Archive for the ‘FENX 4.0’ Category

Sometimes crazy ideas find their way into our minds.  A few days ago I caught one of those.  Last week, I finished leading a small group at National Community Church (NCC) that read through Pastor Mark Batterson‘s The Circle Maker (In full disclosure Mark is the Pastor at NCC).  In our final meeting as a small group, we embarked on an exercise of creating a list of Life Goals; things we’d like to have accomplished by the time our lives come to an end.  Personally I think it’s much wiser to start thinking about this at 29, or even earlier, as opposed to a later time.  In The Circle Maker, Pastor Mark has some pretty interesting life goals: making a movie, speaking at a commencement, and writing a New York Times Bestseller to name a few (which he has done with The Circle Maker).

Over the last few weeks I’ve spent some time watching a number of TED Talks, presentations given on various topics by leaders and innovators in different fields, who have ideas worth spreading or stories worth telling.  It could be someone talking about mobile technology and it’s uses in locating people as part of disaster relief, a discussion about Moore’s Law and continuing upward trends in technology, imparting the art of storytelling though enabling technology, the power of secrets, or even the energy future of our planet as impacted by a teenager who wanted to create a fission reaction in their garage and built a reactor to do it.  It’s impassioned people sharing their ideas and perspective on life to impact culture and inspiring people to think about the world around them.  Last week as I was working on this “Bucket List” of sorts I realized that one of my goals should be (and now is) to share my journey, and the story of the FENX, at a TED conference; to impart to that group of influencers the value of an individual life and how such a life forged by challenging experiences is enabled to see the world in a different light, and thus embark on a somewhat accidental quest to revolutionize the lives of others via unique mobility solutions.  To share what many see as a story of hope, courage, and family.

But it doesn’t end there.  After processing this thought on TED, something in me said “Why not an audience of 10,000?”  My inner geek immediately reacted “10,000?!  You could almost buy your own ship for that!” But why not 10,000?  Why not consider it a goal to be able to share this same story with a single audience of 10,000 people at a single event?  It could certainly happen; audiences of 1,000 and 3,500 happened in college and there was less story to tell then.

So here’s to “10,000 and TED”, right up there on the List with “writing a book by the time I am 35” and quite a bit higher than “Attending San Diego Comic-Con”

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

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Not all Jackets are created equal, they just aren’t; it’s a fact of life.   I happen to know this because I own one of the coolest jackets ever; it’s so cool that it was probably the understudy for Luke Skywalker’s jacket at the Yavin awards ceremony in Star Wars Episode IV:  A New Hope (I wonder  if that got broadcast across the galaxy as”The First Yavin Awards”?)  This happens to be a black, red, and white Fox Racing  padded leather jacket given to me in college by my father; the first racing jacket he ever owned.  He previously tried to give it to my  brother, but for some reason the cool factor didn’t hit him the same way.  I pull it out every Spring and Fall, never knowing what adventures it might be involved in.

Several years ago, one Spring afternoon in April, this jacket was resting on a post in my dorm room at Cedarville University.  The weather was perfect and my brain told me that my Lake Ann Camp polo shirt didn’t need that jacket to tag along to ward off the elements; the elements weren’t the danger, something else was coming.    The clock on the wall said I was late for a afternoon class, my last class of the day before my dad was supposed to pick me up for Easter break in Michigan.  Exiting the room, I assessed my transportation options:  the Revo scooter wasn’t working, so my best option was the navy blue custom tricycle I sometimes called the “FENX II”.  Strapping my feet into the pedal locks and adjusting the handlebars, I flew out of the dorm at nearly top speed…right down the paved hill my dorm rested on.  Hurtling towards the sidewalk, I didn’t see the motorcycle coming right away; once I did the bigger cycle missed me, but my cycle still flipped over and I was attached to it at the pedals.

