Jan 2nd, 2013

2012 – Year in Review: Photos

By Nick Robison

I don’t take a lot of photos, they don’t really do much for me. I tend to have a pretty good memory of things and having pictures around doesn’t really add much to the recall. Also, I hate schlepping a camera around and stoping and fiddling with settings while trying to immortalize a locale as a digital copy. I also tend to take photos of things rather then people, which limits their emotional value. Still, this past year I made a concerned effort to document the places I went and the people I met, just so I could share all my memories with you. One of the reasons I was more keen to perform this task was the rise of geolocation within both Aperture (my software of choice) and Facebook. Meaning, my life could now be segmented into both exotic and lame places in time and space. A boon to a budding informaticist like myself.

oh the places you'll go....
oh the places you’ll go….

So, without further rambling, mincing of words, or otherwise lame attempts to channel my inner Charles Dickens and thus avoid any opportunity to use one word when seven will do, I present:

Top 10 11 Photos of 2012!!!!!! (in roughly chronological order)

The Bros with they mustachios
Bros with Mustaches

This photo was taken at my best friend Chas’ wedding back in January. Pictured are myself and the 3 gentlemen I lived with during my first Senior year, and last full year at Purdue. They are tremendous individuals and were part of the first place that I ever felt was home beyond my parents’ house. One is currently deployed to Qatar, one is moving to Pittsburgh, and one lives in West Lafayette. I miss them greatly but am very proud of the men they’ve become.

Dansk Familie i Holbæk
Dansk Familie i Holbæk

I actually didn’t take this photo (thanks Dad), but I realized I didn’t have a good photo of my Danish host parents (Søren and Dorthe), or one of Lucas (rocking the Purdue sweatshirt), so I co-opted this one. Here we are at an Ice Cream shop down by the harbor in Holbæk, the town I actually lived in. My parents were visiting and we had a great time biking downtown, especially watching my mom try and handle a bike.

Dansk Familie i Christiania
Dansk Familie i Christiania

Here’s the remainder of my host family. Lasse (on the left) is one of their cousins, Oliver (center) was the oldest boy, and Signe (on the right) was the youngest girl. I don’t have any pictures of Saskia, the oldest, as she didn’t live with us.

In case you’re wondering those last 2 photos count as 1, because when you put them together you get a whole family. So there.

Helsinki Cathedral
Helsinki Cathedral

Over the past few months I’ve look at dozens if not hundres of stunningly beautiful buildings all around the world. Eventually, they all start to blend together and it becomes hard to remember which is which. Unless they have a story. The National Cathedral in Helsinki is built directly across from the National Library. Both buildings were designed by the same architect and face each other across a narrow road. When asked why he designed them in this fashion the architect answered: ‘because religion and science are in constant dialogue.’

The London Eye, at night.
The London Eye, at night.

For a 2 week period of time, there were Robisons flying all over the place trying to converge on Heathrow for a weekend of partying and sightseeing in the British capital. This was my 3rd trip to London, but a first for Dan and Nate. We met up with our lovely British lady Bronwen and tore it up for a Friday-Monday haul. I snapped this photo late at night while Nate and I were trying to find a place to eat before heading back to the hotel. For those of you who are interested, it’s an ISO 400, 23mm, f/9, 2.5s image with a small amount of image adjustment. It’s a little blurry, but I love the saturation of the blues.

Old Town (Tallinn)
Old Town (Tallinn)

I really like Panoramas, I love the sense of space and the attempt to truly see the world as it appears in real life, I’ve been practicing over the past couple of years and have become pretty good at controlling for exposures and color shifts. This particular image was taken from the heart of the Old Town in Tallinn, Estonia. If it looks cold it’s because it was, terribly cold, and they don’t melt the ice from the sidewalks meaning any excursion into the white space is an exercise in precision stepping and facing sheer terror. I’ve included a bonus image to illustrate my point.

Ice on the Roads
see, dangerous
Boiler up.
Boiler up.

Another co-opted piece (thanks Dan). It took nearly 5 years to the day for me to finally graduate from college. Over the time I had 3 majors, authored 1 piece of state legislation and 1 academic paper, went on 3 dates, was on academic probation twice, was hospitalized twice, got rejected from 4 graduate programs at 3 schools, and learned more about myself and grew more with God then I had in the proceeding 18 years. I met some incredible people, made some memories, learned a little bit in a lot of domains, and finally found my calling. I’m thankful that it’s finally over and that I can finally move on, but I’m thankful for the opportunity to go there and for my friends, family, and parents for supporting me in everything. Ever grateful, ever true.

The mark of something.
The mark of something.

This is a picture of my little cousin Arabella’s foot with a bus stamp from the San Diego Zoo. Zoos are some of my favorite places in the world and during a trip to San Diego this summer I strong-armed my family into taking me and the little cousins to the zoo for the day. It was as great as it sounds. I also discovered that cameras are great fun for little ones and if you bring one along with you, don’t expect to get too many shots off. Also, fingerprints aren’t that hard to wipe off Nikors.

Oh captain, my captain
Oh captain, my captain

Forgive me a moment of vanity, this is from the great 2012 Bro-trip from Indiana to Washington. Taken in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho I think this is a great picture not only of fun and adventure, but also of my magnificent ability to gaze into the future, yet retain the firm leadership necessary to guide such an iron moose to safety. Roadtrips are both amazing and awful, choose your compatriots carefully. Or you will suffer.

Mount Si Panorama
Mount Si Panorama

Another panorama, this one was taken from the top of Mount Si deep within the Snoqualmie Valley. For my first few weeks in Seattle, before I knew actuall people, I attempted to spend some time in the wilderness reconnecting with myself and proving I wasn’t a worthless flatlander. That lasted about 2 weeks. Still, my park pass is valid until August 2013, so there’s lots more time for me to wimp out.

Lake Agnes
Lake Agnes

In October had the opportunity to travel to Calgary, AB and present some of my undergraduate research at a technical conference. On the last day I skipped out and drove out to Banff National Park to spend the day exploring, hiking, and taking pictures. This one was taken at Lake Agnes, just up the mountain from the famous Lake Louise. While I was there the weather was pretty bad and I wasn’t prepared for real hiking but I still managed to cover some territory. I really like this photo because it gives a sense of being on the top of the world, right up against the roof of the sky. It also gives a sense of intensity, like nature is just barely constraining its wrath. It’s really different from the bright, flat images of the family’s beach vacation. Also, it was a bit of a hike to get up there and the area was noticeably absent of tourists, so I felt like I accomplished something.

Easy, most of us are single, but not need to rush.
Easy, most of us are single, but no need to rush.

One last bonus image. The Robison family circa November 2012. What a good looking bunch. It’s rare to find all of us in one place at one time, and smiling no less. Well, Julia’s doing that weird hip/lip thing, but it still counts.

