Thursday, December 30, 2010

In defense of talking to other people

For all that we hear that diversity is a good thing, that it's better for the world that we're all a little different and each bring another flavor to the human potluck, it can be hard to accept that other people don't like or care about the things that - to you or to me - seem, well, ultimate. Why don't they "get" it?

I think this is one of the great causes of conflict in our world: We all share huge patches of common ground and may hold the same opinions about many things but we don't agree about what things actually matter.

How do you respond when you realize anew that most other people don't think and care like you do about money, politics, the environment, faith, or family?

With that as a disclaimer, I just wanted to say: I don't "get" people who don't seem to want or need relationships with other people, who don't find human beings precious and fascinating and ultimately the most interesting and valuable thing under the sun.

So, when it comes to relating to other people, I'd like to speak up on behalf of taking risks to seek out relationships. Make it your habit to try to get to know people. Go to that social event, talk to strangers, and treat the person behind the counter like a human being and not an object; see what happens. You might really blow it, I know. Or they might. They might hurt you. But you'll never find out if you limit yourself to the people you already know, and/or the fake (but safe) one-way relationships you can have with celebrities and people on TV and in other media.

Most of us fear the awkwardness of risking relationship with people who might be really different from us. But they may not be as different as you think.

I saw a kid at church wearing a T-shirt that said "awkward is awesome." Could be. Only a willingness to step out into awkwardness can make way for awesomeness. Here's my hunch: You will never experience the best that life has to offer if you don't engage with other people on this planet.

If I ever end up writing my book about listening, this will be why. I hate to see so many people missing out. Missing out on what they could get out of life; missing out on what they could give others. A few adjustments of perspective and practice could make all the difference.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

2010 Book List

I read a =lot= of books during my six-month sabbatical – the rest of the year not so much. Looks like the total is 122 volumes. Here’s what I think is a complete list. Lots of good stuff, but I’ll star the ones that for whatever reason I loved the most. Want to talk books? Leave a comment or drop me a line.

See also Read in 2009 - Part 1, Nonfiction, Read in 2009 - Part 2, Fiction and 2008 Book Blogging Roundup.

NONFICTION

Biography / Memoir
  • Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle | Kent Annan
  • Just Like Us: The True Story of Four Mexican Girls Coming of Age in America | Helen Thorpe *
  • How Reading Changed My Life | Anna Quindlen
  • Speak What We Feel, Not What We Ought to Say | Fredrick Buechner *
  • The Dream: A Memoir | Harry Bernstein
  • D. E. Hoste, A Prince with God: Hudson Taylor's Successor as General Director of the China Inland Mission 1900-1935 | Phyllis Thompson
  • Percy Mather of Central Asia: The Making of a Pioneer | Mildred Cable and Francesca French
  • The Caliph's House, A Year in Casablanca | Tahir Shah *
  • Making Toast | Roger Rosenblatt
  • Desert Flower: The Extraordinary Life of a Desert Nomad | Waris Dirie
  • The Second Trail: Behind the Scenes of the Enemy God | Amber Castagna
  • The Reluctant Exodus | Phyllis Thompson *
  • Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith | Ann Lamott
  • Lady on the Beach | Norah Berg and Charles Samuels
  • Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 Feet | Nathan Foster *
  • One Man’s Meat | E.B. White **
Personal Development
  • The Bible **
  • God Guides | Mary Geegh
  • The Overload Syndrome: Learning to Live within Your Limits | Richard Swenson
  • A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 | Phillip Keller
  • The Way of the Heart: Connecting with God through Prayer, Wisdom, and Silence | Henri Nouwen
  • The Rest of God: Restoring Your Soul by Restoring Sabbath | Mark Buchanan **
  • The Bible Jesus Read | Philip Yancey **
  • The Vertical Self: How Biblical Faith Can Help Us Discover Who We Are in an Age of Self Obsession | Mark Sayers *
  • Knitting without Tears | Elizabeth Zimmerman
  • In Search of Balance: Keys to a Stable Life | Richard Swenson
  • Overcoming Missionary Stress | Marjory Foyle *
  • Things Unseen: Living in Light of Forever | Mark Buchanan *
  • Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission | Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss *
  • Why Am I Afraid to Tell You Who I Am? Insights into Personal Growth | John Powell
  • The Search for Significance | Robert McGee
  • To Be Told: God Invites You to Coauthor your Future | Dan Allender
  • A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss | Jerry Sittser **
  • Now, Discover Your Strengths | Marcus Buckingham and Donald Clifton *
  • 48 Days to the Work You Love | Dan Miller
  • StrengthFinder 2.0 | Tom Rath
  • Outlive your Life | Max Lucado
  • Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream | David Platt*
Other Nonfiction
  • Outliers, the Story of Success | Malcolm Gladwell **
  • Commissioned: What Jesus Wants You to Know as You Go | Marv Newell *
  • Woman to Woman: Sharing Jesus with a Muslim Friend | Joy Loewen
  • Delhi: Adventures in a Megacity | Sam Miller
  • Cows, Kin, and Globalization: An Ethnography of Sustainability | Susan A. Crate
  • Somebody Else's Century: East and West in a Post-Western World | Patrick Smith
  • Skills, Knowledge, Character: A Church-Based Approach to Missionary Candidate Preparation | Greg Carter

FICTION

Fiction / Literature
  • Gilead: A Novel | Marilynne Robinson **
  • A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini
  • In the Beauty of the Lilies | John Updike
  • Tales from Shakespeare | Charles and Mary Lamb
  • The Magician's Nephew | C.S. Lewis
  • The Three Musketeers | Alexander Dumas
  • Hannah Coulter | Wendell Berry **
  • Summer Morning, Summer Night | Ray Bradbury
  • Home | Marilynne Robinson
  • Jayber Crow | Wendell Berry
  • Three Short Novels | Wendell Berry
  • Run: A Novel | Ann Patchett *
  • Girl in Translation | Jean Kwok
  • The Bonesetter’s Daughter | Amy Tan
  • The Help | Kathryn Stockett
  • Silver Birches | Adrian Plass
  • The Devil amongst the Lawyers: A Ballad Novel | Sharyn McCrumb
  • In the Company of Others | Jan Karon
  • Homeland and Other Stories | Barbara Kingsolver *
Mysteries and Light Fiction
  • The Tale of Applebeck Orchard | Susan Wittig Albert
  • Curtain: Poirot's Last Case | Agatha Christie
  • A Caribbean Mystery | Agatha Christie
  • Skull Duggery | Aaron Elkins
  • The Lost Art of Gratitude | Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Five Red Herrings | Dorothy Sayers
  • Light from Heaven | Jan Karon
  • The Good Husband of Zebra Drive | Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society | Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows **
  • The Game | Laurie King
  • Debts of Dishonor | Jill Paton Walsh
  • Among the Mad | Jacqueline Winspear
  • The Double Comfort Safari Club | Alexander McCall Smith
  • Kaleidoscope | Dorothy Gilman
  • Miracle on the 17th Green | James Patterson and Peter deJong
  • The Girl Who Chased the Moon | Sarah Addison Allen
  • Egret Cove | Margaret Nava
  • Key Lime Pie Murder | Joanne Fluke
  • The Lacemakers of Glenmara | Heather Barbieri
  • Locked Rooms | Laurie King *
  • The Mapping of Love and Death | Jacqueline Winspear
  • 44 Scotland Street | Alexander McCall Smith
  • Just Between You and Me | Jenny B. Jones
  • The Language of Bees | Laurie King
  • Chasing Shakespeares | Sarah Smith
  • The Yada Yada Prayer Group | Neta Jackson
  • Mostly Harmless | Douglas Adams
  • Holiday Grind | Cleo Coyle
Kid Lit / Young Adult
Five of these I read aloud to my young friend Rachel. But I still enjoy this kind of stuff for myself, too.
  • C D C? by William Steig
  • Betsy-Tacy / Deep Valley stories (12 volumes) | Maud Hart Lovelace
  • The Hardy Boys: Hunting for Hidden Gold | Frank Dixon
  • Stuart Little | E.B. White
  • The Battle of the Labyrinth | Rick Riordan
  • The Last Olympian | Rick Riordan
  • The Secret Garden | Frances Hodgson Burnett
  • The Horse and His Boy | C.S. Lewis *
  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian | Sherman Alexie
  • Anne’s House of Dreams | L.M. Montgomery
  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone | J.K. Rowling
  • Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire | J.K. Rowling
  • Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates | Mary Mapes Doge
  • The Princess Academy | Shannon Hale
  • So You Want to Be a Wizard | Diane Duane
  • Bloomability | Sharon Creech *
  • The King in the Window | Adam Gopnik *
  • Beside the Dark Sea of Darkness | Andrew Peterson
  • A Week in the Woods | Andrew Clement *

Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Sound of Owls

Sometimes it takes me by surprise, how different we all are.

