Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Diffusing Tension with Respect

The book version of the Encountering the World of Islam ministry I'm involved with was recently given quite an encouraging review here. I'm glad to be associated with a group that goes out of its way to give Christians a more balanced, sympathetic view of Muslims than they might find otherwise.

I mentioned in a newsletter a while back that research shows the vast majority (86.7 percent) of Muslims don't personally know ANY Christians. Presumably it goes both ways. Most Christians don't know any Muslims. Without relationships, how can there be trust and respect, much less any other kind of understanding or influence?

For further thoughts as well as the background and source info on this statistic see Perfect Strangers: Christians Living Among Buddhists, Hindus and Muslims, published in Lausanne World Pulse.

I know a guy who is taking a fascinating approach, not to Muslims per se but to extremists of every stripe (most of whom live among many people who are much more moderate). He's building the foundation for a network of Christians who are willing to pray for 'enemies' by name... who will 'Adopt a Terrorist for Prayer.' Wild, huh?


Have you seen the latest 'Time Magazine?' The lead story (per cover copy) is: "What Makes Us Good/Evil: Humans are the planet's most noble creatures - and its most savage. Science is discovering why." It includes a discussion, from a scientific perspective, of why people have such a hard time relating to or making decisions that favor people on the other side of the world. Read the whole article here. Here are some excerpts.
"...Our species has a very conflicted sense of when we ought to help someone else and when we ought not, but the general rule is, Help those close to home and ignore those far away. [This is] rooted in you from a time when the welfare of your tribe was essential for your survival but the welfare of an opposing tribe was not - and might even be a threat."

"...We retain a powerful remnant of that primal dichotomy, which is what impels us to step in and help a mugging victim, but allows us to decline to send a small contribution to help the people of Darfur. 'The idea that you can save the life of a stranger on the other side of the world by making a modest material sacrifice is not the kind of situation our social brains are prepared for,' says [Harvard University's assistant professor of psychology Joshua] Greene."

Friday, November 23, 2007

Just Checking!

Losing Track of Time

Remember, a few months ago, when I wrote about losing my debit card? By the next morning the enterprising person who found it had racked up $1200 in unauthorized charges and the card was canceled. It took 10 days or so to get a replacement. That was about the same amount of time I had to wait both for the funds to be replaced by MasterCard and for my next paycheck to be deposited in my checking account. Although I could have dipped into credit or savings, I decided instead to simply stop spending money during that time.

Now I find myself facing a similar opportunity to try “doing without.” My wristwatch had been losing time for a couple of weeks. It finally stopped all together. Rather than replace it I put a new one on my Christmas list and will go through life in a less time-conscious way until then – see how that feels. Hmm… I’ll probably buy myself a new watch if I don’t find one under the Christmas tree, but maybe not. After all, it’s seldom difficult to discover the time when necessary and might be nice to be free from the compulsion to know the time when it doesn’t really matter.

Checking on Things

How many other compulsive “checking” habits do I have? Too many. Mail, voicemail, email; I check ‘em all the time, though I’m less committed to answering messages than checking them. What else? Donation reports, bank balances, interest rates… headlines, other people's blogs. I’m not tempted by weather and traffic reports or sports scores. But I do frequently check how many people are looking at my blog and subscribing to Missions Catalyst or clicking through on the links… and find myself a bit aghast at those who go days, weeks, or months disinterested in such things, for example never checking their email instead of refreshing it every few minutes as I seem to.

The boundaries between what is work and what is personal are not always clear, so I often realize I'm working when I'm supposed to be off or behaving as if I'm 'off' when I'm supposed to be working.

It is perhaps ironic that one of the best ways I’ve found to regulate this compulsive checking behavior is by tracking, somewhat, how much time they take up during the day.

