Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Christmas Presents


So, we're going back to Oregon to bring back all the stuff we left there when we thought our move to the South might be temporary. I think this is how we're going to feel when we unpack our moving truck on January 5. Chris gets his stereo back! I can have my books! Yes, we're grateful for all we have and don't need more, but we do look forward to having it all in one place. 

Friday, November 17, 2017

Retail Holidays and a Story of Stuff, Revised and Expanded

Although it may have begun as an undercover Christian catechism (Snopes say no), the 12 Days of Christmas came to paint a picture of gift-giving excess that has entertained (or maddened) many generations.

Today, though 12 days of holiday shopping seems like nothing.

A few years ago I wrote about America's New Commercial Holidays, the proliferation of special shopping days that took off around 2012 and expanded as far as what one source dubbed the 16 days of holiday retail.

I like "Balance Your Checkbook Sunday," though it could use a new name, too, since few of us write checks to any degree anymore. Balance Your... Spreadsheet?

I haven't heard references to Grey Thursday or Sofa Sunday lately. Instead, retailers seem to be stretching the oh-so-limiting idea of a day having just 24 hours. (After all, as St. Peter tells us, with the Lord a day is like a thousand years.) I saw my first ad urging Black Friday shopping in late October. Better get started!

Lest you think America unique in excessively commercializing holidays, consider China. November 11, dubbed "Singles Day" in 2009, has became not only that nation's "premier national shopping festival," but the largest online shopping event in the history of the world. This year, in one day (an old fashioned 24 hours this time), sources say the people spent upwards of US$38 billion dollars (with some disturbing results for the environment).

That's a lot of spending.

In the spirit of an old fashioned Christmas, may I point out: You still can't take it with you.

*          *          *

In my 2014 post on this topic, I mentioned that Chris and I were making plans to divest ourselves of a lot of stuff, leave some in storage, and move across country (though maybe just for a year) with what we could fit in our two cars. Though Christmas was drawing nigh, we hoped friends and relations would be cautious about giving us more stuff in the months before we were to leave.

We're still on the East Coast. With the turns our careers have taken, we think we'll be here for some years. Now it's time to go back and get the 50 boxes (including all my books!) from the in-laws' attic along with the bit of furniture they've held onto for us. Summer would be better than winter, I know, but we have more freedom now and plan to spend the days between Christmas and New Year's (and a bit more) driving a small moving truck cross-country. (Shipping our stuff would have cost considerably more.) I'm trying to look at our long drive from Eugene to LA, then across I-40 as a potential adventure, but it's a little daunting.

It has been nice to have a relatively uncluttered apartment, although we have certainly acquired more stuff since our 2015 move. Interested to see how we manage with 50 boxes more.

Friday, October 20, 2017

Food for Thought: Problem Solving and Personal Management

1. The Power of Anti-Goals

“…So, instead of thinking through what we wanted our perfect day to look like, we thought about the worst day imaginable and how to avoid it. We inverted and came up with what we call Anti-Goals.”

Source: Medium.com, H/T Tony Sheng

2. Top Three Work-from-Home Problems and Their Solutions

- Lack of discipline (“Learn good time management skills…”)
- Feeling out of the loop (“Be persistent... go after the information you need to do your job.”)
- Going stir crazy (“You’ll have to make extra effort to avoid becoming a creepy recluse.”)

Source: Grammarly

3. Busy Season

Personally, this is turning out to be a busy time for me. Four Perspectives classes, all involving overnight travel. Weekly editions of both Missions Catalyst and Pioneering Prayer to get out. Email, social media stuff, misc admin. Several plates spinning in the background, all projects I plan to wrap up or hand off by year's end. That will help but means extra pressure now. Meanwhile, it became clear I needed to fit in a trip to Orlando as well. So Monday I'll be flying to Florida for the rest of the week.