Recently a friend told me that late the night before she was reading a book that spoke of God's work in the "small" things. Just then she heard something land on the roof of her house with a loud thump, and, listening, realized it must be an owl. Another owl was perched on a neighbor's roof; she could just make out the shape.

She and her family have always loved owls. She called her grown daughter into the room: come quick! For half an hour they listened to the owls calling back and forth. My friend was so excited about what had happened she could not sleep.

While I like this story, I'm pretty sure I would not have reacted the same way. Would not, I suppose, have known it was an owl or been so excited that it was. Nature lover, yes; animal person, not really.

But it got me thinking about what things do thrill me in that same way. People, chiefly, and people's stories, and what makes people tick. The fact that I could tell you a story about my friend being excited about the owls means more to me than, say, hearing a couple of owls.

What kinds of things thrill or delight you? Can you sum them up into easy categories?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Not Yet Perfect

"Still looking for that perfect gift?" asked the radio spot. It was a Christian station; I think they were pitching something like child-sponsorship. But I chewed on those words for a while. I wondered why they felt like an accusation.

Should I be looking for that perfect gift? Is there something wrong with me if I don't want to give the perfect gift or have stopped looking? What if I don't like choosing presents for people, or shopping in general? If I'd rather opt out of wrapping, decorating, and filling and/or facing down a table full of sweets?

I envy the husbands of some of my friends, the kind of guys who have someone else to plan events and buy presents and write cards and sign their name. Must be nice to be a man! Now and again and in small doses I enjoy these celebratory arts, but this time of year it's all at once, and the more there is the less it seems to mean.

But it is what it is, and I go along with all of it, awkwardly, longing for the clean, crisp days of January.

It helps to acknowledge to myself that it's not that I'm right, and the others are wrong. Shopping and wrapping and parties and decorating and eating together are ways as good as any to show love, good will, and generosity. I can give those things, and I can receive them, even as I object to the huge helpings all at once.

Maybe next year I'll get more Silent Night, Holy Night, and Peace on Earth.

What does bring a sweetness to my soul, tears to my eyes, and cause my Grinchy heart to grow three sizes larger? There are some elements of Christmas - even Christmas in secular 21st-century America - that do. Every time I click on a link to watch one of those Hallelujah Chorus videos that are going viral on the internet (here's today's), I start to cry. What is it that makes that piece so glorious? Whatever it is about those melodies, harmonies, and rhythms, the lyrics cap it for me:

King of kings, and Lord of lords / And He shall reign / And He shall reign forever and ever

How wonderful it will be to take our place in a kingdom that will last forever, not to be in charge but to be under the care of a completely trustworthy and loving authority, in a place where both rest and work are redeemed and there will be no more struggling.
And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell 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.”
Revelation 21:3-5 

Monday, December 20, 2010

Comment Policy

Got something to say? This blog is a nice outlet for me and at least occasionally of interest or help to some of you. But it does tend to feel rather one-sided, huh?

Recently I turned off the settings that made potential leavers-of-comments "register." Now you can comment at will and see your words appear immediately. Voila! Unless you are a spammer. In which case you may not get through; Blogger has finally got a system set up to flag spam comments. Slowly, slowly, they are catching up.

I still plan to move to Wordpress. I just haven't gotten around to it.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Chronicles of Narnia: Voyage of the Dawn Treader

"Voyage of the Dawn Treader could be a great movie," I thought. The movie that got made, however, is not that movie. Not only is much of the original content left out, a number of things that get played up are either small incidents or not present in the book at all. So, as a big fan of the book, I was not sure what to think.

I liked the reinterpretation of the story of Lucy and the Magic Book; they used it to launch a whole theme about jealousy, temptation, and identity. Similarly at the end, when Caspian has to make a decision about what he's going to do next, he says,
“I’ve spent too much time wanting what had been taken from me and not enough being grateful for what has been given to me.”
Awesome. And - though not from the book - very much in the spirit of the story.  

They did add a lot of conflict and violence that might be hard for the youngest viewers to watch. Three new fight scenes in the first 15 minutes? And the rather funny scene with the sea-serpent transformed into a terrifying 20-minute night battle?

There are are a couple of scenes that celebrate faith and believing, when believing is just believing that what you want to happen is going to happen. What kind of faith is that? Pretty watered down, but much what you'd expect from Hollywood. Then, in the scene where the crew is about to go to the dark island, Caspian gives a speech to stir up their courage. Do it "for Narnia!" he says. "For Aslan!" he says. "For Narnia!" they echo, cheering. Some of the characters are starting to weep. Narnia! Wait, what happened to Aslan? Are they just like people in my country who adore their own, destined-to-decay nation and only give lip-service to God?

When Aslan does appear, though, he is well played. When Lucy asks whether she can see Aslan again, even if she can't return to Narnia, Aslan says yes. The line is straight from the book:
"But there I have another name. You must learn to know me by that name. This was the very reason why you were brought to Narnia, that by knowing me here for a little, you may know me better there."
What else? The cinematography and effects are brilliant; the boat is gorgeous. The writing's not brilliant, but the acting is quite good. Overall, I would recommend this movie.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Three things

1. I tend to like parties, but four Christmas parties in one week is enough. I'm done until the 24th.

2. Last night someone handed me a $1000 check for my ministry. The second time it's happened this week. How cool is that?

(To put this in context: as of two weeks ago my ministry account was >4k in the red. That's because - to my dismay - my agency pays full salary and benefits even when the money is not there. The IRS likes it that way. I don't. But there's light at the end of the tunnel now: Yay for year-end gifts!)

3. Off to brave the crowds and get my Christmas shopping done today, I hope. And catch up on thank-you notes this evening. In between, going to see The Voyage of the Dawn Treader with some friends. Fun!

    Friday, December 17, 2010

    Profession and/or Calling

    In a recent blog post, John Holzmann challenges the frequent connection between job and calling. I thought this was really helpful. While I've been blessed to do work that aligns closely with my sense of calling, I know many more people whose real vocation is something they pursue after hours. Here's what John says:
    Traditionally, it has been understood that whatever one's "job" or "business" or "profession," that is one's vocation. And what one does by way of pure pleasure, is a hobby or avocation -- literally, a non-calling.

    I don't want to go too far into these matters, but it seems to me that one might pursue a "job" or "business" or "profession" not by way calling or vocation, but simply as a means to an end, a means by which one is enabled to pursue other, "higher" goals -- either, simply, to "stay alive," "keep body and soul together" (because one can't find other work to do) or, perhaps -- as is the case with many missionaries in limited-access circumstances -- as a means by which to gain legal access to the area in which one actually senses he or she is called to minister.

    "Calling," it seems to me -- vocation -- is something more akin to a compulsion, a "necessity laid upon" a man or woman to do something of great worth whether he or she feels a lot of pleasure from the activity or not, whether the activity is easy to do or hard, requires great courage or, almost, nary a second thought.

