Monday, February 28, 2011

Whom Do You Love?

This is a post of questions. Questions for me, questions for you.

I first read and signed onto The Lausanne Covenant in the early 1990's. The 1974 statement of faith and purpose had been composed largely by the British theologian John Stott and it had became a standard for mission-minded evangelicals worldwide. Affirming it was a condition of joining the ministry I served with for so many years. We all agreed to the Lausanne Covenant, and we agreed we'd be willing to work with anyone else who said the same.

The Lausanne Movement chose the occasion of its largest meeting yet to commission a new document that, much like the previous one, attempts "to bring a fresh challenge to the global Church to bear witness to Jesus Christ and all his teaching - in every nation, in every sphere of society, and in the realm of ideas."

The Capetown Commitment seems to go further down the road from statement of faith or systematic theology to a call to a common mission. It frames the entire conversation in the bonds of love. The commitment, it's a commitment to love.

How uncomfortable. How challenging. How right.

Are we willing to hear and see what it looks like to really love God, and to love our neighbors as ourselves?

I'm not sure I know how to love. I find a war within myself, a longing to love and be loved at odds with a deep-rooted suspicion that it's better not to. I'm made to connect with others; I've been trained to keep others at arm's length. Which one will win out?

Remember the story of the good Samaritan? My friend Laura recently wrote about attending a gathering of diverse women that took place in the land where Jesus first told that story. "In Jesus' teaching the answer to the question 'who is my neighbor,'" she says, "was essentially another question: 'Whose neighbor are you?'"

Another friend suggests that the original hearers of that story would have considered as neighbors anyone who lived within a day or two's journey of them. Were we to apply the same standard today, the whole earth would be one neighborhood. Do you believe that it is? Why or why not?

Globalized communication mean we may hear, instantly and incessantly, about situations and struggles in far more and further-flung places than we can touch through anything except perhaps our prayers. Human nature pressures us to stop our ears, to close our eyes, to disengage. How do you choose to respond? I mean, how do you choose when to respond, and when not to?

Whose neighbor are you?
We Love Because God First Loved Us

"The mission of God flows from the love of God. The mission of God's people flows from our love for God and for all that God loves. World evangelization is the outflow of God's love to us and through us. We affirm the primacy of God's grace and we then respond to that grace by faith, demonstrated through the obedience of love. We love because God first loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins."

Source: The Cape Town Commitment
This post is part of the Christian Writer's Blog Chain, which chose for its February theme, "love."

Christian Writers Blog Chain

Oops; didn't get this done by the end of the weekend. But come back later. I'll try to get my post up later today.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Getting in Trouble

So, I find I have this rather deeply rooted fear of getting in trouble. Goes way back. It would be a good idea to try to get to the bottom of that.

Unfortunately, this fear doesn't seem to be an effective deterrent to the kind of behavior that would actually get me in trouble.

Just now I'm feeling bad about the contribution I'm making in my work, for example. I'm doing some excellent work - as it happens - but the people who see one part don't see the others. The job description I wrote for myself never got a clear endorsement. I'm not sure what I'm doing is valued by others. I have my hands in a variety of projects - it's like having four or five teams of colleagues. That's exciting, but it means the people I work with on one thing are not the people I work with on another, and my supervisor is involved in very little of it. Dangerous. I've also said some things I shouldn't have, things that might be seen as making trouble.

So, when I get an email from the boss (who lives in another state) saying, "Would you have 45 minutes to talk sometime this week?" my mind goes right back to that valley: uh oh. I'm in trouble.

Am I? Maybe. Maybe not. I don't know him enough to just shoot back an email saying, "Am I in trouble?" I wonder how he'd respond if I did? Might be worth it, just to know. I'm not very comfortable taking surprises over the phone. And he's a good man; even if he's got some harsh things to say that doesn't mean he will be harsh with me. And maybe he'll have some constructive solutions.

