Sunday, August 31, 2008

Reading Roundup - Summer 2008

For other posts on books and reading, click here.

Tomorrow is Labor Day, and it seems as good a time as any to clear out my “recent reading” sidebar and start over. Here are some of the things I put in my head this May, June, July, and August – and a few comments on each item.

Part 1: Nonfiction

Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church, by N.T. Wright – Wright says we need to question the commonly held, culturally shaped assumption that the centerpiece of Christianity is Jesus dying and paying for our sins so we can go to heaven. Heady stuff; well done.

Un-earth: Exploring a Land with No Name, by Christy Vidrine and Autumn Rogers – Autumn is with the same mission agency as I am; she and Christy wrote this nicely post-modern book - quite different from other things that are out there - for young people coming home from short-term mission experiences. I reviewed it for the ezine, here.

The Twelve Little Cakes, by Dominika Dery – Decided to check out this book – one my roommate Deb had read with her book club – in order to have something I could enjoy but not swallow in a single gulp as I was traveling. It’s good; the memoir of a girl growing up in Czechoslovakia. Nice mix of social commentary and personal experience. Recommended.

We Wish to Inform You That Tomorrow We Will Be Killed With Our Families: Stories from Rwanda, by Philip Gourevitch – Intense series of journalistic essays on the horrible genocide that took place in Rwanda. It was a hard read, not only because of the content but also because it reflects its topic matter – rather chaotic. Convicting, though. As we said after the holocaust, 'never again.' And yet... It does happen again. And this is probably not the last time.

Each to Her Post, by Phyllis Thompson – This is part of the extensive body of published material about the early days of the China Inland Mission, although it focuses on six, sometimes lesser-known characters in that story, all women. I quoted from this book in my post about Amelia Taylor Broomfield here. Phyllis herself is worth a chapter, and gets a good chunk of one in Valerie Griffiths’ brilliant Not Less Than Everything.

Old Testament. As I mentioned in my April reading roundup, I pulled back on regular patterns of reading for the summer in order to spend more time in Scripture – joined a campaign to read the Bible in 90 days. Well, I didn’t make it, but I did get through the ol’ T (except for Psalms, which I decided to save for another season). Pretty much started at the beginning and kept going.

(The idea of doing this as a ‘marathon’ was to get the big picture, not camp in and spend months with say, Paul, or David, or Hezekiah, good as that could be. Most of the time I read a whole or half of a book in one sitting. I did find it helped to have a Bible with a bit more commentary, to help me along the way and answer some of the most obvious questions. Even so, there were definitely moments when I thought, “This may have very little application for me, but it’s part of the back-story for Jesus, and I'm a big fan of Jesus; getting this in my head may affect how I read some of the other books.” For another pilgrim's take on some of the apparently oddest bits of the Old Testament, see this article about living out Leviticus.

I ended up reworking the 90-day reading plan I’d started with to avoid the awkward breaking points and allow me to skip around forward or back without starting in strange places. If you’re interested, email me or leave a note here requesting my “100 Day Bible Reading Plan” - whether you intend to do it in sequential days or not - and I’ll send it to you.)

I also read a couple more biographies:

- Tuesdays with Morrie, by Mitch Albom

- Nothing's Too Hard for God: The International Teams Story, by Kevin G. Dyer

- The Billy Graham Story, by John Pollock

Friday, August 29, 2008

circa 1968

Ever wonder what you'd look like in the past? "Yearbook yourself" and find out...

If you're really daring, try yourself as the other gender.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008


Today begins my journey to being able to see like other people – well, except for the bit about depth perception. I had an appointment with my eye doctor this morning to begin the process of corneal reshaping. Yup... he measured me for custom contact lenses that you wear while you sleep, allowing you to see well for up to 72 hours after removal, with nothing coming between you and the bright, beautiful world. It's a technology that's been around for about six years.

They are supposed to feel about the same as the hard lenses I’ve sported for the last 20 years – a little bigger but no more uncomfortable, and of course you’re asleep most the time they are on. The idea is that they flatten out your eyeballs. They only work if you have kinda pointy eyeballs to start with, which I do.