    Whether one is engaged in one's calling or, simply, a "job" or "profession," I believe it is still incumbent upon us to do our work "with all our heart, soul, mind and strength" and "as unto the Lord." But I sense there is -- and, rightly, we ought to recognize a distinction between vocation (or "calling") and job.

    >> John's Excursus on Calling is part of a longer post.
    See also my post Work and Rest in Heaven (May 18, 2010).

    Thursday, December 16, 2010

    Mailing List

    Hey, I just sent out an email newsletter. Do you frequent this blog and have some interest in my doings - but don't get my newsletters? If you'd like, zap me an email and I will put your address on my list. I send out updates about once a month.

    Avoiding a Bah, Humbug Christmas

    Haunted?

    "Christmas can be, as the song says, 'the most wonderful time of the year' or it can be the saddest season of all. Fortunately, as I've learned since that long-ago Yuletide, the choice is up to us.

    "When it come to cranky Christmas-ers, no one tops Ebenezer Scrooge. (He was single, too, by the way.) Scrooge's holiday plans, such as they were, were rudely interrupted by visits from a parade of ghosts. If we're not careful, those same ghosts can haunt our own holidays..."

    >> Read the rest of Susan Ellingburg's article on being single at Christmas.

    Abdication

    My new friend Kay writes: "When I learned about King Edward abdicating his throne I thought it was the most romantic story I'd ever heard. Imagine, giving up the throne for the love of a woman.

    "Of course, during that time, the throne didn't really hold any power anymore. It was purely position, but still...

    "What if a king of old had done that? Back in the day when brother killed brother, son killed father, husband killed wife for the crown. What if a king had forsaken all that power, wealth, prestige and honor for love? Unheard of.

    "But then... isn't that what we're celebrating this month?"

    >> Read Kay's post.

    Born into What Kind of World?

    Finally, another friend who lives in a war-torn African country writes in a recent newsletter:

    "When I think about Christ’s birth in light of our situation out here I am reminded that our situation is closer to the world Christ broke into than yours.

    "The Christmas story is not just a warm fuzzy baby born in rustic settings and declared 'Prince of Peace.'

    The Holy Innocents by Giotto di Bondone
    "Remember that the Jews were subject to a brutal Roman overseer in Israel, Herod killed hundreds of babies and children in pursuit of his 'rival,' and Mary and Joseph were forced to become refugees and flee to Egypt. The Magi had to return a different way to their land in order to not endanger Jesus. For Joseph, Mary, the Magi and everyone involved in the birth story, their lives were turned upside down.

    "So my prayer for you and me is that we will have a 'real' encounter with Jesus this Christmas season and even though our lives may be turned upside down we would say yes to Him who gives 'peace not that the world gives, but that surpasses understanding.'"

    Thursday, December 09, 2010

    Fun Run

    Just a few days until the Jingle Bell 5K Run. I think I'm ready.

    We lived on Vashon Island for 5-6 years,
    in the area so originally called "Center"
    Another hope I have with this running thing is to go slay a childhood dragon. Yes, sometime when I'm in the NW I want to borrow a car, drive to Fauntleroy, take the ferry, and make my way to McMurray Middle School to run the two-mile "Fun Run" which we were expected to complete once a week back when I was twelve. As you might guess, this was not something I could do when I was twelve.

    As you may recall, I've had a life-long problem with "fun"!
    Especially when it had to do with sports. All through school P.E. was my least favorite class. And I loathed the Fun Run. It was a low point of my existence. I could run about 100 yards, then walked the rest of the way around the route before getting back to school, shivering and shamed.

    Had I then a fraction of the maturity I have now I might have enjoyed the chance to go for a walk in the rain with friends... though of course being clad in yucky gym clothes and left in the dust (er, mud) by friends may have dampened that experience.

    This week I asked myself, "What was the message of the Fun Run?"
    "That you are a pathetic loser," came the answer. Yikes. Harsh, huh? I don't think my P.E. teachers would like to know they left that kind of legacy. I'm pretty sure that wasn't their intention. (Personally, I think that message was Satan's idea, since he'll use anything that works to steal, kill, and destroy.)

    "So, why do you want to go back?" I continued this conversation with myself.
    "Because I'm not a pathetic loser. Because I can do it. Because doing something that seems to be out of character is completely different when you choose and prepare for it instead of being forced into it, forced into someone else's mold for you. Now, I can do it, and I think it would be... fun."

    If you live in the Seattle area and would like to come with me, let me know. It might be hard to get there over the holidays this month, but maybe that would work out. If not, I should be back in the area for a visit sometime in the summer.

    Wednesday, December 08, 2010

    Christmas Mind Games

    How do you feel about Christmas this year? If you live in America you may be considering this question as the "season" is well underway. In any other part of the world, Christmas may be two and a half weeks off and you aren't giving it much thought.

    However, let's just say you're in America. And probably, like me (and many other people over 10) you have some mixed feelings here.

    I'm a big fan of Christ, but getting frustrating with Christmas. I'm seriously considering dropped the term "Merry Christmas," with all the stress and nonsense that covers up its legitimate meaning, and going with the not-quite-as-tarnished "Happy Holidays." I might opt for "Season's Greetings" but that sounds too meaningless. It reminds me of a phrase they use in a Central Asian country where I spent one Christmas: "bairamingiz bilan." Literally that translates "with your celebration." Works for any occasion. It's short for "bairamingiz bilan mubarak bo'lsin," which means, "Blessed be your celebration." Guess that's a little better. Huh. What do you think?

    Do the "Merry Christmas!" greetings make Christmas more merry, or less? I've been wondering if the tidal wave of memories, expectations, and messages from friends, strangers, and media of all kinds to be and feel fabulous, since it's the "most wonderful time of the year, the hap, happiest season of all" is part of the problem.

    I've done most all of my shopping and my bit of the decorating; I've committed to attend three holiday parties next week. I also have two big boxes of Christmas cards to send. But I'm not sure I really want to send them and if so, what to write. Will it just add to the madness and put on more pressure towards jollity? If I dampen my well-wishes to the point where they don't invoke pressure, though, they don't seem worth sending. Hmmm.

    A friend/relative of mine who claims to hate Christmas writes in a post called I Am a Christmas Failure

    "Christmas is a wonderful time of year when everything is wondrous and special and magical and stuff. Which is why it sucks... because I'm supposed to feel magical, and I don't, so I end up feeling sub-unmagical."

    Probably I am over-thinking this one, throwing out the baby with the bathwater, and fighting when I could just relax and let Christmas be the stew of peace, joy, stress, meaning, and nonsense that it has become. Any advice?

    Thursday, December 02, 2010

    Random Acts of Tax-Deductible Charitable Giving

    Do you want to add another $.45 to go to the Salvation Army?" she asked. I didn't. I also walked by the bell ringer at the next place. I shy away from retail charity of all kinds, preferring to give deliberately, generously, and in focused ways - not carelessly and in little bits to whomever has the cutest or easiest fund-raising campaign.

    But maybe I need to get off my high horse about this. I also showed up for my church's Thanksgiving service without the requisite bag of cans for the food bank. After all, I didn't have any little children to enlist in preparing this good deed, and my $50 check would go further and might bring in some healthier offerings, right? Of course, I forgot the checkbook, so my good intentions didn't go so far as the family carefully picking out canned green beans at Costco, did they?

    Others must find it harder to say no to such easy, hands-on, feel-good requests, because I'm seeing more and more of them.
    I wonder what percentage of charitable giving comes through such random acts of charity? Do you participate in much of this kind of stuff? Why or why not? Do you budget for it? How do you decide what organizations to support, or do you give to all who ask?

    Recently I've noticed several friends raising support asking for "just 50 partners at  $10 a month..." That's more than a one-time donation of $.45, true. But it's a hard way to pay the rent. Would you rather do that, and support many different things, or partner in a more significant, costly way?

    Wednesday, December 01, 2010

    Late Because...

