Sunday, August 29, 2010

Who's in Charge of This Thing?

World evangelization is a messy and complex thing, and I'm pretty sure none of us really know what we're doing. However, I'm relieved to see that this hasn't stopped the world Christian movement in the past and if history is any guide, is not a significant obstacle for the future.

"We don’t inherit Jesus’ ministry," says Steve Addison, a student of movements. "We are not his successors, but his companions. He is still in charge, he is still active. Jesus still calls his disciples to follow him in obedience and take the gospel to the ends of the earth."

If Jesus had taken off and left the disciples to carry on his mission, things would not have gone very far. Addison makes the point from the life of Paul:
"In Luke’s accounts of Saul’s conversion, Jesus is in charge. He shattered Saul’s world, he commanded and Saul obeyed. He appointed Saul, the destroyer of the church, to be his servant and his witness. He promised him protection from all his opponents.

"Paul’s mission was the Lord’s, not Paul’s. When Paul proclaimed the gospel, the risen Lord would open eyes, and turn both Jews and Gentiles from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God. Jesus was the one who would grant forgiveness of sins, and a place among God’s people (26:17-18).

"What was true for Paul is true for all—the risen Lord continues his ministry through his disciples. He is present with them. He calls them, directs them, he protects them, and speaks through them."
(Source: blog post with attached PDF here)

Friday, August 27, 2010

Being on Your Own: Costs/Benefits

Over the years I've given a lot of thought to what it might look like if more of us were able to schedule the activities of our lives in sync with the natural rhythms of our minds and bodies - working, resting, eating, excerising, and meeting with others at the times that feel most "right" to us.

After years of relatively little flexibility in those things I've been experiencing more and more latitude. This has increased my satisfaction and effectiveness in some ways, but not in others.

Certainly, not having to rush to be at the office for those 8:00 prayer meetings every day has been a plus, even though I miss the content of those meetings a great deal. For years, I kept regular 8-5 office hours (as was expected) but then stayed late so I could actually get things done when people were gone. Now, I have plenty of peace and quiet for getting things done. The last couple of weeks have been great. I work and rest and eat and exercise at the times that feel right with me. The benefit on my health, stress level, etc. is huge. But I don't have a regular group of people to have lunch with and pray with every day, as once I did. That feels like a considerable loss. I'm trying some strategies to get that synergy and fellowship in other ways. So far these strategies are working quite well, but that's something I'll have to monitor over time.

What a benefit it is to be freed to do things your own way. What a cost it is to find yourself alone and out of step with others. Take the simple question of family dinner time. If one person eats at 6:00, another at 8:00, neither can have the satisfaction of dinner together. Similarly, you may miss much of the satisfaction of working together with others if people don't consistently come to the office and keep some kind of regular hours. Sometimes - especially in a larger group - you can find enough people who are wired to want what you want, and give the others freedom to do things their way as well, and it isn't such a battle. But usually there's some need to bring the whole group together, and it's hard to please everybody in such cases. Besides, even with the best of "matches," human personality is such a complicated thing that I believe we will always find a few "irreconcilable differences."

How much of our personal preferences will we sacrifice and ask others to sacrifice so we can walk the same path together? Where will we compromise for the good of the group or give in to honor someone else's preference?

Of course, within any group of coworkers, family members, or friends you may find varying levels of desire for that togetherness. For some, it may be worth sacrificing all; others may not feel any benefit from their compromise. That can lead to a lot of frustration, can't it? You may feel, "these people don't care about each other because they don't want to be with each other," or "these people don't value each other because they're trying to control each other."

One of the books I read this year mentioned some research that had been done on stress in the workplace. This research suggested not only that some people function best in the mornings and others in the evenings, but also that some are at their best at the start of the week and others toward the end. This comes from our hormonal patterns and ultimately from our genetic mix. So, how are you going to plan meetings? And, are you going to ask people to give the best time of their day or week to meetings, or leave people free to give that "best time" to other aspects of their work or lives?
"There are people who insist on holding planning committee meetings on a Monday afternoon. This means half their members are not really with it; they only begin to come to life about Wednesday noon by which time the other half are stating to go down. So a wise leader plans committee meetings on a Wednesday afternoon when there is hope of getting something out of all of them ... We should never, of course, use our physical structure as an excuse for behaving badly...but it does help to have a bit of understanding and to plan sensibly." (Marjory Foyle in Honorably Wounded: Stress among Christian Workers)
May God give us grace to know ourselves, how we work, what we need, and how much we can flex on these things without breaking. May we navigate these questions with grace and love for one another.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Why Do We Sleep?

