Forced Solitude

Jesus went up on the mountain to pray
-somewhere in the New Testament (many locations)

I’ve heard enough of Jesus going up on the mountain to pray. I get it. It’s a good idea. Get some solitude, chill with God the Father, and get away from the hubub of all them people following him around asking him for stuff. It’s a common message among any church or fellowship group… anywhere.

But why did Jesus go up on the mountain? What I mean is, why didn’t he just… go in the basement somewhere, hide in a closet, etc? You mean to tell me he couldn’t just walk outside of town and climb a tree or find a cave or something?

As I found myself struggling to isolate myself today, I realized that it isn’t as easy as it seems. Yes, shutting off my phone was difficult and I definitely reopened my facebook several times. But aside from that, when I finally got away from everything, I landed on my knees and tried to pray. And it was hard. It was hard to focus and really connect with Jesus. Like some kind of mental fog-barrier that prevented me from even finding the words to speak.

So that led me to wonder, why did Jesus climb a mountain when he could have just hidden in a field? Did the act of ascending an incline help the process? Did the physical exertion of pulling himself up clear his mind and free it for communion? Maybe the journey itself did in fact matter.

I did manage to have a pretty cool prayer time today. But I do wonder if it would have been different had I spent 30 minutes in solitude just climbing a hill before praying. I suspect that it would have been a whole different experience entirely.

I hope to test out this theory sometime this week. If I do, I’ll be sure to note it here.


The Encierro, part 4 of 4: The Bull Ring

Part 4 is the bull ring. Things aren’t over once the run is complete. They shut the doors. This is both to keep anybody else from coming in, as well as keep anybody who is in from going out. The stands are filled with people who bought tickets to watch the bull run on the big screen tv, and to watch what was about to happen next.

The runners stand in the middle of the ring. There are hundreds of them. Some manage to climb the wall and jump out of the ring, while others hold on to the wall for dear life. The remaining runners stay in the center.

One at a time, a young bull is released into the ring. They are there for the runners to “play” with; To pretend to be matadors and dodge out of the way of a charging bull. Keep in mind that a young bull is still 800 lbs. Even though the horns are taped up to prevent goring, you can still get hurt pretty badly by these bulls.

Now, I have no stories to tell you about what happened next. Not on facebook anyways. My mom will read them. And there are some things that moms just don’t want (or need) to know about. No, these are the stories that can only be told face to face and be passed along by word of mouth. Because no matter how brave a person is, there comes a time when that person will fear the wrath of his mom much more than 12 running bulls.

The Encierro, part 3 of 4: The Bull Run

I was running.

It wasn’t an all out sprint but it wasn’t leisurely either. Shouting filled my ears as I heard the cow bells grow closer. The person behind me had a hand on me. Partially to keep his balance, partially to push me forward.

“I can’t go any faster,” I thought. There’s no where to go. There are people in front of me. Part of me thought about swatting his hand away, for fear of him knocking me down. I was too busy staying upright to make the attempt.

Suddenly, the person in front of me starts to fall down. Instantly, I see a pile up of people at his feet. I high stepped over and around them. I can’t afford to fall down. I can’t afford be stopped here. I wasn’t even concerned about getting trampled at this point. I was more focused on making it into the bull ring.

I regained my balance and continued the run. The hand was no longer on my shoulder, but I knew another person will soon take his spot.

I never looked back.

Suddenly, the cow bells were upon us. The people who were in the center pushed towards the side. I, who was left center, was moved closer to the wall. I looked to my right. Mighty bulls were rumbling past me. It brought to mind the earth shaking created by a herd of bison on the great plains. I was in awe. I was about 2 meters to the side of the bulls, so I felt reasonably secure that I was safe. But those were just the ones to my side. There is no telling where the bulls were behind me.

To my right, I saw someone go down under a bull. He was probably trampled. I told myself he will probably be ok.

Finally, the last bull of the pack moved ahead of me. Wanting to stay with them and not get left behind, I pushed towards center. “How many bulls just passed me? Was that all of them? Were there others far behind?” I didn’t hear cow bells, so I took the risk and moved towards center.

As we came out of the street into the open air, I saw the bull ring in front of me. Almost there. I watched the door to make sure it wasn’t closing. I needed to get inside. Just another 20 meters to go.

Suddenly, I tripped on another pile of people. The person behind me fell on top of me. I was on one hand and two feet, down by football terms. “Should I stay down as the rules suggest? Or should I keep going?” I quickly pushed back upright as one of the police officers tried to push me back down.

I stumbled to the gate, crashing into a wall as I dodged around bodies.

I ran through the tunnel, hoping to not fall again.