    Do you tend to run a bit late? Are you - forgive the pun - chronically late? I don't, myself, consider tardiness a grave insult or unforgivable sin - In fact, I'd like to see more people stop taking punctuality so seriously. But if you are one of those folks who does, I may be that person who frustrates you.

    On the other hand, I've felt the pressure that comes from being late, trying not to be late, worrying about being late, and trying to compensate for or justify being late. Stressful, eh? I'm all for reducing stress.

    What are some of the reasons we run late?

    Priorities:
    - We don't respect or value the other person's time or the event
    - We consider the beginning of the event or get-together to be "miss-able"
    - We are trying to avoid the awkwardness of being too early or having to stay too long

    Lack of margin:
    - We fail to accurately estimate how much time it would take to get someplace
    - We plan to be early, but then try to get too many other things done with our extra time
    - We try to do too much, in general

    Being in the moment:
    - We simply lose track of time
    - We are helping or in conversation with someone else

    We are unavoidably delayed 
    - Traffic jams, accidents, etc.

      Did I miss any?  (A member of my family says I did. There should be a special category for being unable to get moving because you stayed up too late the night before to finish reading a novel.)

      Which of these are "good" reasons, in your mind, to be late yourself or for someone else to be late for a meeting or event you're part of? Which ones are worth the stress and pressure of lateness?

      Tuesday, November 30, 2010

      Three Approaches to Public Speaking and Teaching

      I've been lurking at the local "franchise" of the Perspectives program for which I often serve as an instructor. These classes are hosted by local churches across the country and around the world. Each class invites 14-15 different people to come and teach, each on a different week of the class. The class that's taking place nearest me this semester didn't invite me to be one of their instructors, but after sulking for a day or two I realized this might be a good semester for me to give extra time to listening, learning, and observing how other people do things. So when I can make it, I'm going to class.

      A few of the speakers we had are in high demand. They came with books and CDs to sell and smooth, well-rehearsed presentations. These, though, were also the speakers who came with a disinclination to hear from or interact with the students. While they did a great job, in my mind they fell a bit short in honoring those they came to serve. Several even asked the coordinators to call off the other things scheduled for class on the days when they were with us. Anything that might have been designed to include the students in prayer, worship, discussion, or response was canceled in order to give more time to the "speaker."

      I like a good lecture, and I think I lecture well myself. But if this class is designed to turn people's lives upside down, I think we need to ask: what approaches best engage and connect with the people who take these classes? What approaches accomplish the stated goals of the course? Do lecturing and entertaining fall short of the best we can provide?

      I don't want to be too hard on instructors, especially in a context like this where they come and go. The responsibility for integration lies more with the the class coordinators, who can (if they choose) get to know their students and help frame the whole experience. Some really embrace the role and add a lot of value to the whole course for their students. But it usually doesn't happen accidentally.

      The course design includes several good tools to help individual students process the material and reflect on its implications for their own lives. There's a text and study guide, reflective homework questions that are graded and handed back, and a major project to complete. I'd love to see students participating in an online discussion forum as well, but I don't think there is one. In this class, no in-class discussion forum either. I've seen very few of these classes use the small-group structure that was common when I first took the course in the 1990's. I've also noticed fewer and fewer class sessions seem to include any notetaking handouts, taking notes seems discouraged.

      If all the class content "integration" happens on an individual level and/or through assignments on the syllabus instead of in the classroom, the 50 percent or so of the students "auditing" the class don't tend to benefit from them. They may choose to do the reading, but don't get much (if any) reward or feedback for it. The instructors learn to assume the students haven't done the reading! So I think we're falling on short on integrating what happens in the classroom with the text as well as with the actual goals of the program. I can see some ways this could be fixed, but it's not an easy ship to turn.

      As an instructor trying to work within the system, I ask: What can instructors do to increase the "stickiness" and transforming power of the material we teach? 

      Teaching Methods:


      2. Lecturing: Some of the instructors mostly lectured, covering and illustrating key principles and providing a framework for organizing and understanding the material most significant to their topic/lesson. I appreciated the thoughtfulness in this approach: you can be sure that those using this technique are going to tell the students what they want to know; that they will "cover" the lesson and do it justice.

      This approach is the least risky of the three. But sometimes it seemed a bit dry and academic.

      Even those who preferred to do all the talking themselves made at least some kind of attempt to answer students' questions. Most, however, gave up when their "does anyone have any questions?" brought stony silence. Once they'd covered their material, they would dismiss the class as much as half an hour early. I guess that's better than going over, but somehow I felt cheated.

      1. Teaching: A few of our instructors, including the several seminary professors, took a more of a workshop or seminar approach. They taught. Typically they would share a case study, hypothetical situation, or discussion question to elicit students' personal experience or engage their imagination/problem-solving abilities. They set aside time for personal reflection or group discussion, and provide a means for reporting back. Even if students are cautious about talking, they make extra effort to draw them in.

      This can work great, and hypothetically I would consider it the "best" of the three techniques I'll describe. But often it falls flat - particularly when participants do not know the instructor or one another, and haven't been subtly trained to participate in this way. Each instructor only gets one "go" at this; they don't have time to create the class's culture of engagement. Even the most skillful of teachers may fail when they try to "teach" in someone else's class. Sometimes the students get frustrated; if they came to hear the instructor share his/her wisdom. They don't like being thrown back on themselves and expected to pool their ignorance.

      3. Storytelling: Other instructors told a lot of stories. One guy in particular opened his session by explaining that he was going to teach by telling stories, "because all the studies show that's how people learn best!" He was one who'd asked the coordinator to cancel as much previously-scheduled programming as possible in order to give him time to tell his story the way he wanted to. He also promised us we'd remember more of his lesson than all the others unless the other instructors had told stories. Kind of a bold statement, I thought - though, I'd heard him speak before and knew he was a compelling storyteller. Over the next couple of hours, he shared his personal experiences - and nothing else.

      His stories were right in line with the objectives of the lesson he was teaching. Yet, other than his invitation to the students to laugh, cry (or buy the stuff he was selling), he didn't give the students ways to participate. I guess they could enter into the story and identify with him as a storyteller, but if they didn't, there would be nothing there for them. He felt he needed the whole time we were together to tell his story. Little or no provision for questions, response, or interaction. So you can see why I have some reservations about this approach. I guess only time will tell if he was right: if his lesson is the one everyone remembers (as he claimed they would). Is that a good goal?

      As a teacher - and as a writer - I use all three of these techniques - I lecture, I teach, I tell stories. But I'm not sure I use them and balance them very deliberately. I don't give a lot of thought to what technique is appropriate to the environments in which I teach and write, other than the significant accommodations I make for the differing class sizes and - as much as I can anticipate them - group cultures. Sometimes I fall short because I'm trying to do it all, or expecting one approach to accomplish that for which another approach is better suited.

      I find the storytelling approach, handled well, often the most fun for both student and teacher/writer. I can see why the guys who tell their own stories are the ones in highest demand. But I don't think storytelling stands alone. This is especially true when what trying to catalyze a movement or to train people who will train others. Yes, personal stories are "sticky," but they are often not transferable. If my goal is to equip others to pass on what I teach them, the application of the principles in their own context matters more than how I've applied them in mine.

      If you want to teach people who will go out and teach others, the stories you tell should be ones they can turn around and tell others as well as you told them. When I train trainers, I replace many of my personal-experience stories with stories from the Bible and other literature, parables, metaphors, etc. Nothing others can't imitate.

      >> Will you help me out? As a student - maybe even in Perspectives classes - what works best for you, and why do you think that is? As a teacher - maybe even in Perspectives classes - what teaching style(s) do you use? To what extent does your approach depend on your material, personality, status, culture, or context? What (besides glazed eyes) tells you it's time to take a different tack?

