Friday, July 29, 2011

He Sends Me Flowers

My love is a romantic. He'd love to send me flowers every day. Even if he could afford that, such extravagant displays would leave me embarrassed and uncomfortable. We've found a good work-around. He snaps pictures when he's out and about and sends them to me by email, usually with a love note. Once a week, once a day, sometimes more. I have his words to go back to again and again, and the flowers never wilt or fade. 

He never tells me where he takes the pictures. Chris is in and out of hospitals and nursing homes every day; he provides medical transportation for those who need more than a taxi, less than an ambulance. "Driving Miss Daisy," he calls it. "Only Miss Daisy is in a wheelchair." So I'm sure some of those who give or receive these bouquets associate them with pain and loss. For us, though, they are sheer beauty.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Digging for Reactions' Roots

The other day I read a number of challenging emails before breakfast. Bad idea. When I am still sleepy and haven't made any coffee yet, my guard is down. I'm vulnerable to taking things wrong. I think it's OK to reach for my iPod and check the RSS feeds - which tend to "feed" me rather than asking anything of me -  but maybe I should hold off on the emails? 

Two of them were asking me to recommend solutions to problems that remain mysteries to me - requests which elicited my distaste for not knowing the answer. I felt myself growing testy.  

I hate feeling ignorant. 

Another came from someone who wanted me to send some files and the email providers kept rejected them. Drat. What's the workaround? 

I hate feeling incompetent.  

A fourth email was asking me to retract or change something I'd published... Ugh. Reminding me of all the times it's happened in the past, especially when I gave authors, promoters, or ministry leaders the chance to see, in advance, what I'd written about something they'd created. "Leave out that part about the book's weaknesses, or how old the video is, or that the conference is really mostly for the 18-25-year-old set. That the curriculum a little too American, or written for Baptists." 

Don't they know my job is to serve the readers, to offer them information and discernment about whether the resource is worth their while - that it would be wrong for me to give my allegiance to the publishers and promoters? When I feel or anticipate pressure to recommend something that's not very good but that comes from someone who expects my "loyalty," well, that's hard. Then I really feel taken advantage of.  

I hate betraying my own integrity. 

In reflecting on it later in the day I realized my sensitivity about this last matter, especially, is probably linked not only to events of the relatively recent past, but that it pokes at a far older, unresolved sore point. Remember I wrote about that revelation from counseling that one of the big statements that echoes in my life is "you don't matter"? Or at least, that I don't matter as much as other people. That I'm supposed to keep the peace, not make trouble, toe the line, and stop telling other people what I think. Because what I think, what I want, or what I care most about, it just doesn't matter. 

Well, just recognizing the roots of my reactions to each of these emails really helped. The people who asked for help in addressing sticky ministry problems, well, I could come alongside them and we could pool our ignorance (or knowledge) and maybe come up with some good ideas. 

Eventually, I got the computer files to my friend in Asia. He was sympathetic to the challenge, and so grateful to be reunited with the tools he needed when they finally went through. 

And even when, at the end of the day, I went back and looked at the email asking me to change my resource review... It wasn't such a big deal after all. They weren't mad at me, or demanding, but actually pleased with most of what I'd said. They were just asking for a simple change and it was one I could say yes to. So I did. 


Maybe I'll never get to the point where my responses to other people are not affected by these kind of things, when I can stop making it "about me" and no longer react to challenges out of proportion when they seem to highlight my insecurities and inabilities. But it would be great to recognize these things more quickly and put them into perspective. 

Here's one thing I've found that seems to help: How to Change a Negative Character Trait (Donald Miller).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Weekend Mystery

Catherine Aird. Photo from her website.
The best science fiction explores great philosophical questions, and sometimes mystery novels will do the same. But more often they lead readers on a romp through some place, occupation, or way of life of which we previously knew little. Historical fiction does the same. This may mean, for the writer, that considerable research is in order. With a mystery, the crime must be somewhat believable; its detection must line up with how things actually work. 

One dubious benefit of the mystery novel is that it adds to one's knowledge of how to kill people. Such lore has yet to prove useful to me; I've never felt the need to commit a murder, nor - as far as I know - to recognize and evade the murderous intentions of another. Have you? 