I have a pretty significant astigmatism, but the doc thinks it’s almost entirely due to the shape of my eyeballs. Because of that astigmatism, though, it’s going to be a bit trickier and more expensive to correct my vision. $1700 instead of $1500. Some people do it for more like $1000 but ha, only the best for me. Apparently. I have been saving up.

The price tag makes me wonder, shouldn’t I just go for Lasik surgery? No, apparently: I’m not a good candidate for that and the good deals out there are too good to be true anyway. A decent doctor would charge $2k/eye for someone like me, and chances are good with the astigmatism, after a year or two I’d start having problems again.

Plus, if the corneal reshaping isn’t satisfactory, it’s entirely reversible. And there's a money-back guarantee. I can get all but $500 back, and go back to the hard-contact-lenses route.

I should be able to pick up my new lenses Sept. 5. I will let you know how it goes.

Apparently this process is popular for children (in families with good optical coverage on their insurance, I reckon). It reduces the progress of nearsightedness considerably. And for me, with middle age lurking on the horizon, that may mean I can hold off reading glasses a few years longer than I might otherwise.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Looking Back

For some reason I've gotten stuck and have had a hard time doing some of the simple tasks associated with wrapping up my recent travel.

I gave myself some time off, unpacked, caught up with house and yard work, rested... and even got a good start on a photo album (rounding out my meager documentation of the trip with images acquired from others).

I still need to do an expense report, but as our company tends to handle those quite slowly I now avoid making work-related expenditures I can't afford to let slide for a while. Since the plane tickets were already covered, I just have a few hotels ($25/night!) and small things to reimburse. I'll get to that when I get to it.

Checking in and doing a good "report" (or even a "good report"!) to my staff here and our colleagues in Florida is still a bit overwhelming. And somehow writing a newsletter, even a short follow-up/update for my church prayer chain, has had me stymied. I thought it might help if I got the photo album done first.

I'd left the collection of the most prolific photographer on the two teams, for last. LM took many hundreds of images. Well, now I've gone through them all. I'm happy to say I have uploaded my picks for printing at our local drugstore. This kind of thing is so much faster and easier than it used to be, and no more expensive! Tomorrow morning I can pick them up, and maybe before the weekend is over I'll have them added to my half-done album.

Maybe next time I'll try just putting together a good slide show - not going for print at all. We'll see. The advantage of the 12X12 albums I do is that they allow people to look at 7-8 pictures at once. People who want to see the pictures can do so without getting bogged down trying to figure things out or ask questions. I think the experience is more pleasant for the viewer. But a self-running slide show would have some of the same advantages.

* * *

Ever since the day I spent alone, dreaming and writing on "Paradise Island" (item #5 from the itinerary described in this post), I have pondered putting together a print booklet with stories, journal entries, interview excerpts, quotes, and pictures to pass along to the members of my fan club. I have some really good stuff, some of which I can't pass on in a venue like this one. But if I put it all together in a Publisher file, I could make as many copies as I want - or make it available as an email attachment if I'm strict about the security of the contents. It's a rather ambitious project though.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008


The roommate got back in town from HER international trip (to the UK), yesterday. She brought me a nicer gift from her trip than I brought for her from mine, and in the smallness of my heart I resent this and feel a bit guilty and ashamed. After all, I went someplace more exciting =and= a lot cheaper than she did; why did I bring back so little for other people?

On the other hand... she has fewer people in her life; I've got more of a network to maintain, more people to consider giving gifts to. And I was working the whole time, not vacationing. And I don't like to shop and had to manage my stress and energy level in order to do the stuff that was really more important. And I had suitcase issues (extensive travel, mostly by myself). Besides, some people really appreciate a gift from abroad (from someplace they haven't been) but many do not.

So ... I've decided to let go of my guilt and focus on seeking OTHER opportunities to express generosity and gratitude. It's certainly possible to harness, redeem, or tap into our society's consumption-driven value system to, well, show love and gratitude. But there are lots of other ways to do that.

I think the reason this whole thing tapped into my insecurities is because of OTHER things going on that are tangentially related to managing money, maintaining relationships, or meeting expectations. I'm rather aware, just now, of ambitious commitments I've made or expectations of me (from various sources, generally unaware of one another) which are going to be hard to meet. I have too many things on my to-do list between now and the end of the year, and I feel a little angry at other people about that and at myself for letting it happen - knowing I will probably find that to-do list continue to grow rather than getting shorter.