Oddly enough, when my conscience is not clear, the one thing I long for is to be found out - especially if that means having someone come alongside me, help me put the problem out on the table, and maybe walk with me toward a likely solution. So, even if I'm not in trouble, this could be an opportunity to open my uneasy conscience to him. Can I trust him with that? More than once I've been transparent about my fears and insecurities with people who had power over me and later come to regret it.

Can you relate?

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Loving and Losing the Fragile Ones

Baby Nakolong was close to death
Even while composing yesterday's post I was thinking about how glad I am for the gifts and calling of others who lay down their lives to serve in ways I'm pretty sure I couldn't. Have been thinking a lot of my friend M. She moved to Uganda a few months back, along with her husband and their five children. I don't like to see America send so many Christian workers to the same dozen countries, so I approached the plan with reservations. But I've also seen God's hand in this one.

When I got to know M., not so long ago, they only had one child. But she had already made the switchover to seeing herself as a mother more than almost anything else - and when a U.S. adoption was quickly followed by the adoption of three siblings, I could see that throwing herself into motherhood was a very good thing. And now she's pregnant with number six, due in early April. Sometimes I'm fearful to see young women responsible for so many children but there's something to be said for diving in when you are young and strong!

Furthermore, what brought M.'s family to Uganda, was the opportunity to help care for other people's children - orphans. And one of the most significant experiences they have had to date was this month. M. explains: 
"A need was presented to us to help supply formula for a mother who was not producing milk. After learning more about the situation I thought it would be best to be able to look over the baby. The baby was brought to me and to my amazement I was looking at a baby that was close to death. Something I have never seen before, and honestly it is still hard to wrap my head around this all.

"I immediately made some homemade formula and started feeding the baby with an eye dropper. I fed her almost constantly for six hours and saw life coming back to her. We decided to take the baby during the night in order to feed her every hour. Every hour we saw her improve. However there is something else that seems abnormal. Her features, her feet, hands, etc. It was evident that were not just dealing with a preemie baby. With different resources it seems as though she may have Trisomy 18. I will not go into detail, but the bottom line is that they do not live past a year. So here I am holding a baby that probably will not live and the mother wants me to take care of her as she will not be able to. Not sure how to process it all, but it is not easy for me to deal with. She represents the 'least of these' to me." 
M. did everything she could to care for this little girl and saw her gain strength and come alive.
"I loved watching your personality transform, and hearing you make a noise for the first time. I relished how you gained enough strength to wrap your wee little fingers around mine. All your hair was adorable. I miss the way you would suck on the eye dropper and how you would inspect me and your surroundings with your baby eyes. How the last two days you started rooting around and trying to cry out when you were hungry..." 
But in the, Nakolong - whose name means 'sunshine' - only lived with them for five days before she died.

Would you be able to pour out your love on a three-pound infant like that? What would it do to you to give your all for a little one and then lose her? On the other hand what a difference it could make for that child and the community. In Letter to Nakolong, M. writes:
"I know fruit will come from this, and I see roots taking place already. I am planning to continue a relationship with your mom, and I would like to get to know her better. I went and visited her today. I need to learn the language so I can speak to her without a translator. If you get a chance tell Jesus I could use some help with language learning. :) "

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Seeking a Guide to Global Wrath

1. Rage

Yesterday I saw on "Global Voices" that Bahrain was in Day 2 of their Day of Wrath. Maybe they're hoping for a week of wrath. The Libyan city of Benghazi, where protesting is illegal, was prepping for a Day of Rage this Thursday - and it looks like they got off to a premature start, today, objecting to the arrest of a political activist and getting a swift crackdown. Probably not enough to put any real cracks in Ghadafi's reign, Africa's longest. Some in southern Yemen organized a Friday of Rage last week, though attendance was relatively slim. Several attempts to organize "rage" events in Syria were successfully quelled by the government.

The trend started in Tunisia, of course, escalating from the self-immolation of a frustrated and disillusioned street vendor into a wave of uprising against unemployment, corruption, and poor economic conditions in countries across the Arab world and beyond.

