Sunday, January 31, 2010

Bible in 90 Days - Approaching Day 30

January 3 the church I attend in Littleton started a campaign to read the whole Bible together in 90 days. This week we'll cross the 1/3 mark. Half way through the Old Testament!

More than a few people were skeptical about this plan. Many had previously tried and failed to read the Bible straight through. Others were accustomed to the "lectio divina" approach, where you focus on meditating on just a brief passage. Some tend to focus in on one section of the Bible, or have a theology that emphasizes some parts of the story while excluding others entirely.

Numbered among the skeptics was our senior pastor, at least until watching good friends in another church complete the process won him over. The elders bought in. And so did the staff. Yet all of us were surprised when signups quickly passed 100, finally reaching about 230. From a congregation of 320 or so? Remarkable.

I've enjoyed seeing Biblical literacy creep upwards... now references to Genesis, Deuteronomy, or 2 Samuel pepper people's conversations. I think we'll see unquestioned, unsupported theologies debunked as we all discover things we had never noticed before (while other ideas we thought had biblical support are nowhere to be found). Reading fast, and reading together - with video teaching spots, sermons, and small group discussions - is already bearing more fruit than I knew it could.

There's an old video - a pretty terrible one, from a production standpoint - that has a significant following in missions circles. It's called "Ee Taow!" "Ee taow" means something like, "It's amazing!" The video tells the story of a couple of missionaries who went to Papua New Guinea. After spending some months or years gaining fluency in language and culture, they started gathered interested people every week or so to tell them stories from the Bible - chronologically. They started with creation and week by week worked through the Old Testament, then the Gospels, finally leading up to Christ's crucifixion and resurrection. Yes, God the Creator made a way to break the power of sin and death! Hearing the whole story makes it so much more powerful.

The practice of chronological Bible storying has gained a lot of popularity in the last few years. I feel that what we're experiencing is similar: Bible storying for literate people. And even though we know this story much better to start with, I think we will rejoice just as much as the Mouk people of Papua New Guinea when we see how it all turns out. Ee Taow!

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Changing Channels (Cynthia Bezak)

" the wee hours last night when my Situation loomed large and kept me from sleep, I handed it over to Abba one last time, then switched channels.

"I decided to intercede through the alphabet, asking the Holy Spirit to give me someone or something to pray about for each letter. Sometimes He gave me more than one prayer for each letter. Usually I prayed for family and friends, but when I got to H, it was Haiti He led me to pray for, and when I got to O, He urged me to pray for our President. I dozed off a few times, but each time I awoke and my mind raced toward the Situation, I pulled it back to where I'd left off in the alphabet.

"When I finished that, I was still awake and tempted to go back to my Situation, so I started the alphabet over again, this time naming something about God that corresponded to each letter. I tried to use names and attributes that had personal meaning for me and rest in those qualities of who God is--for instance, my Deliverer, Glory, Healer, Lifter of my head, Protector, Provider, Shalom, and Vindicator.

"As before, I dozed on and off, but each time I awoke, I'd pull myself back to where I'd left off and continue centering on God and worshiping Him..."

>> Read the complete post.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Rich Young Man

The day the Haiti earthquake hit I was finishing up a book a friend gave me to take a look at. I also put together a review of it for our ezine. That will go out at midnight tonight.

Following Jesus through the Eye of the Needle is the story of this young guy, Kent Annan. Kent is driven to do something meaningful for the poor. He's also, in some sense, seeking a life of greater meaning for himself. So he moves to Port au Prince, Haiti, to work with a mission called Beyond Borders.

In accordance with the agency's policy (and Kent's ideals) he and his wife share a tiny house with a Haitian family for the first few months. As a result they have some overwhelming experiences with culture shock, rats, sickness, etc. But they also learn language, build relationships, and learn to see the world from the point of view of their host family. So the investment seems to pay off.

When it's time to move out, they decide to build a place of their own. Much of the book deals with the building process and the cultural and relational things that come up during that time. The author doesn't really write about the kind of work he was doing, or try to explain why things are the way they are in Haiti or what can be done: instead, he gives us the very personal story of what it was like to go about life in that setting.
"I keep telling Shelly, half joking but half proud, 'I'm building you a house in the Caribbean.' The location is beautiful, but with two small rooms, concrete block walls, a tin roof, little to no electricity, no running water, bucket baths outside and a concrete hole in the ground for a toilet - the luxury of it is open to interpretation."
Kent is very open about his struggles between wanting to get away from the inconveniences, discomfort, and conflicts that come with this way of life, but also wanting to experience the hardest things he can bear, to really walk alongside the poor and not hold himself above them.

I've seen lots of people living cross-culturally who wrestle with those tensions. Certainly, as in the scripture passage from which Kent draws the title of his book, it's no easy thing for a "rich man" (e.g., an American) to follow Jesus while living among the desperately poor. Can we do it?

