I pray this letter finds you warm and well and that you were able to enjoy the holiday season with those you love. As for me, I ditched my brother Michael and my normal trip back home to San Jose in order to surprise my sister Doreen out in Arkansas. The plan worked perfectly; she was totally surprised. We spent a fabulous week together playing games, going on runs, watching football, Forrest Gump (I always forget how good that movie is), and getting fat from the delicious turkey she made for Christmas. I thoroughly enjoyed my visit and was glad I was able to have quality conversations with her and her fiance Chris. Growing up I wasn’t always the best older brother. I was very driven and self-focused which is not a good combination for fostering the concern of the interests of others. I know I’m still a long way off from receiving the brother of the year award, but I’m taking steps in the right direction and I’m very happy with that.
Each December I like to analyze my life by spending time reflecting on the past year. When I take a look at the year past and see all of the transformations I have made, I am blown away. This time last year I was working at a nuclear power plant as an equipment operator; becoming a pastor, let alone a prison minister, was not even on my radar. Yet here I am, one semester into Seminary school, on a completely different life path. It is amazing how much can change in a year. Speaking of seminary school, my first semester went really well. I learned a tremendous amount. A common question people have been asking me is, “What are they teaching you in school?” Here is my abridged answer for the three classes I took:
- Old Testament Survey: Received an overview, big picture outlook on the Old Testament (~75% of the Bible). Reenforced and built upon my knowledge of God’s story of salvation for humankind. Namely, through the story of Israel; a chosen nation whose continual disobedience and short comings received judgement, but also received God’s grace every step of the way.
- Hermeneutics: The art and science of Biblical interpretation. Learned the science of textual criticism and the reason for all the various biblical translations and the source of their origins. Also discovered the importance of taking the time to learn the who, what, where, and whys of each book to prevent from cookie cutting the Bible and using verses for my own agenda instead of understanding them in their original context; an error many people make.
- Chaplaincy: My favorite class. Chaplain: A priest/minister in a non-church setting. Recognized I might be responsible for meeting the spiritual needs of people with different faith backgrounds. Learned the importance of meeting people where they are at and to speak in a language they can understand.
There was a period in the middle of my semester where I felt overwhelmed with everything that was going on in my life. I shared this with an inmate who was going through a similar program in the prison. He expressed the same feeling and through our conversation we realized that if we were not going to God now and relying on him to get us through our present situation, how were we going to do it in our ministry when we finished our schooling when it really mattered?
While I look back in December, in January I look forward. I look at where I want to go and what I want to do and figure out how to make it happen. It is good to have something to look forward to. What are you looking forward to in 2014? What are your goals and what are you doing to accomplish them? Here are some of the big things I’m looking forward to in 2014:
- For the past several years I have been helping the neighborhood kids with math. Teaching math is something I really enjoy and I am excited that one of the kids has finally made it to calculus. I am looking forward to working through the fun stuff.
- Nine years ago my four roommates and I created an event called Biddle Appreciation Day (BAD). This year, on March 8th, we will be celebrating BAD X. You are invited. If you have facebook you’ll receive an invite with all the information. If you do not have facebook and are interested in joining the celebration, let me know and I’ll hook you up. It is going to be epic!
- A few months ago I shared with you that I will be performing the marriage ceremony of Michael Cunningham and Amy Beeman. I am looking forward to that wedding, but I am also looking forward to my sister’s wedding a month later. I will be performing that ceremony as well and I am really excited about it. I take it as a huge honor when someone asks me to perform their wedding ceremony and I am looking forward to making both of those days as special as I can.
- The world cup is this year in Brazil and I am going! I’ve always wanted to go to Brazil and from June 4th to June 26th it will be a reality. My friend Justin Chaudoin will be joining me for the whole duration, while my brother Michael, Emma Storey, and Kash Lau will be joining us for the last two weeks. I really wanted to watch England play, but that is not going to happen. We will however be able to go to the Portugal/Germany match which will be a great game. My Portuguese is coming along well and I am super excited for this trip.
- My time spent down at the prison doing ministry has been great and I am looking forward to all the blessings that service will bring in 2014. In September I started playing bass in the house worship band (all inmates but me). That has been a lot of fun and has made me a better player. I love playing music and I am looking forward rocking hard in 2014!
- Last month I met a girl through a rather amazing circumstance. After our acquaintance I was on cloud nine. The sun was shining, the birds were singing, and life couldn’t be better. That evening as I was praying, I realized how worked up I was and remember how I’d been in that situation several times throughout the year and how each situation had been a letdown. I asked God, “Why do these women get me so worked up and why don’t I get that worked up about you?” It has been my experience that the more honest and raw I am with God in my prayers about how I feel and where I am, the more he answers in a meaningful way I can understand. As I laid there in prayer, God reminded me of a sunset I had seen the week prior. It was the most beautiful sunset I have ever seen. The sky was on fire with hues of pink, purple, and orange. It had just rained so while the air was clear and crisp. There were some low laying clouds who’s magnificent presence seemed to bridge the gap between heaven and earth. While I was riding my motorcycle over Mission Bay the water glistened the silver and gold reflection of the setting sun. The scene was breathtaking and incredible. I was in complete awe of God’s creativity and of this masterpiece he had laid before me. Wanting to capture a larger panorama of the view, I looked over my shoulder to see the other side of town. What I saw made me laugh because it was so ridiculous. Hiding over my shoulder, in plain view of the entire town, sprawled a brilliant rainbow. I shook my head as I laughed and said, “Okay, now you’re just showing off.” While I was remembering that sunset (and several other events of my life last year) I felt God say to me, “Aaron, don’t you know how I long to provide for you? Don’t you think I have a girl for you who will be as over the top as that sunset…who will be a perfect complement for you?” Realizing that, I asked my favorite question, “What now?” The answer to that wasn’t as clear, but the words faith, patience, and gratitude resonated in my heart.
Last month I asked you to ponder the question, “What do I value most?” I spent some time thinking of my answer and have realized it is found in the words of the apostle Paul. “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” (Philippians 3:7-8) There is nothing more I love to do than to talk about God with people. I realize each of us are at different spots on our own journey and I recognize there are multiple ways to discover the truth. Keep pressing on and striving forward. May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit. Best wishes for 2014. Make this your year.
p.s. I came across the following links last month I think you’ll like:
The below site has a bunch of cool videos to check out if you have time.
What good is knowledge if you hold onto it by yourself? -Mary Granman
I pray this letter finds you well and that you have been able to enjoy a certain amount of new beginnings this year. With 2014 well underway, things are shaping up nicely and I am eager to see what kind of excitement the rest of the year will bring. Last month I was extremely blessed by my Family Systems class, in which I had to interview eight members of my family on their relationships growing up. The project turned out to be an incredibly enriching experience which brought with it an increased understanding of my family and self. Distant and not so distant relationships were strengthened and injected with a new vitality which I am looking forward to carrying into 2014 and beyond. During my interviews I was fortunate enough to connect with one of my uncle’s on my dad’s side of the family who I haven’t spoken to in 24 years! Since my dad is the only member of his family who immigrated to the United States from England, that whole side of my family has always been distant and shrouded in mystery. My uncle was able to clear up much of my confusion and for that I am very grateful. One person I was not able to connect with was my older half-brother Darrin. I am looking forward to making that happen this month! One of the more sobering experiences I encountered during the project was receiving Michael and Doreen’s feedback on what kind of an older brother I was. Many of their answers I already knew, but some of them revealed new insights and perspectives I had never considered. All and all it was a great experience. On the first day of my Family Systems class the instructor said, “There are no perfect families…because there are no perfect marriages…because there are no perfect people.” Ain’t that the truth! As family after family was presented in class, it became apparent all to quickly how broken and full of hurt most families are. How is your family doing? Do you have open communication with everyone or are there closed doors? While I recognize some doors need to remain closed for safety, for the most part people close off due to unforgiveness. No matter which side of the fence you find yourself on, I encourage you to reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while. I assure you that if you approach it with a good heart, you will not regret it.