Thus ends the visual tour of the past year. I hope yours was even more exciting and that 2013 will be even better.


Jan 2nd, 2013

2012 – Year in Review: Books

By Nick Robison

I spent a lot of time on public transit over the past year, trains, planes, and automobiles. As such, I had quite a bit of time to read. This year I challenged myself to read more fiction, something I don’t normally do. Traditionally, fiction has been hard for me as I’ve found I don’t really engage with emotional content, books that involve stories, facts, and sweeping vistas are more my speed and are more comfortable, still it’s always good to stretch oneself. I also tried to read some of the books that I’ve heard people talking about, so I read the Hunger Games series, the first 3 books of _Game of Thrones, and _some biographies by great thinkers such as Tina Fey and Mindy Kaling.

In total (according to Goodreads) I made it through 48 books of an average length of 371.4375, my appd (average pages per day) was 48.85 (I have a penchant for partial pages). Usually, I read only real paper books, but since I was abroad I relied mostly on my mom’s (now owned by me (possession is 9/10 of the law Mom!)) Kindle, which works great for fiction, but not so good for deeper analytical works, which I read with a highlighter. Unfortunately this year I wasn’t a very consistant reader as I finished my first 34 books before June, when I was commuting 3 hours a day. The longest book I read was Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon _at 1,168.0 pages and the shortest was Julian Barnes’ _Sense of an Ending at a measly 150 pages. As I achieved an almost perfect split of fiction/non-fiction (in terms of book count, not content or page count) I thought I’d do two top lists and entertain you with my faux-critic reviews, you’re welcome.

Fiction (or, maybe real):

  1. Zero Day: A Novel – Mark Russinovich
thereadersroundtable.com

For those of you who don’t know, Mark is a Senior Technical Fellow at Microsoft and one of the most brilliant computer engineers in the world. This is his first stab at writing something human readable (and if you’ve read some of his code you’ll know how true this statement is) and follows the story of a computer consultant and a gorgeous NSA agent (first hint at the fictional nature of this book) as they track down the authors of a dangerous and almost invisible computer virus. It plays out almost exactly as you’d expect. The plot is predictable, the characters are a little cookie cutter, and the writing is a little cliché but what you end up with is a true geek’s novel full of technical details and actually possible scenarios. His second book _Trojan Horse: A Novel _isn’t quite as good, but still a recommended read for anyone looking for quality geek thriller (I’m sure that’s a real genre).

  1. A Game of Thrones: A Song of Ice and Fire Book #1 – George R.R. Martin
themoderndaypirates.com

The first book of Martin’s epic fantasy series is quite possibly his best. The beginnings of an epic struggle for kingship and power told in a style more akin to a Sorkin series then an Ampguard adventure. The writing is rich with visual imagery and thick with the nitty-gritty of internal dialogue and emotional strife. The story unfolds in an episodic nature flipping between multiple characters and geographic locations with dozens of sub-plots seemingly unraveling in multiple directions, which I’m hoping will be resolved at some point in the series. I made it through the next two books and while good, the shine is definitely wearing off and the story is beginning to diverge so much it’s becoming tedious. Also, one of the charms, to me, was the lack of the mystical, spiritual element that so often is used as a stylistic crutch, starting with A Storm of Swords the mystical is beginning to rear its head and I’m not really excited about that. Still, give the first book a read and see what you think.

  1. Dune – Frank Herbert
memonic.ch

One of the greatest pieces of science fiction, ever. This was my 3rd time through the book but it had been a few years since I last journeyed to Arrakis. Dune is the first in a three book series that chronicles not only the power dance of a galactic society, but also the rise and role of religion in human experience. A surprisingly deep book, I really enjoyed my using my Kindle this time around as I could make copious marks of interesting quotes or thoughts to reference later. The writing moves quickly, even though it at times seems more interested in the back story and philosophy of the Kwisatz Haderach (the promised ‘messiah’) then the unfolding events of the planet, and Herbert’s writing is spartan enough to not become mired in belabored metaphors or irrelevant details. Through the next two books the overarching saga lost its charm to me but the first book has remained one of my all time favorites. Though, perhaps its time to revisit the later stories.

  1. Cryptonomicon – Neal Stephenson
indiebound.com

I first heard about this book while reading an article in the Illinois Law Review regarding the  Principality of Sealand _and data havens. While fascinating, the article was nothing compared to the Stephenson’s (a fellow Seattleite) massive tome which weaves two distinct stories lines, one set during WWII, and one set in the late 90s, into a gripping thriller covering such fascinating topics such as data liberation, encryption, and the power of micro-nations. What first struck me about this book was the quality of the writing. Over time, I’ve become used to the fact that if a book is interesting to me on a technical level (e.g. _Trojan Horse: A Novel) it’s probably of poor wordsmithery; however, Neal is an exception. The characters are well developed, each with appropriate motivations and flaws (something usually lacking in modern fiction), the pacing is excellent, though at 1100 page it’s not a ‘fast’ read, and the underlying research is immaculate. The technical detail of the book is immense with multiple pages devoted to explaining various mathematical points or arcane points of information ownership. If you’re looking for an excellent book that deals with things us geeks like, look no further then either this book, or Neal’s newest work REAMDE.

  1. Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
http://storybookloveaffair.blogspot.com/

Wow. Just, wow. Full disclosure, it took me two tries to finally get through this book, not because I didn’t enjoy it, but because I kept getting distracted by lesser works. Finally, this year I started over and read the final page towards the end of November (9 months, but at least I did it). Tolstoy has cemented himself as my 2nd favorite author of all time (the first will always be J.R.R. Tolkien), War and Peace was an excellent book but this one, while lacking in sheer dramatic scope, has much more of a personal connection. Tolstoy has an incredible (and at times slightly terrifying) grasp of the human condition. There are points in the book that are chilling in their realism and that seem to be written based on conversations I had with people only days before. For Tolstoy, people are people, each character has their own flaws and weaknesses that they must overcome. No one is perfect, and while the reader may identify with one character over another they identify with their weaknesses as well. The story is not just a tale of love, lust, and purpose, but also a critique of society that holds up quite well over time, in addition, the role of rationalism is given a harsh look and various ideas of nationalism, marxism, and capitalism are each evaluated. There is a depth to the writing that cannot go unnoticed. Time and time again I found myself reveling not only in the beauty of the writing, or the realism of the characters, but at the depth of the story and the lucidity of the various philosophical and spiritual discussions. I cannot recommend this book enough.

