Back, long ago, in the days of yore, I didn’t drink coffee. Shocking, I know. This is not the story of how that changed, it’s what happened after that. Perhaps I may tell you that story later, or better still, I already did in 2008 when I blogged my whole life in Costa Rica for a semester. Should you choose to sift that unyielding mass of college-age Chauncey’s thoughts, I shan’t stop you. In the meantime, I press on.

In Seattle–at least when I lived there–there was an elaborate system of judgment based around coffee. The dark, hot liquid that saved many a soul from the dark, cold rain also saved us from each other’s unwanted company. It wasn’t the coffee itself, but from where you bought it that spoke untold volumes.

From grande towers of caffeinated snobbery Seattle we looked upon others and passively chose (with great self-satisfaction) to not get to know one another. It was as simple as it was childish, particularly given that since all of the coffee shops my classmates and I frequented were in the same upscale neighborhood populated by neurosurgeons and lawyers.  I, a man of the people, purchased my coffee at El Diablo alongside many of the artsy-yet-not-quite-artsy crowd. By that I mean, we liked to listen to and talk about music rather than make it ourselves. Did we have classy opinions? We thought so. Did we sit in the dark to brood over them? Well, not quite in the dark…just like, y’know, not in the light that was as bright as an overhead lamp in the dorms…bro.

On occasion, the actual artsy crowd would come to El Diablo. Their conversation full of reference to musical theory (God, I found it all so intoxicating) and the art they made or were planning to make. After waving hello, I would consider ways to learn all the musical theory in the world to impress them for about 5 minutes. Then I would sigh, and move on. Until the next time they came in.

The artsy crowd got their coffee at Cafe Ladro. There, deep in darkness-induced solitude (this time I ‘m serious, it was really dark in there), they wrote their English papers analyzing Virginia Woolf or wrote their songs for their next set. Several times I tried to sit in Ladro with an artsy friend, but Ladro was a place beyond my strength. The sad, moody, artsy music blended with the dark and I always felt like I needed to take a nap. Cafe Ladro is the ultimate test of artistic commitment at 8pm–go to sleep or endure the pain of existence and channel your creativity. When walking near Ladro by night, I would see the artsy crowd sitting, looking creative, and talking about how yes, that song really could be better if it went up a fifth instead of a third in the 4th bar before the crescendo. It was not a place for us regular schmegular degular humans, who liked seeing the words on the page we were reading without a candle. On the other hand, Ladro was great for a daytime cookie on the go.

There are various coffee shop distinctions of this sort. They made an unofficial sort of framework for judging friends according to capitalism’s manufacture of taste to sell us the same different things…but oh, did we feel like we KNEW who we could be friends with. “Where do you get coffee?” was the same question as “Tell me why I should be your friend.” Certain things (getting coffee at Ladro for example) marked a barrier that was un-crossable by any known experience. On the other hand, getting your coffee only at Starbucks–of course we all went there sometimes–showed how you were drab and one of the nameless crowd of business people carrying on about their various conversations with Jeff about how in fact, yes, what Walter said in that meeting was indeed over the top and he should be hesitant before making such outlandish claims about store-bought hummus before trying yours, Steve.

Seattle, being a city that lives in the heart of the Pacific Northwest’s coffee culture, is a place that sit upon unexplored fault lines. Some of these are actually horrifying, sad expressions of our region’s amnesia–Seattle being a name derived from a tribe of indigenous people whose reservation is now just outside the city limits. One doesn’t have to wonder very hard how it was that the people after whom the city was named live unmentioned outside its bounds. However, some of these fault lines are the absurd sort of nonsense that make the series Portlandia so ironically un-comical to those of us who call the PNW home. It’s actually like that. Yes, I really do want to know if that chicken has a name. No, I haven’t given Ladro another try. I know my limits.




There’s something undeniably charming about the rain. This is likely a result of most of my life having taken place in one of the dampest, grayest parts of the country.  The mist rolls off the hills, the drizzle makes being inside friendlier, and you feel like anything you’ve done is a success. Gone outside? You braved the rain. Stayed inside? It was raining, totally justified.

Sometimes I look up at the bright, shining day-orb and grumble, “Don’t you ever take a day off?” The sun never answers, it just shines and shines until it remembers its secret pact with the rain and then briefly, almost, maybe, considers perhaps, a partial rest.

