Monday, December 29, 2008

December 2008 Reading: Part 1, Fiction

See additional posts on reading here.

Didn't pick up anything super challenging this month. Among the books I read were:

Thief in Retreat: A Sister Agatha Mystery, by Aimee and David Thurlo (St. Martin’s Press, 2004). The Thurlos are the authors of more than 40 novels, many featuring set in the SW and many featuring the character Ella Clah. This is the second about Sister Agatha. The Dallas Morning News called the first, Bad Faith (which I thought was excellent) “Fascinating… Sister Agatha is intelligent, determined, funny and deeply religious yet completely unstuffy, and adds both interest and appeal to this thoughtful mystery novel."

[Readers might also enjoy another thoughtful if somewhat violent series featuring a contemporary religious as the sleuth – David Manuel’s books about Brother Bartholomew. Paraclete Press’s first venture into the mystery market, I think. More info here.]

Rhapsody in Red: A Preston Barclay Mystery, by Donn Taylor (Moody Publishers, 2008). “Teaching history allows Preston Barclay time to grieve the loss of his pianist wife and find relief from the musical hallucinations that have been playing in his head since her death. But when he and a headstrong colleague discover the body of another instructor on campus, Press’s monotonous solitude is destroyed…” Really enjoyed this book; sadly, I found it on the new book shelf and it’s the first in a proposed series. Hope I don’t have to wait to long for the next one!

Shepherds Abiding, by Jan Karon (Viking Penguin, 2003). “Since he was a boy growing up in Mississippi, Father Tim has lived what he calls, ‘The life of the mind.’ Except for cooking, gardening, and washing his dog, he never learned to savor the work of his hands. And then he finds a derelict nativity scene, including a flock of sheep, that has suffered the indignities of time and neglect…”

Whispering Pines series, by Melody Carlson (four volumes, Harvest House, 1999-2001). “Dream job in a dream location. Wanted: Experience and motivated newspaper writer/editor to manage small town paper in Central Oregon. Benefits include, but not limited to: tall pine trees, snowcapped mountains, peace and quiet.” Maggie Carpenter, the widowed mother of a teenage son, takes the job and moves to Pine Mountain where she single-handedly transforms the lagging community in the first month or two. On the other hand she doesn’t make it to the altar (as can be expected in a book from Harvest House) until the end of book 4. Though I checked these ones out purely for relaxation, I liked book 2 best because it had the most depth.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Surrogate Nieces and Nephews

In a recent post I mentioned not remembering the last time I held a baby. With my 40th birthday now in sight (if still two years off!) I find that fewer and fewer of my friends have little ones. I also expressed a wish that even if I never have kids (or step-kids/step-grandkids) of my own, I could get in on “aunt-hood” one way or the other. Oh, I’ve been Auntie Marti several times over the years, mostly to the kids of coworkers – God gave me a great ministry of prayer for them. And wasn’t I a regular at Fritz family gatherings? (Their youngest, just graduated from high school; he was five when I met him!) Some of my other readers are parents of kids whom I greatly dig, also!

But they and most of the others who have been my young friends have not only moved far away but are also well supplied with real aunts or uncles (and/or more convincing substitutes). So while I still love the old C.P. kids and always will, it’s been hard to feel like it was worthwhile to keep ongoing relationships with them a high priority.

Since I wrote about this, several things have happened.

  1. I visited a Perspectives class that included a mother with a newborn. “Let me take her for you,” I said, smoothly, during the dinner break. Nice. I’m also working in the nursery at church for the second service this Christmas Eve. (Tonight! 7 pm!) So, maybe actual baby-time is not so hard to come by. What I’d really like would be to find someone who needs a free, more-or-less-once-a-week babysitter, during a time when I’m free (e.g. Monday or Thursday evening?). Why don’t I just ask the people who run that church nursery? Surely they would know a young mom in our church who could use that kind of help.

  1. I realized that I ought to start praying and asking God about surrogate nieces or nephews. I’ve always looked for them among the children of coworkers, but I have a lot fewer coworkers now, and just like those of years gone by, these are well “aunted” and “uncled.” Where might I find a family that’s not only gracious enough to let me in but actually needs something that I could provide?

I don’t know that I can actually keep a demanding commitment on this front; don’t look to me to take a job in an orphanage, start fostering, or mentor a needy child. I don’t anticipate any of those things. I’m not great with kids, or gifted at aunt-hood. I just don’t want to miss out on it all together.

As I was praying, I realized God may have already given me a niece and nephew, only I’ve not seen it and have been neglecting them. Erin, in Seattle, is my oldest friend; we met in eighth grade. These days she finds herself the (often frazzled and isolated) single mom of two grade-school aged children. We’ve walked with each other through the challenges we have each faced with school, work, faith, family, and relationships. I was in Erin’s wedding, and watched her go through a divorce.

