Friday, October 30, 2009

Schools in Pakistan

I wrote on Facebook last week that next time The University of Oregon calls me seeking funds, I'll tell them I'm supporting Forman Christian College in Lahore, Pakistan.

I was that impressed with the presentation I heard at the big Presby mission event, World Mission Celebration. The college and a number of Presbyterian primary schools, taken over by the government in 1972, have been given back to the churches to control. Nationalization had proved to be disasterous. Now, though it sounds like some of them are really flourishing!

Forman is a relatively small university but one of the best in South Asia, and its alumni include two of Pakistan's past presidents, prime ministers of both Pakistan and India, the first chief justice of Pakistan, and numerous ambassadors and cabinet members.

Committed to educating both Christians and Muslims side by side, Forman is graduating students who might not have the opportunity to learn otherwise - especially the Christians, who are a persecuted minority in the country. But education is changing that, and graduates of these Christian schools are now transforming their families and communities.

Read more here.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Secular Faith?

“The world’s largest Jewish population now resides in the United States – about 6.5 million people, representing close to half of all Jews on the planet. Contemporary Judaism has its roots in the ancient Middle East but its heart in the postmodern West.” (The Seven Faith Tribes, by George Barna, p. 55)

I was quite interested to see what Barna’s research would have to say about Judaism in America. I had a hunch that a lot of how Christians see Jews would prove to be as inaccurate as how Christians view Muslims is. Indeed, that’s what his research suggested. (In fact, all seven of the "faith tribes" feel misunderstand by the others, he says).

It’s quite possible to go through life without meeting Jewish people. Jews make up only about two percent of the US population.

In spite of centuries of deplorable anti-Semitism - still continuing today - many American Christians are fascinated by their Jewish roots and look on Jews as sort of like their older brothers in the faith. It’s not uncommon for followers of Jesus to emphasize and romanticize his (and our) Jewishness, to eagerly probe the Jewish roots of Christian traditions, and to take it for granted that Jews and Christians worship the same God.

Well, I’m not going to throw out that whole rich vein of thought. But it has been my experience that - like a large percentage of those who call themselves Christians, I hasten to add – a majority of Jews may not worship God at all.

That may sound like a judgmental statement, but stop and think about it. While the majority of the people on the planet believe in a god of some sort, how many of us would see ourselves as God’s worshipers? And beyond that, how many of us do it, regularly and passionately worship God?

Research for The Seven Faith Tribes showed that being Jewish is more about belonging to a community than adhering to a faith. Globally and in America, the Jewish experience is rooted in the themes of continuity, survival, adaptability, and triumph over oppression. Jews are family-oriented people who enjoy controversy and debate, but recognize that people are frail, and diverse; they are prepared to accept each other no matter what.

Not only do everyday American Jews not see themselves as “people of the Old Testament,” they show relatively low confidence in and commitment to the stories and teachings of the Bible – or what are often called Judeo-Christian values. They aren't the ones rallying to get the Ten Commandments posted in public places, or keep them there.

Only a minority see themselves as spiritual people.

“When asked to describe their highest priority in life, only 2 percent mentioned their faith – the lowest level among the tribes.”

What this says to me is that if we want to understand where people are coming from, we need to get to know them as they are, not as they are “supposed to be” according to tradition, official teaching, or someone else’s expectation or decree.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Eight Read in October

First, two Christian books related to my work:

1. The Seven Faith Tribes: Who They Are, What They Believe, and Why They Matter, by George Barna.

I'd never read any of Barna's books - have you? This one caught my eye on the new books shelf at the library. Might have left it there if I'd read the back-cover copy, which says in big letters: "What will it take to restore our country to greatness?" Ugh, nationalism!

But although this book has strong alarmist overtones (chapter 1 is "America Is on the Path to Self-Destruction") it also provides some good sociological analysis of religion in America. And even the alarmism is much easier to accept here, in the well-fleshed-out arguments of a book, rather than a quick-and-dirty op-ed piece or talk radio soundbite.