Non-Fiction (or, pretending to be real)

5. Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? (And Other Concerns) – Mindy Kaling

hellogiggles.com

I love biographies. I love reading about the lives of the other people and hearing their stories of overcoming adversity, understanding how their minds work, and other important things like where they buy their clothes and what types of meat they avoid. My all-time favorite biography is Softwar_ covering the great Larry Ellison. This year I put a focus on entertainers like Tina Fey and Chelsea Handler as many of my friends were reading about them and gave some good recommendations. Out of this group my favorite (by a small margin) is Mindy’s new book. I just finished this one last week, I read it in one sitting, and was entertained the entire time. It’s pretty short and isn’t nearly as comprehensive as Tina’s book, but the writing is light, fun, and quirky and I really enjoyed it. If you’re looking for some light reading give this book a spin, and if reading isn’t really your thing, then I’m not sure why you’ve made it this far through this post but you should check out her new show on FOX The Mindy Project. _It’s probably more your speed.

  1. A Place for Truth – Dallas Willard
http://marccortez.com/

A collection of presentations from various Veritas Forums _over the past few years. Overall, the collection has some great sections and some weaker ones. A few of my favorite presenters include _John Warwick Montgomery, Richard John Neuhaus, Jeremy Begbie, Mary Poplin, _and _Paul Vitz. While I don’t agree with every presenter in the book (e.g. Francis Collins) or think everything meets the standards of academic rigor (e.g. Tim Keller) this is an excellent collection of essays covering a wide array of topics. It’s been a long time since I’ve read a good discussion on the fundamental aspects of humanity in the light of advances in robotics, or the role of feminism within world relief, and yet both are covered here. This book is a great start to anyone looking for a topical treatise on current philosophical and scientific discussions. For those looking for a more rigorous or systematic defense of foundational Christianity, consider J.P Moreland’s excellent Scaling the Secular City.

  1. Dealers of Lightning – Michael Hiltzik
tower.com

The spiritual continuation of Katie Hafner’s _Where Wizards Stay Up Late, _this book blew me away as I was reading. It’s truly mind boggling how much of the technology that fundamentally changed the world was created in this one lab. Likewise, it’s incredible the disconnect between the research lab and the overall corporate structure of Xerox. For me, I really enjoyed reading about brilliance driven to excellence, the mindset of PARC was to bring in the best people, give them what they wanted and watch the magic flow, which it largely did. Looking back I can see a lot of parallels between PARC, the company I worked for, and the University I now attend. Which is an exciting place to be.

  1. Born Again – Chuck Colson
tower.com

I’m not sure why I picked up this book. I probably read about it on some website and in looking for reading material found it on the Kindle. Halfway through I grabbed a signed copy on Amazon, I had to have it. As most of Colson’s heyday came before I was born/alert to the world, much of the book was brand new to me and really gave me some new perspective on the scandal I’d read about in High School. One of the things I was most impressed with was Colson’s refusal to defame anyone or pass the buck to the higher-ups or blame bad luck. He was open and honest about his faults and failures and places where his actions may have been technically legal, but definitely in a grey moral area. As he describes his conversion and early growth as a Christian I was struck by the bi-partisan nature of his spiritual life, time and time again he emphasizes the closeness of his spiritual brothers in-spite of their political leanings, a subtly that it seems is largely lost in our modern day. While Colson has his share of critics, I think this book does an excellent job revealing his true character and motivation. A great book on a great man.

  1. The Ascent of Money – Naill Ferguson
paperplus.co.nz

Not only one of the best economic books I’ve ever read, but also a killer analysis of history. Covering a huge swath of territory, Ferguson does so with a light writing style that moves quickly through even the most complex topics and doesn’t leave the reader gasping for air. On the subject of balance the book does an excellent job of sticking to the facts of the matter and while it’s definitely right of center it pulls no punches in its discussion of greed and power. Genocide is given no quarter and the mechanisms of poverty are discussed within a historical framework. This book guided me into the world of Micro-finance with Muhammad Yunus’ Banker to the Poor _and I’m now working through David Landes’ seminal work The Wealth and Poverty of Nations _an even more in-depth discussion of similar topics. I really enjoyed this book and would highly recommend it to anyone else looking for an introduction to historical finance or the role of money and power within the development of the western world.

So that was 2012, a great year for reading. If you’re interested in the full accounting of books, check out my list on goodreads. 2013 will feature significantly reduced opportunities for personal reading and as such I’ve set my goal for 30 books, which I think I can accomplish if I stay consistant. My to-read list is currently 363 books long and ever growing, but I’m always looking for more suggestions. Anything I should add to the list or any books that really spoke to you over the past year?

Happy readings!


Dec 31st, 2012

2012 – Year in Review: Music

By Nick Robison

2012 wasn’t a huge year for me with music. I tend to buy almost all of my albums on physical CDs or Vinyl and with traveling that wasn’t really feasible. Still, my iTunes shows 514 new songs over 68 artists and 79 albums. Looking at my last.fm account (still going strong!) you can see my top artists:

2012TopArtists

Sufjan strong! Of course, it doesn’t hurt that I have 20 of his albums. Looking at my top tracks:

2012TopTracks

I’m not really proud of this list. Reveals a darker, club-like side of myself with a little too much Pop country. Still, no hating on Sia. These stats are a little incomplete as I did a huge chunk of my listening on my phone, which doesn’t scrobble.

New Artists:

Tim Christensen and the Damn Crystals – http://www.lydtapet.net/

My host parents took me to see these guys in concert when I first got to Denmark. They’re a pretty great rock band and one of the most famous in the Danish music scene. Their new album just came out and it’s pretty great.

Dansk pop to the max! Aura is fierce, loud, and awesome. You couldn’t go into a club or store without hearing some Aura on the radio. Looking forward to her making a splash in the states.

A friend of mine turned me on to this guy. I wasn’t prepared to like him as much as I do. Really chill folk, mixed with some rock and a little bit of hip-hop. Indiana native now transplanted to Oregon (almost cool). Even more awesome is the fact that he’s a solid Christian with a great faith and testimony. And to top it all off, he released his latest album for free in FLAC format, I like this guy.

Paper Route – blog.hegreaterthani.com

Late to the game on this one, I ‘discovered’ these guys based on the playlist of my old high school government/AP US history teacher on last.fm. Their new album is awesome and has become my go-to bus soundtrack.

Top 5 Albums:

  1. The Peace of Wild Things – Paper Route
hypebot.com

Over the past few months I’ve been constantly listening to this album while on the bus. Sounds like Neon Trees mixed with M83. My favorite tracks are probably ‘Glass Heart Hymn’ and ‘Love Letters’, overall a killer soundtrack to a day.

  1. Thou/Art – The Opiate Mass
theopiatemass.org

Progressive Sacred Music for Cathedral. ‘nuf said. I’ve listened to this album probably hundreds of times since it dropped. Favorite tracks include ‘Sanctissma’, ‘Pax’, and ‘Paschal Troparion’.

  1. Love & War & The Sea In-Between – Josh Garrels
amazon.com

Grabbed this album when it was free on his website. The opening track ‘White Owl’ set me up for another Alexi Murdoch style guitar ballad. Not a bad thing, but not really original; however, ‘Farther Along’ totally threw that out the window and ‘The Resistance’ made for an extremely diverse track list, almost like Lady GaGa’s first album, only less Autotune and less suck. Favorite tracks: ‘The Resistance’, ‘Rise’, ‘Farther Along’.

