Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Busca Tu Media Naranja?

A week ago or so ago I finished the book “Falling in Love for All the Right Reasons: How to Find Your Soul Mate.” It was written by the guy who started e-Harmony. He has this great ambition to reduce the divorce rate in America, 1% a year or something. And after lots of research he’s convinced that one of the best things we can do to keep marriages from failing is to encourage people to marry others with whom they have as much in common as possible.

He identifies 29 areas and says in the best marriages, the partners are highly compatible in nearly all of them – 24 or 25 anyway. Of course, having ‘one of the best marriages’ is not for everybody. That is to say, great marriages are rare. (But we do all want to be among that select group that have them!) And of course commitment is the most important factor. But finding the love of your life, your soul-mate (or in Spanish, media naranja, 'orange half'!) is largely a matter of choosing well, he says. So, he recommends really knowing who you are and what you are like and only giving yourself to someone who is a lot like you in those key areas.

He also urges readers to make sure they know each other very, very well, and probably to spend a long time getting to that point.

Most of the things he identifies, like intelligence, or ambition, education, sense of humor – are neutral. Do you laugh at the same things? It’s just a matter of being similar, being compatible, whatever you are. If you hook up with someone who thinks and values very different things than you do, especially in areas in which people don’t tend to change much, it'll be hard.

And of course most of us have some areas that are really important to us and others that are not. For example, it’s a bigger deal to me that my partner have the same spiritual worldview as I do than it is that he has the same level of interest in sports or arts, or sees politics the same way. The author gives a list of 16 things which he calls core personal dimensions – areas in which people may change, but not much – as well as six skills or qualities one can develop.

There are seven dimensions, though, which the author identifies as screening dimensions. If you and/or someone you’re interested in don’t have these things under control, you really shouldn’t be thinking about getting married. So, the fact that you both, say, come from massively dysfunctional family environments and haven’t dealt much with how it’s affected you, you shouldn’t say, oh good, we have that in common. Nope; you should get out!

I’m not sure I agree with the author on every point; one does see his prejudices. But I want to take his challenge and research seriously. And darn it, I saw some things that might describe =me= in several of his ‘screening dimensions.’ The list includes:

  • Good character (honesty, integrity, morality)
  • Quality self-conception (emotionally healthy enough to love others well)
  • [Freedom from] addictive behavior (as well as self-control and discipline in a larger sense)
  • [Patterns of healthy] anger management (willingness to enter into conflict and ability to deal with conflict well)
  • [Freedom from] obstreperousness (mood swings, harshness, being impossible to please)

Am I a bit obstreperous? Yeah, I think I am, and this could be a problem! Particularly in a relationship with someone (perhaps weak or vulnerable in some of the other dimensions?) who really wants a patient, forgiving woman whom he’s confident won’t be harsh or critical with him. I can be sweet and gentle, but I also seem to have sharp teeth and claws, too! Can anything be done about that? Or should I just accept a certain level of obstreperousness within myself and look for someone who =wants= a tiger?!

I guess I’m still trying to figure out what it means to be committed to personal growth without going down a path that is actually contrary to being who God made me to be. Or to put it another way, I want to strive to be the best person I can be, without striving to be the kind of person I can’t or shouldn’t be! And what that might look like still seems pretty mysterious. I wish I were a simpler person – that I knew with greater confidence who I am, what I need, and what I have to offer, but perhaps these things are slowly becoming more clear.

The question of how to prepare myself for marriage is one of great interest to me at present, because right now I'm feeling that I’ve just about had it with singleness. I know, that’s probably not a good-enough reason to marry someone. But if there are things disqualifying me from being a good marriage partner I want to see them clearly – and if possible, to work on those things – so that as much as it’s up to me I can be in a position to say yes if or when the opportunity presents itself.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Update on EPC & New Wineskins

The EPC voted overwhelmingly to create the structures needed to receive the congregations expected to pursue joining the denomination in the next few years. See quite a few articles on events and discussions from the General Assembly at http://layman.org. I'm not sure how long it will take before churches start declaring their intentions to leave the PC(USA) and join the EPC or what repercussions they will face in doing so.

I wasn't there, but a friend who was shared about a conversation he had around the table with a number of colleagues who were concerned about how to take care of the somewhat battle-scarred pastors and churches that will be coming into the denomination. The PC(USA) has been something of a war zone for years now, I'm sorry to say. I'm sure it will be a relief for many who make the move to become part of a group as relatively peaceful and united as the EPC. But some may be very excited and energized by the coming changes, while others may be defensive, slow to trust, feel conflicting loyalties, and be low on energy and hope for moving ahead.