So, this is a good reminder to deal with the emotional/psychological ramifications of things like that in an ongoing way - to notice what pushes my buttons and ask myself why something worries or threatens or upsets me. Then, to be diligent in identifying and dealing with my own reactions to those things, as well as the objective issues themselves.

Oh yeah, and to turn to God with all this stuff and yield it over to him!

BTW, I don't think Deb's at all disappointed that I didn't bring her back more. It's more an internal thing, for me - like a missed opportunity I have a hard time dealing with.

In other roommate news.... I think we're going to get a cat.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Sunset over Southeast Asia

I love my work, but this is my first day in the office and I just put in 12+ hours. That's not how I want to live.

If it all seems too much, though? I can just minimize all the stuff on my computer and look at this, on my desktop, and remember...

Saturday, August 16, 2008

World-class Courage

What is it about the Olympics that can bring me to tears? Not many things do. I don’t often cry at movies, though a well-told love story will sometimes strike that chord. But sports can do it, especially something like this. Unlike a movie – or a so-called reality show – it’s real, even for someone like me who isn’t an athlete at all and scarcely a sports fan either.

So what is it, exactly, that touches me at that emotional level? Is it the inspiring music, the hope and hard work and tension and ambition, the gold medals and national anthems, the anxious looks on the family member’s faces, the ecstatic or heart-broken hugs with coaches…?

Or is it the universality of it, the fact that it brings people together from all across the world? After all, heaven is going to be like that: the book of Revelation tells us there will be some from every tribe, language, people, and nation, worshipping together – diversity in unity. That’s something very close to my heart.

Objectively, though, being a big fan of the Olympics seems a little funny if I stop and think about it. Why would someone we don’t know swimming 200 meters and touching a wall a fraction of a second before someone else does be so heroic and heart-stirring?

Yet there’s something about seeing someone put themselves out there pursing a dream that inspires us at a deep, personal level. It makes me cry when other things would not. These athletes are giving it their all, with no guarantees, and the whole world is watching and analyzing their choices and their slightest flaw. That takes courage, guts.

It’s easy to see how these things play out in sports or the performing arts, but what about more ordinary life, or areas of life that I might experience for myself? What does courage look like for you and me?

Enough people who watch my life have told me “I don’t think I could do what you do” that I’ve come to recognize that yes, in some aspects of my life I’m quite gutsy. I take on new challenges, take risks, put myself in situations where (like an athlete) I have to give it my all, with no promises and sometimes no safety net, and too many people watching. And yet, years of experience, access to those wiser than myself, the companionship of a supportive and talented team, and most of all, confidence of God’s leading and the prayers of many, all work together to really reduce the fear-factor for me.

What about courage in our everyday interpersonal relationships? In living lives of integrity and character when it’s inconvenient or seems like nobody will know (much less give out medals!)? That’s where I don’t feel so brave. Maybe it’s a different virtue. Not courage but something more like steadfastness.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Acquainted with Airports

It's been quite a month, you know, shuttling back and forth between islands - from leaving Denver to arriving back again I racked up 14 flights. Most not eligible for any of my frequent flier plans, alas! But I'll comfort (!) myself with this - thanks to jet fuel consumption, I have a bigger carbon footprint than any wannabe-environmentalist I know...

Yes, 2008 has definitely been a year for travel. I decided to figure out how much, and here's what I came up with.

- Two trips home to the NW to spend time with friends, family, and supporters; one just a few days, the other several weeks long - but cut short by (what else?) a surprise trip, this one to Indiana for my grandfather's funeral.
- Public-speaking trips to Phoenix, San Diego, and Indianapolis.
- A work-related conference in Thailand and two smaller ones in Orlando and Dallas.
- A trip to Wheaton to help train short-term teams.

... and then, spending the last month in SE Asia.

All in all it looks like I've been on 35 flights this year, and I'm not done yet. What's more startling is this statistic: how many days I've been away from home, out of state.