Yet how can we not do it? Maybe our choice to spend most of our time living among other middle-class people like ourselves suggests we're not following Jesus as much as we might think we are.
"This week profound guilt wells up inside me because we're going to live in a new (if simple) house on a lovely mountainside rather than in a decrepit, rat-ridden shack in Cite Soleil, Haiti's worst slum. According to some, like Mother Teresa, Cite Soleil is among the worst places to live on the planet - so part of me thinks I'll always be cheating unless I'm there (not that we would necessarily survive there). I want to go all the way, but I also want some comfort and compromise. Our marriage is already stumbling under the weight of my (quixotic?) quest. I want and need to offer Shelly safety and security and what is best for her. But I also need to experiment with following this love of neighbor where it demands.

"The simplicity of needs here exposes life's complexities."

>> Visit Kent Annan's website.

The Rich Young Man
Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?"

"Why do you ask me about what is good?" Jesus replied. "There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, obey the commandments."

"Which ones?" the man inquired.

Jesus replied, " 'Do not murder, do not commit adultery, do not steal, do not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,' and 'love your neighbor as yourself."

"All these I have kept," the young man said. "What do I still lack?"

Jesus answered, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me."

When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, "I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God."

When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?"

Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."

Matthew 19:16-26

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Selectiveness: A Gift from the Sea

"I am packing to leave my island. What have I for my efforts, for my ruminations on the beach? What answers or solutions have I found for my life? I have a few shells in my pocket, a few clues, only a few.

"When I think back to my first days here, I realize how greedily I collected. My pockets bulged with wet shells, the damp sand clinging to their crevices. The beach was covered with beautiful shells and I could not let one go by unnoticed. I couldn't even walk head up looking out to sea, for fear of missing something precious at my feet. The collector walks with blinders on; he sees nothing but the prize. In fact, the acquisitive instinct is incompatible with true appreciation of beauty. But after all the pockets were stretched and damp, and the bookcase shelves filled and the window ledges covered, I began to drop my acquisitiveness. I began to discard from my possessions, to select.

"One cannot collect all the beautiful shells on the beach. One can only collect a few, and they are more beautiful if they are few."

Gift from the Sea, Anne Morrow Lindbergh

Friday, January 22, 2010

With Us, Not Just Supporting

Fruit with Seeds

Mission committee met last night. One of our missionaries came in to give us an update. She reported:
"Something about this city is different... it's a better environment for getting volunteers. In [previous city] it was so hard. People would commit for the year and disappear after a few months. Our kind of work, you may not have something to show. It takes longer to make a difference.

"But now we've got people who are really with us. With us, not just supporting. I mean, support is great. But to have people really with you - we're so encouraged. One couple is coming down from [another city]. They told us there is a trailer park near them there and it's just full of kids. They really have a heart for those kids. They want to start a ministry like ours at that trailer park. So they are working with us to learn how to do it.

"This is fruit with seeds!"

* * *

Another couple, D. & J., have been part of our church for a long time. D. is a computer guy. He enjoys helping people fix their computers and solve their technical problems. He helps a lot of people in our church. Whenever a missionary comes through who mentions a problem with their machine someone will point them to D. and he steps in. He has them over to his house, listens to their stories, and fixes their computers. He loves to put those skills to use.

M. noticed. He's connected to our church and serves as a recruiter for a medium-sized missionary sending agency. They started sending all their new recruits to D. when they come to Colorado to go through language and culture acquisition courses. D. helps them make sure they are all set up to take sensitive materials overseas; he encrypts their hard drives, helps them make smart email choices, and make sure they are safe from viruses and spyware.

Now this agency is having a week-long staff conference in a major city that's central to the region where they work. M. asked D. if he could come and work on computers. D. is so excited. You should see him. It's the perfect opportunity for him to serve. Looks like he and his wife, J., will both go. She's been the director of children's ministries for many years. Any chance the staff conference needs a kids' program? Even if there is already something in the works I'm sure they will put her to work, too. Besides, someone needs to be there to make sure D. eats and sleeps instead of trying to work on computers 24/7.

Both D. and J. want to make serving this agency a team effort. It will cost about $4,000 to get them to the conference and pay their expenses. They are eager to involve other people in the church who have profited from D.'s computer skills and J.'s work with their children. Can they pray, and help with the expenses, not only ministering to D. and J. but also to the hundreds of missionaries serving with M.'s agency? I anticipate a very positive response. And who knows how many might follow D. and J.'s example and look for creative ways to put their own skills to work?

The mission committee couldn't be more pleased. This seems like fruit with seeds in it, too.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Need Exercise?