When I finished my year of sobriety on 10-1-13, I began an experiment to see if I could begin drinking again in moderation. After two and a half months of testing, the results are in. I cannot. On January 18th, 2014, I came to terms that I am indeed an alcoholic. As I lied in bed that morning feeling shitty for the events I shouldn’t had done the night before, I realized that if I wanted to take my pastoral calling seriously, which I do, then I would have to give up drinking alcohol. This decision has come after trial and much thought, and because of that, I am truly happy with my choice and I am excited and looking forward to all the magnificent things that will transpire because of it.
“Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” -Ferris Bueller
Last month my brother Michael and I finally watched Saving Mr. Banks. It was a difficult movie for me to watch for several reasons, however I still enjoyed it. Tom Hanks was as inspiring as ever and his character (Walt Disney) reminded me of the importance of acting like a child once in a while. Too often we make things more serious than they need to be. Life doesn’t have to be so serious all of the time! It is good to throw some silliness into our lives every now and then. When was the last time you did something silly? When was the last time you acted goofy? I love the phone calls I have with my friend Eric Nilsen because they are an opportunity for me to be a ridiculous as possible. Sometimes we’ll have a three minute, in-depth conversation and only use five words, over, and over, and over again (it’s all in the phrasing and tone). Ah man, you should hear some of our conversations, they are unreal. Anyway, I challenge you this month to do something which brought you joy as a child. Color. Fly a kite. Play hide and go seek. Give Eric Nilsen a prank call. ; ) Last week Michael and I went over to our neighbors house and jumped on their trampoline for a while. We spent the whole time giggling like little girls as we tried to bounce the other person. It was awesome!
It is my prayer for you that this year be a year of fresh insight; that your ears would be opened to hear unconventional sounds; that your eyes may see and perceive differently; that your courage be given new boldness; that your family bonds grow closer; that your heart reaches new depths in loving; and that your spirit experiences what it feels like to be truly alive. Until next month…
p.s. One of the cool perks of writing this monthly email is that people send me great links to things they come across which remind them of the topics I bring up. Last month my friend Karl Nilsen shared this amazing clip with me. Thanks Karl!
p.p.s. Motivational Clip
p.p.p.s. “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works.”
March 2014: (Growth)
If not now, when?
April 2014: (Growth, Part 2)
In the spirit of Spring, welcome to the second segment on growth. Last month a simple seed was planted with the short question, “If not now, when?” Everything that grows stems from some type of seed; something small and simple, yet with tremendous potential. Growth, by its very nature, requires movement. The question planted last month was designed to motivate said movement. What did that one question grow into?
What are the seeds you currently have buried in the field of you life? What areas or aspects of your life are you trying to grow? How is the soil during this season you are in? Is it fertile and plowed or is it hard and impenetrable? Are you allowing your roots to grow deep or are you keeping them shallow? When the storms of life come, what do your roots cling to to keep them grounded? What element do you use to saturate and bring refreshing nourishment to foster your growth? Where do you find the warmth and energy the sun brings? Are you out in the open, drinking up all the rays? Or are you straining, contorting yourself behind something that’s blocking you? Are there weeds around leeching and sapping vital resources? I can go on, but I think you get the point.
While I could spend several paragraphs addressing each of these questions at length, instead I will give you some bullet point answers to a few:
- Weeds: I deleted the Facebook app from my phone this past month. It has been very liberating.
- Soil Type: Very fertile due to an open mind and a willingness to explore new places and options.
- The Depth of my Roots: I read the following line the other day which I deeply resonate with, “If I died today, I would be very sad for all those I love I would leave behind, but I would also have a deep sense of gladness and thankfulness for the life I have experienced.” I was thinking about this and realized my greatest sorrow in life is not being able to give you each the time you deserve.
- My Seed: At the beginning of the year, when I was reflecting on last year, I realized it had been the best year of my life. Looking back even further, I realized I have been saying this my whole life. In my youth, with age came freedom, which was exciting. In college, with age came experience, which was amazing. Now, with age is the attaining of wisdom, which holds the key to the tree of life. From an outsider’s perspective, they would question my saying of, “Last year was the best year of my life.” I can’t blame them. I even questioned myself, “Why was last year so good? And the year before that?” I realized that regardless of the specific circumstances I found myself in year after year, the reason why they have been getting better is because my understanding of who God is and how I relate to Him has been growing year after year, and that is a wonderful thing.
- My Sun: My motorcycle, my music, my runs, and my prison ministry.
What I am looking forward to this next month:
- My good friend Justin Chaudion and I are looking to playing more music together with our horns. We love a band called The CAT Empire (sample attached) and are looking to get some serious jams on.
- My prison ministry has something BIG in the brewin’.
God bless you and your family,
**Recommendation for the links: Read the whole letter first, then go back and view them in the presented order.
I hope this letter finds you well and thriving. Two months ago, through a random bit of curiosity, I found myself in a unique situation which birthed a peculiar friendship between me and a man named Bob. Bob is a world renowned Organist who, for one reason or another, I have found favor. Throughout the course of our friendship Bob has introduced me to the finer side of the San Diego music scene. Last Friday Bob took me to see the San Diego Symphony perform Beethoven’s 5th. It was the first time I had ever been to the symphony and let me tell you, it was an incredible experience. I have never heard a sound so rich and full in my life. The flawlessly executed performance evoked a whirlwind of thought and emotion. When it finished, I was in a state my friends Jason Stone and Eric Nilsen would call Happysad. I was happy to have experienced the breathtaking beauty; however I was sad because it stirred up an immense longing to play my french horn. This was a sad desire because while I want to become a better trumpet player, bass player, ukulele player, and french horn player, there is barely enough time to practice one, and as you focus on one, all the others drift away; thus continues the never ending drama of time management. How do you spend the time you’ve been given?
In the middle of March I was able to spend time with my good friend Mike Daly. One of the chief enjoyments I receive in Mike’s company stem from our thought provoking conversations. After some small talk on current affairs, Mike said, “You know Aaron, the world of science really missed out?” “Oh, yeah? Why’s that?” I asked. “Well, I think you would have brought an interesting perspective to the field.” To which I replied, “What do you think I’m bringing to the field of religion?” “True.” I then went on to ask Mike if he thought a story or event could be true without being factual. (Take a moment to think about that for yourself.) After some contemplation he said yes and I agree. This led us into a conversation on general relativity where, depending on your frame of reference, events might seem to take place “out of order.” Another way to illustrate how a story can be true without being factual is seen in the tale of the Tortoise and the Hair. In this famous story, a tortoise challenges a hare to a race in which the hare dashes out to a tremendous lead, and then arrogantly takes a nap. Meanwhile the tortoise, ever treading along, passes the sleeping hare to win the race. The fact this fable never actually happened does not diminish the truths it conveys, namely: slow and steady wins the race, perseverance pays off, and arrogance invites ruin. These elements of the story, the truths they convey, allow the story and its message to be true without being factual. When I hear people argue about the Bible and say how absurd its stories are, I tell them two things: 1) There has yet to be archeological evidence discovered which disproves a story in the Bible. All archeological findings point toward its validity. 2) Whether or not the stories in the Bible actually happened as written or if some were used as literary devices to convey truth, we will never know. There are many people who get bent out of shape over this and say, “If all the stories didn’t happen as written, then the whole thing is rubbish!” Rather than throw the baby out with the bathwater, I take the stand that some parts of the Bible might be True, but not factual. While I believe most of the stories in the Bible actually happened as written, I’m perfectly fine with the possibility of some of them being legend because that does not negate the truth of their message.