Did you see the article in May's National Geographic, The Secrets of Sleep?

The most interesting thing about the article is that it explores the wonder that we don't really know why we're made that way, why we spend a third of our lives asleep:
"'If sleep doesn't serve an absolutely vital function,' the renowned sleep researcher Allan Rechtschaffen once said, 'it is the greatest mistake evolution ever made.'"
After all, sleep leaves a creature extremely vulnerable, e.g., to predators.
"At Stanford University I visited William Dement, the retired dean of sleep studies, a co-discoverer of REM sleep, and co-founder of the Stanford Sleep Medicine Center. I asked him to tell me what he knew, after 50 years of research, about the reason we sleep. 'As far as I know,' he answered, 'the only reason we need to sleep that is really, really solid is because we get sleepy.'"

We may never have a tidy scientific explanation of these things, or be able to "overcome" this terrible, wonderful vulnerability, this need for downtime. I say, instead, let's not try. Instead, let's celebrate it; let's enjoy it.

Or, of course, ignore it at your peril. I'm still pondering Mark Buchanan's The Rest of God. I blogged about his description of "Those Who Will Not Stop."

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Vulnerable to Digital Overload?

All the time I was growing up I saw terrible statistics about how many hours the average American spent in front of the television. Supposedly this made us lazy and dumb and materialistic and incapable of focusing on anything for more than five minutes. I did my share of TV watching, at times: in eighth grade I remember coming home after school, making enormous snacks, and watching show after show until Mom got home. But by the time I was halfway through high school my days were too full for that sort of thing, and I've never gone back to it.

Not unless you count the endless hours of TV I "watched" in Uzbekistan, where I lived with a local family and had no choice in the matter. But of course since I couldn't understand a lot of what I saw, it couldn't stimulate or numb, fragment or distract me as programming in my own language might.

Yet the internet has done to me what television never did. While logging on gives me an initial sense of peace or connectedness, my online behavior takes me from one small stimulus to another so quickly that after an hour or two I sometimes come away as dazed as if I'd spent the time madly flipping television channels or glued to one of those modern news shows full of short, frightening stories, overlaid with sidebars and breaking news scrolling across the bottom. Overstimulated and jumpy.

Tearing myself away from looking for messages, checking on this and that, I do something physical like tidying up the kitchen or going for a walk. Or I do some writing - even on the computer - or read a book. It's still media, but feels completely different.

Now that I'm working from home and have a reliable computer and great Internet connection - even without  an iPhone in my pocket - I think I will need some limits. Not like my friend's ten-year-old son, who is only allowed two hours of "screen time" a day, but certainly no more than two hours at a stretch. It wouldn't hurt to schedule some two-hour meal breaks with no electronic devices nearby. I think I'll need regular vacations from 2010 just to stay sane.

The NPR program "Fresh Air" included an interview on this topic today. See Digital Overload: Your Brain on Gadgets.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Cubicle-Free Living

Well, I'm back at work, but don't have an office - so I'm free to write, study, or think wherever I please. Yesterday I began the day at Littleton's Hudson Gardens, where - for $5 - I could commune with the water lilies, cattails, and hundreds of frogs. I'm sure it must take some doing to keep these "wetlands" alive in our arid climate, but it can be done!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Meandering Thoughts on Flexibility vs. Guidance

The year was 1993 and I was not long out of college. While in school I’d earned a degree in journalism and graduated with honors, but what I really majored in was ministry. I led small group Bible studies, helped set the course for our campus ministry, and worked with others to plan our big group meetings, often emceeing those events. All this bore a great deal of fruit as more people on campus followed Jesus and grew in their faith. So I applied to join this ministry full-time.

I was so discouraged when the rejection letter came. They told me they thought it would be better for me to find a ministry where I “wouldn’t be working with people.” I wasn’t sure how to take that. In a way, though, I was relieved. I’d never been blind to the ways I was an odd fit for the ministry’s organizational culture. Surely there was something better out there, a ministry that might embrace me without so many reservations? How would I find it? I didn’t have a plan B and wasn’t sure where to look.