Next thing I knew, I was surrounded by people and Campus Safety was on it’s way.  I was back on the bike now, but there was blood flowing down my arm, and small chucks of asphalt embedded near my elbow.  Campus Safety arrived, put me in the back of the car, and drove me over to get cleaned up by the medical minds.  In the least, I was able to give them an amusing tale as they patched up my arm; a tale I’ve since then gotten decent mileage out of.  Afterwards, I tired to make the last few minutes of my class that afternoon; I was out of luck.  The professor was walking out of the room as I came down the hallway with the tricycle, and all I had to do was lift my arm as he asked where I’d been.

In short order my father arrived from the Mitten to the North, my accidental attempt at being a terrible Evil Kenevil (or Johnny Blaze for that matter) completely unknown to him.  As I staggered toward the truck (I don’t walk, I stagger), the first thing he spied was my arm.  In that moment I think I had an idea of what Marty McFly must have felt like when he burned the rug at age 8.  He looked at me, then my arm again: “What did you do?” (The “this time” was sort of implied.)  I explained my accidental acrobatics as best I could, and the matter of fact  response kinda surprised me:  “Well, I always wanted to build you something that would do a better job of getting you around and protecting you from the weather…and apparently, yourself”

And with those words The FENX Project was re-birthed in earnest; all because I didn’t wear my Fox Racing  Jacket and have the aiging scars of my elbow making out with the pavement to prove it.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

 

 

On the rare occasion that I get to go before an audience and speak about my journey so far, it is all but inevitable that I will talk about purpose and destiny at some point; partly because they are ideas that interest me, and partly because it’s easier to bring in Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, or Terminator that way (all popular franchises in our culture that speak to destiny).  Speaking before a Christian audience, I’ll often frame my ideas about destiny and purpose around the words of the Apostle Paul in Ephesians 2:10 – “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which He prepared for us in advance (or ‘in advance for us to do’)”.  Put another way, I will sometimes ask this question:  “Whose prayers are you destined to be the answer to?” I’ve thought much about this as an idea in recent years, as a third-person concept outside of my personal orbit.  Recently, that’s changed – and for the better.

In my last post I mentioned attending the Leadership Summit at National Community Church two weekends ago.  After it’s conclusion my brain was more than full but I wasn’t done thinking.  I began thinking about this idea of answers to prayer again and it was as if God was asking me personally “What if you intentionally prayed that way?  What if, every morning you prayed that that day, somehow, some way, you could be the answer to the prayer of someone else; what might happen?”  I’ll be the first to admit that I was harboring some apprehension about this prayer “experiment” because consistent prayer is one of the things that puts you on the front-lines of combat in spiritual terms and in conflict, those on the front-lines generally pose the greatest threat to the opposition.  The opposition in turn wants to strike back at your weakest point, and for me that’s a point of biological structure; because of some primary and secondary conditions I’ve lived with all my life, or a long stretch of it, I’m weaker and very vulnerable to pain and discomfort.  Moreover, already knowing what this feels like and what forms it can manifest in, tends to increase the dread if you know it’s coming (or might come); hence, the apprehension.

Nevertheless, I resolved to press forward with this idea.  The first few days were terrible, as pain and biological difficulty seemed to be on the hunt.  A few days later I was talking on the phone with a friend from out of town about a situation surrounding a mutual friend of ours, explaining how a friend of mine in here in Washington (which this out of town friend did not know) and I were planning on trying to help resolve this situation with our mutual friend.  In the midst of this explanation, my out of town friend just stops and says “wow, what you are trying to do is really an answer to the prayers some of us have prayed for awhile”.  I was standing in my kitchen at the time and the world. just. stopped. “What did you just say?”, I asked.  The words were repeated.  I then began to explain the whole prayer experiment I was in the midst of and the individual at the other end of the phone was amazed as well; the Master of the Universe taking the time to confirm a path I was on.  I also found it beyond coincidence or luck that the friend on the phone was reading The Circle Maker by Mark Batterson at this time; a great book on prayer if the  ever was one.

This doesn’t happen every second of every day or even every day, but when it does occur it’s wise to take note. I sometimes wonder if the FENX or the story of my journey so far  has been the answer to the prayers of others (other than my own).