Throughout this past month I have had the blessing of meeting many wonderful people. Whenever you meet someone for the first time, typically the question of employment arises. e.g. “So what do you do?” When I tell people I am in seminary school studying to be a pastor, the response I get is either, “cool” and then we move on, or the person is highly interested and begins a conversation on faith and religion. When I chose to engage in these conversations it is interesting to see how the people around react. They are either draw in by fascination or are made uncomfortable and recoil. This made me wonder why the topic of religion is so taboo in our society. After some thought, I came up with the following reasons why people get uncomfortable when others talk about religion: 1) They or someone they know have been hurt in the past by a church or someone from the church and the discussion brings back painful memories. 2) Seeing others uncomfortable makes them uncomfortable. 3) It is a painful reminder of their own denial and avoidance of such questions. Why someone would forgo dealing with the most important question of their life, I cannot say. When I talk to people who do not believe in God, sometimes they say, “Aaron, I wish I had your faith.” To which I reply, “Are you kidding? I wish I had yours.” To believe there’s no God is to believe all this happened by chance. The probability of that happening is ridiculously small. I’m taking the easy route. Our best science says the probability of life as we know it randomly spawning into existence is less than 1 chance in 10282. To give you an idea of how absurd that is, 1 chance in a trillion is 1 in 1012. It’s funny; the other day I was having a conversation with someone who was only aware of my current schooling at seminary. Through our discussion we reached a point where this individual said, “You wouldn’t understand because you do not have a background in science.” I didn’t have the heart to inform them of my bachelor of science in astrophysics and strangely received great pleasure in keeping my mouth shut.
Several weeks ago my friend Lyndly Tamura told me, “I think you have one of the best attitudes I have ever witnessed.” Ever since then I have found myself contemplating my current attitude, outlook, and source of life. It is no secret. The source of my joy, peace, and optimism is none other than the Holy Spirit of God. In this fallen world we are called to be the salt and light. Even though we are in the world we are not to be of the world. What does that mean to you? To me that means not getting caught up in trivialities. It means obtaining a larger perspective on what’s going on. It means in every situation to be filled with the Holy Spirit, exemplifying love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. My firsthand experience has proved this is easier said than done. It is easy to get caught up in worldly things, to get spun up on things that ultimately do not matter. When I find myself beginning to feel hateful, disturbed, frustrated, agitated, mean, deceitful, bitter, prideful, lustful, etc. I pray….I’ve been doing a lot of praying these days.
What are the things that get you spun up? Are they worth the agitation? What perspective do you bring into your day to day activities? Why stress over the things you cannot control? In our world there are many things which are unseen, but one does not have to look far to discover the pain and brokenness of our fallen nature. In such madness where do you find strength? How can one find peace? While there are many things out there which promise to offer us peace and pleasure, I have found none compare to Jesus. For my personal experience has proved his following words to be true, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
May the God who loves you more than you’ll ever know continue to bless you as you discover to trust in him.
p.s. Today is National Prayer Day for our armed forces. If you believe in that, please say a prayer for the men and women who have served and who are currently serving our nation. They desperately need it.
p.p.s. Some links to enjoy:
A neat perspective on my city.
Someone I see all the time, but never knew.
Something to make you laugh.
Something to make you wonder.
p.p.p.s. “Some people never go crazy. What truly horrible lives they must live.” – Charles Bukowski
It has been brought to my attention that some of you did not receive part one of this month’s Monthly. (Another problem one encounters when working on the road is the equipment not working as intended…mostly due to user error.) To prevent those from feeling as if they’ve missed something, here is what went out on August first:
For the past two months I have been blessed with many travels (I have only been home a little over a week these last 60 days) and August shows no signs of stopping. One of the things I have learned this summer is that the road is great for reflections and minor note taking, but it is terrible for setting aside large chunks of time to write, especially when one’s trying to be fully present to the people, moments, and situations which present themselves day by day. That being said, I write to regretfully request a 3-4 day extension for this month [or 9 as it turns out]. I have a bunch of wonderful notes I would like to fully process with you but the Las Vegas hotel room and the people I currently find myself with do not fully support that. I hope you have been well and that you have been able to experience a few special moments scattered throughout these recent days. Take care, you will hear from me soon.
Since I am practically two months behind, I have a lot to say and warn you that this will be a longer email. I have attached a Word document titled The Brazil Account. In it you will read some of the more intricate details of the trip I went on in June. Knowing that some of you may not care to read it, I have saved the three key events for this main body, which we enter now.
Before World Cup began, Justin Chaudoin and I went on a five day/four night amazon survival trip where we canoed, hiked, and slept out in the jungle. Sleeping out in the rainforest may sound nice and good in theory, but in reality it is miserable. The first night we spent in our hammocks between the trees of the mighty Amazon was easily the worst night of my life. We were given mosquito nets, but weren’t really shown how to properly set them up, nor was the vital importance of doing so conveyed. Once the sun set on that fateful day the mosquitoes emerged in full force. (I must say, while the mosquito situation was bad in the Amazon, it was nothing like Alaska. Alaska is hands down the worst when it comes to those flying leeches.) That evening, upon relentless assault we scattered to the shelter of our nets where I found no solace because I proceeded to get bit through the net and my hammock. For the next twelve hours I was literally eaten alive. (Literally in the proper sense, not the figurative misuse people abuse today.) One thing many of you may not realize about the rainforest is how nocturnal its inhabitants are. With night comes life, with life comes movement, and with movement comes noise. The jungle is incredibly loud at night. Amidst the symphonic chorus of insect progression my body was taken to a whole new world of discomfort…to a level of vexation I would never wish upon any one. There was actually a point in the early morning, after hours of suffering the stabbings and the haunting hum, where, for the first time in my life I seriously thought I might lose my mind. The only thing that saved me from a mental breakdown was the reality that flipping out would only make my situation worse. The night’s single comfort came when I passed out for two hours (a time I still thank God for). When daylight finally arrived the misquotes abated and I was able to assess the damage. Sprawled across my elbows, knees, and back were conservatively 150 mosquito bites. They were difficult to count, not only because of the sheer volume, but because those areas of my skin looked like hamburger due to the irritation and swelling (If you don’t know or have never seen, I am mildly allergic to mosquito bites and swell up pretty good). The most interesting part about this evening however wasn’t found in my survival, but rather in the evolution of my prayer through its long hours. My night began with a prayer of deliverance, “Lord, please save me from these mosquitoes. Send a wind or rain or bats or something to remove them or diminish them to a tolerable number.” Once I realized that was not going to happen my prayer of deliverance morphed into a prayer of endurance, “Lord, please give me the strength to make it through this night.” For hours I prayed the endurance prayer until I reached the apex of my discomfort. At that point I couldn’t even think in complete sentences and my endurance prayer morphed into the Jesus prayer, “Jesus. Jesus. Jesus.” All I could do was think His name. It was during this time where I passed out due to utter exhaustion. Over the subsequent nights I learned different tricks which drastically reduced the mosquito assault. By the third evening I was sleeping mosquito free! What I learned from this whole endeavor, besides proper set up of a mosquito net (which is trickier than one might think because if you secure it too tight to the ground, ants will crawl up and dive bomb you) is that no matter how bad a situation might be, no matter how irritated or how much suffering has been endured, I will always be able to call on Jesus, and to this day He has gotten me through it.