And yeah, all this sounds strangely familiar. My friends and I have faced similar challenges in the last year or two with our ministry's significant change of direction, merger, new mission, decline, crisis, failure, rescue, and rebirth. Perhaps the EPC leaders building relationships with incoming congregations will feel what I suspect Pioneers leaders felt taking on former Caleb Project and ACMC staff, as they saw what they were getting: man, these guys have a lot to offer, but for now, they are kind of a mess!

So. I guess I know how to pray, eh?

Here's the official statement from New Wineskins. (http://www.newwineconvo.com)

EPC Creates NW Presbytery
June 22, 2007

We offer our heartfelt and profound thanks to the Evangelical Presbyterian Church for creating a New Wineskins Transitional Presbytery. It has been quite a week in Denver. We were overwhelmed with the gospel hospitality we felt in their midst. The encouragement and affirmation, the sense of kinship in Christ were all like cool winds on our souls. We witnessed at this Assembly a wonderful graciousness of discourse, a Christ-centered passion in worship, and a courageous openness to God's future.

We are humbled that the EPC has opened its arms to the vision we share. We agree profoundly that God is calling us to an expression of his church based on shared essentials of the faith, clear ethical imperatives, and a mission-serving polity.

We know that many of the New Wineskins churches are called to remain in the PCUSA, living out this vision right where they are. We also know that many of our churches are being called out, and we express our deepest gratitude for the open arms into which they will be received.

We pray that such a spirit of graciousness as we have felt will blow through our denomination as well.

In Christ,
Dean Weaver and Gerrit Dawson

Saturday, June 23, 2007

Learning to Be Happy

I've often alluded here to a couple of vague but important projects I've been working on in the recent months of my little mid-life crisis. (1) Learning to cultivate the resources at hand for being happy, and (2) Learning to grieve my recent losses well. In both cases, my hope is to deal with the things that would derail me and build a better foundation for life and ministry in years to come. (I suppose it's funny to be so analytical about it: these are =emotions= we're talking about aren't they? But analytical I am; might as well harness it.)

One important question I've had to explore in this is: Does the way we view ourselves and our lives really matter? I believe it does. In fact, I've come to a tentative conclusion that perhaps only when we deal with our internal conflicts and learn to be happy can we really be useful. At any rate there seems a strong connection between those things. I don't want to make 'be happy' my goal, but I think perhaps it is my responsibility. Not in a Sound-of-Music kind of way like the picture here suggests, but in the sense of finding contentment and cultivating hope.

Of course, the whole grief and loss thing tends to pull me in the other direction, and well it might. So while I cultivate contentment, it's got to be OK that grief or anger come along and swallow me up at times too.

Anyway, this passage from Dallas Willard came to mind. I'd love to hear your thoughts about it.

[Another] area required to bring disciples into the place where they can love the Lord with all their heart, soul, mind, and strength concerns the goodness of their own existence and of the life that is made theirs through their natural birth and the following course of life.

God… is lovely and magnificent. But he will remain something to be admired and even worshiped at a distance if that is all we know of him. In order for disciples to be brought into a full and joyous love of God they must see their very own life within the framework of unqualified goodness. Perhaps ‘see’ is too strong a word… but they must at least be sure in their hearts that their life must be a good thing.

We will never have the easy, unhesitating love of God that makes obedience to Jesus our natural response unless we are absolutely sure that it is good for us to be, and to be who we are. This means we must have no doubt that the path appointed for us when and where and to whom we were born is good and that nothing irredeemable has happened to us or can happen to us on our way to our destiny in God’s full world.

Any doubt on this point gives force to the soul-numbing idea that God’s commandments are, after all, only for his benefit and enjoyment, and that in the final analysis we must look out for ourselves.

Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy

It's good logic, and it rings true on an intuitive level as well! How can we love and trust God if we are not secure in knowing we are being looked after, not just being used up? If I want to be abandoned to God I've got to see that he is trustworthy. Which he is!