Maybe you saw the brief article in Sunday's "Parade" magazine, "A Happy Way to Get Fit":
"When it comes to getting active, you may be better off investing in a dog than a gym membership.

"Researchers in Great Britain recently surveyed 5000 people and found that those with dogs exercised up to six hours more a week than those who worked out at a gym or on their own.

"...Researchers say the difference can be attributed in part to varying levels of enjoyment. While 86% of dog owners said they enjoy the time with their pets, only 16% of respondents rated going to the gym favorably."
I thought this was funny, but it makes sense. The gym doesn't bark very loud; you can ignore it and maybe nobody will know. Your gym bag doesn't look up at you with big sad eyes. Of course, it doesn't shed all over your living room and chew up your shoes, either.

>> Read full story here.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

A Word about Fear, from Yann Martel

Yann Martel's book "Life of Pi" includes this passage:
"I must say a word about fear. It is life's only true opponent. Only fear can defeat life. It is a clever, treacherous adversary, how well I know. It has no decency, respects no law or convention, shows no mercy. It goes for your weakest spot, which it finds with unerring ease. It begins in your mind, always. One moment you are feeling calm, self-possessed, happy. Then fear, disguised in the garb of mild-mannered doubt, slips into your mind like a spy. Doubt meets disbelief and disbelief tries to push it out. But disbelief is a poorly armed foot soldier. Doubt does away with it with little trouble. You become anxious. Reason comes to do battle for you. You are reassured. Reason is fully equipped with the latest weapons technology. But, to your amazement, despite superior tactics and a number of undeniable victories, reason is laid low. You feel yourself weakening, wavering. Your anxiety becomes dread.

"...Quickly you make rash decisions. You dismiss your last allies: hope and trust. There, you've defeated yourself. Fear, which is but an impression, has triumphed over you.

"The matter is difficult to put into words. ...You must fight hard to shine the light of words upon it. Because if you don't, if your fear becomes a wordless darkness that you avoid, perhaps even manage to forget, you open yourself to further attacks of fear because you never truly fought the opponent who defeated you."

Monday, January 18, 2010

Heroism and Humility / Living to Be Forgotten

Today is Martin Luther King Day here in the US, and I'm thinking about heroes. People who take extraordinary measures, overcome odds, change the world, and are remembered forever. Do you want to be one of those men and women? Why or why not?

Americans are raised to think they can make a difference. The generation one up from mine - the Baby Boomers - are sometimes defined by their search for significance, their desire to change the world.

It's not universal. Few have as much sense of personal power as Americans do; most people don't really believe their lives can be anything special. Many in my generation and the one that follows are a little skeptical about Boomer ambitions, or that we, ourselves, can accomplishing things that will really last.

Yet still I find this deep desire to make my life count for something - and a fear that it will not.

The other day some friends and I were talking about the Moravian missionaries who sold themselves into slavery in order to reach out to slaves.

It's easy to admire such behavior from a distance, but when it comes down to it we don't live like that, do we? Our ministries tend not to be so extreme. "It's hard to answer your cell phone when you're chained to an oar," my co-workers and I joked. "If you sold yourself into slavery how would you get your newsletters out?" we said.

The other problem is that you never know if your heroics will actually work. If you knew that by doing this, you'd rescue a child, or that, you'd save a village, maybe you would do it. Probably you would. Especially if it was your child, or your village. But it's seldom so unambiguous. There may be a good chance that your sacrifice could just make things worse, or be simply wasted. What do you do then?

One of the guys mentioned Patrick Fung, the international director of OMF International. He spoke at the recent Urbana conference. Patrick wrote a little booklet called Live to Be Forgotten. It's a reflection on the life of D.E. Hoste, the second director of the China Inland Mission, whom Fung says "lived to be forgotten that Christ might be remembered."

This guy led the CIM for 35 years. Bet you've never heard of him. I hadn't, and I'm a CIM fan. Hoste wasn't the obvious pick to succeed Hudson Taylor, the founder of the mission (and yes, an uncle by marriage. Hoste married Amelia's oldest girl).

But the man being grooming for the position had just been killed in the Boxer Rebellion. Taylor's admin guy might have been given the job, but he really didn't have the people skills or strategic ability for it. So Taylor, sidelined by a stroke, appointed 39-year-old, 15-year-veteran D.E. Hoste as acting director, eventually handing the reins over entirely. Hoste tried to reject it, only reluctantly accepting that he might be the right choice. But once he did he poured himself into it, leading the ministry through some very difficult times (both in China and in the West) into growth and stability.

He was a very humble man and never became famous, as some of his friends did. He was one of those who are faithful to their calling but not so much remembered. Everyone wants to be like Hudson Taylor (his predecessor) or C.T. Studd (his one-time teammate, a famous cricket player, and later the founder of WEC International). Everyone admires the pioneer. The Martin Luther King or the Nelson Mandela. Being one of the nameless group who also served doesn't sound so romantic.

