Friday, January 30, 2009

Chris Brogan on Listening Tools

One more for the series on listening...

See "Grow Bigger Ears in 10 Minutes" for good strategies on how to be the one who is in touch with what people are thinking and saying - about the things you care about, and are investing your career in or giving your life to. And thanks to Paul Merrill for 'sharing' this item.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Through Her Eyes book report

Hey, it kind of seems like old news now, but you know, I wrote a book. I mean, one that has my name on it and was published by someone who is not my employer. In spite of the "written by me" part, though, like most everything else worth doing it was a collaborative effort - I was basically the narrator for stories told by two dozen women serving in cross-cultural ministry.

They live in various parts of the Muslim world. Including England. Yes! I only met "Joyce" once but heard enough of her story to put together a chapter called "Loving Muslims in Her Own Country." I'd love to see more people doing that.

And it's a pretty strategic thing in several regards. Have you heard about the teenage Somali boys in Minneapolis that have been disappearing? Yeah. They are being lured away to join their country's civil war. That's likely one step on a process of radicalization that some fear will lead them back to the US, with their American passports, fully indoctrinated and equipped to wreak some serious havoc.

So if we want to live in something like peace we've got to keep finding ways to reach out to people who are different from us. This is a multi-cultural world, and it's far too easy to make enemies. We need more sensitivity (like Rick Warren's inaugural prayer) and less throwing stones (like that uphelpful Obsession documentary).

Where was I going with this? Yes, the book. Well, writing a missions book is like writing a book of poetry. It may get published, but don't quit your day job. Through Her Eyes was published in 2005, and it brought in a whopping $80 in royalties this last year.

What pleases me is that I'm running into more and more people who have read it and found it of use. Several mission organizations are recommending it or even making it required reading for their outgoing candidates who are women. It finally got its first customer review on Amazon this month. (A favorable - if somewhat ungrammatical - one, too!) And most everywhere I do public speaking I'm able to get it into more hands. I hope to sell a couple dozen copies at Perspectives classes this winter.

So at long last I put up a simple Through Her Eyes website. Interested? Take a look.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Blog etiquette / copyright issues - any advice?

I have lots of stuff to blog about, but I'm holding back a bit... I need to move ahead some of the writing projects that constitute my job (rather than my hobby). Yesterday I spent more than eight hours on my 1200-word "column" for the ezine and it still doesn't feel done to me.

Several longer and more complicated writing projects have been languishing for months. I love writing, and these are fun projects - I'm eager to work on them. Yet I feel bad about what is undone and unsure what it will take to get them unstuck. Well, for starters, some loving attention.

So there you have it, my love/hate relationship with the writing life.

I also have an ethics/etiquette question about whether it's OK to post some things I've assembled for this blog. I have several more reflections on joy, responding to "Champagne for the Soul." I thought I'd make it a five-part series. But after I had it all written up, I checked to see how much of the book I was actually quoting. When I added up the quotes in the five posts, they totaled 900 words.

Is that right? legal? I might be able to track down the author and/or publisher for permission, but where do those boundaries actually lie? What's the line between being a fan and being a thief? I have been involved in publishing long enough that I ought to know, but I don't. Do you?

Friday, January 23, 2009

Sounds of the Concourse / My Lost Cell Phone

This fall I let 100 days pass between trips out past the big blue mustang, to the Denver airport. But now I’m traveling again. I guess I was kind of eager to get away for the weekend this time… Two hours before flight time, I was already at my gate.

So I logged onto the airport wireless (free, if a tad bit unreliable) to play around on the Internet. And, I wrote you this poem. Er, poem-ish thing. Sorry. I’m a writer, but not that kind of writer. Anyway, all disclaimers aside, here ‘tis.

Sounds of the Concourse

Crowds in halls and courtesy calls
Suitcase wheels and business deals
Weary sighs and baby cries
Kiss goodbye, prepare to fly

I always wonder if as I go
I’ll hear a voice I used to know
Or catch a glimpse of some old face
Familiar from some other place

To fly alone still has its pleasures
The independent, easy measures
I stop and browse or stride ahead
Go where I like, or as I am led

Caution! moving walk is nearing its end:
Please watch your step!

My Lost Cell Phone

As I got off the plane in Atlanta, I reached for my cell phone and found it missing from the coat pocket where I’d left it. Now, some of you might panic, and think that I, as a somewhat high-strung person, might do so as well. But I felt a strange mix of relief and guilt over the matter. You know I’m not too fond of phones of any kind. Perhaps I’ve been hoping that mine and I could somehow be parted? At any rate, it turns out that this is the case.

I waited for the plane to unload and went back to look, but my phone was nowhere to be found. So I guess I should still check at the lost and found when I get back to Denver before writing it all off together.

I’m tempted not to replace it. Hmmm. But probably the world has moved too far in the cell phone direction to let me make such a choice without facing its aghast, mystified disapproval even more than I felt about three years ago when such tensions brought me into the cell-phone-using world. (I had a group of friends at that time who thought it was terrible that I didn’t have one. Strangely enough, most of those people moved away or somehow slipped out of my life, without even calling, not long after I got the one I have. Had.)

What do you think, can I go cell-phone-less for a while? Or is it back to Target to pick up another pay-as-you-go, $15/month model like the one I lost? Surely I need nothing fancier or more expensive. I used the thing very little.

Well, consider this a public service announcement. If you - strangely enough - are dying to talk to me, you'll have to send an email instead. I'll be watching. (Now THAT, I'm addicted to!)

We had a funny conversation at work after that plane semi-crashed at the Denver airport recently. It went off the runway and caught fire and everyone had to be evacuated. We wondered if there was some kind of statistic about how many people really follow the rule about leaving all carry-ons behind. Would you?