I haven’t been good about phone calls and letters but have spent time with Erin, and her kids and parents, most every time I’ve been in Seattle, even Christmas dinner. We have “someday” plans to make a trip to Disneyland together – maybe this year? Erin’s kids are great. They do have aunts and uncles, and great support from their grandparents. But there is room for me in their lives, and much more I could do for them as well. Even long-distance.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Team Assessment, Professional Development & My Grad School Fantasy

Our office recently went through a team assessment process, this time one professionally done by Clarion Consulting. Most of you have probably been through processes like this. Like them? Hate them? I take these things with a grain of salt but generally find them helpful. Here’s what was included:

  • MBTI (Myers-Briggs Type Indicator) Step II assessment
  • FIRO-B (“Fundamental Interpersonal Relations Orientation-Behavior”)
  • A strengths and gifts assessment
  • Identifying our preferred leader-manager styles
  • Articulating our personal sense of mission and calling
  • Articulating our personal “best contributions”
  • Articulating our "workplace values.” I wish I could post the survey tool for you here, but I think this stuff is copyrighted.

We did about a third of the assessments online in advance, but with that many things to work through – and consultants who were committed to explaining things as thoroughly as they could – we had less time than we might have liked to actually put the findings and categories to work in talking about how we want to work as a team.

Turns out the consultants rarely have the chance to go through a process like this with whole teams of people who know and are as comfortable with each other as we are, so they were a bit shy about really stirring up discussions; they tried to keep it kind of academic so everyone would feel safe. Maybe it’s just as well. I just hope saying “we’ll talk about this more later,” means “we’ll never get back to it.”

In articulating my “best contributions” and “personal mission and calling,” I realized that I’ve reached a stage in life where yes, I can do many things, but I feel a responsibility to work increasingly close to those areas of calling and best contribution. So, I probably don’t want to take on many big assignments that don’t line up with that.

What does that mean in terms of pursuing personal and professional development? What do I need to be more effective in making my best contributions? Here's how I articulated them. (I haven't really run these by anybody who knows me well, yet).

Mission: Equipping world Christians to serve God's kingdom and the least-reached in ministry efforts that are smart, sensitive, and sustainable. (Mobilizing Christians to complete the Great Commission)

Field: Christians - especially those who identify themselves as being involved in 'missions' - who are making themselves available to God and trying to learn and grow. Basically, people who are responding to God's call on their lives and know they need help, information, resources, or encouragement. I want to come alongside people like that.

Best Contributions:

  1. Collecting information: I follow my curiosity into new areas of knowledge and relationships, learn what I can, and share it with others.
  2. Connecting dots and building bridges: I evaluate the accuracy of information and the feasibility of projects and strategies, draw conclusions, bring in balancing perspectives, and network people, strategies, and resources.
  3. Coaching and coordinating group efforts: I equip others in understanding information and applying skills, (particularly in the realm of cultural understanding) and serve others as a trainer, encourager, consultant, and debriefer.

Personal and Professional Development

Alright, so if you know where you going, what do you do to get there? This ought to be a guiding force in what personal and professional development ops I go after. And maybe an overseas sabbatical is worth pursuing, but this may also be a time to get serious about exploring graduate school.

And you know, one thing that stood out to me in the MBTI assessment was the statement, under the “open-ended” aspect of the judging vs. perceiving facet, was that “perceivers” like me tend to "have long-range fantasies rather than long-range plans." Oh, so true.

What turning the "fantasy" of grad school into a "plan" for grad school would look like (how long will it take? What will it cost? where would I live?) might depend on the school. In my fantasies, graduate school means seminary, and not just any seminary but one that sees its job as equipping people for practical ministry - including ministry cross-culturally. So, a school for mission "practitioners." Even though I may never "be" a missionary in the traditional sense, theirs is the world I'm most interested in serving.

Possible Schools

There are several schools that might fit that mold. One of them had me on their mail-and-call list for about a year but when I never responded, bumped me off; maybe I need to re-contact them. That’s Biola. They may be too conservative for me, actually. But they are in the same town as one that’s more broad (Fuller). So I could visit them at the same time. And both have branch campuses as well.

There is a third I don’t know as much about, in terms of their theological bent. (I squirm to admit to my conservative friends that I don’t want to be locked into something that's too fundamentalist, but it's true!) But in terms of being "a school for mission practitioners," I don't think they can be beat. It’s Columbia International University, in South Carolina. A good fit for me, or not? Well, I need more information. The fact that I could get a 50% tuition discount because of my agency affiliation is a big drawing card. I just sent an email to admissions.

By the way, my colleagues know I’m interested in this. I don’t anticipate resigning from Pioneers to go back to school. I could even start through a distance-learning program (all three of these schools have them) if that seems best, so I could stay in Denver if I want to. I could probably go to graduate school and continue working, at least part time. (No, Denver Seminary doesn’t seem a good option; if I'm choosing a seminary I am pretty sure I want one with a mature missions program. Denver has barely anything of that sort.)

I’m less interested in pursuing a secular school, say an M.A. in sociology at the University of Denver (locally known, strangely, as DU). I’m sure I could learn a lot in such a situation, but most secular sociologists seem to believe that one’s faith has to be very much on the shelf when doing sociology/anthropology. Since I’ve been blending the two for more than a decade I think I’d find that annoying and limiting.