My Friends in Palestinian Laugh

I’m not going to lie to you, the past few weeks since my last post were rough. By that I mean incredibly heavy and depressing.

It does something to you to cross a checkpoint made out of concrete and steel regularly, it does something to you to go on a bus tour and see the ways that the government is systematically crushing bedouin peoples’ culture and livelihood, it does something to you when an orthodox Jewish man looks at you with fear in his eyes because (although dressed exceedingly like a tourist) you are coming from the “wrong” part of town–i.e. Bethlehem–with olive skin. These and a series of other small things add up to a small but heavy load on my back. It’s like carrying a 40 pound weight around. I have slept more, been more worn out by pedestrian things, and been a good deal more snarky on the inside than I’d like.

I suppose that yes, some of this is culture shock. The emotional exhaustion that comes from every tiny thing taking twice as long and requiring getting lost along the way is significant. It is true that I don’t just live in one cultural reality here, but I navigate two. A bus ride from Bethlehem takes me to Jerusalem and the differences between the two are huge. In my head today I realized that it is like going from Latin America to Europe in about 20 minutes. Relatively conservative Arabic culture to a semblance of European Jewish culture, also these people don’t like each other.

I think though that there is more there. How in the hell does anyone deal with all of this terrible nonsense? A history forged out of the blend of suicide-bombers, stolen homes and land, armed occupation, a series of wars, and the holocaust? Good Lord. It is enough to make me cry. And it has. I broke down in my kitchen after the bedouin tour and wept.

In the midst of all of this I remember a moment at a party I was invited to recently. My friends in Palestine (They’re Orthodox Palestinian Christians–about 60% of Bethlehem is Arab Christian) generously had me over for their combined birthday party and showered me with kindness and inclusion. The last hour of the party shifted to story time. I have found that the Palestinian parties I have been to start with food and smoking, then move to singing and sometimes dancing, then jokes/stories. This particular story time was all about the second uprising–the second infitada. The stories ranged from bystanders being shot in the butt and begging to be let into homes in the middle of a firefight, stories about hiding weapons from the IDF, stories about non-combatants being beaten by Israeli soldiers. In short, things from a terrible time. But in the midst of all of these stories, my Palestinian friends laughed. They laughed hard. These were comical stories to them. Stories of heartbreak and danger and violence turned hysterical.

I am just now starting to be able to understand how anyone can do this. How human beings can avoid being crushed under the weight of horror and hurt and loss. I have experienced loss, but at no point have I lived in a war-zone filled with the sort of meaningless death and violence that my friends know. In all of this I was struck by a quote by an author I can’t remember that goes something like this: “In response to tragedy we can either laugh or cry. I choose to laugh because it’s not as messy.” There is absolutely something to this. Of course my friends have cried. They are not robots. They have seen and experienced more than I am likely to ever see/experience. I would not doubt if they cry still occasionally. Grief and mourning are good expressions of being human. But eventually it would seem that there is something to turning the power of our wounds against themselves by turning them into jokes. I don’t know that I would dare wade deeper into these waters than that. Their jokes are not mine to make, but I am welcomed to laugh along with them.

I think today I had a moment where I understood something important about how that happens. One of my favorite theologians has a perspective on humor. His argument is that in light of the resurrection of Jesus, humor is a faithful response to the world. We certainly cry. We are wounded. We are bloodied. But for the Christian, God has given us an undeserved insight about the grain of the universe–it runs towards redemption in Jesus. If all the walls, all the guns, all the hatred, all the hate, all the pain, is overcome in the crucified, resurrected, and exalted Jesus…then perhaps, it is faithful to laugh deeply with tears in our grief-stricken eyes.

Today I looked out my window at the wall that has been built around Bethlehem, separating farmers from their fields, people from their livelihoods, a Palestinian economy from outside investment and I realized I was only looking at the horror. I was only looking at the pain. I was only looking at the fear. I was not looking at Jesus. The Crucified One with holes in his hands, feet, and sides who is more alive than any of us. When I did that, I remembered that the wall in all of its horror and ugliness cannot win. The wounds will be healed. The walls will come down. The guns, teargas canisters, bombs, and molotov cocktails will be beaten into plowshares to husband the ignored olive trees.

