Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"I can't believe Gilbert is dead!"

I grew up spending as much time with my nose in a book as with my friends; probably more. As an addiction, reading had some good side effects but some downsides too. My ability to make real-life friends was sometimes enhanced by the insights I gained from my imaginary friendships but also hampered by the limited amount of practice I gave myself with real people. It was often easier to retreat to re-reading a favorite book (where I could be sure that everyone would behave just as they had last time) than to learn the lessons of the playground. Even now, I sometimes struggle with frustration when others don't say the lines I've written for them and when scenes don't unfold according to script. Though I think that happens to non-readers, too.

Many seem to find television and movies a more satisfying, engrossing medium. "Today, the TV set is a key member of the household, with virtually unlimited access to every person in the family," says the sociologist George Gerbner, who compares the power of television to the power of religion. "The more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television."

These days I am not surprised to know people who feel more connected to characters on the screen than to neighbors, classmates, or coworkers, and maybe even family members. But when you add on the continued growth of celebrity culture, it has some funny effects, doesn't it? We start to feel as if musicians, athletes, and other celebrities are our real friends. And you can actually meet them. Follow them on Facebook. Write to them on Twitter. They are real people, even if their "brands" are carefully managed.

But what about actors? The job of these men and women, explicitly, is to present themselves as something other than they are... to portray the characters that, in a novel, would live only in one's imagination: Now they have flesh and blood.

A number of people I know were recently upset and saddened by the death of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He's best known for portraying the young love interest in the much-beloved 1985 movie Anne of Green Gables. He was still in his forties and died rather suddenly of a brain hemorrhage, so that ups the tragedy factor.

Yet why were the fans sad? Few, I suspect knew much about the actor or had followed his modest career these last 30 years, much less his health, family, or inner life. They were sad because Gilbert was dead. Of course Gilbert was a fictional character and had never been alive in the first place.

What do we make of this? A healthy sign that one's imagination, empathy, and sense of play are still working, or something more ominous and distorted? Is it different from children playing with dolls, animal-lovers attributing human motivations to their pets.... or me crying over a book? (which seems perfectly justified! Or.... okay, maybe it's the same thing.) Is it a matter of degree or effect, a question of whether they express a healthy creativity versus an obsessive, corrupting, or idolatrous one?

We live in a post-modern day and age where it's hopelessly old fashioned to defend the notion of a common "reality" or the importance of being connected to the "real world." Under such conditions, it would seem like nonsense to evaluate these behaviors in terms of how they reinforce or distort our sense of and taste for what is true, real, good, or best. Wouldn't it?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Free ice cream other fringe benefits

"Crying because 'free cone day' at Ben and Jerry's is tomorrow while I'm at work!" posted one of my Facebook friends. She's a young woman characterized by a mix of sharpness and silliness I find rather endearing. While other friends bemoaned such bad luck, I briefly considered pointing out the happy fact that activities like going to work are what make treating oneself to an ice cream cone possible on any day, not just once a year. I said nothing, though, not sure that my relationship with her is strong enough to bear the weight of such logic!

Since then I've been thinking about how much I take for granted the intrinsic blessings, big or small, that come with the intrinsic limitations of my own life and maybe those of each one of us.

Friday we stopped by Chris's university in Portland to have lunch there on our way to Seattle, and caught sight of a flier advertising a sunset dinner cruise for seminary students. No price listed, but tickets for that particular experience run $70 a person; no chance it's free? Actually, it is, and we're signed up. One of those little perks that come along with the sacrifice of time and money we've made to get Hubs through school. And a nice way to celebrate graduation. Thank you, Lord.

Today I am working on resource reviews for the weekly, online magazine I manage. I regularly rejoice that I've got a job that allows me to spend so many hours playing with words and putting together articles, almost all of which are published. This morning, that meant spending a couple hours reading a mission-related novel. It's pretty good. I'm going to recommend it. But am trying not to feel guilty about starting my work week with such a pleasure!

None of us love our jobs (or our lives) all the time, but isn't it great to have a job with many moments you can love... and that provide the means of enjoying other things you love? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

South Carolina Food Taste Test

...In which several West Coast people--people like me--sample South Carolina delicacies for the first time. Shrimp and grits, boiled peanuts, or spicy ginger ale might be a little uncommon. At least I've never tried them before. But where did they find Californians who haven't had sweet tea?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Smiles in the Aisles

When I went on a company-sponsored cruise a few years ago, I was dismayed by the pressure to be pleased at all times. Am intrigued by the idea that happiness is something you can engineer, cajole, produce, or mandate.

It seems that part of offering great service is telling people you’re offering great service. That’s like persuading people to like you by telling them how much they like you. Amazing how often this works (though, silly me, I want to reserve the right to come to my own conclusion).

On a flight home from Orlando I noticed (and yes, smiled) at Delta Airlines’ boast of “75 years of smiles in the aisles.”

Is labeling the java “great coffee” supposed to set people up to enjoy it more? Does it work? 