I made it through the other side.

The entire ring was filled with cheers from the stands. Other runners were in the center of the ring with me, raising their hands in victory. I raised my arms with them and shouted for joy.

The Encierro, part 2 of 4: The Stand

I wrote my bull run experience in four parts. The second part was the most interesting to me. Out of the entire run, this was the most intense, and certainly the most heart pounding. At no other time was the fear more palpable than this. The tension of waiting along with the decision to stand my ground as others rushed past me increased to a crescendo at this point, breaking only when I turned and began to run. I hope that this tidbit will help to share with you the experience I had.

“Run! They’re coming!”

And just like that, people everywhere exploded in a running frenzy.

I ran about 20 meters before I started to slow down. At 30, I stopped completely. I turned around to look. People continued to run by me. I thought to myself, I didn’t hear any rockets yet. (The first rocket signifies that the door has been opened. The second signifies that all the bulls have left their pens). I then asked myself, was I too far away to hear them?

I looked back to where I previously stood. There were still a few people standing there who had not moved an inch. “Crap. Another false alarm.” This was shredding at my already exposed nerves.

Like a fish swimming upstream, I jogged back to my previous position while other people were still running past me. I asked one of the guys still standing there what time it was in Spanish.

“One minuto” he told me.

The tension in the air was thick. Many people were jittery. Some of the other runners had realised it was a false alarm and stopped as well. They did not come back. Others continued to run anyways.

Then I heard it. A faint, but clear explosion. The crowd in the balconies surrounding us let up a great roar. Seconds later, a second explosion was heard.

People began to run again. All around me, people were yelling and running down the path.

I stood my ground. Several others stood their ground with me. I refused to run too early. I refused to be one of the first to enter the bull ring. I refused to compromise this experience by running before the bulls were even near me. I needed to see them.

More and more people began to pick up and run. The running crowd grew thicker. People started pushing past me. I was an obstacle to them. If I was a fish swimming upstream before, now I was a rock withstanding the crashing tides of the ocean.

I heard the people up in the balconies let up a great roar again. “The bulls must have just come around dead man’s corner and made it onto my street,” I thought. I heard the roar in the balconies slowly make its way up from the end of the street towards me, like a wave of sound.

“They getting closer. It is almost time,” I thought.

By now, there were so many people running around me that I couldn’t see anything. I was blind. I didn’t see anyone standing still anymore. Everyone was running.

“How far away were the bulls?”

I started to jump up as high as I could. I saw people who had climbed up walls and were now hanging onto the second floor balcony. They were waiting for the bulls to pass before they started running. I saw a wall of people coming at me, thicker than the rest. They were about 50 feet away. I couldn’t see the bulls. Were they behind them or in front of them? I kept jumping.

All around me, it was madness as people were desperately running past me, shoving me around in the process. Shouting. Fear and panic were painted on their faces. Hundreds of people have already run by.

40 feet away.

“Nerves of steel. Nerves of steel.” I kept telling myself. I breathed deeply and forced myself to stay. It dawned on me that the bulls are running faster than that wall of people, and when the bulls pierce through, they would be right upon me, standing right in the center of the street. “I need to move soon.”

30 feet away.

Seconds passed. Then I heard it. The sound of cow bells.

I turned around and began to run.

The end of plan B

Me: I’m going to give you a choice. You can either go on vacation this weekend or you can follow through with plan B. I want you to give this some thought. Let me know your answer because I’ll have to get plane tickets tonight if you’re flying out tomorrow.
Coworker: Ok. I’ll think about it.

15 minutes later, I get this in my email:



As you can imagine, it is extremely difficult for me to make a choice between Plan B and [Vacation Plans]. You are well aware that Plan B is ‘so very close to my heart’ but then when I think about it further, I realize that you ought to lose a lot to gain some. Therefore, after a lot of brain racking, with extreme sadness, I opt for [Vacation Plans]. I choose the difficult option of ‘living my remaining days’ rather than the far easier and convenient option of ‘dying a most satisying death.’

Coworker S

Well done, Coworker S. Well done. Go and live out your remaining days as you so choose. I applaud your well thought response.  I no longer hold you accountable to plan B.

An honest appraisal

After coming back from a meeting

Me [Frustrated]: It’s getting closer.
Coworker: Oh no.
Me: Yes. It’s going to happen.
Coworker: Plan B?
Me: No. Not that.
Coworker: We’re going to duel to the death?
Me: No. Worse.
Coworker: Oh no. Oh God no.
Me: Say it.
Coworker: I’m going to have to take over your position.
Me: Can you think of anything worse?
Coworker: There is nothing worse than that.
Me: You’re going to have to man up. You’re going to have to grow another set of balls. Maybe four or five of them.
Coworker [trembling, whispering]: I don’t think that’s going to be enough.

