This afternoon I completed my last final exam of my junior year of college. It's done.
It's been a quiet year on the blog, but it has been an absolute blast.
When I came to college freshman year, it was like I'd arrived at summer camp. New experiences, new people, and always something fun going on. Then, sophomore year, being an RA honestly put a bit of a damper on things. It was a good job for a year—very helpful financially—but it made it difficult to stay connected to friends most of the time.
This year it was like going back to freshman year, except with more responsibility and deeper relationships.
A common Sunday afternoon during football season. Living with a bunch of sports fans definitely helped me see the appeal of keeping up with sports for the first time.
Our conveniently placed Christmas tree.
Perhaps the biggest factor that contributed to this was living with friends off campus. Our three bedroom apartment was populated by five top-notch dudes, and there were another six guys next door, which made for a year full of laughter, fun, and significant relationships.
Living with Christian guys built in an incredible source of support and growth for me this year. Having spiritual conversations on a casual basis was simply a source of profound comfort and joy.
Living off campus this year gave me the opportunity to learn how to cook better. I love it!
Yet perhaps the most important aspect of this school year for me was my involvement in Catalyst, the college ministry I serve in. After a year of stagnation as a ministry last year, this year I witnessed incredible growth at Catalyst. Our numbers grew (from about 25 in average weekly attendance to around 40), and more importantly, the amount of fruit born from the ministry exploded this year. Many people either came to faith for the first time or resumed being part of Christian community after years of isolation. The number of people involved in leadership next year will be double what we had this year. People are excited for what God is doing in and through Catalyst, and they want to be a part of it.
Two new friends I made this year. I'll be leading a freshman Bible study next year with Daniel (on the left), who became a Christian this year. His story inspires me. Kyle (right) was one of the freshmen I had in my Bible study this year, and he'll be my roommate next year.
Next year, after three years of meeting on Monday nights at the church Catalyst is connected with, we will be moving to meet on campus, where we expect to reach many more people due to increased accessibility.
Part of a prayer area we set up during a trial run on campus this past quarter in preparation for next fall. Sacred space is something Catalyst really values.
All very exciting stuff. Some may wonder about my scholastic endeavors, and those have been good this year too. Most of my learning was more directly applicable to working life than in years past, and I have continued to love school. Although honestly I feel like I've kind of figured out the game. I find much more challenge and opportunity for growth in my extracurricular activities these days than I do in the classroom.
So that's the three minute version of my story this year.
On Thursday I start an internship that will keep me in Davis for the summer. I'll be working in the marketing department of a consulting company in Sacramento doing very interesting work, and I'm really stoked to see what it feels like to work full time and figure out how to balance rest with work in that type of lifestyle arrangement—which I'll presumably be facing for a long time a year from now.
That's the update for this year. I think it's worthy of the title “best year of my life so far”. I don't plan on it being the last year that earns that title.
Well, it's been over two months since I've done a post, but I recently had an opportunity to do something post-worthy. I'll keep it brief since it ended in a final product that mostly speaks for itself, but I'll give a short explanation first.
So this weekend is Catalyst's Spring Retreat. When thinking about ways to promote it, a video created by my cousin Buzzy a while back came to mind, and I borrowed the basic premise for inspiration. Those of you who've seen that will probably recognize the idea, and for those who haven't, I couldn't find it online, so you'll have to settle for the knockoff.
What's more significant though is that this is the first exercise I've done as an intentional comfort zone-expander in a while. And stretch my comfort zone it did. I think it will be obvious why.
With no further ado, here's the video (make sure your volume is up):
A typical breakfast in the DC. Between this year and last, I've eaten approximately 250 such breakfasts in the DC. I'm still excited to eat it every morning.
Well, it's been a painfully long silence on the blog, but with good reason. I've been busy. RA duties, Catalyst work, and an increased course load have combined to create a predictably saturated schedule. But I find myself with a free evening, and thought I might as well churn out a blog post I've been thinking about for a while.
Starting around 7th grade, I started meeting people who didn't eat breakfast. For one reason or another, these people simply skipped out on their morning meal (the “most important meal of the day!”) and instead waited until lunch to eat. As the age of my peers has increased, this has become even more common, with now perhaps 60% of the people I know skipping out on breakfast. There is no lack of reason for this. That extra time is something a lot of people would prefer to utilize by working or (much more commonly) sleeping.
My friend Tim (who leads worship for Catalyst) at our winter retreat. It took about five guys to roll the bottom segment of our giant snowman, who ended up being taller than any of us.
Seemingly unlike these people, I love breakfast. It is frequently my favorite meal of the day. What other meal could legitimately offer sugar-coated bread as an acceptable main course? As such, I've always made time to eat breakfast, and never really understood how people could voluntarily forgo the meal.
I gained some insight on the problem last year during a conversation with a guy who lived on my floor. I saw him eating at a table in the DC during breakfast, and I joined him after getting my customary omelette. As I sat down, I noticed that the only thing on his plate was a piece of toast with some jelly. We talked for a few minutes, and then he got up to leave. I was surprised, since he'd only eaten a piece of toast—hardly an $8.50 value, which is the cost of a swipe to get into the DC. “You're just going to have one piece of toast?” I asked. His response was enlightening to me.
“Yeah, I don't usually eat breakfast, so I'm never really very hungry in the morning.”
Hmm. He wasn't in the habit of eating in the morning, so his body wasn't really prepared to accept food. If you're wondering where this is going, here it is.
I never really had consistent time alone with God until this year. A number of factors—including having my own room and a predictable schedule—finally came together to make it relatively easy to have consistent time alone in the morning. I've never been a big fan of the term commonly used to refer to this practice (“quiet time”), but for the sake of brevity I will put it to use here.
The group that went to Catalyst's winter retreat. With 24 students (more than half of a typical Monday night), it was the largest retreat we've had, so we were quite happy with the turnout.
In the past, I honestly found quiet time to be a chore, and I didn't often get a whole lot out of it. This contributed further to the tendency not to do it at all. I would usually go months, or at least weeks at a time without spending any time reading the Bible or in focused prayer. This is descriptive of the experience of many people I've talked to. It just seems like there's not enough time to make it happen, and it turns out to be one of the first things to fall off the bottom of the list of priorities.