Are we willing to pay such a price? It seems a small thing to ask: serve but never get the credit. And yet, it goes against the grain, doesn't it?

As Jim Collins says in 'Good to Great,' it's that approach to leadership, a self-effacing, open-handed, empowering of others, that brings so many groups of people gathered around a cause (any cause) from doing good work to doing great work.

What do you think? Can we serve without reward? Can we live to be forgotten? In Hoste's case his motivation was that Jesus get the glory for everything. He didn't want to get in the way of that greater good.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Low Point

It's been some time since I had such an emotional, difficult week. Everything seemed to bring me to tears, and I'm not usually much of a crier. Sometimes I go for months - used to be years. Nor does it really seem like the circumstances really merited such reactions.

Someone I looked to (maybe not very reasonably) for reassurance never said the magic words that I realized, in retrospect, I was counting on hearing. I spent some time with potential coworkers for the future and didn't sparkle or connect as I had hoped. Then, Friday, a couple of guys at the office brought me the 15-20 boxes from the storage unit so I could go through them and decide what we (I) needed to keep. But their light-hearted comments about the contents of those boxes stabbed, and it was as if my life's work was in those filenotes, and training plans, and documentation of various short-term teams - not in the lives of the team members and those they touched.

Miserable, I poured myself into housework yesterday hoping to make the place - my new 'home base' - nicer, and myself feel better. But I offended the roommate by deciding, unilaterally, that it was time all the Christmas stuff got put away. I hinted, I informed, but I didn't =discuss= my desire that this happen. It was getting on my nerves, I reasoned, all that red and green and fuss. When she does the packing up it doesn't happen before Groundhog's Day, I told myself. Look at all I'm accomplishing, I argued. But when she walked in the door, any defenses or accusations melted and I realized I'd wronged her by treating what are mostly her belongings as foolish, not as the treasures they are to her. How could I fail to stop and consider how she might see this?

This week, I guess my spirit was just troubled enough to make life just seem one disappointment or frustration after another, and the one with whom I was frustrated and disappointed more than any other was myself. Why am I acting this way?

Well, doubtless you've had seasons like that too.

I'm afraid, that's what's really behind it: fear. And I'm trying to run from it, or hide from it, or bury it in a landslide of activity. But just like any landslide, it's hard to stop or control. I need to slow down, breathe, and practice living just one day at a time.

I'm afraid of so many things just now, and most of them relate to my career. Over the next few weeks I will be packing up all my stuff in the office; it's been my second home - sometimes more like my first - since 1995. Where do I belong if not at the office, who am I without my job? If I'm around the house too much will it drive me crazy? Or will I drive the roommate crazy? I know there will be plenty of work for me when I return, after sabbatical - regardless of who I'm working with: after all these years I should be able to reach a point of effectiveness without some long delay or learning curve. But just now, it feels like it's all over, and I am so sad and scared.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Collaboration: Four Seasons Group

When Meg and I were a couple of years old Mom took up a new hobby: weaving. For someone like my mother it's the perfect mix of art and craft, design and follow-through, creativity and calculation. So after more than 30 years of practice, she's naturally developed considerable skill. And produced a lot of good stuff, too!

But much of that skill comes from deliberately placing herself in positions where she can share ideas with others, experiment with techniques, and learn from other weavers. She takes workshops. She attends conferences. She goes to several guild meetings a month. And while she doesn't often put her work up for sale, she does enter it in the county fair (and keeps the hardest judge on the textile circuit in mind when she's working on a project that might have a chance at winning).

At Christmas I noticed a postcard on the fridge. It read:
Four Seasons Group - January Meeting

Bring your current items for show and tell, but also, as we face New Year's resolutions, bring any of your 'dogs on the loom' projects, i.e., failures, disappointments, unfinished misery, etc. and we'll share those as well - perhaps with new insight.
As the "four seasons" reference implies, they meet four times a year - once per season.

Weaving is often a solitary pursuit, and most weavers wouldn't have a spouse, parent, child, or neighbor at hand who would know enough about it to really offer educated feedback on their weaving projects. Bringing them to other weavers would be key.

And wouldn't it work for many other things? Personal growth plans, business ideas, new ministry wrinkles, articles, seminars - bring them into a safe, collaborative space and have a bit of show and tell. I think a "four seasons group" is a brilliant idea.

Even to just bring one half-baked idea to others you trust and ask, "what do you think?" can add a whole level of development. Especially if you ask, "What would make this better?" "What could keep this from working?" or "Who do you think would be interested in this?"

Better yet to bring half a dozen ideas, try them out on a variety of people, and see what makes other people's eyes light up.