Who knows, I might find submitting to the rigors and sometimes-silly prejudices of an academic program rather annoying, wherever I go! I remember what ridiculous things my friend G’s professors cared about (and the meaningful things which they neglected) when he was doing his Master’s and PhD. Sometimes I look at the grad school idea and think, who needs it? Would it be throwing my supporters' money away to spend it on something like an academic degree, when I can learn so much on my own? I’m still not sure. And that’s really the only way I can pay for something like this, to raise support for it (even if that means doing so by bumping up my low salary).

But I could use the chance to fill in the gaps in my education and teach with more confidence. And down the road, it could be handy to have some academic credentials.

So, besides getting more information about the most likely schools, another thing I need to do is figure out PI’s policies about raising support for one’s continuing education. Hmmm... and write to my long-standing support team members, and mentors, to ask for their prayers and advice. If they aren't keen on the idea, I don' t think I'd try to do it.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Solstice Is the Reason for the Season

I know, I know, you might expect good evangelical Christians to either throw themselves into Christmas wholesale (no pun intended) or to reject it as just what Jesus wouldn't want. I can sympathize with both those perspectives and the shades in between (See Matt Green's Why Christmas Is More Evil Than Halloween). But today, I'm looking at the season through different eyes.

For those of us living in the Northern hemisphere, Sunday marks the shortest day of the year. Were we living more as those who came before us did, with lives more closely connected with the natural world, we would feel it: that weariness of winter, of fighting the elements to stay warm, and perhaps a haunting fear that warmth and light and life would never return.

Here in Colorado we get some cold temperatures. It snows; typically once a week. But there's also sunshine just about every day. And most people I know are rarely really exposed to "the elements." Sure there are people who are depressed in the winter, here, but probably for more complicated reasons than those who live in places like Alaska, Chicago, or the Pacific Northwest. Although the sun is with us every day here, it still gets up late and goes down early. Depressed Coloradoans may feel more isolated or alone in the wintertime. Maybe they are afraid to drive or fear falling on the ice. Maybe they miss gardening or going for walks.

So, I can appreciate this weekend's turning point, the solstice. How right it is that we, as a race (quite apart from our cultures or religions) would look for those things that comfort and encourage during these dark days.

If Christmas, in its best and worst incarnations (perhaps in the eye of the beholder) comes in laid on top of such a context, well, why not? It seems an appropriate setting for a message of hope and new life:
A Winter Festival

"A festival of lights was held in the depths of winter in pagan times, long before the birth of Jesus and the Christian church. The celebration - Yule - was to mark the winter solstice, when the earth was resting quietly after its labours through the year, the trees were mostly bare and stark, the skies were often grew and gloomy, and the hours of darkness were at their longest. But this was the turning point, and soon the days would grow longer and the sun would return, warming the earth once more, and bringing new hope to mankind - just as Jesus did."

Source: The English Christmas: The Pitkin Guide, 2006
Last weekend I joined several friends for a trip to a nearby mountain town. It was the day of their Santa Lucia parade. A Christian celebration of light.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Scarcity and the Scarcity of Scarcity

This blog is one place I store my half-baked ideas. (But for you, they would be less baked than that!) But here are some things that have been stirring in my mind lately.


Unless my financial supporters all drop me, I have a hunch I’ll be one who comes out of this economic downturn relatively unscathed. Prices are lower, and that helps. Sure my retirement investments are looking pretty pathetic, but I should not be touching them for another 25+ years. I don’t own any real estate (for better or for worse). I have no debts. I have a decent car and health insurance (though that $1000 deductible makes it seem meaningless). And, the kind of job I have and the way it’s funded leave me not really vulnerable to downsizing and cutbacks. I’m not going to get rich – I never though I would – but I’m not in trouble, either.

I know many are worried or suffering and probably with very good reason.

But how many of you are in the same position that I am: aware that trouble is brewing, but no worse off than you were before, nor likely to be?

It may be because of my circumstances as much as anything, but I’m seeing the silver lining here. Am rather glad that saving and cutting back are more in vogue than conspicuous consumption is. This just seems so much a swing in the right direction. This “correction” may stir up compassion and creativity and be a small blow against the culture of greed and entitlement. (You see, I’m secretly a socialist. Well, part libertarian and part socialist.)

The Scarcity of Scarcity

On the other hand, we have a long way to go before we’ll have any idea what it’s like to really do without. I came across a rare and used book shop recently and felt the thrill of discovery – what treasures it held! But my pleasure was dampened by the realization that these things are not as meaningful as once they were.

The advice I used to give people researching cultures or ministry opportunities seems more appropriate than ever, “imagine what might exist and try to find it.” I don’t even have to say that anymore: everyone knows it.

So, I knew that lovely set of _________ books might be just as easy to get on eBay or someplace else.

Finding or collecting anything seems so much easier than it used to be. Money is still an issue, but you can find anything you want, even if you can’t have it all. And this somehow makes it all feel less special or fun. I am not so sure I like the ease and equalizing effect of the internet. Nothing is unknown or inaccessible; too many of life's mysteries are fathomable, at least in a sense, with the mere click of a mouse. It's kind of a letdown.

And while there have always been people who were hard to shop for because whatever they wanted or needed, they would get for themselves, this trend also seems more widespread than ever. We don’t need anything; we can get what we want easily enough.