I would be sorely troubled about leaving my laptop there to burn up.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Problem of Misattribution

Yesterday I wrote about culture shock, how we deny it due to a lack of cross-cultural experience (we don't recognize it) or a fear of failure (we don't want to admit it). Here's another helpful explanation.

Patty Lane, in her helpful book A Beginner’s Guide to Crossing Cultures: Making Friends in a Multi-Cultural World, says the biggest problem in multicultural relationships [or, could it be, all relationships?] is something she calls “misattribution.”

Misattribution is our habit of attributing meaning or intention to someone else’s behavior based on our own culture or experience. Basically, we think we “get each other,” but we’re really getting each other wrong. It is especially common, when two cultures interact, for the dominant culture to misattribute the actions of the minority culture, because members of the dominant culture have little incentive to discover alternate explanations. But it often goes both ways.

Misattribution can be nearly impossible to recognize at times, she says, for two reasons.

1. First, because our own assumptions about what things mean are typically so ingrained that they appear to be universal or common sense.

2. Secondly, because we tend to react emotionally without questioning how accurate our interpretations may be.

The fact is that two cultures may not only hold different values but may even express the same values in opposite ways. So, people may have a great deal of common ground and not realize it. Or, people may assume they are on common ground and not realize they aren’t.

Lane gives an example about two women, Sue and Jo, getting together to talk about working with one another on a project.

1. Jo, a Native American, comes out of the conversation feeling cautiously optimistic. She thinks Sue presented some good ideas, though she wishes Sue wouldn’t talk so fast; she’s not sure she got it all. There might be some drawbacks, but time would tell, and Jo was willing to move ahead.

2. Sue, an Anglo, came out of the conversation frustrated. The whole time she noticed that Jo was just sitting quietly with her arms crossed - obviously resisting what was being said, and saying little if anything. Sue thinks there is no hope that Jo will agree to pursue the project.

If it weren’t for misattribution, Jo might realize that Sue’s rate of speech might not mean she is pushy or domineering, but have to do with where she grew up. She might also realize that Sue would expect some kind of commitment from her when the conversation ended, since Sue comes from a more results-oriented culture. For her part, Sue did not realize that where Jo comes from culture it is respectful to sit quietly while someone is speaking, and unwise to make a commitment too quickly.

So, obviously this factor is significant for us when we work or travel in countries other than our own, and equally important when we are dealing with people from other cultures or subcultures, closer to home.

And… well, isn’t every relationship with another human being to some extent cross-cultural?

One of my favorite books that explores this theme is Orson Scott Card's Speaker for the Dead. (Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow does as well, and I'd recommend it too though it is more disturbing.) Science fiction is great for asking big philosophical questions. This book, in particular, deals with how much we want to be heard and how deeply we can misunderstand one another.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Culture Shock? We Don't Have It!

A. Recognizing It

"Maybe you can tell me," he said, leaning forward, "why Americans never want to admit that they are in culture shock."

The speaker was kind of "American" himself. He spent two decades in the U.S. and married an American woman before returning to the Middle Eastern country where he was born and grew up.

He was still frustrated with how many of those who came to visit and work in his country hit the wall, culture-wise, and didn't even realize what was happening to them. "The first month, it's a honeymoon, they think Lebanon is great. By the third month, it's 'These people are all liars! My landlady lied to me. Maybe you are lying to me right now.'"

Everyone gathered around the table laughed. Most of us have never been to Lebanon, but we know that feeling. We've seen ourselves and teammates do the same thing in other countries. I hate haggling with taxi drivers, for example - hate feeling like I might be ripped off, hate more being the kind of person who is walking about being suspicious about being ripped off. That's right, I don't know who I can trust; I don't know how to tell, don't know what's reasonable. I let it get under my skin.

Culture shock? You bet. A bit of practice, a bit of sympathy, a bit of advice are all it takes, often, to soothe me. Soon I can hail a taxi in the new place without qualms.

I wasn't sure why Americans (and others) are so reluctant to recognize their own culture shock. But as the group chatted we came up with a couple of theories.

1. Lack of experience. "We are too accustomed to being able to trust our guts," said one of us. "Many of us don't have enough experience to realize that something may not be what it seems." So, we think, if it feels wrong, it must be wrong. We're not in culture shock, we may think, subconsciously: we're just in a messed-up culture. It's a mistake anyone can make. But it may be one that those with less cross-cultural experience are more likely to make.

2. Fear of failure. "We are afraid to admit that stuff is bugging us. We are reacting, but try to stuff our feelings and pretend they aren't influencing us. Maybe we don't want to disappoint others, or we are afraid of being sent home." One of the counselor-types in this conversation mentioned that she finds it helpful to use the term "culture stress," instead of "culture shock." To Americans, being under stress is normal, being in shock implies you are sick or broken somehow.

Readers, do you think there are other big reasons that people - and maybe American people in particular - don't want to admit they are in culture shock?

Of course, every culture is corrupt. Though it's untrue to say "Middle Eastern people are liars," the offended American may still be picking up on something that is not just cultural and neutral, but indeed problematic. My Lebanese friend went on to say: You can't accommodate culture on everything. He, for example, refuses to pay bribes. Ever. He fires anyone working for him who does. And this makes things that could be done in days or weeks take months or years.

B. Overcoming It

What can you do to get help or help someone else in culture shock - er, stress?
Here are my top tips from my own experience and from observing, coaching, or interviewing others. Anything you'd add?