For most of the Amazon adventure I was in a group of five people: Me, Justin, two dudes from the Israeli Army, and our guide. On the first day the Israelis were asking me how I discovered our guide and this trip. I told them I did a quick search on Google and he was one of the ones who just happened to peak my interest. They told me they found him on some special search site the Israelis use to find top notch, bad ass wilderness guides. As it turned out, our survival guide Billy, was the one Bear Grylls used when he filmed his Amazon episode. Crazy! Justin calls that the Aaron Buttery travel luck. ; ) Anyway, one day after a canoe expedition where we saw pink dolphins and flying iguanas, I found myself with one of the Israelis discussing Judaism and Christianity. During our conversation this man asked me a question which I answered so poorly it bothered me for two days. He asked me, “Why do you do what you do?” I am going to spare myself the embarrassment of sharing how I answered him and instead share with you the answer I arrived at after several days of contemplation. I do what I do because I find purpose and fulfillment in it. Lord knows I do not do it for money, I do not do it for fame, nor do I do it for treasures in the afterlife. I preach the Gospel and pray for people because I believe there is one sovereign God. I believe each of us was created in His image and with that given souls. I believe once we die here on earth our souls continue to exists in an eternal realm where we will find ourselves in either heaven or hell. I believe there is only one path to heaven, but that path is made available to ALL who choose to believe. I do what I do because I want to save the souls of the lost because I care for them. God has blessed me with a heart of great compassion which earnestly yearns for the wellbeing of each individual I cross. I work in prisons because it is the only environment I have found to date where men truly hunger for a changed life. It is a place where they realize they cannot go on living by themselves, but desperately seek union with God in all they do. He calls them, as He calls each of us, they respond with hearts abandon, and lives are transformed and saved before my eyes. I do what I do because I want to be a part of God’s business. To speak on that real quick, twice a year we put on a program at the prison called Kairos where we target the gang leaders and shot callers on the yard. We invite them to the chapel where we feed them cookies, share the Gospel, sing songs, do artwork, and share love with them. On the second to the last day of the most recent Kairos, after I had just finished playing some songs with my prison band, which had the whole place jumping, singing, and clapping, I heard a brother say in tears, “I am 54 years old and today is the best day of my life.” To be able to be a part of that, to create something special with profound implications, to partner with the Spirit of God in redeeming the lives of these men…that’s my business, that’s why I do what I do. Why do you do what you do?
On our third day in Rio de Janeiro Kash, Emma, Michael, and I set out bright and early (640am) to see Cristo Redentor. We were told it turns into a zoo at the top later in the day so we wanted to beat the masses. Researched revealed there were three ways to reach the Cristo: you could take a tram, ride a bus, or hike through the jungle. Once I read you could hike that was our only option. When we arrived at the trail head at 7am we were greeted with a locked gate and guards who told us the park did not open until 8am. After a brief discussion of what to do we realized there was a lake not too far from where we were. We decided to walk over to it and take sunrise pictures. (It was already bight out, but the sun was still low on the horizon radiating the special light one only finds in the early morning hours.) When we were about 20 meters down a side street heading toward the lake a motorcycle pulled up with two guys on it. As they were pulling to a stop I saw the guy in the back pull out a gun and I remember thinking, “Ah man, here we go.” As soon as the bike stopped he jumped off and started yelling for cell phones and for our backpacks. They were shouting in Portuguese and I understood every single word, but I was acting gringo and playing stupid. When he approached me I freely gave him the burner phone I had in my pocket, which I had brought for just such occasion. (It was my old Iphone 3S with the shattered screen.) After I gave him my phone he moved on to shake down the rest of the guys while the guy on the bike continued to yell for my backpack, which I was not about to give up, so I started unzipping it and dumping everything out on the street to show him there was nothing in it but food and water for the hike. These two guys were definitely amateurs and were probably between 18-25 years old. The whole experience was kind of surreal. I remember at times feeling like Bill Murray in The Man Who Knew Too Little, wondering, “Is this really happening?” The whole shake down lasted about two minutes, which felt like ten. It was an in/out operation which left me not realizing how lucky I was until a month later when I watched a movie called The City of God. In it there are a bunch of kids who go about Rio robbing and killing without any regard for human life. It was an incredibly sad movie to watch because I know things like that happen every day. After making sure everyone was okay I said, “Well, now we can check that one off our list.” We were a bit shaken, but stayed the course; nothing was going to prevent us from getting to Christ that day! Once the park opened we hiked up an amazing trail with spectacular views of the city and waterfalls. The terrain was difficult and the path was steep, but the whole hike was highly enjoyable. We reach the top in 90 minutes only to be greeted with thick cloud cover. We had a small debate on whether it was worth it to pay to go in because we couldn’t see anything. During that time we all struggled with a sense of unfulfillment until we decided, “Screw it. We’re going in. Even if all we can do is put our hand on the base of the pedestal.” What happened next was like a scene out of a movie. As we were walking up the final steps to the statue the clouds parted, the sun shot fourth, and there was Christ in all his glory standing before a cheering crowd. We felt as if God had parted the clouds solely for us, especially after the path we had taken to get there. One thing I found amazing about the statue that I never knew because you never hear about it is that there is a small chapel located in its pedestal. On the back side of the statue there is a small door where one can enter to sit down and pray and worship. We happened to be up there on a Sunday, but unfortunately we missed their mass. While I was sitting in the chapel praying a sad thought crossed my mind, “How many people make it all the way up here, snap their selfie in the front, and never even realize the existence of this holy place.” It truly was a special venue. Later that day, as Michael and I were out body surfing on Ipanema beach, we hit a lull in the waves. During that period of waiting Michael looked at me and said, “Hey Aaron, we had a gun pointed at us this morning. How good is life?” At that moment, as I stood in the warm water drinking up the sun, appreciating the people I was with, and adoring the world class view I experienced a heightened appreciation for life and for living. That day was the best day of the trip.
I returned from Brazil one day before my sister Doreen’s wedding. That day and weekend were wonderful and I am proud to have Chris in our family. I have more words on the matter, but they will have to wait for a following month.
The first week in July I rode my motorcycle up to San Jose to visit my dad. (I love riding my bike; it’s a great ride!) I made the trek over a period of several days, spending the majority of that time in Hollywood. While in Hollywood I took a quick jaunt over to Pasadena one evening to see Horner, Bernard, and Clint. During that visit the most memorable moment came when I was driving around with Clint. I was playing DJ (pumping out a killer playlist) and we were singing our hearts out. It is SO much fun to rock out in the car when everyone is on the same page. Some of the best times can be found rocking out in cars. What is your best automobile rock out moment? Who were you with and what song was playing? While I have many, many honorable mentions, mine would have to be back around the year 2000. I was in the car with Michael and the Tsutsumi brothers and we were driving to the Shoreline Amphitheater to see Blink 182. While en route “The Rock Show” (Girl at the rock show) came on the radio and we went ballistic. It was incredible (thank you Jon for playing a large part in that!).
On my second night up in LA I was over at my friend Dustin Albanese’s house playing dominoes. As we were shooting the shit and dropping bones a song played on the record we were listening to which reminded Dustin of a memory. He said, “This song reminds me of the sexiest thing that has ever happened to me.” Then there was a long pause. As I stared at him waiting while the song played, he sat there with a coy grin. When I couldn’t take it any longer I shouted, “Well you can’t drop a bomb like that and not tell me what happened!” He then proceeded to tell me one of the more fantastic stories I had ever heard. When he had finished his story I was an emotional wreck. The moment he painted was so beautiful…I was happy, I was jealous, I was angry, I was a whirlwind of emotion; my heart simply wanted to explode. His story made me reflect back on my own life to try and find the sexiest thing that has ever happened to me. Sadly, I couldn’t think of a single event. Sure my memory flew through many encounters, but there weren’t any which popped out as WOW, definitely none remotely close to the story I had just heard. Can you think of the sexiest thing that has ever happened to you? Dustin’s story was inspiring to me and has definitely raised the bar for my future. I tell you all of this to challenge you to do something sexy for your significant other this month. If you are single like me, I challenge you to draft up a romantic date so when that special someone comes strolling along, you’ll be ready!
One of my life mottoes: If someone asks you for help and you have the capacity to do so, then do it, even if it means changing your plans. Too often people see the distractions in their life as things that are preventing them from living their real life instead of understanding that the distractions are their real life.
On July 21st I began a road trip with Justin Chaudoin from San Jose to Indiana. Well, he made it out all the way to South Bend, I had to leave in Denver to fly out to North Carolina to perform a wedding for a friend. The road was beautiful to say the least. Highway 70 from Zion National park to Denver is the most beautiful stretch of road I have ever seen. It was Absolutely incredible. If you have vacation I would recommend flying to Las Vegas, driving to Zion, spending a few days in Zion, drive to Arches, spend a day there, then drive to Denver and fly home. We were blessed with lightning storms which rolled on the horizon, lighting the backdrop for our beautiful panorama. Our day hike in Zion was cool, but it was nothing compared to our midnight hike in Arches National Park to Delicate Arch. With no moon and no light pollution (see LA Blackout photo attached) the stars were banging bright. At some points along the way it was difficult to find the trail, especially when it led to open rock, but with my knowledge of the night sky and with Justin’s general scouting savagery, we were able to stay the course and not get lost (unlike some people we saved along the way). Once we made it to the arch we sat under it and the Milky Way galaxy for about an hour. It was one of the coolest things I have ever done. A great moment in life. When was the last time you did something awesome in nature? When was the last time you visited a national park? There is something to be said about spending time out in the wild. Maybe it’s time to get outside.