Accountability as Obstacle

Some of you know that among the reasons our previous ministry went down was that it got clogged in bureaucracy. The tools and systems that were supposed to clarify our goals and plans and reduce our inefficiency were themselves inefficient, inaccessible, and inflexible, masking rather than revealing the fact that we weren’t actually accomplishing what we meant to and reduced our ability to respond to changing needs and opportunities. It wasn’t that they were entirely bad systems, but they did not work. The time-tracking system was the one I found most helpful, but it was never harnessed for its best uses, only its worst ones. It also included a rather sinister assumption that time is money. Those most focused on making our non-profit ministry as much like a for-profit business as possible also made the irresponsible financial decisions that led us to the rocks on which we sank – ironically, on the brink of bankruptcy. So frustrating!

So, one reason it’s been hard to get our new ministry on its feet, I think, is that we’re torn between thinking that business-like ways are the answer (we just need to do them RIGHT this time) and preferring to run in the other direction, shying away from anything that too closely resembles the management approaches that ruined us before. Is it possible to hold these things in balance? It’s nice not to have all the bureaucracy but I’d like to see a few more principles and policies nailed down so we know we’re all moving in the same direction.

Accountability as Tool

Recently I acknowledged that if I want more structures for accountability I might just have to create them myself. It’s always been that way somewhat but now more than ever. So, I re-instituted the time-tracking system for my own use, with my own adjustments. So now I know where my time at work is going. When I am at the office nine hours and can only account for five or six, I know that things like those compulsive “checking” behaviors are eating it away.

Anyone else have such problems?

What would it be like if I put them aside? The day-long email and media fasts I used to do are probably not practical at this juncture. I don’t think I could get away with ignoring email and voicemail. But I might be able to limit checking the other things to once or twice a day at most. If I were more disciplined with my time I could, ironically, forget about time: serenely focusing on the things I actually mean to do.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Making the Rounds

Today I'm in Enumclaw, WA, "The Gateway to Mount Rainer." Yes, home in WA for a week, visiting family, friends, supporters. I was dreading the trip a bit, having to find the words to respond to, "sounds like it's been a difficult year for you"! Yup. It has.

I don't know if I could have done this sooner but it hasn't been as hard as it might have been.

Getting Face Time

Tell you what's been difficult, though: getting appointments with people. Every year people seem busier.

Every year I've been gone we also grow a bit more apart in most cases. So spending time together can seem forced. Sometimes the camaraderie comes back. In others the magic seems a bit gone, but who knows: having left the door open may mean it will be there next time. Sometimes I leave subtly disappointed, wondering why I made such a point of getting together or if I did or said something wrong, missed the point of connection that might have been there. Ah well: nothing ventured, nothing gained.

Of course, getting time with people is also made more difficult by the awkwardness and reluctance I feel about asking for those appointments - especially making the phone calls; usually it requires several phone calls or emails to arrange an appointment, and I seldom start soon enough or follow through very well.

My Admin Fantasy

Found myself fantasizing about having a secretary who could make my calls, set up my schedule, book my travel, get the directions, keep my files organized - none of which are my strengths. Alas, Christian women do not HAVE secretaries, they ARE secretaries, so I may never experience the luxury of having someone to help me succeed in those ways. Still, I'll add it to my wish list. Some day: a personal assistant. Oh, I'm not greedy - I'll happily share one!

Meanwhile, I wonder if this 'problem' is one of those things that has both complicated/expensive solutions, and easy/cheap ones. Like the problem of not getting enough sunlight: you can sell your house, buy a new one, move to a sunnier climate - or you can get more lamps and paint your walls. Might do the trick. Or say you are not handy around the house: you can despair wishing for a spouse, or you can learn to cook and clean / find a handyman. Neither is very difficult.

Already, technology has made many of the things I'd want an assistant for a lot easier. Maybe there are additional tools out there that could make my life easier, just as my mobile phone, laptop computer, and wireless internet connection have done?

