Weekend Photo Challenge: Illumination (of Richmond & my Soul)


This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Illumination“. One of the biggest benefits of this weekly photo challenge is the chance to go through some of my old pictures and bring to mind favorite memories from the past.

The picture above was taken in 2006 in Richmond, Virginia while I was in college. It was after one of my favorite Richmond traditions: the Grand Illumination.

Throughout the winter holidays, the skyscrapers in Richmond are all lined with lights, lighting up the skyline in a way that it is not during the rest of the year. These lights are turned on all at once at something called the Grand Illumination, which takes place in early December. Not only are the skyscraper lights turned on, but the annual Christmas display at the Omni Hotel is turned on also. This display has lit-up mechanical reindeer, a giant Christmas tree, and the bell tower plays Christmas music on the hour.

After watching the Grand Illumination lighting from the bridge to Belle Isle, one of my favorite spots in all of Richmond (see picture below), we drove through the streets to see everything up close. The picture above was taken around the Omni Hotel as we passed their display.

But that’s not all this made me think of…

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Weekend Photo Challenge: Silhouette (Autumn edition)

This week’s WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge theme is “Silhouette“. For this challenge, I was able to choose I picture that’s very important to me. Like I said in my previous Photo Challenge post, photography editing is still relatively new to me; but for many years now, the desire to simply take beautiful pictures has been a consistent interest.

This was certainly true for me during my time in Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University. Richmond is a beautiful city, but not in the grandiose way that usually marks the beauty of other American cities. No, Richmond’s beauty is far more subtle, and you find it most clearly exhibited in quiet corners and places that only residents would truly know. In fact, my first Photo Challenge picture was in this vein.

This picture was taken at the very beginning of the fall of 2005. It was my first Richmond Autumn as a resident: having conquered freshman year, there were now no more dorms or still learning the city. I had an apartment near campus and could honestly call Richmond home. The evening of this picture, I stepped outside and found myself captured by the oncoming sunset. I jumped in my car and raced to my favorite in spot in Richmond: Church Hill.

This hill looks out over the entire city (not unlike another hill that plays prominently in my life).This is the hill from which the original founders of the city laid the grid-lines for the streets. The “Church” on this hill from whence it derives its name is St. John’s Church, the very Church from which Patrick Henry proclaimed “give me liberty, or give me death!”.

I made it to Church Hill just in time to take some beautiful pictures of one of the most beautiful sunsets I ever saw in Richmond. It was one of my favorite introvert moments and captured so well the essence of my favorite times of solitude: me awash in beauty.

It was also the beginning of Autumn in Richmond, and I couldn’t help but draw my attention to the trees that were just about to peak in their transition towards death. I took this picture trying to capture the harmony and dissonance that exists when Nature is at the climax of its beauty; when darkness and death lay mere moments away.

Sorry to wax poetic, but this picture captures my own hope for my death and mortality. Even though I fear death so much, my hope is that my own death would exist in what this picture represents: the height of beauty awaiting sunrise, and awaiting spring. It’s appropriate that Henry’s words echoed from these heights, for it’s precisely in this place–and in this moment–that I precisely find liberty in death.

See my past Weekly Photo Challenges here.


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Weekend Photo Challenge: Free Spirit (a new weekly feature)

Today I’m introducing a new weekly post I’ll be doing. WordPress, the site that hosts this blog, has a weekly “Photo Challenge“, where bloggers are tasked with finding (or taking) a picture that captures a certain theme. See the bottom of this post for more information.

As my Facebook friends know, I do love taking pictures and trying to make them as beautiful as possible. And so, when I saw this today, I decided to begin this weekend featurette. The “challenges” are posted on Fridays, and so I will post mine over the weekend. Some weeks I might take a fresh picture, other weeks I’ll try and find an old one. I’ll post it, and tell a little bit about it.

Today’s picture is a really special one to me.
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a little blog update… (on “Paul breaks” and guilt-burdens)

I have a really good friend, David, who loves me a lot. I’ve often considered him my “best friend” (as awkward as that strangely feels for me to say–as a guy). I’ve known him since I was in college in Richmond, Virginia. We would spend hours upon hours at our favorite Richmond coffee-shop talking theology, life, and books. We’ve been through a lot together (we even tried to keep a fledgling online magazine running for a time).