January: 11 days
February: 10 days
March: 8 days
April: 23 days
May: 0 days?
June: 11 days
July: 21 days
August: 12 days

Total: 96 days? - that is to say, 42% of the year. I've never tracked this before so I don't know if that's a personal record. It's a lot though.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Did you know the Olympics are playing all night long on NBC? At least here, at my hotel in LA they are. I watched more than I should, waiting for the need to sleep to take over. It came, and hovered, but I have not slept much. I was up to hear the first guests leave, rolling their bags past on the cement sidewalk that rings the courtyard outside my door as they left for what must have been a 5:30 flight. And since 4:30 I’ve listened to the planes taking off every few minutes. Busy airport, LAX.

I had a six-hour wait at LAX on my way out to Asia, a month ago, and enjoyed some people-watching. Many of the people at the international terminal seemed to be in uniform…. Not just the airport employees, the people who picked up the trash or worked in the restaurants, and the cute Singapore Air and JAL flight attendants. Many of the passengers, especially the young, seemed in uniform as well. I saw a whole group of young people whose T-shirts indicated they were on their way to the World Youth Day in Australia. They were accompanied by a group of nuns. Other young people, also advertising their purpose on their T-shirts, were apparently heading for or returning from a work-project (short-term mission team?) in Virginia. (No doubt a few youth groups in Virginia get out to LA for just that sort of thing as well!) A large group of Asian adolescents sported shirts were emblazoned with “I [heart] Taiwan.”

Well, I will go back there in a few hours, this time to the domestic terminal, and finish my journey. Until then, even if I cannot sleep, I am comfortable, with a soft king-sized bed and lots of pillows. In a way I feel I’m getting my money’s worth, awake to enjoy the tea and pillows, Olympics and internet access. And the breakfast room opens in an hour and a half now.

My 13-hour flight from Taipei was fairly comfortable, too, so perhaps I got more sleep than usual. Isn’t it funny how in those situations you can never be sure how much you sleep? For once I chose the perfectly comfortable outfit and wasn’t too cold or too hot.

My large, loose cottons and sneakers did made me feel dowdy, though, especially when I ran into some (rather highly placed) colleagues with another organization, a couple of men on whom I wouldn’t mind making a positive impression. They had been attending an organizational conference similar to the one I was at a few weeks ago – even at the same hotel. And here we were on the same international flights back to the States. Small world.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

More News from the Ends of the Earth

Saturday night we had a girls' night out with the niece/servant of our
host here in River City. We all went to the MegaMall and afterwards to
the adjoining HyperMart. Scary. Who would have thought that here on
[insert name of one of the most remote islands you can think of] we
would have places like this? Our research team is living pretty simply in
some ways, but they get to many of their appointments riding on the
back of their friends' motorcycles, and make most arrangements by
sending text messages.

On the other hand, many aspects of traditional life remain. For example,
we have to be in by 6:00 every night, evening prayers. That is when
the ghosts and jinn are out.

There's a goodbye party in less than an hour. I believe we are all
supposed to give speeches. And tonight we meet to give a full report
to the guy who is basically the mayor of the neighborhood. I'm a bit
antsy about that.

Leaving here in less than 48 hours.

How to Be a Good Guest: a letter from our host

One thing that is challenging about this leg of my trip is that it
involves spending five nights in the local home which the 7 members of
Team 2 are sharing with a local family of four. So yes, I am resident
#12 in a house the size of the one I'm used to sharing with just one
other person. Past teams have often rented homes (with landlords who
drop in now and again or live in a separate part of the house) or been
divided up in multiple homes, but this is different. There's no
neutral place, no place to get away and do things their own way. Even
when they go out, they often end up asking their host to give them a
ride; the house is not on a good route for public transportation.

Their host, Mr. A., is fairly strong in his opinions about the way to
think and the way to do things. On one occasion he wrote the whole
team a letter. I thought you'd enjoy some excerpts…

"When I attended the circumcision ceremony at Mr. Y.'s house, many
people who attended the circumcision ceremony asked me about your
presence in the community. One of them is Mr. Haji M. He is the
secretary in this community. He told me that he would invite all of
you to visit his house on Friday evening. I answered that I would tell
them as soon as I went home.

"In our culture if the guests are invited by the leader or the
secretary of our community or by the people or public figures in this
community to their house, we should [accept] their invitation. For
example, last Monday evening I was invited by Mr. Y. to attend the
circumcision ceremony. As a good citizen of this community, I must
respect his invitation. I may not be indifferent to the people here.
If I am indifferent to them, they will think nothing of me. The people
in this village still have strong co-operations.

