Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Living in the Trenches

The Gospels tell us a lot of things about Jesus' life. He's born of a virgin, a performer of miracles, set apart, sinless and holy. But I think one of the most compelling things we learn about Jesus is not that he's pure, but in that purity he's not afraid to get dirty.

I say that not in the metaphysical, super-spiritual sense that he left his pristine home in heaven to descend to the lowly earth. I mean that Jesus even goes beyond this. He dives into this ocean of sin and death and heads straight for the bottom-feeders.

In Luke, Jesus talks about how the Pharisees wouldn't be satisfied with John the Baptist's behavior, nor would they accept his own. John abstained from food and drink, and he was said to have a demon. Jesus ate and drank, and he was called a glutton and an alcoholic. The Pharisees wanted to distance themselves from both, because they didn't know which was right.

I fear that Christians do the same thing sometimes. In our efforts to "save our witness," we forget to minister to the people who actually need it. We're like doctors with tourniquets and gauze, watching an injured person bleed to death because we don't want to risk infection or get bacteria on our instruments.

Jesus hung out with tax collectors, prostitutes, sinners and the lowest of the low. Am I advocating that you head down to the nearest street corner and get a new posse? Not necessarily. But I am saying that we should not let our fear of filth keep us out of the trenches. No one ever heard of a good soldier shying away from dirt and grime. No one respects a baseball player who won't dive for the ball because he doesn't want grass stains.

If we're secure in our righteousness, like Jesus was, we don't have to ask permission to share it with others. Like the Pharisees, those who judge are probably not in a position to receive the self-effacing message of Jesus. So why try to please them? And why waste your time on folks who think they're healthy when sick patients are calling for your help?

Situations must be judged with a spirit-led conscience, and we need to be shrewd about the positions we put ourselves in. I would venture to say that most of us don't have Jesus' discipline, so it's not smart to charge toward a sinful environment where we can't handle the pressure.

But get the point of what I'm saying: Without decay, the salt is for nothing. Without darkness the light is for nothing. Why have an antidote if you can't go where the poison has taken root? Let's not quarantine ourselves from the world. If we do, we might live more satisfied with ourselves. But it's God who will judge our impact on the world. Sometimes he'd rather see us in the trenches than dwelling safely in self-built palaces.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Braves Update

We've posted our story about the Atlanta Braves' new Japanese pitcher Kenshin Kawakami on GlobalAtlanta. Here are some photos I took of the event and an interview I conducted with the Japanese consul general about his love for the Braves and how Kawakami will be able to adapt his new community here.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Brave Afternoon

The international business news wheel slowed its churning today and gave me a rare break from common subject matter like company relocations, trade statistics and foreign office openings. Today, I got to time travel and work at the same time.

I attended a press conference at Turner Field where the Braves announced the signing of the franchise's first Japanese-born player, a pitcher named Kenshin Kawakami who played for the Chunichi Dragons in Nagoya, Japan, before signing with the Braves in the past few days.

The time travel began when Braves skipper Bobby Cox walked in. He's portrayed as a fiery character in the media. He has a strong propensity to argue with umps and end up getting thrown out of games (I think he holds the record). But well after the press conference, he stood around chatting with reporters and other folks, talking about mundane stuff like the weather and the differences between Japanese and American baseball.

I ambled over. He looked me in the eye, nodded and said hello. Here I was, standing next to a guy I've watched on TV for nearly 20 years. I still remember the days of old. I can still see the iconic highlight reel: Francisco Cabrera's pinch-hit single in the NLCS and Sid Bream's slow slide across home plate, Skip Caray shouting "Braves win! Braves win!" as they beat the Pirates to go from "worst to first" in 1991. They played the Twins in the World Series, and Bobby was calling the shots for one of the first of many seasons throughout the 90s when title hopes were dashed for Braves fans.

Now Bobby was two feet from me, and I could ask him anything. I stayed on the previous subject - how the styles baseball styles of the two countries differ.