Northwest Climate

Today I've seen some sunshine but it tends to be pretty damp, gray, and cold here. The winter coat I've only worn once this year in Denver is a staple here. Also, I'm reminded that Northwest people are a bit different from people you'll meet elsewhere. There's an advertising campaign currently blanketing the region which demonstrates that well. Take a look at the accompanying website here. I thought it was quite funny.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

More Isobel Kuhn - Joining the China Inland Mission

A few years ago I was part of a ‘social networking’ site called Missionster. No idea if it is still running and active. Among the characters lurking there – mostly young, mission-minded Southern Californians – were some who represented themselves as historic missionaries like Amy Carmichael, Hudson Taylor, and yes, my recent companion Isobel Kuhn. I think it would be a fun and helpful exercise to immerse oneself in an admirable (or even just interesting) character like that – historic or fictional – and to discipline oneself respond as they did or would. Do other web communities encourage / allow that? Is Sherlock Holmes roaming around in Second Life? Does Florence Nightingale have a MySpace account? Is Mahatma Gandhi on Facebook?

[NOTE: 6/29/08 - If you are Facebooker, you can become 'friends' with J.O. Fraser, one of Isobel's mentors and inspirations.]

I’ve been planning to write another posting about my new friend Isobel, telling a story from her autobiography By Searching. If you can't find a copy in your local library, you can get it from OMF here.

This one takes place more than 80 years ago, in January 1927. Isobel was just out of college and ready to pursue the next step for which she had been preparing, joining the mission agency whose members and supporters had nurtured her as she turned from living for herself to choosing a consecrated life and equipping herself for cross-cultural service.

First, a Graduation Story
Elected the female valedictorian of her class at Moody, Isobel had been required to make a speech at the December graduation. According to the rules of the institution had to submit her word-for-word speech in advance that it might be approved, then recite it from memory exactly as written. This wasn’t her style, as she was later to realize. Cramped by it, she stumbled and forgot her lines.

As soon as she could get away she ran off to her room where, she says, “I fell on my knees in an agony of humiliation and failure.”
“A pale December sun shone weakly through the heavy city atmosphere upon me, and then suddenly the Lord was there with me. I felt His love folding me around. ‘Never mind, dear,’ He was saying. “Failure or success it is all over now and my love is just the same.’

“…The words were as if spoken, and the tenderness that engulfed me was balm of Gilead to my agonized soul. Slowly I quieted, relaxed, rested back on Him and drank deeply of His love. It was a wonderful experience and I was lifted up in spirit so that I no longer cared for any personal humiliation. I was deeply sorry I had disappointed the expectations of my class, but apart from that I was beyond hurt. I have never forgotten the outpouring of His love upon me that day when I felt such a failure.”
As she left to spend some weeks or months at the China Inland Mission’s “home” in Toronto where she would receive some training and orientation to the mission, one of her mentors came to the train to see her off.
“I do not know whether I was looking anxious or sad or just plain tired, but suddenly a tender compassion lit up his face and he leaned forward and said to me, ‘Do not be afraid, Isobel. There is nothing to dread in candidates’ school. The CIM has known you from a child.’”

Found Wanting

The time came for Isobel to be examined by the Council which appointed new members. It was “a formidable occasion” she says, and she was nervous. Called back to the director’s sitting room after supper to hear the verdict, she was told:
"The Council was quite satisfied with your answers today, and we in the Home have enjoyed your presence. But the Council has asked me to speak to you upon a very serious matter. Among your referees there was one who did not recommend you. The reason given was that you are proud, disobedient, and likely to be a trouble maker. This person has known you for some years and the Council felt they could not ignore the criticism. … I cannot tell you the name, but I would like to discuss with you what havoc such characteristics can cause on the field.’ He then proceeded to do so.  
“At the end of an hour of earnest exhortation, he pronounced the verdict: ‘The council has decided to accept you conditionally…. There is an anti-foreign uprising in China just now which is very serious and we dare not send out any new candidates. That will be our public statement on this matter. For yourself alone, and we hope you will not spread it around, during your waiting period the Vancouver Council will be watching to see if any of these characteristics show themselves. If you prove that you have conquered them, you will then meet with the Western Council and be accepted fully…’”
How Would You Respond?
That night, unable to sleep, Isobel considered the accusations. She’d been accused of being proud, before, and didn’t think it was true. In time though she had come to realized there was a real flaw in her life but that it had been given the wrong label. It was more a matter of selfishness. She had divided the world into people who interested her and people who did not, and tended to brush off the latter. Still a pretty problematic characteristic, and not one you’d want to see in a missionary. Disobedient? That one did seem unfair. Moody had so many rules and she’d meticulously obeyed them all, sometimes at great inconvenience. What about rebelliousness? Well, after laying these things down before God she rose from her knees not with resentment, but with alertness: to see if these things appeared in her life and get rid of them.