  1. The Rest Liturgy 2 – Andrew Booth
amazon.com

My close friend, and mentor, Andrew Booth released his 4th album at the end of 2011 and it may be his best so far (tied with the 1st Rest Liturgy). Some mornings in Denmark I would wake up really stressed or done with the whole undergrad thing and I’d put Andy’s album on and just rest in the spirit. I’d come out the other side rejuvenated and ready for another day, everytime, without fail. Hard to recommend top tracks, just put the album on and listen all the way through, it’s worth it. The mix is fantastic, and the musical content is outstanding, highly, highly recommended.

  1. Bon Iver – Bon Iver
behance.vo.llnwd.net

Wake up, get on train, drink tea, listen to Bon Iver, fall asleep. Get on train, put on Bon Iver, set alarm exactly 1 hour after leaving the station, fall asleep. Leave the house at 11pm, queue up Bon Iver, walk around campus, walk to the harbor, look out over the water. By far the most listened to album of 2012 (despite what last.fm says), absolutely beautiful, invigorating, yet peaceful. This album reminds me of adventure, and winter. I spent a lot of time in winter, a scene this album fits perfectly. Top tracks, all of them, but especially ‘Holocene’, ‘Michicant’, ‘Calgary’, and ‘Beth/Rest’.

So that’s my year in music. Looking forward to new things in 2013, any recommendations?


Dec 31st, 2012

2012 – Year in Review: Travel

By Nick Robison

2012 was a year of change for me, both internally and externally. Over the next couple of blog posts I’ll be attempting to quantify and qualify said change through a snapshot of activities and locales, and final rambling introspection. It should be quite exciting for everyone involved (and many of you who read this blog will have been involved with me in some part of this grand adventure). So, let’s begin with travel.

This past year I had the tremendous opportunity to spend the first 4 months of the year living in Holbæk, Denmark with the lovely Modin family and studying Public Health (or folkesundhed) at the _Danish Institute for Study Abroad _in Copenhagen (Købehavn). I also moved myself and my few possessions halfway across the country to Seattle, Washington. Through all of this I’ve accumulated a series of statistics:

  • Traveled to 6 countries (4 new ones), bringing my country total to 12.
  • Traveled to 12 states (4 new ones), bringing my state total to 42.
  • Flew just over 30,000 miles over 153 days to 16 cities.
  • Traveled on 8 different air carriers.
  • Was 2000 miles short of status on Air Canada, except I didn’t have enough travel segments so I was ineligible anyways. Now I’m using my United number.

Over the next year it looks like I’ll be traveling about once a month, which is huge for me, and I’m really excited about it. I love traveling and I love the fact that God’s put me in a place where what I do involves sharing what I do with other people.


Dec 24th, 2012

Jesus Christ, Hope

By Nick Robison

Today is Christmas Eve and the 4th and final week of Advent, during which the ‘Love’ candle is lit to signify God’s love for us in sending his son Jesus. For me personally, this week (what has elapsed thus far) has been about something different, hope. In the light of the turmoil of past several weeks, both corporately and personally, it seems a bit crass that things are continuing as they always have, the sun rises and sets, the days are getting colder (finally), the snow’s beginning to fall and yet, the world around us seems to be spinning out of our control.

Against this chaos is arrayed the mystery and the promise of Advent, the arrival of the great King who would set all things right, or so it is proclaimed.

As I began this week I was reading and reflecting on the story of The Tower of Babel:

Then they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city and a tower with its top in the heavens, and let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be dispersed over the face of the whole earth.”

– Genesis 11:4 (ESV)

A tower to the top of the heavens, lest the earth flood again. A city to protect themselves, lest the world overcome them. A name to remember them, lest they fade into history. We will build, and we will build away our doom. Progress out of fear. Even the great philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau in considering what could be the root cause for men to abandon their own liberty and freedom concluded it could only be out of fear of safety and wrote:

But, as men cannot engender new forces, but only unite and direct existing ones, they have no other means of preserving themselves than the formation, by aggregation, of a sum of forces great enough to overcome the resistance. These they have to bring into play by means of a single motive power, and cause to act in concert.

– Ch. 6 ‘The Social Contract’

Immediately we see, out of fear rises power and violence. And indeed, the history of humanity is written in blood and war. Homer’s great epic opens:

Sing, Goddess of the wrath of Achilles….

– ‘The Iliad’ Book I

The Harvard historian David Landes in discussing the Spanish conquest of the Incan empire writes:

It is a bloody story, full of cruelty and bad faith, condescension and sanctimony; but one must not judge these events in terms of the good, the bad, and the ugly. They all deserved one another.

– ‘The Wealth and Poverty of Nations’ Ch. 7

Indeed, history has been man’s quest for glory, whatever the cost. H. Richard Neibuhr observes that:

…man strives for glory, lest no glory be had.

– ‘The Responsible Self’ Ch. 5

Here we are, at the beginning of the 21st Century still grappling with the same questions, which seem to have no answers.

Against this dispair the hope of Advent arrives. But is it enough? Is it more then just pithy words and vacuous promises that people put on to insulate themselves from the pain of reality?

Hear it every Christmas time

But hope and history won’t rhyme

So what’s it worth

This peace on Earth

– ‘Peace on Earth’ | U2

But the story of Christ’s birth is truly something different. Christ was born in a stable, not in a palace. His was immaculate conception, not divine intercourse. At his birth no comets appeared, the mountains did not shake. Zeus remained in Olympus. Heroes are always born into conflict, born to fathers fearful of usurpation, or absent mothers. His was an uneventful entry into the world unheralded by strife or paternal jealousy. People at the time would have know the ancient stories, they would have known the patterns of divinity and monarchal inheritance. They would have known strife, war, and fear. The Pax Romana (if it can even be called that) was just beginning, ending unrest, conquest, and civil war. Yet, this was different. If this truly was the messiah, if this was God incarnate, he would represent a decisive break from the patterns of old, he would not be a god they knew.

But that’s the point. He is something different, his divinity is not the divinity they’re used to. He’s not the same old god, he hasn’t come to do the same old things. This is not cyclical time, this is a great leap forward (to co-opt the phrase). But this still doesn’t answer the question, is this merely a hope only for the salvation of the believers? Does this have anything to offer for the world at large? Did God come to do more then save us from our sin or make us moral people?

For to us a child is born,

to us a son is given;

and the government shall be upon his shoulder,

and his name shall be called

Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,

Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

7 Of the increase of his government and of peace

there will be no end,

on the throne of David and over his kingdom,

to establish it and to uphold it

with justice and with righteousness

from this time forth and forevermore.

The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.