While I was in Denver I was able to spend some time with my older brother Darrin (photo attached). A fact many of you may not know about me is that I have two older half-brothers (Gregg 45, Darrin 44) on my dad’s side. It had been about 20 years since I had last seen Darrin. Although my visit was short, I had a wonderful time meeting his wife Andi and their four children for the first time. The whole experience warmed my heart and I am looking forward to seeing them on a more regular schedule.
After a year and a half of volunteering down at the prison I was finally cleared last month to receive an unescorted access badge. I was very excited to receive this because now I can escort my own guests in as well as run programs on my own. Things are moving along for me very well at the prison and I am excited for what the rest of this year has in store as far as that goes. Within the past week I have begun my official unofficial internship with the Chaplain there and it has been great. I have been learning a tremendous amount and I’m very thankful for the opportunity.
On September second I will begin my second year of seminary (1 down, 3 to go!). The other day I looked at my transcript and saw I had a 3.8 gpa for my first year. I was very proud of achieving that, especially with all the hours I had spent down at the prison. It feels good to make something a priority in your life, to work hard at it, and then get favorable results.
Last August I traveled to Haiti with ten other men from my church to build a roof for a school and dig a foundation for a church. On that amazing trip I developed a wonderful relationship with one of our translators who also happened to be a pastor. Last February pastor Rodelin asked if I would be returning this year to continue doing God’s work in his country. I told him I wasn’t sure and had to pray about it. (My major concern was economic responsibility. Sure I had the funds to make the trip, but was that the most responsible move I could make.) That night I prayed for wisdom and discernment on the matter. The very next day I received a check in the mail from my old employer. It was a bonus check I had completely forgotten about. I took it as the answer to my prayer. All of a sudden I was going to Haiti with a budget of $1100! Since then I have been in regular contact with pastor Rodelin, who has created the following itinerary for my trip in a few weeks:
8/22: Fly to Haiti
8/23: Rest, beach and visit the area!
8/24: Preaching at the church, visiting neighborhood area and go to watch soccer game
8/25: Morning visiting jail, preaching in a crusade in the afternoon!
8/26: Morning visiting hospital, and preaching at the church service in the afternoon
8/27: Seminary at the Church please send me the subject. preaching at Leogane Church in the afternoon
8/28: Seminary at church and visiting orphanage in the afternoon
8/29: Visiting some neighborhood city around Leogane and go to watch soccer game in the afternoon!
8/30: Rest on beach and visiting neighborhood area
8/31: Preaching in a neighborhood Church load everything to fly back home!
While I am very excited to be going on this trip, my slight worry is I have no idea what I am going to be talking about. By the look of the schedule I have about eight 45min talks to give. Sure I have some ideas and can fill time, but geesh. I’m just making myself available and pray that God will use me. If you pray, please pray for me. Pray that God will use me in a mighty way. That He would give me and my translator a voice and tongue to speak His truth and good Word to the people who would hear. That the messages would be relevant to their lives and speak to their hearts. That I would be able to bring joy, hope, peace, and love to a hurting nation, to a hurting people. That lives would be transformed for the glory of God.
I thank you for your prayers and for your readership.
That’s not it, but for this month and for now, that’s it. ; )
Apologies for being a day behind. I fully intended on sending this out last night, but my cat Goose had other plans for me. For when I sat down to write he lured me to my bed where he enchanted me with his hypnotic purr. Once under his spell I was off to Never Never Land before I knew it (I guess my body was more exhausted than I thought).
Whew, what a summer this has been! I have lived a tremendous amount of life these past three months thanks to the opportunities and situations which kept presenting themselves before me. After spending the last scholastic year bound between the school library and my room, it was a welcomed change to get out into the world. This summer seemed to be a summer of “yes,” but not excess. It was a time where I took advantage of every single moment presented to me. What do you do with the opportunities which present themselves to you? Do you grab a hold of them, even if you are uncertain of where they will lead? Or do you find ways to convince yourself you don’t have time? I encourage you to start becoming aware of how you handle such situations.
In the middle of August I journeyed on a seven day backpack camping trip with my friend Daniel Ching on the Eastern side of the Sierra Nevada mountain range. We broke our trip down into two separate loops so we would be able to restock our food supply midweek. The trip was an amazing time out in the wilderness where I was able to unplug, enjoy the raw beauty of nature, and prepare for my upcoming nine day trip to Haiti. Along the thirty miles we traversed across the trails I was able to memorize 25% of Romans 8 (my yearly goal) as well as find the topics of discussion for all of the sermons I would give while down in Haiti. It was a very fruitful and needed time away from distraction. One of the more peaceful moments of my summer was experienced on this trip when I was naked in the middle of the woods going #2 with not a soul around (really bonding with nature). I encourage you to seek the all beauty and liberation nature offers from your daily life throughout this upcoming month (maybe start with your clothes on ; ) ).
While I was camping I heard Robin Williams had passed away. I didn’t believe it at first, but on my drive back to San Diego I found his sad suicide to be true. Among the notable comments on his death I felt the following by his daughter Zelda and Barack Obama (respectively) to be the most profound. “[The] world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in his absence.” “He was one of a kind. He arrived in our lives as an alien but he ended up touching every element of the human spirit.” While processing this news I pondered the many celebrities who have traveled down that dreary road before him e.g. Heath Ledger. By the World’s standards these people should have nothing to be sad about and everything to live for. They have all the fame and fortune anyone could ever want, yet there is a void within when left unfulfilled, renders all the glitz and glamor meaningless. We all know this to be true within our heart. We all know there is more to life than accumulating wealth and fame, yet some of us live performing actions which say otherwise. A while back I came across a quote which stated, “What a man thinks about God is the most important thing about him.” What do you think about that? How do you fill your void?
On August 21st, for the second year in a row, I flew down to Haiti on a mission. Last year I traveled with ten men to build a roof and dig a foundation. This year, for the first time in my life, I left the country by myself to encourage the church and the people of Haiti. Before I begin to describe portions of my trip I would like to thank each and every one of you who took the time to pray for me on this adventure. I assure you your prayers were answered in mighty ways, for the blessings seemed to pour out from the get go, beginning with a free seat upgrade on my flight. Once I arrived in Haiti I realized I had forgotten to ask my friend Rodelin for his address to write on the customs form. Not knowing what to put, I made one up. The customs officer realized this because he laughed when he saw what I wrote. After a brief discussion he shook his head and welcomed me to the country. It only took twenty minutes from the moment I deplaned to grab my luggage, pass through customs, and step out onto the curb. What a breeze! Speaking of breezes, the weather was much cooler than last year, which was another welcomed surprise. During my stay in Haiti I preached nine times within three different churches. By the grace of God all of the messages were delivered and received very well (another answer to prayer). On the first Sunday, before I gave my message I was praying for God to bless me with wisdom, that I would be able to speak a message that would speak to His people. I was in earnest prayer when all of a sudden I remembered the first line in The Purpose Driven Life…”It’s not about you.” It was then when my prayer focus shifted from me to my translator and to the people sitting in the pews. As I sat and waited to give this first message of the trip I began to feel a little nervous and overwhelmed, but then I remembered Matthew 11:28-30, and was instantly put in a state of peace which I occupied for the remainder of the trip.