It would be easy to characterize these uprisings as progress - especially from a place of isolation (in the middle of a big, powerful, and self-involved country rather far away). Those people over there are throwing off their evil dictators to pursue a democracy like ours. But I think I'd agree with George Friedman (HT Justin Long):
"The reality of what has happened in the last 72 hours and the interpretation that much of the world has placed on it are startlingly different. Power rests with the regime, not with the crowds. In our view, the crowds never had nearly as much power as many have claimed."

"... The crowd in Cairo never swelled to the point that it involved a substantial portion of the city."

"...What we see is that while Mubarak is gone, the military regime in which he served has dramatically increased its power."
> Read more: Egypt: The Distance Between Enthusiasm and Reality | STRATFOR
So, why do the nations rage?

2. Corruption 

Can removing a corrupt leader or even a whole regime - though justified - do much to improve the conditions that created such frustration? Soaring food prices, economic sluggishness, widespread unemployment, and a general lack of opportunities - those seem like complex problems, difficult to untangle. I suppose if the leaders are creating or exacerbating the problems or blocking the solutions, a change of leader or regime could be a good first step. But then what?

Even in my own country, where corruption seems to be relatively low, we're always hearing politicians claim greater power to effect change than they can deliver. Chalk that up to the democratic model, in part: checks and balances, representative government, division of power, term limits. Good things I think. But they mean nobody can really go to Washington and turn everything upside down. And where corruption is deep-rooted and widespread, how can a community eliminate or at least reduce it? It's so much easier to see and define a problem than its solution. I guess that doesn't mean we shouldn't try to make things better, though. 
"With governments committing huge sums to tackle the world's most pressing problems, from the instability of financial markets to climate change and poverty, corruption remains an obstacle to achieving much needed progress. The 2010 Corruption Perceptions Index shows that nearly three quarters of the 178 countries in the index score below five, on a scale from 10 (highly clean) to 0 (highly corrupt). These results indicate a serious corruption problem.
"To address these challenges, governments need to integrate anti-corruption measures in all spheres, from their responses to the financial crisis and climate change to commitments by the international community to eradicate poverty. Transparency International advocates stricter implementation of the UN Convention against Corruption, the only global initiative that provides a framework for putting an end to corruption. Denmark, New Zealand and Singapore are tied at the top of the list with a score of 9.3, followed closely by Finland and Sweden at 9.2. Bringing up the rear is Somalia with a score of 1.1, slightly trailing Myanmar and Afghanistan at 1.4 and Iraq at 1.5." 
Source: Transparency International
3. Mobilization

As with many issues related to public policy and politics, I scratch my head and wonder. I feel the same way about fighting human trafficking, or responding to the global AIDS crisis. I'm stuck on step three of CP's old mobilization scale (yes, I resurrected this in an article last week). I don't have a "vision of what can be done."

Steps to Strategic Involvement

1. Initial exposure to the world’s situation
2. Growing biblical and global awareness
3. A vision of what can be done
4. A general commitment to do something
5. Waiting and guidance
6. Specific commitment to a particular ministry
7. Strategic involvement / active engagement

I suppose that's how many people feel about the area where I =do= have a stage-seven commitment: church planting among the least-reached peoples. I see what can be done, I know how I can be part of it, I'm actively involved, and I scratch my head that others don't see why this matters, believe it can be done, and feel a duty and urgency to take part.

But politics? Not my deal, I think. Not my mountain to climb (Reclaiming the Seven Mountains of Culture identifies the major spheres of culture as entertainment, business, education, family, government, media, and religion).

This challenges me as a mobilizer: I don't want to slip too quickly into preaching, about anything, "It's your responsibility to do something about it - it's everyone's!"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Two Ways of Knowing

"Between dependence and independence lies the overlooked land of interdependence. Interdependence is more than depending on each other to get a task done, like the spokes of a wheel depend on the hub. We're all interdependent in this way. The interdependence that colors our souls is when ... we see ourselves as 'me in relationship' rather than 'me as autonomous.'" Jonalyn Grace Fincher, Ruby Slippers, p. 117

Being independent can be a great source of strength. Independent people tend to be skeptical; they question, doubt, and look for inconsistencies and contradictions.They want to get at the truth of the matter. Most academic settings favor this form of knowing. Some may say it's the only, best, or most rational form of knowing.