On a lighter note, here are a dozen things I've discovered that make me happy:
  1. Getting eight hours of sleep in a comfortable bed
  2. Eating less and exercising more
  3. Making a point of taking care of my body (e.g., fingernails, skincare, etc.)
  4. Wearing comfortable, attractive clothes even when I'm just by myself
  5. Reading wholesome, interesting books and magazines
  6. Listening to good music that lifts my spirits
  7. Getting enough sunshine
  8. Praying - talking to God about everything
  9. Blogging, writing, and correspondence with good friends
  10. Interacting with, listening to, and working on projects with other people (rarer given the collapse of our office culture and the cancellation of just about all of my outside-the-office activities! I hope things will be better in the fall.)
  11. The satisfaction of making a plan and following it, at least some of the time - or at any rate, understanding and following through on what I believe is important to do
  12. And, finally: discovering that thanks to the invention of the travel mug I can have my morning shower and my morning coffee =at the same time= (try it!)
I know, I'm blessed with greater resources and more freedom and energy to seek such pleasures than, say, my friends whose lives are consumed in caring for a family. We both have it good, though, in different ways. There's no sense talking of trading places, because it is not an option at present! Still I'd be interested in hearing from you or anyone else: What refreshes you, makes you happy, lifts your spirits? What's on your list?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Workshop / General Assembly

Through Her Eyes Workshop

Yesterday, at the EPC General Assembly, I did my workshop on what life is like for missionary women in the Muslim world. It was very well attended even better received. Everyone seemed to 'connect.'

I tried to really keep things moving along - introduced myself, got everyone to laugh, then gave my overview of what I'd learned about the issues most missionary women face. I told them that it makes no sense to treat women in missions as an interesting minority; they make up 60-70% of the mission force, and get less press, training, or support than their husbands and teammates do. I read a chapter from Through Her Eyes about raising kids overseas. Then I led the group in praying for women in missions (using this - http://www.calebproject.org/userfiles/PMW.pdf) .

Instead of telling more stories at that point I brought up a panel of three experienced missionary women attached to the denomination's mission agency. Wendy (who works in the country where my Aussie mate Tom now lives) was the first to speak.
"I have never heard a better presentation on this topic," was the first thing she said, "I've never heard anyone do such a good job explaining what my life is like!"

I'd like to get together with Wendy and hear more of her story. (Just so happens her family's home-base on furlough is right here in our area, so I should be able to do this.) That's actually one of the things I really like about my life, how many opportunities it provides to say to different kinds of people, "Hey, I hear you. And I'm fascinated. Your life, your story, your soul - they matter."

Each of the women on the panel shared the issues she's faced with things like learning language, raising kids, and adjusting her expectations for herself in the various seasons of life. For example, Wendy used to get her sense of identity and gratification from her language ability, but as kids came along she had to accept that she might fall behind for a long, long time, and to let that be OK. (Although she's now conversant in three languages besides English). One thing they all brought up was how hard it was to get the help they needed to educate their kids, and how precious the (chronically understaffed) MK schools and nanny/home-school teacher positions are for helping families stay on the field. It's so tragic that our churches and Christian colleges have so many young women who love kids and teaching and are eager to be used by God, and all these families who want their help; they rarely connect.

Here's the best part. After the workshop a young mother who works in the Arabian Peninsula came up to me and said, "Until I heard what you had to say, I didn't realize how much I longed to be understood." Later, between 20 and 30 of the women who attended the workshop sought me out throughout the day to say how much they appreciated the workshop.

[Of course, that's one of the perks about speaking to groups made up entirely of Christian women: being on the receiving end of the affirmation and encouragement they are socialized to give other people... It doesn't mean I =really= did a better job than I would have in another context, just that I'm more likely to hear about it!]

I really wish I knew where to go to find other people who would be interested in having a workshop like this, though. I did it once at my church, when we were celebrating the book being published. I also did a workshop at a gathering of churches and individuals focused on the people group where I did the biggest chunk of my research. There are maybe 20 networks like that which get together annually, so maybe I could offer to do the workshop at some of those, though I'd probably have to pay my own way. And I did something like this workshop for the women's ministry of a large church, during the church's mission conference, which was focused on responding to the Muslim world. That one didn't go so well for a variety of reasons, but one may be that it was that the audience was made of mostly of people who see missions as something that doesn't touch their lives. Well, I'll pray about it, and keep my eyes open for opportunities to teach on this topic again.

No idea how book sales went. The church has a bookstore and they wanted to be the distributor for this. I will check in with them after the meetings are over and see if the book sold.

New Wineskins?

I really didn't know what was on the agenda for the General Assembly, but was wondering if there were any big issues facing the denomination which might be discussed or voted on during this week's meetings. Surely they would not be dealing with the wrenching issues that threaten to destroy the larger Presbyterian denomination the PC(USA) to which my home church, Wabash Presbyterian (and I) belong?