Thursday, March 05, 2015


OK... so blogging is hard to fit in these days. February was another month of publishing 40,000+ words elsewhere, and both February and March have had a sometimes frenzied load of travel and teaching. I meant to at least get a newsletter out before it began but settled for a frantic-sounding one, midstream, a few days ago.

Perspicacious readers should be able to tell that I need more time to sit still and ponder, but that's not going to happen just yet. I get back home from my last trip on March 21, but will probably be behind on my graduate school studies by then and have to scramble to catch up.

Of course, each of these activities has a sweetness of its own and can be very rewarding. That's part of why I do them. But the adrenaline from these events, increased by doing them all at the same time, is a dangerous addiction. Both Hubs and I are prone to this pattern. So the days one of us wants to just chill out are often ones when the other wants to be productive and has a long to-do list. I don't see us getting a consistent weekly sabbath until school is out.

I wonder if we can schedule a spring "break" to disrupt this cycle? Maybe around Easter?

If you haven't seen that frantic newsletter (and want to), take a look.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I might blog. I might not.

I'd like to blog more just like I'd like to read more. In both cases, the old habits suffer from too much competition. I'm spending my words elsewhere. Decided to keep track of the bigger chunks for a bit. My records show I wrote/edited about 30,000 words in November, 50,000 in December, and 40,000 in January. I started counting because I had friends doing National Novel Writing Month (with its 50,000 word goal) and I wondered how my own capacity might compare. Now that I've got a read on that I'm not sure I'll keep counting.

Up next? Travel-and-teaching season. I'm scheduled to teach eight classes or workshops in various cities across Oregon and Washington over a period of 3-4 weeks this spring, and following that, will make one of my semi-annual business trips to Florida.

In light of this schedule, I'm leaving the door open: I might blog while I'm on the road. But in case I don't, I'll try to schedule some reruns of favorite posts and topics from the 8+ years of Telling Secrets. Diving into the archives from time to time reminds me where I've come from and helps me reconnect with ideas I still find interesting or helpful. I hope they'll interest you, too.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Women in Missions: William Carey's Praying Sister

It's been many months since my last entry in the series of accounts and reflections on women in missions, but just came across something good I want to share with others who are interested in this kind of thing. This comes from Joni Eareckson Tada. I'll have to do some more digging to find the original source material.
"While he labored in the distant land of India, back in England, William Carey had a sister whom he affectionately called Polly – Polly was bedridden and almost completely paralyzed for 52 years. William wrote to Polly all about the details of his struggle to create primers and dictionaries in the various Indian dialects, as well as the difficulty of figuring out how to get these books typed and printed. And with every letter from William that she received, Polly lifted these needs up before the Throne. Every day for 52 years, she faithfully prayed for her brother.

"Now I don’t have to tell you that really inspired me. There she is Polly for all intents and purposes a quadriplegic, unable to walk or use her hands. But that didn’t paralyze her prayer life. And, oh, were William Carey’s efforts blessed by God – not only was India reached for Christ, but what he did became a model for modern missionaries even to this day… all because a paralyzed woman prayed.
"A lot of people know about the work of William Carey, but not many people know about the sister behind the scenes whose prayers guaranteed the success of his efforts. Polly’s testimony tells me that the life of any Christian can have huge repercussions for the kingdom. Think of it: if God can use bedridden quadriplegics to open doors to the Gospel around the world, what can He do through your prayers?! Little wonder the Bible says, 'Pray without ceasing.' … for God knows what great things are accomplished when people pray."

» Read more.

Teaching on Women in Missions

I need to brush up on this topic in preparation for teaching Perspectives classes this spring. One of the lessons I regularly teach is built around four men who are held us as "pioneers" of new ways of doing mission: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, and Donald McGavran. Since all four men were married (Carey had three wives and Taylor and Townsend each had two), it's a cinch to fold in content about the eight women, and hard to resist adding in a few more women who were a significant part of their ministry teams.

I think it's important not to wave the "girl power" flag too briskly. It's too easy to send out a male-bashing message, and we certainly need more men who are willing to serve in missions even though they long been outnumbered by the women. Yet mission history is still typically written and taught with a focus on men, and the women's stories ought to be told as well.

For anyone who teaches this lesson and wants some ideas, here are a few of the women whose contributions I highlight. I've also blogged about some of them here, it's easy to find more material online, and I'm happy to share my teaching notes.
  • William Carey: wives Dorothy, Charlotte, and Grace; teammate Hannah Marshman
  • Hudson Taylor: mother Amelia, wives Maria and Jennie, teammate Emily, sister Amelia
  • Cameron Townsend: wives Elvira and Elaine, niece Evelyn, the anonymous woman who told him he'd be a coward for going to war and leaving the women to carry out missions, and the teams of single women he sent out like Loretta Anderson and Doris Cox. 
  • Others: If there's time I usually fold in stories about Mary Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Ann Judson, Isabel Kuhn, Lottie Moon (and her sister who was a physician in the Middle East), and the women's societies formed to support missionaries and send out single women.