But it is kind of fun to learn things. How to use (or cover up) poisons like arsenic and digitalis. Where to stash a body. Ways to establish an alibi.

My friend Sharyl recently introduced me to one of her favorite mystery writers, Catherine Aird. British. Check your library for her books. Half cozy, half "police procedural." They shouldn't be hard to find. She's been writing for a long time and still is.

Don't think I'll be giving anything away if I share a brief passage from the one I just finished. Gives me a new perspective on medieval architecture - or indeed, the challenging construction of the more "modern" castle I toured with a group of friends last weekend.
"There was no chance of rushing someone standing eight feet above ground level. He knew that. Especially with stairs wide enough for only one person at a time. Builders of medieval castles had known what they were about when they designed their tiny turret staircases inside their towers. One man with a sword standing at the top of one of these could keep an army at bay."
>> Have you learned anything from reading mysteries? What are your favorite genres or authors?

The quirky Bishop's Castle,
rises from the ground
in southern Colorado.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Free to Be You and Me

I went to the doctor last week and among other things got my cholesterol checked. I'd sort of forgotten what she'd told me the year before - the part about the changes I could or should make to see if those high cholesterol numbers could be brought down. After all, she'd been so encouraging: How great that you're exercising - that's the best thing you can do! Blood pressure is wonderful! 125 pounds? You're TEENY! You look so young! 

When the roommate went on a serious, must-lose-weight diet, I joined her in some parts of it. I made the move to skim or 1% milk, "I Can't Believe It's Not Butter," more whole grains, and exploring all the high-fat things one can replace with a good dollop of Greek yogurt (seriously - it's yummy!). I could have done much more, but I wasn't sick, or overweight, or fighting allergies. I was just... 40. And my cholesterol was high.

Well, the numbers didn't go down. So I want to make some changes. Mostly things to add to my life, or substitutions, rather than any major overhaul.

This brings me into the boulder-strewn rapids of "healthy eating." I have to tell you, I'm a little itchy and skeptical about this. Less because I don't want to change, more because I hate to see people use their health fears and problems to judge other people and push them away. I don't want to one of those kind of people who does that, and I see it in myself to become one.

It's bad enough how often I say, "I don't want to be one of those people who...." Do you hear yourself talking like that? Oh, maybe you aren't one of those people! Yikes.

While I can change what I put in my body, I don't want to tell everybody else they need to do the same, or even suggest that they should. Food can be such an emotional thing. If marriage is in my future, I may try to woo my family to enjoy fresh, simple, homemade foods. But I don't want to say: just 'cause I'm not having butter, or salad dressing, or pop, they're off the grocery list. You can't have them either.

Not long ago I spent the night at the home of some friends who are facing very serious and inexplicable health problems. The combination of the forcefulness with which they declared how other people eat "terrible!" and the freedom with which they criticized other things that people do or like or have, it scared me. I don't want to get close to them. Which is really too bad because they are my nearest coworkers. But I want to keep my distance rather than risking their judgment. And I don't want to be like that. But... it's hard to avoid all together, isn't it? 

So, here's one principle I think will help. I'm going to avoid talking about lifestyle choices in the second person. I'll try not to say, "that's really bad for you!" and "that's really good for you!" I'll be cautious about labeling carbohydrates, meat, or other food "good" and "bad," and even use the term "healthy" with caution. Maybe I need to watch out for saturated fats, but you are right on track. Maybe you have to be careful about sodium, but that doesn't mean I can't ask you to pass the salt.

What do you think? Any other principles that have helped you balance grace, gratitude, and freedom with discipline, restraint, and helping others?

Friday, July 08, 2011

Not Listening? Absurd!

I try not to take dictionary definitions and word origins as the last word on words. Where an idea comes from doesn't always tell you much about how people use it now. Nevertheless, here's a bit of linguistic detective work to chew on. I'm "filing" this here as part of my ongoing study of the art and ministry of listening:
"The word “listening” in Latin is obedire, and audire means 'listening with great attention.' That is where the word 'obedience' comes from. Jesus is called the obedient one, that means the listener. The Latin word for not listening, being deaf, 'surdus.' If you are absolutely not listening, that is where the word 'absurd' comes from. So it might be interesting to note that somebody who is not listening is leading an absurd life."
SOURCE: Henri J. M. Nouwen, "Discovering Our Gift Through Service to Others," Speech given to members of Fadica, 199, quoted in Advent and Christmas, Wisdom from Henri J.M. Nouwen
See also: What Makes a Good Listener (April 30, 2010)

Thursday, July 07, 2011

Frontier Missions: Foolhardy?