"Mr. Haji M. will invite all of you to visit his house on Friday
evening at 7:30 PM. We should not make him disappointed. Mr. Haji M.
is the secretary of the neighbors' harmony in our community and he is
also the Muslim leader here. All the people in this community respect
him because he has gone to Mecca for pilgrimage and he is also very
religious. He is reserved and not talkative.

"In our culture, when the owner of the house offers you some food and
drink, never refuse his offer. He will be thin-skinned [hurt?] if you
refuse it. And he will be pleased if you accept his offers.

"I am going to tell you how to be the guests at his house. Before we
enter his house, we should say to him "Asalamualaikum." And say to him
again [good evening]. Mr. M. will ask you to [come in] and [sit down]
and you say to him [thank you]. First, I will say some words to Mr. M.
Then I will tell you to introduce yourselves to him one by one in [the
national language]."

Mr. A. also added, in the middle, a few instructions that may refer to
some past offenses:

"In this community, when you live in one's family, you should also
have breakfast, lunch, and dine at their house. If you don't do that
they will be thin-skinned [hurt], even though they are not angry with

Update from SEA

Hey all, sorry for not blogging any of my recent adventures. I
neglected to set things up in advance for remote postings to this
site, and accessing it directly seemed a bit unwise in light of some
of the other content that is posted here.

My agenda in SE Asia has seven items. I've reached #6! Here's a bit of
a rundown.

1. Arrive in-country and spend a day and a half with Team 1, who have
been living in Location 1. Encourage them, assess their work, and
coach them on how to use remaining time. This went quite well; a
little sympathy and enthusiasm and encouragement helped smooth over a
few rough patches so they could finish well. And jetlag was on my
side: I woke at 3:00 am, the second day, and had time to read all of
85 or so interviews they had conducted in the last few weeks before we
met for a meeting at 10:00. When the day cooled down we travelled to
another part of the city for a couple hours of prayer-walking as well
– what a privilege.

2. Travel to Location 2, the city where Team 2 is living, to spend 4-5
days with them including a three-day team vacation. Encourage them,
assess their work, and coach them on how to use remaining time. With
the vacation, the associated travel, and the need to meet with team
members one-on-one and lead them in a research strategy meeting, I did
not have the chance to go out and spend time with any of their
friends. Several dropped in though, and I had some good conversations
with their host. More about him later. This group of researchers
includes stronger personalities and they've had a few struggles.

3. Return to Location 1 to do a three-day debriefing with Team 1; try
to get my head around what they learned so I can help finish their
mobilization projects. Debriefing is an art. I think this one went
well, but did hit some snags trying to coordinate plans with my friend
co-leading this time, and trying to give the team what they were
asking for as well as what they did not know they needed.

4. Along with Team 1, attend a five-day meeting of others doing
various kinds of work across the region. Build relationships, listen,
seek to understand what their lives are like, look for points of
connection. Say goodbye to Team 1 as they return to the US. What a
great opportunity to spend time with like-minded people. I did
struggle a bit, seeking how to explain myself, and was frustrated by
my inability to communicate clearly and positively on that.
Nevertheless, had a good time and made some connections that may prove
helpful. Oh, and my Kiwi friend PW was there from New Zealand. She
made sure to tell me how helpful she is finding my book Through Her
Eyes; she's been getting it into the hands of many others who find it
helpful as well.

5. Enjoy some "down time" in Location 1. Can I just say, if you are
looking for a place to write your next novel, this is the place.
Creativity is just in the air, I think, and it's such an easy place to
live. I spent a couple hours one morning just thinking of imaginative
writing projects and wondering if I could just rent a small place for
a month or two to just write and relax, go for long walks on the
beach, meet with friends every other day or so, and do a bit of
language learning, tourism, and sport on the side. That would be the

6. Travel back to Location 2 to join four days of writing and wrap-up
with Team 2.
7. Travel with Team 2 to Location 1 for four days of debriefing.

Well, I've made it to the penultimate agenda item, writing days in
Location 2. They have done more interviews than Team 1, because there
are more of them and they had more time. I counted 162 interviews. I
have been anticipating this might be the most challenging piece, but
we shall see.