Some Thoughts from Chesterton

"Our whole civilization is indeed very like the Titanic; alike in its power and its impotence, it security and its insecurity. Technically considered, the sufficiency of the precautions are a matter for technical inquiry. But psychologically considered, there can be no doubt that such vast elaboration and system induce a frame of mind which is inefficient rather than efficient. Quite apart from the question of whether anyone was to blame, the big outstanding fact remains: that there was no sort of sane proportion between the provision for luxury and levity, and the extent of the provision for need and desperation. The scheme did far too much for prosperity and far too little for distress just like the modern State. "

Source: G.K. Chesterton, "The Great Shipwreck as Analogy," in The Illustrated London News, May 11, 1912

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Staying Warm, Keeping Cool, and a Word from Shel Silverstein

What’s Hot and What’s Not

When I first heard a younger, hipper friend mention attending an “ugly Christmas sweater party” I was surprised. I did not realize there was a whole genre for this. Is there such a thing as a “fabulous Christmas sweater”? There may be. It would probably be made of cashmere or trimmed with angora or something.

But in perusing the ads and the streets I realize the purchase and wearing of Christmas “novelty” sweaters seems mostly limited to women my age and older, and the not-so-fashionable ones, at that. When you have something you only get wear once or twice a week for a few weeks of the year, it doesn’t wear out very fast, so the not-so-fashionable, not-so-young, not-so-rich types like me may not think of getting rid of it. Perfectly good sweater, one would think.

However, I’ve seen the other side, and I have to say: ladies, the day of the Christmas sweater seems to be over. If you love your Christmas sweater, fine, but realize the younger, cooler people in your life may respect you less for it.

I’m trying to decide if I care. I don’t interact with the young and cool as much as I did when I was part of a college-and-career group, a few years back, though there are times when how I dress could matter in terms of how I’m received and how effective I am in my work and ministry. So it’s not completely meaningless, not solely a matter of vanity or personal choice.

I do have one Christmas sweater. Well, it could just be a winter sweater, as its only adornment is a pattern of white snowflakes. But the sweater itself is red, so I think it’s a Christmas sweater. I don’t think it would even “place” if I wore it in an ugly Christmas sweater content, but I’m not sure I understand the criteria.

Sweater Envy

Back in the day when novelty sweaters (and vests, and jumpers, and jean jackets, sweatshirts, and denim shirts) were all the rage, I was torn between wanting one (or more) and realizing they were (even then) quite a poor investment. Many were seasonal, and therefore only appropriate for a small portion of the year. And of course they were not solid colors: they all had “stuff” on them, and generally should only be worn with solids, not prints (though, there’s a rule that may have gone by the wayside as well).

Flash back with me to the autumn of 1994. I was not long out of college and neither pursuing a career nor yet in full-time Christian ministry, just heading in that direction. I was just starting to raise support. Money was tight. A long, expensive trip overseas to try things out with the ministry I ended up joining had left me almost penniless. And here were all these women at church with their new sweaters.

I thought: Voluntary poverty has a lot of appeal and I don’t find fund-raising humiliating, like some people do, but as long as I’m living here in suburbia it seems kind of unfair that I can’t have a new sweater this year. JUST ONE. Something with a bit of style, not just a plain pullover, but still versatile and practical.

My parents were the answer to my vain wish, though I don’t remember if I expressed it, or not. (Knowing me, I probably did). At any rate my stepmom and mom each gave me a nice sweater that fall. One, a hand-me-down, the other, a birthday gift. They didn’t have leaves or apples on them, nor snowmen and Santas – they were just nice cable sweaters, in go-with-everything shades. Perfect. And after that I was okay and didn’t feel sorry for myself anymore. 

This post is getting long, but I leave you with this…
Santa and the Reindeer
“This is the hour,” said Santa Claus,
“The bells ring merrily.”
Then on his back he slung his pack,
And into his sleigh climbed he.

“On, Dancer! On, Prancer! On, Donner and Blitzen!
On Comet and Cupid!” cried he.
And all the reindeers leaped but one,
And that one stood silently.
He had pulled the sleigh for a thousand years,
And never a word spoke he.
Now he stood in the snow, and he whispered low –
“Oh what do you have for me?”
“I have games and toys for girls and boys,”
Said Santa cheerily.
The reindeer stood as if made of wood –
“But what do you have for me?”
“The socks are hung, the bells are rung!”
Cried Santa desperately.
The reindeer winked at a falling star –
“But what do you have for me?”
Then Santa reached into his beard,
And he found a tiny flea,
And he put it into the reindeer’s ear,
And the reindeer said, “For me? Oh gee!”
And into the blue away they flew,
Away they flew with the flea.
And the moral of this yuletide tale
You know as well as me.
Where The Sidewalk Ends: The Poems and Drawings of Shel Silverstein. New York: Harper and Row, 1974.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Catnip and the Complete Needs System

According to the makers of “Catnip Mist” our little tabby cat Lucy needs stimulation. Lucky for us they are ready to provide it. SmartyKat’s complete needs system apparently distributes products to cover all 12 of the “needs” they identify.

How much are we like cats? Catnip does nothing for me, but the basic need it addresses, well, I need stimulation too. What about you?