Glad Someone else is looking out for me when in comes to planning, though. When I reluctantly told a Perspectives coordinator I couldn't come teach for her class in February (my next really busy month), she wrote back:
“Here’s a neat God story… I went on the Perspectives website this past weekend and saw the amount of classes you were teaching and had some concern for you and almost sent an email telling you that. Just so happens, my husband goes to the JAARS day event this past weekend and strikes up a conversation with someone who wants to get more action teaching Lesson 6 but I already had the invite out to you. God is faithful to take care of you and to take care of providing an instructor out of the blue! How cool is that??? So, no worries! I think we’re going to be OK. I sure hope I get to hear you teach sometime. You come highly recommended.”

Thursday, October 19, 2017

How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts

From the archives... a favorite post from 2013, describing one of the most helpful things I picked up along the way through grad school.

One of the objectives of the class I'm taking this summer is to develop a personal awareness of the ways one is most likely to sabotage relationships. Well, specifically, cross-cultural relationships with people who happen to be Muslims. Seems a lot of us get a little touchy when others -- Muslims, or anyone -- look at the world very differently than we do, open their mouths and talk about what they think and feel, and reject or even criticize things about how we think and feel. We think we're being attacked. We may have the same reactions in marriage, or getting along with our coworkers, watching the evening news or reading things on Facebook.

One of our books includes a chapter called "How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts to Reach Muslims." As the author points out, Christian books about reaching Muslims tend to externalize the tension we feel, as if Muslims are the problem, and if they just wouldn't be so Muslim we wouldn't be so upset about things. But if Muslims are just being themselves, do we have to get ourselves upset about it?

It shouldn't surprise us that people sabotage their efforts to reach Muslims the same way they -- or should I say we -- sabotage all kinds of efforts and relationships. If we are upset, likely our communication and behavior is going to be affected. And underneath that agitation are unhelpful thought patterns like these:
1. Demandingness: Absolute shoulds, oughts, musts, “have to’s”, and needs (I need to be perfect, people have to listen to me, they shouldn't reject me if I tell the truth, etc.)

2. Awfulizing: Believing that something is terrible, horrible, or awful (maybe dwelling on and inflating something negative and being unable to accept or let go of it).

3. Low frustration tolerance: Believing that you can’t stand something, that it is too much, or intolerable. (thus increasing your own sense of psychic pain -- you think it's more than you can take and will make you explode or crumble or something).

4. Self-downing: Believing that you, yourself are no good, beyond hope or redemption.

5. Other-downing: Believing that someone else or a group of people are no good, beyond hope or redemption.

6. Overgeneralization: Believing about a situation, person, or group that it will always be a particular way or will never change.

Source: here.

I don't know about you, but I recognize those thoughts as pretty familiar ones. And they sabotage me in life, generally, and especially in relationships.

When our emotions are those of anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and fear -- rooted in such thought patterns -- we then engage in unhelpful behaviors like defensiveness, blame, aggression, avoidance, rudeness, and dwelling on the negative. Those kind of emotions and behaviors may be normal and seem justified, but they don't help build relationships, do they? So, if our goal is to build effective relationships or have a "ministry," we need to find a way to deal with those emotions and behaviors -- and the thoughts that lie beneath them.

I found it helpful to hear my professor, who is a practicing psychologist, talk about "upsetting ourselves" instead of "being upset." That kind of language helps me take responsibility for my own emotions and emotional reactions -- I have to acknowledge that nobody is forcing me to be upset, to worry, to be stressed out. Those things are not mandatory.

One problem, he said, is that we don't have an effective theory of emotions. Most people believe that circumstances, the behavior or speech of other people, or the way we are raised are the causes of our emotions, despite the fact that research and other sources of authority (e.g., the Bible) do not support these theories. So our instructor offered us what he called the "ABC model of emotions." This is easy. I think I can remember it. And, in digging a little deeper, I see it comes from cognitive behavioral therapy.