In a (somewhat) indirect way, they are. The EPC was originally formed mostly of churches that left the PCUSA and continues to receive churches following that path. Official reports I was handed on registration show that of the nine churches that have been added to the denomination's rolls in the last year, three were new church plants, one was previously independent, and five came from the PCUSA.

Now, as I understand it, New Wineskins (a network on more-evangelical churches in the PCUSA) has approached the EPC to ask if there was a way to receive a larger number of their constituent churches into the EPC denomination en masse. Perhaps 40 in the next year, and maybe as much as 200 in the years to come. That would double the size of the EPC! So this year a committee has been exploring the constitutional issues that would allow or prevent the creation of a new temporary (five year) 'Presbytery' structure that would stretch across the nation and facilitate the addition of interested churches even before they are able to develop relationships with the existing, geographically defined Presbyteries. Looks like this will go through. There's a vote on it tomorrow. (I won't be present but will check in with those who are).

Even if the structures are approved, there might still be some big hurdles - economic, legal, cultural, and theological issues to deal with. There could be some great reasons for PCUSA churches to say no to this option, as well as great reasons to say yes. I'll be interested to see how this unfolds. (dm, I'm of course interested to hear from you on this!)

I was surprised to see the EPC less conservative on the issue of women in leadership than I had supposed. The church hosting this gathering has several ordained women on its staff. One of the women who spoke during the day I was there was introduced as a long-time 'ruling elder,' and leads the high-profile 'Women in Ministry' commission for the denomination. Congregations have the freedom to ordain women as teaching elders (pastors) and ruling elders or to choose not to. Rather than this being decided at the denominational level they have 'agreed to disagree.' So there are probably very few women ordained and serving as pastors and not many as elders, but it is not ruled out and clearly there are some.

My own church in Denver, which is independent, is led by an EPC-ordained pastor and is often listed in the phone book and elsewhere with EPC churches because its name is 'South Evangelical Presbyterian Church.' 'South Fellowship' as it is usually known came out of the PCUSA, like many of the EPC churches. I've often thought it was too bad we didn't join the EPC denomination. But the feeling at the time was (or so I hear) 'we've had =enough= of denominations!' ... and I'm pretty sure that many of the old-timers at South still feel strongly that it is flat-out wrong for women to be pastors and elders. Women can teach adult Sunday school classes (as I have) and the like, and there are women leading some of the ministries, but there would be trouble if we had a woman 'preaching from the stage on Sunday morning!' Our pastor, who as I mentioned, is a member of the EPC, submits to the elders on this issue - though I believe his personal views on the matter are less conservative.

Well, we'll see. Maybe someday South - and/or Wabash - will end up with this little denomination... Tomorrow's vote may make it feasible sooner rather than later.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Through Her Eyes Workshop

Tomorrow I’m doing a workshop for a group of 48 women (and two men!) about the lives of women in missions – particularly what it’s like to be a Christian woman in a Muslim context. I’ll talk about how women have a significant presence in the mission force (not that of a minority, but a majority), and that they have distinct needs, challenges, and opportunities that their husbands and other men may not have. I’ll lead the group in praying for missionary women according to these specific needs, challenges, and opportunities. And I’ll facilitate a panel of women who will share from their own experiences serving many years in various parts of the world. I’m looking forward to hearing these women’s stories, myself.

I also hope to promote and sell copies of Through Her Eyes so that this same message, encouragement, and invitation to share one’s experiences may get out to other women who are overseas or want to be, that they would know they are not alone.

Will you pray for my workshop? It’s 11:00 to 12:15 Mountain Daylight Time, at Cherry Hills Community Church in Highlands Ranch, and is part of the annual General Assembly meetings of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church. I suspect that many of those attending my session will be leaders of women's ministries for their churches or wives of EPC pastors.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Holiness and Work; Friendship

Do you remember when I said I was going crazy in an office without a window? That was a Wednesday; on Thursday I mentioned it to my team leader. Friday afternoon he and the other guy we work with came to me and said, "So, you want a window..." Sean traded with me that very afternoon. Much, much better. And Sean says it's probably better for him, too. Having the cubicle against the wall may help him focus.

Even with the pleasure of a new cube, I'm trying to take Wednesdays to be away from the office and write. No, not to blog (!) but to work on my long, on-going projects like these 50-, 70-, 100-page cultural descriptions and strategy reports left behind by research teams in various states of publishability. Quite a few of them are nearly ready for distribution. I'm hoping to create a new pricing structure and distribution system this year and have all of them (old ones and new ones) available as PDFs for sale by download. Most of these have a small but highly interested audience. The work we do is priceless - if we can get it into the hands of those who need it most. You know how it is when you are doing something you love; it's OK if nobody notices, or at least it's OK with me - I can live on the personal satisfaction. Ethnography is that way for me, I guess. But there's so much more that can be done with it if we are willing to do what it takes to get it into the hands of others. Right now that task falls on me.