My list of “instinctual needs” might not include “hunt, scratch, and privacy.” But the ones listed as “physical needs,” though they may play out differently, are much the same: “nutrition, exercise, hygiene, stimulation, rest, and safety.”

And “emotional needs”? Well, we’re probably more complex than cats on this one. But I can identify: a nice blend of “interaction, independence, and treats” goes a long way with me!

Roommate Deb has pointed out several times that Lucy is setting us a good example by taking time for a good stretch, frequently. And she says when I can arch my back like Lucy I’ll get a treat.

LATER: OK, so I do need to include "hunt" down as one of my instincts after all. I hunt for my keys, fingernail clippers, my notes from that meeting I had the other day, that shirt I wanted to wear, a screwdriver, a roll of duct tape, a box that's just the right size...

Friday, December 12, 2008

Story from Nigeria

I've got friends or acquaintances in many parts of the world... One of the things I like best about my life is being part of a net like that. In a public place like this I don't feel at liberty to pass along very much of what they are doing or saying, but here's a story you might find interesting.

As you're probably aware, Nigeria is kind of a tense place these days. This story from R & S really illustrates just how tense:
"We returned to Jos yesterday as things have remained calm in the city since last Friday. [Yet] a small disturbance for any reason causes people to panic. For instance, there was some trouble downtown today with people running and a lot of rumors of renewed trouble."

"Well, the story we heard was that some people were attacked by bees and started to run and holler... This caused general panic that spread throughout the city through mobile phones. Even people out in the village over 10 miles away were running for cover."

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Idle Thoughts about Exodus 20:17

Single women, do you ever find yourself appreciating a married man you know and idly wondering what it would be like if his wife passed away (gently and peacefully of course) and you got him the second time around? Then, gasp! You realize what you are doing and cut off that line of thought. You've done this. Admit it! (Well, admit it in the safety and silence of your own heart. You don't have to put the idea out on the Internet or anything.)

Lately - wrangling Christmas lights, folding laundry, shoveling snow, wrapping presents, booking travel, scrubbing pots and pans, and trying to keep up with email - I've been thinking along different lines. It's a good thing there's a clear commandment against it, or I'm sure I'd covet not my neighbor's husband, but my neighbor's maidservant.

Who wouldn't want a maid? I wouldn't mind having a manservant, either.

I have never (consciously) coveted my neighbor's ox or donkey, however.

Seriously, contentment - and just being good - are not anybody's natural state, are they? It requires some kind of spiritual or supernatural power to begin transforming us into people who really are OK with what life may bring and willing to go along with it.
"I am the Lord's servant," Mary answered. May it be to me as you have said."
(Luke 1:38)

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

If You Remember Being a Christian Teen in the 80's...

Here's a 2004 story from LarkNews (which is like The Onion, but solely spoofs evangelical Christianity. Some of you would find it more hilarious for that reason, others, not!)

Friends not friends forever, even if the Lord's the Lord of them, former pals say

SALEM, Mass. — Two former "best buddies" from Saratoga Nazarene Church say they learned the hard way that a lifetime is too long to live as friends, despite the claims of a popular Christian song.
Theresa and Dalia, both 13, became best friends the day they met in third grade. They soon realized they were the only serious Christians in the school, and both had major crushes on Michael W. Smith.
"We used to bounce on my bed using hairbrushes as microphones and singing 'Friends' to each other," says Theresa. "I'd sing Amy Grant's part and she'd sing Michael W. Smith's part. Then we'd laugh and roll around. We knew our friendship was forever, like the song said."
But at the end of eighth grade, things hit a rough patch. Dalia quit wearing her Amy Grant Hearts in Motion Concert Tour T-shirt to school on Fridays, as she and Theresa had done for years.
"That felt like betrayal," Theresa said. "I was totally alone."
Then both girls developed a crush on the same boy, Brad Loudermilk, the only decent-looking Christian in the school. Out of spite, Dalia switched her crush to a non-Christian guy, and the friendship with Theresa was effectively severed.
Theresa went home after school and ripped the Michael W. Smith poster from her wall, then crumpled onto her bed and sobbed.
"I guess friends will say never and the welcome does end," she said bitterly.

Source here.

See also these favorites: "Proverbs 31 Husband Justified Beer Habit" and "Teen No Longer Called to Chores"

Saturday, December 06, 2008


Lucy is the newest member of our household. She's about a year old and hails from the Humane Society. PetCo has some kind of deal with them, so that's where we actually picked her up. (Good for PetCo! It was also a much more pleasant environment than a kitty Auschwitz. Plus, they threw in valuable coupons.)

Lucy is affectionate, curious, brave, agile - and so far, not skittish, naughty, loud, or demanding.

After the difficulties that arose between Deb and I in the last days of our dog, Malika, (revealing that I am not the animal lover that Deb is!) she took matters into her own hands about the cat. She decided when we'd take action, picked the animal (though I met her at the shop), signed the papers, chose and bought all the 'accessories,' (more stuff than I would have deemed necessary), and paid for everything. I was a bit surprised. So, I guess Lucy is Deb's cat. Or Deb's her human. That may be best, and reduce the chances of further conflict. If decisions need to be made they will be hers. I can stick to a supporting role.