She must have still felt the accusations rankle, though. She mentioned them in letters to a few close friends. One young man whom she expected to be indignant on her behalf, wrote instead:
“Isobel, what surprised me most of all was your attitude in this matter. You sound bitter and resentful. Why, if anyone had said to me, ‘you are proud, disobedient, and a troublemaker,’ I would answer ‘Amen, brother! And even then you haven’t said the half of it!’

“… He was right. Why try to make the mission think I was lily-white? They’d have personal experience before long as to just how earthly a person I was!”
As Isobel says, these accusations were a kindness – not because they were true but because they could have been, because they kept her in North America for some work he had for her before sending her to China, and because they shook her self-confidence in an important way – reminding her not to rely on her own good works or efforts in anything.

It mars the story somewhat when Isobel explains how she discovered who had spoken against her, and chose not to try to clear her name… but she was eventually entirely cleared of the accusations and went out with no cloud on her reputation, instead had the Council’s unanimous and unconditional support! How often do we come out of such situations so squeaky clean?

Well, this is personal for me. Some 60 years later, I found myself in similar circumstances. I was about a bit younger than Isobel when I was rejected by an agency (not merely put on probation, as she was), and on the basis of similar statements also made on a confidential character evaluation. I’ve never forgotten how that felt. Looking at my own heart, I felt the same conflict between the partial truth of the negative words, and the misunderstanding or injustice in them.

I don’t think I responded as well as Isobel did. But it has shaped my life in positive ways as it did in hers – reminding me of both my real weaknesses and those of which I might be accused. And I also came to see God’s hand in redirecting me from the course I was planning to follow, toward another one. God is good. And I feel a connection to Isobel.

On the Other Hand
I should acknowledge, I don’t admire or relate to everything about Isobel and her life. Some of her views and ways that seemed charming in a girl in her 20s lose their enchantment in a middle-aged woman. Her prejudices and assumptions certainly belong to a different world, too.

The way she calmly submitted to being separated from her children for years on end for the sake of the ministry and their schooling seems unimaginable. I think she sent her daughter Kathryn to boarding school before she was 10 and didn’t see her again until she was 16 or something.

Nor did she or the mission see anything wrong in long separations from her husband, requiring him to travel without her for four months of every year. At one point men of his position in the mission were even asked to leave their wives and families back in the West for a whole year while they went ahead to set up some things in China! (This, at least, allowed Isobel to spend time with Kathryn and get to know her nearly grown daughter again.)

So, I don’t know that I’d change places with Isobel, but I do enjoy the fellowship of reading about her life. It’s nice to know we are not alone when we struggle, that whatever it is, someone else has been through something much like it before!

> What about you? Got a historic companion for your journey these days?

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

The Office

Oh dear, still at the office, haven't packed, and need to be on a shuttle to the airport 12 hours from now for a week in the Northwest. But there were so many things to get done today!

We started a serious recubiclization of the office on Friday. Preparing for it was quite emotional, though not because I had any regrets about moving exactly one foot south (!) - or getting new neighbors... The 'new' space dedicated to the use of the five members of my work team here turned out great. It's just how we like things, and quite harmonious. Do come and visit! But organizing some of the rest of the space came with another round of sorting, filling, and tossing old Caleb Project stuff, and that was painful once again. There's still more to do - we need to be out of the down-the-hall filing cabinets and the storage closet by year's end.

I had been looking at the office-redesign process as just the kind of concrete, creative task around which we could rally, put relationship ahead of task, and practice some of the skills that got forgotten when trust was broken in The Late Unpleasantness: cooperation, sharing, helping each other, servant leadership. Well, good news: I've seen some of that. There have been some bright moments! But some quite dark ones as well. Sigh! Maybe I need some time at home - with other relationships to juggle, and give these ones a bit of a rest again. Could be worse: I could work alone!