In the fall I worked on one from a couple teams we had in Southern China, including research done by three different teams over several years. This spring I've been working on another China project, this one not quite as extensive.

Some of these writing days have turned out really well, others, not so much. I seem to find so many other things to do with my time. I forget, too, what a huge difference something as simple as pulling out my journal first and laying the whole thing down before the Lord can make in how my day goes: how much I get done, clarity of mind to set good goals and priorities, and the will to set aside distractions, as well as peace of mind during breaks.

Big editing projects also pose challenges in the area of attitude. Another reason to take it outside the office! As satisfying as it can be to make good things better, editing big projects is hard work. I can get pretty cranky reading one sloppy paragraph after another, with all the fuzzy thinking (including my own) that shows up in the early drafts, especially when there is no one to go to for clarification. I get snarly. I want to give up. I find myself wanting to throw a lot of it away. And that's the best thing to do with some of it, honestly. Vigorous slashing, rearranging and rewriting is often necessary.

But it's better to approach my task with a constructive attitude, so if I throw stuff away I know why, and can do so without being bitter or dismissive to other people just because their work doesn't 'work.' And it may just need some tweaking... So: Editing days are a good time to pray - that I might know the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, faithfulness, and self-control of the Holy Spirit in this process!

The other thing that prayer is good for is to remind me not to just lay myself and the work before God so he will bless it, but to lay myself and the work before God so he can bless it OR push it aside. His presence, his plan - way better. If a project doesn't get done on my time-line, but is something I'd surrendered to him to expedite or dismiss according to his good pleasure, I can be at peace. I need not feel guilty or ashamed, need not fall into the trap of being addicted to short-term gratification. I want to do it his way. Thy will be done: on earth as it is in heaven.

Of course, I'm lucky; blessed. Most people don't have employers that are particularly interested in the will of God or the power of the Holy Spirit. I do. That is amazing, isn't it? I don't want to take it for granted. It's definitely something to be grateful for at this stage in my life; someday God may move me into a situation that's quite different. Even then, I hope I'll keep praying "Thy will be done..."

Today I was editing a bit about how members of this Chinese minority group look on friendship. It's a pretty big deal, and in a different way from in the West, where 'being friends' and 'being friendly' are about the same thing. In so many of the non-Western cultures I've studied, friendship is not entered into lightly. When you are someone's friend they expect you to help them when they are in trouble. That's often the number one thing that shows that a friendship is the real deal. A good friend is someone you can always to go for help. And in the culture I was writing about today, to call someone a friend means they are closer than family.

In America we don't want to burden our friends, do we? It's quite different. We think it is better to be independent, to solve the problem yourself, take it to a professional, or to pay someone to help you - rather than to go to a friend or the friend of a friend, which would be the natural response of so many people I meet in other cultures. When I've been in some of these places I have felt this at the gut level more than once when someone asked me (or offered me) a huge favor. It seemed - wrong, weird. I think this traces back to our core values of self-sufficiency, individualism, and freedom. Not bad things, but they send all kinds of waves out through the culture, affecting almost every aspect of how we think and interact.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

"I Am From" poem

(see June 2, 'Writing to Change the World' and comments, for where this idea came from; and for a bit more personal history, these postings: Funny Dream, Six odd or little known facts, 10, 20, 30, and ice cream and Vashon island)

I am from Dean and Linda, from Megan, from ‘the twins,' a now-fragmented tribe.

I am from the Pacific Northwest, from Puget Sound and Mount Rainier, madrona trees and blackberry brambles, from fog banks and cloudy days and “rain turning to showers with a chance of sun-breaks.”
…From 'God’s country.' (Not that anyone talked much of God - but the land and people sure were beautiful and amazing, so full of life, and that must mean something even if this world was all there is.) I am from wanting there to be more.

I am from rural island life, from sheep and vegetable gardens and 4-H, from playing in the barn and building forts in the woods and giving names to all the chickens.
…From bails of hay and alfalfa pellets from Western Farmers, and black-rubber barn boots, from trips to the beach at low tide to get seaweed for the garden.
…From living off the land and “I can heat this whole house with my wood-stove,” from chop down another tree, haul branches, stack wood, bring in another log; from hand-spun afghans and sweaters and socks, from green beans from the garden and homemade bread and applesauce.