"I think they play for the one-run a little more," he told me, highlighting how the Japanese gravitate toward team play, presumably insinuating that American teams tend to have more individualistic players. Chicks dig the home run, and it puts people in the seats. I guess the baseball field is a microcosm of our two cultures: subtle and group-oriented vs. unapologetically individualistic.

There were other highlights to the event. Kawakami was fun and charismatic. His opening remarks included a "y'all" before switching to Japanese.

But he was serious about contributing to his new team. He just arrived Sunday, so he hasn't met any of them yet, but he said he's foregoing the World Baseball Classic in March to get ready for the season. When asked whether he was feeling pressure as a de facto ambassador for Japan, the answer was no. When asked what made him think we was ready for this level of play, he said he puts his "soul" into every pitch. He even brought along a square sheet of paper where he'd written in calligraphy the character for "soul."

For his first lunch in country, Kawakami ate a cheeseburger and hot dog at the Varsity. Talk about welcoming the guy to America. The next day, he coincidentally sat next to former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young at a dinner. I hope my new friend Bobby likes the way he pitches. Apparently Bobby has only seen Kawakami pitch on film, not in person. I thought it astounding that the scouts had so much clout that they could recommend a guy and the team could sign him before the manager has even seen him throw in the pen.

The baseball angle is good, but GlobalAtlanta needs something more focused, yet simple: The Georgia-Japan relationship has progressed to the point that there is enough cultural influence to help Mr. Kawakami feel right at home. At least that's what Braves General Manager Frank Wren and Japanese Consul General Takuji Hanatani told me.

New Korea Video

My latest video project for GlobalAtlanta.com is a report on Korean media outlets in Atlanta and how they highlight Georgia's thriving Korean community. It particularly focuses on the Korea Daily, a nationwide newspaper in South Korea with a circulation of nearly 2 million. The JoongAng Ilbo, as it's called in Korean, opened an Atlanta bureau in late 2007 and now has 80 employees, though it's struggling along with other print papers like the AJC.

Back in South Korea, I'm told that the Korea Daily shares the spotlight with the Korea Times in a perennial battle over who's the biggest and best. The Korea Times also has a bureau in metro Atlanta.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Token of Protection

Smaller than a penny and lighter than a dime, the piece of metal Liz handed me wasn't very substantial. In her mind and heart, though, this token carried the weight of God's protection.

I had stepped into Liz's domain, a Spectrum store in Columbus, to grab some caffeine before hitting the road back to Atlanta at 2 a.m. She milled behind the counter and we began to talk when she asked me what I was looking for and whether she could help me.

I plunked a Starbucks double shot on the counter, and she knew I was in for a long journey. That's when she forked over the oval-shaped coin that featured the likeness of the Virgin Mary. It would protect me on the trip if I'd keep it close at hand, she said. These days, you never know what awaits you on the open road.

I immediately saw this as an opportunity, not to prove her wrong or to make myself feel better, but to speak some truth into a lady that was obviously filled with faith, albeit probably not in the right things.

"Thanks," I said, taking the silver-colored piece. "I really appreciate this. But I believe in Jesus, and I believe that God will protect me, whether I have this or not."

She replied with something about honoring Mary and something else along the lines of "a little extra protection couldn't hurt."

Though cloaked in Christian imagery, I recognized this as basically the same idea that I'd seen Buddhists cling to in southern China. If we just hold onto these images, then evil spirits, forces and influences will have no access to our lives.

"The problem is that by saying you need something extra, aren't you saying that God's power is not enough?" I said this as tactfully as possible.

I don't say the following to act as though I was winning an argument, because it was more of a cordial discussion than a dispute, but at this point she began to stumble over her words, talking about how trusting in this token is like having your mom's protection in addition to your dad's. Her gist was that Mary gives an added bonus to the protection God has, that when he sees this token, he sees your faith.