Do you see a pattern here? I seem to have little tolerance for broken relationships in situations (like close family, and Christian ministry) where I expect healthy, loving, trusting ones. Then I respond in ways (like anger or bitterness or complaining) that are unlikely to improve the situation. Is there something I need to learn about managing my expectations? Should I just be more tolerant of meanness and selfishness, not let it get to me? Or are there other things I can do to respond constructively, to learn to interact with others in ways that communicate grace but also bring out the best in them? How do you do that, how do you... 'win friends and influence people'? (I do have that book on my shelf... maybe due for a re-read! After Ken Sande's "The Peacemaker" which I've been carrying around.)

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Singleness and Thanksgiving

Every now and then a married person will tell me in somewhat confidential tones that they don't know if they could do it: be single. If something happened to their spouse they would have to marry again (or move in with someone, or sleep around anyway). So they admire and respect my "ability" to live the single (and yeah, celibate) life.

I'm sure they have good intentions, but I don't know what to make of such comments, and usually don't inquire what exactly they mean by them. That they don't think they could deal with a lifetime without physical intimacy? (It's not my idea of a good time either, but seems necessary under the circumstances.) That they are afraid of being by themselves, or facing so many aspects of life alone? (Nor am I thrilled about those prospects, though there are ways to compensate.) That they so find their identity in being a wife/mother or husband/father that they wouldn't know who they are without it? (True, that's a problem I do not have!)

Well, I'll say here what I would probably never say to someone directly, because it sounds too harsh / religious: God's grace is sufficient for me, and his power is made perfect in weakness. It's true for me, and I need to remember it. God's grace is sufficient for a lifetime of singleness. Really. Isn't that amazing? It may not come to that for me, but if it does, it's going to be OK.

It's true for my married friends, too, looking at their spouses and children, feeling helpless - wondering when someone's going to "find them out" and tell the world they aren't really grownups and should not be allowed to have these responsibilities! God's grace is sufficient for you. His power is made perfect in weakness.
"But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us." - 2 Corinthians 4:7 (click to read in context)
Living as people of the gospel means that we know and experience what it means to put our lives in God's hands and say: You're God and I'm not. I put myself at your disposal, recognizing that what you'll do with and in my life is way better, ultimately, than anything I could come up with. So I'm willing to give up what I might think are my "rights" - including the "right" to be married, and even the "right" to be happy - in favor of what you want to do. Your kingdom come, your will be done, right here like it is in heaven. And if it's hard and I mess things up more often then not, that makes it all the more clear that it's not about me and some ability or virtue I have - any power here is coming from you, not from me.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Tagged again...

Tagged by Phyllis-the-Zebra to share six odd or little-known (and, it is implied, interesting) facts about myself. Perhaps I go around telling stories about myself too much – yes, I believe I do: This is a difficult assignment. Nevertheless, here goes.

  1. I’m afraid of the dark. It’s one reason I don't live alone.
  2. I hate toothpaste. I use as little as possible and one small tube can last me ages.
  3. Though I became a Christian more than 20 years ago, for many of those years I didn’t like Jesus. What changed? Well, he didn’t, so I must have. Not sure when or how this happened.
  4. I am the only woman I know whose feet are shrinking as she gets older. What is up with this? Went from wearing 8’s, to 7.5’s and just bought a pair of size 7 boots. In women’s clothing, size-inflation is rampant (today’s size 10 is considerably bigger than it was 5 years ago, so we don’t have to admit we’re getting fatter). But shoes aren’t like that, are they?
  5. I’m not naturally a ‘people pleaser,’ but it is my secret desire to become more and more of a ‘macarist’ – one who takes joy in the pleasure of others. Wouldn’t it be great to be one of those people who had a natural gift of making people feel great about themselves? I’m not like that, but I'm working on it.
  6. My twin sister informs me that I may also have an exciting anatomical abnormality they just found in her, as it runs in families: an extra (at least partial) set of kidneys. There you go, that’s definitely an 'odd fact.' (But don’t tell, or one of us may wake up someday in a bathtub full of ice).