Paul - one of my regular visitors here at Telling Secrets - is flying to the Midwest in April for to join a few of the friends he's made online for just such a gathering.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Community: Third Dimension Teams

I have a couple of posts brewing on the topic of collaboration. Oh, I've seen death by committee, and known people torn apart by trying to please everybody. But for me, I'm pretty sure one of the best things I could do to increase my effectiveness and probably happiness as well would be to sharpen my commitment to collaboration.

What about you? Do you put ideas on the table early - and often?

The US Director of Pioneers - a man I admire and enjoy - just posted an article that relates to this topic. He connects team-based ministry - especially where this comes with the formation of loving, supportive communities - with satisfaction, resilience, and longevity in tough situations. Good stuff.

Read Third Dimension Teams.

See also: If You Want to Go Far... the Power of Collaboration (posted here 8-22-09) and Weaving a Relational Net: Strategies, Barriers (12-26-09)

Saturday, January 09, 2010

Making Space

1. Stuff

Last weekend some guys from church came over to move the brown, plaid sleep sofa out of our basement - a task which others had tried and failed to accomplish. Or so I hear. When I moved in a dozen years ago it had been a fixture in the house for some time already. I don't know who first brought it here - that day that six people moved into this tiny place at once! But whoever it was didn't take it out again. And since then nobody had managed to get it up the stairs.

I found a wooden "wise man" in the couch. He'd been separated from a nativity set one Christmas some three years ago but was reunited with his brothers just in time for Epiphany. It was another wise man, Reuben, who figured out how to get the couch out of the basement: bless you, Reuben. Now it's in the garage, rejected by the Salvation Army truck driver on account of some tears in the fabric on the corners. So possibly it is destined for the dump. But maybe I can find a home for it through Craig's List or something. Never tried that before.

The removal of this one item, puzzle-like, makes space for the reorganization that will bring in two large bookcases from the office. Somehow I will manage a filecabinet as well. By the time I'm done with my reorganizing I think we'll have bookcases (and lots of books) in every room of the house except the bathrooms.

Yes, I'm moving home. I may (or may not) have a cubicle or an office once again before long, but it looks as if by the end of January or February I will have to get my stuff out of #10 Dry Creek, as well as making a plan to mothball the files left over from CP's research and advocacy departments. Even after thinning them considerably when CP collapsed in 2007, much remains. And now I think I'm ready to evaluate it more objectively and let go of more of it. We probably have the best stuff electronically. What's worth keeping goes into storage: at HQ in Florida? joining boxes already in a storage unit paid for by some coworkers? in my basement? Not sure.

2. Career

Another thing I did this week was to update my resume. Though my previous job-hunting resume had been written in the early 1990s - which seems a lifetime ago - I'd pulled together something along the lines of a curriculum vitae in early 2007 order to be included in a list of mission speakers. So I just tweaked that.

That process felt good, too. It wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to summarize what I've done these last 15 years. Doing so helped me recognize and articulate the values, themes, and patterns that make up the best of what my career has been about so far. Just from the level of personal vanity or whatever, I realize I do look good on paper where I can choose my words and organize their presentation. In person, they tend to spill out all over the place.

And perhaps some of those patterns are much more problematic: recurring struggles, besetting weaknesses, wounds, and failures, and so on. But those don't show up much on a resume.

If people ask for references, I'm not sure whom to ask. People may just take the initiative to ask coworkers and mutual friends and draw a lot of their conclusions from those conversations - as well as from my work, which tends to speak for itself.

If it's up to me to suggest references, though... well, you know, there have been some tough times in recent years. I'm not sure who would speak well of me - probably lots of people would. I'm not sure. Or, if they did, that it would be in the best interest of my future team/boss. If someone told them, "Marti would be a great asset to your team!" well, under what circumstances would that be the truth?

What sort of culture, values, structures, would bring out the best in me, would allow me to really thrive and make a great contribution - and what scenarios would it be better, for everyone, that I avoid? I think the sabbatical will shed some light on that.

I have a hunch it's going to be mostly up to me to say yes or no to what is next; I'm more likely to be courted than shunned. People aren't as hard on me as I am on myself.

I had something like a job interview this week, the latest in a series of informal conversations with people serving in ministries where I might find a fit after the sabbatical is over. I'm not pursuing these things aggressively, but in order to avoid getting too trapped inside my own mind I have talked to people both within our larger organization and outside of it, checking out options.

Let me just be clear here: I haven't been nor do I expect to be laid off. Nor have I resigned or have plans to do so. It's just that, with our Colorado team reorganizing/disbanding, I'm a floater for this next season. I'll need a place to plug back into an organizational ministry structure by August. And, to protect the integrity of the sabbatical, probably shouldn't make a commitment before, say, June.

