Monday, September 17, 2018

Personal Update: Dusting off my Passport

I used to get overseas about once a year. Most of those trips involved training or coaching teams doing cross-cultural sociological research. Strangely enough, after joining a ministry that serves in 100+ countries, my international travel opportunities dried up. Marriage also caused me to limit the scope of my travel. So, although a couple times I have been "loaned out" to other ministries to help with something or other, I haven't been overseas on company business for a decade now. Even the two trips I made with other organizations put me in situations that reminded me of my weaknesses and vulnerability, causing me to wonder if I should just put my global travel days behind me.

Looks like that's going to change in 2019. I joined a new team about a year ago. The team strategy and budget allows for me to get overseas about once a year. And an invitation came for January that I couldn't say no to.

I'm not going off the beaten trail this time. I've been asked to participate in an international forum on equipping folks to thrive in cross-cultural service. The agency leader who is organizing the event is also putting finishing touches on his PhD dissertation, which evidently covers 10 areas related to "on-boarding" new team members, and the event will be structured around that. I'm eager to see his research and expect that it covers ground I was not able to get to when working on my own, more limited Master's thesis a few years ago. (I don't think this guy even knows I did that.)

They asked me to lead a session about enculturation. I wouldn't consider myself an expert, but I am a decent curator and have a pretty good collection of tools and strategies that relate. Ethnography, especially, is something I have never felt that I could lay down entirely... even when so many others I worked with on this have stepped back and moved on to other things. Now I've got an excuse to blow off the dust on the material I've collected, make inquiries across the organization to find out more who's doing what and what the felt needs are, and offer what I've found to people who may be able to use it more than I do.

Even so, I didn't want to travel to the other side of the world just to do a one-hour presentation. (And soak up a couple days of content from others.) Not without at least looking for another way to leverage the plane ticket. So I plan to go a week early and participate in another event, this one a retreat for folks who work in a number of different countries. Although they are there for a break, people like me are welcome to go just to meet people and do a bit of networking....

So, I've put in a proposal to use this as an ocassion for a little pilot project doing oral history. It should be along the lines of StoryCorps: inviting people to bring a family member, friend, or colleague to preserve something of their story for posterity. And because building rapport and conducting interviews is kind of a big job to do without technical assistance, I've proposed bringing along my husband to manage the equipment and focus on the recording aspect. He's good at that kind of thing where I am not. He never had the host country on his list of places to visit one day, but he's game. And although he will have to take leave without pay to come, he doesn't anticipate any trouble getting the time off. (Working two part-time jobs without benefits does have ONE benefit: bosses tend to give you more latitude to set  your own schedule.)

I'm not sure the conference organizers are going to "buy" the project idea. I started with, "Can I come? Can I bring my husband?" and they said yes to that. They'd be glad to have us meet their people and hear their stories. But bringing in media equipment may be too much. I probably wouldn't have had the chutzpah to pursue this had not a friend, a leader in our organization, offered to cover the extra plane ticket, and my team in Florida approved my poposal. But once they did, I was emboldened to press ahead. I tweaked the proposal and sent it off to the field. Hoping to hear back shortly. It's worth a try...

If they say no, I'll be left with an awkward decision. Do I just go over for the forum on equipping new members, and skip the retreat? Do I go for both and bring my husband along when I don't "need" his help? Or do I go for both events, leaving my husband alone for two weeks right after Christmas (and miss his milestone birthday!)? Guess I just have to lay all this down before God and others and wait for clarity.

Thursday, July 26, 2018

Making Improvements

These days I work closely (though remotely) with A., who works in our office in Orlando, and I tend to stay with her when I am in town.

A. has been learning about a personality type model called the Enneagram.

Heard of it?

One thing that makes the Enneagram different from other models is that rather than describing only the strengths and greatest contributions of each type, it tries to get at your motivations, fears, and weaknesses... maybe even your favorite deadly sin. One sign you've been correctly assessed is a gut-level groan of recognition. You've been "found out."

Many Christians are really into the Enneagram these days. I was curious. So, when we were hanging out a few weeks ago, A. pulled up the Eeneagram app on her phone and started asking me the true/false questions so we could figure out my type.

This is one of the books Christians
are reading about the Enneagram.
Looks like I'm a "Type 1," called The Reformer, Perfectionist, or Improver. Type 1's tend to see what's missing, what needs to be fixed, or what can be done better... and they aren't very good at giving themselves permission to stop and have fun. They are always looking for ways to make themselves, others, or projects and processes better.

According to this podcast, Type 1's not only have an inner critic, but a whole chorus of them. Well, maybe not a chorus, says the woman on the podcast. They're yelling, not singing!