A different kind of strategery

Me: Ok. We’re in crisis mode. We’re skipping completely over plan B and going straight to plan C.

Coworker: What’s plan C?
Me: I’m flying out to Wisconsin to try to calm down the customer, fix all their problems, and make magic happen.
Coworker: Can you really do all of that?
Me: No. Probably not. So we’re going to have to keep plan B open as an option. Do you remember plan B?
Coworker: Yes.
Me: Are you ready to do plan B?
Coworker: I think so.
Me[forcefully]: That’s not good enough! I need to know you can do this. Can you commit to plan B? Are you ready to do this?
Coworker: Yes. Yes I can.

Flashback to several weeks ago
Me: You take Customer A. They have 140 dispensers. I need you to fix them. All of them. You have until Friday.
[Some dialogue]
Coworker: But what if I fail? What do I do if I can’t fix them all?
Me: We go to plan B.
Coworker: What’s plan B?
Me: You fly to Wisconsin and you apologize profusely to the customer for not being able to fix his stuff.
Coworker: What do I do if that isn’t enough?
Me: You set yourself on fire.

Flash back to the present
Me: Remember, the whole purpose of plan B is to get the customer to feel so bad for you that he isn’t mad at us anymore. So you have to make sure he sees you when you set yourself on fire.
Coworker: Ok. I got it.

Strange goodbyes

I’m getting ready to leave for another work trip. Coworker S must remain behind to hold down the fort on his own.

Sarah McLachlan’s “I will remember you” is playing in the background.

Sarah: I will remember you
Me: Don’t Cry. I’ll be back soon.
Sarah: Will you remember me?
Coworker: Oh god. I hope so.
Me: It’s just going to be a couple weeks.
Coworker: The more you say this, the less convinced I am.
Me: Everything is going to be alright.
Coworker: [sarcastically] Oh, that makes me feel a whole lot better.

Sarah: Weep not for the memories…

Liberal interpretations

Me: It’s all falling apart.
Coworker: What is?
Me: This whole situation. The angry customers. It’s all going to pot.
Coworker: What do we do?
Me: I have a plan; divide and conquer. We’ll divy up the work. You do your thing and I’ll do mine. We’ll meet each other on the other side.
Coworker: Ok.
Me: You take Customer A. They have 140 dispensers. I need you to fix them. All of them. You have until Friday.
Coworker: [laughing nervously] Uh…are you serious?
Me: [ignoring the question] I will take Customers B and C. They have 10,000 dispensers. I have to have an answer for them by tomorrow. So that’s it. That’s the plan. Let’s do it. I’ll see you on Friday.
Coworker: Wait. I have a question.
Me: Yes?
Coworker: Are we allowed to help each other?
Me: [Stares blankly]
Coworker: In other words, can you help me out with this?
Me: What do you think?
Coworker: You have no choice.
Me: [exhales deeply] This must be my penance.

Thinly veiled

Me: [Whistling the tune of “Every breath you take” by the Police]
Coworker: I don’t like that song anymore.
Me: You still remember that?
Coworker: Yes.

Flashback to over a year ago. It is only a few weeks after the coworker started working/training under me. I am driving him home in my car. The song comes on the radio.

Coworker: Oh. I like this song.
Me: Yeah? Sting?
Coworker: Yes. It’s a good song.
Me: [singing]

♪ Every breath you take ♫
♪ and every move you make ♫
♪ Every bond you break ♫
♪ Every step you take, ♫

I’ll be watching you

Coworker: [Nervous laughter]

Me: [more menacingly]
♪ Every single day ♫
♪ and every word you say ♫
♪ Every game you play ♫
♪ Every night you stay, I’ll be watching you ♫

Coworker: Oh god.
Me: Wait, here comes the good part.

[with gusto]
♪ Oh can’t you see you belong to me? ♫
♪ How my poor heart aches with every step you take ♫

Coworker: [laughter, followed by silence]

Me: [continuing singing]
♪ Every move you make and every vow you break ♫
♪ Every smile you fake ♫
♪ Every claim you stake, I’ll be watching you ♫

Coworker: I don’t think I like this song anymore.
Both: [laughter]
Me: Yeah, this is a pretty ridiculous song out of context. I guess it’s pretty bad even in context.

Back to the present
The whistling has stopped. Both are working in silence for a few minutes.

Me: S?
Coworker: Yes Alban.
Me: You belong to me.
Coworker: I know.