And so I continue on this path, excited to see what other prayers of others I might be the answer to, knowing that most of those answer I will probably never be aware of, but the One who made the galaxies and crafted them into place will, and sometimes that has to be enough.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

This post brought to you by the Legend of Zelda 25th Anniversary Orchestra Album

I really like books; I like owning them, having shelves full of them, and reading them.  I’m currently in the midst of four separate books between various small groups and my own personal reading.  I started reading Frank Peretti at 11 years old and started collecting the Star Wars expanded Universe at 12; 17 years later my Star Wars  novels count is well over 80 and takes up three shelves of one of my bookcases.  I was obsessed with Christian apocalyptic fiction for most of Jr. High and High School thanks to the Left Behind books (but I won’t say anything more about that – except that I never finished the whole series).  When looking at my bookshelves, I never expected for it to hold a book by Donald Miller, the author of Blue Like Jazz (which is going to be released as a theatrical film soon)JRR Tolkien, C.S. Lewis, Susan Cooper, G.P. Taylor, Chuck Colson, and two series on Philosophy and Popular Culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Transformers, Terminator, Green Lantern, Batman, X-MEN, Battlestar Galactica, 24, LOST) sure, you’d find those, but Donald Miller?  Wasn’t he the guy that the “cool kids” read, those on the 21st Century cutting edge of Christianity?  Yeah, that was way too “Christian Hipster” for me when I actually thought about it, and I honestly would have rather read The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy books if given the choice (which I own but  haven’t finished).

All that changed one night a few weeks ago.  It was a cold Tuesday night and I’d just finished leading a C.S. Lewis reading group called “The Inklings” (what else would you call it?) when I ran into my friend Andy.  We hadn’t seen one another since the Leadership retreat for National Community Church a few weeks prior, so we got to talking.  Before we knew it we got talking about dreams, destiny, and how it takes intense conflict and perseverance to make a good story (all in “epic superhero/comic book movie” context as well as some of my own life story).  All of the sudden a light goes on inside Andy’s mind and he asks me “Have you ever read Donald Miller?”  I said “no”, and I wasn’t so eager to begin.    Andy began to explain that he understood my hesitation, as he didn’t like Donald Miller either, at first.  It wasn’t until he read A Million Miles in a Thousand Years that his perspective began to change (and he has now lead multiple smallgroups though this book).  In fact, my friend believed so much that I should read this book that he bought me a copy and had it sent to my house.  When that happens, you’ve got to give the book a shot because someone you respect sees it as a powerful vessel for wisdom, transformation, and change.  So I began reading.

This being my first experience with this author I didn’t know what to expect.  I had recently seen a trailer for the theatrical release of Blue Like Jazz and it looked very “indie and weird” (redundancy?).  I don’t really like “indie and weird”, except when it crosses over into “epic, super-ish, and full of awesome” like Scott Pilgrim vs. The World does (and SO WELL), because I live in the land of epic and I don’t’ like to stray outside those borders.  As I read I began to realize that one of the threads going through this book was the story of how Blue Like Jazz was going to become a movie: a ground floor account of the author’s life though that process and how it all went down (from characters, to conflict, inciting incidents, plot turns and the like).  I began to wonder “Has George Lucas done this?” and I found myself wishing the answer was yes.

Miller uses this book to look at his life as a story, and to ask the overall question of “what makes a good story and am I living one, a story worth living and inviting others to be a part of?”  As I read I realized that these were questions that I was (and am) consistently wrestling with in light of some of my experiences.  It brought to mind the ending of the two part episode of Facing Life Head On that I was featured in last year, when the host of the show, Brad Mates, says that I and my fellow interviewees had made our lives “stories worth telling”.  Does that mean that at the end of every day you have to be able to say that the day that just ended was worth it?  No, it does not, but worthwhile things have sure happened.  Often in our own stories it’s others that see the worth that we can’t as we’re in the midst of it, as I wrote about Kirk and Spock yesterday.

