Monday, August 31, 2009
Went camping with some friends this weekend. Had a great time!
Site was about two hours from home in a place above Boulder called Indian Peaks, as the mountains in this region are mostly named after tribes: e.g., Navajo, Apache, Shoshoni, and Audubon (presumably the bird guy, not the name of an Indian tribe).
We stayed at a campground next to Lake Brainerd, alt. 10,300 feet. Beautiful. I love nature but it doesn't always love me; don't tend to do well hiking above 9,000 feet (which covers most all the hiking destinations in Colorado, though Denver sits at a modest 5,280). I anticipated breathlessness and a killer headache. But we went slow and stopped often for water, snacks, or to snap pictures, and I had no problems at all. Maybe the workout-habit I picked up a few years ago is paying off, too.
>> See more pictures.
Saturday, August 29, 2009
The Listener: What If You Could Hear What God Hears? By Teri Blackstock
One day Sam Bennett wakes up hearing voices, even when nobody is speaking. He’s hearing people’s thoughts – the unspoken desires of their souls, specifically: their “spiritual needs.” His pastor pushes and coaches him into responding by sharing the gospel with each person, and as Sam catches on he’s out at the bus station, mall, or ball game every night going up to strangers and getting their attention by talking to them about their deepest need. In time Sam and those close to him come to realize that even without the edge he has from the gift, everyone can respond to others in this way. Although I found this book simplistic (as if God's only priorities are whether people are “saved” and (if so) “sharing their faith”?) but it was also convicting.
Maisie Dobbs, by Jacqueline Winspear
The first in a series featuring a smart, empathetic sleuth who has just set up her own detective firm. The year is 1929, and Maisie’s first solo case draws points her back to the horrors of World War I, in which she served as a nurse. Straddling the gap between literary fiction and mystery novels, the book explores the British class system, the war, and how it changed everything.
With fiction, I often read the way my mother does: not going to bed until I’ve finished my book. So when I’m not getting enough sleep or something, sometimes I’ll stay away from novels - opting for short stories or kids books when reality is just too much. This month I read a lot of kid lit.
The Collected Tales of Nurse Matilda, by Christianna Brand
These books inspired the movie, Nanny McPhee. The plot is basically the same: group of wild children slowly learn to love the one person who brings order into their lives through the use of reverse psychology (and a bit of magic). Not as interesting as Mary Poppins or Mrs. Piggle-Wiggle, which plow the same ground. Still, they were fun, and would probably be good for reading aloud. The second book so closely copies the first in this series that I didn’t continue on to the third, but young children would not see that as a flaw.
Freddy and the Space Ship, by Walter Brooks
A small but fun genre of children’s literature are books from the 1950s and 60s about space travel – yes, the era when Buzz Lightyear replaced Woody the Cowboy in childhood fantasies. One of my favorites is Miss Pickerill Goes to the Moon (a voyage Dr. Doolittle also made, as you may recall). Hoping for more of the same kind of fun, I picked up this one, in which our barnyard hero Freddy the Pig and some of his friends attempt a trip to Mars. It was OK, but not great. I cleansed my reading palate by revisiting Eleanor Cameron’s The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet, in which two enterprising 11-year-olds have the opportunity to visit a child-sized planet that orbits our own at a respectable distance.
Bloomability, by Sharon Creech
Recommended by a friend who recently returned to the US after four years teaching in an international school overseas. This coming-of-age story takes 13-year-old through a year in an American boarding school in Switzerland. Dinny has always moved around – her father can’t keep a job – but resists the changes that come when an aunt and uncle “kidnap” her and take her abroad. Here, however, she meets kids who have experienced the same kinds of changes she has. Well written and engaging.
The Lightening Thief, by Rick Riordan
I rounded out my kid-lit jaunt with something I picked up at the airport, having run out of reading material. This young-adult fantasy novel features a misfit kid who can’t understand or control his strange powers until he discovers their source: his dad is one of the Greek gods from Mount Olympus. Percy (short for Perseus) is uprooted and sent to a special summer camp for other kids in his position, then reluctantly drawn into a quest along with his geeky sidekick (in this case a satyr) and a smart-girl friend. (Parallels to another series are rather obvious.) Fun read!
Thursday, August 27, 2009
Envy, says Eric Weiner in The Geography of Bliss, is a great enemy of happiness and can be toxic in a community.
The Swiss seem to know this instinctively and go to great length to avoid provoking envy in others. They hate to talk about money:
"I met a few Swiss people who couldn't even bring themselves to use the 'm' word; they would just rub their fingers together to indicate they're talking about money. At first, this struck me as odd, given that Switzerland's economy is based on banking - a profession that, last time I checked, had something to do with money. But the Swiss know that money, more than anything else, triggers envy.Eric really seems to take a shine to Iceland. One obvious reason:
"The American way is: If you've got it, flaunt it. The Swiss way is: If you've got it, hide it." (pp. 31-32)
"In Iceland, being a writer is pretty much the best thing you can be. Successful, struggling, publishing in books or only in your mind, it matters not. Icelanders adore their writers. Partly, this represents a kind of narcissism, since just about everyone in Iceland is a writer or poet. Taxi drivers, college professors, hotel clerks, fishermen. Everyone. Icelanders joke that one day they will erect a statue in the center of Reykjavik to honor the one Icelander who never wrote a poem. They're still waiting for that person to be born." (p. 147)The people in this quirky little country (320,000 people) are highly creative people. Consider Larus Johannesson, who owns a small music store and a recording label:
"In his forty-odd years, Larus has earned a living not only as a chess player but also as a journalist, a construction-company executive, a theologian, and, now, a music producer. 'I know,' he says, sensing my disbelief. 'But that kind of resume is completely normal in Iceland.'" (p. 161)The reason? "Envy," says Larus. "There's not much of it in Iceland."
"The lack of envy he's talking about is a bit different from what I saw in Switzerland. The Swiss suppress envy by hiding things. Icelanders suppress envy by sharing them. Icelandic musicians help one another out, Larus explains. If one band needs an amp or a lead guitarist, another band will help them out, no questions asked. Ideas, too flow freely, unencumbered by envy, that most toxic of the seven deadly sins." (pp. 161-2)The other factor, said Larus, is failure. Failure there doesn't carry a stigma. Icelanders seem to admire people who fail, especially if they fail for good reasons like not being ruthless enough. Nobody in Iceland goes around telling other people that they aren't good enough to do what they are doing. Their naivety, says Larus, is their greatest strength.
Eric finds the discovery that there's a whole nation of people who are naive and don't see this as a flaw remarkably healing. Twenty years before he'd been fired from his dream job at the New York Times for being "naive and unsophisticated."
"I never really got over the insult. Until now. Sitting here with Larus, in this pitch-dark speck of a nation, I could feel the wound cauterizing. Here was an entire nation of naive people, and they seemed to be doing just fine." (p. 167)In stark contrast to Iceland is the country of Moldova, which according to the World Database of Happiness is the least happy nation on the planet.
Eric thinks he'll check it out.
"Even the name sounds melancholy. Moldooooova. Try it. Notice how your jaw droops reflexively and your shoulders slouch, Eeyore-like. (Unlike 'Jamaica,' which is impossible to say without smiling.)" (p. 186)Moldovans say they are unhappy for one reason: money. They don't have enough of it, especially compared to other European countries. So, envy is a big problem; the Moldovans feel like they are at the bottom of the heap and disgruntled about the success of others. Trust is also a factor.
"Moldovans don't trust the products they buy at the supermarket. (They might be mislabeled.) They don't trust their neighbors (They might be corrupt.) They don't even trust their family members. (They might be conniving.)Eric asks about democracy. The Moldovan government may not be perfect, but certainly it's better than Soviet totalitarianism. Right? No, says his contact without the slightest hesitation. Back then people had jobs and a place to live and food to eat, not like now.
"Another reason for Moldovan misery? 'People in Moldova are neither Russian nor Moldovan. We have been abused and abandoned by everyone. We have no pride in anything. Not even our languages. There are ministers in the Moldovan government who don't speak Moldovan. They speak only Russian. I hate to say it, but it's true. There is no Moldovan culture.'" (p. 197)
"For years, political scientists assumed that people living under democracies were happier than those living under any other form of government... but the collapse of the Soviet Union changed all that... Happiness levels did not rise. In some countries they declined, and today the former Soviet republics are, overall, the least happy places on the planet. What is going on? That old causality bugaboo, political scientist Ron Inglehart concluded: It's not that democracy makes people happy but rather than happy people are much more likely to establish a democracy.
"The soil must be rich, culturally speaking, before democracy can take root. The institutions are less important than the culture. And what are the cultural ingredients needed for democracy to take root? Trust and tolerance. Not only trust of those inside your group - family, for instance - but external trust. Trust of strangers. Trust of your opponents, your enemies, even." (p. 198)This doesn't bode well for Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Iraq - all nations with fragile democracies, made of diverse peoples whose fates have been bound together somewhat against their will.
Wednesday, August 26, 2009
Weiner (pronounced like 'whiner') spent years as foreign correspondent, frequently sent to cover the unhappiest events in the most difficult places. Now he decides to explore (and tell) the other side of the story.
Eric visits and writes about 10 countries* and their diverse pursuits of happiness.
The Dutch seem to find their happiness by lingering for long periods of time in cafes, riding their bikes, and being as tolerant as is humanly possible. But Eric was glad to get away. "Tolerance is great, but tolerance can easily slide into indifference, and that's no fun at all." (p. 25)
For the Swiss, happiness is next to cleanliness, functionality (Eric fell in love with the Swiss train system), nature, and really good chocolate.
The people of Bhutan find it in choosing spirituality over materialism, and in Thailand, people have learned just not to take themselves so seriously.
Across the board, the author discovers, family and friends are important. The happiest societies are full of people who consider their relationships more important than their problems.
Money helps, but only to a point; poverty is a big downer but the more money you have the less of a difference it makes.
Excessive thinking can be a problem. People who think a lot - even thinking a lot about happiness - usually fail to grasp it. This took the author by surprise:
"I've always considered myself a thoughtful person. There's virtually nothing I won't think about, from the intensely profound to the astonishingly trivial. The only thing I haven't given much thought to is... thinking.Turns out beaches are optional; some of the world's happiest places are cold, and the climes classed as "paradise" often fall in the middle on the happiness scale.
"Like most westerners, I've never felt the need to question the value of thinking... psychotherapy is built on this assumption - cognitive therapy, in particular. If we can only fix our faulty thought patterns, our corrupted software, then happiness, or at least less misery, will ensue.
"I've spent most of my life trying to think my way to happiness, and my failure to achieve that goal only proves, in my mind, that I am not a good enough thinker. It never occurred to me that the source of my unhappiness is not flawed thinking but thinking itself.
"Until I traveled to Thailand..." (pp. 224-225)
But gratitude and trust, those are not optional. The happiest people live in places with high levels of both. If you don't trust the people you interact with regularly you probably can't be happy.
"Trusting your neighbors is especially important. Simply knowing them can make a real difference in your quality of life. One study found that, of all the factors that affect the crime rate for a given area, the one that made the biggest difference was not the number of police patrols or anything like that but, rather, how many people you know within a fifteen-minute walk of your house." (p. 39)This post is getting long. Come back tomorrow for some thoughts from Switzerland, Iceland, and Moldova about the connections between envy and happiness.
* Curious? This book includes chapters on the Netherlands, Switzerland, Bhutan, Qatar, Iceland, Moldova, Thailand, Great Britain, India, and America. Not necessarily the happiness top ten, but they provide for some very interesting comparisons.
Tuesday, August 25, 2009
I was surprised to discover, today, that Through Her Eyes is now available in a Kindle edition. Not that any of us has a Kindle, but I like the idea. I wonder if I should do anything to get the word out? I did very little marketing of the book at the time it came out and have not developed a real band of followers or anything. I have managed to lug copies to most of my speaking engagements. They continue to sell pretty well.
If I were to do it all over there are definitely things I'd do differently in order to get the book into more hands. A year or two ago I did create a little website.
Saturday, August 22, 2009
“If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go with others.” [see note below]Have you seen how it can take forever to get people moving? As a person who tends to operate (like it or not) with a fairly high degree of personal autonomy, I am taken off guard by this. For example, when you’re trying to herd a family, small group, or – say – a short-term mission team, the lag time between “Where should we go to eat?” and actually putting the first bite in one’s mouth can be - well, huge!
So if you are working with a group of people you may need to schedule a lot more time to accomplish things.
That’s why when I organized a church event a few weeks ago I did most of the work myself and held the event in the church lobby so people wouldn’t have to go anywhere.
On the other hand, projects undertaken together are usually stronger, and better, and wiser, and tend to produce relational fruit that may last much longer than the impact of the actual project.
So ultimately it’s a better approach. Next time I’ll handle the church event differently. I need to deal with some of the internal obstacles that keep me from being as effective in collaborating as I might be.
Thursday I had coffee with a guy I met more than a decade ago in a class about fostering collaboration. Although I do not know him well, Dave and I share a good deal of common ground and I was pleased that he wanted to get together and talk shop. Dave serves on a small team with Phill, and Phill is one of my all-time ministry heroes. Phill’s ministry had put on the training event where I met Dave.
One thing we talked about is how in American churches as in many other kinds of communities individuals have a tendency to say, “Hey, I have a great idea. How can I get people to rally to me and carry out this great idea?” We try and try to interest others in the things we’re doing and then get prematurely discouraged and give up when this approach doesn’t work.
We might be a lot more effective if we started asking different questions. Changing our focus from “what can I do?” to “what should be done?” can make a huge difference in how we go about things - in ministry or other endeavors. Here’s how Dave puts it:
The Four Key Questions of CollaborationRead the rest of the article here.
A culture of partnership is created and sustained by realizing that neighborhood- or wider-world partnership can power your vision and scale up the objectives your ministry can accomplish.
The goal is no less than reexamining everything we do through the lens of partnership. This is the choice for those who want to make collaboration the default setting under which we operate because it is who we are, not just what we do in certain isolated situations.
Those with this commitment will at some point – and again and again! – ask these four key questions of collaboration:
- “I have a ministry vision that God is calling me to do! Do you suppose God has given this vision to others as well?”
- “Would it make sense to find them and see how we could work together to accomplish this ministry vision better than by working apart?”
- “Is there a set of skills that we might need to successfully meet and collaborate?”
- “How and where might I gain those skills?”
Note: To all who googled that particular proverb seeking a source - I found it many places but have not been able to confirm a more specific origin. If you're feeling generous and find something solid, let me know. And just for fun, check out this:
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I love Puget Sound. Here's a view of the marina at Oak Harbor on Whidbey Island. Dad and Jennie and I took their boat there from Everett. It's about a four-hour trip if you're going 7 knots.
I didn't take any pictures on the way up, but spent at least an hour looking out from the flybridge, admiring the silver sunlight on the waves, and pondering the color of water.
More pictures here.
Friday, August 14, 2009
“First, I discipline my emotions when I make sure that they are not blocking the truths I need to hear.”
“Second, I am disciplining emotions when I make sure that they do not overrule what I know in my heart is good and right.”
“Third, I am disciplining my emotions when I take moments to pause and ask, what are my prevailing feelings right now Do they accurately reflect my situations? If I feel down, do I have reason to be down? If I am elated, does the reality of the moment justify that feeling? Is the anger I feel justified; is it in proportion to the situation?”
“I am disciplining my emotions if I am careful to translate them into responsible action.”
Friday, August 07, 2009
My co-worker was getting ready to place an order for office supplies. She was going to get them from Office Depot or Corporate Express or someplace boring like that.
But somehow I got on the list for Constructive Playthings, and their catalog had just come in the mail.
"Wouldn't it be fun if we only ordered office supplies from here?" I joked. Or at least office furniture... This is what I'd like for my next cubicle. Green is such a peaceful color, too...
We also liked the look of the Rainbow Retreat Canopy:
Thursday, August 06, 2009
Have you heard about this? From what S. says it sounds like Collins’ nomination is being fiercely debated. Most seem to agree that he’s extremely well qualified for the post. But he is also an evangelical Christian who has made some statements that seem, well, not very scientific. He is perfectly comfortable with his faith and his science and finds them in delightful harmony, but others on both sides find that a red flag. Surely there are SOME tensions?
Some scientists are worried at having a leader who thinks science has its limits and provides religious explanations for things they believe we’ll eventually be able to explain scientifically. For example, Collins believes that ethics, morality, and conscience come from God, while some scientists are developing and testing theories about how these things evolved. Collins supports the theory/fact of evolution, an old earth, etc. but he doesn’t seem to be absolutely on the science “side,” if indeed science and faith exist in tension.
Forgive me if I’m not doing justice to the issues here. I’m not, as it happens, much of a scientist. When I read the summary of Collins' views, I thought: fair enough, though I said the same when I read the critiques of him. Personally, even if I'm ignorant, I’m thrilled with science and rely on it not only to keep on working but to actually progress (something we don’t see so much in morality, ethics, theology, religion, or human civilization in general, right?) And the best thing about science is that it's supposed to be fearless. You form a theory and try to disprove it. Some say that evolutionists betray this very principle, and I suppose that may sometimes be the case. They're only human (!) I haven't probed the depths of all this or felt the need to do so.
You can read some more coherent writing about this debate here (and I'm sure you could find much more with a quick search).
- Science Is In the Details, Op-Ed piece for the NY Times, by Sam Harris
- Francis Collins: Fit to Head the NIH, debate piece in the LA Times
- Obama to Nominate Prominent Christian Geneticist to Head NIH, Associated Baptist Press
I haven’t written back to S. She’s probably wondering if I’m going to. If/when I do, I might try to reassure her: haven’t a huge percentage of the world’s greatest scientific discoveries been made by people of faith? The question of whether being a person of faith is an asset or a liability, in science, is not clear one way or the other, is it?
In America’s – or indeed the world’s – secular humanist subcultures, I can see how religion could seem a handicap. Yet across the whole American population, not to mention the world, S. knows she’s in the minority here. Reflecting on it, I realized that in other subcultures she would be considered the dangerous one. A person with no religion? Sounds unstable. There are quite a few countries where it’s not only socially unacceptable to be an atheist, but even discouraged or sort of prohibited by law. She’d be safe in China, of course, but what about a place like Indonesia, where you have to have your religion printed on your ID card? It’s a multiple choice question too, so you can’t express your conscience (God-given or evolved!) but must choose from the short list.
Surely religious liberty ought to include liberty from religion. Though I suppose everybody has faith and values and a worldview, and I'm not sure how that's so different when you put it all out on the table. Anyway, S. has the right to be an a-theist and to be squeamish about putting her fate in the hands of an evangelical. (We don't have a spotless track record.)
About Collins, apparently some are saying: As long as he keeps religion and science separate and doesn’t abuse his post, we’ll be OK. As long as he’s a good scientist it’s OK if he’s a Christian. But S. is not so sure. Can – or should – people compartmentalize themselves so much? Can someone who is on record as an evangelical Christian and a Creationist (as well as an evolutionist) really be expected or asked or trusted to keep his religion to himself and to be a good scientist? I mean, what kind of evangelical Christian would? (At least, that's the question raised by the editor of "Skeptic" magazine, who says he should know since he was raised one.)
Are Collins' positions syncretistic?
Wednesday, August 05, 2009
The sun had not risen. Yet when I opened the blinds of my bedroom window I could see the nearest street light. It was on. This light sits in exactly the place where the light of the sun is first visible for much of the year.
Funny how many centuries it takes and how much labor and cost goes into imitating the creation, though perhaps it is the sincerest form of flattery.
Once I watched a seagull trying to open mussels for his breakfast. He flapped his wings and rose straight up in the air, dropping them on the dock to crack them open. I wondered how much we spend to build aircraft that can go straight up in the air like that seagull.
On one hand I’m impressed by how much we, human beings, can do: that we recognize good stuff all around us, imagine what is possible, and can build such amazing things. Engineering can accomplish fabulous works.
On the other hand, I notice how much easier the Creator seems to make it look in pulling off the same things and better ones.
Well, an expert does tend to reach the point where he or she can make things look easy, right?
Tuesday, August 04, 2009
(See also part 1: fiction)
Three Cups of Tea, by Greg Mortensen and David Relin
I suspect most of my readers are familiar with this story of a mountaineer who commits to build a school for the children of the Pakistani village that takes him in. Keeping his promise takes several years but he learns much about himself, the region, and community development along the way, and discovers his calling in bringing education to those who do not have the opportunity, otherwise – especially girls. I’d love to see everybody who considers Muslims the enemy read this book. Mortensen avoids taking on politics or religion head-on, just works tirelessly on behalf of the kids and shares the story with others.
"I've learned that terror doesn't happen because some group of people somewhere like Pakistan or Afghanistan simply decide to hate us. It happens because children aren't being offered a bright enough future that they have a reason to choose life over death." (Three Cups of Tea, p. 292)
I’d highly recommend this book, and when I asked a friend who also works in that region about Greg Mortenson, she said: We could use a dozen more like him.
In one powerful scene the head of the village smilingly hands over his community’s wealth, in the form of 12 perfect rams, so that the building of the school can continue. He declares that his enemy will eat tonight, but their village will have a school "forever."
I found this a bit naïve. Building schools and educating a generation is good but hardly eternal. The world is not so reasonable or reliable as that. Another friend who has lived in that part of the world many years says:
“Sadly I think much of the work he did is now under Taliban-controlled areas and whatever he did may have been lost to their fundamentalist views. Unfortunately that is reality in much of the world; good deeds do not last as long as we wish.”
I think that anyone who puts his trust in human progress and goodness is likely to experience great disillusionment. (Though spiritual changes in a community do not last forever, either.)
I've been wondering lately what things that I've done will outlive me or continue to bear fruit after my life is over. Deep question, I know. But I would like to live in such a way as to make a lasting difference. I feel pretty good about what I've done with what I have but I'd like to see some improvements, as well.
A man I know lost his wife last year; their family set up a fund in her memory to continue helping with things she considered important - long-lasting things that reflected her values. I really like that idea. I just got a letter with a report about some of the initial things this new foundation the family ended up establishing has begun to do. It's really good stuff.
Even if some or even many of the specific projects Greg Mortensen completed have been wiped out (and I'm not saying I've researched that question!), his real goal has been investing in empowering local people. That will last far longer than some building.
An interview posted on the Three Cups of Tea website adds:
Also, one consideration, very under-reported in the western media and specifically related to the war on terror, is that in Islam, before a man leaves his home to go on any jihad—he must get permission from his mother. An educated woman will much more be unlikely to support her son in terror activities and deny or delay his departure.