The Entry Posture Diagram, from InterVarsity
1. Learn to recognize the signs. (See InterVarsity's "Entry Posture Diagram.") Knowing about culture stress won't keep you from experiencing it, but it can help you separate what happened and how you felt about it from what it means: it will help you suspend judgment. And it will teach you that you do have a choice in the matter. Certain stresses are inevitable but you can choose how to respond.

2. Find a good guide. Do more than just read a book. Find a real person - maybe a fellow expat - who is willing and able to help you. If you are the one experiencing culture stress, look for those who are well adjusted to the culture and sympathetic (to the culture, not just to you!) and ask them to help you understand. Their perspective will be more helpful than someone who is as green as you are. Not that fellow-sufferers aren't comforting as well, but if you really want to grow and adjust, you'll need some additional help from someone further along.

3. Make a local friend. Even just a little bit of time with someone you can relate to and communicate with makes a huge difference. A real, ongoing friendship is best, but even a short home-stay or lunch with a local will probably help you get an insider's perspective. Once I took a patriotic young man to North Africa, one  who had a strong anti-Arab bias. He promised to "be good," but if someone started saying anything against his country or his president (as he thought they might) well then, watch out. I talked him through what he might encounter, gave him some strict boundaries, and prayed hard. Turned out it was not a problem - not after he met a cool, young English-speaker who also played the guitar and liked the same kind of music he did. Any political differences melted away.

4. Develop local competence. Learn language, get a map, master the money system. Be the one who uses the phone, or figures out the metro, or buys the snacks. It's OK to be scared, but it's also great to discover things are not so hard as they seem. Get some help, get some advice, bring a friend, but do it. Once you realize it's not such a big deal to ____ or _____, that you don't have to depend on others to take care of such things for you, you'll unwind and be able to engage with the culture without being so uptight and stressed out by it. Before you know it, you may be teaching or taking care of someone else!

That's enough for today, but if I were making a top ten list of tips for cultural adjustment I'd probably add:

5. Celebrate and seek out the stuff you like about the culture.
6. Ask a lot of (open-minded, nonthreatening) questions (of your "guide" or your local friend) to help you learn.
7. Remind yourself that whatever is happening probably makes sense to the people involved.
8. Keep a journal, emphasizing how you feel about things (often healthier than venting to others).
9. Let yourself take breaks, and use them to seek out things that really work to refresh you (hint, it's not the same for everybody).
10. Pray. God is in control. He got there before you did, and he hasn't left you.

I came across a good reflection by some InterVarsity staff workers
about their experience with culture stress in Africa. I was looking for that famous Entry Posture Diagram online (the H. family in SE Asia once told me, to my amusement, that their motto was, "The Entry Posture Diagram / will get you out of any jam.") You can read about the IV family's experience living it out, here.

See also: The Problem of Misattribution

Monday, January 19, 2009

Pet Peeves

So, I started thinking about pet peeves, and why we call them pets, and an answer came to me a few days later. Just kidding; it is pretty obvious. But taking the analogy a little further, one wonders – since making pets of our peeves only causes trouble, makes mountains out of mole hills as it were – what would happen if we stopped feeding our pet peeves? If we neglected, even abandoned them? If we drove out on some lonely road in our minds, pitched them out, and left them to fend for themselves?

Would we find ourselves unable to let them go, to drive away? Would they come back and find us? Or could we in some cases be rid of them forever?

I wonder if there are one or two pet peeves I could stop nurturing, give up my right to be snotty and offended about, today. Now, keep this in perspective. I know there is a time to fight for truth and justice and against mediocrity and fuzzy thinking. That's not what I'm talking about. Pet peeves are, I think, the things we get upset about that really don't matter. (And if we let them, they frequently get in the way of the things that DO matter.)

For example, when I told E., who organized much of this last big event I went to, that I was glad it wasn't "youth group-y." "You know," I explained, "like when someone gets up and says they are from Texas and all these people have to say, 'woo hoo, Texas!' There was very little of that." She looked at me like I was nuts, and laughed. OK, I realized in my head, there's nothing wrong with that kind of thing. If I sometimes roll my eyes at it, it doesn't really bother me, either. I was just treating it like a pet peeve. (And for the record, I am NOT immune to the charm of Texas-ness!)

Of course the easiest pet peeves to give up would be the small ones, like that (just join in and say, "Go Texas!") It may only take a small twist of perspective to see a behavior or situation from someone else’s point of view - or take on faith that there is another, legitimate way to look at it, even if I can’t tell what that might be.

But how much more helpful it would be if I gave up the big ones – those peeves that I’ve fed and nursed and toted everywhere, keeping them alive and insisting on their right to go with me wherever I go? When my preferences become prejudices and judgments? (Come back later this week, when I plan to write about misattribution and culture shock.)

Well, giving them up my favorite, fattest pet peeves all together might be a lot to do all at once. But surely I could become more sensitive to when it’s most necessary to leave them in the car or tie them outside the front door rather than bringing them along and giving them attention I could instead be giving to listening to and loving actual people. Rather than nursing my pet ideas and airing my own opinions.

Sunday, January 18, 2009


Friday night was another one of those gatherings that come regularly but are generally unexpected – sweet times of fellowship with fellow Calebite co-workers from years gone by. I’m glad that my life includes lots of interaction with people from a variety of worldviews but there is something very satisfying about being with those who are called according to the same purpose. The Caleb Declaration was a lifetime commitment I made and it’s still really what I live for, though I know it might play itself out in different ways in years to come. The camaraderie of people who share that commitment is particularly sweet to me.

To a few of my readers, this may sound like a cult! But be honest, isn't that kind of community and purpose something you've always wanted? Few people experience this, I think. I wish more people could.