My experience this year, however, has been different. In addition to the practical matters, the most important factor that has led to consistency is, interestingly enough, consistency itself. As I kept with it and had quiet time with regularity, my appetite slowly increased. Before, I wasn't really hungry for it because I wasn't really used to doing it. I wasn't prepared to receive the spiritual input, and as a result, I didn't come out of it with much more than a piece of toast. I simply hadn't developed the capacity to take away anything substantial. Yet having now kept it up for a while, my appetite has reached a point where when I wake up in the morning, I'm not only ready to spend some time alone with God, but I'm actually eager to do so, and it brings a peace to the day that I otherwise miss. It's no longer a chore, but rather another breakfast to enjoy, complete with omelette, french toast, and bacon. Something to savor, and a reason to keep coming back.
I wonder what other breakfasts I'm missing out on. What other rich disciplines could be gained by an initial push to acquire an appetite?
Bridal Veil Falls, Yosemite
Well, Fall quarter has come to a close, and with it my class on the geology of national parks also ends. This class has been one of my all time favorites, due in no small part to the outstanding instructor of the course, Dr. David Osleger (although he insists his students call him Dave). He's a guy you just can't help but like. His obvious enthusiasm and expertise in geology, his kind and lighthearted nature, and his unpretentious coolness made him a really fun teacher. He actually sat down next to me one day and talked with me for a few minutes about my plans for Thanksgiving, and learned my name. This is a rare occurrence in classes of 250 people, but he's just that kind of guy. All this combined with his ability to make an hour fly by in moments with his engaging and easily understood lectures really made his class a privilege to experience.
Sorry if it sounds like I have a crush on him.
Anyway, since I enjoyed the class so much, I figured I would regurgitate some of what I learned for what I hope will be an enjoyable post. I've gone back and forth about what exactly would be best to talk about, but I've decided that the best topic to cover in this format would be Yosemite National Park. It is an ideal fit for this post because it is a bit more contained and easy to understand than some of the other topics in the class, but is still complex enough to convey an element of wonder and mystery. Additionally, it is the park I've had the most personal experience with, which will allow me to convey more understanding than I might be able to otherwise. So let's get started!
Yosemite Falls, the tallest waterfall in North America.
I'll begin by just showing some of the park's features in case anyone is unfamiliar with it. When most people think of Yosemite, they think of the valley which comprises the most popular destination within the park. In truth, it is actually more extensive than that, but for the purposes of this post I'll stick mostly to Yosemite Valley because it is sufficient to convey the information I wish to present, and is probably what most readers will experience for themselves at some point in the future.
The valley is known worldwide for its epic granite cliffs, huge waterfalls, and unique rock formations. Here is a sampling:
The iconic view down the valley on the drive in from the west.
The wet stone stairway of Mist Trail with Vernal Falls in the background.
The classic view of the valley from Glacier Point (where the dude in the black and white photo at the top is standing).
Yosemite is a haven for rock climbers (a bit more on why later).
Sunrise in the valley.
A wintery view of the valley.
Sunset in Yosemite.
It is truly a magnificent place, and the sheer imposing nature of the huge walls of the valley are difficult to portray in pictures. As John Muir said,
"No temple made with hands can compare with Yosemite. Every rock in its walls seems to glow with life...Awful in stern, immovable majesty..."
How Did the Rocks Get There?
Now at this point, I expect that readers will start dropping like flies. Easily accessible natural beauty now takes a back seat to scientific beauty, which requires a little more work to enjoy. With that in mind, I have erred on the side of length rather than brevity with this post, so I will not be offended if you decide to jump ship. For the sufficiently curious, however, I expect it to be worth it.
You may know that geology is the study of the Earth's physical structure and substance. It also looks at how the Earth's history can inform us about what is happening now, and what will happen in the future.
So how did Yosemite come to exist as it does today? How were these huge chunks of granite created? How did they get to where they are now?
These questions open the door to explain one of the fundamental tools of geology: actualism. Actualism is the use of modern observation to understand ancient phenomena. For example, if you want to know how a particular kind of rock was formed, look for where that rock is forming today. A common example is limestone, which is characterized by the mineral calcite. Calcite is a mineral found in the skeletons of marine organisms, notably coral and shellfish. So to find where limestone is forming today, head to the Bahamas or another shallow tropical sea and observe how calcite is being deposited on the sea floor and over time becoming pressurized into limestone. Similarly, this same idea can help us understand what various regions were like during the formation of particular rocks. For instance, since we observe large slabs of limestone in the Colorado Plateau, we can deduce that the area was once covered in a shallow sea. This might seem like a stretch at first glance, but once you look at all the details, there's really not much guesswork to it.
Again, this is the idea of actualism: using modern observation to understand ancient phenomena. In Yosemite, we see that granite dominates the landscape. So we need to understand how granite forms in order to understand how the rocks of Yosemite came to be. Now it makes sense to tell you at this time that we know that granite forms from slowly cooling molten rock. But then where does the molten rock come from? To get a complete picture of how the rocks of Yosemite formed, we'll head to a place you probably wouldn't expect: the Andes Mountains of South America.
When molten rock cools, it begins to form crystals. At the surface (such as after being erupted from a volcano) it is immediately exposed to cold air or water, which doesn't leave much time for minerals to crystalize before it's solid. This results in rocks with very small crystals (like basalt) or no crystals at all (like obsidian). When the molten rock cools underground, however, it cools much more slowly, and there is more time for crystals to form. This results in rocks with larger crystals, like granite. This is a big reason that the granite walls of Yosemite Valley are so attractive to rock climbers—the large crystals of granite give a perfect texture for climbing.
In order to understand the Andes (and in turn, Yosemite), you need a basic understanding of plate tectonics, because at the root of what makes the Andes tick is the collision of two tectonic plates.
This diagram shows the layers of the Earth. The pie slice at the left is not to scale, but shows the different layers clearly. The semi-sphere at the right shows the layers at their actual scale.
I won't assume that everyone is familiar with plate tectonics, so here is a brief explanation. The Earth is not just a big hunk of solid rock. Only the very outer layer, called the crust, is solid rock. Beneath the crust, about 3-6 miles underground, the mantle begins. The mantle is composed of rock that is extremely hot, and sometimes liquid (you can think of this as magma, or underground lava). It is fluid enough that it can flow very slowly over time. The closer to the center of the Earth you get, the hotter this molten rock becomes until you reach the Earth's core, which is composed of liquid metals, and at the very center solid metals (at least this is the notion most commonly accepted, since we've obviously never been there).