Apparently my comment about God's sufficiency didn't stick, but I saw one more opportunity to speak truth:

"It's not that I believe that we shouldn't honor Mary. God chose her to bear Jesus and said she was highly favored among women. But when she and Jesus' brothers went to see him, what did he say? He said, 'those who do the will of my father are my mother and my brothers.' She, then, though worthy of our admiration, is not any higher than any other believers."

She wouldn't be reasoned with, but the two-minute conversation never got heated. Katy was waiting in the car, so I took the token and hurried out. It was in my wallet, but I believe God was the one who ushered us safely back to Atlanta.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Year in Review

In the Old Testament, it seems like every time you turn the page, God does something amazing, and the Israelites pile up stones to commemorate the event.

I don't have many boulders lying around, but I have been keeping a journal this year. This post is a review of some of the things God did and allowed me to do in 2008.


After an international travel drought in 2007, I made return trips to two countries I love this year, both to do some reporting for GlobalAtlanta.com:

-China - Most Americans hit up Beijing and Shanghai during their first trips to China. I visited the capital on my fourth trip there, in 2006. See all those posts here.

On March 30, 2008, I took Delta's inaugural flight to Shanghai to report on the new flight and the Georgia trade mission in conjunction with it. Check the GlobalAtlanta blog.

At a dinner celebration on arrival night, I got to meet Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue. Strange that I had to meet him in across the world and not in Atlanta.

The 14-hour flight was packed on the way over, pretty much empty on the way back. I only stayed in China from Monday through Thursday morning, traveling with other reporters for the first two days and roaming around by myself on the last two. The rest of the group - most of the press and the trade delegation - went on to Beijing. I returned to Atlanta and spent Friday recovering from jet lag.

This China trip was a strange one for me. It lasted less than a week, and no city-hopping was involved. I'd visited three or more cities on all of my other times in country. In 2006, that number reached into the double digits.

-Panama - This year's Panama trip was also a bit different than the last. In March 2006, I journeyed into Panama's wild side. Our main destination was an island off the country's Pacific Coast called Coiba. It was a former penal colony, kind of like a more remote and less humane Alcatraz, where leaders stowed dissidents in paltry living conditions. The prison is now closed, and the island is a protected national park.

In 2008, it was all business. Tagging along with a Kansas City trade delegation, my boss and I learned the ins and outs of the port companies and the railroad operating near the Panama Canal. We also learned about the Canal's imminent expansion, hoping to gauge how its ability to handle larger ships would impact the port in Savannah, Ga.

It was interesting to see the highly developed parts of Panama, a country where 40 percent of the population is said to be in poverty. We went to Colon, a free trade zone in the north, and made the rounds in Panama City. Summary of the trip here.

My favorite part of the trip was the reception at the ambassador's residence. We got there early to film an interview with U.S. Ambassador William Eaton, who only had a few months before his departure.

-Savannah - In June, Katy and I made a four-day excursion to celebrate our one-year wedding anniversary in Georgia's oldest city.

-Louisville, Kentucky - My cousin asked my to sing before her wedding in August, so I told her I would. I took a day off from work so we could arrive for the rehearsal Friday night. The next day, I pulled off the song well, and she was hitched. The road trip there and back had some interesting twists, like a full-scale replica of the Parthenon in Nashville.


The list of interesting people I wrote about - like U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and three Latin American presidents - and met - former Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young - and the instances of access I got last year as a reporter is literally too long to put down here. I'll refer you to the blog posts in August and October where I boasted on the subject.


Reading is essential for the writer. Here are some of the books I read this year:

-Digital Photography Book
-Screwtape Letters (a perennial favorite) by C.S. Lewis
-Mao: A Life, a 600+ page biography of the late Chinese communist leader Mao Ze Dong
-Another Mao bio, this one only about 200 pages
-Wild at Heart, by John Eldredge, another must-read every year
-To Own a Dragon and Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
-Tuesdays With Morrie by Mitch Albom
-The Millionaire Next Door
-The 4-hour Workweek by Tim Ferriss
-Pilgrim's Progress by John Bunyan
-Life of Pi by Yann Martel, and others.