This doesn’t make the evil things here any less ugly, but it does move me to laugh. Strangely. Indescribably. Today I began to look at the ugliness with the start of a chuckle in my belly. The weight changed. I noticed it change the way I acted too. I went into Jerusalem (almost 3.5 weeks after getting here) and did touristy things. I went to Gethsemane, the church of the holy sepulcher, meandered the old city market, made a new Arab friend, had falafel for dinner, went up the Catholic Notre Dame center for a view of the city at night and drank a new favorite Palestinian beer in sight of the tension-filled “Holy” city. Then I walked through West Jerusalem and gladly spoke Hebrew with people in passing on my way to the bus home.

I noticed art. I noticed the beauty of candle-light and sung vespers in the church of the holy sepulcher. I noticed people that were kind. I noticed beer and falafel that were delicious. I noticed an unquenchable levity in my chest in spite of all the things that tempt me to hide in my apartment forever and only watch Friends. I’d like to think that what is in my chest is joy. Joy being the taste of what is to come in the reconciliation of all things in Jesus.

I have no idea if that’s what it is. I have no idea if I’m being to flippant with stories of hurt, death, and fear. I think though, that we all have to find ways forward in the dark if we’re not to collapse under the weight of the bare facts of existence. The world is a pretty ugly place. I’m not saying that looking at Jesus means that we ignore it or say, “ah, the end of evil will come, so in the meantime I’ll sit on my ass and wait.” It means that we aren’t crushed under the weight of evil. We can move forward. We can laugh. We can cry. We can work with the Holy Spirit and each other–whether we know it or not–toward what my Jewish friends call “tikkun olam” (the repair of the world). And frankly, until Jesus comes again we shouldn’t stop doing any of these things.

Just a few thoughts for you on the end of your Shabbat/Saturday.

We begin again

I am going to make a come-back on this blog.

It’s been awhile, but I’m tentatively planning on writing several times a week. Nothing fancy like the old days–no more blog post a day–I don’t have as much time and find myself with more to do. However, in the interest of reflection and keeping people relatively up to speed on my life as it is…here we go.

I live in Bethlehem now. I’m not really sure what that brings up for your mind. If anything I assume that you have a series of Christmas hymns playing in your inner monologue now. I’ve moved to the Middle East in pursuit of a MA at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. In short, I will be here for something like 2 years. I will learn a bunch of things including more modern Hebrew, more biblical Hebrew, more Greek, archaeology, akkadian–the written language of the Babylonian Empire, and many other things. If I survive the madness, I hope that PhD programs will want to pay me to keep learning.

But I’m not going to bore you (always) with my academic pursuits. For now, I’ll just say that there’s much to be learned. Living in Bethlehem means that learning as much Arabic as possible is a good idea. I’ve found with my very limited vocabulary in Arabic that people respond very well to phrases like “thank you” and “peace be upon you.” I’ve also found that basically everyone has some English. Since, I passed 7 weeks of the summer at a language intensive in Modern Hebrew I am doing quite well when I journey into Jerusalem. I can accomplish basic tasks in Hebrew like getting a gym membership and asking how much stuff costs.

Yet, there is a small problem. I happen to be able to pass for every insider group. When I walk down the road in Bethlehem, people speak to me in Arabic first. When I speak to Israeli Jews in Hebrew, they respond in Hebrew. At first you might think, “wow. That’s neat.” So did I at first. But then I realized that people speak to me like I already know their languages. While it is flattering to pass as an Israeli Jew and as a Palestinian, I can’t communicate nearly as well as folks assume in Arabic or Hebrew. I speak just enough of both to get me into a conversation that I can’t finish.

Now, in the long-term this is not an issue at all. People basically accept me as one of their own wherever I go. I shall thank my Hispanic ancestry that stretches back to Spain for the skin color and facial features that I have. These things are very helpful, and I never needed to try to have them. But at the moment people assume that I understand far more than I do as I fumble through conversations. Mostly understanding in Hebrew and getting lost in the first sentence in Arabic. One of my favorite theologians says, “we are always beginners.” This is certainly my life here.