The book talks about how in Star Wars, the viewer can pause the movie at any point and ask the question “what does a certain character want and what do they have to overcome to get it?” and you know the answer.  Luke wants to become a Jedi and join the Rebellion; Leia wants to defeat the Empire; Han Solo want money so he can pay off Jabba the Hutt.  Ben Kenobi wants to teach Luke the ways of the Force.  Reader finds themselves asking, “what do I want and what do I have to overcome to get it?”  (Along that line of thinking I started to read Quitter by Jon Acuff and will blog about it when I finish the book).  I started asking myself, “is mine a story that is one others should be invited to participate in?” once the book raised this question.

In addressing this question, thoughts drift to The FENX (how can it not?)  I think of how that part of the my story touches and relates to so many other parts and is the fulfilment of some aspects (like wishing I were a superhero).  It’s also something that so many have been invited to be part of.  From Carl Sears and his wife Sheila at NBC to Brad Mates at Facing Life Head On; from radio show hosts Aleksander Danilov, Rick Amato, Anthony DiMiggaio, and Armstrong Williams to writers like Kate Tumerello and Roll Call newspaper.  Even two wonderful ladies who work at NASA and have become good friends of mine (one I actually went to high school with).  Not to mention friends in DC that find themselves part of the crazy incidents that happen on a regular basis and become wondrous tales.  It isn’t just my story anymore; they’ve all been invited to be part of it, and in accepting it’s become part of their story too.  One of the pastors at National Community Church once said that “everyone had that friend on college that was the crazy one that stuff happened to all the time; you either wanted to be around them or run from them because of that.”  I am fortunate to have friends that haven’t run away yet.

There’s still much ground to cover any always improvements to be made, and some of them monumental ones, but yes, I think my life to be a story worth living on the whole of it.  Remember that a good story requires intense conflict and perseverance – the road of The Greater Miracle is unpaved and sparsely trod – the Apostle Paul speaks to this in Romans 5:3-5 for a reason, venturing into the realm of suffering where Yoda dared not go.

What sort of story is your life, is it one that people want to be a part of?  Are you inviting people to be part of it?

Author’s note: I’m spoiling the plot for a few of the original Star Trek films here, so if you have never seen them and plan to, stop. reading. now.

The genesis of a blog post will often come in like The Flash, swift and mind jarring, and at the most random times.  Recently I was thinking back to a few summers ago when a local cinema in Washington, DC was showing some of the original Star Trek films at midnight in preparation for the imminent release of the reboot directed by J.J. Abrams.  As such, when some friends of mine asked if I wanted to go see Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Kahn with them at midnight I couldn’t turn down the offer to see the finest film in the series on the silver screen, as it was released shortly before I was born.  Over the years I’ve developed a deep appreciation for the film (and it’s sequel) because of how it handles issue of life, death, loss, love, and responsibility (or lack thereof) and the reality that “no one is ever safe” in the midst of characters that for many are synonymous with popular culture.

The tale begins with Admiral James Kirk overseeing a batch of cadets at Starfleet Academy undergoing the Kobyashi Maru scenario, a test of command ability that everyone fails.  It’s Kirk’s birthday and he struggles with aging and riding a desk job instead of exploring the galaxy from the bridge of the U.S.S. Enterprise.  Soon enough, they are asked to take the Enterprise on a mission with the training crew of cadets to investigate an incident at a Federation starbase, Regula I.  Meanwhile, another Starfleet vessel, the U.S.S. Reliant, has been hijacked by an old enemy of Kirk’s, an enemy bent on revenge for actions from 15 years prior.  This enemy comes across knowledge of the Genesis Device – technology that can create life from lifelessness (as well as the reverse), which happens to have been created and stewarded by an old flame of  Admiral Kirk’s and the son Kirk never knew.  After a brutal battle fueled by the rage of his old enemy, Kirk’s best friend makes a great sacrifice to keep the  “ship…out of danger…” telling James that “the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one” and the film concludes with the hope of new life from lifelessness.