So I asked my church for help. After all, people there knew me pretty well, and I’d been serving on the mission committee and helping out the mission pastor for some time. "Where would you like to send me?" I tried asking. But from the way people responded, I might have been asking them to find me a husband or tell me how to wear my hair. Apparently there are some things it’s just better to do for yourself. One thing I appreciated is that they helped me let go of the condemnation I felt from the ministry that had rejected me. They helped me hold onto hope and not give up.

But I came to realize that the church – at least my church – doesn’t find people ministries in which to serve. They may put out a menu of options and ideas, but they won’t make assignments, and are hesitant to make recommendations. Oh, they know they need people to work in the nursery or manage the foodbank, but it's different with missionaries, at least long-term ones. Few churches will decide they want to be involved in a certain ministry and then look for someone to send; they want prospective missionaries to come to them with a call, with a fit already picked out, saying, “Here’s what I want to do and where I want to go. Can you get behind me?” They might say no, but they aren't likely to be the ones making the proposal.

What would it look like if the church were not behind its missionaries, but, well, in front of them? Could that work? Why or why not?

It seems a little funny to me but many mission agencies seem to work the same way. Certainly the one I'm part of does. I'm given flexibility more freely than I'm given direction. There’s nobody I can call to say, “Here I am! Can you put me to work?” It might work in some situations. But generally I gather they’d rather have the candidate come to them with a strong sense of direction and call.

For our field workers, feeling isolated and ill-prepared comes with the territory. After all, they are pioneers. Many are going "where no one has gone before." It takes a certain kind of strength and courage to do that. Even the best of agencies cannot do much to reduce the ambiguity and take care of their people. Circumstances often conspire to keep what may seem a good strategy from working for very long. You find a great team and learn how to work together, and then something happens and the team falls apart, and you have to start all over. Happens all the time. Luckily, there's grace and freedom to keep trying, to try new things.

Is the business world like that, happier to give "flexibility" and "freedom" than "direction"? I guess sometimes it is; American business cultures may place a high value on people who know where they are going and are ready to take charge and do whatever it takes. If you are looking at a position very far up the corporate ladder, the interviewer will want to know "what would you do if you had this job?" and "what makes you right for this job?" and might look askance at someone who asked "how would you want me to handle this job if you gave it to me?" or "what kind of job would you want to give someone like me?" Someone who wants others to tell them what to do may be seen as not very smart, not very capable. 

Well, even though I'm still exploring what's next and feeling some of these tensions, I don't want to give you the wrong idea. I'm going to be fine. And even if I see the dark or discouraging side of "freedom," I'm grateful for it as well. I'm not really at the point where I want to be "directed" overmuch - though I have some friends who really need that. I'm not at that place, and not quite open enough to say, "Here am I, send me - anywhere! to do anything!"

I wonder what would happen if I did? If I said that to my church, or my agency? What would they do with me?

Having quite a bit of experience as well as being articulate and self-aware are a huge help in charting a course through the sea of opportunities. Also being single; that does make things simpler.

One way in which mission agencies are quite different from other employers is how they treat married people, especially married women. Generally if you raise support it’s supposed to cover all the needs of a family; that’s how the budgets are written. It’s up to you to decide what you "give back” for that support, whether both spouses will “work” or just one. A wife may serve full-time in the ministry work; she may get an additional job (and make some extra money) or she may choose to stay home with the kids. That she’s not punished, financially, for doing so, is supposed to show respect and value for the family and sensitivity to the needs of mothers and children, which is great.

But sometimes it backfires. In most traditional societies the involvement of missionary women is crucial for the ministry to succeed among half the people they are trying to reach (where men can’t reach women) - and still, their active involvement is considered “optional”? And while heavy expectations and little flexibility might be a bigger burden, being under no expectations at all and given too much flexibility can be strangely demoralizing. It's as if what you do doesn't matter. Your ministry is optional.

In some sense, of course, we are all in that boat. Woe to men and women who see themselves as indispensable, as if God "needs" them.