But some of us have a greater desire for or tendency toward interdependence and this flows over into our ideas about "knowing." Encountering new ideas and information, we are more likely to listen for the sake of entering into what the other person is saying and relate to it, being able to understand and say, "I see what you mean."

Jonalyn calls it "connected" knowing as opposed to "separate" knowing, and says most us are more comfortable with one than the other. And often, women are more comfortable with connected knowing, with interdependence rather than independence. Do you agree? She would never call this exclusively a feminine trait, but describes it as one of a handful of traits that characterize many women and can help us understand ourselves. If she's right, it could help explain why more women than men take an interest in stories and literature: we suspend disbelief and fall under the writer's spell. "As one psychologist put it, 'Many women find it easier to believe than to doubt.'"

Here's how Jonalyn describes this trait in herself:
"Because I am interdependent, my beliefs are formed out of what others think about me. I desire to be needed by others. Relationships provide the means for me to understand my past, my goals, my character, my work, and my methods; and I emotionally want that. My thoughts regularly revolve around what they said or what she suggested, or what he noticed. I choose to have long conversations and drawn-out discussions to make sure everyone is content and understands me, and I, them. My will may need the buttressing of others' encouragement." (pp. 117-118)
Have you ever thought about this in gender terms? I've run across something similar in personality theories, e.g., MBTI (Myers-Briggs). "The ENTP loves a debate - the ENFJ loves a discussion," a close friend points out to me. He's the ENFJ; I'm the ENTP. Debate? For me, I think it really depends. While I love hashing out patterns and observations and hearing stories and case studies, when it comes to making diagnoses and drawing conclusions about the way things "are" in some objective sense, I start to squirm. I think it has to do with "connectedness." (And, bringing in another psychological theory, my #1 theme on the Gallup "StrengthFinder" assessment is "connectedness." They use a fairly similar definition.)

I've been feeling some of this tension at a church class I'm part of on Sunday mornings. I go, mostly, for the connectedness. I feel I can make a contribution; they miss me if I'm not there. But the actual content of the class can be troubling. We're looking at current events, often public policy issues, and discussing how we as Christians interpret and respond to them and why. The class is called "dealing with the difficult." But most everyone else in the class is part of the conservative Christian right, and only a few of them know that I'm more part of the, er, "Christian left" (Scott, if you're reading this, there you go).

Several of these friends tend to make sweeping generalizations about the way Christians "should" look at government issues - what the government should and shouldn't do. A few of them speak with both great passion and what seems to me great ignorance, as if they've been listening to talk radio call-in shows through too much static. Every time I hear them use the words "liberal" and "government," "Democrats" and "Obama" as if these were synonyms for evil and godlessness I want to speak up, to object, but I can't quite bring myself to do it. I don't want to try to risk offending them, being misunderstood, or making a fool of myself. I don't want to fight; don't think it's worth fighting over. The holes in their arguments may seem glaring, but in a minute or two the conversation will shift. So, except for the occasions when I burst out with something incoherent (or make a joke) I usually sit and squirm and wait for the conversation to shift into areas where we have more common ground. Several of these conservatives, though, are very wise, and I've appreciated their well-thought out perspectives.

I think I'll keep going. But I wonder if I'll ever be comfortable in groups that delight in challenge and controversy. I know many - both men and women - who would say the same.
"Most people use both connected and separate knowing, though we usually prefer one over the other. We feel most comfortable with one. I can act like a separate knower and play the devil's advocate - I learned the skill at home as a young teen. My father and I would go back and forth in sparring matches during dinnertime, questioning, doubting, cross-examining each other. It was exciting for me, but I know that even when I won the match, I felt separated from my dad. The knowledge was sweet, but I didn't like feeling separated. Separate knowing didn't build my emotional connection with my father. Though debating with him was exciting on one level, what I really wanted was to know and understand him. I didn't want to prove or disprove an abstract argument. I couldn't relax in the debate because I was all the while wondering if he or I was going to get our feelings hurt. To me it wasn't all fun and games. It wasn't really between our positions, it was between persons. So while I can perform as a separate knower, I prefer connected knowing. It comes more naturally to me." (p. 120)
> Which do you prefer, debate or discussion? Evaluating the issues or hearing people's experiences? Questioning or identifying? How do you maintain openness to and respect for those who differ from you on this?