I’m from no depth-perception or coordination, from "That’s OK, nice try, now just hold the bat more like this and keep your eye on the ball." I am from giving up and going to the library every recess instead, relieved and embarrassed at the same time.
…from reading all the time.
…from history and philosophy and literature and culture, from performing arts and great books and geniuses and those who at least could recognize genius when they saw it, from relatives with high IQ’s and great talent but often lacking ambition, sense, or luck.

I am from Olympia Beer, Dad's constant supply kept in the garage, and from a family tree with 13 alcoholics and addicts, but also from AA and Al-Anon and from, “I’m sorry, I guess I did not know any other way to cope. I wish I had known what I was doing.”

I’m from strong women and weak ones, and their complicated lives: from Great-Aunt Lou who had to live with her in-laws and work in their restaurant for nothing and took money from the cash register until she had enough for the down payment on a house. From her sister who just tried to keep everyone happy, not seeing how much that cost.

I’m from a family growing apart, from going separate directions and re-inventing ourselves, from “You can be whatever you want to be,” “I guess we can’t tell you what to do,” and “Everybody has to live their own life.”

I am from “My Heart, Christ’s Home” and “Mere Christianity,” from Young Life and youth group and “the chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever,” from “I can’t do this, God!" and a God who says, “But I can.”
…From “Which circle best represents your life?” and "assurance of salvation," from discovery group and action group and prayer-chains and “Reach the campus today, you’ll reach the world tomorrow.”
…From celebrate diversity, from seeking the fingerprints of God, from “every tribe, tongue, people, and nation,” from finding cultural helpers, asking good questions, listening, taking notes; from “…That men might reach out and find God even though he is not far from each one of us,” from “How can this people find God’s way to life under his lordship?”

I am from Haiti and India and Mexico City, from Ashgabad and Osh and Andijon and Al Hoceima and from living daily on the edge by faith. I am from the confusing relief and disappointment of coming home just when you are starting to really break through - the strength and weakness of short-term missions.

I am from reading the news from someone else’s point of view and wondering if I can still think like an American, then seeing: you may be different, but you are still American, and you always will be.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

I Scream, You Scream

Well, we did it, we had our 'debriefing and moving toward reconciliation' day-and-a-half meeting, me and the dozen or so people I work with.

"Sometimes when you come into these things you see the group is so fragmented there's really nothing left, but I don't think that's the case here. There's still enough of a bond...." said one of the facilitators, responding to the first day. But we certainly put a lot of challenges onto the table! There wasn't a lot of screaming, in spite of my headline, but there were a lot of tears and emotion.

The counselors leading the meeting gave us each 30 minutes to tell ‘our story.’ I thought that was a good approach: it allowed each person to talk and permitted some interaction and response without being a free-for-all. It seems kind of funny... we all went through the 'same' events, but given the weird patterns into which our ministry had fallen, we had some fairly radically different perspectives. Personalities really came out; I saw some patterns for dealing with life that rather surprised me. Some of them impressed me; I was disappointed in others. But I feel like I understand each person better and in most cases could empathize; I feel better equipped to see the world from that person's point of view. The process gave us more evidence for understanding why each person might act as they did / do / will.

We were regularly reminded not to use 'we' statements: To say "you/they did that to us," or "We need to do this," but instead "Here's what I feel," and "What would help me is..." It seemed to really help. I know I really wanted people to stop telling me how I was supposed to think, and what I could or couldn't say. Almost all of us were having a hard time getting over internal conflicts we faced, so it was good to put those on the table too.

There were some apologies, though probably not enough. (I for one feel a need to continue searching my heart for who I need to apologize to, and why.) There were some fights – again, maybe not enough (I'm pretty sure there's at least one person I should try to confront). But it was a good start at getting the mess out there. And I hope that will break some of the tension and make the way for some trust to grow.

The second day among other things we talked directly about the tension between leaders and staff members, based on the sense of betrayal each felt at the hands of the other (as well as and even more so at the hands of some other players who were not present). It's a pretty sticky divide. In the corporate culture and values of the organization we have joined there isn't a management/labor divide; there are just teams. Each team has a team leader but it's his or her job to serve, listen to, encourage and 'release' the team. I expect this means that the TL's identify more strongly with their teams than with the other TL's.

I really like that. We used to have a very similar, flat, servant-leader-oriented corporate culture but deliberate efforts had been made to change it. Instead of serving those who were following you, you served the person who supervised you; it was his or her expectations you were concerned about meeting. It will be interesting to see if everyone can adjust their thinking and go back - or trust and receive each other under new rules.