I had planned to visit a Haitian prison on this trip, but I was unable to do so because I did not bring enough money. One of the many things I learned on the trip was that Haitian prisons do not give food to their inmates. If an inmate does not have a family member or friend to bring them food on their visits, then they starve. In order for the guards to let me in, I needed to bring food (rice and beans) for the inmates, which I lacked, so I was unfortunately unable to enter. I was however able to visit a hospital, which was an abysmal scene, but even that came with its challenges because I forgot to bring my passport with me that day. While the doorman was thinking about whether or not to let me in I prayed, “God, if it is your will that I enter this hospital today to pray for the sick and needy, then open these doors.” Shortly thereafter the doorman ushered us over to the administration room where we awaited the approval of the head of administration to enter the grounds. After a brief discussion with him, he agreed to give us a personal tour of the hospital! What a blessing! Among the many sick people I prayed for was an elderly woman who had gangrene on her foot and was awaiting amputation of her leg. Now, it is one thing to see pictures of gangrene on the internet, but when you see it in real life and when you see the pain it is causing a person who has no pain medication who is about to lose their leg…it is a completely different story.
The practice of voodoo is big in Haiti and EVERYONE believes in it, even my pastor friend Rodelin. When I asked Rodelin to explain it to me he said the voodoo priest are very powerful, they can turn leaves from a tree into money, they can turn a bottle of water into a bottle of blood, they can even shape-shift! When asked about the shape-shifting he said voodoo priest can transform into anything, anything except a lamb, because that is Jesus’ animal. He then told me a story of how there is a man in his village who can transform into a motorcycle. He was completely serious. I laughed, shook my head, and took it all in with a high level of skepticism, but then I started thinking, “What are these people seeing?” Then I thought about the magicians in Pharaoh’s court in the book of Exodus, which reminded me of Magic Mike. Magic Mike is a magician Manny Vargas and I encountered at Adam Jones’ birthday party several years ago. This guy was something else. Amongst the many mind blowing tricks he performed before our eyes, there was one I’ll never forget. In this trick Magic Mike pulled two brand new decks of cards out of his pocket. He gave a red deck to Manny and a blue one to me. He then instructed Manny to open his deck and pick a card. After unwrapping the cellophane Manny picked a random card. Magic Mike then handed Manny a sharpie and told him to sign the card, then place it back in order and to put the cards back in the box. Magic Mike then instructed me to open the deck he had given me, the deck I had held in my hand this whole time. After unwrapping the cellophane, I pulled out the cards and to our astonishment; the red card Manny had signed was in my deck, in its proper position. When Manny reopened his deck the blue card from mine was in the place of the red one he signed. We were freaked out. There is a difference between sleight of hand/misdirection and straight up magic. I never had the opportunity to see a Voodoo priest perform any of their spells, but I can say this: I believe in angels; I believe in demons; I believe in ghosts and in the powers of the supernatural; I know what I have seen with my own eyes and have personally experienced and I know the testimony of other credible people; I know we are in the midst of a spiritual war and if we have the ability to receive the powers of good, then we should also have the ability to receive the powers of bad. I am fully aware that all of this might seem like a bunch of malarkey to you, but to me and many others this realm is very real.
This past month I was on a jog with Michael when we came across our neighbor several blocks from his house looking a little rattled. It was really strange because we never see this kid wandering the neighborhood. When we stopped to see what was going on, he informed us he had just seen a ghost in his house. Michael asked if he was sure it wasn’t his brother playing a prank on him (being the brunt of many pranks himself), to which he replied he was home alone. I then asked, “Are you sure you weren’t getting robbed?” He then told us what had happened. He was playing video games in his room when he saw something move down the hallway out of the corner of his eye. He ignored it and kept playing, but then a minute later both of the dogs with him in the room popped their heads up and stared down the hallway, when he looked to see what was going on, he saw a ghost walk down the hallway towards his parents room. When he was telling us this he said, “The crazy thing is I don’t even believe in ghosts! What freaked me out the most was when the dogs noticed something.” I consider this boy to be a smart, highly skeptical, high school student who does not do drugs and who seems to have his wits about him. When I talked to his parents about this, both of them testified to experiencing paranormal activity in that house, which makes me asks again, “What are these reasonable people and their dogs sensing?”
On the sixth day of my Haitian trip I led a bible study for the children of the village. After sharing with them the story of Elijah on Mt. Carmel, they entered into a period where they sang songs. I don’t know if you have ever been in a hall with 95 children singing, but it was a beautiful moment. Another awesome moment occurred during my first night bathing. With no pluming I was forced to bathe outside under the banana trees and stars with a bucket and pink ladle. Glistening in the soft light of the crescent moon I remembered thinking, this is oddly romantic. Other notable moments were found each night in my dreams, which I attribute to the Hanna Montana pillow case I was given. : )
On the last day of my trip (8/31), five hours before my plane flight, by the grace of God, I delivered the most powerful message I have ever uttered. On that fateful Sunday I channeled the culmination of my experience that week to an overflowing church of Haitians. For the three days prior I had been working on a message I was going to give, but at 9pm Saturday night God placed a different message (Philippians 3:12-14) on my heart, so I stayed up till midnight figuring out how to fill my sermon. Minutes before my talk I was still discovering new passages of scripture to incorporate into the message. While I was speaking I remember realizing, “Wow, this is really happening right now!” When I finished speaking the leaders of the church wanted to pray for me. They encircled me and started singing songs. As they were singing I began to reflect on my time in Haiti. Listening to their words with my eyes closed I thought about everything I had seen, about everything I had experienced. I thought of all the ways God had used me during that short period of time. I thought about all of the lessons God had taught me and of all the lives I had touched. I thought about the process of even deciding to go on this trip and the leap of faith I had made in doing so. Upon reflecting all of this, I became overwhelmed and began to cry. After the leaders sang their two songs for me the lead matriarch prayed. With tears blending with the beads of sweat barreling down my face I listened to the following words translated by Rodelin: “God, we thank you for this man and the blessing he has been to us, for when a man speaks such words, we know they do not come from him, but come from you. Father we pray that you bless this man and protect him in order that he may continue to bless the world…” The prayer continued, but for some reason Rodelin stopped translating, which I didn’t mind because he didn’t need to translate any more. My heart understood the moment and that is all I needed.
During my time in Haiti I prayed more than I have ever prayed in my life. If I had to guess I’d say I spent somewhere around six hours a day in prayer. I was always praying because, for the first time in my life, I was acutely aware of how little control I had over anything and how utterly dependent I am on God for everything. This simple realization was accentuated to me last month when my friend Eddie Billmeyer told me of an incredible car accident his wife and two sons were in. In one moment which Eddie had no control over, his whole life was almost completely changed. It is sobering to think of how little control we have over many aspects of our lives. With illusions and delusion we deceive ourselves into thinking we have more control than we actually do. When we are smacked in the face with the hard reality of how little we actually control, it can be a very depressing and disheartening place. The good news is we live in a world with a God who loves us. We live in a world with an all-powerful God, with a God who intercedes for us on a daily basis. It is only by the saving grace of God that Eddie’s family was able to walk from a burning truck alive and with no injuries! My dad once made the comment, “I don’t go to church because church is for weak people.” That’s right dad, church is for week people, among whom I lie with the weakest. But I thank God for my weakness, because it is in my weakness where His power is made perfect. It is in my utter dependance, where I find the most freedom. Please pray for my dad. I will be praying for you.
p.s. One sunny afternoon last month I found myself enjoying a barbeque with the Cunninghams when a discussion arose on the differences between alternating and direct current. My weak explanation inspired a memory jog which in turn led me to this straightforward site you may find educational: AC/DC.
p.p.s. Speaking of jogging. I have not been able to run for the past three months due to life on the go. My body has started to hate me and feel like blah, but today was day one on my road back to fitness!
p.p.p.s. Monthly Random Fact About Me: 50% of the time I sleep without a pillow. The other 50% is enjoyed on a flat pillow.