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Different by Design

Leading a team-building session
with one of my favorite research teams
Here in the U.S., individualism reigns, and families, teams, and other groups often consist of a people who are in the same place at the same time but each doing his or her own thing. Can we learn to shift our approach to team relationships from an "I" focus to a "we" focus, to work as a whole and healthy team? A team where each person fits, and each person counts?

That was the question for today's webinar from The Mission Exchange, featuring Paul Ford from Christian Resource Ministries. The place I chose to watch/listen to it had spotty internet access, so I missed the beginning of it and some other parts as well. But what I got made me want to dig in deeper.

One of Ford's key points was that both our gifts and our weaknesses are given to us by God for the sake of those with whom we serve - our partners and teammates. We each have powerful strengths that the group needs, as well as preferences, weaknesses, and unique needs which - if we're willing to face them and "own" them - can knit us together in relationship. We don't just steward gifts, we steward relationships - and we steward gifts FOR relationship.

Ford also said we shouldn't look to leaders to set vision and direction, but look around at one another's passions and calling, preferences and roles, and see what clues these provide to what God wants us to do and be.

"Let us look at whom God has brought together
so that we may more clearly discern what God intends."

When you work with a team, do you look at who "we" are as much as at who "I" am and who "you" are?

How I wish every group discussion of personalities and personal contribution took this next step.

Most of the teams I've trained and sent overseas quickly develop a team culture. I always encourage the leaders to lead according to the needs of those they lead - even if that means laying aside their own preferences (e.g., how they prefer to be led) and assumptions how leadership should operate. Often our team members are living together; almost always, they are sharing both down time and work time, worship and study and play. It's like being part of a family, really. You may start a family with all kinds of ideas about the type of husband or wife you want to be or what kind of kids you'll raise, but the reality is you don't control most or even many of the factors. So, you humble yourself and adjust to the interpersonal realities as you discover them.

I seldom see the same kind of flexible, facilitative leadership within longer-term, less-intense teams in the workplace. Most leaders lead out of who they are much more than they lead out of what their team needs. Does it have to be that way? Why or why not?

Here's one of the more interesting team-building exercises I use with a short-term team in formation. If at all possible, I facilitate and/or sit in on the discussion so as to see what the leaders are getting into and to help them process it, respond to it, and adjust.
How I Tick: Group Discussion

Take 10-15 minutes to jot some notes on this survey, then we’ll talk through each question with the group. I’d encourage you to take notes on your teammates’ preferences.

1. When I’m tired or stressed, I prefer to be
(a) with people, or
(b) alone.

2. If people find me withdrawn from the group, it usually means…

    How should they respond?

3. If you have offended me, my normal reaction is…

    The best way to seek reconciliation with me is…

4. If I have done something to offend you or just plain irritate you, this is how you should approach me about it…

5. It drives me nuts when I’m in a group that…

6. You can best encourage me by…

7. Some things about which I’m passionate are…

8. What I think of this kind of survey is…
Usually people have strong memories of things that come up in this discussion and bring them up again in the weeks and months to come. It helps them understand each other in the midst of - and advance of - personality clashes that may arise.

What do you think of this kind of process? What questions would you add?

Monday, February 07, 2011

Learning their language

A small section of my mom's massive collection
of yarn and thread. I'm not a weaver, like she is,
but I think I could pass the basic knowledge test.
Ever felt your forehead or the corners of your mouth tightening in frustration, or your eyelids drooping in fatigue as you listened to someone go on and on about their latest passion, a topic about which you knew nothing? Keep listening, even just a little, and in time you may start to pick it up. You may become like a second- or third-generation immigrant who knows what Grandma's saying when she speaks Spanish, Hindi, or Czech, even if you couldn't put together more than a few sentences of your own in that language. The wall between you starts to crumble. Life becomes more of a shared experience.