It’s not just people who were part of our old ministry that share that calling; there are lots others. Most of those who attending the conference I went to over New Year’s are among them. I hadn’t expected that, to have so much in common with everyone who was there. You get used to swimming upstream, to having people think you’re a little weird, and you sort of expect to be misunderstood. So it’s nice when you’re with people who get what you’re all about because that’s what they’re all about too, and you can help and cheer each other on.

Anyway, when a couple of our long-time coworkers – or research team alumni – are in town, I’ll get a call or email (or, just as often, make the call, or send the email) and it’s a party. Some of them have been goodbye parties, some welcome home parties, but most are just reunions. There’s always someone there who lives in another state or country now, someone I might not see again for a couple of years, and usually don't know how or when.

Stories from across the decades – and across the continents – are retold, and there is always someone there hearing them for the first time. Over the last couple of years some of these reunions have been painful or a real mix of pain and pleasure. The things we went through two winters ago, the events that scattered us, were just so traumatic. (I love what the African guy I met in Thailand a year ago, said. He had seen his ministry fall apart, too, and he told my friend E. and I, with tears: “God will not waste your pain!” Amen! I receive it, brother!) While many of us landed on our feet one way or the other, there have still been waves of shock and grief. So this, too, is the stuff of our stories, part of our common past. But not all of it.

Most of the stories are about the hundreds of people we knew in common, and what we’ve heard from them lately. We remember the projects we did, the trips we made together. One of the families that was there on Friday night went through the same "new staff orientation" as I did, back in 1994. I think I’ve spent time with them in four or five countries. The family that hosted Friday’s gathering also helped host our new staff orientation, back then. So we've been friends almost 15 years.

I don't really feel as bittersweet about these things as it might seem, because such reunions seem to happen all the time. I may not see a particular old friend for years, but I'm in touch with old friends every week.

As another member of the group Friday night pointed out, this way of life we have has given us so many privileges. I suppose people think that full-time Christian workers are suffering; we make a lot less money than our neighbors do, for example (at least when we live in the West – when we spend time in other parts of the world, as most of us do, we’re much more aware of our wealth). We “have to” raise support. People think this is some kind of sacrifice, but there’s another way to look at it.

We are blessed in ways that few others are. Not only do we have meaningful work that we love – a rare thing – serving full-time in kingdom-of-God work, but it is work that really fosters relationships. I have friends all over the world; I have friends who pray for me every day (this astounds me); I have friends who believe in me enough to find a way to stay on my financial support team for more than a decade. One family has given $75,000 to help with my ministry expenses over the past dozen years. Is that amazing, or what?

So, even though I sometimes feel like I’m on my own, vulnerable – single – I have this family-like network of people much bigger than just my network of relatives, current coworkers, and people at my church. (Although I’m blessed in those three areas too) Most of the people in my church have their family, and the church family, and that's it, probably. But it's like I've got this whole third thing that's way bigger. And while I know (if only from my own behavior towards others) that not everyone is going to notice or pay attention if I'm discouraged or in need or in trouble, someone will. God does seem to orchestrate things so that people like me are never working “without a net.” How cool is that?

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Blue Guitar

They said 'You have a blue guitar

You do not play things as they are.'

The man replied, 'Things as they are

Are changed upon the blue guitar.'

And they said then, But play, you must,

A tune beyond us, yet ourselves,

A tune upon the blue guitar

Of things exactly as they are.'

-Wallace Stevens (1937)

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Champagne for the Soul: While You Were Sleeping

For the LORD takes delight in his people; he crowns the humble with salvation.
Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. (Psalm 149:4-5)

I often wish I had "just one more day." The thought typically floats through my mind in connection with some noble task (or unrealistically long list of tasks) I wish to accomplish. If the sun actually stood still or turned back, though, I hope I'd labor at something more worthy of such a miracle than the things on my to-do list really are (serious as they may seem at the time).

The need to discover life isn't just about work is one reason that the practice of sabbath is so strongly encouraged - and in fact, the way our bodies and minds are made, sleep and rest are essential for our renewal. I know a man who, when he was in college, decided to give up sleep. It was a tool of the devil to keep us from doing good work! he said. Of course he got his reward: after days of sleeping little or not at all he came down with mono and was out of commission for weeks.

In Champagne for the Soul (the subject of my 1-8-09 post) Mike Mason reports his discovery that God does some of his best work when we’re asleep – or at rest, at any rate.

"Before my experiment in joy, I thought I knew something of the value of rest. In order to sustain joy through ninety days, however, I had to allow more time for rest than ever before.

"… Since before this I’d pictured myself as leading a contemplative lifestyle, it was a surprise to realize I was actually too busy, too driven, too reluctant to slow down and enjoy the refreshment of rest." (p. 11)

Just an hour of rest here, a five-minute break there, can make all the difference in living fruitful, joyful lives. One reason, says Mason, is this:

"One interesting property of happiness is that we cannot be happy without knowing it. We can be many other things – rich, blessed, lucky, loved – and not know it, but to be happy we must know it.

"...Rest is an opportunity to become aware of joy. We need sleep because we need dreams, and we need rest because we need daydreams." (p. 12)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

How to Eat a Stroopwafel

Click here. I cannot tell you the circuitous path by which I found this video, though I'll remind you that my work gives me cause to look into all manner of things.

I've seen stroopwafels for sale in Denver, but not recently. Maybe it's time for a quest!

One of the best things about flying through Europe is the chance to buy a box of these in Frankfurt or Amsterdam. I should introduce them to my Friday night small group. I suspect they would appreciate them as much as I do.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Serious Thoughts about Humor

I’ve been thinking more about that question of what constitutes a good sense of humor. I know, it may be like what they say about analyzing a joke – or dissecting a frog – that it tends to die in the process.