No new recordings, but I did play at a few weddings during the summer. I've been writing a lot, and I got a new microphone for Christmas, so I should be recording some new music pretty soon. Check out some of my old stuff here.


I wrote probably more than 200 articles in 2008 for GlobalAtlanta. If you go to the Web site, you'll see that about every other article has my byline.

I also freelanced a good bit, at least by my standards. Breakaway, a Focus on the Family magazine for teen guys, was good repository for stories about missions, facing fear, divorce, the myth of invincibility, adventure and manhood. Check out my first and most recent articles, the only two published on the Web so far.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

A Year of Adjustment

The year 2008 was a year of adjustment for me. When it began, I'd been married for six months and working as an international business reporter for a few weeks less than that.

As with all years past, there are many items on my list of resolutions that were left undone. Instead of losing weight and toning my body, I put on a few extra pounds. Instead of mastering Chinese, I couldn't translate my passion for the language into the discipline I needed to study. And while I know with my head that my spiritual life needs the most investment of all, I really did little to feed it.

Am I resigned to these failures? Am I happy with them? No, but in the blur that was 2008, I at least can say that I realized their importance in a greater way than ever before. I turned 24 last October, and now that 2009 is here, I can no longer say "last year" when someone asks when I graduated college or got married.

That does weird things to my psyche. It's like a secondary adolescence. I feel really grown up at times. I have all the responsibilities someone my age should, and I'm handling them well. But part of me still wants to go dumpster diving with my buddies in the middle of the night.

While I'll never let my adventurous heart die, this year has helped me realize that while growing up is hard, it's not all bad.

There are a lot of awesome things about becoming a man. Your wife often rewards you with awesome food. And there's freedom, albeit a different kind that the kind college offers. I can't drive across the state for a concert or skip work like I did class, but I have real money, and that provides a lot of opportunities that scraping the barrel doesn't.

I have a mentor who speaks in metaphors, similes and old sayings. When I got married, he said I should live the first year as if I were a soldier in the Israelite army. In that culture, newly married men got furlough of one year to live happily with their new wives before venturing off to defend the kingdom. My year has long expired. This year, it's time for battle.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Not Invincible

I learned the hard way to savor every opportunity for evangelism. Click here to read how God used a high school tragedy to shake me from apathy and show me that although I'm young, I'm not invincible, and neither are the lost friends and classmates around me.

The article is in the January 2009 issue of Focus on the Family's Breakaway magazine for teen guys. I'm a regular contributor and have written many feature articles using stories from my life to teach about subjects like dealing with divorce, taking responsible short-term missions trips, facing fear, trusting God's supremacy and becoming a man.

My first article recounted my adventures sharing the gospel on a backpacking trip in a restricted Asian country. After being detained and released by border police, I got a taste of how adventurous the Christian life could be if I got off the pew and into the real world.

Details of that journey can be found on this blog by clicking here.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Preparation: The First 30 Years

I'm six years away from 30. I feel like I've lived a pretty interesting and full life. It certainly hasn't lacked drama and action, but I still believe I have a lot left to do. There's much I have missed in my first 24 years, a lot I should've done better, tons more projects and deeds left undone completely.

It's not that I lack ambition or drive. I can't remember a big goal that I set in earnest but haven't achieved. I'm married and well on my way toward a happy family. College was a breeze; sports always came pretty easily. I'm a published writer with a pretty stable, exciting and largely stress-free job. Things are good.

Still, there's something nagging me. There's a sense that follows me - poking me like a cattle prod, yanking me like the bit in the horse's mouth - that where I am at present is not my final destination. Things are good, but they could be better. Things are good, but are they just what God had planned when he crafted my gifts, talents and personality?