In her book Expectations and Burnout, Sue E. writes about what missionary women want from their sending agencies:
"In a questionnaire conducted only within my own agency in 2005, one of the top five needs missionary women have is to feel respected. …This need for respect is closely followed by the need for encouragement, mentoring, and to be heard, and wisdom as well as freedom in balancing roles.”
If what the missionary woman does doesn't show up on ministry plans and reports, if whether she gets training or participates in meetings and setting direction is a matter of convenience or preference, it's as if it doesn't matter:
"If there is no reporting from women to their leaders, they feel as if their ministry (both in the home and out of the home) is devalued and not appreciated by their mission agency. If there is no guidance, how can a missionary woman determine if she is being as effective as possible in any of her roles? It is true that a woman needs freedom in determining where to invest her time; but she also needs and wants accountability.” (p. 76)
I think this is something my agency has been working on. I'm not really part of the inner circle to see how it's going, but I believe efforts are being made to "count" what women do and treat them as full members of the mission - even while recognizing that their ministries may not look like those of their husbands and others.

Monday, August 16, 2010

From Jerry Sittser on Growing in Loss

A Grace Disguised: How the Soul Grows through Loss, by Jerry Sittser. Zondervan, 2004, 224 pages.

Probably the best book I've ever read about responding to loss. Have a taste. Then, get yourself a copy.

Loss is universal:

“Loss is as much a part of normal life as birth, for as sure as we are born into the world we suffer loss before we leave it.” (p. 9)

“Pain… is the flip side of pleasure… the eye that blinks under the glare of a bright light also gazes in wonder at a mountain peak or meadow of wildflowers. The nose that signals the scent of a dead animal under the crawlspace of our house also draws us into the kitchen where bread is baking. The mouth that makes us spit out spoiled food also relishes the taste of our favorite flavor of ice cream. Ears that cringe at the wail of a siren also listen with pleasure to a Beethoven symphony.” (p. 45)

“What is true of the body is also true in the soul. The pain of loss is severe because the pleasure of life is so great.” (p. 46)

“[Whether it is sudden or builds up gradually], catastrophic loss wreaks destruction like a massive flood. It is unrelenting, unforgiving, and uncontrollable, brutally erosive to body, mind, and spirit… [It leaves] the landscape of one’s life changed forever.” (p. 16)

“People in denial refuse to see loss for what it is, something terrible that cannot be reversed. But their unwillingness to face pain comes at a price… in the end denial leads to a greater loss.” (p. 47)

On loss and comparison:

“Loss is loss, whatever the circumstances. All losses are bad, only bad in different ways. No two losses are ever the same. Each loss stands on its own and inflicts a unique kind of pain… what value is there to quantifying and comparing losses?” (p. 25)

“In the light of global experience… ‘Why me?’ seems the wrong question to ask. ‘Why not me?’ is closer to the mark… I realized soon after the accident that I had just been initiated into a fellowship of suffering that spans the world.” (p. 109)

“Though suffering itself is universal, each experience of suffering is unique because each person who goes through it is unique… that is why suffering loss is a solitary experience… We must enter the darkness of loss alone, but once there we will find others with whom we can share life together.” (p. 154)

On attempts to get through / get over loss:

“This book is not intended to help anyone get over or even through the experience of catastrophic loss, for I believe that ‘recovery’ from such loss is an unrealistic and even harmful expectation, if by recovery we mean resuming the way we lived and felt prior to the loss. Instead, the book is intended to show how it is possible to live in and be enlarged by loss, even as we continue to experience it.” (p. 10)

“Darkness comes, no matter how hard we try to hold it off. (p. 32). I decided to walk in the darkness rather than try to outrun it. (p. 24) It was the first step I took toward growth, but it was also the first step I took toward pain (p. 35). I did not get over the loss… rather, I absorbed the loss into my life… sorrow took up a permanent residence in my soul and enlarged it.” (p. 37).

“Deep sorrow often has the effect of stripping life of pretense, vanity, and waste… It forces us to ask basic questions about what is most important in life… that is why many people who suffer sudden and severe loss often become different people.” (p. 63)

“Tragedy can increase the soul’s capacity for darkness and light, for pleasure as well as pain, for hope as well as dejection… the soul has the capacity to experience these opposites, even at the same time. (p. 39). Even if we really do overcome our own pain (which is doubtful in my mind) we nevertheless find ourselves more sensitive to the pain of others and more aware of the darkness that envelopes the world (p. 41).