America's faith "tribes," says Barna, are: casual Christians (67 percent); captive Christians (16 percent); Jews (2 percent); Mormons (1.5 percent); pantheists, mostly Eastern religions (1.5 percent); Muslims (less than 1 percent); and skeptics, including atheists and agnostics (11 percent). The book describes the history of each group in America, how they see themselves, how they think, how they live, their politics, beliefs, and practices, and what trends seem to be shaping them today. Based on telephone surveys conducted with about 30,000 Americans.

2. Faces in the Crowd: Reaching Your International Neighbor for Christ, by Donna S. Thomas.

This book explains easy ways to share the gospel naturally - especially with the people from different countries who live, work, and study all around us. This practical, inspirational guide includes lots of examples, especially from the author's own experience. Donna is also the author of Becoming a World Changing Family and other books.

I'd been intending to read this for some time, having heard about it when it came out a few years ago. Then, the publisher sent me about 20 books at once. This one I tucked into my bag and took with me in hopes it might offer some help with the material I was teaching at a conference workshop this month, and it fit the bill perfectly. I'll recommend it whenever I teach about reaching out to internationals in the US.

And the rest are things I read just for fun:

3. For the book club, I picked up and read Bruno: Chief of Police, by Martin Walker. Walker is more well known for his work as a foreign affairs journalist; this was his second attempt at fiction and the publishers hint that it may be the first in a series. Lots of culture and history in this one. Our protagonist is (as you might guess) a police chief in a country village. "The brutal murder of an elderly Algerian immigrant instantly jolts Walker's second novel from provincial cozy to timely whodunit."

Just about all the other novels I read this month were sequels to others I've recently mentioned:

4. Pardonable Lies, by Jacqueline Winspear (a sequel to 'Maisie Dobbs') Good stuff. Thoughtful.

5. In the Company of Cheerful Ladies, by Alexander McCall Smith (a sequel to 'The #1 Ladies Detective Agency.' This is #6.) I got it mostly because I needed something for the car while making long drives at night, and it was available as a book on tape. Yes, tape. I'm obviously not an 'early adopter' of technology, since I still don't have a CD player (or something digital) in my car!

6. Fatally Flaky, by Diane Mott Davidson (#15 in her Goldy Schultz series). You know, one of those cozy mysteries with recipes in the back. Yeah. Maybe I'll actually try the cookie recipe in this one...

7-8. Finally, some kid lit: The Sea of Monsters and The Titan’s Curse, by Rick Riordan. These amusing, fast-moving, clean, and not-too-challenging fantasy novels about kids battling the forces of evil are just the thing for a flight home after a teaching trip, and they sell them for next to nothing in the airport bookstores.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Violence and Religion

The story came to my inbox this morning:
Sudan: Seven Christians Crucified
Marauding soldiers from the Lord's Resistance Army, a terrorist rebel group from Uganda that frequently crosses the border with Sudan, crucified seven Christian believers near the town of Nzara in south Sudan...
Yikes! Looks like the story was first reported in September by the Catholic Herald ("Christians are 'crucified' in guerrilla raid"). I should warn you, it's a pretty grisly story.

An item that ran in another British paper, The Sun, quotes the same article but frames it considerably differently. How do you feel when you read this?
Christian Terrorists Crucify Coreligionists

The Catholic Herald newspaper from Britain reports that suspected members of the Christian terror organisation The Lord’s Resistance Army attacked villages in southern Sudan recently... (Keep reading)
Wait, these are Christians crucifying people? That's terrible! They can't really be Christians, can they? Well, no: The LRA is a vicious cult that twists a religion of peace into something truly evil.

Of course, that could also be how many of the world's Muslims feel when they read about "Islamic" terrorist groups, don't you think? Maybe it's not the same. I'm not sure.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Can Narcissism Be Helpful?