This diagram shows all the different plates of the Earth's crust.
Now back to the crust. The crust is composed of different sections, called plates. These plates are separate from one another, and you can picture them “floating” on top of the mantle. As heat flows through the mantle, the rock in the mantle slowly flows in currents called convection cells. This movement of the mantle causes the plates on top of the mantle to also move. Think of a boat sitting in a flowing river. It wants to move in the direction of the water under it. The same goes for the plates on top of the mantle. The mantle flows in different directions at different locations, however, which in turn makes the plates want to move in different directions. This causes the plates to collide with one another along faults, which are the areas where different plates touch. As you probably know, when plates collide along faults, it results in an earthquake.
Every Californian's least favorite fault, the San Andreas.
The Nazca plate off the coast of South America is moving eastward while the South American plate is moving westward. How does that work?
So those are the basics of plate tectonics, which is a crucial building block in understanding the origin of the rocks in Yosemite. To see why, let's look back at the Andes. Like I mentioned before, there is a plate just off the west coast of South America called the Nazca plate, and it is moving eastward into the South American plate, which is moving westward. Since the Nazca plate is an oceanic plate, it is denser than the South American plate (essentially meaning that the Nazca plate is heavier). This is causing it to subduct.
Dang it Landon, if you throw me another piece of jargon I'm gonna to smash my computer! Would you get to the point already?!?!
Stay with me.
Like I said, since the Nazca plate is heavier, it subducts. This means it's moving under the South American plate. It's a lot like this:
Now, this movement isn't exactly constant like the video portrays. It happens slowly over thousands of years, with each movement of perhaps 1-5 meters resulting in an earthquake of some magnitude.
Here's the important thing. The Nazca plate continues to move downward at an angle. As it goes down, the pressure from the weight of all the rock above increases. At a certain depth, the pressure gets so great that it causes the temperature to rise. Once the temperature increases sufficiently (at a depth a few kilometers beneath the surface), the rock actually begins to melt at the point where the two plates continue to scrape together. Once the rock is melted into liquid form (magma), it begins to rise because it is lighter than the surrounding rock. This causes an upward rising stream of magma to slowly ascend from the point of melting.
At some point, the magma temporarily halts its ascent and gathers in a huge underground pool of magma, still about a kilometer beneath the surface. This huge bubble of underground magma is called a pluton. As magma accumulates and pressure increases, magma begins to rise from the pluton in small streams, usually flowing along cracks in the overlying rock. Over time, streams of magma continue to rise, and some will eventually rise all the way to the surface to form volcanoes. It should be noted that this is not how all volcanoes form, but is just one way.
You can see how this process works back in that video above. Look off to the right side underground.
The Patagonian Andes.
As a result, we see a string of volcanoes along the Andes Mountains, but this is not important for our discussion of Yosemite. Remember those plutons though? Those big underground bubbles of magma. That's what we're concerned with for Yosemite.
During the Mesozoic era, about 150 million years ago, the west coast of North America was in a very similar situation to the modern day coast of South America. A tectonic plate called the Farallon plate was subducting under the North American plate, just like the Nazca plate is currently subducting under the South American plate. This Farallon plate's subduction is also believed to have been responsible for the uplift of the Rocky Mountains later on, and possibly the extension of the west side of North America after that (the distance from Reno to Salt Lake City is thought to have doubled over the last 16 million years). We can still see the remnants of the Farallon plate in the small Juan de Fuca plate off the Pacific Northwest and the Cocos plate off the coast of Central America. Other than that, it has almost completely subducted under the North American plate.
But the important thing is that during the Mesozoic, there was magma production under the area of the Sierra Nevada range. We can assume that the ancient Sierra Nevada was very much like the modern Andes in size and scope, but that doesn't have a whole lot to do with the modern day Sierra Nevada.
This diagram shows different kinds/parts of magma flow from underground. At the very bottom, you'll see the huge formation of magma called a batholith. That's what we'll be looking at later.
Think back to those plutons I mentioned earlier (the big underground bubbles of magma). There were lots of those under the ancient Sierra Nevada. So many, in fact, that many joined together to where there was an almost continuous string of plutons under the west coast of North America. Eventually, the Farallon plate's subduction changed in nature such that it was no longer producing enough magma to replenish the plutons, and the plutons began to slowly solidify. By the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, the plutons had pretty much solidified into huge underground hunks of granite. This ran up and down the west coast, and comprised a huge formation of underground rock called the Sierran Batholith. Some of you will probably see where this is going by now.
This map shows roughly the area of the underground Sierran Batholith.
During this entire process, the overlying mountains were being eroded away. Additionally, the huge hunks of granite were somewhat less dense than the surrounding rock, so the granite began to slowly rise, almost buoyantly. Between the erosion of the ground above the batholith and the buoyant ascent of the batholith itself, much of the granite eventually reached the surface, being just barely exposed.
This image shows the process of a pluton's uplift to the surface. At the top left, it shows the pluton's active magma form. By the top right, it has solidified into solid rock. At the bottom, the overlying rock has been largely eroded away, and the underground pluton has 'buoyantly' risen to the surface, and has been somewhat eroded by surface erosion.
This process of uplift was greatly accelerated about 16 million years ago. Around that time was when the continent began to expand from the inside (which I mentioned earlier). This was due to other tectonic forces most likely having to do with the Farallon plate, but that's really all you need to know. What is important is that increased tectonic force was applied to the Sierra Nevada region, and faults began to form on the east side of the granite batholiths that began to slowly push the huge granite batholith upward, one earthquake at a time. By the time the most recent ice ages hit about 2 million years ago, the Sierra Nevada had once again become a substantial mountain range due to the uplift of the Sierran Batholith due to faulting on its east side. By this time, Yosemite was largely on its way to looking how it does today.
The Final Landscaping
So by this time, the stage was set for Yosemite, but it was still sort of a “blank canvas”. Over the past few million years, there have been a few of important geological phenomena that have brought it to its present condition.
The face of half dome came to be because of natural cracks (or joints) that formed in the rock. One rockfall at a time, rock has fallen away from the face until reaching its present iconic shape.