A = Activating event, or trigger. The situation or experience (past, current, or anticipated).
B = Beliefs about that event. Thoughts we have when the situation or experience happens.
C = Consequences. Our responses, both emotions and behavior.

Most people believe A causes C. (e.g., that situation frustrates me; that person makes me mad, etc). But A triggers B, and B is what causes C. Our emotions and behaviors are largely caused by our thoughts and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be. Our expectations. And that is good news, because we can't change other people and often cannot change our situation. While changing our thinking is difficult, it can be done if we're honest with ourselves about what we think, willing to work at thinking differently, and ask for God's help in doing so.

So, how can we avoid sabotaging our relationships and other efforts? Stop and consider what things are getting us upset -- or, more precisely, what things we are upsetting ourselves about. What are our unhelpful responses when we are upset? What are we thinking? Is what we are thinking actually true? Is there another way to look at and think about the situation or something else we can focus on that might be more productive?

Friday, September 29, 2017

So, God loved the world...

[Reposted from 2013]

So, some people really don’t like to read or hear sentences that begin, unaccountably, with the word "so." To me it suggests a continuing conversation. To the purist, it's a conjunction, and should no more lead off your sentence than a "but," "and," or "though." Now you know!

An odd assignment in a biblical hermeneutics class I took as part of my seminary studies had me exploring uses of the little word in various contexts in the book of John. What does John mean when he says so?

There are some variations in meaning for this word. The Greek version of it shows up in John 3:8, 14; 4:6; 5:21, 26; 7:46; 8:59; 11:48; 12:50; 14:31; 15:4; 18:22; and 21:1,  and in most these passages it means (and may be translated into English as) "this is how" or "in this way." Not "to this degree." So, more "thus," less "very." John's using the word as a conjunction, not a modifier.

The reason for this assignment? Turns out that when "so" sneaks into the uber-famous King James Version of John 3:16, there's good reason to believe it means the same thing there, despite tradition and appearances. Not like this:

"I asked Jesus, 'How much do you love me?'
And Jesus said, 'This much.'
Then He stretched out His arms and died."

Sorry! Actually, I'm not sorry. Always found that Christian T-shirt/poster sentiment rather creepy.

Some scholars disagree, but how John uses the word elsewhere suggests that here, too, it refers to the manner and expression of love (this kind of love), not the degree of it (this much love).

Small difference? It's enough to use a different translation.

English a few centuries ago, in the day of ol' King James, used "so" primarily in the same sense as the book of John ("this happened, so that did"). Today's English, though, tends to use "so" primarily as an adverb indicating degree. ("I am so totally ready for the weekend, what about you?")

That renders the King James version of this verse -- and the many translations that do homage to it in this particular cases -- a bit misleading. For 21st century American readers, ol' John 3:16 might be better rendered "this is how God loved the world," not "this is how much God loved the world."

Does that change the meaning much? I think so. I think it moves the emphasis from God's warm fuzzy feelings to God's world-shaking actions, from the greatness of his heart to the greatness of his gift. As the saying goes, love is a verb.

For more on this translation issue see So, What? John 3:16 and the Lord's Prayer (God Didn't Say That: Bible Translations and Mistranslations).

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Great Conversation

“There is nothing that makes me happier than sitting around the dinner table and talking until the candles are burned down.”  ― Madeleine L'Engle, A Circle of Quiet 

I used to say that nothing makes me happier than a good, meaty conversation. 

As the years have gone by, though, I have felt less and less able to pull my own weight in conversation. 

I run out of things to say or ask the other person about. Maybe I'm just not interesting enough? Have I stopped reading, learning, and growing, so I have nothing to bring to the table?

Whatever it is, when I'm on the spot, I often can't think of a way to take the talk from "small talk" to at least "medium talk," if that's a thing.  

Part of the problem may be that the conversations that dash my hopes are often one on one. The ideal number of people for a discussion that is simultaneously relaxed and stimulating, I propose (or at least prefer), is four. In a group of three to five, no one need carry the conversational ball alone, yet there's space for everyone to have their say. My new team at work is a team of four, and that feels just right.