Anyway, here’s my new theory. When we say what we love about someone is their sense of humor, we may indeed mean that they are funny and say or do things that are funny.

But maybe not. People saying and doing funny things is not what makes us laugh, really laugh, laugh until our sides hurt and eyes water.

Nope. What really brings us to the point of vigorous, therapeutic laughter is being around someone who is a great LAUGHER. Someone who loves to laugh, who laughs even when it’s not really all that funny, who laughs until other people start to laugh too. In short, someone who has a strong SENSE of humor. They may or may not be the person who says the funny things, but they make it funny because they laugh.

So much of life is like that, made better by someone’s appreciation. I think of those who make food taste better by seasoning it with the sauce of their praise. Others can make a situation romantic by believing that it already is, or stir up a sense adventure by discovering the spark of adventure and nursing it into a flame that others can sense as well. Some point out the beauty in nature, maybe sharing that through painting or photography. And there are those who help us see that people are fascinating because they see something inside a person and know how to draw out the story so others can recognize and appreciate it too.

Maybe it’s like watching sports with a die-hard fan, or better yet, a crowd of them. It can be a lot more fun that way. (Although I guess sometimes that backfires; it pokes at the part of us that gets suspicious about mob mentalities and won’t go along, but that’s another post.)

And so it is with humor.

Don’t you love being in a group that has at least 1-2 people who love to laugh, who have that sense or skill or gift, or whatever it is? And – this is the part I want to emphasize – don’t you feel more loved by and, well, “in love” (in a sense) with the people in a group like that? I mean, don’t you feel closer to people with whom you regularly laugh, hard, like that? It’s like glue!

If you are an actual Laughter Catalyst (to coin a term for it) you may experience and create this wherever you go and not realize that other people don’t know what that’s like or how to do it. But for the rest of us, we don’t often really laugh like that unless you are with us. And it makes a huge difference.

And, for the rest of us – especially those of us who do a lot of public speaking and stuff like that: Wouldn’t it be great to always have a Laughter Catalyst traveling around with you? Not only would you have a lot more fun in life, and be able to form better relationship bonds, but everyone would think you were really funny!

Anybody remember "Uncle Albert" from Mary Poppins? Definitely gifted!

Saturday, January 10, 2009


I'm taking a bit of a vacation on Sunday. Need it or not. OK, you know that I need it! I'm going downtown for the afternoon to spend a few hours at the Denver Art Museum, something I haven't done in several years. And maybe I'll even buy something. No, nothing on canvas; more likely a cup of tea and a couple of postcards.

Postscript: The museum has more than doubled in size since last time I was there. I didn't necessarily appreciate everything I saw, but thought the special exhibit about Ernest Blumenschein was great. E.B. was one of the founders of the art scene in Taos, NM. A lot of his work reflects the amazing light and color of that area. Particularly liked this painting.

Another day I needed a mini-vacation, I put together an album of beautiful places I've been. Check it out here.

Overweight Luggage

Feel like you travel with just too much stuff? Dismayed by airline fees? Could be worse.

The president of the United States (POTUS!) brings his own, 10,000-pound, armor-plated limousine along when he makes an international trip. Plus a spare. Guess it must be a security thing. No, they don't fit in Air Force One, but get their own cargo plane(s). Tempting though it might be to attribute such apparent excess to the current administration, this is likely something imposed on the POTUS by others... probably his security advisors. That the budget for such things goes up over the years is a sign of the times.

A fascinating story about the care and feeding of US presidents is in the latest issue of National Geographic. You can read it here.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Theology of Listening: Short Bible Study

Recently I taught a 90-minute workshop on ethnographic methods. I tried to make it as practical and interactive as possible - a true workshop, with people coming out of it with actual skills and tools at the end.
Did you know anthropology and sociology can be among your most useful tools for ministry? Explore how to effectively take on the role of a learner as you dive into a new culture, become part of the community through participating, ask good questions, and carefully listen to people’s stories.

But taking that approach meant I didn't have a time to unpack all my fun sociological stuff - how and why to learn about certain topics - or to build a theological foundation for the whole thing. To solace myself, I boiled my theology section down into this little Bible study and put it on the back of my handout. Feel free to swipe this if there's some place you can use it.

To study on your own: a theology of listening

1. Who is the best listener in the universe? Why do you think this is? Why does he listen to people? What does that have to say to us about this topic?

2. Explore the connection between listening and wisdom. Start with Proverbs 12:15, 18:13; 18:2, 12:18, 19:2, 4:1-4, 4:10-13, 4:20-22. Who should listen? Who should we listen to?

3. Ponder the funny thing Jesus used to say: Revelation 2:7, 2:11, 2:17, 2:29, 3:6, 3:13, 3:22, 13:9; Matthew 11:15, 13:9, 13:43; Mark 4:9, Luke 8:8, Luke 14:35. Why do you think he said this? Do you fit the qualifications he describes?

4. Listen first, speak later: Study James 1:19-21, 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 9:22-23. What do these passages teach us about the value of listening? What gets in the way of really being able to listen?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Experimenting with Happiness

“In October 1999 I began a ninety-day experiment in joy,” writes Mike Mason in a book I picked up at the library this week.
“Because this was an experiment there was room for failure. If there were times when I wasn’t joyful, I wouldn’t despair and beat myself up. Rather I would gently, persistently return as best I could to my focus on joy. So began (and continues to this day) the happiest time of my life.”
Mason waited several years before writing a book about this experience, feeling he had to see if the experiment “took.” After all, in the world we live in - with so many reasons, many of them good reasons, for unhappiness - any attempt to be a happy person may seem wildly inappropriate; a denial of reality. And indeed, without the backdrop of struggle and pain joy makes less sense.

