Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Culture of Learning

It’s been said that the average person suffers from three delusions. First, that he has a good sense of humor. Second, that he’s a good driver. And third, that he’s a good listener! *

On a mission trip, a sense of humor (good or otherwise) sure makes life sweeter. If you’re smart, you’ll let someone with local experience do the driving. But what about being a good listener, a good learner? Many a missionary has discovered he or she isn’t as good at this as first assumed. When you’re in another culture and get overwhelmed, it’s easier to withdraw, stick with your own ways of doing things, and tune out what you can’t make sense of.

What are some ways to avoid that trap, and instead learn as much as we can? Here are half a dozen of my favorite cultural engagement strategies for short-term teams.

» Read the article, Sustaining a Culture of Learning: Six Strategies for Short-Term Teams. I wrote it for a newsletter from Delta Ministries. 

* Told you I was going to find a way to use this illustration somewhere!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

America's new commercial holidays

Once upon a time there was a holiday many Americans liked to think of as relatively sweet and unspoiled, a holiday still all about family and togetherness and celebrating the ways God has blessed us. But now Thanksgiving seems almost crowded out of the calendar by some new holidays, all of which quick research suggests appeared or at least began to be popularized, it seems, in 2012.

A friend of mine expressed on Facebook great indignation that she'd shown up at Walmart at 5:30am on "Black Friday" only to discover the deals she hoped for had all been stolen away by shoppers on what I now see is called Gray Thursday ("The evening of the United States Thanksgiving holiday, when some retailers offer sales and stay open until the early morning or all night.")

Brick-and-mortar stores are scrambling to compete, of course, with deals on the Internet. "Cyber Monday" has been around for a while. Now that people don't have to go back to work for fast internet, I wonder if will be undercut by Sofa Sunday ("The Sunday after the United States Thanksgiving holiday, when people relax at home and purchase goods online or on TV.")

Two more adjacent occasions have been introduced in recent years, both aiming to redirect some of our consumerism into more thoughtful causes: non-profits like the one I work for have high hopes of charitable donations for Giving Tuesday while shopkeepers look to Small Business Saturday.

If that's not enough, see The Sixteen Days of Holiday Retail.   


Chris and I are looking at holiday shopping a little differently this year. Last week he was offered a one-year hospital residency in Columbia, South Carolina, and this week I learned that we qualify for on-campus housing at the Christian college in that town where I've been chipping away at a Master's degree. If we take the job for him and get one of my school's furnished, two-bedroom apartments (as hoped), we'll be able to stay on top of the student loan payments about to kick in for Chris's M.Div and also do our bit for our two kids in college next year—all without raising our budget. Sweet.

Such an arrangement, though, would mean we couldn't keep all our stuff. It we take the job (which starts in September), the cheap furniture we bought three years ago will be garage-saled this summer. We'll probably keep a few pieces and put them into storage, along with most books and mementos. Clothes, electronics, and kitchen essentials can make the cross-country trip with us. But all the rest of the stuff we have—including wedding gifts, things left behind by the kids, and anything we get for Christmas—has to be evaluated. Worth keeping, paying to put in storage? Small or useful enough to bring along?

Any tendency to want more and better things is put into new perspective. We're not so tempted to take advantage of sales by buying things for each other or ourselves. And we're looking for ways to tell our close friends and relatives: please, don't add to our earthly goods this Christmas.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gossip columnist?

I have on my bookshelf a rather strange volume called The Pop-up Book of Phobias. You flip it open and snakes pop up on one page, spiders on another. There’s the fear of dentists, with a giant drill spinning toward your face. The fear of heights, of course, where you are teetering on the edge of a high-rise building. And the fear of being buried alive, which has you looking up from an open grave with a shovel full of dirt about to come your way. Not something I’ve pondered. Not until I saw this book.

Do you have a phobia? If I do, it might be “The fear of missing out,” sometimes known by its acronym, FOMO. I don’t want to skip a meeting or event or stay home from a party, even, because something important might happen. I try to keep up with what’s going on with people I know, I like being the one to tell someone else about a new resource, or something that’s going on in the life of a friend.

Sometimes I say that if work ever dried up, I could make it as a gossip columnist… but that would be taking it too far, wouldn’t it?

Instead, I’ve been blessed to be able to more or less make my living learning about the world, the struggles and tensions within and between different communities, and things God is doing.

As a writer for a mission organization, a lot of what I do is to curate news, ideas, and resources having to do with world mission, and pass along what I gather to others to stir up prayer or passion or participation in global outreach.

It’s been amazing to discover how God is able to turn my personality quirks into something he can use for the kingdom, and to help accomplish his purposes. And that gives me confidence that he can and may want to do the same for others.