The first important phenomenon is called vertical fracturing, also called jointing. This refers to the natural formation of cracks in the huge mountains of granite. Specifically, the huge vertical cliffs like El Capitan are a result of these cracks forming at vertical angles. Over time, the cracks are intruded by water and ice, which expands the cracks even more, until finally gravity takes over and causes a huge slab of rock to fall off, leaving a new vertical cliff in its place. These can be truly massive rock falls with really significant damage left in their wake. For instance, the 1996 rockfall in the Happy Isles area of the park caused the flattening of over 1000 trees—just from the air blast generated by the falling rock.
These kinds of rockfalls were probably what gave the valley it's initial shape, which was later altered by other erosive forces, like glaciers. Here's a great video produced by the park on Rockfalls if you're interested:
The other important erosive force in Yosemite's history is glaciation—the movement of glaciers through the park during the most recent ice ages. Until about 15,000 years ago, glaciers ran through Yosemite and are responsible for a number of characteristics of the valley. First, the glacier bulldozed away any loose rocks on the valley floor, deepening the valley and clearing ground. Second, the glaciers carved the walls of the valley, smoothing the faces of the cliffs and rounding out the shape of the valley. These are really the two main things that glaciation did for the park.
This is the Fox and Franz Josef Glacier in New Zealand. During recent ice ages, glaciers like this one made their way through Yosemite Valley, carving smooth the granite walls to their present shape.
I could talk about just a few other things, but I would imagine most people are ready to get off the ride by this point. So in summary, Yosemite was created by the formation of a granitic batholith due to the hardening of plutonic magma that was brought up from the subduction zone of the Farallon plate. The batholith was then uplifted due to buoyancy (technically, isostatic uplift) and erosion of overlying rock, followed by faulting along the eastern side which uplifted the modern Sierra Nevada. The landscape of the park was finally formed by the erosive processes of jointing and glaciation. And that's about all I have to say.
The great El Capitan.
Actually, there's one more thing. At the risk of preventing the creation from speaking for itself, I would like to express my humblest awe at the methods used by God to create these beautiful places. Sure, He could've poofed it into existence, but I guess that would have been too easy. After all, you and I might have been able to have that idea. But I'm pretty sure I could not have engineered a universe that would provide for such a creative process as this one. I'm absolutely awestruck.
And that's just Yosemite.
One of the few shots I've had a chance to get in a while.
Well, some of you may have noticed that the blog's been rather quiet lately. In fact, it's been six weeks since the last post. That's three times the length that I allowed myself between posts last year. It feels like it's been several months since my last post due to all the minutiae that have flown through my radar, but it also feels like it's been just a week or two due to how fast everything's happening. There are numerous reasons that I haven't been posting as frequently, but it all basically boils down to my being busy. Last year, I was busy, but probably only about 75% as busy as I am now. And much of my “busy” time last year was spent in the company of friends, while this year I've had more time alone.
The disparity between the free time I had last year and the amount that I have now has contributed two forces that have combined to make it nearly impossible for me to blog consistently. The first is that I don't have as much time or energy to actually write (or take pictures, as this relatively barren entry suggests). Even more important than this, however, is that my business has prevented me from having as many interesting experiences that are worth writing about. This is what's been more disappointing to me. My life has been very busy, but lacking in excitement or energy, which seems like a pity at this stage in my life. I don't mean to say that there haven't been bright points—on the contrary, there are a few gems that are slowly giving me insight that will make great future posts—but on the whole, I've been craving adventure and new experiences. It seems that last year got me hooked.
This is one reason that I was happy to be on-call this halloween weekend. Each RA has one weeknight every week that s/he is responsible for being on call, as well as one weekend every quarter. Most often, being on-call simply means that you have to walk around all the dorms in your area after 11:15pm with your partner (RAs are always on call in pairs) as well as answering any calls on the on-call phone, which usually just means someone has locked themselves out of their room.
So for the past month since move in, I had gone on rounds four times (once a week), and had encountered nothing more severe than some noise policy violations. These are just a matter of knocking on a door, telling residents that they're being too loud, collecting their ID info, and moving on. Not terribly interesting.
I was quite excited, however, to be on-call for the weekend of Halloween, because it is a notoriously eventful weekend. Parties are rampant, and the likelihood for more serious shenanigans rises exponentially. Some might question my sanity for wanting such a weekend, but I was really just hoping to do something exciting. I got my wish.
I was on rounds on Friday night (or Saturday morning) with my partner, Rose, and it was a pretty quiet night for the most part. Weekend rounds start at 1:15am, so we were heading steadily toward completion at around 1:50 when we entered our last building. This building is known to be the “crazy” building. It is home to the art/music residential program, which seems to attract some wild folks. So we went into the building, and it was actually pretty quiet. It seemed that most people were still out on the town. The only thing we encountered was a collection of pumpkins in the hallway, which are not allowed outside resident rooms since they are against fire code and are easily smashed into gooey messes. Yes, being an RA does mean being a fun killer at times unfortunately. So we gathered up the pumpkins once we finished going through the building, and exited the building to take them to the staff office for safekeeping in case someone wanted to claim them. As we exited the building though, the night took a turn. A couple of residents ran up to us from across the courtyard and said they needed help with a girl they thought might have alcohol poisoning. Finally.
So we put down the pumpkins, and walked quickly across the courtyard to find a group of people huddled around a person on the ground by the street. The group of ten or so bystanders cleared as we walked up, and we saw on the ground a rather large girl in a costume that might have been less revealing before she'd lost her mind (but probably not). The good news was that she was conscious, although she was not coherent. She couldn't answer questions, and she had no physical coordination whatsoever. She could just lay there wailing. She was able to recognize that we were RAs, which she was not happy about. She began crying, “No! RAs! Don't tell them! Don't tell them anything!” At varying intervals she would also wail, “I'm so irresponsible!”.
The people around weren't able to give us much information except for her first name. I called the paramedics while my partner collected ID information from the bystanders. The girl's roommate showed up and was able to identify her for us right before the paramedics arrived. We gave them what information we had, and I took notes on what the other bystanders told them (it seems people are much more willing to share information with non-RA authorities). The story was that the girl had been at a frat party and had consumed between eight and ten drinks within a few hours, which is not a recipe for a good night. They decided she needed to be hospitalized, so I called in the situation to my boss.
Well, I was quite happy that I'd finally gotten to see some action. We had finished our actual rounds, so we went back to my room to write up the report. The night wasn't over yet though. When we were just about done writing the report, at about 2:30am, the on-call phone rang with its startling screech. I answered the phone.