The Humane Society has a policy against taking checks and debit/credit cards; Deb had to go next door to get cash. While we waited, I stayed and played with the cat in the employee break room.

"Tarragon" (as she was named at that point) came right up to me. She was happy to be held but not insistent, and didn't seemed freaked out by the situation at all, so that was nice.

Tell you what freaked ME out though. The motivational posters on the walls about how PetCo intends to take over the world. (Through good customer service and taking back market share from WalMart and PetSmart, though, not breeding cats and dogs!)

At any rate, from the vantage point of Day 2, I think we're all going to get along fine.

To my amusement the neighbors' huge gray cat - who unlike most cats in these parts is allowed outside and sometimes comes in our yard - sat on the porch and stared in at us for quite a while this morning.

For most of you, that is all you want to know about that, or maybe more. But if you happen to be the type who can't get enough of this sort of thing, there are a few more pics here.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Holiday Postings

Not sure what interesting, helpful, inspiring, or original thoughts I have to contribute on a holiday theme this year. Any ideas? Meanwhile, here are some reruns - stuff I wrote last year.

Light of the World? (December 1, 2007)

'Penguins ARE Christmas...' (December 4, 2007)

Boxing Day Thoughts on Gift Giving (December 26, 2007)

Thursday, December 04, 2008

November Reading: Part 2, Nonfiction

The Room of Marvels – “Room of Marvels mirrors author James Bryan Smith’s own heart-wrenching season of loss when his mother (Wanda), close friend (“Awesome God” singer Rich Mullins), and two-year-old daughter (Madeline) passed away within months of each other … Room of Marvels takes readers on a silent spiritual retreat with [the author] where he is swept up in a dream vision of heaven and given a guided tour by those he has lost. Reminiscent of the C. S. Lewis classic, The Great Divorce." [NOTE - After posting this I realize, it should probably be listed with "fiction"! But since it's allegory/theology, shared through story, it sort of bridges that divide. MKS]

Rereading this book for the third or fourth time, putting on music I’ve loved since college on the tape player in my car, and pulling on a sweater I've had for about 20 years, I realized how easily content I am with the things I already have. I am glad to have a library card and a budget and other ways to learn and explore new things, but I am just as happy with familiar books, music, clothes, etc. as with new ones. So, uh, don't look me to do my share to pull our economy out of recession, huh?

Whom God Has Joined, by Isobel Kuhn – Fun stories about John and Isobel’s life together as missionaries in China for two decades; blogged about it here. This is the third or fourth of Isobel’s book I’ve read. Snagged it from the OMF library, where there are lots more! Also intend to bring home some more by Phyllis Thompson, one of OMF's best writers.

Living Water, by Brother Yun, ed. Paul Hattaway – A series of devotions from the Chinese Christian whose story is told in The Heavenly Man. I'll admit I didn't read this properly, but sat down with a coffee and cruised through it in about an hour to get the gist of the thing. Need to go back and meditate more. I appreciated reading the scriptures – and seeing the global church and world missions – from the perspective of a gracious Asian. Good stuff.

2020 Vision: Amazing Stories about What God Is Doing around the World, by Bill & Amy Stearns – The Stearns clan came for a visit, and I wanted to read their latest book before they came. They have written several things along these lines. I would happily recommend this engaging mix of current events, history, and Bible to stir people up for world missions. A good read.

Also read:

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

November Reading: Part 1, Fiction

I Am The Cheese, by Robert Cormier – Dark stuff. My book club read this, partly because it was on the school reading list of one member’s teen-aged daughter. It was a pretty impressive work of art, though. Told from the point of view of an unreliable narrator – he mentions in the first chapter deciding not to take his pills... So the reader is never quite sure what is going on.

The Tale of Despereaux, Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, by Kate diCamillo – Now, this one was NOT dark. A friend of mine mentioned that he was re-reading it with his boys and that it was one of their favorites – so I thought I would probably like it too, and I did. In my mind I heard it in S’s voice. Very charming. And it’s now, as they say, a major motion picture, coming to a theater near you. The author also wrote Because of Winn Dixie.

Inside Job, by Connie Willis – Like all of CW’s work, clever. This one’s a hardback novella, and I wouldn't shell out big bucks to buy it, but our library does a good job at carrying such things. Like many of her works, it includes tributes to things she likes – in this case, the writings of H.L. Mencken, famous skeptic.

Three antiques from The Literature Network: The Outdoor Girls at Wild Rose Lodge (1921), by Laura Lee Hope (yes, you know her name from more well-known but equally campy series like The Bobbsey Twins – oh yes, and Bunny Brown and Sister Sue, which even I could not stomach). Mary Marie (1920), and Miss Billy (1911), both by Eleanor H. Porter, who wrote Pollyanna.

I stumbled on this web site, which features some of the great (and not so great but once well-loved) literature that have now entered the public domain. Then spent a lovely Saturday morning reading these silly old-fashioned books all written long before I was born. All of them very much show their age, reflecting the sensibilities and values of days gone by.

