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.

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 focusing on Black Friday and 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 was dubbed "Singles Day" in 2009 (you know.. 11/11, single digits). It's 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:, 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).