Monday, November 05, 2007

Smart Philanthropy: A Good Nonprofit Should...

As I mentioned in my ‘recent reading’ list I have been enjoying a series of books called ‘The Million Dollar Mysteries.’ In many ways they are typical fare for Harvest House (the publisher): part mystery, part romance, part evangelistic tract – with the corpse, the kiss, the conflict, and the gospel presentation falling in the appropriate places. But rather well done, for all that. And I find the premise rather interesting and creative.

Our heroine, a former private investigator, works for a well-funded charitable foundation. It’s her job to check out the charities her foundation is interested in supporting to make sure they are on the up-and-up. She interviews the staff and board members, reads all their literature, get the financial reports, and digs pretty deep. Often she finds areas of weaknesses and makes her foundation’s gift conditional on making certain changes to tighten up certain aspects of the way they run their organization.

Here’s what she looks for. A good nonprofit should meet the following criteria:

  1. It should serve a worthwhile cause.
  2. It should adequately fulfill its mission statement, showing fruits for its labors.
  3. It should plan and spend wisely.
  4. It should pay salaries and benefits on a par with [not exceeding] nonprofit industry standards.
  5. It should follow standards of responsible and ethical fundraising.
  6. It should have an independent board that accepts responsibility for activities.
  7. It should be well-rated by outside reporting sources.
  8. It should have a good reputation among its peers.
  9. It should believe in full financial disclosure.
  10. It should have its books audited annually by an independent auditor and receive a clean audit opinion.

I wrote the author, wondering where she had gotten the idea for this aspect of the series. Had she worked in the nonprofit world, or for a foundation? Maybe she had some bad experiences... I wondered where she got her list. Was there some objective source out there that I could go to understand my own ministry – and those I support – better, and get some objective input on how they measure up on these criteria?

She was a bit swamped and didn’t have time to talk but I expect to hear from her within a few weeks. She said yes, she has been burned by non-profits, and she wishes there were people doing what she describes (instead of giving their money without checking or running their organizations at lower standards).

I think she’s right; most of us give without asking many hard questions about what it is we are supporting. I know some foundations have lengthy and exacting processes for making decisions about the disbursement of funds, but I think they tend to emphasize the alignment of the charity with the foundations’ goals and values, as demonstrated by the grant proposals. Is that true? What about a really big foundation, like the Gates Foundation, would they ever hire an investigator? It sure seems like a good idea.

Giving Circles

A few months ago I read an article in an airline magazine about ‘giving circles,’ – like investment clubs but designed to help members pool their charitable giving to support causes or values they share. I’ve been thinking about the idea of finding or starting one. I do try to be pretty deliberate in my giving, and have served on mission committees at my church that have to develop and implement standards for support. I wonder what it would be like to take evaluation and intentional giving to the next level.

I still hope to talk to Mindy Starns Clark – the author – but may also see if I can get some input from one of the people I know on one side or the other of what mission agencies call ‘development’ – major fundraising. Find out how they think about these things.

In terms of my own giving, most of it goes overseas – and I want to keep it that way. But I could use some direction in how to put my money to better use in helping vulnerable people my own city as well. I know there are a number of nonprofits serving the people of Littleton, Englewood, and South Denver – feeding the hungry, welcoming refugees and immigrants, helping troubled kids, teaching people how to read, and so on. I’ve never done much about it. Frankly, I feel a little guilty about writing a check rather than volunteering my time. Yet I do neither.

I’ve got a hunch I could find 10-20 local families interested in joining me in pooling $500 a year or so, each, to set up a small foundation that would accept grant proposals and research local ministry organizations to see how our money could make a difference.

What do you think about this idea?

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Decades Meme / 10, 20, 30

You're still welcome to comment on the "Words" post, below, but I have something new today.

Barb tagged me with this meme: Where were you 10, 20, and 30 years ago?