By far the best of these three was Mary Marie, the story of a young girl whose parents are getting a divorce and plan to shuttle her back and forth. You know from the beginning (since this a 1920 book for children) that the family is destined to be reunited. I think what I liked best about it was that it didn’t end with that happy reunion but goes on to a scene some dozen years later when Mary Marie has grown up and finds her own marriage unsatisfactory, and for some of the same reasons. Will she leave her husband, or not?

(One funny thing about reading online is that they get their income from advertising; the vocabulary in sweet Mary Marie pulled up ads for ‘the married date club,’ a rather shocking dating service for people looking for a way to cheat, apparently.)

Dead Heat, by Joel C. Rosenberg – The climax of Rosenberg’s series of political thrillers, which are set in the very near future and apparently leading up to, if not the end of the world, within spitting distance of it. An assassination attempt on POTUS (that’s the ‘President of the United States in thriller jargon) is just the beginning. In fact, there’s a bit in there where the main character is studying Biblical prophecy and is most troubled that America is not mentioned (!). If these are the end times, how can the US not have a part to play? Are too many of us going to be taken out by the rapture (yeah, right) or is something else going to happen to neutralize the world’s only superpower? I’m not telling!

Controlling Interest, by Elizabeth White – Christian fiction mystery/romance thing; so-so. I picked it up partly because one of the main characters is a Pakistani, Muslim-background, recent convert to Christianity, and I wanted to see how they played that and if it would be believable. Was skeptical from the first since her name was Yasmina Patel. I thought all Patels were Hindu. In looking into I discover there are Muslim Patels as well. So there.

Also read:

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Isobel Kuhn - Missionary Wife in China

Our friend Isobel (whom I wrote about here and here) served with her husband planting churches primarily among the Lisu people of Southern China for about 20 years - through the 1930s and 1940s. In reading about her experiences with married life on the mission field, I'm amused how little has changed. The same problems with privacy, local expectations, servants, cooking, friend making, language... and different communication styles, energy levels, and preferences than her spouse. Like many a young couple, each of the Kuhns seemed to try to change the other to be more like themselves: "I'm sure you'd be much happier, too, dear...!"

The 19 essays in Whom God Has Joined describe the same kinds of conflicts, pressures, misunderstandings, and compromises (as well as partnership, growth, and joy) mark the lives of couples I know all over the world today.

And she tells stories so well... that actually was one of the things they had to learn to blend on, actually. "Belle" was rather prone to exaggeration. When she toned everything down to just the facts, nobody got anything out of their letters. She learned to choose her words carefully to please her husband without quenching the enthusiasm that made her stories come alive to readers. It is possible to be both accurate and engaging, but it can take some doing.

I don't know how many couples I've coached through newsletter writing. Conflicts in that area are far from the most serious, but seem remarkably common! At any rate, by the time she came into her own, Isobel's writing was great. This short book was a pleasure to read.

In the weeks leading up to their wedding in Kunming, Isobel and John were staying in the homes of Mrs. A, and Mrs. B, respectively.
"Mrs. A was the ascetic type who felt that missionaries should live with the nationals and be as self-denying as possible. Mrs. B, who was in charge of the guest house, had a distinct gift for arranging her home in an attractive style and did not feel it wrong to spend a little money to maintain it. Since many of our Yunnan workers lived in the mountains among the tribes where life was primitive and hard, she felt that on the few occasions which brought them out to civilization ... they should have comfortable rooms and good food. Obviously, two such opposite dispositions would not always agree."
I've certainly run into those kind of differences and tensions on the field. I ended up writing a whole paper about the principles missionary women seem to fall back on to make "lifestyle" decisions and how those decisions affect - or don't affect - the way locals see them. No definitive answer, by the way, but it was helpful just to unpack the nuances of that topic for people, since it can cause such conflicts on the field.

Anyway, John and Isobel had to do some dying to self to plan a wedding that would not unduly offend people's expectations. They wanted something small, but ended up inviting all the foreigners in Kunming. Of course, Mrs. A and Mrs. B did an awful lot of the work!

But the opportunity for conflict in such matters did not end there.
"One evening some days before the wedding, my hostess Mrs. A appeared at the supper table looking rather fatigued but triumphant. 'I've been all day working over at the Peng Gardens, getting some rooms ready for you and John to occupy on your honeymoon,' she announced.

"... I was quite overwhelmed with her kindness ... and was not slow to tell Mrs. B ... but I was quite unprepared for Mrs. B's reaction. 'Oh, but you can't do that!' she almost wailed. 'I've arranged for you to rent the honeymoon cottage across the lake. It does not cost much for a week...'"
I like John and Isobel's solution. They realized that what might be more important than picking the best situation for themselves, or earning favor with the two women (whom they would seldom see again, when they left for their new home), was avoiding resentment between Mrs. A. and Mrs. B over the matter. Isobel preferred that both neighbors be disgusted with her rather than one another. So she looked for a third place to go instead! When a fat check arrived from John's father they decided to spend it by giving themselves a week in the fanciest place in town.
"As we rode off in rickshaws for the French hotel, we turned to wave to our group of friends. There were our two dear hostesses, standing in unconscious union, trying to wave hopefully to us, but each dubiously shaking her head over those unmanageable and extravagant Kuhns."
If any of you are interested in exploring the topic more, I'd recommend the latest edition of Evangelical Missions Quarterly. It's focused on "Families in Mission" and includes articles on marriage, parenting, stress, furlough, and even a short "theology of the family in mission."