– Isaiah 9:6-7 (ESV)

‘… and the government shall be upon his shoulders’. This single phrase smashes through the walls of the religious circles and pours out into the streets proclaiming that yes, this hope is for everyone. The Kingdom of God is at hand and it is not for the elected few. Christ is different, he represents a break from the scars old, from the strivings for glory and power, and a chance for something new. The arrival of Christ is the ushering in of the kingdom of Christ, not in the sense of a government of man, but a chance for the redemption of man himself through a divine presence the like the world has never seen before. No longer will man be made ‘good’ through submission to the law, the limits of power observed by all the great thinkers will finally be overcome by making each man accountable to a perfect source of laws and his innermost desires, his inner strife will be made right through the perfect love of a divine savior. Man has nothing in him to save his soul, but Christ will do that for him.

I am the voice of the past that will always be

Filled with my sorrow and blood in my fields

I am the voice of the future

Bring me your peace

Bring me your peace and my wounds, they will heal

– ‘The Voice’ | Eimear Quinn

We stand in tension with the past, we cannot undo the pain, we cannot unlearn what we know, and we cannot expect new life when standing squarely in the traditions and mindsets that brought us here in the first place. Humanity does not have the answer to the world’s ils, we’ve tried and nothing seems to work. Man will never be at peace, there is too much resistance.

In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world.

– John 16:33b (ESV)

Take heart, the world has already been overcome, in him there is not more resistance. The kingdom of God is at hand. Those living in darkness have seen a great light. Something different has come into the world. Christ the king, hope of nations, hope of man.

As we celebrate the Lord’s entry into this world know that we celebrate not simply our salvation from sins, or the fulfillment of years of waiting, but we celebrate the one true answer to the pain and bloodshed of the world around us. Christ is coming! Christ is here!

18 For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. 19 For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. 20 For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope 21 that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now. 23 And not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. 24 For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? 25 But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

Romans 8:18-25 (ESV)


Dec 14th, 2012

Girl, Interrupting

By Nick Robison

Tonight, during my Intervarsity small group we looked at the healing stories from Mark 5:21-43, which is a two-for-one healing of both Jairus’s daughter and the bleeding woman.

If you’ve been in the church for any amount of time you’ll have been exposed to a myriad of sermons on this passage, which is appropriate considering there’s a lot going on in these few verses; but for now I want to focus on one specific issue. Imagine you’re standing in Jairus’s shoes, your daughter is dying, you frantically find Jesus and beg him to come and heal your poor girl. Being the gracious God that he is, Jesus agrees to come with you and off you go as quick as you can, after all, she could be gone at any minute. Then Jesus stops and gets involved in some brouhaha with another person. Yes, she may be suffering, but this has been going on for 12 years, it’s unlikely she’ll be gone in the next 15 minutes, you’re girl on the other hand….

Finally, Jesus wraps it up and the journey resumes. Unfortunately it’s too late, the bad news arrives, she’s dead Jim. Perhaps if Jesus hadn’t stopped things might have been different, perhaps he never intended to heal her in the first place, perhaps he just didn’t understand the urgency. Of course, this being history (and not our first time around this chunk of scripture) we know that Jesus does in fact heal the daughter, thought the healing looks more like being raised from the dead. So all’s well that ends well, right? The gift of the omniscient narrator means we get to see the whole picture at once also, the fact it’s called ‘Jesus Heals a Woman and Jairus’s Daughter’ gives some hint to the ending as well. But Jairus doesn’t get omniscience and for a period of time his entire world has come crashing down around him, his daughter’s dead, Jesus failed him.

Many times in my own life I believe I’ve been promised something by God, only to see the opposite come true. I’ve prayed for nights on end and when the morning comes nothing’s changed, in fact, it’s often worse. And I often wonder how we reconcile scripture such as Isaiah 45:19

I did not speak in secret,

in a land of darkness;

I did not say to the offspring of Jacob,

‘Seek me in vain.’

I the Lord speak the truth;

I declare what is right.

which seems so precise and clear, with our own experiences. Did God lie to us? Is scripture wrong? The nice tidy answer is quote back Isaiah 55:8 and claim a sort of sovereign immunity:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts,

neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

While it’s absolutely true that God is sovereign, divine and high above us, sometimes the answers just don’t seem to be enough. After all, God claims to be a God of Justice and Mercy, he says he longs to be merciful to us, so what gives?

I don’t have a simple answer to this question, people much smarter then I have built up sound theological and philosophical answers to suffering and the divine arrival (for a more complete explanation see C.S. Lewis’ The Problem of Pain) but I don’t think anyone will ever come up with the perfect explanation. And in the heat of the moment I doubt any logical answer can absolve the pain.

For me, I keep coming back to the words of my favorite hymn:

Here I raise my Ebenezer;

Here by Thy great help I’ve come;

– Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing

Ebenezer means ‘stone of help’ and comes from the Old Testament where after defeating the Philistines Samuel erects a monument and declares ‘Till now the Lord has helped us’ (1 Samuel 7:12). ‘Until now’, not ‘forever more’, not ‘always’, ‘until now’. In the midst of pain, in the midst of suffering it’s easy to forget what God has already done and easy to imagine what he won’t do in the future. To this, Samuel’s answer was to set a stone in the midst of the people and remind me that up to this point God has been faithful, he has delivered them. Remember what the Lord has done, write his goodness on your hearts.

Every week during communion the Anglicans remind themselves that he as a God who always delights in showing mercy. Every week, he is a God who always delights in showing mercy. We continuously remind ourselves:

God is good.

All the time.

And all the time.

He is good.

I also remind myself of the truth that scripture gives:

18 Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,

and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

For the Lord is a God of justice;

blessed are all those who wait for him.

19 For a people shall dwell in Zion, in Jerusalem; you shall weep no more. He will surely be gracious to you at the sound of your cry. As soon as he hears it, he answers you. 20 And though the Lord give you the bread of adversity and thewater of affliction, yet your Teacher will not hide himself anymore, but your eyes shall see your Teacher. 21 And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.

-Isaiah 30:18-21

That first verse is a promise, ‘the Lord IS a God of Justice’ and you can hold him to that. As the Psalmist cries over and over again, DO NO ABANDON ME, REMEMBER ME IN YOUR MERCY, COME LIKE YOU PROMISED. The truth of the character and nature of God is not circumstantial, what he has promised he will do and you can hold him to his word, Crying out for mercy is not a sin, even Jesus prayed ‘if it be possible, let this cup pass from me’ (Matt 26:39) but he finishes his prayer with a key distinction ‘nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.’

Maybe Jairus never had doubts as to God’s power, maybe he could see past the now into the great plan of God. If so, may we all have the faith of Jairus. Somedays I am confident in the face of adversity, other days I doubt not God’s power to save, but his desire. ‘Maybe he just doesn’t want to.’ I pray for increase in my faith to trust the Lord no matter what I see, to believe in truth and trust that he is who he says he is, a God of mercy, a God of grace, a God of justice. It’s not easy, it probably will never be easy, my world is very real and at times God can seem very far. Yet, Truth remains.