“Hey Landon, it's JD.” A Resident Community Assistant in another building. “Me and Juan are sitting over here in our building, and there's a room down the hall with some pretty loud music and shouting, and we heard some people inside shouting, 'you almost made it!' We thought you might want to check it out.” Interesting.
We dropped our report and headed over to the building. As soon as we entered the hallway, we heard the loud subwoofers coming from down the hall. We approached the room it was coming from and began to hear voices. We knocked and waited. Thirty seconds went by with no reaction, so we figured they must not have heard us. We knocked again, louder this time. A few seconds later, the door opened.
Inside, there were two girls sitting down on the left side of the room, a guy standing at the door, and a guy on the opposite side of the room dancing against a girl who had undone all but a single button on her shirt. What we saw first, however, was a large table in the center of the room with red cups set up in two opposing triangles filled with beer. If you're not familiar, this is the set up for the now-ubiquitous game “Beer Pong”. They had cleared all their furniture out of the room to make room for the table. We had to ask them to turn off the music, and it took them half a minute to do so. Once the music was off and we had their attention, we informed them that we had come because of the noise, but that alcohol was also a serious violation of Student Housing policy. We asked for their Ids, and miraculously they had somehow managed to not have their IDs on them. Shucks, what a shame. We asked if any of them lived in the room, and lo and behold, they were all visitors, and none of them lived in the room! Funny how that works. Supposedly their host had left a mere five minutes earlier, and they didn't know when he'd be back. We asked their names, and they each gave us a name and school they attended. Their giggling during this process pretty much gave away that all their information was fake, but there was nothing we could do. We asked if they were 21, and you can guess their answer. Of course they were. They had no ID to prove this, so we had them dump out all the alcohol in the bathroom sink. We then escorted them out of the building since they had no host, and that was it.
We went back to my room to finish the last report, and then do the new one, and by the time we were done, it was 4:10 in the morning. I certainly got what I was hoping for, and when I woke up at noon the next day, I was tired, but was also happy that I got through the night with some memorable experiences in tow.
So that was Friday night. Saturday wasn't quite as thrilling (we only had one group of kids with alcohol to deal with), but I was just fine with that. One night of havoc was enough. I'm sure I'll have some more though.
The group of folks that went to Catalyst's Fall retreat.
In other news, I've been MC'ing for Catalyst, putting on programs for residents, and doing school. I also led worship at Catalyst's Fall retreat since our normal guy (who is also an RA) was unable to go. I've also been engrossed in travel fantasies due to my Geology of National Parks class (which is sure to get its own post eventually).
Other than that, it's been just a matter of pressing on through. Hopefully I'll be able to post a little more frequently as the year moves on. We'll see.
It turns out that having a job is a lot of work. I think it's safe to say that the past two weeks have required more endurance than any time I've previously experienced. Two weeks ago today, I was sitting in this same dorm room, preparing for the first day of RA training.
The call time that Tuesday morning was 6:45am. I finished my work that evening at 9:45pm. The long days of training were filled with lessons covering a wide array of topics, ranging from sexual harassment to how to fill out an incident report. We learned how to recognize alcohol poisoning and how to work with victims of sexual assault. There were days devoted to us mapping out our own identities to share with others so we could understand each person's different background. I learned that Student Housing loves diversity and “identity sensitivity” (never say “you guys”, “lame”, or anything else that supports our society's marginalization of the “subordinate groups”). All the while, we spent our evenings working on door decorations, bulletin boards, posters, and other projects for the dorms.
My desk during the process of making door decorations. My building is home to the Quiet Program, with extended quiet hours, so I decided to make it ninja themed, because they are quiet. Accordingly, each door decoration is adorned with a paper ninja.
While all this was going on, I had my undercover job of doing publicity for Catalyst, which included creating flyers, redesigning the website, and getting signs ready on campus for Fall Welcome Week (which starts today).
Combined, all these tasks forced me to have several sixteen hour days in a row. By the end of training, I was exhausted. Completely spent. Even after a day of complete rest on Friday, I wasn't sure how I was feeling. I still kind of felt like I was off.
On Saturday, residents started moving in, and I was on for the 7-11am move-in shift. As odd as it may seem, this is what got me out of my funk. Helping residents with questions and solving problems was an incredibly refreshing reminder of why I took the RA job. It just felt good to be there for people as they were trying to adjust to a completely new environment.
The joyous afternoon of move in. This is the courtyard outside my building.
Last night (Sunday night), all our residents were finally moved in, and we had our first Community Development meeting, which is where we go over general resources and policies that they need to be aware of. It's quite a strange phenomenon, and I'm almost hesitant to admit it yet because it just feels so contrary to my natural personality, but I'm finding that I really like being in front of people and talking. For some reason, it just unlocks my freedom to speak and joke around. After the CD meeting, my RA partner said to me, “You're really funny. I kind of thought you were quiet before, but I was obviously wrong.”
The flyer I made for Catalyst's welcome week events. Notice the gentleman in the corner.
After last night, I'm feeling back at 100% and ready to face the upcoming year. Things will still be a little crazy through the rest of this week, but next week, after classes have started, things will begin to take on a bit more steady pace.
As I think back to my experience of moving in a year ago, I can't help but wonder if any of my residents are going through the same thing I was. Is anyone feeling alone? Does anyone feel attacked for their beliefs? I'm sure the answer is yes, but who could it be...
My new dorm room. All to myself.
Yesterday I moved into my new dorm room, where I'll be living for the rest of the school year. For me, this marks the end of the summer and a transition to a new season. I thought, however, that it would be worthwhile to spend a
post summarizing my summer activities. I find that when I don't stop to consider what I've learned I don't end up retaining anything. This post will aim to prevent that.
My first endeavor of the summer was to try my hand at starting a business. Specifically, my goal was to contract with local businesses to distribute flyers to nearby residents. I decided to go for it as a sort of personal internship to learn the ropes of how to navigate all the administrative requirements for starting a business, as well as to get some experience cold calling to see if a sales-oriented job could be for me in the future.