      Saturday, November 27, 2010

      Writer's Wormhole

      Photo from Flikr, licensed by Creative Commons
      Oops... I just pushed "publish" on a long-ish post I planned to send out to the world on Tuesday - after my American readers have returned from holiday mode. I'd neglected to make those intentions clear to Blogger. 

      Google Reader seems to think my post is up even though I snatched it back. Did you see that post and want to leave a comment? Don't give up. Just come back Tuesday.

      Friday, November 26, 2010

      5K

      Looks like about a dozen friends will join me in the Jingle Bell Run in a few weeks. I'm still working up to running a whopping five kilometers, but am improving!

      And - this is cool - through our participation team "GoDeb" is now contributing more than $400 to the Arthritis Foundation. If you want to make a donation, click here.

      Thursday, November 25, 2010

      What can happen when you want it all...

      As we enter the season of excess, do you need some extra motivation to live a life of moderation? On the food front, see the startling Michelangelo's David Before and After Thanksgiving.

      Wednesday, November 24, 2010

      Martyrdom: What's Worth Dying For?

      He knew what he was doing was dangerous. He had a hunch that those young men who had come to ask about the faith were not sincere, that they might betray him.

      But he told them everything he could about the Prophet Jesus, anyway.

      He didn't know they'd come back to torture and kill him for being - as they saw it - a traitor to his people, a traitor to Islam.

      A few weeks ago I heard his wife tell the story in broken English.

      She spoke of how she went to the morgue and prayed over his body: in the name of Jesus, come back! But the Holy Spirit said to her, she said, and let him go.

      Later, she talked to God about it again. God said. They might seem like harsh words but she was comforted.

      The story had a high profile. Because a Westerner was also killed it was an international incident. That brought opportunities to publicly seek and receive support, to share stories about the men's lives and convictions, to express forgiveness to the guilty.

      She and her children sought asylum in another country, leaving their own - another loss.

      I've been following the stories of two other Christians who have been condemned to die for their faith, this time under the rule of law rather than at the hands of vigilantes. Looks like Asia Bibi, a Pakistani woman, will be pardoned.

      Time is ticking down for Pastor Youcef Nadarkani of Iran. “As you want me to give up Christ and otherwise have to die, then I simply have to die,” he says. His attorney is in the process of appealing to the supreme court, and others are praying and working to see the death sentence overturned.

      Sometimes international pressure helps save the lives of those persecuted and condemned for their faith, but only if things go slow enough and there's a system of law in place and susceptible to such influences. Most martyrdom is secret and hidden. Justin Long writes about that in Martyrdom Down, Persecution Up?

      It seems that suffering is something that comes with the territory, hard as that is for the American mind to accept. Jesus said it would be like this. Something to bear in mind, says Justin: Even if you are working in relative freedom now, any strategy that falls apart in the context of persecution isn’t a strategy that is likely to endure.

      And this applies outside the realm of faith as well: Any strategy designed only for times of prosperity, for favorable conditions, but without provision for disaster and opposition? It may go down like the Titanic. 

      See also: The Most Effective Strategy (April 18, 2009) and Worried about Hail Damage? (September 16, 2010).

      Monday, November 22, 2010

      My Headline News

      Man, am I tired. When I added up the numbers I realized I'd worked 84 hours last week if you count the 25 hours of travel. Spent most of that in meetings with colleagues in Orlando. Very helpful. But it took a lot out of me.

      Thought I'd take Monday off as a comp day. But the people whose messages I haven't answered don't know I was out of town... and I still have that ezine deadline at midnight Tuesday... and we still have a five-day weekend coming up... so I'll just try to pace myself and keep going.

      Here are a few random updates on my life listed in the appropriate newspaper sections. I'll try to publish something of more objective value soon. 

      Technology: This blog will be getting a new look, just as soon as I get my practice blog for Missions Catalyst cleared off and settled in its new location. I plan to relocate this blog to Wordpress. I believe I can import everything that's here, there. I'll let you know when I have a new URL.

      Sports: I signed up for what I believe is my first ever one-time voluntary athletic competition: a 5k race! It's the Jingle Bell Run, a benefit for the Arthritis Foundation. Supposed to be a very jolly sort of run; everybody dresses up in Christmasy clothes and wears jingle bells and brings their kids and dogs, and you can walk if you want to. So it seems a good place for my running debut. Now, let's see if I can really work up to 3.1 miles. A bunch of people from my small group plan to run with me. And we'll do this in honor of my long-time roommate Deb, who has suffered daily pain from arthritis for many decades.

      Finance: I got a raise! I'd asked one of my supporting churches if they'd consider increasing my support, and they raised it by $150 a month. I'm so grateful. My ministry account has been in the negative all year. It would take $11,000 coming in in December to get me to full support for 2010. So, that's not too likely. But turning around the monthly trends will help. I was very encouraged that the church wanted to do this.

      Home Front: After much consideration, I've decided on apple and pumpkin. Pies, that is. I have lots of recipes for more creative, experimental pies, but it's for Thanksgiving. We'll stick with the classics. 'Cause wouldn't it be a shame to show up for Thanksgiving dinner and not have a slice of pumpkin pie? (Maybe two. Even if you are "in training.") I'm going to Bob & Lisa's house. And maybe back again the next day to watch the Ducks game. Lisa's dad, who will be visiting from Oregon, is a fanatic. Go Ducks!  

        Thursday, November 18, 2010

        Short Answers

        Ha ha, no, I haven't been to the Brookings Institute.
        I'm just practicing my right to borrow Flikr images
        registered with "Creative Commons."
        The panel discussion. When you don't know what people have to say, or what other people want to hear about, you add a panel discussion to your group meeting. But my heart sinks when I see it happen; often I come away frustrated and disappointed. What is it that keeps these things from working well? Are there patterns that show up in other forms of communication, too?

        Maybe it's the lack of a coherent message. These guys are just talking to a captive audience off the cuff, when they could be coming in with planned, thoughtful speaking or teaching.
         
        Maybe it's that the answers don't match the questions. Neither the moderator nor the person in the audience who asks a question is apt to elicit the kind of response they are seeking. Nobody really gets to do all the driving; nobody gets what they want. To use another analogy, sometimes too many cooks spoil the broth. Panels are messy. They may seem to drag on, but seldom are long enough for everyone to really feel they've fully asked or gotten answers to their questions or expressed what's important to them.

        Under such pressures, panel members often seem not to be listening. They may come in a little nervous, and hoping to get a certain agenda across. Perhaps they are formulating their next sound bite or wondering how they can weave in a certain reference. So their off-the-cuff responses to questions and to one another may seem ill-put or ill-conceived.

        Would it improve things if everyone disciplined him or herself to give a short answer?

        The most recent time I saw a panel kind of flop was when a panel member responded too quickly to a question, gave an inappropriate answer, realized he wasn't make sense, and tried to extricate himself with more and more words - taking up time that could have been given to another question (or another panel participant). I thought: hush. Let someone else talk.

        In fact, you could issue the invitation yourself: "_____, I think you could probably respond to this better than I could," or "_____, what do you think?"

        Do you have other ideas for making panels work well?

        No sooner did I start to analyze this, then I realized how often I fall into these traps, myself - both in casual conversation and when I'm "speaking" someplace. I want to ask or be asked questions, I want interaction, but I don't want to or am afraid to follow where it leads. I want to stay in control, or finish my thought; I have some other motivation that doesn't honor and respond to the other person. I make a mess of it and then try to pull myself out of the hole with more and more words.

        Better to respond with a short answer and/or ask a clarifying question before making my long, impromptu speech.

        I've been keeping a mental list of the social skills I see demonstrated by people who handle presentations, questions, and group interaction very well. These things don't make as big an impression as the negative examples, do they? But I love to learn and try out new "tricks" for listening and communicating well, and lately I've picked up quite a few. Perhaps I'll write a post about that too.
         