Do you follow Donald Miller? You know, the guy who wrote the tremendously popular Blue Like Jazz? My friend Shane sent me a link to a recent post from Don's blog.

"If writing a book about writing a movie about a book you once wrote about yourself isn’t the ultimate act of narcissism then doing a 65-city book tour promoting said book must be," he says."I’ve never been more tired of any human being than I am of myself these last few weeks."

Nevertheless, there are some good reasons for writing about yourself... as Don realizes.

>> Read "Reflections on Endless Self Promotion."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Story of One Multi-Ethnic Church

I heard this story when I was in Arizona recently. I thought you'd enjoy it too, so I tried to take good notes. MKS

The small Baptist church was dying, really. Just ten elderly members came. But then 100 Karen refugees from Burma moved into the cheap apartments nearby. Decades before their history had intersected with Baptist missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson; they were looking for a Baptist church.

Before you know it, a 75-year-old who hadn’t seen a kid in her Sunday school class in years now had 35 of them, and they didn’t speak English. The church members had the maturity not to be threatened or frightened. They recognized the opportunity before them and gave unstintingly of their time and resources to serve the new congregation. A service in the Karen language was soon attracting 200, and 10-15 joined the 10 Americans in their English service.

In time the Karen congregation outgrew the facilities and recognized they would need to move, but the Americans saw that their building could continue to find new life as the home to a multi-ethnic congregation, and were willing to do whatever it would take to see that happen. The senior pastor stepped aside. A cross-cultural missionary was brought in and given free rein to reinvent the church.

The new guy, Jeff, had served in the Philippines and worked with Bhutanese refugees in Nepal. Problems with his health had brought him back to the States. But all that was under control now and he was ready to serve. The church got a new name and a new lease on life as an intentionally international church.

As he stepped into serving the city’s refugees, Jeff found himself as much a case manager as a pastor. He helped with food stamps, doctor appointments, letters, phone calls, and paperwork. He helped refugees get settled, find work, learn to drive, and get their kids in school. Jeff was having the time of his life, but the challenges could be overwhelming at times. He was glad when a Bhutanese pastor joined the congregation, then a Syrian one too. The multiethnic church is reaching out to Bhutanese, Chin, Assyrian Iraqis, and Filipinos.

Sure it’s crazy. The kids run wild. Anyone accustomed to a tame American church ministry might find it too much. “White flight” is almost inevitable if a church reaching out to its ethnic neighbors is not intentional about communicating the vision and helping people embrace it and navigate the obstacles.

“It’s madness,” says Jeff. “It’s missions!”

Those who want to help out have to learn, too, that it may be hard to measure success. “I tell them to just focus on a person, or one family, and know it may take a long time to feel that things are really working,” he explains.

Small group Bible studies use some of the “Bible storying” material that is being developed for oral cultures around the world. Worship is evolving: The Karen and Chin have their own traditions of church music, and that helps. Some in the congregation are starting to write their own music. “We have a great version of ‘How Great Thou Art’ in five languages!” says Jeff. “Each group sings their section when we get to it. But what I’d love to see is truly multi-ethnic worship, celebrating it, with everyone willing to sing in every language.”

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Poverty & the Lives of Girls and Women

There's an issue that's making the rounds in the social media circles these days. I saw it a few weeks ago @ TallSkinnyKiwi and several other places since then. It's how girls in poor communities are missing out on school - and lots of other good things of life - because they can't afford sanitary supplies and just stay home when they are menstruating. (Best summarized at "On the Rag and Out of School.")

There are bigger issues out there, of course. Men, women, and children alike suffer when clean drinking water, food, and medicine are not available. And women suffer under global poverty inordinately when they are the victims of sexual abuse, human trafficking, etc, and beaten by disillusioned and drunk husbands who don't think they'll ever have a decent job again. Kids, of course, are the most vulnerable to facing the effects of poverty.