I have started many things anew in this past season. New homes, new languages, new currency, new relationships, new foods, new spaces to be faithful to God and love other people. I am a beginner, but I am quietly reminded regularly that where I am is enough.

For example, for some inexplicable reason–to me at least–there are many Mexican Catholic Priests here in the Holy Land. I found myself at the church of the nativity the other day speaking to a Father Martin from Mexico in Spanish. I not-so-secretly plan on befriending them and speaking Spanish with them often. In another example my friend and landlady Nasra is a God-send. She has single-handedly made my life function since my arrival. Picked up from the airport shuttle, fed dinner, taken to apartment, taken to get internet and cell phone set up, introduced to shop-keepers, introduced to her friends, given many glasses of juice and coffee, given free and helpful advice. Let no one speak badly of the hospitality of Arabic people. Nasra has been a friend from day 1. Much like every other Arab person whom I have met. PS: there are many many Arabic Christians here. Just FYI.

Now, this isn’t to say that Israeli Jews are bad people either. But the cultures are different. Arab culture is much more like the Hispanic culture that I’m familiar with while Israeli Jewish culture has a more European/WASP in the USA feel to it. Now, both of these cultures were already home to me in different ways from my life experience, but I’m grateful for the order in which I’ve received them here.

There are definite challenges to living here. The atmosphere of dislike is somewhat oppressive. Jews are afraid of Arabs and Arabs are afraid of Jews. There is a wall much like the border between the USA and Mexico that I cross often to get to and from Jerusalem to where I live. It is emotionally taxing. It’s easy enough with an American passport, but dear God is it exhausting.

Also, languages complicate things. Speaking English or Arabic is good in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, speaking English or Hebrew is good in Israel and West Jerusalem. The wrong language is grounds to almost immediately invite suspicion. Not dislike, as a foreigner I have significant wiggle room (Arab folks have graciously spoken to me in Hebrew because they don’t speak English), but suspicion nonetheless. Languages function like identity markers and the language you choose to employ has political implications. The undercurrent of political and ideological zionism VS Palestinians is always present.

I wonder about the similarities in the USA with Spanish/English. There are certain places where people look down upon you for Hispanic heritage or speaking Spanish. It is seen as uncivilized. The language/culture of gardeners, day-laborers, and gangsters. On the other hand speaking English in certain Hispanic circles can be perceived as asserting the need for people to assimilate or to “speak American.” English becomes the language of the oppressor, the language of the privileged, the language of the power structure that says your culture isn’t good enough. The similarities here are self-evident.

Obviously, all languages have value. They all carry parts of humanity that are otherwise inaccessible. They all have strengths. They all have weaknesses. The problem comes when the language of one group is privileged over another. One group starts to assert its own cultural identity at the expense of the diversity of others. Diversity is not treasured. It is feared and it is overtime labeled as not authentically human. This way of being isn’t enough for a Christian or for humanity in general. God treasures the diversity of humanity and we must also.

And so, here in the Middle East amongst my various friends who likely cannot be friends with each other, I begin anew the practice of hating no one. It was easier at home where I do not have to cross a checkpoint to be with my friends. Where the structures of oppression were not regularly (outside the borders between the USA/Canada and the USA/Mexico) a literal wall of concrete and steel that I had to walk through. However, God in Jesus through the Spirit has no enemies who are human beings. So, I’ll keep asking for what it takes to be faithful to this God who has no enemies amongst humanity as I navigate these two worlds separated by a concrete wall.

Even with this wall in mind, I’d like to point something out. I submit that I am not in danger here. Everywhere I go, I am surrounded by helpful people who seek my good. I cannot count the smiles that I receive on a daily basis. The graciousness with which I am received everywhere is immeasurable. People here have known hospitality for strangers since the time of Abraham sprinting to welcome the three angels (or the Trinity?) under the tree. Maybe when you think of me in the Middle East, think of this story about Abraham instead. Think that Chauncey is a guest of 2 peoples who both seek to bless him in their own ways.

If you start there, you will be able to understand more of this place. That’s all for now. Until next time.

Salaam alekum

Shalom lechem

Peace be upon y’all

Paz sea con ustedes

Here again, eh?

Graduating again in several weeks.

