Thursday, December 31, 2009

Read in 2009 - Part 1, Nonfiction

Apparently I'm a bookaholic. Here's my list of books read in 2009. I starred a dozen that really stood out, though your list might be different; many of them were quite good. See what sounds appealing to you, get a library card, and enjoy! Use the search bar to read my comments about many of these if you're interested.

See also Read in 2009 - Part 2, Fiction and 2008 Book Blogging Roundup.

Nonfiction – History/Culture

Nonfiction – Theology/Christian Life

Nonfiction – Biographies

Nonfiction – Christian/Mission, Misc.

Nonfiction – Miscellaneous

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Are Other People Interesting?

Malcolm Gladwell introduces his book of essays, What the Dog Saw, with what he calls the "other minds" problem - the discovery children make, at an early age, that what's in somebody else's head is not the same as what's in theirs.
"Why is a two-year-old so terrible? Because she is systematically testing the fascinating, and, to her, utterly novel notion that something that gives her pleasure might not actually give someone else pleasure."
Even as adults, he says, we never lose that fascination. We are curious about the lives and interior worlds of other people. Gladwell says this curiosity about what life is like for others is one of the most fundamental of human impulses, and it's the one that shapes his book: he's following his curiosity and giving his readers an inside scoop.

Then he says something that seems to be a contradiction:
"The trick of finding ideas is to convince yourself that everyone and everything has a story to tell. I say trick but what I really mean is challenge, because it's a very hard thing to do. Our instinct as humans, after all, is to assume that most things are not interesting. We flip through the channels on the television and reject ten before we settle on one. We go to a bookstore and look at twenty novels before we pick the one we want. We filter and rank and judge. We have to. There's just so much out there. But if you want to be a writer, you have to fight that instinct every day. ___________ doesn't seem interesting? Well, dammit, it must be, and if it isn't, I have to believe that it will ultimately lead me to something that is."

Malcolm Gladwell, What the Dog Saw, pp. x, xiii.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Learning through Teaching

The other thing that appeals to me about the idea of the reverse internship is what the instructor – the younger person – could get out of it. Haven’t we all experienced how much you learn and grow when you are teaching others? Both asking someone to teach you from an area of their expertise and asking them to study up on and teach something they don’t already know have tremendous value.

Think about it:

Remember your fourth grade class, when everybody had to pick an animal to study, checking out encyclopedia articles, cutting out pictures, maybe building a model of a habitat? Or what about sixth grade, when everyone in your class did a report on one of the US states? Or the high school literature class where each student presented about a different author?

You can name the animal, the state, the author, and probably tell me quite a bit about them, can't you?

I bet you remember what you taught (however awkwardly) better than you remember things that were taught to you by a professional.

The stress and adrenaline of standing up in front of your peers and presenting what you’d learned may have helped seal in the experience; strong emotion has a way of doing that.

This suggests to me that if we all need to learn more, maybe we all need to teach more.

After 30 days, students remember:

10% of what they hear
15% of what they see
20% of what they hear and see
40% of what they discuss
80% of what they do
90% of what they teach to others

From a study by the University of Indiana, quoted in the Thom and Joanie Shultz book The Dirt on Learning, p. 155.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Sunny days in the NW - in December?!

My dad has a camera - OK, probably half a dozen cameras - much nicer than mine. (He's always been a gadget guy!) See some recent pictures here. These are from a walk several of us took on Fidalgo Island where much of my stepmom's family lives.

This Christmas the weather has been chilly, but unusually clear and lovely.

I go back to Denver on Wednesday.

Reverse Internships: “Hire a Whippersnapper to Teach You New Skills”

“Reverse Internships” read the headline in the in-flight magazine. “Jay Heinrichs recommends letting the students do the teaching in the office.” He opens with a tribute to his young-adult daughter and describes all he has learned from her, quickly reaching his thesis: Instead of hiring young people as interns at our offices, we older types should try interning with them. Kids simply do some things better. Why not invite them to guide us through the latest big thing, the latest tech trend, the world of social media?

In his profession, like many, getting a degree doesn’t prepare you for a job nearly as well as getting a degree and serving an internship. “Education only takes kids so far; after that, it’ a matter of learning by doing, of imitating one’s betters.”

Handy as it is to have a few interns around, the one who benefits the most from a good internship is the intern, right? “Which makes me want to be one,” he says.

Why shouldn’t each of us, regardless of age or status, look around for someone who knows something we’d like to learn and try to persuade them to set up a training time, or take us on as an ongoing student? Then, don’t just take go away with a few tips, but really treat it like an internship. Commit yourself to being guided by and learning from someone else. I like that idea.

Read more in Reverse Internships, Spirit Magazine, Southwest Airlines, December 2009

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Weaving a Relational Net: Strategies, Barriers

Some good friends of mine are exploring possibilities to be part of ministry efforts in a certain country. Another family I know plan to move to the same part of the world to lead a ministry to orphans in that region. I want to encourage them, I want to help, and I’ve tried to send resources and ideas their way. But I feel like I’ve hit a bit of a wall, and I’m trying to figure out why.

Neither family has been involved much in “missions” – this world I know so much about. Both families sparkle when I affirm what their interests and efforts. Their bright eyes begin to glaze over, though, as I talk about how they can learn more, connect with others, and tap into the tremendous relational networks that exist in the world of Christian ministry. Am I being too pushy? Answering questions they haven’t asked yet? Maybe, if I stop and think it through, I can figure out what it is that’s holding them back from wanting to know more.

On one level, it makes little sense. If you were launching out into the unknown, wouldn’t you jump at the chance to learn from those who had gone before and to meet those travelling the same trail?

On the other hand, anyone just getting started with something big and impossible can reach saturation very quickly. Any more “you should talk to [this person], you should read [that book], you should go to [a certain event]” may come across as critique and burden instead of encouragement and assistance. Perhaps it’s that word “should,” spoken or implied. A slight adjustment in my approach to making these suggestions might make a significant difference. I love being a resource-connector, but could use some polish on my people skills, I know!

I’ve felt myself on the other side of such conversations often enough, including recently as I’ve begun talking to various friends about the disbanding of our ministry and what the implications might be for me. “[Our organization] could really use someone like you,” said one good friend. “When’s the right time for [my ministry] to extend the gold-plated invitation?” asked another.

It’s great to know so many people care about me and value me. Really encouraging. Gives me hope. But sometimes overwhelming; a bit of a burden, really, at times. Something in me wants to run. It’s similar to my response to matchmaking efforts. I’m certainly not opposed to finding the love of my life – or a great job/team – but it seems best to receive each suggestion with caution. Cultivating a peaceful and content heart is the harder, better thing.

Various friends have encouraged me to really be deliberate in this season of ministry/career reassessment: to be open to all the options, to really do my research, not to just follow the path of least resistance or do what is expected of me. It’s good advice. I might be tempted to keep my blinders on, to make a quick or safe decision when a more thoughtful, intentional approach would be better – even if the end result is the same. It’s a chance to “reaffirm” my calling.

On the other hand, there is a time to gently shut the door to input and options and just rest and be still, listen to one’s heart. Other things can wait.