        See also: W.A.I.T.: Why Am I Talking? (June 30, 2009)

        Sunday, November 14, 2010

        One Foot in Front of the Other

        Have an unending to-do list? Or maybe just unable to relax because of a nagging feeling there's something you're supposed to be doing? Do you make a decision to do one thing, then dread the consequences of not choosing another? Struggle to live "in the moment" and give the person you're with your full attention?

        I am not living that way, habitually - not anymore. But there are times I feel such patterns forming again.  And at the moment I'm vulnerable.

        I'm heading into another week without any down time to set it off from the week before. Monday through Friday was pretty busy. Saturday, too, was full of activity. Then I had to hit the road early Sunday morning for 12 hours of travel. Now I'm in Florida, and it's about time for bed. A full week of meetings starts at 8 am, Eastern time. Even as I feel a bit resentful about not getting a day "off," I'm also scheming, in another part of my brain, about how many other things I can squeeze into the margins between meetings...

        Oooh, wait. That's not how I want to live my life, is it? If I'm overloaded and trying to catch up or get ahead, how will I be able to give myself freely to the people I've come here to spend time with - not be nervously looking at my watch or itching to check my email?

        I was journaling and praying about this on the plane. What I felt God showed me was that if I am serious about creating that space where I can be fully present to listen to, honor, and enjoy other people, it will take two things: rest and preparation.
        1. Rest: I'll have to let go of any expectations I might have about doing it all, just trust God and relax. Chill.
        2. Prepare: With things that, when examined under the light, still seemed important to do and do well, I'll have to set aside the time to pay attention to those things. Actually work on them.
        Just beware what can happen if you try to do both at once. There's a time for everything, but you can't do it all at the same time, and these two can be a deadly combo. When you're trying to relax, and failing, and trying to think something through, but just sort of in the back of your mind - well, it just leaves you worried and fretful, neither relaxed nor prepared.

        It's like what would happen if you tried to put your right foot forward and your left foot forward at the same time.

        OK, maybe you'd manage to "hop." But probably not. If you did hop, you probably couldn't keep hopping indefinitely; it would wear you out fast. And even on the first try it's just as likely you'd collapse in a heap, hurting yourself and maybe somebody else, too.

        Ouch. OK. One foot in front of the other.

        So, for me, for today? I wrote it all out, did triage, identified the "work" that needs to be done, then got lost in a novel for an hour or two. Met my coworkers at the airport, and spent several hours actively engaged with them. Now that's over for the evening and it's time to rest again. Set the alarm to make sure I get some time to myself in the morning before it all begins again.

        One foot, then the other. 

        Wednesday, November 10, 2010

        Forty Candles

        My stepsister K. offers the following advice:

        "As you and Megan turn 40 this year, I celebrate with joy the gift of life that God has given you.

        "Please refrain from too much evaluation of your life as you observe this milestone birthday. Counting successes, assessing accomplishments, ticking off dreams unfulfilled, it's too soon for any of that. It's only the 4th inning with much more game to play!

        "This is the start of a new chapter. Rejoice! The best is yet to come!"

        Monday, November 08, 2010

        Book of Letters

        Before the modern reality show,
        there was "This Is Your Life."
        Do you remember it?
        L. wanted to throw me a birthday party. She told me months in advance, and asked me to make a list of 12-15 people to invite. Tricky, that; I wanted people from different parts of my life, but not such a diverse crowd that they wouldn’t feel connected to one another. I didn’t want to hurt someone by including one person and leaving out another. I decided to just invite women this time and made sure that while nobody knew all the others (except me), everyone would be able to look around and see someone (besides me) whom she knew.

        I made my list, and we set the place and time, and L. took it from there. I was a little nervous, especially after she asked me to track down two people who hadn’t acknowledged any of her emails. Just two, but they didn’t respond to my messages either. I wondered how many others had said “no,” or “maybe.” But I thought perhaps L. had left me out of the communication loop on purpose, that she’d asked them to prepare for the event in a certain way or bring something specific to this event as a surprise, and didn’t want me to know.

        The Art of Letter Writing

        Sure enough. She had asked each one of them to write me a letter. This is something we had done for some of the girls in our community when they turned 13: words of wisdom. Love it. I wish people still wrote letters. I love getting them, love writing them, but these days the practice seems almost extinct. 

        In fact, L. had not only asked the women who came to the party to write letters (and read them to me aloud), she had also tracked down all kinds of mutual friends, relatives, and other significant people in my life and asked them to send her a message for me. She printed out the letters on colored stationery and assembled them into a album. More than 50 letters. She made me a book of letters! What fun. This Is Your Life meets The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

        Some of the letters are long, some short, some serious, some hilarious. Full of stories, some I'd forgotten, and each showing the unique character of the writer. What a treasure. I’m delighted. And I’m also glad we did this the Saturday before the big day, instead of after. Now when people tell me to have a wonderful birthday, I can smile, knowing I already have.

        L. pictured me taking the album to Tattered Cover (our excellent independent bookstore) and reading them while enjoying a pot of tea, on the actual day I turn, um, yes, 40. Well, who can resist? I think I've skimmed them all. I will sit down and look at them all more closely again, then, and leisurely write my thank-you notes. The treasure is mine to enjoy again and again.

        A Gift of Words

        Many of the people who wrote structured their letters around words. Words for my birthday! What fun. I love words. And they knew it, because I'd taught them how to write newsletters, marked up their copy as an editor, or helped them catch up with me at Speed Scrabble. Here’s a word from L’s husband J. I’m pretty certain he coined it for the occasion.

        "Here are a few of the things I appreciate about the person God has made you," he began.
        Megadabblifly, def. 2?
        "…You are a multi-tasker, not a multi-slacker. I don't think I've known many people who enjoy the art of "dabbling" as much as you. But you don't just dabble, you mega-dabblifly! 

        "(Def. Megadabblifly: adj. 1. The rare capacity to be involved in many pursuits and projects and still make a significant and worthwhile contribution to each. 2. A state-of-being experienced by very large flies in the winter months in which they seem stupefied by cold temperatures and fly very slowly and lazily around the room.)
        "Of course in your case I refer to definition #1."
        Whew!

        Sunday, November 07, 2010

        Welcome to my home/office

        "They" say you should protect the sanctity of sleep by not using your bedroom for anything but rest.

        "They" say you if you don't have an office or cubicle to go to you should set one up at home and keep regular office hours there.

        I don't see the advantage of that. The basement's too cold for working in, anyway, and the living room doesn't have room for my stuff. So here's where I do most of my work/writing.

        >> What precepts of common wisdom have you found it's fine to ignore?

        Saturday, November 06, 2010

        Pictures

        What should I do to get more pictures for my blog?
        So, maybe you've noticed I'm less likely to illustrate my post with a picture than to offer up the thousand words it's supposed to be worth. Even if I've been out on a photo shoot I seldom capture things that would go with my text.

        I'd kind of like to be one of those bloggers who has a picture or two every time. But I'm not sure how to manage that. If I were one of those "mommy bloggers" I'd have pictures of my precious tots doing cute things, but I'm not. And I don't travel with an iphone, snapping as I go.... Besides which, mostly I'm writing about ideas, not concrete things, so sometimes it's hard to imagine the apt image.

        I used to harvest appropriate images from various places off the web, but even when I thought an picture I'd found was fair game I'd often discover that someone else - the image owner? my keepers here at Blogger? thought otherwise. They'd yank it away some weeks or months later and  leave an awkward hole. (If I saved those pics to my hard drive and then uploaded them on my own, no one would be able to snatch them out of my hand. But does that seem a bit more nefarious?)

        Can you recommend strategies for finding engaging and ethical-to-use image sources to illustrate my blog? Any technical, ethical, or aesthetic tips would be welcome.

        Friday, November 05, 2010

        Spirituality for Extroverts


        My friend Lisa is an off-the-charts extrovert. I'm just a mild one, and more bent towards introversion in a couple of key ways. But when I heard Lisa was doing research and writing a dissertation on spiritual practices for extroverts, I asked to tell me more. Maybe I could buy her a cup of coffee?