In the blogging world, when you are ‘tagged’ by a ‘meme’ it means that there is some topic or (usually) a question going around that a blogger writes about and then challenges other bloggers he or she knows to answer as well. Some consider the practice silly or rude for a variety of reasons, and some bloggers refuse to participate. However, if you find the question one of interest you can search by labels, titles, or keywords – or just follow people’s links – to spend hours seeing what others have to say about that topic!

10 years ago: November 3, 1997 – I was 26 and had told everyone I knew that my birthday was the next week. I had a lot of friends. I had finished college five years before and a few years later had moved to Denver to join Caleb Project; was loving it. We’d closed down the research department but recruited a leader whose arrival, when his support was raised, would allow us to reopen it. I’d just traveled to Kyrg~zstn – my third time to do research in Central Asia and my first time as a leader. Had faced some considerable challenges, disappointments, and failures, but was enjoying life and had great hope for the future. I’d moved into the house I live in now and joined the church I’ve been part of ever since.

20 years ago: November 3, 1987 – I was 16 – a week away from turning 17 – and a senior at Redmond High School. I had no idea how much happier and better my life would be a year later when I was off at college. Over a period of several years in the early part of the decade my dad had gone into treatment for alcoholism (25+ years sober now!), mom and dad got divorced, and we moved to the big city. I became a follower of Jesus, and made it my (unexamined) life goals to be popular, happy, and good (with little success, needless to say). The whole decade of the 80s also saw the development and entrenchment of the cardinal rule of my family: try not to upset your sister. I though this rule was a bad idea for all involved, and resented it.

30 years ago: November 3, 1977 – Meg and I were six years old, about to turn seven (did anyone pick up that we have a birthday next weekend?). Living in Maryland and enjoying second grade. Life was about playing pretend, coloring, running around the neighborhood, and watching television. Apparently my tendency to think more highly of myself than I ought to goes way back (to birth, perhaps?): It was about this time that when my teacher asked the class who we thought should be that week’s Big Cheese (sort of like student of the week), I raised my hand and informed the class I would not be there much longer – so it would be a great idea for me to be that week's Big Cheese. Everyone had to write nice things about me in their best handwriting on strips of lined newsprint which were collected and pasted into onto butcher paper and made into a book which I still have, now stashed away someplace in the basement. Life was about to make a big turn: We would sell our house and load everything into a big moving truck, put the dog in the back of the station wagon, and move cross-country to a new life on an island in Puget Sound.

Let’s see, I tag Mandy, Lu, and Phyllis the Zebra ; - ) Will you take the challenge?

Friday, November 02, 2007

Question for Word Lovers -

...What words do you NOT like? (I'll tell you my answers after you tell me yours and then we can go around being curmudgeonly and covering our ears when we hear them.)

Thursday, November 01, 2007

More Capon: Men and Knives

"We commonly define man as homo sapiens, the knowing animal. Yet long before he left traces of his knowing, he was busy, as men have always been, misplacing tools. It is by the hammers and the axes he never quite could keep in sight that homo faber, man the maker, betrays his presence in the depths of history. The oldest fingerprints in the world are those on tools; and of all tools, the knife reigns supreme. … All the kitchens, and half the pockets in the world are filled with knives…

"I grant you that I have overstated the case: Not all men have pocketknives. I was carried away by the force of my upbringing. I was raised, you see, in a tradition in which it was considered improper for a man to be without a knife on his person. (Seriously. I hound my sons to carry one, just as my father hounded me, and his father him, and so on, world without end.)

"My grandfather had a number of dicta, all of which were aimed at delineating how a gentleman should comport himself. One of them was: No gentleman should ever be without a pocket knife. You would have to have known him to appreciate the full paradoxicality of the statement. He had the most elegant manners of any man I ever met, but he was ready for anything – fish or cut bait, figuratively or literally – at a moment’s notice. I give you one more of his dicta to help you take the full measure of the man: A gentleman should be able to prepare a light supper without removing his jacket.

"Obviously, you would have loved him."

- Robert Farrar Capon, The Supper of the Lamb, pp. 53-54