I think there are probably quite a few ways all of this could work out. Which is really something to be grateful for. I want to blog about some of the options here and invite your input, but I'm not sure that would be appropriate. We'll see.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Are We Almost There Yet?

"Every diary is a mystery story to the person who's writing it." Tina Brown (source)

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

When Your #1 Goal Is to Get Read

One of the news stories we are running in tomorrow's edition of our ezine is "Canada: Hindu Family Healed, Lost Keys Found."

My first thought was to rewrite that headline - is it really news that a guy lost his keys and found them again? Actually it is, and the incongruity that first got my attention, grew on me. I think I'll keep it. Will it make people want to read the article?

I enjoy reading The Guardian newspaper (from the UK) partly because they seem to give editors free rein to come up with the most interesting headlines they can produce. Consider these stories that I felt compelled to click through and read yesterday on the basis of the link text:

Dating Site Expels 5,000 after Festive Weight Gain
Barack Obama Effigy Hanged in Georgia

It does bring up some strategic and perhaps ethical issues, though - writers can persuade readers to do what they want - at least temporarily: to begin reading an article they might not turn to otherwise. If you write compelling and evocative text about something that turns out to be not so interesting after all, though, and you do it often, readers may eventually stop trusting what you have to say. So, do you use all your powers, or not? If so, where do you draw the line?

Magazines do this a lot with their cover copy - such as making a big deal out of some article that turns out be just a little thing buried somewhere in the back of the book, not the feature implied.

The roommate recently picked up a women's magazine of the type that alternates article about expensive beauty products and tempting recipes with advice on saving money and losing weight. Guess that reflects and responds to the conflicting desires so many of us juggle. But a steady diet of such magazines would probably increase one's unhappiness level.

The editor showed some restraint, though, in a human interest story for a column they call "My Hometown." This one featured a family in North Pole, AK. I couldn't help but notice - though the editor restrained herself from commenting - that they named their first-born child, "Nick." Now, that's just wrong. Poor kid.

Monday, January 04, 2010

Read in 2009 - Part 2, Fiction

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

Here's the list (taxonomy mine). Looks like I read more than twice as much fiction (92 volumes) as nonfiction (40 volumes). Probably because it goes faster. If you're interested in what I thought on any of these, copy the titles/authors into the search engine, upper right.


Mysteries, More or Less

“Christian” Fiction

Kid Lit

Science Fiction

Other Novels

Sunday, January 03, 2010

December Reading: A Dozen Novels?! Yeah, But Mostly Short Ones

The Voyage of the Dawn Treader and The Silver Chair, by C.S. Lewis.

Read these for book club. While many non-Christians love these books too, most of the believers I talk to about them treasure their characterization of God, as reflected in Aslan. In “Silver Chair,” it’s particularly noticeable in Aslan’s knowing but gracious response to human foolishness and failure. Maybe you remember Jill’s encounter at the stream, with its parallels to the story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well. But I also liked this one, at the story’s end:

“The Lion drew them to him with his eyes and bent down and touched their pale faces with his tongue, and said, ‘Think of that no more. I will not always be scolding. You have done the work for which I sent you into Narnia.’”

A Girl of the Limberlost, by Gene Stratton Porter.

My great aunt Grace introduced me to this author and we read all her stuff as kids. Dad says this volume had a big influence on her sister, my grandmother, as well: that it gave her gumption she might not have had otherwise. For all I like it, too. The novel, though charming and kind of inspiring, does have some significant flaws, and it is quite dated. Consider this passage:

“All his vows of love and fidelity made to me before the Almighty forgotten in a few months, and a dance and a Light Woman so alluring he had to lie and sneak for them… I know men and women. An honorable man is an honorable man, and a liar is a liar; both are born and not made. … If he lived six months more I should have known him for what he was born to be. It was the blood of him. His father and grandfather before him were fiddling, dancing people…”

Little House on the Prairie, by Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Read this and skimmed several of her other books the day before the roommate and I and some friends went to see “Little House on the Prairie: The Musical” downtown. Reading this again, it strikes me that Laura lived in a different world with different, though distinctively American, values. Her parents’ wanderlust, independence, and insistence on lifting themselves up by their own bootstraps (seeing people outside their own family as a corrupting threat) seems so weird to me. I wonder if anyone has ever done much analysis of these books and the people behind them? Laura was writing for children and seems careful about what she doesn’t include. Does it say something about me that I want to hear the “dirt”?

The Man in the Brown Suit and Cat Among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie.

"Brown Suit" has got to be one of her best. Pick it up for a rollicking adventure next time you are traveling, perhaps. One of the frivolous goals I’ve considered pursuing, hobby-like, is to systematically read through all of Christie’s book. Such a good writer. But on the other hand I don’t know if I could take such a marathon of murders, however “cozy.” Better to spread it out over time, perhaps.