Have you heard the saying that 'each kid [in a family] has different parents'? I think the members of our current group signed on under different rules and enlisted in different missions. So it is not surprising that even though we all express some allegiance to what we signed up for when we joined Caleb Project we don't mean the same things when we say that. It makes this sense of having a 'bond' to one another quite a bit more complicated.

I spoke out in support of a move to recommit ourselves to openness and authenticity. There was talk about writing a group covenant, which I thought was a great idea; many of our research teams have done that. But the idea was perceived as reactionary and threatening by several who felt their behavior had been most questioned in that respect. Hmmm. I'm pretty concerned if people will not allow their behavior to be questioned. How can we move forward if we cannot allow others to question us and hold us accountable? And yet I can see how someone might interpret that direction as destroying trust. What a funny thing. I don't feel safe in an environment where people won't let their behavior be questioned. Someone else will not feel safe in an environment where they are questioned. Of course tone and context play a part, but I think there is still a root contradiction here. It concerns me. But it may not be unsolvable.

At the end, each person had a chance to share what they wanted to ‘bring’ to the group and what they ‘needed’ from the group. I have a hunch that some of what people said they needed are things we cannot give them. But again, it’s good to have the expectations out in the open. In one of the interviews I did while writing 'Through Her Eyes,' my friend 'Isabelle' talked about how if you aren’t getting something you think you need, and you know God commits himself to meet your needs, it could be that you don't need that thing like you think you did. I think about that a lot.

All of this got me thinking more about the question of trust. The word came up frequently during these sessions. I think I, for one, have been operating under an assumption that I should be able to trust the people I work with and for - meaning I guess that they should behave in what I consider trustworthy ways. I think we should be open, listening, and responsive. We should prepare; we should follow through. We should place a high value on accurate communication. So when someone plays their cards close to their chest, doesn't listen and make adjustments based on consensus, or is regularly inaccurate, I tend to think: they can't be trusted; I don't respect them. Does it have to be that way? Or would it be better to adjust my thinking about this?

So in getting ready to go into the second day of our meetings I gave a bit of time to examining the concept of trust. What does the Bible tell us about trust? What do I mean when I talk about trust? What is it I'm asking for? How can I respond if I cannot have what I ask?

What is trust? My dictionary defines trust as total confidence in the integrity, ability, and good character of another; to depend: rely; to be confident: hope; to believe; to depend on confidently. Well, that's asking a lot, isn't it? It sounds like a lot more than 'something that all nice Christian people should be prepared to give everybody.' We shouldn't! People are way too complicated to give or expect that kind of 'total confidence.' Heck, I would not want to ask anybody to put their total confidence in me: I would not respect them if they did. It would be so foolish!

What does the Bible say about trust? In just thinking through the scriptures just briefly (I think I will study this more deeply in days to come) - I am not sure there is a lot of evidence that we as believers have a responsibility to place our trust in one another. What do you think? Of course there are some commands a lot more difficult to carry out, like 'honor one another as better than yourselves.' But there's a lot more talk about trusting in God than trusting people. I don't think I'm going to assume I need to give a whole-hearted trust to the people around me because I believe it's incumbent on me, then. I don't. Nor am I going to give unconditional trust to people out of some expectation that I feel like I have to be a trusting person. I don't think that either; there are things more important. Not that I'm going to walk around nursing suspicions, but it's OK - more than OK - to have healthy doubts and reservations. To think. To question. To speak up.

No, I think I need to give up feeling like I have an obligation to be unconditionally loyal or trusting. Not that I ever DO trust people in that kind of way, but I do feel guilty, sometimes, for not doing so and there are certainly others who would tell me that's what I'm supposed to do, that they need me to give them my trust and respect. But I'm not going to take on that expectation. Instead, here's what I'm going to do with that 'need' to trust and to follow someone trustworthy. I will trust God. He can deliver.

And, I will strive to be 'willing to trust' people - eyes wide open.
I don't think that's being cynical, it's being mature. I will not 'expect the best of everybody,' but I will 'give others the benefit of the doubt.' Seems like there is a big difference. In fact, willingness to question and to push people to be accountable, pursued in the right spirit, may be a very healthy response and lesson to learn from the breakdown of our ministry.

Still, one thing I'd hope and pray for is that trust is something that would grow up in our office, be restored, come in time to characterize our relationships with one another a lot of the time. It's a process, isn't it? And like faith, or love, trust isn't "all or nothing."