        We got together last week. In typical extrovert fashion, we both talked a mile a minute and covered many other topics as well. As I left I realized that without taking notes or seeing something on paper I might have a hard time summing up her research with any accuracy. However, she's promised to let me read the thing at some point. I will probably have to reciprocate by following through on my promise to send her the rather pathetic little paper I wrote in hopes of laying the foundation for a book (on listening).  

        While in many ways the culture we live in and the American church punish introversion and reward  extroversion, the opposite is true when in comes to spirituality. Want to hear from God? You have to go to the mountains, by yourself, with your journal. Want to grow in your faith? The "daily quiet time" is essential - American Christians think it's a sacrament. And we're not a sacramental people.

        While not knocking those things - which are great, but no more mandatory than daily mass - what can we do to offer authentic, helpful models for spiritual discipline to the extroverts? I am assuming it's not impossible to have a vibrant spiritual life if you are a more extroverted, community-oriented person, not a private, keep-it-to-yourself monk in the desert. Most of us would fall somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, right?

        This is an important question to raise not just for American Christians, but people of a variety of backgrounds. I've been in quite a few cultures where people are never alone - never. Sometimes this has to do with fear; I think of the Malay guy I met, a college professor and head of household, who said he hadn't been alone in his home in years - he's that afraid of the djinn. Even without that fear I think the idea of finding and treasuring time alone would seem pretty weird and foreign to someone like him. I know it would to many of the people I've met in Central Asia or North Africa. And "How can I know God?" would be less the question, than "How can we know God?"

        I think it was an Albanian girl who told one of our research teams, "We never drink tea alone." So many of the world's cultures value "togetherness" much more than "individuality." The balance of those two things has a huge effect on what discipleship looks like. If we're going to fulfill the call to disciple nations, we have to navigate these questions more thoughtfully.  

        In researching spiritual discipline for extroverts, Lisa pulled together two groups of extroverted women, all mature Christians. They shared their experiences and attitudes, and tried out some variations on classic spiritual disciplines chosen and adapted for extroverts. For example, they did "lectio divina" - reading and reflecting on spiritual texts - reading and talking it all out together, in a group. They practiced confession, also together. After a discussion of traditional liturgical observances (something all of them tended to feel awkward with) they "practiced" liturgy through memorizing scriptures together. They did some silence and sabbath too - but it didn't have to be a weekend alone in the woods, and their sabbath included the "celebration" element that often gets left out.

        I encouraged Lisa to take some of the best stuff out of her dissertation and write it up in an article or two, say, for Discipleship Journal. She agreed that this would be a good idea, but she doesn't want to do it, at least not now - not after so many months in the basement trying to crank out the dissertation. Writing is hard work. Maybe harder for someone who plans to reward herself, when she finishes, by hitting the road and visiting good friends and far-flung family. Yes, an extrovert's solution! I believe she'll find a way to pass on what she's learned one way or another, but more writing might be tough.

        No, I didn't offer to interview her and write her article, though that would be fun. I thought about it. But these days I'm trying to do a better job at distinguishing - both to myself and to others - between recognizing a great idea and making a commitment. I hope someone does write it. Maybe the "funnest" way to get the article might be to give Lisa a chance to prepare and teach a lesson for a big group, then record and transcribe it?  

        Question: Do you struggle with spiritual disciplines, and/or with expectations and models that don't fit your level of introversion or extroversion? How have you adapted? What's worked? What hasn't?

        See also this previous post: Seeing God's Voice

        Thursday, November 04, 2010

        What Happened to Downtime?

        I haven't been blogging much, have I? And I haven't been reading books, or going for walks. Life has filled up with other kinds of writing, reading, thinking, connecting. Some of it with less proven value.

        Today I woke up at 3:30, thinking to take something for my headache and go back to sleep, but now it's after 4:00 and feels like morning, not night, so I wonder if I will. Turned on the computer. Saw that a friend has booked a one-way ticket to Arizona to be with her dad who seems to be dying. Prayed for her, and another friend, also my age, who lost her mother lately. Remembered I'd told my sister I'd pray for some of her friends facing various losses and lifted them up again too. 

        Thinking about the day to come and the one that just ended...

        Wednesdays I tend to spend a lot of time watching our ezine unfold. It goes out first thing - by which I mean, 12:15 a.m. Eastern. I like to see who has opened it, who has shared it, who has written comments or sent in questions. I re-read it, reflect on what we've done, what I might want to do next time. And I watch what links people click and who is clicking. 

        Yesterday, the story that got the clicks was about a woman who creates art inspired both by traditional henna designs and stories from the Bible. It captured my imagination; I'd like to see a collection of henna-art Bible story pictures. Hundreds of people clicked on the link that said "full story with pictures," but the pictures were too oblique and I wonder if they were a little disappointed, as I had been; you couldn't really see the art very well. 

        I wonder how much of my stat checking - on Wednesdays and other times - is honest healthy reflection, and how much is what they call "insecurity work." I first saw this helpful term just recently, here:

        >> What Happened to Downtime? The Extinction of Deep Thinking and Sacred Space (Scott Belsky) 

        After a day that involved a lot of frittering, things took a sudden turn. I was wondering how I'd get the "two hours a day of people time" which helps me feel connected - really connected. And this time it found me. A friend who now lives halfway across the country suddenly showed up at the coffee shop where I was sitting hunched in front of the laptop. She was in town, was having dinner with someone we both knew I'd love to meet, and did I want to join them? The far-reaching conversation that followed was wonderful. Thanks, Nancy. 

        I have several half-composed posts it would be satisfying to finish and share with you, but I think perhaps some time with pen and paper - journaling 'offline' - will come first.

        Friday, October 29, 2010

        Counseling

        "Each of those memories is like a ribbon," he said. "The ribbons are attached to a pole. What's the pole? What is the pole you dance around?"

        Yes, I somehow ended up in counseling. It's not something I do regularly. Eight or nine sessions in the mid-90s, on CP's recommendation, before I moved to Colorado. Three more when CP (and my love life) crashed a few years ago; I was so devastated.

        This time it happened because I asked my pastor - an excellent counselor - about Erik Erikson's theory of human development. He offered to conduct a personal assessment for me using the Erikson-inspired Measures of Psychosocial Development. Before you know it there I am in his office, pouring myself out, tears in my eyes. No money involved, he said: he's a pastor, and I'm part of the church, so I already help pay his salary...

        He says I'm basically a healthy person, and functioning quite well - I, uh, "passed" the MPD. But I'm not happy, not satisfied with the way things are. We have some work to do. Though I tend to dread this kind of probing, it's been very helpful.

        Looks like one of the poles to which the ribbons of my life - the strongest memories - are attached is the one that says "You don't matter." You should keep quiet, blend in, be good, not make trouble. Because goodness knows we have enough crises to deal with already.

        Maybe I heard this from others, maybe I just drew this conclusion on my own, but it went deep. Somehow I came to believe my true self wasn't valuable or accepted, that I'm not lovable and likable as the person I really am. Relationships, work, and society repeated those messages. Don't think too much of yourself. Don't expect too much or think the world's going to be fair to you. Maybe your "contribution" matters; maybe your behavior counts, but what you think or care about or how you feel about things probably doesn't count for much. You're not going to get your way: You have to be the one to give in.

        And so I don't see much value in being close to people because my gut tells me they are going to use me, put me into some kind of box, etc. Deep down I have a hard time trusting people or believing that intimate relationships aren't going to cost me more than they are worth. 

        Yikes, how can I think that - well maybe not think that, but feel that - and what do we do about it?

        The world will throw this kind of crap at you. It's not surprising when some of it sticks. And there's enough truth and even appealingness in "you don't matter" that it's hard to dismiss. And after all, isn't being "humble" better than being a narcissist? I've been around narcissistic people and I hate it. But imagine how much better it would be to walk in a sense of being accepted and loved just as you are, just as I am!

        Along the same lines, although I've largely broken the power of the performance trap in my life - I recognize and turn away from the "you should do this / you should do that" statements - I am still strongly affected by (and mad about) the "you should be this / you should be that" statements. No wonder I'm angry, no wonder I expect people to hurt me or be hurt by me: I'm carrying around all this pain and rejection. 

        In journaling about this the other day I realized a lot of my ministry may have roots in this story. Hmmmmm.... The work I do as a journalist and sociologist, the roles I step into as a leader and a writer, all have to do with listening and inclusion, with giving people a chance to be heard. Nothing makes me madder than leaders who are arrogant and trample on other people. Nothing makes me gladder than seeing someone who really sees, cares for, and empowers others. What I want to say to people, especially people who don't have a voice, is: You matter. Your story matters. You may feel like an outsider, but we're inviting you in. 

        That seems like great fruit from some pretty negative roots. Now how to get to the point where I really believe that message, for myself?

        Wednesday, October 27, 2010

        Not a Sea Change, But a Job Shift

        When I worked in an office with 30-50 people and I had an idea or question - and being the social person I am - I could easily stroll around and get feedback, answers, or opinions. Most of my social relationships were with co-workers too, since they had come together around values and purposes close to my heart. I had friends outside the company but most of the time, whether it was going to the movies or going to the other side of the world, my closest companions would be coworkers. Even though people came and went, I could be sure the next ones to come along would be others I'd deeply enjoy as well.

        Earlier days - in the office.
        That was one of the reasons I came to Colorado: to be in the middle of an active group of like-minded people I could love, learn from, and work with. That was one of the best things about my job. It was like being at the hub of a wheel, sometimes dizzying and sometimes frustrating but generally very, very gratifying.

        Quite a few things have changed since the day in 1995 when I pulled into the F. family's driveway and began my new life here. Our organization grew into something that felt quite different, and then it disintegrated and shut down. I kept my job but became part of something bigger, based elsewhere. The ache of loss was fierce. Still, I knew I wasn't the same person I was 15 years ago, that I'd reached a different stage. I'd been well equipped for life at the edge of the wheel, by now. And even at the edge, technology had made such changes in the way people work and stay in touch that geography and office hours no longer seemed so critical.

        As my sabbatical came to a close I wondered if this was a time to make a sea change: maybe take on more responsibilities in a smaller organization, for example. (Maybe get closer to the center of a wheel?) I had several, attractive pseudo-offers and could probably have converted them into actual offers - though I was skittish about leading anyone on, or at least more than one at a time!

        But I'd also realized that this would be a good time to continue my education, and I didn't want to take on more than I could handle or create expectations or dependencies I couldn't keep up with. Plus, taking classes would probably require a healthy allowance of vacation time, and I didn't think anyplace else would be in the position to give me the four weeks a year to which I'm entitled currently. Even if I didn't get that much, well, our organization is quite flexible. And they happen to have some helpful connections to the two schools to which I'm applying, one of which will give those of us who meet certain qualifications a 50% discount on tuition.  

        So, go to school part time, stay with my organization, keep doing what I'm doing and a bit more. Not heaps more; don't want to get overextended. But I'm a little bored and feel underutilized. I want something to sink my teeth into. And I want to be part of a team.

        I had a hunch that the best place for me, in our organization, would be the group called  the Church Partnerships Team. Not so much for what they do - though I'm good with that - but for who they are, what they care about, and how they work. I've been talking to the team leader and made him a proposal which he accepted, offering me a place on the team doing, ahem, "special projects."

        We had our first conference call meeting this week. I'm not sure everyone knew I was interested in joining them - there was some joking about not getting to vote - but they seemed glad to welcome me in. And, as the call went on, I saw my hunches validated. These guys do have a healthy team, with a good level of grace, trust, camaraderie, and collaboration. 

        There are nine of us: three in the home office, six of us in different parts of the country. So they've had some experience working as a diffused team, and it looks like they've found some effective, appropriate ways to make that work. They also knew how to hold a meeting in a way that honors all participants, invites rapport, and uses time wisely. Good.

        They're pretty seasoned in ministry but not arrogant; they seem flexible and servant-hearted. I think they will push me (and help me) to collaborate, use my time wisely, and keep my commitments, without loading on pressure or structures that don't make sense.

        I think they will treat me like an equal, and a valued colleague, but still be happy to teach me and help me grow. Just what I was hoping for. I'm looking forward to working together.

        And because they are closer to the hub of the organizational wheel, I think I'll feel a greater sense of belonging as well. If I want to move to Florida or spend more time there they'd welcome me, but with the way the team operates and the kinds of work that will come my way there will be no pressure to do so.

        We will get together in Florida twice a year. The meetings are pegged to a forum they hold several times a year. The next one is in just a few weeks. I'll be there.

        I'm so pleased to have a team.

        Saturday, October 23, 2010

        Cape Town: Turning Points of Christian History

        This week I gave a lot of my attention to following the events of Cape Town, South Africa, where thousands of Christians gathered for the Lausanne Movement's third Congress on World Evangelization. Similar events were held in 1974 (Lausanne, Switzerland) and 1989 (Manila).

        A word to those readers who find the basic ideas of Evangelicalism and evangelization rather monstrous. I know. We have lots of other common ground. Feel free to skip these kinds of posts if they irritate you!

        I'd been invited to go to this event and work behind the scenes as a volunteer
        but with my ministry account now $5000 in the red an expensive plane ticket didn't seem like a good purchase. Even plans to join a group convened at our local seminary to watch and discuss some of the videos together (for free!) didn't quite work out when a major cyber-attack restricted bandwidth too much for the videos to be uploaded on schedule.

        I had to laugh when I read Andrew Jones' description of how that got resolved:
        "Our problems were solved by two Indian cousins from Bangalore who were here as volunteers in the IT department. They came to connect printers and ended up stopping viruses. In fact, they have already solved the problem and we are back on track. Shout out to our two geeky heroes: Unisys Global Services employee Vijay Kumar and Pastor Daniel Singh who has just got figured out why he got a doctorate in computational biology."
        The week-long conference is generating a lot of buzz in my world and also generating a heck of a lot to read - and now, to watch. Without my seminary pals across town to process this with it's been more difficult to pick and choose which parts to pay attention to.

        Here's a glimpse. Two videos providing an overview of Christian history, through Lausanne eyes.  I've embedded them below. There are a few statements I'd question, others on which historians disagree. History can be a slippery topic. But overall I'd say they did a good job.

        Might be a good tool for you Perspectives coordinators out there... show one week 7, as a review of lesson 6, and the second week 8, as a supplement to lesson 7. Or, an instructor could build a lesson around these videos, freeing themselves up to teach stuff they do not cover and/or do more discussion / Q&A.

        Turning Points, Part 1: After a glimpse of the opening of the Congress, this video traces in two segments the growth of the church from Pentecost to the present in the face of many obstacles. Key movements, nations and figures are presented in this sweeping review of the expansion of Christianity up to the taking of the gospel to China.

        Turning Points, Part 2:
        This video picks up the history with Boniface taking the gospel to Germany and extends to the present time and the Cape Town Conference.


        Cape Town 2010 Opening Session - Turning Points, Part 1 from Lausanne Movement on Vimeo.


        Cape Town 2010 Opening Session - Turning Points, Part 2 from Lausanne Movement on Vimeo.


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        Friday, October 22, 2010

        Hitting the Trail


        My part of Denver is riddled with bike trails. This section of the High Line Canal Trail is is currently my favorite. I don't ride my bike, though, I venture on foot. Yesterday was a full, full, day, and when I stopped to catch my breath I realized a walk along the canal was just what I needed. So I grabbed an apple, my camera, my MP3 player and that's where I went. It was a bit of a gray day - unusual here - but still beautiful.