“Later, my sister Diane told me that the quickest way for anyone to reach the sun and the light of day is not to run west, chasing after the setting sun, but to head east, plunging into the darkness until one comes to the sunrise.” (p. 33)

On some of the personal implications of loss:

“...I felt that I had lost my most important link to the past, as if whole chapters of my life story had been suddenly torn out.” (p. 58)

“It is impossible not to imagine the future, and it is equally impossible to imagine the future without using the present as material for the imagination… the problem with those who have suffered loss is that they are deprived of familiar material from the present in order to envision the future… Much of what I imagined for my future became impossible.” (p. 60)

“Our sense of personal identity depends largely on the roles we play and the relationships we have. What we do and who we know contributes significantly to how we understand ourselves. Catastrophic loss is like undergoing an amputation of our identity… I sometimes feel like I am a stranger to myself.” (p. 70)

“Loss freezes life into a snapshot. We are stuck with what was instead of what could have been. This sudden halt… forces us to recognize the incompleteness of life and to admit our failures… it is too late.” (p. 84)

“Our feelings do not determine what is real, through the feelings themselves are real… we should acknowledge them without treating them as if they were ultimate truth.” (p. 88)

“Regret can also lead to transformation if we view loss as an opportunity to take inventory of our lives.” (p. 89)

"A widow told me recently that the death of her husband caused her to reconsider her view of friendship. She said that she and her husband had always been best friends. She therefore had little time and interest to build friendships with others.” (pp. 90-91)

“We are forced to face the ugliness, selfishness, and meanness of our own lives… But God promises to forgive those of us who confess our guilt, and to make right what we are sorry for doing wrong. The gift of divine forgiveness will help us to forgive ourselves.” (p. 91)

On finding God in our loss:

“No matter how deep the pit into which I descend, I keep finding God there. He is not aloof from my suffering but draws near to me when I suffer. He is vulnerable to pain, quick to shed tears, and acquainted with grief.” (p. 143)

“I have come to realize that the greatest enemy we face is death itself, which claims everyone and everything. No miracle can ultimately save us from it. A miracle is therefore only a temporary solution. We really need more than a miracle – we need a resurrection to make life eternally new. We long for a life in which death is finally and ultimately defeated.” (p. 148)

On the coexistence of grief and joy:

“I still have a sorrowful soul; yet I wake up every morning joyful, eager for what the new day will bring. Never have I felt as much pain as I have in the last three years; yet never have I experienced as much pleasure in simply being alive and living an ordinary life. Never have I felt so broken; yet never have I been so whole. Never have I been so aware of my weakness and vulnerability; yet never have I been so content and felt so strong. Never has my soul been more dead; yet never has my soul been more alive. What I once considered mutually exclusive – sorrow and joy, pain and pleasure, death and life – have become parts of a greater whole.” (pp. 179-180)

Note: Page numbers refer to the first edition, 1995, and may be different in the expanded version.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

All of These Kids Are Not Like the Others

"Nobody feels normal!"

That's what my friend E. said to her eight-year-old daughter, A., who had been complaining about her family not being like other families. A's parents are divorced, and she has a stepmother, and maybe someday she'll have a stepfather too. "Why can't we be normal?!" she asked her mom. "Normal" kids apparently have parents who are still together.

Two thoughts came to mind when E. told me about this conversation. The first was surprise: What decade is this kid living in that she thinks staying married is the normal thing for parents to do? Surely if she looks around at the other kids she knows she'll see other families split up.

Of course having your parents be divorced is a drag. I can relate. I found it just as upsetting.

But I don't remember thinking it made us "different," and I was growing up a couple decades earlier.

Being a latchkey kid? Now that was normal.

E. and I met right before eighth grade, just when my parents were getting their divorce. As much as I loved E.'s family - and continue to - I thought it was a little weird that her dad worked in the same place all his life and her mom stayed home taking care of kids and they never moved and they never got divorced.

My other response was empathy. I've felt how A. does. About my family, about other things as well: Why can't we be normal? Or, why can't we be the way I want us to be? What's with my life, why isn't it like other people's? Why didn't I get married and have kids like everybody else? What am I doing alone? What am I doing with my life?

In this season of deliberately questioning everything, I've asked those questions again. It's been nice to have a safe place to ask them, to ask them on purpose in the daylight with other people to discuss them with instead of having them sneak up on me in the middle of the night when I'm vulnerable and alone.