Last month I finally got my act together and created a group within my contacts for this distribution. In the process of transferring the data from my poorly formatted word document I somehow gained 30 people. That being said, I want to take this moment to remind everyone that these emails are intended to be an informative blessing, not a monthly annoyance. If you happen to find yourself in the camp of the latter, please inform me and I will remove you from my distribution. I realize those I’m trying to reach probably won’t even read this, but at least I did my part. On to the good stuff…
Some quotations and questions for your contemplative consideration:
Everybody wants to be a good communicator, but so few people have anything to say.
People don’t plan to fail at marriage; they just don’t plan not too.
“Our greatest fear should not be of failure, but of succeeding at something that doesn’t really matter.” – D.L. Moody
Fools find no pleasure in understanding, but delight in airing their own opinions. – Pr 18:2
If you believe everything you read, better not read. (Japanese Proverb)
Seek to be a transformer of culture rather than a critic.
Are you a bridge builder?
“We know too much, but are convinced of too little.” – T.S. Eliot
Love with a pure heart, sincere conscience, and good faith.
It’s easy to think, but it’s hard to think well.
Reason is God’s gift to dispel darkness.
Experience can bias, bitter, and blind you, but it can also enlighten you.
We are not called to reinvent the wheel, but to stand on the shoulders of those who have gone before us.
“I have found that the very feeling which has seemed to me most private, most personal and hence most incomprehensible by others, has turned out to be an expression for which there is a resonance in many other people. It has led me to believe that what is most personal and unique in each one of us is probably the very element which would, if it were shared or expressed, speak most deeply to others. This has helped me to understand artists and poets who have dared to express the unique in themselves.” -Carl Rogers
A Prayer: Let my heart be broken for the things that break the heart of God.
“Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.” – Frederick Buechner
“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all.” – Helen Keller
“Belief is affirmed by the risk we take.” – C.S. Lewis
What God wants to do through you, he first wants to do in you.
Are you living a life worth imitating? What kind of wake are you leaving behind you? How are people after your interactions with them? How are people after you walk through a room?
What has the power to capture your attention has the power to capture you.
Leaders dream big, take risks, and find courage from knowing that God desires to work powerfully through them. They are leaders because they face the world with eyes full of expectation, and with the expertise to remove the veil that covers its hidden potential.
The beginning and end of all Christian leadership is to give your life for others.
“One compassionate gaze or one affectionate handshake can substitute for years of friendship when a person is in agony. Not only does love last forever, it needs only a second to be born.” – Henri Nouwen
All life changing love is rooted in sacrifice.
Are you ready to die?
What truths is your life rooted in?
For a person with a deep-rooted faith in the value and meaning of life, every experience holds a new promise, every encounter carries a new insight, and every event brings a new message.
Only those who are able to articulate their own experiences can offer themselves to others as sources of clarification.
Do you hide in your business?
What was the moment this past month where you felt most alive?
What do you dream and what does it mean?
Who is the person you are becoming?
God is not looking for perfect examples; he is looking for living examples.
Personal answers to some questions:
Q: Do you hide in your business?
A: Busy seems to be the universal state of our world today. Our days are filled with non-stop activity, spent searching for a life of happiness and fulfillment. Our business is fueled by our desire to discover and live a life of significance. But what if God is inviting us to something more than happiness? How ever-fleeting is happiness? I need to spend more time thinking about this.
Q:What was the moment this past month where you felt most alive?
A: A few weeks ago California was hit by a heat wave in which I saw the hottest temperature I have ever seen at my house (107, which is pretty ridiculous for being only 5 miles away from the ocean). One scorching afternoon I was in my room studying when all of a sudden I heard a noise on the roof. As it grew louder I thought, “There’s no way it’s raining right now!” But as I pulled back the shades to peek outside, sure enough my eyes saw the much needed water falling from the sky. For a brief instant I thought about going out and playing in the rain, then I realized, “What am I doing debating?” I kicked off my sandals and walked barefoot out into what had just become a torrential down pour. Standing on the sidewalk I opened my arms, turned my face toward the sky, and fully embraced the moment. I was thankful for the rain, but even more so my soul was thankful for that moment of living.
Q: What do you dream and what does it mean?
A: I dream almost every night. Some days I can remember them, others I can’t. Some nights I dream all night long and wake up exhausted as if I just finished living two days straight. One night a few months ago I had a dream of a girl I used to date. In the dream she was riding her bicycle down a street. It was a very peaceful and innocent scene. She was about 12 years old, had tassels on the handle bars, and was wearing a pink outfit to match her pink bike and helmet. As she was riding down the street, everything was fine until the neighborhood started to change. All of a sudden she was riding through a red-light district with a bunch of hustlers, pimps, and women of the night calling after her and beckoning her to come to them. I was ahead of her in the direction she was peddling hovering in that weird in the scene but out of the scene space you often find yourself suspended in dreams. I was desperately trying to get her to keep following me. In a state of tension I awoke and though, “What was that all about?” On reflecting upon the dream a heavy sadness came over me as I thought about beauty and innocence becoming tarnished, twisted, and entrapped by evil and wickedness. I thought about some of the women I use to date and how they have completely transformed, but then I thought about myself and (more importantly) how God sees me. It was at that moment where I realized the dream I just had was the story of us all. We are all born pure into a fallen world where evil and wickedness crouch behind every corner, luring us off the path down side streets of destruction and despair. But God desperately calls to us, “Keep your eyes on me. Don’t listen to those people. I love you and want what’s best for you. Please keep peddling toward me. Please, follow me.” It was a very powerful moment. I recently had another dream where some powerful truths were spoken to me about my life, but the explanation of that will have to wait for another time.
Q: Are you ready to die?
A: This topic may seem a bit macabre to some of you, but it is of vital importance. Before I begin, I must emphasize the difference between wanting to die and being ready to die. They are two totally different things. To the former, I am not, but to the latter, I am. After today I can say with full confidence, “I am ready to die.” Earlier this afternoon I wrote a note to my family which expressed the details of my wishes for my body if, God forbid, I should die tomorrow. Personally, I sense my time is a long way away because I feel there are still many things God desires to use me for, but who can know for certain? That being said, since I love my family, if I do die tomorrow, the last thing I would want them dealing with on top of their deep personal loss, is wondering how I would have want my body to be taken care of. If you haven’t thought about this or spoken to anyone in your family about this, I urge you to do so, for it will bring a glimmer of peace to the bereaved in knowing your wishes were carried out. On top of that, make sure you have your beneficiaries to your finances all up to date and ready to go. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I know I am ready to die because my soul is at peace with making the great surrender at death, for it knows it is only a transition from one stage to the next. Now, once again I do not have absolute certitude, for that would remove all faith, but with proper confidence I rest in the doctrine of my core beliefs.
Q: Who is the person you are becoming?
A: Two days ago I celebrated my 32nd birthday. As I laid in bed that evening I gave thanks as I looked back and celebrated my life. When I compare the man I was ten years ago to the man I am now, my heart is overjoyed. I am by no means perfect, but by the grace of God I am leaps and bounds from where I once was. It is crazy to think I am already well underway in my second year of seminary. As my knowledge and skills expand I am increasingly able to see the priestly position my shoes are growing into. When I use to work at the power plant I would try not to speak up when people would throw around the “so what do you do” question. For some reason I always felt my answer came across as bragging, “I work at a nuclear power plant. Muahh.” I don’t know, it’s a weird thing to explain, but now I love it when people ask what I do. I love saying I’m a pastor and that my ministry is in prisons. The conversations which arise from such comments are truly wonderful and are positive affirmation for me.
Now that I am older I have been noticing myself become more like my dad in certain ways. One of the best qualities about my dad is he will talk to anyone. This used to be extremely embarrassing as a little child, but now that I’m an adult I am able to see its wonderful value and humor. Recently I have been finding myself purposefully engaging in conversations with anyone who is willing to respond. When I enter such situations with a genuine heart, more often than not, I leave the conversation feeling uplifted, if not laughing, and with a renewed hope for humanity.
I’ve also noticed I’m becoming more bold. Some of you may wonder how that could be possible, but I assure you there are many areas in my life where I am still very timid. I thank people like my brother Michael and Dennis Branco who inspire me to step out and dance the dance I want to dance.