But through the course of our friendship, every once and a while, he’s had to take what he calls “Paul breaks”. These are periods ranging from a couple of weeks to a couple of months where I won’t see him or talk to him. They usually follow a season of intense hanging out where we saw each other for many hours for many days in a row.

I’m an intense guy. He’s a laid-back guy. And so, after a time like this, he’s needed a break from me.

But this wasn’t because he didn’t love me or didn’t care about our friendship, it was precisely because he loved me and wanted our friendship to continue.

And so it has been with this blog.

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The Big News II (I’m not leaving Philly, it seems)

I, Paul Burkhart, now have a real job.

Like, a real real one.

Yesterday, I was accepted for a position at a program called Project Transition as a “Psychiatric Rehabilitation Counselor” (assuming that my background checks clear, of course. Until then, I can’t actually say I’m “hired” per se, I’m still a “candidate”). In short, this is my dream job. I will have a case load of about 5 individuals recovering from various mental disorders who I will pour into their lives trying to help them reintegrate into society. I will teach classes to everyone in the program on various parts of living life healthily. I will be doing assessments and creating treatment plans for my case load. The people I will work with seem amazing. Benefits kick in after only a month. It’s really good pay (at least for an entry level job). I will even have my own office space (and desk!).

The philosophy of the organization is right in line with mine: that people are not defined by their disease. They are fundamentally healthy individuals struggling with a disorder, rather than the view that would treat them as primarily disordered individuals struggling for health. It was so exciting sitting there as they told me everything about the organization. That reminds me, the interview itself was strange too. It was one of those weird circumstances that seems to surreal and – for lack of a better word – supernatural. In the entire interview I didn’t say more than a couple of sentences. They didn’t really ask me many questions. It was more like “hey, this is who we are. Wanna join us?”. It was so strange. I have the weakest resume one could imagine. I have waiting tables at Applebee’s and tutoring elementary school students on there and that’s it. Hardly the resume to get someone a professional counseling job. But nevertheless, I walked in, and the founder of the organization had made one of his monthly visits to this particular site just to interview me. When I got there, everyone already knew my name and who I was. When the founder had to leave the interview early and leave me with the site coordinators, he had the secretary send down paperwork to hire me, even before the interview was actually over! (Running the risk of sounding overly charismatic or Osteen-ish) I felt like I was walking in “supernatural favor”. Or something like that.

So what does all this mean? Well firstly, even though I loved and adored my time in Richmond the past few weeks and really wanted to move back there, it seems that God has intended for me to have longer-term plans for Philly. This job really is something I’m going to want to stay at for awhile. The people I will be around, the experiences I’ll get, and the real-word education I’ll receive (all while still taking WTS counseling classes) will be invaluable to me. So I’m here to stay, it seems. This would probably have been a problem a couple months ago, but recently Philadelphia has opened up to me (specifically South Philly) and I have met so many people I really want to live life deeply with for a while longer before moving on (not to mention my biggest bromances are here and here. Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten you, you, and you).

So here’s to God for blessing me far more than I could ever imagine. I pray this drives me further to Him and doesn’t make me feel like I don’t need him now. Because I do. I’ve definitely been seeing that greatly the past few weeks, and this has been the first little ray of light to burst out from the haze I’ve been in.

Philly, here I stay.

Tim Sinclair’s First Sermon Ever | (a too little, too late wedding gift)

One of my best friends, favorite guys, and men of God I respect the most, Tim Sinclair, preached his first sermon a few weeks back at Aletheia Church in Richmond.  He also just got married last Saturday.  I must admit that knowing Tim, I never saw him as a preacher or church planter.  I saw him as a great one-on-one ministry or small group kind of guy, but not necessarily as a preacher-behind-a-podium (or music stand) kind of guy.  Well, in short, this sermon blew me away.  I called him immediately after finishing the sermon to express my great joy in the gifting he had been hiding from us all along.  Really, it’s amazing.