An Anne Perry Christmas: Two Holiday Novels, by Anne Perry.

The last Anne Perry novel I picked up was dark enough that I didn’t know if I’d care for this. But, Dickens-like, she’s adept at the lighter-touch story as well, and these two have some great content about human nature, as well. For example, the second of the novellas in this collection includes a character, perhaps the one “whodunit,” who lives in what the author calls a “self-made prison” of resentment toward the murdered man.

“The longer you persist in blaming others, the more difficult it becomes to retreat, until finally your whole edifice of belief rests on the lie, and to dismantle it would be self destruction.”

Contrast that with the characteristics of the “victim”:

“Judah had had faults. He could be overconfident, impatient with those slower of thought than himself. He was omnivorous in his hunger for knowledge, untidy, and he occasionally overshadowed others without realizing it. But he was utterly honest, and as quick to see his own mistakes as anyone else’s, and never failed to apologize and amend.”

Which characterization would others use for each of us?

False Witness: A Sister Agatha Mystery, by Aimee and David Thurlo.

Sister Agatha is a nun in New Mexico, and seems to get sucked in to solving mysteries on the side. (She’d formerly been a journalist, and the police chief is an old friend…). One thing I appreciated about this one is the side plot about another middle-aged nun who is obviously rather troubled, and nobody knows why. Turns out she’s struggling with the implications of never being able to have children, something I find troubling as well. But, like this sister, perhaps I need to allow myself both a chance to grieve it and to open my eyes to the family that God mercifully provides through other believers.

I Heart Bloomberg and On This Day, by Melody Carlson.

Carlson’s work is rather obviously flawed and formulaic: she’s writing for a market. But somehow she seems to overcome these limitations. I like her. I find her novels engaging and relaxing. The nice thing about this sort of Christian chick lit is that it’s a fast read, not too challenging, but often still thought-provoking, and generally wholesome. All of which adds up to good bedtime reading.

Honolulu: A Novel, by Alan Brennert.

This one’s a bulky but fascinating historical novel, probably based on a great deal of research. It’s the tale of a Korean girl around the turn of the century, living a very restricted life, but seizing opportunities to learn to read, and to leave the country as a “picture bride” for a member of the Korean community that had developed around the plantations in Hawaii. Lots of interesting cultural information about the evolutions of both the Korean and Hawaiian societies. I’d recommend it.

December Reading: Sociological Adventures with Malcolm Gladwell

What the Dog Saw, and Other Adventures, by Malcolm Gladwell.

Gladwell is such a good writer; I am a little in love with him. Each of these smart essays was originally published in The New Yorker (remind me to subscribe someday!) Typically he takes a story from one field of endeavor, identifies a principle illustrated, and then applies it to one or more other fields in order to explore or explain the limits and applications of that principle. The effect is that you feel you’re learning something you could really use. He writes really artfully, and in such a way that makes me think: could I do that? (could I write those kind of stories, I mean, could I write that way? Not could I train dogs, or market kitchen gadgets, or any of the other dozens of activities he is describing. But could I explain their worlds half as well?) Many of the nonfiction books I like best reflect the work of something I don’t have, a research assistant. Alas.

One article, “The Talent Myth: Are Smart People Overrated?” shows what happens when you take the principle “our best asset is our people” to extreme lengths (result: Enron).

Late Bloomers: Why Do We Equate Genius with Precocity?” talks about the significant number of creatives who don’t seem to show much promise at first, but in supportive situations will create masterpieces. Gladwell calls them experimental innovators. They do their best work many, many years after beginning, rather than shining early and then petering out like other artists. How many more great artists might we have who never had anyone believing in them long enough to get them to that point? (I am probably not a late-blooming genius, but I think I probably am an 'experimental innovator'!)

Most Likely to Succeed: How Do We Hire When We Can’t Tell Who’s Right for the Job?” starts off with what Gladwell works up to identifying as “the quarterback problem."

"There are certain jobs where almost nothing you can learn about candidates before they start predicts how they’ll do once they’re hired.” Did you know that being a college quarterback is almost nothing like quarterbacking in the pros? The best scouts and analysts haven’t been able to figure out how to overcome that limitation, to figure out how to hire the best guys to be NFL quarterbacks. You just have to take your chances. That’s why some of the most promising picks never amount to much, while others perform beautifully. It’s a case in which there seems no way to know until you try.

Here's the thing, though. Gladwell says teaching children suffers the same limitation. The training, selection, and compensation structures we use for teachers in America result in an education system that is slightly below average, globally. Nothing matters, in education, more than good teachers. Really effective teachers can teach kids about a year and a half of material in one year, and really ineffective teachers get through about half a year’s worth. That’s a huge difference. So what can we do to get (or make) better teachers for our kids?