Critical thinking is, of course, the secret to my success at work.

It is not so helpful or valued in my closest relationships, where telling people I'm not good enough, that they and their work aren't good enough (and no, we can't go out and play!) are not so well received.

According to this article, Type 1 is also the rarest of the types, with only 1% of the population. You might not want more of us... a little salt will do.

Contrast that with Type 7, "The Enthusiast," evidently 29% of the population, or Type 6, "The Loyalist," with 28%. Maybe the world needs more of of those. But you can see how we might clash. (Um, don't have to imagine, actually!)

Do you know your Enneagram type? How have you found that knowledge helpful? What do you think of the model more generally?

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Oh, the conveniences of the Internet (and their social and cognitive cost)

I'm not in the inner circle of the group of friends who staged this wacky photo shoot, but I love knowng people who are good about making time to get together and share their lives, pleasures, and vulnerabilities. This blog post explores some of today's pressures that may tend to push us away from the close friendships we want and need.

In a recent article for Christianity Today, writer Christina Crook describes how she saw a cross-country move that made all of her relationships into long-distance ones also make "staying in touch" come to mean scrolling through other people's social media posts. Or at least the posts of friends and family who were on social media. As for those who were not, her contact practically ended.

Can you relate?

Some of the Crook's writings on this topic over the last few years are a bit Luddite, but her views may have gained greater nuance. She seems to recognize that the tools we let hurt us aren't inherently bad, just troublesome when we don't recognize how they have affected us. She quotes former Google insider Tristan Harris who points out, "When you use technology, you have goals. When you land on YouTube, it doesn't know any of those goals. It has one goal, which is to make you forget those goals that you have."

It was while working at Google that Harris observed how many resources were being put into "making more addicting products by manipulating the vulnerabilities of its users."

Ouch. If we are to "throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles," and "run with perseverance the race marked out for us" (Hebrews 12:1-2), we need to consider what the easy and convenient communication strategies we've embraced are really costing us.

Me, I love efficiency and convenience. I consistently choose task over relationship, regret it, and do it again. So I appreciate Crook's warning and ideas for pursuing relationships in time-consuming, off-line ways instead of just the easy, online ones.

A few weeks ago our daughter got married. She and her love made fairly standard vows to one another, vows that were outrageous enough, actually. But they added some of their own. I listened with interest. Some have already been kept. "I will play video games with you... I will go see the [Grateful] Dead with you," she told him. But she also said, "I will not use your weaknesses against you," and I think that one will be harder to keep.

Would that we all kept that promise in our closest relationships. It's worth committing to, and worth trying again when we fail. But how distressing it is that the games we play, our bosses and those who work for us, companies we patronize, and the media channels we enlist or consume seem to almost systematically use our vulnerabilities against us. As for the social media channels, though they can certainly be harnessed for good, they tend to distract us from our values, priorities, and goals and work to make us forget them.

It's pretty sick, isn't it? What will we do about it?

"...How have we been co-opted into society’s push for productivity over presence, and what have we lost in the process?" asks Christina Crook "...The inefficient way is also the way to love, and without love we have nothing."

Read the article, Unfriending Convenience.

Monday, April 23, 2018

On Awkwardness, Happiness, Grief, and God

Mom says: You haven't published anything on your blog since February. You should think about writing something there! True, Mom. Just a few half-baked things for you today, but here they are.

Trying to Be Less Awkward

Do you, like me, struggle with self-consciousness and a fear of feeling or looking awkward? A recent article in New York Times explains Why Trying to Be Less Awkward Never Works. The author says that while how-to tips are appropriate for someone going into brand-new situations, those of us who have been around a little longer don't need them and may actually be handicapped by all the do's and don'ts. Explicitly monitoring your own behavior only makes you more awkward.

Fun, Fun, Fun

A few years ago I wrote a critique of my first (and so far only) experience on a cruiseship, and the aspect that struck me the most: the persistent pressure to be happy, to be pleased by all things at all times. See We're All Having Fun Now and a followup piece, Smiles in the Aisles. A colleague pointed me to a longer piece from the late David Foster Wallace, Shipping Out, published in Harper's Magazine (though alas, no longer free online).

Now: What happens when the happiest place on earth sponsors the cruise of a lifetime? I'm happy (in a sense) to add to the curated list this recent travel article from the New York Times: On a Disney Cruise, It's a Stressful World (After All). The follow-up piece, 'If You Can't Have Fun on a Disney Cruise...' is just as interesting. (I tend to appreciate articles that, even if the are making the case for a single emotion, opinion, or conclusion, acknowledge other views on a topic.)