I thought E.'s exasperated response to her daughter was spot on. I mean, I don't know if it worked for A. Maybe she needed a different kind of reassurance. A hug. And so on. But instead she got the kind of answer my own mother would have given, were I falling into some petulant bout of self-pity. And maybe it's an answer I needed to hear, too. Here's what E. said:

"Honey, nobody feels normal. Everybody feels like they are not normal."

"What about you, growing up with Grammy and Grampy?"

"But I grew up with Uncle N," she reminded her daughter. N. is autistic. He was around all the time E. and I were growing up, but that's before A. was born of course. When he gets frustrated, he's quite a handful: runs away, can't be held down. The family couldn't have any nice things in their house because he would break them. When he got dangerous and they could no longer do much for him or keep him from hurting himself or others his parents found a place for him in an institution.

"Nobody feels normal,"  said E.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Want to Live an Unhurried Life?

Check out Paula's list of helpful books here, as well as 100 practical tips and exercises.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Six Months of Sabbatical

See some of what I've been doing these last six months.

I know, quite a lot of reading. Guess I haven't changed much from the little girl whose favorite place to go at recess was the library. So, given a longer recess...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Innovations in Flight (and Fight)

Did you know that Paul Allen - co-founder of Microsoft, and one of the richest men on the planet - collects, restores, and flies World War II fighter planes? I was able to see his collection when I was in Washington last month. No, I can't say we got in because ol' Paul and I are pals. Too bad. But he's got them in a museum at Paine Field in Everett, and for $20 my dad and I had a guided tour of the collection. My idea.

Now, you may be surprised that I'd want to do this. I'm neither a pilot nor an engineer, so a lot of the specs were lost on me. But I can appreciate a beautiful piece of machinery, even if it's an instrument of destruction. Er, liberation. Whatever. Regardless, I'm interested in the behind-the-scenes view of military history, and how people behave and interact in significant times... such as when at war.

Each plane or artifact had a story and illustrated an interesting strategy or development in aircraft history, but a few of the machines stood out:

Soviet "Kukuruznik" Biplane: 

The Russians made 40,000 of these babies between 1928 and 1953. That's enough to make them the most populous biplane in aviation's history. Yet few examples survive. Allen, of course, has one.

Soviet Polikarpov Po-2 Biplane
In peacetime, they were good for crop-dusting; their nickname means "corn." When the nation was at war, they were used to carry supplies, evacuate the injured, etc. By 1942 they were armed with 50 kg bombs and sent out on night raids. Troops on the ground called these "sewing machines" for the startling rattle they made. Skilled pilots learned to turn off the engine when they got close and glide in silently just over the treetops. They didn't actually blow up that much but their flyovers kept the German troops stressed out, on edge, and unable to sleep. It was a form of psychological warfare.

The most interesting thing about these planes was their association with an unusual and soon notorious Soviet entity, the "588 Night Bomber Regiment," who flew these planes exclusively. Members were also known as the "Night Witches." The unit was made up entirely of female pilots, mechanics, and ground crews. Can you imagine? These daring women were among the most decorated soldiers in the war.

Our museum guide added that the Soviets didn't have any uniforms designed for women, so they issued them the standard fare including undergarments. Somewhere along the way the women discovered that a discarded silk parachute could be cut up and sewn into excellent undies, so they made their own. Nice...

German "Flying Bombs"

German Fieseler Fi 103 V-1 flying missile
What if you could build a bomb that flew on its own? Yeah.... that would save a lot of lives (on your side, anyway). These unmanned flying missiles were heavily used in World War II. I think these are the bombs the British called "Doodlebugs." Today's drones and cruise missiles are much more sophisticated, but this was a breakthrough: the first aircraft that were also weapons.

Even so, the Allies discovered they flew in such predictable arcs that all a skilled pilot had to do to send them hurtling downward long short of their target was to fly up next to one, slip a wingtip under its fin, and flip it over. The thing would spin to the ground. "Dangerous?!" I queried. "No, there was nothing to it," claimed our guide. Huh.

German Fieseler Fi 103R: missile + pilot 
So what could be done to get more of these missiles to their targets? An adapted version looks much the same but has a small cockpit and carries a pilot. He could fly the missile to its target, evading the enemy, then set it to dive, eject himself, and float happily to the ground knowing his job was well done.

Except - well, he'd be landing in enemy territory, wouldn't he? Even if every pilot survived, they'd become POWs and couldn't fly any more missions. And what army could afford to lose a pilot on every mission? The new missiles were never used in combat.