Trick or treat?
The wall on which the prophets wrote
Is cracking at the seams
Upon the instrument of death
The sunlight brightly gleams
When every man is torn apart
With nightmares and with dreams
Will no one lay the laurel wreath
As silence drowns the screams
Words are powerful and, as with all powerful things, can bring great good or great harm. The words you just read are known as Epitaph by King Crimson. I found them fitting for this season of ghoulish activity. For most people, the origin of Halloween is shrouded in mystery. To shed some light on it I have attached a one page supplement and share this link with you. Besides excess chocolate and funny costumes, October brought the end to my longest wedding season (seven) with the union of my friends RJ and Kirsten. There ceremony was a beautiful event which brought great joy to my heart. An unexpected turn of events occurred however when I became emotional during my best man speech. As I was preparing and thinking about what I was going to say the thought that I would become emotional never crossed my mind. I thought it was going to be business as usual, but as I started speaking, my mind began to scan the 27 years of our friendship and everything we’d been through and I just lost it. My speech wasn’t as funny as it could have been, but it was from the heart and RJ really appreciated it…and in the end I was only speaking for an audience of two. It was a blessed day!
Last weekend in my prison ministry I experienced Kairos for the third time. For those of you who do not know, twice a year the community of faith in San Diego puts on a four day program (Kairos) in the prison which, in a weak sense, can be described as a short course in Christianity. Each time I try to adequately describe what happens within those four days and every time I utterly fail. For when I try to write the words, the enormity of power and love is lost, and none of the miracles are conveyed. In the closing hours of the third night the men were given an open mic opportunity to share what the experience of the past three days had been like. After over an hour of hearing story after story of redemption, healing, and new hope…I was completely overwhelmed. Those stories, the changed lives, and the unfiltered joy which arises in such cases is why I do what I do. Now, I am not a poet, nor do I consider myself a writer, but I enjoy the release and satisfaction writing has to offer and in seeking that, I wrote the following poem to try to convey what Kairos is all about.
Birthed in a broken world
Children wander admits fallen communities
No rest is found at home
Flowers grow in perverted light
Polluted water feeds the street
Thorns sprout in necessity
In the darkness shadows form reality
Groping for stability roots seek structure
Survival is the flurry
Ongoing the great wheel grinds
Catching the proud and apathetic alike
Sifting, Sorting, Breaking
Confined by walls the mind suffers
Identities spoon fed by state clothes
Days become years, years become lost
Countless ships adrift at sea
Is this all there is?
Routine numbs a callous heart
Stale eyes seek new roads
Changing winds breathe new life
Kairos, God’s appointed time
Apprehensive upon arrival
Desperate hope strikes unfamiliarity
Unconditional love soothes hardened sores
Purpose is regained
True identities are found
Years of dry tears are shed
Repelling masks are revealed and removed
Walls break brick by painful brick
Freedom is found in forgiveness
Not a heart untouched
Every soul stirred and burned
The refiner’s fire ablaze
Light reveals unforeseen landscapes
Stability is found in sure footing
Reality solidified by undeniable experience
The Holy Spirit richly felt
Empowering and transforming
The wellspring of life overflows
New brothers are born
Stronger communities are formed
A redeemed world adorned
The following Monday, after four 14hr days, I was exhausted and didn’t feel like doing anything. To be honest I was kind of having difficulty transitioning back to normal life. They say when you go on mission trips this transitional period is normal, but I never felt it before that day. In my reluctance to do anything I decided to watch a movie. A few weeks prior I had a discussion with my friend Larry Eddingfield on the topic of free will. Part of his response to my questions was lent in a copy of Bruce Almighty, so I decided to finally watch it. Now, I had seen this movie before, but it was during a time where I was much younger in my Christian walk and I had missed many of the spiritual overtones I was able to enjoy this second time around. As much as I enjoyed the film, it only made my transition that much more difficult. The next day I was talking to my friend MJ about the weekend and how difficult Monday was and she gave me a great piece of advice. She said, “What you need to do is pay attention to the little things and realize how wonderful they are.” It’s something you hear all the time, but at that time, it was the perfect thing I needed to hear.
Speaking of the little things, yesterday I received a text from my friend Michael Cunningham just saying he was thinking of me. It really uplifted my day. I encourage you in this upcoming month of thanks to reach out more to the people you think about and to express your gratitude for them. For science has proven gratitude to be a key element in a person’s happiness.
Until next month,
p.s. If you enjoyed my Kairos poem, but failed to see its Chiastic Structure, I would encourage you to give it another look. ; )
Season’s Greetings & Good Tidings,
I pray this letter finds you warm, full, and healthy. In this past season of thanks I hope you were able to express your gratitude to those for whom you are thankful. If you didn’t, it’s not too late…it’s never too laAaate. : ) One of the amazing things about expressing gratitude is how it makes EVERYONE happy. It is true, it’s science! Just the other day, as I was leaving prison I was struck with a random inclination of gratitude which manifested in me telling a prison guard (a rather thankless job) how thankful I was for his service and how he has been a blessing to me and many others. It was simple, sincere, and took no longer than 30 seconds, yet put me in a good mood for the rest of the day. I can only imagine what it did for him. When was the last time you stepped out and verbally expressed you gratitude? I encourage you to make it a weekly habit. If for no one else, do it for yourself.
What gifts and talents do you possess? And which one (from the list you just made) do you feel currently invited to bellow with intention and attention? Lately I have noticed I am in a season where my musical abilities seem to be inflamed with new vitality and promise and I am really excited for what rests on the horizon in this area of my life.* Two months ago I was able to step up and be the music leader with my bass in a big prison event (Johnny Cash style) and this month I get to perform on my french horn for our annual Christmas concert which will be happening at 8pm on Friday December 12th at my house in San Diego and YES, you are invited. : ) If you are feeling drawn and find yourself with fresh motivation within a certain aspect of your life, I encourage you to press into it. We produce our best work and excel when we are inspired and motivated.
Here are my two cents on all the strife stemming from the death of Michael Brown. Whether the grand jury was right or wrong in their decision not to indict Darren Wilson, I cannot say. I can say however that there were 12 sensible people who received far more untainted evidence from both sides of the gun than we will ever see. With that in mind, I have to believe they made the best possible decision they could with the facts which were presented to them. I feel far too many people approach this case from a position of arrogance rather than a position of humility. As far as the riots and protests go, I feel far too many people participate in those with ignorance, rage, and the blind desire to belong to something larger than themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying protesting is bad or unmerited in some cases, I’m just saying the way people do it today has Martin Luther King Jr. rolling in his grave.
In this season of advent (a season of coming and expectancy), in the midst of all of the chaos and noise it is easy to get lost and forget what really matters in life. It is easy to forget and see how our days, each and every one of them, are filled with extraordinary moments that weave together a story; a story spanning the full breadth of human emotion and experience. What story are you writing? Is it one you would want to read or spend a few moments to watch a trailer for? In this season of hope, in what season do you find your life? Whether it be a season of loneliness and despair or joy and thanksgiving, remember our lives are meant to be incredible stories of celebration, restoration, healing, and hope. As you pass through the rest of the days of this month, remember to celebrate the little things, seek the areas of your life in need of restoration, pursue healing, and receive the hope Christmas brings…the hope which says, “For on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.” May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him. God bless you. You are in my prayers.
Aaron George Buttery
p.s. When your soul needs some soul…Otis Redding Pandora. It will change your life.
p.p.s. This past weekend I was going cell to cell at the prison passing out Christmas cards to the inmates so they would have something to send to their families. In the process of doing so I came across Sirhan Sirhan. It’s kind of cool to say I personally gave Sirhan Sirhan two Christmas cards. He was very thankful.
*One of the cool things on my musical horizon is the brass band I am forming with my brother Michael, my neighbor Ken Domond, and a man whose name will go unmentioned because I forgot, with special guest appearances by Justin Chaudoin. We are looking to throw down songs like the following by early summer of next year: