Monday, November 30, 2009

Books Read in November: Part 1, Novels

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

Prince Caspian, by C.S. Lewis

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

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

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

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

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

Emily Climbs, by L.M. Montgomery

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

Mischievous Maid Faynie, by Laura Jean Libbey

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

Also read...

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

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

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Seeing God's Voice?

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


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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 28, 2009

In the Year King Uzziah Died...

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

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

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

Huh. What does that mean?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was just what I needed.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Community in Installments / An Invisible Net

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, November 23, 2009

Beautiful Word: Together

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Memorable Thanksgiving

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two-Day Work Week, Five-Day Weekend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

All in a Day's Work

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

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

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

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

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

* * *

1. Who Picks the Projects?

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

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

2. What Not to Bring

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

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

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

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

3. Radical Living

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

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

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

* * *

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

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

New Jerusalem

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

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

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

Revelation 21: 1-7

Friday, November 13, 2009

Comments Settings

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

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

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

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Books That Catch My Eye...

Hey, time for some friendsourcing.

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 11, 2009


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Cross-Cultural Case Studies: What Would You Do?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, November 08, 2009

Loving Leadership - The Life of R.C. Chapman

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 06, 2009

Fear, Hope, and Mobilization

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My friend J. responded immediately. "Hope!"

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

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

Fear immobilizes. Hope mobilizes.

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

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

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Like the Sea

Picture: from Colorado Big Sky, a painting by Jeanine Malaney.

I grew up on Vashon Island in the Pacific Northwest. We lived about a mile from the beach. Among the enduring images of my childhood are those of the long bus ride to school, a route that snaked around the island - down to the harbor, back inland, and then out toward the water again.

After we moved to the mainland, Puget Sound, the Seattle lakes, and the channel that connected them remained a regular presence in my life. Seattle, especially, had few straight lines; all the roads hugged hills and skirted waterways. I loved the sight of windsurfers on Lake Union, waterskiers on Lake Washington, ferries in Eliot Bay, and small boats heading out for a day's fishing.

It's been more than 14 years since I moved to my new home 1000 miles inland. A few weeks before leaving the Northwest I read Patricia MacLachlan's "Sarah Plain and Tall" for the first time. Sarah, as you may remember, had a hard time adjusting to life on the plains. She missed her home in Maine.
"My favorite colors are the colors of the sea, blue and grew and green, depending on the weather. My brother William is a fisherman, and he tells me that when he is in the middle of a fogbound sea the water is a color for which there is no name."
"We do not have the sea here."
Sarah turned and looked out over the plains.
"No," she said. "There is no sea here. But the land rolls a little like the sea."
The land where my Denver suburb is built rolls in much the same way that it would beneath Sarah's nineteenth-century Kansas farm. Yet with all the development one doesn't notice it as much.

What you do notice is the sky. Clouds and colors and sun and stars play across it, draw one's eyes and spirit upwards in a way that doesn't happen on the coastlands where I grew up. I miss the Colorado sky when I am gone.

As Sarah says, "There is always something to miss, no matter where you are."

* * *

Do you know this poem? I learned it when I was in sixth or seventh grade and everyone in my class had to pick a topic on which to compile a poetry anthology. My topic was the sea.
Kansas Boy
By Ruth Lechlitner

This Kansas boy who never saw the sea
Walks through the young corn rippling at his knee
As sailors walk; and when the grain grows higher
Watches the dark waves leap with greener fire
Than ever oceans hold. He follows ships,
Tasting the bitter spray upon his lips,
For in his blood up stirs the salty ghost
Of one who sailed a storm-bound English coast.
Across wide fields he hears the sea winds crying,
Shouts at the crows - and dreams of white gulls flying.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

"I have had enough, Lord... take my life!"

Sandwiched between two oft-quoted stories from the life of Elijah - the showdown at Mount Carmel and visitation of God on Mount Horeb (as a "still, small voice") - is this interesting interlude in the desert. It came up at church this Sunday, not once but twice: at Sunday school and in the sermon. I'm still thinking about it. I'll try to write up and post some what I heard and my own thoughts as well.