Star Trek III begins with little time having passed.  The father of Kirk’s best friend visits him, begging him to find his son and return him to his home planet so he can be restored.  To do this, entails great risk and possible loss, because he must return to the planet that the Genesis Device was unleashed upon, something the United Federation of Planets has forbidden, as wonderfully expounded upon by a minor character in the film with “Genesis?!  Genesis allowed is NOT, Genesis forbidden…”  Gathering his willing crew members, Kirk steals the Enterprise from Starfleet and returns to Genesis to find his friend, only to find his son (and his friend) planet side and in danger from the   mortal enemy of the Federation, the Klingon Empire.  Rescuing the friend entails great personal  loss to James Kirk and when the the friend is restored he asks Kirk “why?  Why did you come back for me?”  The unspoken secondary questions being why did you sacrifice your ship and the chance to save your son to save me?  Why did you allow yourself to risk and ultimately lose the things that have defined you for as long as we have been friends?”  Kirk simply responds, “because sometimes the needs of the one, outweigh the needs of the few or the many”.

I ruminate on this idea every so often because we live in a culture that loves to talk about “the greater good” or the “greatest good for the greatest number” and yet in our actions it is more about “I want what I want and I wanted it two days ago so why isn’t it here yet?”  Two conflicting ideas that very rarely work together and always live contentiously within one another’s orbits.  Neither of them are always right and sometimes neither of them are the proper choice in a given situation.  I think about Christ’s parable of the Lost Sheep in Matthew 18:12-14, wherein he asks if the Shepherd won’t go in search of the one who is lost and leave the ninety-nine to do it.  The answer is of course “yes, he would” as the question is a rhetorical one.  It flows into the same sort of question that the Apostle Paul asks in Romans 8:31 “If God is FOR Us, then who can be against us?”  Answering the question is GOD for you?” is much easier than answering the question”Is God for YOU?” or to put it at eye level “Is God for ME?”  The answer is yes, but coming to terms with that answer in our finite confines is a challenge that can take a lifetime to overcome, because we often do not see ourselves as God sees us:  worth the risk and the potential for loss.  Spock didn’t see himself as Kirk saw him.

Sometimes when I meet others as a result of the FENX, occasionally I will be asked the question of “why did your dad do this?” after I tell them the tale of it taking three years to build.  Some don’t ask the question because the answer is an obvious one, but to those that ask it I simply say that he built it because he loves me, he built it because he sees me in a better light than I see me, he built it because I had a need, and sometimes the needs of the one outweigh the needs of the few or the many.

Author’s Note:  Penned almost 4 years ago, I still think about this event a lot, considering the controversy that ignited over the events in Florida the lady was referring to, and have really been considering it in the last week.  The Greater Miracle is often the harder road, the road bearing footprints you can see because it’s not paved, but few prints to follow.  When I wrote this the FENX IV wasn’t finished, Carl Sear at NBC hadn’t called yet, I didn’t know pro-life television existed, and I certainly didn’t know who Chris Rush or Zack Arnold were, and wasn’t thinking about articles written in Roll Call.  Almost four years later, some of this path makes more sense than it did in Spring 2008.  How big is God to you?  Is He big enough to NOT do something you want because there is a larger story being written, even in your own life?

Yesterday, before church, an older lady came up to me and asked me a random question: “Do you watch GOD TV?”  Taken aback, I said “no” because I don’t know what that is. (Only after thinking about it did I realize that I think it’s part of the Wendy Alec empire as it were.)  She then started talking about how guests on that TV program/station had been healed of various physical problems and illnesses during a “healing revival” and how I should start watching it.

So, ok, color me a skeptic.  I know that God CAN do such things, and that the Scriptures are filled with Him doing such things in the Old Testament and Jesus in the new (even using the Disciples and Paul).  God is God and the Universe belongs to Him and He can do as He wills. The whole reason this awkward conversation started is because she saw me sitting in the scooter and the synaptic impulse shot across her brain that “something is wrong with this young man and I know God can fix it”.  A noble idea and response to be sure, but is it the right one?