See more of my dad's pictures here, or visit The Flying Heritage Collection.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Climb EVERY Mountain?

"The fact that we had reached the summit seemed to matter little to my dad. To me it was everything. Every time I stood atop a mountain peak it was a marker, a triumph, an erosion of my sense of failure. I did something. I set a goal, worked hard and achieved success. In the caverns of my mind, worth and value were being fashioned all because I could climb a mountain...

"I glanced over at Dad. He smiled with affirmation. My thoughts began to wander. How do we know when we are loved? Is it that look of acceptance, a smile and warm embrace? Or is it when someone buys us crap we don't need or lets us have our own way? 

"... Isn't one illustration of God's love the offering of his constant presence to us? Even still, my struggle to show up for others remains. What does it say when I withhold this valuable commodity? Busyness is the ultimate trump card. It will get you out of virtually every social situation, or at least buy you amnesty a few times when you let a friend down. ...If I'm busy, I don't have to be responsible for what I fail to do...

"Like any other addiction, busyness works so well. It gives us the edge to avoid emptiness loneliness, unpleasant memories, hurt, intimacy - and consequently, the clarity that silence and an unhurried life can bring. Still, almost everyone I know is trying to get caught up, trying to commit to fewer things, and aching to get away from the frantic race that consumes modern America...

"Truth is, sometimes I don't want a slow-paced, intentional life. I have systematically engineered a life of chaos. The consequences at least appear better than facing the reality of my own life. And so each generation is more disconnected than the last. When I look around at the world, I see a bunch of people desperate to know they are loved living in the shadows of a community too busy to pay attention to anyone but themselves.

"...Dad and I meandered our way back to the car. In contentedness and silence I drove home. Here I was, spending all this time with my dad. My motivations were thrills and accomplishments. What were his? He didn't care about accomplishments. He was content reading an ancient book and falling asleep in front of the TV watching some old musical. Why was he climbing these giant mountains with his temperamental son? The answer was right in front of me, yet it would take years for me to discover."

Source: Wisdom Chaser: Finding My Father at 14,000 feet, by Nathan Foster, afterword by Richard J. Foster. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010. pp. 42-44.

See also the excerpt found on the author's website, Answers Found on Mount Quandary.

Monday, August 09, 2010

Crossing the Country by Covered Wagon

Wagon ruts along the Oregon Trail. Photo source here.
I knew that the great "Pony Express" was rendered obsolete by the introduction of the telegraph less than two years after it began,  but I only just discovered that another touchstone of American history, the settlement of the West by pioneers in covered wagons, lasted just over one generation (1840-1869). At that point the completion of railroads chopped the journey west from a treacherous trek of six months to a mere one-week train trip.

One spot through which all those covered wagons were driven - carrying about 500,000 pioneers in that 29-year period - was Casper, Wyoming. You know what they say: location, location, location. Casper is near what may be the best route across the Rockies. It's built beside the once-great Platte River, which travelers coming West had followed for hundreds of miles. Here each "emigrant" - having left the United States behind - would say goodbye to the river and strike off for destinations in places like Oregon, California, and Utah.

On my own way back to Colorado last week I visited the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center as well as several of the nearby places of significance to those who traveled these trails.

The people of Casper seem to have accepted the fact that their home is and apparently always has been a place people come through on their way someplace else. In fact, they've built up a modest tourist industry around that aspect of their history.

It doesn't start with the covered wagons, but goes back farther. The 80,000 settlers who came through on the Oregon trail were following in the footsteps of Arapaho, Lakota Sioux, and Shoshone.

Some 70,000 Latter-day Saints came, too, fleeing persecution and seeking their own promised land. Many of the most helpful tools and strategies for surviving the trip were developed by the Mormons; they like rules; they were disciplined and organized.

When the California gold rush got under way, the once-lonely trail became a highway. One local resident noted that 600 wagons had passed by his house in a single day. I was pleased, though, to read the entry from the journal of one man who reported a guy on horseback heading the other direction. He was returning to his family in the East, explaining that he simply couldn't go on; he "loved his wife more than gold."

Native Americans who may have previously been glad of trading partners and scouting jobs now complained that there wasn't enough food to go around; these people were taking over, moving in as if the land were not already inhabited.

