Monday, January 26, 2015

Anticipating Apartment Life

It's been nearly 20 years now since I moved from my last apartment into a small house in the Denver suburbs, rented from a friend and shared with a roommate or two, and featuring a two-car garage, white picket fence, and a dog. A yes, a little bit of the American dream. Lived there until my move into fairly similar digs in Oregon at the end of 2011.

The move to Oregon was fairly wrenching since it required sorting through everything and putting most of my stuff in storage, saying goodbye to a lot of friends and a great church where I was known and loved, moving in with strangers, and six months later setting up housekeeping with an actual husband and a couple of teenaged kids who had their own stuff and ideas about how to live and keep house. Moving, marriage, and step-parenting quickly revealed how little my efforts to avoid becoming an inflexible and eccentric old maid had succeeded!

So it is with some trepidation that I now consider our next step, which this time involves a 3000-mile cross-country summer drive to a different part of the U.S. It means saying goodbye to our first home together and moving into a furnished two-bedroom apartment much like the one I left when I upgraded to a "real house" in my twenties.

Chris starts his new job around September 1, and my classes start the third week of August. In terms of the job, it's a big step forward, but in terms of our standard of living, well, it will be a campus apartment. We'll be surrounded mostly by other young marrieds, many a couple decades younger than we are.That's going to be a change.

By global standards, we'll continue to live a life of plenty and privilege. Almost 900 square feet just for the two of us? Should be plenty, right?

I wonder: Have a couple years of marriage since the last move made me more pliable? Or has the continued aging made me less so? I hope it's the former. I feel more secure now than I did then, and therefore ready to say goodbye to some of the stuff and way of life I clung to so hard when I moved to Oregon.

Those Caleb Project files boxed up in the attic? I really don't need them anymore. I can let go. The books? I don't have to keep them all, either. If Chris can give up his moped and barbecue grill, well, the couple pieces of furniture from my childhood home which I went to great effort to move to Colorado and then to Oregon may finally be garage-saled, too. It's not worth it to get a moving truck at this point, not with a furnished apartment. Since Chris's folks have offered us space in their attic, we may not need a storage unit either. If everything comes through on the rental, we'll sell what can't go in the attic and travel through life a little lighter. Since "settling down" and buying a house are at least a few years in the future, living with less is the only wise thing to do.

I'm not the only who has attachment issues to work through, though. Our son is dismayed to see the two big recliners from which he's watched hours of television (and fallen asleep doing homework) are both on the got-to-go list. Sorry, kiddo!

Friday, January 09, 2015

"God had better start treating me fair"

This comment, from someone named Lyle, was posted through the Q&A forum on a website I help manage:

"If god wants me to start going back to church, he had better start treating me fair"

It's been haunting me ever since I read it.

If it's true, as A.W. Tozer once said, that the most important thing about us is what we think God is like, what about this perception so many have that God is wronging us, that God, if there is a God, is clearly giving us so much less than we deserve, that God is cruel or deeply unfair? Sounds like a monster, not a God. How could you embrace, love, and worship such a God?

Yet many do not seem to get past this trap, believing that they could only worship a God who was much better than the only God they can imagine must exist based on all the trouble in their hearts and in the world. Of course, looking to our own imagination as a reliable source of what God is like is not the only option, but so many seem to start there and can't get past the obstacles they find.

I heard something similar from a friend who is trying to figure out if there's a way to rediscover and reclaim the faith of her childhood after having walked away from it some years ago. As a young adult she just couldn't keep believing in or trusting the Christian God whom she saw doing things like letting little kids get leukemia and die. Years later, she's still struggling with much the same thing. How can God let her suffer like she has been suffering lately? Why is God making her and her family go through all this pain and torture? She's prayed and found it doesn't "work." God does not do what she's begged him to do. Her problems - and they are serious ones - have not gone away.

Well, there are worse places to go with your anger and disappointment at God than to talk to people who love God, or even talk to God himself about how angry you are. He can take it.

I want to comfort my friend in her struggle and not push religious or trite answers on her, but she's practically begging for answers, and certainly a part of her suffering is with the sense she has that God himself has let her down. So perhaps the kindest thing I could do for her, along with just listening to and loving her, would be to tell her or show her how she's got God wrong. I want to tell her he's not like that, not at all like that.

Doesn't she see - doesn't my online commenter see - that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love? That we, who were made for a purpose, for relationship with him, reject him at nearly every turn and yet he pursues us, and showers us with blessings whether we respond to him or not? That the existence of evil and pain in the world does not mean God himself is evil and the source of pain? 
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”

– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Multi-tasking. It's like smoking pot, apparently.

Moving into a new year hoping to get more and/or better work done without working longer hours (since, with two jobs, school, and family, I really don't have the time to spare). Am thinking I need more rigid boundaries between each of my tasks and the things that would distract me from focusing on them - often other and equally valuable tasks. Some of these activities may constitute healthy and helpful "breaks," but, unfettered, become sinister. Here’s something to consider in that regard.

"Multitasking may be ubiquitous in today’s plugged in, multi-device world, but you’ve probably already heard not everyone thinks just because you can do multiple things at once you that you should.
'A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and 15 points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common "productivity tools" can make one as dumb as a stoner.'
"That means when you're switching between answering emails and doing important tasks for your business, when it comes to mental function, you'd be better off if you were stoned. Or, as another quote from the book highlighted by Barker puts it, "when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard M.B.A. to that of an eight-year-old."