But back to my friends exploring compassion ministries. One of the families, when they came to me for advice, were asking questions I could not answer – they wanted to know more about the people and cultures of a specific region of a certain country, and I came up with nothing. So what I gave them was more of a strategy for finding what they would need, a way of thinking.

Learning, listening, networking, and collaboration are all really more about attitude and approach than anything else, aren’t they? I encouraged my friend to contact a wide variety of people involved in related work – others who have set up orphanages, others who have worked in various parts of that country and region (locals and expatriates); government, education, and religious leaders, etc. To approach everyone as if they have something to teach you, you know? I didn’t make a list of people she should talk to; I didn’t offer introductions. I just made a list of questions she should ask. Questions like these:

- What are some of the things you think we need to do or learn about to prepare for this kind of work?

- What kinds of things that have made you effective in this kind of work?

- What suggestions do you give people who are just getting started?

- What do you wish you had known when you began?

- What are some of the common mistakes you see people making?

- That’s really interesting. Can you tell us more about that?

- What do you think we should do first?

- Who else should we be talking to?

Isn’t it amazing how seldom we ask those kinds of questions, listen carefully to the answers, and really hold onto what we hear? I need to listen to my own advice!

Saturday, December 19, 2009

The Guy Who Played Guitar

I knew a guy who could play the guitar but refused to do so. He said it was because it was such an easy way to impress women. Don't get me wrong, Sam really liked women. But all the more reason, he said, not to be THAT guy, the one who picks up the guitar to impress women.

Sam was in his thirties before he found a girl who would marry him. I never asked him whether he ever played for her, or if he won her without plucking those heartstrings.

Reluctant as I am to admit it, I am one of THOSE women, the ones who might swoon over the worship leader, the campfire strummer, the man who takes you out on the lake in the rowboat on a summer evening and plays a song for you that he wrote himself... My friend Dave proposed to his wife that way; it can happen. But for most of us it's pure fantasy.

My clear-thinking friends will say, why does it have to be the guy? Why can't you learn how to play the guitar for yourself?

Sadly, I seem to lack the knack. I earned an "A" in a college guitar class for learning all the thory and 30+ chords, but I couldn't get fingering, strumming, and singing at the same time - or even two out of three. Finally, a few years ago, I gave my guitar away to a houseguest who showed more promise.

Do you think I should ask the roommate if I can give her autoharp a try? Yes, she has an one! I'd need to get it some new strings but could probably learn to play the thing without too much trouble. And it's much less, ah, penetrating, than my current collection of musical instruments - a small collection of wooden and plastic recorders and the nice silver trumpet I play from time to time.

* * *

Singing is really what I like best. Used to be that group singing was practically a daily experience for me. I was part of a young adult ministry that went in for long worship sets every Tuesday night... Thursdays was choir. We had singing in church on Sundays, and most mornings at the office as well. I finally outgrew the Y.A. ministry, choir has been on and off, and we've had less and less music at the office as the years have gone by. As our office team disperses, over the next few months, gone are my hopes of seeing a revival of music for mornings prayers.

So where am I going to find people to sing with? Our church choir is just starting to pick up steam and we're not very good, even though Cecile and Angela and I joked about going on the road as "The Three Altos." And I'm not really talented/skilled enough for a community choir or orchestra.

Well, technology is a wonderful thing. I may not be able to go to morning prayer any more, or find that guy who plays guitar, but musical companionship can be had for the asking. Guys like Rich Mullins are alive and well on my MP3 player, on my computer, in my car. In a few minutes I'm on my way to the rec center to work out, and James Taylor is coming with me.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Experiment with Grand Silence

"Life is changing at a relentlessly fast pace. And while many pundits rue the day when everyone read more and watched television less, they fail to understand that through email blasts and other social media sites luminaries such as Guy Kawasaki and Seth Godin are streaming nearly non-stop content focused, in large part, on keeping their RSS feed audiences up-to-date with the nuances of the changing face of technology and the world in general.

"Between hundreds of emails each day and the constant stream, and mosquito-like annoyance, of instant messages demanding their attention, people are actually reading more now than ever. But rather than reading for pleasure, reading has become a manic attempt to stay current with changing elements of their profession and the world in general."

Snowfall Press, in an appendix of While You Were Micro-Sleeping
So much information coming in a constant stream. It's exhilarating, but also taps into the compulsive side of my personality. I find it hard to unplug.

"The world is changing so rapidly, leaders who stop learning for even the shortest period of time dance with underachievement and irrelevance," says Steve Moore in his introduction to While You Were Micro-Sleeping.

It is a bit overwhelming, isn't? And here I am, thinking I can pull out of the missions world for six months. That's no micro-sleep! When I awake, and (presumably) try to step back into the comfortable role of being an information broker, am I going to feel like Rip Van Winkle?

It's a chance I'm willing to take. There's a time for everything.

In hopes of breaking the addiction, I've been experimenting with a pattern inspired by the monastic practice of Grand Silence. Monks and nuns commit themselves to cease all conversation with others at a certain point in the evening, not to resume until after morning prayers. They do it every night. The point, I believe, is to clear one's mind to focus on God, hearing from him perhaps, and to be at peace. To offer others that peace as well. Unless there is an emergency, they do not speak.

I don't live with a dozen or more women, as a nun might - just one. And she's often in her room and/or asleep when I'm at home. Yet I don't feel as if my evenings or mornings at home are silent, because technology has introduced so many other ways of communicating.

I never text and spend little time on the phone, but I have my radio on most mornings and evenings, and usually tuned to NPR. Laptop is on too, and it's a portal to all kinds of information and communication, thanks to all the great tools we have: I hear from hundreds of people through email, Facebook, Twitter, and an aggregate of blogs, newsletters, keyword subscriptions and the like. What a day we live in. The information flow is constant. But, inheriting the weaknesses or habits of a long line of alcoholics and addicts, I respond compulsively.

But I have to tell you, Grand Silence is working for me. By day, I'm an information broker. But more evenings than not I've been able to staunch the information flow and silence the voices, to live in a more peaceful world. No internet, no radio. We already canceled the newspaper except on weekends, and TV holds little temptation. So it's just me, and maybe a book; music is OK, but it's best if it doesn't have any words.

I feel better already. It's good to get out of that relentless stream of information. I can sense God's presence more without all the noise.

As the song says: Let every heart prepare him room.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Behind the Scenes: Pursuing Sabbatical

It's been such an ambiguous process, this pursuit of a sabbatical. Ever since my last one - which took all of 2002 and spilled over a bit on both sides - I have planned to spend a good bit of 2010 on sabbatical once again. Every seven years or so; seems like a good plan.

But it's hard to find other people who get what I'm talking about when I say I want to go on sabbatical, or who could give me tips on how to carry it out. It seems like the burden is entirely on me to define the terms, set and defend the boundaries and expectations, and champion the whole cause. I hadn't anticipated it would be this much work or so emotionally challenging for me. I feel too tired to fight through this. I wish someone else could make the arrangements or decisions for me. I am full of doubts and questions, in light of which any doubts or questions from others seem much bigger than they really are. (Which is hardly fair to them, is it?)