Perhaps the covered-wagon days, brief though they were, play a big part in our national history partly because they left such a mark on the families who took those trails. It was probably the hardest, bravest thing they had ever done. It took so much courage. Many people thought you were crazy. Others envied you. It was a little like going to war. Or traveling to another country. In a way, it was both.

Have you ever been in that kind of situation? The emotions run so high. You don't know if you will survive. If you do, it knits you together together with others who have made that journey, especially the ones who traveled by your side. It may have been a brief experience in the context of a lifetime, but it will stay with you all your life. You save the souvenirs. You pass down the stories to children and grandchildren.You set up museums and hold reunions and commemorative events.

So many lost so much along the way. The more crowded the trails became, the more they were lined with dead animals, broken-down wagons, abandoned treasures, and hundreds and hundreds of graves. Children fell off the wagons and got run over. Others emigrants grew sick and died - cholera was a big killer - drowned in a river crossing, or were caught in storms. Not many were killed by Indians or wild animals, but some were.

Timing was important. Everyone knew that if you started at the right time, you'd find enough spring grass along the way to feed your stock. But wait too long and you'd risk getting caught by an early snow in the mountain passes. You knew you'd probably make it to your destination before snowfall if you reached Independence Rock by the fourth of July. That must have been a jubilant place; everyone stopped to scamper up the rock and carve their names. There were dances, and sporting events, and weddings there. A huge celebration took place every July 4.

By the time you'd reached this point, you'd probably gone through a lot. Some of the things you feared had not come to pass, at least not yet. Others, you'd overcome and survived. You'd followed the Platte River longer than you could remember. I bet the kids had stopped asking, "are we almost there yet?" Living out of a wagon was starting to feel normal.

You still had at least another thousand miles to go.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

Driving back to Denver

The Columbia Gorge, Eastern Washington

at Lake Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
Ranch just off the freeway in Montana

Driving through Wyoming

At Ayres Natural Bridge Park, Wyoming

Friday, August 06, 2010

Along the Snohomish

On a cloudy summer morning - the last day of July, and my last day in Washington before coming back to Colorado - Dad, Jennie and I went for a walk along the Snohomish River. Here's some of what we saw.

Tuesday, August 03, 2010

Look Alive

It takes a keen eye to discern the difference between live mollusks and dead ones.

Monday, August 02, 2010

CIM and American Foreign Policy

“The most significant period in the history of modern missions was in the five years following World War II, when the door closed on nearly one quarter of the world’s population as China, the largest ‘mission field’ in the world, came under a Communist government,” claims the cover copy on Phyllis Thompson’s book China: The Reluctant Exodus.

I picked it up as part of my ongoing study of the China Inland Mission (now OMF) whose history seems to have remarkable parallels to situations I see in the world today. This one is still in print, too, though I have a tattered paperback version that’s almost as old as I am. Checked it out from the OMF library.

In addition to wanting to learn from the CIM, I have a secret (OK, not so secret) ambition to be the next Phyllis Thompson. A writer, she spent a number of years in Asia and continued to serve her mission by recording and telling its stories in a winsome way. Her work inspired others and including them in what God was doing and had done in ministries across Asia and beyond.

This volume explains the rise of Communism in China, how this affected the local believers and the Christian missionaries who had been serving there, and how the CIM experienced and responded to those unfolding realities.

I knew some of the story, but hadn’t realized the role U.S. foreign policy of the time played in the situation. This seems quite unfair. Relatively few of the missionaries were Americans, and none of them agents of the American government; the CIM was a British mission, too. But those disclaimers are easily dismissed or drowned out when a touchy political situation comes along. And when can we expect life to be fair?

It had to do with the war in Korea. Headline news in China at the time. Then there was a Chinese government initiative called the Peace Petition.
“This, on the face of it, was innocuous enough. People all over the country were invited to affirm that they were against aggression.

“Against aggression? Certainly they were against aggression! They would sign their names to that.

“This led to a concrete case. Were they against aggression in Korea? Yes, they were against aggression anywhere.

“Being against aggression naturally involved being against the aggressor. That seemed logical.

“America was the aggressor! Therefore they were against America?

“America was using Christianity to further her own ends – therefore they were against Christianity?

“America was using missionaries as agents – therefore they must be against missionaries. Slowly the net was tightening.” (p. 49)