I shared this when I spoke at my home church this last weekend.

At the end of my session, I had the class break into small groups and talk about what it looks like for them—or might look like for them—to be involved in God's work in the world at this stage in their lives.

The best part for me (and for their pastor, sitting half-way back)? It was hearing what they had to share with the group after those conversations. I praise God for what he is doing in and through Wabash Church, and in fact, with his people worldwide.

That, really, is the story I want to tell. It's what I don't want to miss out on!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Your Problem and How I Can Fix It

Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-cultural Connections, tells the story of a monkey "rescuing" a fish which was swimming against the current:

"He carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few minutes the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the money. He had successfully helped the other creature."

The monkey was brave and noble, says the author, but because he could not see beyond his own frame of reference, he assumed what would be good for him would be good for the fish. And he may have never known the damage he did.

It's easy enough to draw the moral from a simple story like that and apply it to, say, serving the poor, or any kind of cross-cultural ministry. In his next chapter, however, Elmer quotes the newspaper editorial columnist Sidney Harris who applied the principle much more broadly, claiming that "every book that is ever published, every article ever written, and every speech delivered should have the subtitle 'How to Be More Like Me.'"

Why do you suppose we find this kind of thing so appealing? Why do we eat up the self-up titles, the seven steps to success in this area or that, the recipes for happiness? I'm amazed how appealing these promises can be.

What would it take to drop the subtitle and stop making those kind of false promises in what we write or say?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.

"Like the majority of humankind I don't know much about wholeness at first hand," writes Fredrick Buechner. "It is something that, at most -- like Abraham and Sarah and Moses and the rest of them -- I have every once in a while seen and greeted from afar, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, but that is about all. I like to believe that in a disorganized way it is what I am journeying toward, but the most I have to show for my pains is an occasional glimpse of it in certain people who had clay feet more or less like the rest of us but who struck me as being at least a good deal wholer than I have ever managed to become myself."

"...To be whole, I think, means among other things that you see the world whole." Having told stories about his grandmother Naya, one of the people in whom he had seen something more like wholeness, he explains, "She saw both the light and the dark of what the world was offering her and was not split in two by them. She was whole in herself and she saw the world whole.

"The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myusself. I know how just the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.

"It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognize it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.

"...All his life long, wherever Jesus looked, he saw the world not in terms simply of its brokenness -- a patchwork of light and dark calling forth in us now our light, now our dark -- but in terms of the ultimate mystery of God's presence buried in it like a treasure buried in a field."

Source: Essay "The Journey Toward Wholeness" in the book, The Longing for Home, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Autumn in Japan

Thought some of you might enjoy this look at fall, coming to us from the other side of the Pacific: 
Mount Fuji in autumn

"Kyoto and its royal courts were once strictly regulated by the changing seasons - many of the ancient traditions still exist.
  • Shokuyoku no aki (time of hearty appetites) so as the heat dies down, the Japanese enjoy culinary treats such as maple leaves in tempura
  • Tsukimi (moon viewing) when people stand on a hill with lashings of tea to view the harvest moon which is thought to be larger and more radiant than at any other time
  • Dokusho no aki (autumn reading) because the shorter days make one more reflective than during the brassier days of summer
  • Supotsu no aki (autumn sport) as students enjoy the "crisp autumn air," despite the fact that typhoon season makes early autumn here anything but crisp"
Source: Why Japan's beaches are deserted - despite the sunshine (BBC News Magazine)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to School

The back-to-school season is upon us. Yes, I'm back at it, too; a generous gift will cover my tuition this year. Thankful for that, but cognizant of the time and energy it takes to work and go to school while serving and supporting a family all doing the same.

I did the first week's work of my online class last Sunday before leaving on a business trip and used a comp day on my return to get week two done; from here on out, though, we'll settle into a pattern of schoolwork every Saturday.

Hubs is driving to Portland on Mondays, now, for the final stretch on his M.Div. Daughter Haley is back at college in California. Son Daniel hasn't started classes yet, but he made it to the 5:30 am polo-team practices this week (!) and has his first pep rally with the band tonight. Monday night he goes back to his mom's place for the next two weeks, ready to register Tuesday and start actual classes on Wednesday. Senior year. Both Chris and Daniel graduate in June! Haley and I will finish a year later.

On Monday I snapped a picture of Chris heading off to class with his backpack, but he didn't want to see it posted on the internet. What, no more back-to-school photos when you're 45?!

See, though, 20 photos of kids' journeys to school from around the world (Global Citizen). 

Children are accompanied on their walk to school through Guizhou Province, China 
Flickr: Jeff Werner