It was just as hard last time. In some ways, it was harder. After all, I was going overseas for an indefinite period of time to a country right next to Taliban heartland. (In fact, as I learned to speak the language I sometimes described myself as a "talib," a student. There are only so many vocabulary words to go around!) I only lost one financial supporter - she didn't think it was OK for Americans to be going to places like that anymore. Others gave more. But I'm sure a lot of my friends were concerned. It was hard to find anyone who was encouraging and excited for me to be heading out to live among Muslims, right after 9/11. Before long it was clear that the experience was going to be one of the most difficult ones I'd ever had, and some of the people who watched me go through it still talk about it as if it was a horrible thing I went through. But it wasn't - it was a huge time of growth, one I've never regretted. I like the me who came back so much better than the one who went.

I wonder what challenges - and what growth - this sabbatical will bring?

But I am, at least, closer to having it all set up.

I got some very helpful materials from J&T, friends who live in England and are getting ready to step into sabbatical too. And long-time friends D&J are currently on home assignment from Southeast Asia and, since October, on sabbatical. I got together this weekend with D&J to talk more about it. When they heard where things stood with me - just one more week at work, with my sabbatical planning process still fuzzy, and a commitment that looks like it will to continue to require attention until mid-February, they encouraged me to adjust my plans.

They are suggesting I push the sabbatical back until I can enter it whole-heartedly, better prepared, and having completed or handed off everything work-related that I can. There's a sabbatical orientation workshop the first week of February that could prove really helpful. The short-term team I'm training flies to India at the end of the second week of February (enshallah). Can't I start the sabbatical after that?

At first I was dismayed at the thought of coming back to work after Christmas, but the more I think about it the more I think it's the right thing to do.

Here's a bit more about the basic sabbatical model I intend to follow, as articulated by a ministry you may know called The Navigators. Excerpts adapted from their 60-page manual.


When we use the word “sabbatical,” we are not talking about a vacation but a guided process where we deliberately trust God for the unfinished as we disengage from normal ministry and leadership involvement for a period of time to wallow for serious evaluation of life and ministry. The thought is captured by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
What Will You Do During Your Sabbatical?

Phase 1: Release and relinquish – exit from leadership and ministry responsibilities

During this phase, before the sabbatical begins, the staff member disengages from ministry and leadership responsibilities and establishes a sabbatical plan – an initial framework reflecting priority needs. Ministry responsibilities are delegated and others are recruited to help with the sabbatical (e.g., an adviser and a support team).

Phase 2: Rest and recovery – establish margin and manage pace of life

This does not mean ceasing from all activity, but ceasing from regular ministry activities and, where possible, other stress factors. It is recommended that staff members make a full break from ministry activities in order to keep the sabbatical a priority focus. (Though some communication and administrative responsibilities typically continue.)

Phase 3: Reflect and refocus – experience God and self in new/deeper ways

This is the work phase of the sabbatical. Extended time alone with God for reflection is the focus of this phase. During this phase the staff member should be asking the question, "Lord, is there anything you want to say to me?"

Phase 4: Realignment and/or reassignment – empowering for maximum contribution

This is the application phase of the sabbatical. During this phase one ask, "what changes in life and ministry should I make as result of what I’ve heard from God?" This implies a review and reaffirmation of calling in order to experience maximum contribution in the next season of life – whether returning to the current ministry role or changing ministry role.

(Note: I understand The Navigators suggest putting everything on the table – not promising or assuming a return to the same ministry assignment following sabbatical. Which is good since it's now clear that our ministry will have disintegrated – not ceased to exist exactly, but broken apart into several new, probably more functional entities and having shed the team identity and office - while I'm gone. So, while don't think I'll have any lack of job opportunities, I will need to make some choices before my return.)

Phase 5: Re-entry / re-engagement

In this phase the staff member transitions back into ministry [hopefully refreshed physically and with a reaffirmed sense of calling, purpose, and perspective!] It is suggested that staff members coming off of sabbatical work half-time for the first month and avoid major ministry responsibilities for the first four months.

Sabbatical - defining terms

Note: This was previously part of a longer post. I'm reposting it so I can link to it directly. MKS

February 15 I will begin a six-month sabbatical. What does that mean? Nothing so exciting as the last time I took one (2001-2), but I expect it to be just as fruitful and in some of the same ways. Here's the basic model, per The Navigators. Excerpts adapted from their 60-page manual on the topic:

Sabbatical: A Season of Refreshment


When we use the word “sabbatical,” we are not talking about a vacation but a guided process where we deliberately trust God for the unfinished as we disengage from normal ministry and leadership involvement for a period of time to allow for serious evaluation of life and ministry. The thought is captured by Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Matthew 11:28-30 in The Message:
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly.
What Will You Do During Your Sabbatical?

Phase 1: Release and relinquish – exit from leadership and ministry responsibilities

During this phase, before the sabbatical begins, the staff member disengages from ministry and leadership responsibilities and establishes a sabbatical plan – an initial framework reflecting priority needs. Ministry responsibilities are delegated and others are recruited to help with the sabbatical (e.g., an adviser and a support team).

Phase 2: Rest and recovery – establish margin and manage pace of life

This does not mean ceasing from all activity, but ceasing from regular ministry activities and, where possible, other stress factors. It is recommended that staff members make a full break from ministry activities in order to keep the sabbatical a priority focus. (Though some communication and administrative responsibilities typically continue.)

Phase 3: Reflect and refocus – experience God and self in new/deeper ways

This is the work phase of the sabbatical. Extended time alone with God for reflection is the focus of this phase. During this phase the staff member should be asking the question, "Lord, is there anything you want to say to me?"

Phase 4: Realignment and/or reassignment – empowering for maximum contribution

This is the application phase of the sabbatical. During this phase one ask, "what changes in life and ministry should I make as result of what I’ve heard from God?" This implies a review and reaffirmation of calling in order to experience maximum contribution in the next season of life – whether returning to the current ministry role or changing ministry role.

(Note: I understand The Navigators suggest putting everything on the table – not promising or assuming a return to the same ministry assignment following sabbatical. Which is good since it's now clear that our ministry will have disintegrated – not ceased to exist exactly, but broken apart into several new, probably more functional entities and having shed the team identity and office - while I'm gone. So, while don't think I'll have any lack of job opportunities, I will need to make some choices before my return.)

Phase 5: Re-entry / re-engagement

In this phase the staff member transitions back into ministry [hopefully refreshed physically and with a reaffirmed sense of calling, purpose, and perspective!] It is suggested that staff members coming off of sabbatical work half-time for the first month and avoid major ministry responsibilities for the first four months.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Steve Moore, on Motivation to Change

In his December edition of his vlog (video log) Learning at the Speed of Life Steve Moore of The Mission Exchange focuses on motivation, claiming that
“Life appears easier than it really is when you have it
and harder than it really is when you don’t.”
Nobody would controvert that, would they?
But I wonder why we don’t pay more attention to it, why we don’t capitalize on the opportunities to cultivate and protect motivation and quickly respond to low morale, internal and external obstacles, etc.
Steve also points out that
“Information by itself almost never translates into motivation. Knowledge by itself rarely provides the motivation required for lasting personal change.”
and that
“Everyone prefers the results of positive change over the status quo, but we tend to prefer the status quo over the effort that will be required to produce the positive change.”
He quotes a 2005 article titled Change or Die which asks the question, “What if you were given that choice?”
“For real. We’re talking actual life or death now. Your own life or death. … What if a well-informed, trusted authority figure said you had to make difficult and enduring changes in the way you think and act? ... Could you change when change really mattered?
“You wouldn't change.
“Don't believe it? You want odds? Here are the odds, the scientifically studied odds: nine to one. That's nine to one against you.”
The article goes on to tell the story of a doctor who was able to overcome those odds, in working with coronary bypass survivors. Previous studies had consistently shown that the vast majority did not make the lasting life changes it would take to stay alive. But by adding to his treatment a commitment to helping his patients locate an internal source of motivation – not just information, and not just fear – he kept them alive.
The joy of living, as they discovered, is a more positive motivational force than the fear of dying.
Watch Steve's vlog here. The good stuff starts about five minutes in (after he's done talking about new books and resources on various topics).