Do you have any strategies for stimulating great conversations? What works for you?

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Fandom Fancies

Yesterday was game day, a fact well-advertised (at their own expense) by a good many of the residents of Columbia, South Carolina. As we went about our Saturday errands I noticed how many sported crimson gear demonstrating their allegiance to the South Carolina Gamecocks, especially when it comes to football, the sport currently in season.

The Need to Know

We didn’t watch the game, but felt we had to be in the know. As the evening progressed Hubs inquired about the score each time he asked Siri how the University of Oregon football team was doing in a simultaneous match against Wyoming. Though Oregon won 49-13, a sell-out crowd here in Columbia watched the Gamecocks lose 23-13. Had they won, the crowing would have continued throughout the city for another day. Instead, I suspect a hush has fallen over the topic for most fans, for now. Still, as Hubs connects with local guys he works with over Facebook or around the proverbial water cooler on Monday, he wants to have a basic grasp of what happened.

What's the Appeal?

It still catches me by surprise that so many people find their identity in the sports teams they cheer for, yet I have to admit enough interest to give a fair amount of my time to following my favorite teams. I’m not a “true fan” of any sport, I suppose; I use it primarily to establish or maintain common-ground with others, such as friends and family members back in the West, and to some extent, to those who aren’t.

Yes, I think that’s it. Showing allegiance to teams from the hometown or alma mater makes a statement of place both to those who share it and those who don’t. It’s part of my “I am from…” statement. Not as much as Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, blackberries and bookshelves, but a part.

Appealing to Allegiances

On a recent trip to the Northwest I went to an arts festival which featured Northwest icons in a prominent way. Not the sports things: as a juried art show, it did not have Huskies, Seahawks, or Mariners gear, at least not that I noticed. But it did feature more natural Northwest icons. I brought home a piece that managed to include Mount Rainier, Puget Sound, a Washington State ferry, and someone riding a bike down a hill during a sunset, all together in the form of a paper-cutting by a Japanese artist. All those points of appeal to my allegiances in one piece were hard to resist, and this one seemed made to fit in my suitcase and my frugal price range, too. So now it’s on my wall.

I suppose that makes the same kind of statement as the football jersey or baseball cap.

Now Consider the Funatics...

Attending the art festival meant skipping another Everett, WA event, the opening of a new headquarters for Funko, a Northwest company that got its start making bobble-head dolls and grew into what may be the world’s largest manufacturers of licensed toys and pop-culture collectibles. Who knew? They’ve made their new HQ into quite the interactive consumer experience, like a seamless blend of Disneyland and the Disney store. It features sections catering to fans of Marvel Comics, Harry Potter, Star Wars, and more. They were expecting thousands of "Funatics" to attend the grand opening.

Sports and pop culture, all in one.

Taxonomy of Fandom: Justified or Unfair?

I find my own prejudices affect how I view the world of fandom. Picking up watercolors of Mt. Rainier and ferryboat knickknacks seems like healthy home-town-ism to me, while my-country-first rhetoric seems like dangerous patriotism. Why? What's the difference? Is it that Puget Sound is real and worth celebrating, not costing anyone else, whereas American Dream is a political philosophy or fiction with a high pricetag for other people and the planet?

Sports fans seem, to me, sometimes excessive, but ultimately more acceptable than pop-culture collectible collectors. Why? What’s the difference? In both cases we’re talking about commercializing on someone else’s achievement, licensing the work of a team of athletes or artists and selling overpriced “gear” so others can identify with it. Is it that a quarterback is a real person while a comic-book character is not?

In the end I think my taxonomy is little more than a ranking of prejudices... concluding that while I'm entitled to my opinions, so other people are entitled to theirs. Cheer for who you will and collect what you want; we all have our preferences and our own ideas about how far we'll go to proclaim or protect them.