So I encourage you all: download this sermon, listen to it, and leave a comment of encouragement for Tim, his budding ministry, and his budding marriage.


Click for Audio: Tim Sinclair: Rest.mp3

Faithful Forgiveness.pdf

Click for Manuscript: Tim Sinclair: Rest.pdf

The big news . . .

Nope, not engaged.

Several people here in Philadelphia know this, but I realize hardly anyone in Richmond does, so here I am writing this now.

I won’t be coming back to Westminster next year.

Long story short, my undergraduate loan payments have been steadily increasing and are now getting to a place where my parents can’t handle it alone – nor should they (before you all ask: no, this isn’t the kind of loan that waits until I’m done to require payments; no, my parents can’t consolidate it; yes, we’ve thought through it all).  I’ve decided to take at least a year off from graduate studies to get a full time job somewhere and help pay some things off.I’m focusing in Philadelphia, and trying to stay here, but I’m also looking at jobs in other places (especially Richmond).

Academically, what does this mean?Well, so far I’m still signed up for one counseling class next semester in the evenings, but I’m going to start applying to various Ph.D. programs and seeing what happens.There’s a program at Princeton I’ve fallen in love with in “Psychology and Social Policy”.I’ve realized that I was seeing seminary somewhat as a potential aid in getting into a Ph.D. program, but frankly, it’s seems to only be hurting my chances (on many levels).So, I’ll see if I can get in without it and then go back to Westminster afterwards if I want.

Practically, this means a lot more time and freedom to read what I want, write what I want, minister in different ways, and just generally feel like an actual member of society.I’ve already started writing a little bit more, doing more web stuff (Reform & Revive has been amazing recently!), and (I can’t believe I’m admitting this now), I’ve started a podcast which I’ll write on more later.

Spiritually speaking, what does this mean?Well, the answer to that question deserves a whole post in its self.I’ve been encouraged that as the workload lightens and I seem to be leaving seminary in a sense, I find myself driven more to prayer and the Word of God than while I was in seminary.They don’t tell you that seminary is not a secluded spiritual resort, but rather the darkest front lines of battle.This has been the most intense spiritual year of my life.I’ve had some of my darkest nights and moments this past year.I’ve gone my longest stints ever without drawing near to my Lord in any way.In short, it’s been rough.In short, it’s been painful.In short, I think I came to seminary too soon.I came too young.I wasn’t ready to handle the weight that this institution would hold.I have not developed the maturity and cultivation necessary to have an anchor in my soul beyond my sheer white-knuckled will.

Now, don’t get me wrong, this past year has been amazing.It’s also been the best year of my life, I think.That’s generally how God works.Very Dickensian: the best of times, the worst of times . . ..I wouldn’t give this past year back for anything.My love, affection, and knowledge of my Lord have grown exponentially.If I never go back to seminary I will forever be grateful to the Providence of God for giving me these two semesters.

God has always dealt with me in such a way that I had a very good sense of what the future held for me.This is the first time in my life that he has allowed everything to really fall apart all around me in a matter of weeks.And this is his mercy to me.This is his love for me.It is his commitment to make me need him, because he himself is what I need the most.He is my anchor.He is my certainty.He is my Lord, and my God, and I love him.

So, we’ll see what life holds.God has still been gracious to me in this time. I have great friends and my church (though still going through so much turmoil) has still been healthy and amazing.  I’ve even realized that my life as it was wasn’t very financially sustainable.  I couldn’t continue into my mid- and later-20s still asking my parents for rent money while working 15-hour work weeks at various low hourly rates.  I should have decided to so this regardless of money.

I feel it’s appropriate I’ve written this entire post while I sit in what may be my last seminary class ever, Medieval Church.Which is a appropriate, I suppose.Just like this strange period in history, and more specifically where we are in this last class, I sit here with my Rome having fallen, some dark ages having passed, standing on the cusp of my Reformation, waiting to rediscover the nearness of my Lord.

Feel free to ask any questions you may have.