When I was in Central Asia I wasn't among the super poor, but the people in my community - and in the house I lived in - weren't exactly living in abundance, either. The culture didn't really go in for things like saving, rationing, planning ahead, etc. because (as I discovered) these really are the luxuries of the rich. Ordinary people spend what they have when they get it. You never know when good things are going to come your way.

Many of the people I knew were part of clubs that got together for parties about once a month, taking turns hosting. In a lot of these clubs, everybody had to pitch in a certain amount of money each month and it went to the person who was hosting the party. This really was a benefit to the people involved: Everybody could scrape together a little bit. When your turn came around you'd get a windfall to use for something you might never be able to save up for, otherwise. Similar social structures exist all over the world.

Similarly, people will spend money on necessities like food but see other disposable or consumable items that we take for granted, like paper towels, toilet paper, tissues, and dish soap as not a good use of resources.

Feminine supplies and birth control are on the same list. I was part of a household with three reproductive-age women, and I was the only one who used anything but a somewhat unreliable collection of rags when it was our time of month.

I also brought home dish soap and toilet paper, paid room and board (a whopping $15/month) and brought home food on occasion, especially fruit. But there didn't seem to be much else I could do.

Birth control wasn't an issue for two of us, but when the mom of our family got pregnant accidentally - her usual practice of birth control by abstinence (like other women her age) having been overcome at least once by the needs of the husband she tended to despise - there was only one option. (As she saw it.)

Yes, abortion was more affordable and accessible than birth control was. I'm not a big campaigner one way or the other on these issues in the States - I know some of you are. But many women in other parts of our world really don't have the resources, options, and education that we do. I'd happily give to help provide the women of Eastern Europe and Central Asia with better ob-gyn care, including counseling centers that might help support pregnant women and provide alternatives that reduce the rates of abortion.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Gifts to Give Those You Serve

Do you teach, preach, speak, train, or write? Check out Jon Swanson's list of eight things you can give away (and - perhaps incidentally - get invited back). Good stuff.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

African Church History: David Livingstone

Sunday afternoon I'll have the privilege of standing up in front of 80-100 people and telling them stories about pioneers of world missions. Perspectives is one of my favorite gigs.

It's also going to help pay for some of the other teaching I'm doing this month; looks like the trip to Cincinnati is on my own dime, and so is the one to Fort Collins, Friday, for an Islam class.

About halfway through Sunday's class I'll tell the students about David Livingstone, who said,
“My views of what is a missionary duty are not so contracted as those whose ideal is a dumpy sort of man with a Bible under his arm. I have labored in bricks and mortar at the forge and carpenter’s bench, as well as in preaching and in medical practice. I feel that I am not my own. I am serving Christ when shooting a buffalo for my men, or taking an astronomical observation. … and after having, by God’s help, gotten information which I hope will lead to more abundant blessing being bestowed on Africa than heretofore.”
He didn't accomplish much as an evangelist - saw one guy come to Christ, and that was it. He was a poor husband and father, pretty much just striking out on his own (though that may have been preferably than keeping the wife and kids in Africa in those days, at the mercy of disease and wild animals).

But you better believe he made the way for abundant blessings being bestowed on Africa. Medicine, education, commerce, and the abolition of the slave trade. A man ahead of his time.

His opposition to slavery didn’t make him very popular with other British missionaries or British society as a whole. Charles Dickens was one opponent, and took his sharp pen in hand to write a novel satirizing people who gave all their time and money to “the African project” rather than relieving suffering within Britain. “The needs are so great here at home, how can we be expected to concern ourselves with Africa?!” was his basic argument.

Sound familiar?

> More labeled "Africa"

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Comparative Religion and Worldview

How do you respond to the assertion that all religions are basically the same, only differing in minor topics?

Someone I care about said that to me recently and I’ve been wondering about it.

I’ve been noticing lately how much alike Jews and Muslims can be. Christians may share large swaths of common ground with both.