The author is not one of those perky Christians who just sees good in everything; no Pollyanna. I liked what he writes about Christmas day, one of his “bad” days (mostly because he was too anxious that it not be).

Yet, as he says,
“My original thesis turned out to be true: Joy is like a muscle, and the more you exercise it, the stronger it grows.

"I’ve learned this the hard way because I haven’t been a happy person by nature. Some people are, but I’m a bundle of nerves who has lived most of his life in a state of anxious borderline depression. I didn’t realize what was going on until my late twenties, when I finally crashed big-time and ended up in Alcoholics Anonymous. Later, when I’d been a Christian for ten years, I dropped into an even deeper depression.

“…When the first seven days of my experiment in joy had passed and I was still joyful, I felt a miracle had taken place. Before this, a solid week of happiness – or even three days in a row – would have been unthinkable for me. Now, three years later, just as I’ve learned to be sober, I’ve learned to live in joy, and I believe the same is possible for any ordinary person.” (pp. 1-2)
Champagne for the Soul is an honest portrayal of one man’s journey to shake off gloominess and what he learned about how joy works, by actively pursuing it. Ninety short essays. I look forward to savoring them over the next few weeks.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Did You Know?

Picture: Praying for the world, in Orlando over New Year's.

I love to learn new stuff. Reading, editing, augmenting, and checking info the others pull together for our ezine each week often introduces me to things I'd like to pass on. Things like this --

1. An interesting fact from a news source in the Netherlands:

The big Christian revival that really kicked things off in Korea, about 100 years ago? It happened in what is now =North Korea=! Who would have thought? So now, Korean Christians around the world are calling for people so stay up all night on the anniversary of the revival (Next Wednesday, January 14) to pray for North Korea. It has become a pretty scary place in the intervening years. More info here.

2. What's happening this week in Iran:

It's Ashura! That's the 10th day of the month of Muharram, when Shi'a Muslims mourn their slaughtered leaders from a few centuries back by parading through the streets beating themselves with chains and sticks, and wailing loudly. Over in Iraq many will be making the pilgrimage to Karbala, where one of those martyrs has his tomb. By the time you read this they will be home nursing their wounds. One thing about those Shi'i (redemptive analogy?): They are acquainted with sorrow.

3. A good joke from Burkina Faso:

A Fulani man gets into a bush taxi. Being a devout and respectable man, he took his shoes off before getting into the vehicle.

When the bush taxi arrived at its destination, he opened the door to get out, and exclaimed:

"Hey! Where are my shoes? I left them just outside the door!"

Got this from Keith Smith (no relation) here. I think I may have heard it attributed to a different culture, before... but you know, there are only so many good jokes to go around!

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

My Niftiest Christmas Gift

My mom is a weaver, and last year she made me a beautiful warm, wool afghan as a Christmas present. This year I asked for place mats. Here's a closeup of the result. Lovely, no?

The pattern has a story - it's one of the first Mom attempted, years ago. She chose it because of its name, "Sylvia," which is also my grandmother's name. The wall hanging she made has hung in our house ever since I was small - well, in the seven or eight houses where mom has lived over the course of those years.

Currently it hangs in the guest bedroom. So I get to enjoy it whenever I come through town. And now I can have the same thing, on my table! (That is, after we put away the Christmas stuff.)

So this is something that is simultaneously traditional and new, sentimental and practical. Nice!

Monday, January 05, 2009

Conference Report

Hey, that big conference to which I alluded, a few posts ago? I may have been remiss to focus on one, kind-of-negative thing one part of it stirred in me.

It was a great conference! See some of the pictures and reports here.

Am realizing how prone I am toward whinging (that's British English for whining - rhymes with binging - and doesn't the word sound like it is?). One big trigger, and that so often of my own making, is overwork. When I fill my life too full and then someone comes in and puts something else on top, I get frustrated.

I got almost no break over the holidays and I feel irritable about that. So I'm staying home today, both to get some rest and to get a bit better organized for 2009. If there's additional whinging needed, perhaps I should do more of it in my journal and not here!

Living on Giving, an Insider's Perspective

I may have to swallow my words about not suffering with the economic downturn. Looks like my support may have taken a hit, after all. The regular monthly donors are all still with me. But it's those December 31 checks that make up the difference. Last year's December giving made up more than a third of my income for that year. Unless there are more checks in the mail or waiting at HQ for processing, December 2008's meager donations will total 6% of what came in for 2008 - less, even, than my budget for the month of December.

That would put me a few thou "low" for the year, and my cushion completely depleted. In January I'll likely start going into the red, costing the organization money. I won't know for sure for another week. Maybe someone sent a $5000 check. Maybe I'll start the year ahead, as usual. I wait somewhat anxiously to see.
"Annual income, twenty pounds, annual expenditure, nineteen nineteen six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the God of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and - in short, you are forever floored. As I am!" (Mr. Micawber, in Charles Dickens' David Copperfield)
Well, I'm hardly headed to the poor house, like Mr. Micawber, and even if I were it would not necessarily mean "result: misery"!

And there's more than a thin silver lining in my case. I haven't been "able" to raise support for years, simply because my income has been equal to or higher than my (pretty modest) approved budget. Monthly pledges hover between 80 and 90%, but income has been greater. So when folks ask me how they can help, in good conscious I have felt I had to send them away. It would have been smart to make a list of those who asked, now that I may need them!