Apparently this doesn’t get all that easier with each passing graduation. Preparing to say goodbye to a home (strange thought), dear friends, and wonderful professors is no fun. The only way to prepare for inevitable loss is to be present until you can’t be present anymore. Running away doesn’t work, plus I’d just miss everyone more.

So, this is my plan: to do what I would do and try to be a good friend. Eventually, I’ll have to pack up my room and move. But until then I’ll live here…oh, also papers. I’ll write papers.

Assignment for Preaching Class–Exodus 19:1-6

On the third new moon after the Israelites had gone out of the land of Egypt, on that very day, they came into the wilderness of Sinai. They had journeyed from Rephidim, entered the wilderness of Sinai, and camped in the wilderness; Israel camped there in front of the mountain. Then Moses went up to God; the LORD called to him from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. These are the words that you shall speak to the Israelites.”
So Moses came, summoned the elders of the people, and set before them all these words that the LORD had commanded him. The people all answered as one: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”

There are some words from scripture that have etched themselves into you; Words that you can’t be rid of even if you wanted to. Words that haunt you. This passage is one of those places for me. These are the words that never let me be. In the midst of my hardest times these words pursue me. I think we’re all there at some point, aren’t we? We’re led out Egypt, but then we hit the desert. We’re not in slavery anymore, but we are certainly not happy about things now in the wilderness. Why in the world would God bring us here, sure things were bad back in Epypt, but not like this. We had things we could depend on! We knew what would happen! And yet, Three months later we arrive here to the mountain of the Lord. God’s mountain is still out here in the desert. Arriving at what seemed like the destination sure doesn’t feel like it…but then God speaks. The Lord speaks. To us, this is surprising. We spent 3 months walking here wondering what it was about, but just like that the silence is broken. “You have seen what I did to the Egyptians and how I bore you on eagles wings and brought you to myself.” In the eyes of God, this journey was as though we were on eagles wings. It didn’t feel like that at all! It hurt! We walked far and left everything we knew…and yet it seems that to God, this was the easiest it could be. The loss, the walking in the wilderness…the whole point of this trip was so that God could bring us to Godself?? I didn’t understand that. Freed, sure, but brought to God? I suppose I’d always assumed that the point was to be made free, but it turns out that freedom has a point. We’re made free for a purpose. “Now therefore if you obey my voice and keep my covenant you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.” Oh. God wants us to share life with Godself? I don’t know if I even want this. If there is anything scarier than slavery, this is it. I’m almost willing to run all the way back to Egypt to avoid this. What does the Lord want? The Lord wants to treasure us. The Lord wants us to be a priestly kingdom and a holy nation. We’re supposed to represent God to everyone? I didn’t sign up for this. I didn’t ask for this responsibility…but then…all those prayers…what were they? Every time I turned to God, what did I expect to happen? I didn’t expect the Lord to listen to every single one. The ones in the pain, asking for help. The ones when I was enslaved, wanting to be free. The ones when I was wounded, asking to be healed….I think at the most basic level all of these prayers were really asking for one thing: I was always asking for God. It seems that the Lord called my bluff. God knew that when I was hurting I was really screaming for comfort. God knew that when I was enslaved I really desired a life of freedom. God knew in my wounded-ness that I wanted to be whole. And so God did the only thing God could do for us, broken, wounded, enslaved people…God brought us to Godself. And we are terrified. We didn’t sign up for this, but then…we did. We asked, and God delivered. Certainly, the thing we asked for, but we didn’t know that in our demanding help, freedom, and wholeness we were really demanding Godself to be with us. And now the Lord is…with us. Where else is there to go? Do we really have anyone better? Was there another who came to us in our misery and brought us into life? Here we are in the wilderness…at the very mountain of God and the he speaks to us asking us to live our lives with her. God has already committed to us, and now God waits with hands outstretched. Looking deep into God’s eyes for the first time we see past the terror and just there…catch a glimpse of what we truly desire. Yes, the Lord asks for and offers us everything. Yes, the Lord asks us to change…and Yes, we want him. More than want we long for God so deep that our whole being aches with longing for her. This God has always been what we have wanted…even when we didn’t know it. And so, with this quiet realization within us…we and the people of Israel take the leap: “Everything that the LORD has spoken we will do.”