Remember that until now, God has helped you.

Remember the stories of other people’s triumphs.

Remember who He says He is.

Remember the promises He’s made.


Nov 18th, 2012

City Conversations Part 1 – Knowing God

By Nick Robison

Recently I’ve been spending a lot of time in coffee shops, and in my quest to find the best Seattle has to offer, I’ve been spending a lot of time on buses. When I’m out and about I usually go without headphones, I like to listen to the people around me and be available in case someone needs some directions or has a question. Through this I’ve been privy to some very interesting conversations and a few have raised some interesting issues that deserve at least a passing response.

Tonight, while waiting an extra 15 minutes for the 49 bus from Capitol Hill I overhead most of a conversation between two young gentlemen regarding religion and spirituality in which the following statements were uttered:

  • ‘I hate when people use religion as something solely self-serving and only as a means to their own ends’
  • ‘I think religion is simply people trying to define the same force in terms that make sense and are relevant to themselves…. but only as long as it’s positive’

I hear this argument pretty regularly and I absolutely agree with the first one point, but the second, not so much. As I was listening and on the following bus ride a few specific points came up that I thought needed to be fleshed out:

  1. Isn’t defining spirituality on our own terms the ultimate form of self-service? Imagine, the ability to define the greatest force in the universe in whichever terms seem most convenient or applicable to yourself! Sounds like the plot to a new sci-fi show. Now of course, no normal person would ever attempt to use such a great power in nefarious methods, and indeed, most spiritual seekers are great people with a desire for good things, not evil. But history has shown that making god subject to the whims and emotions of man at best creates the society vilified by Tolstoy, and at worst the societies filling the pages of history textbooks (Constantine, the Crusades, the Caliphate, the lords’ resistance army, etc), power corrupts and the power to define the spiritual world may be the most corruptive of all. And if god becomes something unique to each person and in each situation, we lose the ability to relate to each other on truly important levels, which leads to point 2.
  2. If religion, or god, is something that only speaks in the positive then it’s completely stripped of its force as a moral compass. This isn’t really a new concept, traditionally gods have a tendency to start demanding things and placing pesky limits on what we can and cannot do. The Greeks struggled greatly with this issue, especially since their gods tended to be quite capricious and show favorites. Plato tried hard to get rid of them, but found them to be an unfortunate necessary in building any sort of ordered society. Even Rousseau, the great champion of equality and humanism, found himself stuck on the concept of natural law and order, finally admitting that the very idea of morality was extrinsic to our own world and reality. However, we has humans have done a marvelous job attempting to assert our independence from any sort of higher power and to do so we’ve worked to label spirituality, a thoroughly ancient and seemingly obsolete notion, as something that can only be affirming, never accusing, and thus we suddenly find ourselves staring into the eyes of Nietzsche’s Madman.
  3. If we try and combine all religious views as simply many sides of the same coin, then we eventually get into the realm of ‘semantic reconciliation’ trying to piece together all the things the various divinities say about themselves and come out with a coherent picture. The problem is, divinities tend to make fairly arrogant statements about themselves. For example, the God of the Bible has some fairly distinct statements about being the only deity on the block (Exodus 20:2, Isaiah 42:8, John 14:6, the entirety of the Creation story). Thus we come to the points of having to choose whether to accept these statements as they appear,  or pick and choose what parts of each god we like, which leads us into the next problem.
  4. The God of The Bible seems to be pretty unambiguous about who he is and where he comes from, as seen in Exodus 3. When asked his name the Lord respondes ‘I AM WHO I AM’, or directly translated from the Hebrew (the verb being Hayah) ‘I WILL BE WHO I WILL BE’. This self referential statement is annoyingly inconsistent with reality in that it states that the definition of God is God, an ontological contradiction that has been discussed ad nauseum in other places. Except for one thing, God is by definition infinite, meaning there is no beginning or end (this is not the proper medium for a fully discusion of actual infinities so you’ll just have to trust me), so there is no ‘ontologically prior’ being, God exists by the nature of who he is, not out of dependence of some higher order or outside necessity. To bring this back down to earth (pun intended), God exists outside our own perceptions, we can call him whatever we want, assign to him any number of attributes, but that doesn’t affect his person in the slightest. Naming is a form of creation but it’s at best the creation of an abstraction, not an actual entity. So, if we choose to think of God in a way that is contradictory to his own claims that what we have is not in fact God, but a fiction, a fignment of our imagination, which when viewed in the light of Rescher’s hierarchy of thought, means it could never actually be God.

In some ways it’s surprising that this idea keeps surfacing in conversation, even in conversation amongst extremely intelligent people. I also wonder how people square a changing god with the idea of creation, what we see around us is ordered and uniform with the underlying systems showing a high level of orchestration and uniformity (the laws of gravity are the same in Tokyo and Calgary) and since nearly every religion claims some sort of creation mythology (even the Flying Spaghetti Monster) it would seem that at some point the spiritual forces were aligned and consistent, but since then have become capricious (maybe it’s a sign of them getting old?). But finally this type of thinking is fundamentally flawed in that it places us front and center, it makes religion and the spiritual world something that we control, that we interact with on our terms, which couldn’t be further from the truth. Religion isn’t about us but about God, about his mercy, about his saving power, about his glory.

I think it’s really sad that people have arrived at this point by thinking either a) the spiritual forces are so impersonal and remote that I must use whatever methods I can to make them into something I can relate to, or b) religion has been twisted into so many shapes and forms that can’t let it dictate my way of life less I become twisted as well. When I hear people talking I hear the searching in their voice, the desire to know the truth but a disparity that they feel so far from it.

Fortunately, we serve a God who desires to be known, a God who says ‘taste and see’, a God who does not change like shifting shadows. We may not be able to have God on our own terms, but it may yet turn out that the terms he’s set are the best in the long run.


Oct 11th, 2012

The Problem with Sin

By Nick Robison

Why is being a sinner such a big deal? In our culture there are few things more condemning then accusing a person of sin. Which is really an interesting concept considering that ‘sinning’ is a result of breaking a defined moral code; however, if one does not subscribe to said moral code they should not feel guilty for failing to uphold all its standards, and especially the moral concept of ‘sin’, as it refers not simply to a moral system, but to an inherently religious one. Sin is an offense against a god, but if you don’t believe in said god, why should be concerned with offending it? I certainly don’t fear for the wrath of Apollos. In real life however, this rarely seems to be the case, walk up to any acquaintance, or random person on the street, call them a sinner and watch their reaction (please don’t do this), it will range from indignation, to rage, to that loathing we reserve for only the worst episodes of our favorite TV shows, or that one kid in class who always blurts out the answers (I am intimately familiar with this situation). Now, try this same action on a Christian acquaintance, invariably the response you’ll get is a slightly puzzled ‘yes?’, agreeing with your point but failing to divine the purpose of pointing out such an obvious fact.