To make a long story short, I didn't end up making the business actually work. The main roadblock I ran up against was simply not being able to get in touch with the owners of the businesses. I never made it past clerks in the storefront. While I didn't end up with a successful business, I did learn a handful of very valuable lessons. I did manage to figure out and execute all the steps necessary to make it a legal operating business, including getting a business license, filing a fictitious business name statement and publishing it with a newspaper, getting a business account at my bank, and registering with the IRS for an employer identification number (although I never got far enough to hire employees). Also, it gave me a reason to learn more web design, and I ended up with the skills to code a descent website from scratch (it's still up if you want to check it out
Perhaps most importantly, I discovered important aspects of what I enjoy doing and what drains my energy. I found that I was energized by the process of planning out what the business could be and putting together the marketing materials, writing copy, and assembling the concept in preparation for selling it. When it came time to actually walk up to strangers and try to convince them to buy it, however, I found myself stressed and less motivated. I am very fortunate to live in an age where selling a product is requiring less and less face time with customers thanks to the Internet, a factor I now know to take advantage of in future endeavors.
The other (unexpected) project for the summer opened up just days before I returned home. It began when I received an email from Kai Reiss, my old youth pastor, and it started something like this:
“How would you like to be the high school worship leader for the summer, and play behind a full band, arrange and orchestrate guided intimate worship experiences, and play guitar and sing lead vocals on a worship CD?“
This email was most surprising simply because I had no formal experience as a worship leader and Kai had never heard so much as a note out of me. I figured though that it sounded like an opportunity too good to pass up, and it would certainly qualify as an expansion of my comfort zone.
The youth summer camp ('The Big Spur in Big Sur') was one of the highlights of the summer. More pictures below.
I can now say that I am incredibly glad that I did not pass up the opportunity. I learned a boatload of new musical knowledge from Kai, who was a professional musician for decades before his arms suffered nerve damage from a combination of bad genetics and excessive practice. Furthermore, I had a blast hanging with the high school students I was leading, many of whom I'd never met before. It was great seeing the fruit of the youth group continuing to grow.
At the beginning of the summer, the leaders of the youth group felt that the students were not really connecting with worship, as evidenced by excessive talking during the music and other signs of waning interest in the months since I'd left. My goal, having experienced an entirely new level of worship during last school year, was to show the students how rich worship can be for those who really push themselves. By the end of the summer, through the concentrated efforts of many leaders and the Holy Spirit, the consensus was that the students had moved to a new place spiritually and were able to worship God authentically as a group through music. Seeing the progress over the summer was an awesome experience.
As was hinted earlier, one product of our labor was a seven-track CD that we recorded, including one original song, which you can listen to and download here
Some of our reunited family on the Tennessee trip.
The summer had many other memorable experiences, including a family trip to Nashville, Tennessee, and many evenings spent sitting in the Grand Californian Hotel discussing summer reading with my friend Truman. Altogether it was probably my most productive summer ever, filled with memories that will benefit me for years to come.
A shot of the slave quarters at the Carnton plantation (also pictured above), which we visited with our grandparents and cousins. It was a unique look at history in the first person.
Packing was messy.
Now my attention turns to the year ahead. Tomorrow morning at 8am, I will gather with 100 other Resident Advisors to begin two weeks of training for 9 hours a day. When training concludes, I'll be welcoming 90 freshmen into my building and be orienting them to their new life on campus. In the meantime I'll be organizing things with Catalyst leadership preparing for our fall welcome festivities. It's a busy time, and an exciting one. Stay tuned.
The end is near, and all of Davis stirs in acknowledgement. People groan at the onslaught of finals, and are fueled by the glimmer of hope that lies beyond in the land of summer. The sense of conclusion is inescapable. In the last five days, I've been to four “end of the year” barbecues, and a mixture of nostalgia, joy, and sadness has characterized all social interaction. Each meal with friends is concluded by an even longer conversation outside the dining commons. Last night, I had my final hangout session with my most tight-knit bible study, playing Starcraft until one in the morning. My quirky and lovable bible study leader affectionately titled the event “One Last Dump”.
Mud football! A highlight of fall quarter.
Today, the sense of culmination reached its highest yet as our group of fifteen friends had our final after-church brunch in the DC, which we stretched out for more than two hours. At its conclusion, our group was reduced to simply standing in a circle outside the DC until nobody could think of anything else to say, and we simply stood there looking at each other, none of us wanting to end what has been an incredible year of intimate growth.
We came into this year nervous, eager, and completely naïve of what the future might hold. As each quarter passed and the level of joy escalated, every expectation of what we hoped to get out of college was surpassed in greater magnitude. We entered college hoping to make a few friends and learn some stuff, and at the conclusion of this first year, I think we all look back in wonder. For many, it was the first time experiencing such intimate and authentic community, so filled with laughter, affection, and support in the midst of united struggle.
And now, the time has come for the community to disband for the summer. While most are excited for the events their summers have in store, everyone is simultaneously filled with a great sense of loss. Before us lies a three month span during which we will not see the people we've grown so close to. Being freshmen, none of us have experienced this break, and we can't foresee what it will be like coming back. Will it be the same? Are we going to be able to just pick up where we left off? I'm almost certain that those questions will be answered in the affirmative, but nonetheless everyone is sad to see the year end.
After all, the end of this year marks the conclusion of the first quarter of the game. We're done with the first lap of the mile. This leaves us with only three more to labor through and enjoy before our separation will most likely be permanent. As a result, each moment we have together holds all the more weight.
After such an amazing first year, it's impossible not to wonder what the next three may hold. Can it really get better than this?
So far, life really has gotten better at each stage. The last two years of high school, I saw tremendous growth in my life, starting the process of learning how to interact with others and really embracing the challenge of academics. This year, growth occurred at an even faster pace.
You've gotta love a good duck and a Justin Bieber haircut.
The folks with whom I'll be serving in Catalyst next year. Promising bunch, eh?
And it is thus that I mark an end to this first chapter of my college experience. At this point, seeing the incredible progress of this first year, I can only imagine what new things I will experience in the next chapter. Will friends be just as amazing? Will life as an RA be as crazy and entertaining as I think it will be? Will Catalyst continue to grow? I don't even know all of the questions to ask, simply because I cannot predict what next year will hold. I am excited to discover it though.
I hope you'll continue following along on this journey, because the traffic on this blog is a large part of my inspiration to go out and do crazy things, and it keeps me thinking of how to push boundaries. For that, I would like to thank those of you who read the blog.
In just a few days, after finishing finals, I will begin my journey back home for the summer. Since I will be personally interacting with the majority of my readers, I will be shifting away from personal updates and moving more toward practical and spiritual musings. When life in Davis resumes, I will return to personal narrative and the action will recommence.