Source: Inc.com

See also: Five Ways to Keep Yourself Focused at Work


Thursday, January 01, 2015

Books read in 2014

My book-reading life continues to be a modest one, as in the last few years I’ve been living in a place with limited library access and also spent far more time playing games, perusing random stuff on the Internet, and watching movies and TV shows with my less book-oriented family. Even so, I'm still able to do a good bit of book-reading as part of my job and graduate studies.

Here’s a list of the 45 books I read in 2014.

FICTION

  1. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon [Latest Mitford novel; some really good bits but not very cohesive] 
  2. Shepherds Abiding, by Jan Karon [Mitford “Christmas” novel; quite good] 
  3. Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio [just for fun, but rather flawed] 
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis [probably my favorite Narnia book] 
  5. The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis [another Narnia book; audio recording by Patrick Stewart] 
  6. Home, by Marilynne Robinson [well-written but darker than her related novel, Gilead
  7. Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers [Lord Peter Whimsey mystery] 
  8. The Faith of Ashish, by Kay Marshall Strom [Christian historical fiction, but didn’t ring true] 
  9. The Finishing Touches, by Hester Browne [just for fun; charming “chick lit”] 
  10. The Storm, by Frederick Buechner [he always gives me something to chew on] 
  11. The God of the Hive, by Laurie R. King [Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mystery series] 
  12. The Bridge, by Karen Kingsbury [I read one of hers every now and then but they’re rather sentimental and simplistic; therefore, popular!] 
  13. Emergence, by David R. Palmer [re-read of a favorite sci-fi novel]
  14. The Colors of Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley [another sci-fi book, new to me. Pretty good.]
  15. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall [re-read of a wonderful kids book] 
  16. The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo [lovely children’s book by a great author] 
  17. The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech [OK, if not her best; focuses on foster parenting]

NONFICTION


Mission Books

  1. A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison [a look at movements to Christ in the Muslim world; significant book, though it was overpromoted in my circles, and didn't really deliver, I felt.]
  2. When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World, by David Horner [exposes, challenges how many churches give little more than lip service to world missions; a tough read, really. Written primarily to pastors who want to change that.] 
  3. Mission Smart, by David Frazier [for church leaders and prospective missionaries, on key questions and issues to deal with in preparing for mission service] 
  4. Here to There: Getting From Commitment to Commissioning, by David Meade [similar to Mission Smart in its aim, but far too prescriptive for me to recommend it widely]
  5. Beyond Ourselves: How Can the Unreached Be Reached? by D. Kroeker [a thoughtful call to stop asking “what can I do?” instead of “what needs to be done?”] 
  6. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, by David Watson, Paul Watson [how/why to implement a “discovery method” to disciple-making in any context.] 
  7. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, by Larry E. McCrary, Caleb Crider, Wade Stephens [great practical material about approaching the world with the tools of a missionary, but made less useful by it’s “everyone’s a missionary, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” stance]
  8. Go Tell It: How--and Why--to Report God's Stories in Words, Photos, and Videos, by James Killam, Lincoln Brunner [small audience, but I’m in it: a guide to missions journalism] 
  9. Distant Fields: The Amazing Call of George Markey from Farmland to Missions, by Jed Gourley [A tribute, from protégé and son-in-law, to a missionary whose life was cut short. More of a life story than a missionary bio, though; focus is on his early life and U.S. ministry, and mission career did not model approaches I'd commend to others] 
  10. The Finish Line: Stories of Hope Through Bible Translation, by Bob Creson [Inspiring, though it is kind of an infomercial for their work] 
  11. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie J. Davis, with Beth Clark [call to surrender to God; passionate young woman tells the story of her move to Africa to give her life to working with orphans and the poor]

Seminary Books

  1. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, by Mark A. Noll [a bit unnecessarily reductive, but that makes it easier to grasp; good scholarship; readable]
  2. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, by Bryan M. Litfin
  3. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne A. Grudem [OK, I only read half of Grudem’s massive work; the other 600 pages are on my syllabus for 2015!] 
  4. When Temptation Strikes: Gaining Victory Over Sin, by Larry Dixon 
  5. Five Views on Sanctification, by Melvin E. Dieter [bit of a muddle, I’m afraid – felt more like an excuse for five academics to get something published than a guide to help readers understand the views; might have been more helpful if it included more divergent views]
  6. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer [I may blog more about this one]

Other Nonfiction (probably the best books I read this year)

  1. If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, by Alister E. McGrath [one charming and beloved English theologian researches, helps readers discover and appreciate another, though likely more readers know Lewis than McGrath]
  2. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen [good essays from a fine writer about her views (not as universal as she may suppose) on being a woman, feminist, baby boomer] 
  3. Painful Blessing: A Story of Loss, Recovery, Hope, and Faith, by Jill Krantz Viggiano [Jill writes about the experience of walking with her husband in recovery from a serious stroke. Informative; could help people know they aren’t alone and get perspective on the experience]
  4. And Life Comes Back: One Woman's Heartbreak and How She Found Tomorrow, by Tricia Lott Williford [Tricia writes about the experience of suddenly losing her husband and becoming a young widow and single mom; a good read] 
  5. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller [recommended; a contemporary apologetic from the New York City pastor] 
  6. Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York, by Adam Gopnik [essays from a gifted columnist about life in the city] 
  7. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. First Family: Abigail and John Adams, by Joseph J. Ellis [very interesting; recommended]
  9. Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, by Eve LaPlante [great book on the family and cultural context in which Alcott lived and wrote] 
  10. In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage Into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, by Jim Belcher [personal memoir and literary/theological travelogue; favorite genres all in one!]

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!