To that last question, I think the answer is no. Some people call it a calling, when you've found the thing you know you were made to do, that occupation that puts you where the world's needs and your abilities intersect at the highest levels. I'm wondering whether this calling is something you hear, or just something you discover along the way.

For people like Moses and some other fathers of the faith, the calling was quite literal. God spoke and said the Egyptian-raised Israelite would have his destiny wrapped up in his ancestral people. Abraham, the father of that nation, was called to leave his homeland and settle in a foreign place. In the New Testament, Paul was called through a blinding vision to become the apostle to the Gentiles, a mission that would consume the rest of his life.

Others seem to just have fallen into their fates. Joseph was sold into slavery and ascended from the prison to the Egyptian throne, preserving the fathers of the 12 tribes of Israel during a great famine. Jonah could run from Nineveh, but he couldn't hide from God's plan. Rahab the prostitute was simply at the right place at the right time. She deceived the authorities of Jericho and her family was spared.

The common denominator in these stories is that each of the characters fulfilled the purpose that God had laid out for them, whether it felt like they were willingly following an external call or being pulled by an unseen magnetic field to what God demanded from their lives. In one sense, this is encouraging. If God's got things under control, if he's working the puppet strings I'm dangling from, then I'll probably end up where he wants me to be.

But I don't want to get there floating on a current. I want to be deliberate. I want to have full map, a compass, and maybe even a GPS.

The problem is that God's blueprint for life sometimes seems kind of like a road trip I took a few years ago. My friend Evan and I are trying to visit all the Major League Baseball stadiums, and we were planning to knock out three more. We were trying to get to a Mets game in New York City. Shea Stadium, where the Mets play, is in Queens.

As I was driving on the freeway, New York's endless horizon of buildings came into view. Evan had always been the navigator, and we'd always relied on a certain trusty atlas to guide us to stadiums. Only this time, Evan forgot the atlas. He'd printed directions online instead.

"So where to, Ev?" I asked, assuming he knew the way to Shea.

"Umm, I only got directions to New York City," he said. By this time we were in the middle of the city, a sea of people passing on the sidewalks, cars honking, swerving, almost nailing us from every angle. We had no clue where we were.

"To New York City? Are you serious?!" We just had to laugh. We called a friend who used an online mapping program to get us to Queens in time for the eighth inning.

God's map for us is like the folded sheet of paper Evan printed from Mapquest: limited in scope. He only tells us one destination - one phase of life - at a time, and like colorful little gamepieces moving toward the winner's circle, our next move doesn't become clear until His current objective or lesson is accomplished.

The hard part about this is that we're always being prepared for something, but we don't know what crisis we're gearing up for until it hits.

To me, it's a little scary to think that much of my day to day journey is preparation for something grander. If I have this much time to spend on preparation, what great task must I be called to? And what if I screw it up? What if I'm not preparing like I should be? What if I'm eating Twinkies and watching TV when I should be following Rocky Balboa on jogs through the Siberian wilderness and doing sit-ups on 24/7?

We know that Jesus lived on earth for about 33 years. Scholars generally agree that he began his ministry at about 30 years old. That means 10/11 of Jesus' life was spent preparing for his destiny, not living it like we see in the pages of scripture. At 12 years old, he was in the synagogue sparring intellectually with the religious leaders, but it's unclear as to what he did with the rest of his time as a child and young adult.

For some reason, it makes me feel good to know that Jesus (as far as we know) wasn't casting out demons before he could speak. God in the flesh had to pay his dues, had to be tempted in every way, do chores, share with younger siblings, buy groceries and work on carpentry projects with Joseph to help build the family business.

As God, Jesus knew his fate. As man, he marched toward it slowly.

I'm six years away from 30. I don't know my fate, but may I be content to move to the next destination and enjoy the preparation the same way our Savior cherished his first 30 years.

Photo: Shea Stadium, behind home plate. Copyright Trevor Williams, 2007