Monday, December 07, 2009

Changes in the Blogosphere?

No, I'm not announcing the move of Telling Secrets from Blogger to WordPress - although I ought to do it soon if I want to take advantage of the falling snow option only offered through the holidays. :-)

Just noticing that while more and more organizations and entrepreneurs seem to be blogging these days, I see fewer and fewer plain folks just journaling in public and sharing the half-baked thoughts from their mental kitchens. Is blogging more professional than it used to be? Are the standards rising? Can I keep up? Do I want to?

Do you like the change, or regret it?
  1. Positive: More of the published content is polished and well-written.
  2. Positive: Blogs are better organized and often more visually pleasing.
  3. Negative: Few of the people who used to blog as a hobby or way of staying in touch with family and friends have continued to do so. I miss them!
What would you add to the list?

Friday, December 04, 2009

And wild and sweet the words repeat...

Love this song, based on a poem written by Longfellow for a nation at war.

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old familiar carols play.
And wild and sweet the words repeat
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

I thought how as the day had come
The belfries of all Christendom
Had rolled along the unbroken song
Of peace on earth, good will to men.

And in despair, I bowed my head:
'There is no peace on earth,' I said,
'For hate is strong and mocks the song,
Of peace on earth, good will to men.'

Then pealed the bells more loud and deep;
'God is not dead, nor doth He sleep;
The wrong shall fail, the right prevail,
With peace on earth, good will to men'.

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Frantic Advent: To Dodge It, or Dive in?

Today is work-at-home Wednesday. Snow is falling gently outside and I'm in my jammies with my laptop and a cup of coffee, trying to get some perspective on the day and month to come.

This month, December, is not like the others. How much will we join in the "fun"?

1. Deck the Halls

Five houses in a row, elaborately decked in lights, now grace my cul-de-sac. We are house #6.

I am intimidated - I don't like being the one to break the chain. Hmmm... a couple strings of white lights across the picket fence in front, some colored ones for the tree in back - we could do it. We just haven't, not yet.

But the temps started going down after Thanksgiving and now there's snow. It gets harder to think of crawling around putting up lights in our yard - always assuming I make it through the process of untangling and checking all those strands of lights.

And of course I need to save some for the "tree" - still in its box. (Though now extricated from our crawl space.)

Am I so behind, having not done this?

2. Stuff The Stockings

Shopping isn't stressing me out this year. No, I didn't do it all in July, but I have a relative small shopping list, got requests from most of the key people, and took care of much of it these last few days (debit card and mouse in hand). My family purchases will be waiting for me at Mom's house when I arrive there in a few weeks.

Still, if I want to keep my sanity, I'll need to avoid getting sucked into the catalogs, magazines, newspapers, advertising supplements, etc. that would invite me to buy or long for more stuff.

What about you? Got this one under control? Or struggling with it?

3. Send Those Cards

Most of my co-workers are are somewhere in the process of getting out end-of-the-year newsletters, writing Christmas cards, getting family photos printed, sending gifts to their supporters, etc. It's starting to feel "late" to be just thinking about such things now.

Christmas cards? I used to always make my own; cheaper than buying, for a list of 200 or so. Last year I did "" Efficient, but not quite as cosy, and more expensive. This year I'm thinking about going the glittery, store-bought route and cutting the list to 50 or 60; not trying to reach everyone.

But I =could= still get some photos taken and do the whole Christmas-photo-for-your fridge route. For 50? Or for 200? "You'll get a lot more end-of-the-year donations if you do," said a world-wise colleague yesterday. (See below.) I don't like to think of it that way!

I haven't decided. Hmmm...

4. Inviting People to Give

For people in my line of work, working for a ministry/non-profit, it's not all just holiday cheer. "Everybody knows" that now is the time to invite people to send those extra, end-of-year checks that help us make up deficits and or get a good start on the new year. And for that, you need a newsletter. In addition to or instead of a Christmas card.

Well... I sent a financial update in October, a good, meaty newsletter at the beginning of November, and blew a cool $500 on the supporter gifts. Ordered fresh pine wreaths from a kid I know who was selling them. They are supposed to be delivered to their various destinations in about a week.

Asking for more support, though? It's hard for me, lately. I've never fallen short at year's end, and it's been almost 15 years. A few extra gifts came in October and November, but my account is still in the negative after months of high expenses. This is probably going to be the year I fall short - at least it will be if I don't take some additional action.

Here's where I'm stuck. It seems like =everybody= is asking for money these days, and most of them need it more than I do. It somehow doesn't seem sporting to add my little request to the cacophany.

I told my coworkers that I need to raise more support and that this issue was what was getting in the way. I asked them if there was another way to look at it. They gave me some helpful ideas.

So, today is the day I will dig out my notes from that meeting and reflect on what they said - see if I can get unstuck. Because right now the problem is me.

5. Wise Men Still Seek...

That brings me back to advent. Didn't the prophets say something about God sending somebody who could say,

"The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Yeah. That's the perspective I need.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Books Read in November: Part 2, Nonfiction

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town, by Warren St. John

I loved this book! It’s the story of a small Southern town in Georgia that (reluctantly) becomes home to thousands of resettled refugees. It's also about the tomboy from Jordan who organizes the youth into a soccer team (“The Fugees”). This book provides a great balance of good sports writing and a solid sociological exploration of what was going on in the town. It also tells the stories of the boys who played with The Fugees, how they came to America, and what life was like for them and their families when they arrived. Highly recommended. (Although, I'd say it's destined to be made into a movie. So if you’re feeling lazy, you could wait and see it on the screen.)

In the Valley of Mist - Kashmir: One Family in a Changing World, by Justine Hardy

Hardy’s book explores, primarily through the eyes of one Kashmiri family, how the beautiful region around Srinagar, India became radicalized and divided and the toll this has taken on the people who live there. It was not an easy read, and would have been harder without some background in the local history and current regional issues. Still, it was evocative and interesting and I’d recommend it for anyone interested in this part of South Asia and seeing it through the eyes of local people. One thing that was hard to figure out: Who is Justine? What makes her tick? I know she's a journalist, but she writes more as a friend-of-the-family. Why did she spend so much time in Kashmir?

Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman, by Robert Petersen and Alexander Strauch

Robert Chapman was a 19th century pastor among those who would come to be called the Plymouth Brethren, and his life was marked both by holiness and a gracious attitude towards others. This little book misses hagiography by a fairly narrow margin but provides inspiring examples of a life devoted to service, hospitality, love, and nurturing others. Chapman was a true shepherd. I wrote about one section of this book here.

Ask A Missionary: Time-Tested Answers by Those Who Have Been There, ed. John McVay

John and I have become friend-ish in recent months, and he sent me a pre-release copy so I could endorse it. I think the book will be available in early 2010. Here’s what I wrote:
“John McVay and the Christian workers behind Ask A Missionary do the Kingdom a great service: they share their hard-won wisdom with future missionaries, answering their questions as well as the questions they might not think to ask and providing multiple points of view.”

Ask A Missionary is a great resource for mission mobilizers, pastors, Christian leaders, and anyone coaching people interested in missions through the confusing process of getting from ‘here’ to ‘there.’”

Monday, November 30, 2009

Books Read in November: Part 1, Novels

I'm getting a little tired of telling you about (almost) every book I read. But I'll stick with this process until year's end so as to have a complete record. This month, I admit, some of it was pretty juvenile...

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis

As my little book club was making plans for our next meeting, we realized there was no way we could plan it when SC could be there. She was going to be traveling for six or seven weeks. Since one of those weeks was to be her annual pilgrimage to a C.S. Lewis conference, we decided to join her virtually by discussing Prince Caspian and The Voyage of the Dawn Treader. (Someday, I'll go to one of these conferences myself. This year I was tempted but just didn't think I could afford it.)

By the way, Caspian is not much like the movie. Here’s a line that jumped off the page this time:

“Lucy woke out of the deepest sleep you can imagine, with the feeling that the voice she liked best in the world had been calling her name.”

A Series of Unfortunate Events: The Reptile Room, by Lemony Snicket

I thought the first Lemony Snicket book was quite funny, and gave my paperback copy to a friend who was missing hers in exchange for the chance to borrow this one, #2. (I still have it, two months later, so maybe I’m part of the problem in her lending library now!) This was more of the same – an amusing way to spend an hour, but I don’t know if I’ll ask for #3.

Emily Climbs, by L.M. Montgomery

You may know her only as the author of Anne of Green Gables, but I find several of Montgomery’s characters much more appealing than Anne. Emily may be the best of the lot. Picked up this one for a re-read at just the right time, struggling with some personal issues not unlike those of 14-year-old, aspiring writer Emily Byrd Starr: Who defines who I am and what I’m worth? How do others see me, and how am I going to respond to that? Ah yes. Do you ever feel like you’re still 14?

Mischievous Maid Faynie, by Laura Jean Libbey

“Don’t try to imitate Kipling,” advised Mr Carpenter, Emily’s teacher, in the 1925 novel mentioned above. “If you must imitate, imitate Laura Jean Libbey.” A quick peek at Wikipedia suggested that Mr. Carpenter must be joking. Still, I downloaded this 1899 “dime novel” free from Gutenberg to amuse me of an evening. It is a scream! Our heroine – a beautiful but sensitive heiress – is kidnapped under very nefarious circumstances, forced to marry at gunpoint, collapses into a dead faint, is buried alive - and then dug up again (not much the worse for it). And that’s just the beginning!

Also read...

A few more typical novels written for grown-up persons like you and me. I found all of them worth reading but none that you need to add to your "must-read" list:

Note: image swiped from an educational website, via a Google Images search.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Seeing God's Voice?

Another thing that stood out for me from this study on "hearing God's voice" (mentioned in Saturday's post) is the author's claim that more often than not, we don't hear God's voice, we see it.


Since the study was actually written by my pastor, I considered the source... B. is a pretty visual guy. One for whom a picture is certainly worth a thousand words. He loves finding the right image, the word picture, the story that encapsulates his point. He loves fine arts and is a big movie buff. He's also a master of PowerPoint.

Yet as I read through the study I realized this was more than just a personality thing - that B. is probably right. Hearing from God takes not just the form of verbal, auditory transmission - words - but can come any number of other ways as well. The Scriptures DO talk about God speaking. (e.g., "This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased." Matthew 3:17, 17:5, 2 Peter 1:17.) But he also speaks through image after image, drama, music - each one of our senses, in fact - and all kinds of dreams and visions.

God speaks to us more often than not by stirring up a feeling and/or drawing or showing us a picture.

And so it is today. You may ask God a question, but more likely than not his answer comes through a vision, a picture, an emotion, or the persistent thought of a person, phrase, or concept that seems to be from God.
"In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams." Acts 2:17

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In the Year King Uzziah Died...

I know spring is supposed to be the time of new beginnings, and the evidence is rather unmistakable - with all the green and new growth, flowers and sunlight, baby animals and whatnot. And for many, a new year begins January 1.

But like most of my readers I've lived a life shaped more by the academic calendar than the agricultural or fiscal one. So my new year really begins in late August or early September.

This last week I realized that this is a big part of why autumn is my favorite season.

Huh. What does that mean?

Oh, I like autumn leaves and crisp air and football and school supplies. But especially I like starting a new un-messed-up season. Each new "school year" comes rich with opportunity, possibility - and unmarked by failure, poor decisions, falling behind, shame, guilt, and the like.

Do you find yourself thinking this way? It sort of works for me, but I think there's a better way to respond to the challenges of life.

The problem is that I seem to be powerless to live up to my own standards. I need someone else to show me what's best, to rescue me from myself, to make things right, to heal and strengthen and sustain and lead. To provide the courage and creative energy for responding constructively to the messy parts of life.

Look at this amazing story from the book of Isaiah, this prophet transformed - in a moment! - from a "ruined man" into an ambassador:
1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. 2 Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. 3 And they were calling to one another:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory."
4 At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.
5 "Woe to me!" I cried. "I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty."
6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. 7 With it he touched my mouth and said, "See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for."
8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, "Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?"
And I said, "Here am I. Send me!"
Isaiah 6:1-8
Seems too easy, doesn't it? That must have been some coal. Or some seraph. Or some powerful King!

My new friend Wendy and I - along with about 70 pairs of people in our church - are going through a study on "hearing God's voice."

This last week the lesson asked us to jot down a few of the major concerns or issues on our minds at the moment. (My fears of messing things up and being rejected for it came rushing forward to volunteer!)

Then we were asked to picture Jesus standing in front of us, gently taking each one of those issues from us, putting them in a sack and tossing the sack over his shoulder. "Let me take care of these for you. Now, come for a walk with me. I would love to talk with you..."

After that we spent time meditating on the passage from Isaiah.

It was just what I needed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Community in Installments / An Invisible Net

I wrote a while back about the subtle disappointment I feel not to have a best friend or soul mate – and a disappointment in the patterns, circumstances, and choices of my life that mean I do not generally play those roles in anyone else’s life either. I may never be a wife or mom – who knows? But I like to think it would be good to be an aunt, a godmother, a mentor, a more important person in the lives of other than I typically am.

Now I think I’m starting to let go of that disappointment and accept that it’s OK to find community in installments. It may not be ideal. But the roles we play in each other’s lives can be satisfying without the level of commitment and permanence I may have been assuming was necessary. And community can still be sustaining and life-giving when it’s more relay race than marathon.