Also, if you like travel stories, especially those that deal with food and culture, see the blog Roads and Kingdoms.

Empathy and Pain

Hubs' career as a chaplain has pulled questions about what to say to the stressed, traumatized, or bereaved into regular conversation. I wrote about this in God Must Have Needed Another Angel. You might appreciate The Power of Empathy (and One Surefire Way to Know if You're Missing It), which explains the human tendency to flee pain by denying or distracting from the pain of others. Today we also listened to a podcast, Everything Happens. The logo for it is actually phrased like this: Everything Happens for a Reason, so you can see it's bringing correction to a frequently expressed perspective that the author does not find helpful. See below.  The Alan Alda episode is great!

Helpful Ways to Talk about God

On a short flight last week I sat next to a very enthusiastic and chatty Christian who seemed determined to talk about God from the moment she boarded until we parted. She gave me her card and invited me to come stay with her any time I'm in New Jersey. Among the maxims she introduced early and repeated often was the claim, "Everything happens for a reason!" I'm still trying to put my finger on why that statement seems untrue, problematic, or at the very least, unhelpful... How might be used appropriately? When it would better be ommitted? Maybe the first episode of the podcast listed above addresses that question head on. Haven't listened to it yet.

Anyway... What can or should one say, instead of "everything happens for a reason," to acknowledge God's loving kindness and now-and-not-yet kingdom on earth, as it is in heaven? I know some of my readers don't believe in that at all, of course. Just wondering what kinds of statements (if any) from those of us who do believe in God's redemptive power are actually orthodox and helpful in this regard.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

1,800 Years in 1,000 Pages

'Tis the season, and I'm scheduled to be among the instructors for ten Perspectives on the World Christian Movement courses in five states (North and South Carolina, Virginia, Georgia, and Oklahoma).

Lest you think this makes me some kind of public-speaking celebrity, let me assure you that the pay is low and the pool of possible speakers small (drawing as it does from among those who are in some sense practioners of what they teach and also able to take the time away from their regular jobs to teach it). Plus, the people who book speakers are looking for diverse voices -- a different speaker each week, for starters -- who represent somewhat varied demographics, affiliations, and institutions. As an experienced, female speaker who wants to teach, gets positive reviews, lives in a region where the number of classes is growing, and comes from a well-known mission organization, I get plenty of invitations.

I planned to accept six for this semester but a seventh came along that fit in easily enough, and then, last week, a "loop" of three big classes who had a speaker cancel asked me if I could make it there to do my favorite lesson. So I said yes, and now I'm up to ten. Gulp.

Six of these ten times I'll be teaching a lesson called "Expansion of the World Christian Movement," an audacious piece of work that involves covering 2,000 years in just under two hours, and trying to weave one's own experiences and interests into a model of history that's, well, a bit out of step with the historical record. Honoring the students means leaving out great swaths of material, adding in some fun stuff, throwing in discussion questions, stopping for breath, and trying not to cast more than mild aspersions on some of the odd claims in their textbook that are likely to show up on a test.

The other nights I'll be teaching a lesson called "Pioneers of the World Christian Movement." That one is less daunting. It focuses on a handful of personalities, all coming from traditions not unfamiliar to the students. I get to tell their stories and a few others, helping the students explore their ideas and contributions.

Since I'm teaching so many history classes this time around, I decided to revise my lesson plans. Mostly by doing my best to confirm (and if necessary, drop or alter) the statements and stories I've gathered from many sources over many years. To facilitate this, I'm also taking a class. The dean of the school of intercultural studies is a pretty good historian and has similar interests. As an alumna, I can audit his history class for free. Since we live on campus, it's not inconvenient to pop up to the seminary one afternoon a week for lectures.

What's even more helpful, though, is the text. I spent a good chunk of December and January reading volume one, used for last semester, and am now halfway through semester's main text, volume two of  History of the World Christian Movement. Each volume is about 500 pages long. They are woefully (though evidentlly intentionally) short on footnotes and quotes from original sources, but other than that, pretty solid. Not an easy read, though. My head is swimming a bit. If covering 1,800 years of global Christian history in 1,000 pages is challenging my capacity to absorb data, it may be a good reminder to go easy on my own students, some of whose academic experience is less or long ago.

I'm hoping to blog a few stories from this book and class and/or what I discover in revising my teaching plans. Meanwhile, here's my speaking schedule, if you're interested.