Monday, December 01, 2008

King David Sings the Blues

This guy David who wrote all those Psalms, he’s pretty outrageous. He wrote some good, accessible stuff that would (does!) get airplay on your Christian radio station, but an awful lot of it wouldn’t (doesn't!) make it on the air in our day. It’s just too dark...

I do love happy things – inspiring songs, sentimental movies, Christmas music, the lights and warmth and peace on earth, goodwill to men that all come up this time of year. I’m not out there looking for stories or jokes about things that are crude or ugly or terrifying in the mistaken belief that those things are what’s “real.” In fact, I’m HUNGRY for mercy, wholesomeness and sincerity, and often find them in short supply in a world of cynicism, sarcasm, and venom.

The choir at the mega-church on the hill behind my house is working hard to prepare for their Christmas show, called “Love Has Come.” I can’t think of three syllables that sound like better news than that.

But you know, I tend not to know what to do with my darker feelings: self-pity, jealousy, resentment, pride, anger, blame, scorn, condemnation. What do you do when you see those things in your heart, when you recognize that you are your own worst enemy? The more I see how unfair and irrational my negative emotions are, the more upset I get about being upset, and then tend to take that out on other people.

So for me, I think part of growing up would be to mellow out, to face and re-wire my reactions to the thing that really push my buttons. I do have solid instincts, and I need to be able to trust them and listen to them without making them the last word – so I can’t just shut down or pull back. Is it really possible to be passionate and articulate without going around wreaking havoc and destruction? I believe it is, even if I don’t know how to do that consistently. Oooh, I know the answers are simple, and largely untried or unpracticed: prayer, surrender, humility, healing, being filled with the Spirit! I need to camp out in Colossians 3 a bit more.

Meanwhile, we have the psalms. They give me a vocabulary for pain and struggle. Boy did that David know how to sing the blues! No. 69 is one of his songs that puts our far smaller struggles into perspective, while giving us the words and go-ahead to complain and cry out to God when this is how we feel. Although I can’t quite do it without laughing, so maybe that’s a sign that that I’m not so bad off after all. (Really… “Woe is me! Those who hate me for no reason outnumber the hairs on my head!”)

How does this psalm strike you? Anything grab you?

1 Save me, O God,
for the waters have come up to my neck.

2 I sink in the miry depths,
where there is no foothold.
I have come into the deep waters;
the floods engulf me.

3 I am worn out calling for help;
my throat is parched.
My eyes fail,
looking for my God.

4 Those who hate me without reason
outnumber the hairs of my head;
many are my enemies without cause,
those who seek to destroy me.
I am forced to restore
what I did not steal.

5 You know my folly, O God;
my guilt is not hidden from you.

6 May those who hope in you
not be disgraced because of me,
O Lord, the LORD Almighty;
may those who seek you
not be put to shame because of me,
O God of Israel.

7 For I endure scorn for your sake,
and shame covers my face.

8 I am a stranger to my brothers,
an alien to my own mother's sons;

9 for zeal for your house consumes me,
and the insults of those who insult you fall on me.

10 When I weep and fast,
I must endure scorn;

11 when I put on sackcloth,
people make sport of me.

12 Those who sit at the gate mock me,
and I am the song of the drunkards.

13 But I pray to you, O LORD,
in the time of your favor;
in your great love, O God,
answer me with your sure salvation.

14 Rescue me from the mire,
do not let me sink;
deliver me from those who hate me,
from the deep waters.

15 Do not let the floodwaters engulf me
or the depths swallow me up
or the pit close its mouth over me.

16 Answer me, O LORD, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.

17 Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.

18 Come near and rescue me;
redeem me because of my foes.

19 You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.

20 Scorn has broken my heart
and has left me helpless;
I looked for sympathy, but there was none,
for comforters, but I found none.

21 They put gall in my food
and gave me vinegar for my thirst.

22 May the table set before them become a snare;
may it become retribution and [a] a trap.

23 May their eyes be darkened so they cannot see,
and their backs be bent forever.

24 Pour out your wrath on them;
let your fierce anger overtake them.

25 May their place be deserted;
let there be no one to dwell in their tents.

26 For they persecute those you wound
and talk about the pain of those you hurt.

27 Charge them with crime upon crime;
do not let them share in your salvation.

28 May they be blotted out of the book of life
and not be listed with the righteous.

29 I am in pain and distress;
may your salvation, O God, protect me.

30 I will praise God's name in song
and glorify him with thanksgiving.

31 This will please the LORD more than an ox,
more than a bull with its horns and hoofs.

32 The poor will see and be glad—
you who seek God, may your hearts live!

33 The LORD hears the needy
and does not despise his captive people.

34 Let heaven and earth praise him,
the seas and all that move in them,

35 for God will save Zion
and rebuild the cities of Judah.
Then people will settle there and possess it;

36 the children of his servants will inherit it,
and those who love his name will dwell there.