And now, as with so many things this time of year, it is time to conclude. It's been a life-changing year, and I hope you'll stick around to see the next chapter of the story.
So this quarter, I've had the mixed blessing and burden of being in a seminar called “The Creative Process in Studio Art”. The seminar has been a little bit of a burden because while it is only worth two units, the workload has been greater than its units would suggest. At the same time, however, the class has brought me numerous opportunities to interact with ideas and concepts that I've never encountered, and if nothing else, gave me a chance to visit some pretty legit museums.
Our focus during the course was largely on modern art. If you're like me, the phrase modern art will bring feelings of skepticism and suspicion. Can these people really justify this as art? Does this actually take any skill? He sold that toilet seat for how much?
For me, these are indeed the thoughts that accompany my ears' reception of the phrase “modern art”. Or at least it was before taking this seminar.
I still have rather ambivalent feelings about a lot of the stuff that gets classified as modern art, but this class did legitimately change the way I see much of it.
The change in my feelings is especially notable because it occurred without my realizing it at first.
A bit of downtown SF outside the MoMA.
The first main event of the seminar was a field trip to the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, a significant museum by almost any standard. As I went through the museum, my defenses were fairly high. The artworks were pretty much guilty until proven innocent by my judgment, but I did try to give every piece I saw a fair chance to earn my interest. Some remained uninteresting. This is the ultimate failure of an artwork by my standards. Even a work that evokes emotions of complete disgust can be quite successful if that's what the artist was aiming to create for the viewer. But a piece that leaves the viewer indifferent has done nothing to justify its creation (Revelation 3:16, anyone?).
Jean Arp's 'Concretion humaine sans coupe'.
Anyway, while some pieces were not interesting to me, some were. And some that weren't interesting at first became fascinating upon further inspection. One of my favorite pieces that I encountered at the MoMA was a sculpture by Jean Arp, who lived from 1886-1966. This was one of those pieces that seemed uninspiring at first. As I approached the bronze sculpture, I felt like I was looking at it from the wrong angle, so I went around to the other side. As I moved around it, it seemed like each side presented a shape that changed the dynamic of the whole thing. I kept moving around it, but I could not find a view that allowed me to feel like I was taking in the whole piece at once. In this way, the sculpture brought me a feeling of discontent that is difficult to describe (the picture really doesn't capture the phenomena I experienced). I walked around the piece for probably three minutes until I finally gave up on finding the view that would best enable me to digest the piece as a whole.
But I realized that this made it a very significant work. This feeling is something that would be extremely difficult to create for a viewer on command. Even if this piece's shape was completely random (as one is tempted to conclude), it was able to evoke in me a feeling that I can't even rightly put into words.
Georges Braque's 'Vase, palette, et mandoline'.
So that was one experience that kind of sums up a number of similar experiences that punctuated the visit to the museum. And of course, one can't view works by the likes of Picasso, Matisse, Braque, Magritte, and other eminent artists without being overcome by a sense of historic significance.
Over the course of the ensuing weeks, we viewed a series of PBS documentaries called Art 21, which document the works and inspirations of various modern artists of the 21st century. The films showed some of the greatest crackpots I've ever seen, people whose jobs seem to be supported by a simple overabundance of wealth in certain circles of rich people. But of course, other artists seemed more well founded and legitimate. Long story short, I had a pretty long series of exposures to the modern art culture before the next museum visit a month and a half later.
Behold, the work of genius artist Robert Ryman, aptly titled 'No Title Required'.
The next visit was to the Crocker museum in Sacramento. This museum had a more diverse selection, with the first floor devoted to modern art, and the second floor reserved for older pieces collected by the Crocker family. I reacted to the first floor of the museum much like I had reacted to the MoMA, remaining rather skeptical (with the exception of a couple of pieces that were simply astonishing, such as Stephen Kaltenbach's "Portrait of My Father", featured below).
Stephen Kaltenbach's 'Portrait of my father'. This epic 14'x9' acrylic on canvas took the artist seven years to paint in a countryside barn. The work was almost a sort of meditation for him as he recreated this mental snapshot of his father on his deathbed in the years following his father's death. The full impact of the painting is incomplete without a close up view (below), which shows the broad strokes of color that give the painting a cosmic feeling, as well as the tiny details that give each wrinkle and strand of hair its own careful shading.
It was when I reached the second floor of the museum that I received the greatest surprise of the entire seminar, because it was there that I encountered more traditional pieces for the first time since starting the seminar. The feeling that hit me as I walked the halls of landscape and still life paintings was one of emptiness. Certainly, the walls contained a token few paintings that were breathtaking simply for their technical difficulty, but for the most part, the paintings felt devoid of meaning. Produced simply to “look nice”. Now I'm not saying there's not a place for such works, but as I perused the traditional paintings, I couldn't help but miss the comparative depth and complexity contained within the modern art I had been skeptically approaching.
Looks great, but what's it about? (Check out Celia's comment below)
Thus, it came as a surprise to myself that observing traditional art turned out to be how I came to a greater appreciation of modern art. Because while at times modern art has its own feeling of emptiness in the secular pursuit of meaning, it at least has a clear intention to reach beyond the simple intention of decorating a wall, and exists to grasp at something outside what we normally think about.
Before I wrap up this post, I have to talk about the last stop that we made as a class, which was a trip to the home studio of a guy named Dave Lane.
He may be the most eccentric person I've ever met. We pulled up to the house, and he was sitting on the steps of the porch, apparently awaiting our arrival. He seemed like he was probably about fifty-five years old, and he wore a light sweater and loose-fitting slacks.
A mini planet mover.
When beginning a discussion of Dave Lane, it is almost necessary to enter into another universe—an alternate reality of sorts. His is a world characterized by whimsical and strange machines that carry out the physical laws of the universe. Planet movers, star makers, and devices for creating twilight were all among the creations I witnessed in his backyard workshop. And these devices are constructed at massive size, as the pictures below display. To create these machines, he uses piles of old farm equipment, factory parts, and all manner of metal parts predating the 1960s.
He discussed these creations as if they were really created to live up to their names.
The lower part of the 'Device for Creating Twlilight'.
“See, what you do here is just move this lever, and that operates the pump to push the light through,” he explained as he showcased his “Device for Creating Twilight”. The thing is, he never actually introduced us to the universe in which his art takes place. He simply rattled on about the different functions of his devices, and I suppose he expected us to pick up on the idea of the theme of his art. But it certainly could have sounded like he was simply insane. I'm pretty sure he's not though.