Maybe now I can diversify my support base, not keep leaning on the 2 churches and 20 or so families who have done so much for me these last 14 years (yes, October 2009 is my 15-year-anniversary of taking this job!) Many of them are retiring now and may not be able to keep giving at their current levels, much less increase.

I've been thinking about this recently, as I've become aware of how many people in our church in Colorado give personally to support those who are on the list of "ministry partners." All of them (us) get something from the church's budget but many of them are also well-supported by individuals and families in the church. Not me. Not a one.

So, I'm feeling a bit overlooked. Which is silly, of course, because as I mentioned before when people ask me about my needs I tell 'em to put their checkbooks away! So, I need to get my heart right about this. Make sure I don't walk around with some air of entitlement or self-pity, not compare myself to others who are paid much more for doing their jobs.

There are other benefits that are far greater than my salary - like the opportunity to do what I love, to serve so many people, and yes, to change the world because of how I spend my time. Not to mention the chance to travel the the world, influence thousands, and experience wonderful relationships with people all over the globe because of what I do. Surely I am well compensated. And honestly, the opportunity to live "on support" is one of the things I would count as compensation - the partnership of sharing in the gospel, you know? I love that.

If I do start looking for financial partners among the people I worship with every week - with little clue what their finances, attitudes toward giving, or current commitments may be - I will need to spend a lot of time in prayer. Must make sure my attitude is pure and sincere, since my speech will reflect it, and that I am diligent to see the relationships don't suffer under any strain the "ask" may make on them.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

December 2008 Reading: Part 2 - Three Biographies about Crossing Cultures

See previous reading lists and commentaries here. Three more books for 2008 bring our total to 100. This last bunch are all biographies, all dealing one way or the other with cross-cultural ministry.

Same Kind of Different As Me, by Ron Hall and Denver Moore, with Lynn Vincent (Thomas Nelson: 2006).

Picked this one up for our book club; we meet to discuss it next Saturday. The first hundred pages or so tell the story of two men growing up in the 50s and 60s, intersecting some years later at the Fort Worth Rescue Mission where Ron starts volunteering and Denver lives. By that time Denver is very "street" while Ron is slowly overcoming his prejudice to become Jesus-y. Denver is poor and homeless while Ron is a millionaire.

The chapters are written in first person, alternating between Ron's point of view and Denver's ("as told to" others, I assume: he's illiterate, though quite wise). It was actually Ron's wife Deborah who got him involved at the Mission, and pushed the two of them together (she had a dream about a poor man who would change the city, and when she saw Denver, knew it was him).

The second half of the book revolves around Deborah's slow, painful death from cancer and the (not terribly convincing) takeaway from the book, the reason the two men apparently decided to write it, was to persuade people to be more like Miss Debbie. This is their tribute. I'm not so sure I buy it. In their grief they turn her into a saint, the heart and soul of work among Fort Worth's homeless. If this were a novel I'd fault its characterization and plotting on those grounds; it feels like two separate books melded somewhat sloppily. But this is a true story, and if it isn't as graceful as a novel, why should I be surprised?

The book does a pretty good job dealing with race and economic prejudice and illustrating how people fall through the cracks and what it takes to pull them out. Oh, and the colorful writing makes for a fun read; this is definitely a book written by Southerners. (I wouldn't say, as the cover copy advertises, that this is "a story so incredible no novelist would dare to dream it.")

Denver's closing words:
"I used to spend a lotta time worrying that I was different from other people... but I found out everybody's different - the same kind of different as me. We're all just regular folks walkin down the road God done set in front of us. The truth about it is, whether we is rich or poor or somethin in between, this earth ain't no final restin place. So in a way, we is all homeless. Just working our way toward home."
Mary Slessor - Everybody's Mother: The Era and Impact of a Victorian Missionary, by Jeanette Hardage (WIPF and Stock Publishers, 2008).

This is probably, as an Edinburgh professor quoted on the back cover says, "The best biography of Slessor so far produced" at least in terms of its thoroughness. I love that Hardage was so careful, and that she footnoted everything! So, if I were teaching formally this is the one I'd turn to. It is the best reference. But it seems a bit lacking in readability and the ability to inspire, and it also sells for $40, which is steep for a paperback. (I preordered it at half price).

The previous one I read (Mary Slessor: The Barefoot Missionary) was much easier to digest, but not so academically solid perhaps. And it's still not up to popular American standards, not likely to be a "hit," like, say, Bruchko, or Hudson Taylor's Spiritual Secret.

There are at least two or three biographies of this famous Scot which =are= written for a popular audience, none of which I've read. I recently downloaded the very first biography written about her, published back in 1916 or so and now (conveniently) in the public domain. But it may not be an easy read either, and may feel quite dated, lacking the benefit of being able to reflect on her legacy over time.

I may do a blog series of the M. women of Africa, like the series I've done on China. We'll see.

Here's a fun tidbit: Mary was quite the rough-and-tumble sort, and much more comfortable with African tribesmen than the refined Presbyterians who supported her back home. She was ashamed of her broad accent, and didn't like being famous.
"As Slessor's popularity grew church groups asked her to address meetings. At first, she balked. She was too shy to consider such audacity. Finally convinced that it was her duty, she began to fulfill requests. She insisted that she speak seated in the center of such groups, would not go up on the platform, and sometimes asked men in the audience to hide themselves behind a pillar or leave the meeting." (p. 9)
Growing Up Yanamomo: Missionary Adventures in the Amazon Rainforest, by Michael Dawson (Grace Acres Press, 2009).

I picked this up for a couple of reasons.