Consider another industry that has found a good way to respond to the quarterback problem: financial service. “No one knows beforehand what makes a high-performing financial adviser different from a low-performing one, so the field throws the door wide open.” One HR guy Gladwell interviewed says that the previous year his firm interviewed 1000 people, found 49 it liked, send these candidates to a four-month training camp, offered apprenticeships to 23, and expected about 10 of them to get to the point, within a few years, of being really effective financial advisers. The NFL might not go to such extremes to respond to their quarterback problem, but how about trying out three or four quarterbacks before gambling on who is worth the big salary? Getting more effective teachers, same thing. Lower the standards: give more people a try. Then evaluate how they do on the job.

Get the book, or read these complete articles and many more, here.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

December Reading: Getting a Life with Donald Miller

A Million Miles in a Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life, by Donald Miller.

The charmingly narcissistic GenXer who wrote Blue Like Jazz is approached about making a film of that book, and in the process of working with the screenwriters (and exploring the world of story in general) he starts to see the shortcomings in his own life. Who is "Don"? What's his motivation? Where is the plot going? How is his character developing?

Miller decides that sitting around writing about the things in his daydreams is not enough, compared to the real life that’s passing him by (somewhat). “Million Miles” is both fun and thought-provoking. I read it fast sitting in a comfy chair at my favorite bookstore, but look forward to re-reading it more slowly.

For a taste of all this, check out Friday's post on Don's blog: Living a Good Story, An Alternative to New Year's Resolutions.

December Reading: Learning at the Speed of Life with Steve Moore

While You Were Micro-Sleeping: Fresh Insights on the Changing Face of North American Missions, by Steve Moore.

As with the Adeney book, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t be able to get my hands on a copy if I didn’t purchase it, but what the heck: why not ask the publisher for a free one? They hemmed and hawed a bit but said yes. Steve is brilliant, innovative, well-informed, and a good communicator. But this is a self-published, print-on-demand book, based on transcripts from material delivered orally. The result is not bad, but a more traditional publishing method would probably have handled fonts, margins, paper choice, etc. in a more pleasing way, and provided a more thorough copy-editing.

However, the author wanted to provide inexpensive access, on paper, to the helpful ideas he had previously communicated in his very thoughtful video blog, and this does the trick. It looks at global trends and asks the questions about how they might affect missions today and for the years to come. It’s so easy to just keep doing things the ways we’ve always done them (yeah, like traditional publishing!), and as Christians, to hide behind spiritual language justifying it. Mission leaders need a like-minded ally to come alongside them and help them ask hard questions about their ministries. Steve is good at that.

One thing I noticed reading this one is how much it draws from secular business and leadership ideas and sources of which I am instinctively wary. After all that my ministry has gone through in the last decade – being pulled one way and then another under rapidly changing influences – I am still struggling with what to keep and what to throw out. I feel a bit jerked around; still uncertain what or whom to trust. But I trust Steve and Dave and The Mission Exchange, so I’ll keep tuning in to them.

The question, “How much do we want to run our mission agencies like businesses?” can be a difficult one. Having become a part of an agency that has a lot of tolerance for apparently “unprofitable” behaviors (including my own), I am not sure whether to be glad, or afraid. Yet the agency continues to grow about 10% a year, has a very good reputation, and is doing much better, financially, than many others. So I guess the marketing/management/finance types are getting their way in the right times and places, effectively freeing up the rest of us!

In looking over this post I realize I haven't told you that much about the book. Oops... I did come at it (a bit) more directly in An Experiment with Grand Silence and quoted an article in the series which came out after those for the book were selected, in Steve Moore, on Motivation to Change.

Friday, January 01, 2010

December Reading: Miriam Adeney's Survey of Global Christianity

Note: Before I give you the rest of my 2009 roundup I thought I'd post my December book notes. Was going to publish them in one post. But when I reached 2000 words, realized it might be more helpful to publish in smaller pieces. So here’s the first. Come back soon for more. Well, if you're interested.

Kingdom Without Borders: The Untold Story of Global Christianity, by Miriam Adeney – I’d been lusting after this book ever since I heard about it, but purchasing it would have been a work-related expense and my account with Pioneers is in the red. So I hoped it would sort of come to me and I wouldn’t have to buy it! Then one day, to my delight, Mike, who works for the other agency in our building, stopped me coming up the stairs: “Can you take a look at this book and let us know if it’s something we should carry in our bookstore?” Sure, I’ll review it for you!

It isn’t something they should carry, probably – while it contains some great material about East Asia, Mike's criteria said it had to be 50% or more. Whereas this book has just as much about Africa and Latin America.

Adeney paints a picture of what Christianity looks like in contexts all over the world, and includes lots of well-told stories (with fact-checking and footnotes!) It's well done.