I came home from my recent international trip with doubts that sending a team of Americans to be church-planters in the host city would be the best approach to engaging the less-reached Muslim community living there. Since nobody in the American churches was expressing much interest in going - literally no one in the pipeline - wouldn’t a funding, praying, learning, or partnering strategy make more sense than a sending strategy? Wouldn’t it be better to “adopt” the people group as a focus and explore all the ministry options without committing to "sending our own people” to work among them?

For some reason I was surprised, though, how many of the local Christian leaders we met in our host city seemed to think that bringing in more Americans was a bad idea. They didn’t like the idea of starting new churches, either. (What was wrong with the churches already there?)

On our return to the States a seasoned mission leader exhorted us with the following words. I've continued to chew on them ever since.
“That the existing Christians are wary, think church-planting with Muslims is foolhardy, especially by foreigners, is NORMAL. That is how it is everywhere among congregations of non-Muslim background people. "Peace at any price" even if it means letting the Muslims go into a Christless eternity!

“Are Americans ideal for church-planting there? Of course not. But neither is any other nationality. Every nationality is a trade-off, [with] pluses and minuses -- including the [majority population] who have been the enemy of Muslims for centuries! We still do not know of anyone seeking to birth a church among the ____________ and extremely few ________ are going to be drawn into the existing churches. Therefore, I would appeal to you to ‘go for it.’”
When do you press ahead, and when do you listen to those who tell you your idea is "foolhardy"?

See also: Missionary Not Welcome (Ernest Goodman)


Wednesday, July 06, 2011

Where Do Missionaries Go?

I have a newsletter ready to send out by email. I kept it under 1000 words – a good practice. But that meant I didn't have much room to expand. So, a few more thoughts. Today: Where do we send missionaries? Tomorrow: Going without an invitation.

Where Are the World’s Missionaries?

Ever wonder where most of the world's foreign Christian missionaries go? Turns out they tend to go to the places that already have the most other foreign Christian missionaries. I don't think that's necessarily a bad thing, but it does raise some questions.

I know a man with a specialty in missiometrics: He measures things related to missions. Todd coauthored an article which says 40% of the church’s global foreign mission resources are deployed to just 10 oversaturated countries with strong citizen-run home ministries.

Curious, I wrote for more information. Turns out things have changed a bit since that article (which is based on 2001 figures), but not much. Data for 2010 lists these countries as receiving the most missionaries:
  • USA: 32,400
  • Brazil: 20,000
  • Russia: 20,000
  • Congo: 15,000
  • South Africa: 12,000
  • France: 10,000
  • Britain: 10,000
  • Argentina: 10,000
  • Chile: 8,500
  • India: 8,000
Together, these 10 countries receive 36% of the world’s 400,000+ foreign missionaries. 
Source: Atlas for Global Christianity, Edinburgh University Press, 2009, p. 259.
Surprised? Russia is the world’s largest country, and India has one of the largest (and most diverse) populations, so that’s something to take into account. I was sure there would be more African countries on the list, though. Seems like everybody and their brother is going to Uganda and Kenya these days. It would also be enlightening to look at the more specific places where these missionaries are working and the populations they serve. Where are the areas of greatest duplication, or omission? And what happens when we include in such figures the engagement of more local Christians, not just the foreign ones?

A second list explores the number of foreign missionaries “per million people,” excluding countries with populations under 100,000. So it’s looking more at missionary density. This top-ten list includes Micronesia, Samoa, Tonga, Netherlands Antilles, Guam, French Polynesia, US Virgin Islands, Belize, Vanuatu, and New Caledonia. I'd like to see what countries make the bottom of that list.

I hope you weren’t expecting to find your own island. Apparently they are quite popular with the mission set.

See also: The United States - Still Number Three (J.D. Payne)