I was talking about this with my small group at church a while back. More or less the same group of us have been getting together twice a month for several years now. One of the couples has struggled, as I do, with the ways the group and the church as a whole fall short of intimacy. We’ve all experienced enough magic moments of closeness somewhere else, at some other time or with some other group, to know it’s possible. We’ve seen people lay down their lives for us; we’ve known people who have immeasurably enriched our lives.

But close friends move away, and life-long deep friendships are relatively rare, aren’t they?

Maybe we should not place those kinds of expectations on one another or ourselves. Instead, we can rejoice in the magic moments and let ourselves and others off the hook. Let’s try to act on the inner promptings that would move us to love and serve one another, but recognize that human beings are by nature flaky, not so faithful. We should recognize that each of us is part of an invisible net for others, and each of us has an invisible net as well. We want to do the right thing; sometimes we do, sometimes we don’t. It’s OK. Most of the time =someone= will be there to offer the hug or encouraging word, send the card, help with the practical need.

Community in installments can work. And relationships are more about sticktoitiveness than magic.

A friend of mine just experienced a huge betrayal by someone very close to her. I feel like a second-string friend to her and am pretty sure I cannot do much to fill the gap that has been left. Yet I can do something. I can stick with her.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beautiful Word: Together

I’m no longer living in that college world, surrounded by people who are all my own age and share my interests, and ready to pick up and do anything on a moment’s notice. I do miss it. Even when I was a young adult I was usually on the edges of some sort of crowd or clique, and now there isn’t anything like that for me.

Now the majority of the people around me live lives rooted in family relationships. Especially at church, everything seems oriented around the family. That's a good thing; can’t complain. But sometimes it’s hard to know how to take it, how to respond.

Among the huge advantages of being a single woman who likes and enjoys people are that I can make a way into those networks with relative ease, if I try. Oh, I won’t crash the marriage and parenting class, or join the men’s ministry, but I can make my way into a lot of places and find a welcome there.

In some ways it’s harder than when I was younger, though. I think people in different “demographics” are surprised that I want to be with them. The moms, so focused on relating to other moms and kids, don’t expect me to be interested in their world. But they let me in. And groups of men who aren’t used to having many female friends are often disarmed when they discover that I can speak their language too. I find common ground easily enough with people within a decade or two of my age. And those cross-cultural tricks I’ve learned over the years apply just as well close to home as they do for crossing greater divides. So, my social graces, while still rough around the edges, are more refined than they were. I’m a reasonably good friend-maker.

This next year promises some changes that will force me to be more deliberate about cultivating and maintaining relationships.

I’ll probably write more about that as things unfold.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Memorable Thanksgiving

My most memorable Thanksgiving ever was exactly 20 years ago, in 1989, when I was a student at the University of Oregon.

My mother had gotten remarried a few weeks before, so I’d just made the trip home and spent time with all the family. Rather than make the five-hour journey again I decided to stay on campus that year.

Like many out-of-state students, I didn’t know people in the city where I studied - not unless they were connected with the university. A friend who was not leaving town until Friday wrangled a Thanksgiving dinner invitation for the two of us, but after that I was on my own.

All campus services, including the cafeteria, were basically closed down for the four days. So I went to the student union building and tried to take some cash out of the ATM to buy groceries and maybe start my Christmas shopping.

Unfortunately there was a bit of a problem with the ATM machine; it “ate” my card. The way banking worked in those days, the only local businesses that would accept my out-of-state checks were the ones related to the school, and I don’t think I had a credit card at the time.

So for the next three days I’d have to find a way to feed and entertain myself alone and with the $5 in my wallet.

There’s a poetry in limitations. I don’t know when I’ve enjoyed a long weekend more.

I went for walks along the river, explored the woods, and sat for hours by the window of my third-floor dorm room looking out at the rain and trees and thinking slow thoughts. I savored the Anne Tyler novel I’d picked up for the occasion – reading a novel instead of a college text being quite the luxury. I spent my $5 on a jar of peanut butter, a loaf of bread, a block of cheese, and apples - filling in the gaps with ramen noodles and tea.

When friends trickled their way back to campus throughout the afternoon on Sunday I was glad to see them. But I had enjoyed my time alone.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two-Day Work Week, Five-Day Weekend

As the Thanksgiving holiday approaches I have a five-day holiday, a gift from our ministry’s board of directors. They can’t give holiday bonuses. I’ve never actually had a job that did. But they do sometimes reward us with time off.

It’s not the reward I would choose, really; I never manage to use all the vacation time we get, already. But I’m game to see what I can make of it. And as my regular readers know, Thanksgiving – and especially the long break – can be a difficult time for me. It’s hard not to fall into the traps of loneliness and self-pity. I’m looking for strategies that might go a long way toward disarming both of those traps more permanently. But more about that later.

This year I was tickled when my friend L. said, a month or so ago, “Guess who’s coming to Thanksgiving? My parents! … Wait, you are coming too, aren’t you?” How nice to be not just included as a charity case but really and personally wanted and expected to be there. They would have let me off the hook if I wanted to go elsewhere, of course, but I’ve really enjoyed spending such holidays with L.’s family and friends. I think this will be my third Thanksgiving with them.

So, with cooking, and a little Macy's parade thrown in, that's my Thursday.

Now what to do with Wednesday, Friday, Saturday, Sunday? It’s hard to know what I’ll want to do with my break until I’ve had the time to unwind and consider – something I also long for. With this weekend pretty full I may not begin the week as refreshed as I will be after the break has begun.

But I would not be at all surprising to wake up Friday dreading the big open space.

Five days of uncharted water is usually too much for me to relish.

I’m afraid I’ll feel more lost and depressed than free and blessed. But this is not inevitable.

How much we all want to be simultaneously included and independent: both safe and free. I picture a child flying high on a swing-set, insisting to the adult at hand to keep pushing her higher. What a wonderful joyous feeling it is to soar like that. But – especially if you are little – it is either impossible to do alone, or a lot less fun.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All in a Day's Work

Left to my own devices I'm rather compulsive, and something of an information junkie - I'm curious about a lot of things. And when I find out something new it's fun for me to tell other people.

Doesn't take much experience or imagination to see how those characteristics, taken together, could really go awry - and sometime they do.

But I like to think they are mostly harnessed for good.

And in recent years, those information-gathering skills have been put to use in my job. It's been suggested that more than anything else we're a knowledge company.

Yesterday I was all over the internet, reading. A lot of it was because I was working on our reader's-digest of mission news, Missions Catalyst. Our news editor, P., is the one who really puts in the hours slogging through the news sources and picking stories. But she's got a lot of other things to juggle, too, so sometime I end up doing additional reading and research to fill in gaps. That was the case this week.

* * *

1. Who Picks the Projects?

In the November edition of The Power of Connecting, a monthly newsletter on ministry collaboration, I read about a house church network in the US coming alongside Christians in Ghana to see help them multiply house churches there. Good stuff, but the rest of the story is even more fascinating:
ORANGE COUNTY, Calif., Oct. 20 /Christian Newswire/ -- Recently Ghana was chosen as the winner of an online contest for an initiative proposed to help the country's subsistent farmers.