But set Islam against Hinduism or Christianity against Buddhism and the differences seem quite large, as many practitioners and converts between any two of these traditions will tell you.

And of course each of these is a global religion, perceived and practiced in diverse ways, so even defining what it “is” or describing what it is “like” suggests oversimplification.

Though we all walk in mystery – and may indeed be like the proverbial six blind men and the elephant – monotheism and polytheism, humanism and spirituality seem like vastly different views of the cosmos.

Maybe the question hinges on what we consider the big things and what we consider the small things.

Perhaps we’ve got the circle inside-out if we think “the nature of reality” and “the meaning of life” are the minor topics, while things like "the Golden Rule," the role and practice of prayer and meditation, and the exercise of kindness and discipline are the big ones.

Our platitudes and ideals are often the same or similar. Our assumptions about God, man, reality, the way life works, often not.

What do you think?

Monday, October 12, 2009


That’s what the light on my dashboard says. It had been flashing on startup for a week or two, but as I was driving home from Fort Collins on Saturday night the light came on and stayed on. I need to get my faithful Honda into the shop, and soon.

It would have been appropriate to have the same message lit up on my forehead. After a 65-hour work week I was toast. Next day at church I abruptly removed myself from conversation with two people who strain my patience, and pretended I didn’t see a third. I put up walls when talking to two or three dear women who came up to me with project ideas to discuss. I didn’t want more things to do, didn’t even want to talk about it. (Might have been a good day to skip church, eh?)

That afternoon I sent an email to my office team leader requesting permission for a comp day Monday. It was becoming clear I would need one. I made a bunch of comfort food – a big batch of enchiladas and some homemade chocolate ice cream (mentioned below). When I finally sat down to write, the process did what the cosmetics industry calls "drawing impurities to the surface." Some ugly stuff.

Will the end result be a "vibrant, youthful glow"? That may depend (in part) on how faithful I am to continue the regular care regiment.

Or, to go back to the automotive imagery – will I change the oil every 3000 miles? Check the fluid levels and make sure the air filter, tires, and belts are looking good? Yes: Maintenance is required.

Looking for something I’d jotted in an old journal, I found an interesting entry from November 2001. I was just a few weeks into my stint in Central Asia, and it had become clear that the war that had just begun in neighboring Afghanistan was not likely to destabilize the region and send me home. Nope. I was there to stay, and a year seemed like a really long time. It was cold and dark and only the seventh day of a month of fasting, to boot.

I’d been there long enough to see that while struggles were par for my course, I wasn’t the only one:

"H. shared more yesterday about how upset she was and still is about making the mistake of giving neighbors broken bread [a cultural offense], and how they laughed, and how her Tatar neighbor turned on her for caring [about the ridicule] and for wearing a headscarf and trying to be [local]. She was really devastated.

"Sounds like none of these others are too far beyond her – nobody’s got this thing down, and everyone makes embarrassing mistakes and is mortified by them. All of which suggests to me that yes, while not every day will be devastating, I’ll not really get beyond that either."

Is that as good as it gets, in some situations, that "not every day will be devastating"? I prayed that day for grace to stay and be a learner, willing to make mortifying mistakes and learn from them. Tough stuff. Really good though.

I also copied into my journal that day a passage from Ann Lamott’s brilliant book, Traveling Mercies. The chapter is called "Grace," and never had it seemed more relevant.

"My fear of failure has been lifelong and deep. If you are what you do – and I think my parents may have accidentally given me this idea – and you do poorly, what then? It’s over; you’re wiped out. All these prophecies you heard in the dark have come true, and people can see the real you, see what a shmendrick you are, what a fraud.

"…Out of nowhere I remembered something one of my priest friends had said once, that grace is having a commitment to – or at least an acceptance of – being ineffective and foolish. That our bottled charm is the main roadblock to drinking that clear cool glass of love."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cocoa-Coconut Ice "Cream"!