If you're in the mood to comment, though, tell me what you see...
  1. What was going on within Elijah at this point?
  2. Can we relate?
  3. How did God respond to him?
  4. What does this reflect about what God is like?
Has anyone ever read a good book about the life of Elijah, besides the Bible I mean? Any suggestions? Looks like Chuck Swindoll has written a volume. I'd love to hear what Eugene Peterson has to say.
1 Kings 19:1-9

1 Now Ahab told Jezebel everything Elijah had done and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. 2 So Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah to say, "May the gods deal with me, be it ever so severely, if by this time tomorrow I do not make your life like that of one of them."

3 Elijah was afraid and ran for his life. When he came to Beersheba in Judah, he left his servant there, 4 while he himself went a day's journey into the desert. He came to a broom tree, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. "I have had enough, LORD," he said. "Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors." 5 Then he lay down under the tree and fell asleep.

All at once an angel touched him and said, "Get up and eat." 6 He looked around, and there by his head was a cake of bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water. He ate and drank and then lay down again. 7 The angel of the LORD came back a second time and touched him and said, "Get up and eat, for the journey is too much for you."

8 So he got up and ate and drank. Strengthened by that food, he traveled forty days and forty nights until he reached Horeb, the mountain of God. 9 There he went into a cave and spent the night.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Dorothy Gale, The Lollipop Guild, and More

Halloween has always been one of my favorite holidays, and this year I somehow managed to avoid the creepy, gross stuff that has been attached to the season as the years have gone by. We stopped getting the paper, for one thing - no more flipping past full-color haunted-house ads to get to the funnies! I must have gone shopping less this year, and was not accosted by a single skeleton or zombie as I made my way about town this month.

The Wells Fargo bank teller with whom I did business Saturday morning was still wearing her jammies, though. That was a little scary. Her coworkers were also wearing nightclothes and bathrobes. I wondered if the morning shift had gotten together and decided that this could be a good way to dress up for Halloween, but it wasn't quite like that: they got a memo from Corporate Headquarters instructing them what to wear. Somehow that doesn't seem to be quite in the spirit of self-expression that is wrapped up in the holiday, does it?

Sadly, we were short on trick-or-treaters this year. Usually the H. girls come to visit, but they had other plans - involving, apparently, some high-school boys. How quickly they grow up!

We only had two kids come to the door. So Deb and I joked about trying some 'reverse trick-or-treating.' You know, dress up and go door to door giving away unwanted Halloween candy. I don't like to have too much of that kind of thing in the house!

Our main tradition, though, is that after any hubbub has died down, we light a fire and watch a specially chosen movie together. Not a typical scary movie; usually we get something old, that has passed the test of time, and relates one way or another to Halloween.

Past picks have included Arsenic and Old Lace (one of my all-time faves - Cary Grant is brilliant in it!), Meet Me in St. Louis (which has a good Halloween scene) and a few black-and-white suspense films whose names I can't remember. Next year I vote for a showing of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken, another from Deb's youth which I saw for the first time about six months ago.

This year we warmed up with It's the Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, and then took in The Wizard of Oz. It of course features several witches, good and bad. Deb reports that someone she knows had a terrible fear of egg timers after the scene where the wicked witch locks up Dorothy!

I haven't seen the movie in many years and had forgotten most of it, but I reread the book this year. In comparison, I'd say the movie falls short. Sorry. What do you mean, it was really a dream?! Even as a kid, I felt gypped by that interpretation.

I can't quite get past the sight of 16-year-old Judy Garland playing a 12-year-old character who seems to have the maturity of a five-year-old and is traveling around with three older, single men - also played with the maturity of five-year-olds.

On the other hand, the costuming and photography are great, I love the sepia/color transitions, and nowhere else will you see such an impressive collection of munchkins.