So, why is this the case?

Aside from the high level of moral condescension, I am so holy that I am able to look down upon your sub-par level of moral compliance and point out your failings as such, calling someone a sinner is in fact condemning them to hell, and by extension condemning them to death. We know quite clearly from the book of Romans that the ultimate resultant of sin is death (8:2, 6:23) (we’re ignoring of course the fact that the ultimate resultant of life is death, here we’re concerned with death in terms of a larger spiritual dynamic), so being in possession of sin is being in possession of an express ticket to a place you probably don’t want to go. This isn’t merely a scriptural assertion, it logically follows that a perfect God would be unable to be in true relationship with imperfect objects without sacrificing a least a measure of his perfection, and since perfection for God is not a state of achievement but a state of being, he can no more give up his perfection as I can give up being a bit of a nerd, it’s innate to who I am (a quite poor example, I know). So, that explains the severity of the accusation of sin, but not the difference in the responses between the religious and the non-religious, or still the question of why a secular person feels some sense of obligation to a religious moral code.

I submit to you a theory, one that I have observed in my own experiences and validated through the experiences of others, as always, your mileage may vary. I submit to you the idea that most people believe in some form of god and most (though perhaps a smaller number then the first group) believe in the idea of hell. There’s a belief in an overarching moral-ethical system, and though they may not know what it is, most people will do their best to keep it. And here’s where the divergence occurs, a humanist system is incapable of separating a person’s actions from the person’s self. Congito ergo sum_ becomes _Facium ergo sum I DO therefore I am (thanks Google), because the self, the person, has arisen out of chaos for no definite reason, its purpose, its value, must be generated by doing. You are what you eat, and your choices make you (so says a purely mechanistic system), and since sin is the antithesis of the divine (e.g. evil) saying a person does sin (or evil) is equivalent to saying they are, in their essence, evil. So while a person may not be ‘good’, no one is, but at least they’re trying, at least they’re not evil. But if their essence is evil (a scathing condemnation) how can they ever hope to enter into the presence of whatever divine entity ordered the world? How can they ever hope to be ‘good’ if they are evil? There is a sense of definiteness to sin, a seemingly unrecoverable situation. Is it any wonder people would take offense to being called sinners? And this illustrates the great divorce between the secular and the religious, Christians are quite comfortable with the idea of sin (perhaps too comfortable in many cases), again in Romans we see that sin is in fact the natural state of mankind (3:23), man was born into sin, his flesh is evil but his soul has hope for redemption. This isn’t a singularly Christian concept, much of ancient philosophy is concerned with the idea of redemption of the flesh; however, only Christianity offers a logically coherent system of redemption (another time, another place). Thus, to a Christian, being called a sinner is not a startling revelation, or even a condemning one, for we have the redemption of the flesh through the person of Jesus Christ. We are not eternally separated from the divine by our own failings, because we have been justified not by our own works (actions stemming from the sinful flesh) but by the actions of the Lord Jesus (Romans 3:23-28). Thus sin is not a pronouncement of death, but an observation of reality, and a reiteration of the need for redemption and the hope of true life. This however is only good news for those who choose to see Christ as Lord, without him there is no hope, so pronouncing sin on a person, devoid of the person of Christ, is pronouncing a death sentence, which  it seems to me, to borrow a lyric from hip-hop (I think I can do that in a religious post):

Well that’s a pretty bad way to start a conversation.

– Kanye West ‘Power’

Over the years the Church has done an excellent job placing sin front and center, at my Church the weekly liturgy helps us to realize that we are in fact fallen, we need Jesus, and he is always ready to forgive and to redeem.

Almighty God, you are always more ready to hear than we to pray, and to give more than we either desire or deserve.

– Daily Collect for the 16th Sunday after Pentacost

But without that last part, without the promise of redemption, we don’t speak the voice of hope, but the voice of death. If we approach people and start with death, how do we think we can get to the life? Or, if someone doesn’t believe in ‘our version of god’ why would the threat of spending eternity apart from him be any kind of incentive?

As I was discussing this idea with my Dad he pointed out the story of Zacchaeus from Luke 19, especially this verse:

And Zacchaeus stood and said to the Lord, “Behold, Lord, the half of my goods I give to the poor. And if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold.”

– Luke 19:8 ESV

Awesome! Repenting of sin and making restitution, a glorious win against the power of the devil! But something is conspicuously absent from the preceding verses. Christ never called out his sin, never, go ahead, read the passage ‘in context’, it’s not there. Zacchaeus simply looked into the eyes of the Lord and was convicted of his wrong and moved to repentance. That’s it, no great sermons, no fire from on high, simply being in the presence of the Lord, looking upon the face of the Savior, was enough for him to renounce his former life.

Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ.

– Philippians 3:8 ESV

As St. Augustine once said ‘Love God, and do as you please’. The idea being that as we come further and further into the presence of the Lord, as we continue to seek his face, as we begin to fully know the mind of Christ, we become less and less enthralled with our own sin, we desire less our own glory and more the glory of God. True relationship with God cannot but lead to a transformation of the soul, and it will always result in a change in our behavior and desires. In the words of the old hymn:

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.

– Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus

Christ is the hope of glory, being free of sin is the result of change it isn’t the end in itself. As Father Dan at Emmanuel says:

The Holy Spirit doesn’t convict us of our sin for the sake of sin itself, but for how we’re treating the Divine Majesty.

If this is truly the case, then our witness shouldn’t be sharing the power of death (which is nothing) but the story of life, the hope of Christ, and his transforming power in our lives. How do we do that? I’m glad you asked, by doing exactly what the Lord has commanded us:

In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.

– Matthew 5:16 ESV

The first chapter of Chuck Colson’s seminal book on apologetics is the story of the transformation of a prison in Peru, literally from hell to heaven. He starts his book with the end result, we stand and defend the faith because this is what it leads to, not because it will pass away if we don’t, but because the world needs what we have. What a powerful, powerful image of our testimony and witness in Christ. We share the power of life and the hope of the future, not the power of hell of the fear of death.

…always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, 16 having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame.

– 1 Peter 3:15-16 ESV

The famous ‘apologetics’ verse in the bible, a reason for the HOPE you have within you, and the intrinsic link between our witness and our actions. Elton Trueblood once wrote ‘no one has ever been argued into the kingdom of God’, but in scripture we see that merely a touch from God, a glance into his eyes is enough to change a person forever. Likewise, as the image of Christ in the world we are the reflection of his glory and his triumph over death, we must at all times, in all ways, live worthy of that calling and not allow our sinful nature to occlude that reflection. We must show the world that living a life pleasing to God is a worthwhile endeavor, that he is indeed worthy of our praise and obedience.