Ooooh, I think I'm in love. This is wonderful. I was just poking around the Internet reading some stuff related to work when I clicked through to a website where this recipe was posted. It sounded good enough that I broke out the never-been-used electric ice-cream maker I picked up at a garage sale two years ago and went out in search of rock salt and agave nectar - neither of which proved difficult to find.

If you like chocolate ice cream - even if you are sensitive to dairy products - you may really like this lovely vegan recipe.

1 can coconut milk (try “Thai Kitchen” brand)
1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder (e.g., Hershey's)
3 Tbsp dark or medium agave nectar (a sugar alternative), or honey
1 tsp vanilla

1. Mix the cocoa powder, agave, and vanilla in a small bowl.
2. Whisk in the can of coconut milk.
3. Pour the mixture into an automated ice cream maker.
4. Turn it on, and layer in the ice and salt per ice-cream maker's instructions.
5. Wait 20 minutes.
6. Eat immediately, if possible. It gets hard if it's been in the freezer a while.

My source says you can also stir in mini chocolate chips or frozen blueberries mid-way through the freezing process!

Serves 2.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mobilization through Technology

Just heard from a colleague whose organization is planning a golf tournament next month to raise funds for their work. But this is a golf tournament with a twist: the whole thing will be held indoors using Nintendo Wii.

“This year we are opening the event up so people can play from just about anywhere in the US and we'll be live streaming over the web. We've made good progress and already have several sponsors lined up ... Please pray for smooth working of the technology during the event, good participation, and completion of the online scoring and judging components of the event website.”

This unusual fundraiser seems appropriate since the organization's whole purpose is to bring people and missions together using internet technology.

I’d be much more likely to participate in a Wii golf tournament than a live one, though I do not have access to a Wii (or know how to golf!) But I wonder if the people who participate will be as likely to make generous donations as they would if they were attending a live event? Hope so. This is their “second annual” event and my friend reports that the first one went quite well.

The same guy is planning to lead a conference workshop next week without the cost and trouble of attending the conference. He will be giving the workshop twice - to several dozen short-term mission leaders - via webcast from his office in another state.

The purpose of the workshop is to provide tips on using social media websites (Facebook, Twitter, YouTube) effectively in short-term missions (recruiting, training, on the field, debriefing, and follow through). No news on whether they’ve got things set up to allow participation from others not attending the conference, though perhaps the webcasting technology would make that possible as well.

Another friend is using the Internet to deliver content for an online class that is simultaneously a fundraiser for Bible translation efforts and a service to home-school students (who, in taking the class, are funding a project). Read about it here.

What creative uses of technology have caught your attention recently?

> other posts labeled 'technology'

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ready or Not

I have done almost nothing to prepare for this class I'm teaching Tuesday night in Arizona (and am counting on nobody involved with that class stopping by this blog...)

The thing with my bereaved friends not only threw me for a loop personally, but I've also spent hours and hours with them since in happened instead of hours and hours preparing my lesson. That's the right choice, of course, but I'm hoping I'll be able to stay focused tomorrow and pull it together. I'd like to come out of the process with a two-hour lesson plan, with a lecture, some small group discussions, a handout, a PowerPoint presentation... oh yeah, and I should probably bring some books to sell and literature to distribute. Am wishing I spent a day on this a few weeks ago or got a head start on it when I was in California.

The previous lesson in this course is about the rhythms of life in a Muslim community - family, honor, hospitality, community gatherings, fasting and feasting. I've taught it several times. When we were developing the course I left my stamp more on that lesson than any other, and even wrote several of the articles (though only one bears my name).

This one, on the other hand, was shaped according to the brain waves of my coworker whose name is on the cover of the book, and I don't quite track with him here. The topic is the spiritual world of Muslims - popular or folk religion. I have story after story about jinn, amulets, magic, and all the things people all over the world look to to protect their families from harm. But since these are stories I've picked up doing sociological research they tend to be from a Muslim's point of view.