...Africa Rural Connect (ARC) hosted the contest and is a global online collaborative effort through the National Peace Corps that asks people from every background for their best idea on the challenges facing rural Africa. Their intention is to create and enhance project plans that could have a real-life impact in Sub-Saharan Africa, according to their website. In August, ARC started giving away up to $3,000 every month to each of the top three ideas as voted on by the online community. This will culminate in a chance to win the $20,000 grand prize to be announced in December. [Read full story]
How cool is that? Not someone with a bunch of money coming into a complex situation and saying, here's what we want to do to help you, but a true collaborative approach to figuring out and pursuing the best ideas. Read more about Africa Rural Connect.

2. What Not to Bring

The same day another ministry contact posted Does China Still Needs Us? The article concludes with a good list of things to put on your "Don't Pack This" list when you go overseas.

Leave behind your desire for fame, your big piles of cash, your Western books translated into their language, and "your own sincere but pre-determined agenda and time-frame, especially if funding-driven." Amen. (Many of us have such trouble packing so light!)

Perhaps, as I heard suggested not long ago, the only people who really feel a freedom to say "no" to other people's ideas are white Western men. So when the offer others the chance to give input, or ask for feedback, it's not effective; few will speak freely in front of the incumbent, the power-broker, the boss.

If we find ourselves in such a category, or partially so (e.g., we are white and Western) we would do well to make extra efforts to create the environment where others truly have a voice.

3. Radical Living

Also enjoyed reading another paradigm-breaking article excerpted and recommended by Fiona in Paraguay under the headline, Love in Action. (Link to the original source below.) I like the bit where the man being quoted - who is basically setting up a rural commune - says a lot of our charity is like carbon offsetting; our societies need so much more.

Here's my favorite bit:
The nuclear family has created an epidemic of depression and stress because there’s simply not enough time for two adults to do all the work to earn the money to pay for the nanny to do shopping to feed the children and so on. The modern, narrow definition of the word has turned the family – once a castle of inclusivity – into an excuse for exclusivity. Nowadays the phrase “I’ve got to think about my family” invariably means “screw you.” I’ve come to believe in another F word, which seems closer to the older, almost Mediterranean, sense of family: fellowship. [Read full story.]
4. Identity

Finally, as I make inch-by-inch progress toward actually being ready to start a sabbatical on January 1 (OK, it's not approved yet, but getting closer) I was encouraged by just a few words from a stranger's blog, a link to which was tweeted by a friend of a friend... funny world we live in, isn't it?
We have to be full-time Christ followers, not full-time workers.
I am hopeful that taking a break from being "a full-time Christian worker" for a good chunk of 2010 is just what I need to come back more healthy and whole.

* * *

[Thanks to Dave for the Ghana article, and to Jon who wrote it; to Justin for the China article, and G., who wrote it, to Fiona for the England article, and the Guardian who published it; to Tony, for tweeting about his training event, and his intern who blogged about it. You've all given me nourishing food for thought! A decade ago my reading life was much simpler but it's richer for this kind of input.]

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Jerusalem

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true."

He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son."

Revelation 21: 1-7

Friday, November 13, 2009

Comments Settings

I'd love to hear what you have to say about the post below or any other - but I'm changing my comment settings to disallow "anonymous" comments. Sorry - I've been getting lots of spam all of a sudden.

Other options are to just keep deleting spam as it comes, close comments all together, or have them queue up and await moderation.

Let me know if you're aware of a good way to block comment spam in an environment like this.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Books That Catch My Eye...

Hey, time for some friendsourcing.

I often blog about the books I've read but this post is about a few that I haven't picked up yet. Have you? What did you think of them? Leave a comment, or if you're feeling shy, zap me an email.

Outcasts United: A Refugee Team, an American Town, by Warren St. John. Jordanian immigrant woman in the American south cobbles together a soccer team from a diverse team of refugees. How cool is that?

Gilead and Home, two novels by Marilynn Robinson. I loved her book Housekeeping, originally published in 1980. I read it for school. But I haven't read these two more recent offerings to the world of literary fiction (published 2004 and 2008). Any comments?

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years is the latest memoir-type book by Donald Miller. Brand new. I haven't read it yet. Have you? What did you think?

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


So, today is the first full day of my fortieth year - that's right, turned 39 yesterday. And am hoping to use this year wisely, so that at its end I am refreshed and renewed and ready for a fruitful new decade.

Birthdays themselves can be a bit hard - not because of the age thing, which I'm fine with, but because with so many people telling you to have a happy day it's hard to keep expectations reasonable.

In recent years, I've not been in a good position to have "the best day ever." Just who am I supposed to celebrate with? That's the main question. Sometimes I have the good fortune to be committed to doing something on my birthday that means I'm together with other people who will celebrate with me - that's what I prefer. But it isn't always the case.

So, I swallowed my embarrassment and invited my co-workers out to lunch; turned out to be a day when only half of them were available. Proposed to my (quite willing) roommate that we make dinner together and watch a movie, which we did.

Got a few cards, a few phone calls, a bouquet of flowers from a co-worker, and from my sister and my roommate, gifts. Deb's always very thoughtful in the gift department, and Meg's box included a great new scarf that I think I'll wear a lot.

But - this makes me laugh: Isn't it funny how we communicate differently as the years go on? I got 70 happy birthday posts on my Facebook "wall."

It was a nice enough day. But I think I'm glad to have it over. Time to take my eyes off myself and look outward and upward again.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cross-Cultural Case Studies: What Would You Do?

Yesterday I decided to fill in the gaps and type up the scribbles that I used to teach two sessions on Islam at different churches in October. If I'm ever asked to teach this stuff again, it's organized.

I'm pretty proud of my case studies. I wrote gobs of them. Many from my own experiences. Didn't get to use them all, though. And in neither class did they go over quite as well as I hoped, I'll admit. I was having time management problems at the first class - I promised the coordinator that we'd do this and he told the class, and then I didn't get to it until almost the end of the session. Oops.

The second was a really small group, so rather than breaking them up into twos and threes I walked us through the case studies together. Bad move. People don't really process stuff and interact over it if the teacher is right there. (Maybe they thought I was going to give them the "right" answer?) So, next time, I'm going to force them to work on this stuff without me. Might make all the difference.

Anyway, the idea with the case studies was to help Christians to put themselves in the shoes of Muslims. Or, at least, to consider some of how they might comport themselves if they were hanging out in a Muslim-flavored context. What sort of things might they see, feel, or experience that probably wouldn't happen back home?

Here's a taste. Feel free to snag and adapt them if you find yourself in a place where there are helpful. I think most of these could adapted for any cross-cultural situation, not just a Muslim one.
Case Study #1: The Witch Doctor?

You live in a mostly Muslim area of West Africa. Karim works for you as a driver. He’s very concerned about his wife. She’s so sick and unhappy. He asks you for an advance on his salary so he can take her to the doctor. You suspect he’s going to take her to a witch doctor, but you haven’t asked and you can’t be sure. What do you do next?
This one is kind of fun, because it's a bit of a trick. As you might guess, it's not about the money. Your friend is concerned about his wife and you should be too! Here's the advice I'd give:

1. Be sympathetic. Go visit. See if you can help her. Here’s your opportunity to come alongside someone in the real struggles of life.