Equally intriguing were his so called "thought maps", visual representations of his patterns of thought, which link dozens of little ideas all together into a single “map”. Looking at the maps was an incredible window into his mind, and helped explain his eccentricity. Most of the maps were just on paper, but several made it into three dimensions, sometimes being transferred chaotically onto globes, which were placed on miniature planet movers. In this way, it felt like there was some overarching connection between his thought maps and his interstellar physics machines, but I still haven't been able to articulate that connection.
Three of Lane's thought maps. Altogether, he has over twenty of these things framed on his walls. That's not including the hundreds of unframed (and sometimes unfinished) thought maps he keeps in a categorized file.
Another thing worth noting is that he does all of this simply out of a need to express himself. He has a day job working for the state as an engineer managing water supplies. He simply does art as he is financially able, and occasionally gets commissioned to do a public work. He has won multiple state fairs, but you can tell that that's not why he does it. He really just loves to create and think, and try to convey his ideas to others through art.
Overall, the visit to his home studio is probably better illustrated than described, so here are some pictures to give a better idea of what it was like.
One of Lane's special 3D thought maps.
Another 3D thought map. This one was just the center of a floor-size series of concentric cubes, each with a detailed covering of intricate text.
One of Lane's globes sitting atop a miniature planet mover. The globe has a very similar feel to the thought maps.
A diagram of a sample solar system in Dave Lane's alternate universe.
Remember the mini planet mover earlier? This is the real deal.
Dave Lane explains the idea behind his star makers, one of which is in the background. That's one of his smallest ones.
Here you can see Lane's largest star maker. He constructs these all in his back yard using a tripod crane that you can see sitting above the star maker.
Lane showed us around his back yard workshop, which was filled with all kinds of crazy old metal parts, grouped by shape.
A sample section of wall space in Lane's workshop.
The scraps underneath the cutting table where Lane shapes many pieces before using them.
A piece that Lane did for a state fair one year. Each tooth of each saw is labeled on one side with an emotion, and on the other side with a verb or noun that might cause that emotion. Moreover, each emotion is supposed to flow with the adjacent emotions on other teeth.
So together, all these things have constituted the highlights of my experience in my art seminar this quarter. I certainly encountered new ideas and gained fresh perspective. I'm still pretty reserved toward modern art, but I have definitely gained a new appreciation for it, and have found that much of it can be very worthwhile when given enough consideration.
So I've finally landed at one fellowship where I will be investing the majority of my efforts next year. It's called Catalyst. Deciding to stick there was not an easy choice to make for a variety of reasons.
It is easily the smallest of the fellowship's I've been going to, with an attendance of perhaps forty students on a good night. This is primarily because it is so new. Prior to the start of this year, the group met on Sunday mornings as a sort of church service for college students at University Covenant Church, which is the church I've been going to consistently for about five months.
This year, it was decided by the leadership that the group would transition from its previous form into a more separate entity with its own community rather than remaining as a tacked-on service for college students at UCC. So the meeting time was moved from Sunday mornings to Monday nights, and the group was renamed Catalyst.
The reason for making this change is a big part of what defines the leadership's vision, and is incidentally a big part of why I have felt called to serve at Catalyst. When the service met on Sunday mornings, they would get a relatively large turnout, perhaps eighty people, but the number of people who were actually a part of the community was much lower, maybe ten people. The leadership began to feel that the group lacked depth in relationships, and also spiritual depth. People would come, but the experience was not something that would leave a person changed.
So when it was decided to move to a regular fellowship format, it was done with careful attention to the idea of depth. Every week starts with a dinner cooked by someone from the church so that there is time for people to converse and get to know each other better. During the sermon, there's always a time for people to break up into smaller groups and discuss the topic at hand, so that people have to engage in the experience and throw ideas around with others. During the second worship set, one side of the room is partitioned off as an area for prayer with candles and several stations where people can pray through writing, art, or with another person. All these things are an attempt to allow deeper relationships to be formed, and to allow deeper communion with God, so that the group might serve as a catalyst to change people, and in turn the community.
The topic of this particular night was dating, and Matt (top left) related dating to fishing, and compared various types of fishing equipment to analogous aspects of dating.
That said, depth is still very much something we're moving toward rather than something we've already attained. Simply because the group is so new, it lacks the sense of deep friendship that other fellowships have. There's not much of a culture to organize social interaction, and the core community is still very limited in its ability to add new members to the community because the proportion of new people is just so huge.
Still, we are moving in the right direction. Each week it feels like a little less work trying to talk to people and create interaction. And this is really why I have felt called to Catalyst. I think the group has a lot of potential, and it seems that the opportunity to be a part of what shapes the group is one that is too rich to pass up.
And there is certainly shaping to be done. As it stands, a heavy proportion of the group is spiritually stagnant. Some seem to be coming just because going to church is what you do. There is little sense of divine purpose in many of their lives. They come to be served.
I am not really disheartened by this, however. Rather, I am excited that we are attracting these people who don't quite seem to get it yet. It seems to me that a church really isn't doing its job if everyone inside is healthy. And really, I'm not alone in my desire to see growth. There are a handful of really solid leaders who I think will help the group grow as it matures.
This quarter, I've taken up a role as MC at Catalyst, which has certainly served as yet another stretch of my comfort zone. It's been loads of fun.
In particular, the college pastor, Matt Robbins, who I've mentioned before on this blog, is a really great guy with an awesome skill set and a vision to match. He is another integral part of why I've landed at Catalyst. I believe that the wisdom and expertise he has to offer will be a great boon not only the group as a whole, but to me personally as I try to expand and perfect my own talents.
While I'm digging my trench at Catalyst, it certainly won't cut off my relationships in the other fellowships I've invested in. In particular, the guys in my small group for College Life (another fellowship) are friends I know I will have for the duration of my college experience and beyond. And I certainly have felt strains of disappointment as I look at the opportunities I will have to give up elsewhere as I get more involved at Catalyst, but I've come to believe that it's for the best that I invest the bulk of my energy there.
So that's where I stand now. My place in the Christian network in Davis is a pretty huge part of my life right now, so it's definitely been on the forefront of my mind. This post will probably hold less interest for current readers than it will for me as I look back on it in years ahead, but I figure that was as good a reason as any to write it down.