And now dear reader, I use the singular because I’m sure only my father has slogged through all of this to reach the belabored conclusion (and Lori of course). Through our actions and our words, let us always give glory to God above, the God of all peace who longs to pour out blessing upon us and redeem us from the chains of death. Let us not tell the story of death, but the story of life and in everything proclaim the mystery of faith, the truth of the only hope the world has for redemption and true life.

Christ has died

Christ has risen

Christ will come again


Sep 30th, 2012

this is to mother you

By Nick Robison

this is to mother you, to comfort and to get you through

through when your nights are lonely

through when your dreams are only blue

this is to mother you

this is to be with you, to hold you and to kiss you too

for when you need me I will do

what your own mother didn’t do

which is to mother you

all the pain that you have known

all the violence in your soul

all the wrong things you have done

I will take from you when I come

all mistakes made in distress

all your unhappiness

I will take away with my kiss

I will give you tenderness

for child I am so glad I’ve found you

although my arms have always been around you

sweet bird although you did not see me

I saw you

and I’m here to mother you, to comfort and to get you through

through when your nights are lonely

through when your dreams are only blue

this is to mother you

__

The Opiate Mass Volume 2: Albatross


Sep 16th, 2012

one

By Nick Robison

One month. I’ve been here for one month. It doesn’t seem like that. It seems like I just arrived, the list of things that I’ve accomplished in this period of time is alarmingly short, though a part of me chalks that up to the fact that classes still haven’t started (8 more days).

Am I a Washingtonian now? Legally, but probably not in spirit yet, I’m officially no longer a hoosier and I have the metal encased ID card to prove it (you have to shield the cards due to the RFID chip, that’s just how fancy we are). I’m slowly becoming a Seattleite, I know my way around my part of the city. I still haven’t figured out the buses yet, but I know how to get on and off without eliciting stares, so that’s a plus.

I’m starting to build a spiritual community, I’ve been attending Blue Sky Church in Bellevue and  Emmanuel Anglican Church in Ballard. Blue Sky has more young people and a vibrant small group network, but Emmanuel’s pastor is a Renaissance art scholar who goes to pubs and can’t read the whole of the liturgy without crying. At Blue Sky I know people, at Emmanuel I grow. I’ve taken to going to both for now.

I walk a lot, usually at night. I’ve always loved campuses at night, even when I was back at Purdue I used love working late and walking back to my house because the lights used to cast this really yellow tint over everything making it feel to warm and inviting. On the 3rd night I was at Purdue I went running with one of the seniors, we jogged through campus and I saw the lights for the first time, and the shadows, such dramatic shadows, for the first time I felt connected to the place, and that feeling’s never left. Now I walk to try and find connection, to get a feel for the place where I’ll spend the remainder of my 20s. I like to walk down to South campus, by the Oceanography buildings, and look out over the Lake Washington-Lake Union ship channel. I can see the 5, busy as always, towering on my right, to the left is the 520, with its sporadic traffic and sweeping curves disappearing around the bay. Straight across are a collection of houses staunchly detached from the city  sprawling behind them. I wonder who lives there, and how on earth you extract a car from the mess of transportation bridges and underpasses and get it to one of those buildings. The water, it’s always moving. It’s never still, it always seems restless, like somehow it knows it can get to the ocean if it just tries hard enough. The ‘drains to the river’ warnings on the sewers are probably a real thing. I like standing there and thinking, standing on the barrier between two worlds.

There are geese everywhere, they get into the fountain at the top of Rainier Vista and swim around with the ducks, it seems to be a much needed break from scattering poop all over the sidewalks. I’ve traded ginko tress for geese, both emit smelly byproducts that cling to your shoes. I think the raccoons have had it, I came across them chasing the geese in the fountain the other night. I wished them luck, if I was a raccoon I would chase them too.

North campus (written with that tone of derision reserved only for graduate students towards undergrads, and professors towards graduate students), see us Med School kids don’t think about North campus unless we have to, alternates between trying to channel its inner Harvard and trying to set the standard for campus architecture for the next 40 years, it succeeds admirably at both, though judging some of the buildings this is a change from a concerned effort in the late 70s to set the new design metrics, which did not succeed. I’ve really only seen it at night, the lights aren’t as yellow as they are at Purdue, but the shadows are just as dramatic, it’s also confusing, the roads like to take their time getting from one point to the other, not sharp and efficient as good road should be, and with the campus secluded by trees, it’s hard to get your bearings right. So I walk, and keep walking until I know it like the back of my hand.

I’ve started working on a new project, it may or may not turn into my dissertation, I’ve talked with a professor about it, he seems excited, he gave me a list of people to talk to, I still need to email them, hopefully I keep excited about it too. I’ve got another project I’m toying with, trying to figure out a way to connect people together during worship, a sort of collective prophetic experience, I don’t know how else to describe it, so I’m calling it Word for the Herd. I’m supposed to be working at Brotherhood again, I need to finish what I started, which will be new for me.

I’ve been cooking, or trying to cook. It’s been an adventure, nothing I make is really ‘good’, but it tastes like a version of what I was trying to make, so I eat it. I don’t eat very much food, of course, I don’t really expend that many calories either, we’ll see if it gets better once I have a more normal life and schedule.

I’m getting more used to the quiet, I can go long stretches without interacting with people and not feel discouraged, but fortunately those times are starting get fewer and fewer. The other night I was pretty down, so I went for a walk, and I was trying to figure out if I chocked on some food in my apartment how long it would take someone to realize I was gone, I figured it would be at least 3 days, maybe 5. That’s probably not a normal or healthy thing to think about, but I did anyways. The LORD very gently reminded me that he would know, that he sees me. He also asked me the question ‘do you think that I have called you to so little, that I would let you pass away in the middle of the night?’ I don’t really know that answer to that, but I’m assuming it’s no.

I’ve been reading a lot of books, I’m readying one about the 6 Day War, one about ex-Soviet pilots flying illicit cargo around the world, one about a fictional data haven, and one about pain, I read a lot of books at once. So far I’ve had a lot of time to read, we’ll see how that changes starting in a few weeks.

So far, I’m waiting, waiting for reality to start, waiting to feel like I’m doing something, waiting get back on a normal schedule. Waiting for friends, waiting for community, waiting to feel like I belong. I’m not afraid anymore. I’m not afraid I’ll starve, I’m not afraid I’ll be lonely, I’m not afraid I’ll spiritually shrivel. I’m excited. I’m excited to start doing things, I’m excited to learn, I’m excited to become a part of something cool, to be from a place as dynamic and vibrant as Seattle. I’m ready. I’m ready to embrace this new stage of my life, I’m ready to start being an adult, I’m ready to be my own person, I’m ready to introduce the Northwest to a healthy serving of Midwest. For now, I’m planted, my roots are still young and shallow, but they’re getting deeper everyday.

One month down 83 to go.