(1) I've met Mike a couple of times; he came through town to consult on the film some of my friends made about the Yanamamo. It's called The Enemy God, and has been showing in film festivals the last year or so. Supposed to be released on DVD within the next few weeks. So, it would be handy to write a review of the two items together, and publish it in the ezine.

(2) There are lots of missionary biographies out there, including many written for children. But what about biographies ABOUT missionary children? This is almost the first (nonfiction) MK story I've seen. Do you know any? Something more positive than say, The Poisonwood Bible (fascinating as that was)? I did like Margaret Meyers' Swimming in the Congo.

Growing Up Yanamamo does include some stuff about Mike's adult life, including what it was like losing his wife to malaria, but much of it is about being a kid and teen in a remote part of the Amazon. Some good culture stuff about what Yanamomo culture is like, written by someone whose family was mostly only white on the outside. (Mike's parents, now quite old, still live in the jungle, only coming out for medical tests in the city or Miami when they absolutely have to.)

This book is more hijinks and hunting and fishing stories than stuff about M-work, though. (If Patrick McManus was an MK, this is the book he would have written.) I believe there is at least one giant anaconda snake in each chapter! "I could almost hear the girls ooohhing and aaahhing over me as I told the story of how I single-handedly killed a thirty-foot snake," reports Mike in one typical story, before things fail to go as planned. Of course, they do get the snake in the end!

I'll write proper reviews of both the Mary Slessor book and the Yanamamo book for our ezine later this month.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Psalm 103 and the Need to Break Away from the Herd

Had some moody moments yesterday. Big group events tend to have that effect on me - everybody else seems so happy, so connected, so, well, I don't know. Suffice it to say it's hard for me to learn or feel comfortable in a room with hundreds of people, especially people I do not know, even when there's great teaching or worship.

Maybe it's like crying - that's something I pretty much do only when I'm alone. And it may be why I don't go to a big church; just can't let my guard down and "enter in." How can people do that? Sit and listen to some speak and be deeply "touched" by the words of someone they don't really know, in a room full of people?

Are any of you like that, unable to get much out of big group events? Why do you suppose that is?

On the other hand, I am quite an extrovert. I love meeting new people - it may be my favorite thing to do - and comfortably strike up conversations between the 'plenary' sessions. A group of 10, 30, even 50 is just fine with me; workshops often "work" for me, and I like to teach and join in group discussions. So I don't stay away from conferences all together.

Anyway, I was feeling blue to think about how many things I had hoped to see come together in 2008 did not. Many of them have been on my "to-do" or "to-hope-for" list for years. I want to (1) accomplish more, and (2) be more of the kind of person God made me to be. And of course those things are rather in conflict. Productivity and character development may be related (you will accomplish better work when you find your niche and fill it with integrity). But busy-ness and personal growth - well, they pull us in opposite directions.

And I may be healthier and happier than I have at times, but guilt and shame and fear and worry are still out there, like scattered clouds that might suddenly take over my whole sky and do, fairly often. Why do I live in bondage, when freedom, peace, or joy are on offer to all?
"Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me." (Jesus, in Revelation 3:20)
So, while hundreds sang at the top of their lungs as our conference came to a close last night, I reached for my Bible and soaked in the words of one of my favorite psalms... 103. God so =gets= it, doesn't he? It's great to have such a Wonderful Counselor!

Praise the LORD, O my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.

2 Praise the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits-

3 who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,

4 who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,

5 who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.

6 The LORD works righteousness
and justice for all the oppressed.

7 He made known his ways to Moses,
his deeds to the people of Israel:

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious,
slow to anger, abounding in love.

9 He will not always accuse,
nor will he harbor his anger forever;

10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve
or repay us according to our iniquities.

11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth,
so great is his love for those who fear him;

12 as far as the east is from the west,
so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

13 As a father has compassion on his children,
so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him;

14 for he knows how we are formed,
he remembers that we are dust.

15 As for man, his days are like grass,
he flourishes like a flower of the field;

16 the wind blows over it and it is gone,
and its place remembers it no more.

17 But from everlasting to everlasting
the LORD's love is with those who fear him,
and his righteousness with their children's children-

18 with those who keep his covenant
and remember to obey his precepts.

19 The LORD has established his throne in heaven,
and his kingdom rules over all.

20 Praise the LORD, you his angels,
you mighty ones who do his bidding,
who obey his word.

21 Praise the LORD, all his heavenly hosts,
you his servants who do his will.

22 Praise the LORD, all his works
everywhere in his dominion.
Praise the LORD, O my soul.

2008 Book Blogging Roundup, for the archives

I read for many different reasons. Sometimes for simple pleasure, to relax, or to pass the time while traveling (which I do a lot) or exercising (which I do a little!). Sometimes I read for professional and personal development. Sometimes I read just because someone gives me a book and suggests I read it. And yeah, I’m one of those women who reads more fiction than anything else. So, I’ve sorted the list by genre (by my own rough taxonomy) so you can ignore the kind of books in which you have little interest.

Here are the titles and authors I blogged about or at least mentioned reading in 2008. In most cases the links go to The easiest way to see what I said about the work, use the search engine, upper right. I’ll put stars by the one or more in each category I’d call “best in show.”

Nonfiction – History

Nonfiction – Theology/Christian Life

Nonfiction Christian/Mission Biographies

Nonfiction – Other Biographies

Nonfiction – Christian/Missions, Misc.

Nonfiction – Miscellaneous

Fiction – Science Fiction

Fiction – Children’s and Young Adult Fiction

Fiction – Mysteries, More or Less

Fiction – Classics

Fiction – Miscellaneous

Fiction – “Christian” Fiction