ice cream along with souvenirs and keepsakes.  It’s one little 45 minute stop in a week full of heat and hard work.  It has a balcony that looks over the roadway, and a little courtyard in front.   I bought a coke, and stood outside on the balcony, straining my eyes towards the horizon looking for something new and interesting.  A voice called up from the courtyard.  A little boy had found his way in and was asking for something.  I turned away and walked back inside.  I knew the rule.  Then I remembered the woman in Nicaragua that I had left, and I turned my retreat into a charge towards the counter.  I bought another coke, and returned to the balcony.  The kid had given up on  me and wasn’t looking up anymore, but after I checked to make sure the rest of the team wasn’t watching, I got his attention and threw him the coke.  He caught it with a smile and disappeared out of the courtyard door.  I smiled and congratulated myself on not causing a scene.

If you're ever in the area, stop by!

It was probably 3 minutes later that I noticed the boy had found his way to the top of the stairs, and he wasn’t alone anymore.  As I looked into the faces of the 3 boys at the top of the stairs, I knew I had done it again.  I had made a rookie mistake.  I was tempted to retreat into an inner room and pretend I hadn’t seen them, but I knew I couldn’t.  So I walked over to the doorway, crouched down and started asking them questions in the little bit of Creole I knew.  “Mwen rele Josh.  Rele?  Kilajou?”  Having exhausted my relevant Creole I asked in English if they went to school.  We chatted as best we could for a few minutes, and after they asked for help that I honestly couldn’t give them, and I said that I was sorry I couldn’t help, we chatted a bit for a few more minutes, and then it was time to go.

I will never get a chance to talk to that woman.

At least those boys knew I cared.

“Go in peace, be warm and filled” is so easy to say, but actually bringing that kind of peace is so very difficult.  The least we can do is acknowledge other people.  We can at least give them the dignity they deserve.
If you get the chance, make the rookie mistakes.

"Peace"

“Peace”