My friend K, his wife is one of those women who likes to quilt and sew and do craft projects. K's favorite craft may be beer-making. But he's given himself the husband's class in textiles; he knows the difference between teal and turquoise, and if she asks him to pass the scalpel (or the quilter's equivalent of it), he recognizes the word and is happy to oblige. He doesn't say, "Quilting is her thing. I don't know the first thing about it. Gotta go. The game's on." They have different skills and interests, but neither of them has written off the other's world.  

Have you discovered how much more fun the world can be when you take a little interest in other people's interests? It comes more naturally to me than most, and after spending enough time doing cross-cultural anthropology projects it's almost automatic. It's been my job "to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations" as they say on Star Trek. 

Someday I'm going to have to write that book, the one about how to learn another language - how to ask good questions about stuff you know nothing about and get people to open up their worlds to you.  Engaging ways to invite people to teach you the basics, to show them you want to learn; that would be an early chapter. How to pick up and use "native terms" to discover how other people tick, that would be another. I want to take those cross-cultural skills and put them in the hands of people who never go overseas but could use a few tools to better engage with the world around them. 

On the other hand, whether this book would sell, whether it would change things for people who read it, might still really depend on the question of motivation. Do you care? Do you want to know what's going on in that person's head or why they do what they do? If that motivation is there, maybe that's more important than all the learning skills I could give you. You may not need to take the class or read the book.  
  • I have to admit, I don't know anything about that. I'd like to know more.
  • Tell me about a project you're working on now.
  • How did you get into this? How did you learn about it? 
  • What are some of the things you've discovered along the way?
  • What's that called? How do you use it? What's the difference between ____ and ____?
  • So a ______ is for ______. Right? What else can you do with it?
  • Can you show me how it works?

Friday, February 04, 2011

Nobody Has to Live Like That

Indian Peaks Wilderness Area, Colorado Rocky Mountains
"Prayerless people cut themselves off from God's prevailing power, and the frequent result is the familiar feeling of being overwhelmed, over-run, beaten down, pushed around, defeated. Surprising numbers of people are willing to settle for lives like that. Don't be one of them. Nobody has to live like that. Prayer is the key to unlocking God's power in your life."

 Bill Hybels, in Too Busy Not to Pray

Thursday, February 03, 2011

Don't Break the Chain

Earlier this year I started frequenting a new social networking site, this one a network for Christian Writers. After swallowing some resistance to "Christian" as an adjective I've found it a good place to go to give and receive guidance and encouragement. If you're a writer and have some questions you'd like to talk about with other writers, consider stopping in or joining up. This month I agreed to participate in a "Blog Chain" with other folks from The theme this month is looooooooooooove. Here are the bloggers, their blog names, and the dates they will post on this topic.

Feb 3: Chris Henderson, TheWriteChris
Feb. 4: Tracy Krauss, Expression Express
Feb. 5: Scott Fields, Dead Man Writing
Feb. 6: Keith Wallis, wordsculptures
Feb. 7: Traci Bonney, Tracings
Feb. 8: Chris Perdue: The Bible Stop (part 1)
Feb. 9: Adam Collings, The Collings Zone
Feb. 8: Chris Perdue: The Bible Stop (part 2)
Feb. 11: Naomi Musch, Write Reason
Feb. 12: Lynn Mosher, Heading Home
Feb. 13: Cindee Snider Re, Breathe Deeply
Feb. 14: Liberty Speidel, Word Wanderings
Feb. 15: Ruth Rockafield, Power of the Pen
Feb. 16: Victor Travison, Lightwalker's View
Feb. 18: Sheila Hollinghead, Clearing Skies
Feb. 19: Sarah Grace, Write-Minded
Feb. 20: Edward Lewis, Sowing the Seeds
Feb. 21: Linda Yezak, 777 Peppermint Place
Feb. 23: Nona King, Word Obsession
Feb. 25: Chris Depew, The Beulah Land Blog
Feb. 28: Marti Smith, Telling Secrets