For this class I'm supposed to analyze all that stuff and provide a "biblical" perspective. I think what that really means is that I need to help the students feel the ambiguities, recognizing that there's probably a lot more going on here than some little ol' superstitions that we can just dismiss. That maybe our Muslim friends are tracking on something when they believe the world is a spiritual place, not just a rational one, and that the Bible was written to people who think that way too.

However, if I just shake people up and leave them with more questions than answers that may not be the best. I want to present the material in a coherent, thoughtful way, and that may be a little tricky.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Thoughts on Risk, Grief, and Loss

Watch out, this is a very emotional, difficult post. I may end up deleting or revising it because I don't like to sound pathetic. But for now I think writing it will help me work through some things.

Yesterday, two young men engaged to marry two of my good friends were killed in a car accident overseas - after surviving a cancer scare for one, a gunshot wound and many weeks in a coma for the other - both recovered and on their way to the airport to fly back the U.S. and get married. But they didn't make it.

Just heartbreaking. Found out first thing this morning and spent several hours with the girls, later today, though reluctant to believe my presence would be any comfort. It's not like losing parents or a spouse at the end of a long life, but in some ways like losing a child: a loss of tremendous potential. How do you deal with the death of the person you'd hoped to spend your life with?

My own relational vulnerability has been much on my mind, lately. Seems like there are two ways to be relationally vulnerable: having relationships, and not having them. The vulnerability of being alone, and the vulnerability of being dependent on others. Great pain can come through either path. Sometimes I worry about what will happen to me if I get really sick, afraid I might find out that I really am alone in the world. Much evidence suggests that I actually have a strong, invisible net - uncomfortable as it is not to know whom God would use to catch me.

I've also wondered what would it be like to be the most important person in someone else's life. I don't think I've ever experienced that, at least not in any long-lasting way. Not with my family (though we love each other!), and not like these girls who said, yes, I will marry you, to these young men, nor in the sense of the relationship they have with each other: mutually acknowledged best friends.

You can't make that happen, can you? I was there when they met and watched their friendship grow, glad for them, but a bit sorry that the chemistry or whatever wasn't there for me to be a closer friend to each of them. My best friends are always closer to somebody else. Several of my favorites are married men, so of course I have to be more careful in those cases. There was another woman in our office with whom I thought I could be best friends. But she moved overseas to get married several years ago and I haven't been able to maintain and grow that friendship into what I had hoped it would be.

Oh, I have lots of willing, loving friends, but what I'm talking about is sort of like finding someone who is nice enough to date, but not someone you could forsake all others for; or wise enough to learn from, but not someone you really feel you can really put yourself under and ask to mentor you. All three of those slots in my life - best friend, husband, mentor - remain blank.

I hope I don't hurt anybody by writing those words. There are families and individuals with whom I have a strong and precious bond, and I am grateful for them (for you!). But most are scattered and live far away. So when I think about things like who would take me to my chemo treatments or hold me when I cry or stand up with me at my wedding, I think it would probably be other, more-random people in that invisible net, not the people I love best.

It's OK to grieve about that, I think, and to pray, but there's no guarantee that I'll have those kind of relationships. They may grow. They may even grow out of the acquaintanceships that presently, don't seem promising. But they may not. Outside of the movies many people never have best friends. And it really is possible to have a good life without ever meeting "the love of your life." I have a lot to be grateful for, and there's no sense pining away over what I don't have. The mentor thing is not so emotional; I think I'm just going to jump into and take what I can get at least for this next season (sabbatical - more details when I have them - soon).

Well: those ultimate, close relationships, they do make you extremely vulnerable, don't they? Friends have told me about looking down at their infant child and realizing what a scary place the world now is - how horrible it could be for their child if something happened to them, or for them if something happened for their child.