SUNDAY February 11 in Winston-Salem, NC (Calvary Baptist Church)
THURSDAY February 15 in Greenville, SC (Mitchell Road Presbyterian Church)
MONDAY February 19 in Cornelius, NC (Life Fellowship)
TUESDAY February 20 in Charlotte, NC (Calvary Church)
MONDAY February 26 Newport News, VA (First Church of Port Warwick)
MONDAY March 5 in Stillwater, OK (Countryside Baptist Church)
TUESDAY March 6 in Oklahoma City, OK (Crosstown Church)
WEDNESDAY March 7 in Tulsa, OK (Asbury United Methodist)
MONDAY March 19 in Florence, SC (Church at Sandhurst)
MONDAY March 26 in Athens, GA (Living Hope Church)

Monday, December 11, 2017

Food for thought: three angles on discipline

1. Self-care is not all salt baths and chocolate cake.

“Self-care is often a very unbeautiful thing. It is making a spreadsheet of your debt and enforcing a morning routine and cooking yourself healthy meals and no longer just running from your problems and calling the distraction a solution. … [It] often takes doing the thing you least want to do.”

Source: Brianna Wiest, Thought Catalog, H/T Katie Lewis

2. Discipline to go the distance

"There are two pains in life: the pain of discipline, or the pain of regret. You choose." — Wayne Cordeiro, H/T Justin Long

“It makes little difference how fast you can run the 100 meters when the race is 400 meters long. Life is not a sprint; it is a distance run, and it demands the kind of conditioning that enables people to go the distance.” — Gordon MacDonald, A Resilient Life: You Can Move Ahead No Matter What.

3. Missions means choosing the desert.

The Hebrews wandering in the wilderness were tested and humbled as they relied on God to lead and feed them. Few Americans know what it is to be hungry and in such need, but we can know the desert and see God meet us there. Amy, a missionary in Tanzania, reports that her struggles with insomnia bring her to the desert, the humbling acknowledgment that her life is not under her own control. Similarly, our vivid awareness of dependence on God and others is both one of the hardest and sweetest things about cross-cultural ministry.

Source: Amy Medina, A Life Overseas

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Christmas Performance

Christmas pressure seems to start sooner and sooner each time it rolls around, doesn't it?

Family members are nagging one another to tell them what they want for Christmas. Stores are trying to lure us into buying everything, now if not sooner. I keep telling myself that since adopting the practice of having purchases shipped directly to the recipient, I need not bother about shopping now. I have made lists but it's too soon to buy. Yet still I feel the guilty urge, wondering if too many of the deals and selection will be gone when I'm ready to place my orders (or spend some of the gift money I expect to receive).

I've also had several emails from our apartment complex about the rules pertaining to putting up Christmas decorations. I grew up in a household where decorating seldom commenced before school got out, around December 20, yet for some reason I feel a subtle disappointment that our place is not more than just "beginning to look a lot like Christmas."

I wish we hadn't missed the mayor's tree lighting downtown; I like that kind of thing. I wonder if I can lure Hubs to a holiday concert or to go look at Christmas lights, or if it's even worth it. Hard to enjoy things the other person doesn't like, and as per usual, I'm short on other friends of the sort I could take to look at the lights or go to the concert.

Seems like holidays tend to poke at all my sore points. I become more sensitively aware of the things I don't like about my life and choices. Maybe my "love for Christmas" is doing more to build frustration than spread joy. Perhaps it's more of a love-hate thing, eh?

One thing that has crept on me early this year may do me good, however. It may reduce rather than increase my holiday uneasiness (as the gift giving and festive expectations have done). I've already read through two Advent devotionals. They're starting to soften me and to give me words and images to combat the Christmas craziness in the world, and in my own heart.

I know Advent hasn't started. But if you want to recommend anything Advent-ish to others, now is the time to do it, so I plan to post a few reviews. (Dang. There's that pressure again.)

In Saint John of the Mall, Jon Swanson expresses similar struggles:
"Nancy and I were talking about why we don't care for Christmas. We realized that it's about the expectations. There are scheduling expectations, there are emotional expectations, there are gifting expectations. There are even expectations about not being caught up in the expectations."
After spending years on church staff, expectations had worn away warm feelings about the season:
"'I think most of the reason I don't care for Christmas is spending so many Christmas seasons getting ready for events at church. Christmas programs. Advent series. Christmas Eve services. It often feels like I can't stop to think about Christmas, about Christ, until after the last event on Christmas Even. And by then, it's too late.'

"Nancy nodded. 'Even when he's home, he's thinking ahead to the next event, the next performance. Sometimes I think that the only way he's really home for Christmas IS in his dreams.'

"John thought for a bit. 'I think that the word that's got you trapped is the word "performance." Somewhere, you got caught up in performing for Christmas, and it's taken the place of celebrating Christmas. The deep, honest, participation in joy and grief and people.'"
If you're interested, you can pick up the Kindle edition of Jon's book for US$2.99.