2. Be spiritual. Open up dialogue; pray for and with this woman and the husband, if you can, and seek God for healing and peace.

3. Be discerning. In terms of the both the culturally appropriate way to respond to a request for funds, and the witchdoctor question, you need to get some input. Ask others who know the culture better than you do about good ways to respond. And ask God for discernment about how you should respond.
Case Study #2: Doing Business

A. You live in Dearborn, Michigan and are wondering if God might open up the way for you to reach out to Muslims - there are so many of them there! You are about to buy a house. Do you look in a Muslim neighborhood, or buy one from Christians? After all, your family is going to live in this house. You aren’t quite sure how these things work but don’t want to take the chance that "strange" spiritual things have been happening in the place where you raise your children.

B. You are looking for a doctor. Do you get a recommendation from someone at your church, look in the Christian yellow pages, or go to Dr. Hakim, who comes highly recommended but is a devout Muslim?

C. Some Pakistanis, relatively recent immigrants to your country, run the local gas station. You aren’t sure how much English they understand. Do you save them and you embarrassment by paying at the pump, or do you overcome your insecurities and go inside to try striking up a conversation?
Here's one more that could add some new wrinkles to the usual list of do's and don'ts I hear in these classes.
Case Study #3: Holy Books

You've recently moved to a traditional part of Central Asia, and you've heard that many Muslims have traditions different from ours when it comes to handling books that are considered holy. How will this affect how you handle your Bible? You already traded in your beat up paperback Bible for a leather one with gold leaf and a ribbon. But do you keep in a box or carefully wrapped up, and never write in it? Do you put it on a high shelf in your house? Or do you leave it out, carry it around, etc. hoping that people will notice and see how important it is to you?

Do you make sure you read it reverently and when you do, say things like, “This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God!” Do you copy down passages in the local language and give them to your friends who are struggling? Do you make or purchase embroideries of favorite passages and hang them on your walls?

And... do you copy down powerful verses and carry them around in a pouch to keep you safe from harm?
One fun thing about case studies is that I know the endings - what the people in question actually did and how they explained it. And usually I also know people who handled basically the same situation with an opposite approach. (Usually, neither one gets struck by lightening or loses all their street cred.)

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Loving Leadership - The Life of R.C. Chapman

"I defy you to read the life of any saint that has ever adorned the life of the Church without seeing at once that the greatest characteristic in the life of that saint was discipline and order. Invariably it is the universal characteristic of all the outstanding men and women of God... Obviously it is something that is thoroughly scriptural and absolutely essential." (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)
Challenging words, aren't they? And maybe particularly to those of us who are a bit tossed to-and-fro by habits that are more spontaneous - or OK, yeah, compulsive!

I found them quoted in a book I recently picked up called Agape Leadership: Lessons in Spiritual Leadership from the Life of R.C. Chapman. One of the authors lives in my town and we have several mutual acquaintances, though I've never met him.

Robert Chapman was a 19th century pastor among those who would come to be called the Plymouth Brethren. One chapter in this book deals with self-control. Chapman, say the authors, was marked by self-control; he saw great value in caring for his body, mind, and spirit.

Is that what personal discipline is about? Hmmm...


Some excerpts from Peterson and Strauch's little book:
"Chapman fed his spirit daily. He believed that because the Lord's servant is 'continually ministering to others, he must be receiving fresh supplies from the God of all grace through all channels. Meditation on the Word and prayer should occupy the chief part of his time.'"

"Chapman was also very health conscious. To care for his physical body, Chapman usually went to bed early and got up early. He took long, vigorous walks each day. He ate simply and sparingly... Chapman often remarked that our bodies are to be used for God's service and that we must therefore take good care of them."

"He gave equal care to his mental well-being. He firmly reserved each Saturday for himself, conducting no business and only seeing visitors in emergencies. His favorite spot for relaxing... was a woodworking shop..."

The results are pretty appealing too - a long and fruitful life, with plenty of loving and creative energy with which to serve others:
"Even at age ninety-eight, one of Chapman's guests found him to be disciplined, enthusiastic, and mentally vigorous: 'I heard him exclaim, with exuberant joyfulness, to one of his friends, "The Lord is risen indeed, my brother; the Lord is risen indeed!"... He is most entertaining, keeping up a genial and edifying conversation with his friends, and laughing very heartily when any amusing anecdote is related to him... The beams from his cheerful countenance fall upon all alike, he having no favorites. "To have young brethren around me is one of my greatest comforts in my old age," he would often remark.' "

He wasn't only concerned about keeping himself healthy and balanced - he wanted that for others as well. Chapman had seen many Christian workers become discouraged and burned out from overwork. He believed God was calling him to provide a place of encouragement and refreshment for them - some place where they could be free from worries and responsibilities and have someone to talk and pray with them.

So, even though Chapman had given away most of his wealth, lived very simply, and never married, he bought a large house and determined that it would be a place of rest where any missionary, pastor, or Christian worker could come to stay as long as he wished. After spending time in a loving, caring environment, he hoped that they could return to their work with renewed enthusiasm.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fear, Hope, and Mobilization

Want to see a change happen in your life, or someone else's? Maybe you want to help move a group of people towards a desired end.

A man spoke at my church last week and shared a chart compiled for a publication of the American Psychological Association. It's from a book by F. J. Hanna called Therapy with Difficult Clients: Using the Precursors Model to Awaken Change.

(Don't know about you, but I'm pretty sure I'd fall into the "difficult clients" category at times!)

Here are the "precursors of change." I've paraphrased and simplified a bit.

1. A desire for change and sense of urgency about it. Things cannot stay as they are.
2. A readiness to experience the difficulty and anxiety that may come with the change process.
3. An awareness that there is a problem and accurate understanding of what it is.
4. A willingness to confront the problem rather than continue avoiding it.
5. A committment to expend effort towards the change.
6. A belief that the change is possible and can be accomplished.
7. A network of relationships to support the change.

If someone has an abundance of these things, change will occur easily and almost any approach will work. If these precursors are only present in trace amounts, change is unlikely. A therapist - or anyone else trying to facilitate the change process - should focus efforts on increasing at least the weakest of these elements. Then, when the precursors are present they will help facilitate the desired change.

The one that captured my attention most was #6. The presenter asked: "When we see something we desire to have changed, what is it that turns the situation from a problem to an opportunity?"

My friend J. responded immediately. "Hope!"

That's right. To hope is to cherish a desire and live in expectation of its fulfillment. Its opposite is fear: dreading a possibility and living in expectation that this negative possibility is, in fact, inevitable.

Fear isolates us, locks us into our situation, and keeps us unable to change. Hope, though - it sets free someone who is a prisoner to their situation. It makes all kinds of things possible.

Fear immobilizes. Hope mobilizes.

Do we believe the worst is inevitable? Or do we believe a different future is possible? And maybe even that we can help change the future? Do we believe that tomorrow can be different - be better than today?

Note: When I walked into Sunday school that morning I had no idea who are guest was, but I picked up his first name and a bit of what he did for a living. Handy that in our world today that's enough info to find someone.