Life sure is risky; loving other people, more so.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

Ten Books Read in September


Voices of the Faithful, Book 2, ed. Kim Davis and Beth Moore - I got a copy of this missionary-authored devotional book free from the publisher as part of their "book blogging" program, but instead of writing about it here I reviewed it for Missions Catalyst. I wondered if it would feel too much like a "women's book" or sanitize away too many of the details of cross-cultural living, but it doesn't have either of those flaws. It's quite good. I think I'm going to make it part of my schedule starting in January (as it's set up for daily readings over the course of a year).

Walt Disney, An American Original, by Bob Thomas and Mouse Tales: A Behind-the-Ears look at Disneyland, by David Koenig - Some folks in my small group gave me these two volumes to enjoy during my trip to Disneyland this month. Mouse Tales was light-hearted and fun, full of anecdotes and trivia about the place and the people who work there.

The biography, though, I found rather disturbing. Though sanctioned by his family and organization and created with their complete cooperation, it paints a picture of a man I have a hard time imagining other people could love and admire. What a difficult guy he seems to have been. Oh, he accomplished a lot, broke through barriers, and did quite a few good deeds along the way, but everything had to be his way. He had a knack for bringing out the talent of others, true, but was very stingy with praise and insisted on control, demanding but not extending freedom and respect. Made me realize how difficult it is for me to honor anyone who leads with a heavy hand instead of fostering mutual respect and collaboration. Am I the one who needs to lighten up and agree to accept that there's more than one right way to lead?

Filling Up the Afflictions of Christ: The Cost of Bringing the Gospel to the Nations in the Lives of William Tyndale, Adoniram Judson, and John Paton, by John Piper - The fifth in a series of volumes, each containing meditations on the lives of three great men to illustrate a certain theme. (Sadly, Piper limits the women to supporting roles - as their own societies probably did in most cases.) Piper and his staff are great researchers and always cite their sources, so their work is very easy to use for reference. In this case at least some of the books are available for free download, as well as purchase on paper. Nice. Each of these three men was able to survive and be at peace in the midst of lives with great danger and suffering, by resting on God's sovereign control. Inspiring.


Birds of a Feather, by Jacqueline Winspear - The second in a series about the very sympathetic character Maisie Dobbs, a psychologist and investigator in post-war England. Very good read. I've just picked up volume 3.

Sherlock Holmes and the King's Evil, and Other New Tales Featuring the World's Greatest Detective, by Donald Thomas - Written by a skilled fan, but not really as good as Sir Arthur Conan Doyle. Like the originals, this is a series of slightly linked short stories, a mix of intellectualism, crime, and creative storytelling.

Shadows of Lancaster County, by Mindy Starns Clark - Melodramatic Christian novel about a young woman who grew up in Pennsylvania and had tried to put her misspent youth behind her, but was drawn back when her brother disappears. Pretty standard Harvest House fare, but I always enjoy and learn something in MSC's books: she's playing to a lowbrow crowd but is really smart and does her research. This one weaves together gene therapy, identity tracing, the social dynamics of the Pennsylvania Dutch, and the lost jewels of an obscure European royal family. Somehow.

Unveiling: a Novel, by Suzanne M. Wolfe - Rather atmospheric tale of an art restorer grappling with restoring her wounded life while working on a project in Rome. Pretty good. More description than action, but well written. Paraclete Press always publishes thoughtful books, so I have requested several more of their novels from our local library.

The Fiction Class, by Susan Breen - I loved this well-written and clever story of a fiction instructor, struggling to come to terms with her own story and her family. Includes writing exercises you might get in Susan's classes... yeah, she teaches writing, too!

My Sister's Keeper, by Jodi Picoult - I'd never read anything by Jodi Picoult, who has a tremendous popular following. This one is the powerful (if wrenching) story of a girl whose parents had her specifically to be a donor for her sister, who had leukemia, and how the illness shaped all of their lives. As can be expected in most best-selling fiction, includes some graphic sexuality and language (in Breen's book as well, but milder). Too bad.