Dachau

I probably should have looked at the map.

For some reason though, I was feeling overconfident, thinking that I could intuit the route to my destination, that there might be signs or something, or flocks of people to follow. There weren’t, and as I got farther and farther from the train station, I became indifferently lost, in no rush at all. So I wandered around this sleepy suburb, wondering what it would be like to live there, looking for the humanity in it all.

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What do we do with Dylann Roof?

Dylann Roof hasn’t said very much. While on trial for killing nine black churchgoers in South Carolina, he didn’t take the stand to defend himself. After he was convicted, he chose to represent himself during the sentencing, and again, said very little. He provided no evidence in his favor, and his closing argument yesterday took just a few minutes.

What he has said, though, is chilling. Last week, he assured the jury that he is completely mentally competent, that what he did was not the result of some deficiency or defect. He’s said more than once that he does not regret what he did, that he has shed no tears for his victims. He’s also acknowledged that the people he murdered were, in his words, “innocent.” He should know – they welcomed him into their church, talked to him, prayed with him.
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Forsaken

This morning I woke up to the sound of my neighbor screaming at his son. This happens kind of a lot. Happy Good Friday.

This Lent, my church did a sermon series entitled “What Lies Beneath: Recovering the Lost Language of Sin,” which was really great and which you should all binge-listen-to right now. The idea behind the title was that many of us work really hard to look like we have it all together. When something goes wrong, we ignore it, or write it off, or pass the blame. But beneath our metaphorical floorboards, we are a fallen, broken, frail people.

However, something I’ve learned about living in a dense neighborhood of a big city is that not everyone is as interested in keeping up appearances as suburban transplants like me are. A lot of people just put it all out there for the rest of us to see or overhear. Addiction, poverty, failed relationships, and violence happen everywhere, but I’m constantly surprised  – maybe even impressed – by how many people around here don’t work too hard to hide it. Continue reading →

Is Trump America’s Lent?

Like many Americans, I’ve reached the point in the election cycle where I’m having to actually consider what a Trump presidency would look like for the country – a notion that most of us laughed off just a few months ago. It’s a disturbing prospect.

Something that I’ve found fascinating in all of this is the general public response to Trump’s candidacy thus far. I try to follow a wide range of news sources and thought leaders – some are pretty liberal, some are pretty conservative, and a few fall in between. In the past week or so, there’s been this funny little trend, where commentators are struggling to determine how Trump’s gotten so far, and why he’s doing so well. It’s funny to me because people from all over the spectrum seem to agree that a Trump presidency would be terrible – it’s almost always treated as some looming potential disaster – and now they’re trying to figure out why this bad thing is happening and how we can stop it. The theories are varied, conflicting, and definitely interesting. But I come away from all of these articles (but especially the ones written by and for conservatives) with the same question: if a Donald Trump presidency is so obviously bad for America, then who on earth is voting for him? Continue reading →

How to Live in Times of Fear

Sometimes I find myself walking through my South Philadelphia neighborhood, alone, in the dark. It’s generally okay, even pleasant, but occasionally I’ll see or hear something that makes me nervous. Later, when I’m sitting safely at home and scrolling through headlines and blog posts about things like gun rights or, more recently, refugees, I try to remember that feeling of fear and vulnerability.

I’m no evolutionary biologist, but I suspect that us humans are wired to be afraid of each other. We’re suspicious of unfamiliar experiences or people. And why shouldn’t we be? We have no reason to trust that which we don’t know, or to believe that it won’t harm us. Our bodies and minds simply desire self-preservation. Continue reading →

The Mountain

Several months ago, I found myself lost on a cluster of mountains. It was supposed to be a fairly quick and direct little hike, which had seemed simple enough when I planned it before setting out. Alas. The trail was poorly marked, and I didn’t have a map or GPS, so within an hour I realized that I was on the wrong trail, headed in the opposite direction of where I wanted to go. I spent the afternoon trying to rectify this mistake, to no avail, instead tripling the distance I originally intended on going, and climbing up and down all these little mountains in a pretty nonsensical way. Of course, I had to keep reminding myself that everything would be okay: I had plenty of food, energy, fresh water, sunlight, and most importantly, literally nowhere else to be (#vacation). Even if my initial plan was a bust, it was fine – maybe even better – for me to spend seven hours wandering around this mountain range.

At some point during this venture, I was reminded of Dante, because I’m a little boring he was another person who got lost in the woods. In the Divine Comedy, Dante’s allegorical journey to heaven, he sets up Purgatory as a mountain. So the Christians who die with unresolved issues essentially become cosmic hikers. They forge uphill through a series of trials as they are purged of their sins and climb closer to Paradise. Mt. Purgatory’s trail is cyclical – it winds around the side of the mountain, so these hikers climb gradually in circles, which grow smaller and smaller the higher they go. Continue reading →

Coming Home

My favorite part of traveling is coming home.

I tried to think of a way to explain this without sounding like a boring and ethnocentric ass, but it’ll be easier to just tell the truth.

I like America, a lot. Not in an overly patriotic “God Bless America” kind of way (I’m pretty sure millennials aren’t allowed to think like that) but in a lifestyle kind of way. It’s the little things that make me defend my nation to naysayers (who are, by the way, often American): 24/7 grocery stores, air conditioning, big cups of coffee, etc. Nothing idealistic or political, just the things that make my life as I know it easier and more comfortable. Do I think America is the best country on earth? No, of course not. Do I think it’s the best country for me, a happy American? Yes, I do. Continue reading →

This Isn’t A Travel Blog, But…

…I’m about to take off for a five week trip to Europe, so I’ve had travel on the brain lately.

In general, I’m pretty content being settled in one place and having a normal routine, but I suspect that that contentment is the result of regularly satiating my natural desire for adventure and exploration. I’ve been really fortunate to see and do some amazing things in my life, and I’ve learned some things along the way. Before departing for this summer’s trip, I thought I’d share some of those things with you all.

Here we go: Continue reading →

Book Review: Dreamland (Sam Quinones)

At first glance, Dreamland – Sam Quinones’s expose on the opiate epidemic that’s destroying rural America – seems like a terrible beach read. And yet, on more than one occasion this summer, I’ve found myself sitting by the water with a drink in one hand and this book in the other. Despite its tragic and at times infuriating nature, Quinones does what good journalists do: he tells a story, and a captivating and compelling one at that. So as strange as this sounds, reading Dreamland was a surprisingly pleasant experience.

It was also an (unsurprisingly) educational experience. Quinones spent years doing hands-on, in-person research for this book. Facts and statistics stand to support the evidence unearthed through hundreds of conversations, interviews, and anecdotes told by doctors, judges, coroners, activists, dealers, junkies, addiction experts, DEA agents, cops, district attorneys, and onlookers who watched people, families, and communities crumble over the last several decades. Dreamland brings together people who will likely never meet, and who have nothing in common except that they’ve been impacted by the opiate epidemic. Continue reading →

A Letter to a Young Philosophy Student

Dear Young Philosophy Student,

You are living the dream. You might not realize it as you pull all-nighters trying to solve the problem of evil whilst employing excellent prose and incorporating only the most acclaimed source material, but you are. Your job right now is to read, write, talk, and listen, and nothing is at stake.

Someday you’re going to graduate, and like 90 seconds later you’re going to need to find a job. You are going to fret over that future job – is it meaningful? Does it incorporate my glorious studies? To what end, employment?

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