Has anyone ever considered that there is nothing wrong with me? Has anyone ever thought about the fact that I am what I am because the Lord created me to be this way for some purpose unknown to humans but fully known to Him – even though it is revealed to me and to others in small pieces or not at all? I just feel sad for people who see something like this and automatically think something is out of place, when in fact it is not. Sure, I still struggle with this whole situation, the idea of getting older and things getting worse. At times it isn’t fun – like right now when I am home suck because a variety of factors are working together to keep me out of the game for a short time – but it is never as bad as the outside world perceives it to be because my Heavenly Father is here too, grieving and struggling along side, but knowing there is a greater purpose that often I cannot see. (Lest we forget Paul’s example shown to us by the thorn that he was given, but never taken from him though he asked it to be)

What is the greater miracle?

For someone to be healed of a life-long infirmity, the Lord be recognized and praised for it, but soon forgotten by all except the one it happened to – and even then possibly forgotten over time?

Or for someone to go about life striving to accomplish the mission set before them, phase by phase, with a consistent infirmity, a constant reminder of their mortality, that can cause great pain and internal struggle (but also bring them in closer relationship with God than anything else) against impossible odds because the Father planted within that person the seed of perseverance that over time will grow and transform into a massive structure with God engraved all over it, as a symbol and encouragement to many people in many places?

I’ll take door number two, Bob.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

My long-time friend and teacher, Ken Rudolph, often talks of his love for reading about military special forces when he speaks to kids in the United States and Europe.   More often than not, in the context of talking about David’s Mighty Men from II Samuel 23.  On the various occasions that I’ve heard him preach that message over the years, I drift back in the stream of my memory to the first Reborn Rangers experience at Lake Ann Camp  in 1999, where the “Alpha” group of Rangers met Tom Hemmingway.  Tom was a retired Green Beret who had served though some of the worst conflict during Vietnam and as a result had some of the most unforgettable and amazing stories I’ve ever heard (it’s no mistake that a great story requires great conflict).  In one recounting, Tom told us how he shredded a parachute so he could use it to mark his way across a mine field to successfully rescue injured South Vietnamese soldiers and these soldiers couldn’t fathom that an American would risk his own life to remove them from danger.  Within a few years of meeting him I found out that he had passed away, and I along with some of the other Alpha Rangers mourned the loss of a great man; much of what he did in those stories would be considered “Acts of Valor”.

Earlier today, I drove the FENX to a movie theatre and saw a movie bearing that name.  “Act of Valor” has no big name celebrities acting in it because the shining stars are actual Navy SEALS, the elite operators within the United States Navy that killed Osama Bin Laden during a raid in May 2011.  Since that time much has been written about those events and light shed on the SEALS and how they operate as they do.  This film is one of those avenues, and one that is breaking new ground by creating a story based on actual SEAL Team operations and having actual SEALs use their training and tactics in the film.  In the narrative, a SEAL team is dispatched to retrieve an intelligence operative who has fallen into enemy hands and that mission leads to further operations against a network of terrorists planning to attack the United States.  Conversely, the movie also bears out a thread dealing with the families of these men, much like the television show “The Unit” did.

I know that what I saw today is about as real as it will ever get on the silver screen and it is something I could never do.  I makes me thankful that there are men out there willing to endure in that way and take those risks to defend Freedom and Liberty, and that their families are willing as well.  There are consequences to these risks and the film bears this out, as it also makes clear the reality of evil present in the world and that good men will do something to stem the tide.

To my friends and family who have walked that path, I thank you; your vigilance allows our nation to remain a beacon of Liberty and enables those of us on the other side of the coin to do what we do in trying to govern a nation in a time of hardship.  To Tom, your stories will be remembered and the Rangers will see you again one day in the Northwest Corner.

Riding Towards Eternity,

Aaron

(This blog post brought to you by the film Act of Valor and the soundtrack for ‘The Rock”)