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. Of course, 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 and likely to show up on tests.

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.

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.”