All in all I would say this debriefing was very helpful. I feel good about my contribution to it as well as what I discovered about others. My ability to articulate things in a way others could relate to and receive without taking offense seemed to really be 'on' this week. I'm grateful too for the skilled facilitators who were able to take us into the fray with such grace and wisdom.

There's still a lot of work to do, in terms of reconciliation - not just with the people who were in that room but many who were not. Pray for us! As Psalm 133 says, how beautiful [and rare?] it is when brothers dwell together in unity. God's blessing is there; and abundant life. Like dew on the mountain in the morning. Or oil running down Aaron's beard into his collar! (Ew, some pictures don't translate as well as others, do they?)

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Writing to Change the World

Mary Pipher writes:
I am from Avis and Frank, Agnes and Fred, Glessie May and Mark.
From the Ozark Mountains and the high plains of eastern Colorado
from mountain snowmelt and southern creeks with water moccasins.
I am from oatmeal eaters, gizzard eaters, haggis and raccoon eaters.
I am from craziness, darkness, sensuality, and humor.
From intense do-gooders struggling through ranch winters in the 1920s.
I am from “If you can’t say anything nice about someone, don’t say anything,” and “Pretty is as pretty does” and “Shit-muckelty brown” and “Damn it all to hell."
I am from no-dancing-or-drinking Methodists, but cards were okay except on Sunday, and from tent-meeting Holy Rollers,
from farmers, soldiers, bootleggers, and teachers.
I am from Schwinn girl’s bike, 1950 two-door and West Side Story
.
From coyotes, baby field mice, chlorinous swimming pools,
Milky Way and harvest moon over Nebraska cornfields.
I am from muddy Platte and Republican
from cottonwood and mulberry, tumbleweed and switchgrass,
from Willa Cather, Walt Whitman, and Janis Joplin.
My own sweet dance unfolding against a cast of women in aprons and barefoot men in overalls.

Before expounding on these themes in a personal-history essay, the author explains:

When I researched The Middle of Everywhere I asked refugees to write “I Am From”-type poems as they struggled to find themselves in a new country and language. They followed a formula with each line beginning with “I am from.” Writing this kind of poem is way to experiment with identity issues. The poem must include references to food, places, and religion. You might give it a try.

If you look back on your life, most likely you will be able to trace a trail from the present to deep into your past. Pivotal events shaped your core values. Certain people and experiences interested you. You had talents, and ways you spent your time. Most likely you cared about certain things – school, sports, animals, politics, religion. The trail into your past may be linear or meandering, or, at some point, it may have taken a sharp right turn.

You possess an innate temperament, a belief system, and a work ethic. By now, most likely, you have a sense of your weaknesses as well as your strengths, your blind spots as well as your unique gifts. You know what people like and dislike about you. All this self-knowledge allows you to write with your own grand themes, your own passions, even your own flaws, at your service.

...Our sensibilities, our moral outlook and our point of view are what we writers have to offer the reader. Only when we know who we are can we fully offer this gift. Keep in mind that fuzzy thinking leads to fuzzy writing. With inner clarity, we present readers with reflective, honest work.

You're blessed ... let me tell you why.

After I wrote my May 21 entry, my friend Mary Lu quoted, in the comments, Eugene Peterson’s take on Matthew 5:4:

You’re blessed when you feel you’ve lost what is most dear to you. Only then can you be embraced by the One most dear to you.

So I went and read the rest of the passage in The Message. The beatitudes are rich stuff no matter the translation, but several other bits that really stood out to me in this one.
You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are—no more, no less. That’s the moment you find yourselves proud owners of everything that can’t be bought. (Matthew 5:5)

You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world. (Matthew 5:8)

I think that’s part of what God’s trying to do in me in this season – bring me to the blessed place of getting my inside world put right and being content with who I am. And it’s not all about me or necessarily for my sake, but is pretty good for the rest of the world, I hope, as well. Only when those things happen can I appreciate and enjoy and connect with and serve others - not stuck in this place of pain and isolation. Here’s another bit:

Let me tell you why you are here. You're here to be salt-seasoning that brings out the God-flavors of this earth. If you lose your saltiness, how will people taste godliness? You've lost your usefulness and will end up in the garbage.

Here's another way to put it: You're here to be light, bringing out the God-colors in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We're going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don't think I'm going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I'm putting you on a light stand. Now that I've put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine! Keep open house; be generous with your lives. By opening up to others, you'll prompt people to open up with God, this generous Father in heaven. (Matthew 5:13-16)