Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Beautiful Dresses

The "Beautiful Girl" number in Singing in the Rain
When I think of what I'd feel fabulous wearing - say, as a wedding dress - the things I don't like come to mind faster than the things I do.

And topping the list would be gowns that show off my armpits.

Yup. I want sleeves.

Sigh. What is it with formal wear? Just about everything I see these days is sleeveless, often  featuring a plunging neckline and/or bare back. Most are strapless, actually. I'd say 90% of the wedding gowns I see for sale are topless - er, I mean, strapless.

They look fine on the models, but it's hard to imagine such a thing on myself. It seems that sleeves (except itty-bitty capped sleeves) have become severely unfashionable.

I don't think this was the case a decade or two ago when most of my friends were getting married. Was it? Didn't most of them have straps, sleeves, something of the sort?

Does wanting my skin covered in public - especially on a day when I want to look my best - mark me as hopelessly out of date? Even on the Mormon modest-bride website, sleeves were in short-supply. Hmmm...

Oh, I will try some of them on, those sexy numbers, but since I never ever wear sleeveless shirts, I don't see how I could enjoy wearing a dress like that.

- I don't want to pay much more than $200.
- I don't look good in white - nor in ivory or pastels. I'm more the jewel-tone type.

Any chance that finding a classic pattern along lines that I like, buying my own fabric, and finding a lady who likes to sew could keep the price down? Or is that more likely to make it go up?

Why can't wedding dresses
look more like this? (source).
How about it? Same dress comes
in black (bridesmaids?)
I'd still wear a veil and carry
flowers. Too plain?
I may still end up in a fluffy white topless - er, I mean, strapless - dress, off the rack, and be happy with it - after all, it's just for one day. I haven't tried any on yet, and maybe they wouldn't look and feel as bad as I imagine.

But I'm toying with the idea of going "ethnic." South Asia has the best clothes; in my opinion no improvement can be made on a silk salwar kameez, especially the longer ones that look less like pantsuits and more like dresses. How about one of those in fuchsia or crimson?

Friday, September 23, 2011

How Do Churches Decide Which Missionaries to Support?

Which way is the wind blowing?
One of my big projects this week has been crunching the data from a survey I helped my mission agency design and conduct. The survey was sent to mission leaders in about 3000 churches that support field workers sent out through our agency. We were not trying to understand the American church at a whole, just trying to do a better job understanding the churches that partner with our agency in some way. We wanted to know what the global outreach in these churches really looks like, how they make decisions, what is important to them, what they want from mission agencies, and yes, what they think of us. 

We received 331 completed responses as well as another 50 or so partial responses. Since the survey was conducted over email and went out over a weekend - in the deadest month of the summer - I am actually surprised we got such a high rate. I think this data could be very helpful.   

My research consultant says we would need at least 500 responses to draw the strong correlations between the different bits of data that we were hoping for. But what we got is kind of a windsock, he said. After a second I realized he meant that they would show us which way the wind was blowing. Fair enough. I watched the data as it was coming in, and later responses largely echoed the initial ones. I think if we had twice as much data it would stack up along the same lines. Our data is good, as far as it goes, but it's not enough for statistically reliable correlations.

I have virtually no experience in this kind of data analysis, so I don't want to draw conclusions too quickly. I'm learning. If you are interested I can share the final report when it is done. Here's a glimpse, though. One of the questions we asked was about how churches decide which missionaries to support. I thought it might interest those of you who raise your own support. On average, each of these churches supported 24 missionary families/couples/individuals (though many supported fewer than ten and several supported more than 100).

What selection filters do you prefer or require for missionaries you support?

10 = Always …………….……………………………………… 1 = Never

Raised up from within
our church
Connected to someone in
our church
From within our tradition
or denomination
From other churches in
our community
Aligned with our strategic focus or values

I was not surprised at the high number of churches that placed a high value on supporting home-grown missionaries. Many churches are only really interested in supporting those they consider "their own people." This came up in an informal interview I had with a long-time leader in our agency while I was deciding what to put on the survey. I asked him if he'd noticed any big changes in how and where new workers are raising financial support. He told me it used to be common for a missionary to have 10-15 supporting churches, but now most did not have more than 2-3. 

Looking at this from the point of view of the person trying to raise their support, it might be a little discouraging. If being - or having been - an active member of a church is a requirement for support, trying to raise support from churches that "don't know you" is a pretty tough sell. If you grew up in one church and your parents are still there, and your spouse is from another church, and after college you were worship leader or youth pastor at a third, and then you moved to another city and became part of a church there - well, you might have a lot of church support. Otherwise, maybe not. Better to look to individuals. And maybe some of those individuals will help you foster a relationship with their churches... a relationship strong enough to get you the "connected to someone at our church" points.

I'm sorry if this all sounds a little greedy. I'm just trying to sort it out. And I do wear several hats: mission committee member, mission mobilizer, mission supporter, and support-raising missionary. So I've felt the tensions.

I was a little surprised to see community and denominational ties ranked so low on this survey. For the support-raiser, maybe that suggests that while referrals may be a good way to raise support from individuals they are not so useful when it comes to contacting churches. But that may reflect the culture of our agency's conservative-leaning support base. Many are independent Bible churches and my guess is that they are a bit hesitant to link arms with other churches. Since that's not really the sea I swim in, I'm not sure. I suspect my Presby pals would be more likely to see nearby churches as allies than competitors. Sure is nice for the missionary if they can have multiple supporting churches in the same community. But maybe that's not happening so much these days.

Of course the stand-out number in this dataset is the priority given to supporting mission efforts and missionaries who are aligned with the church's strategic focus or values. Really? Do that many churches have a strategic focus or articulated values? The church I'm part of has had trouble setting any kind of strategic focus. Feels too much like favoritism. We treat our support commitments more like marriage (a matter of loyalty) rather than business (a matter of strategy). Our support decisions say to our ministry partners, "Where you go, we'll go with you." We hate to say no, except to strangers; we hate to drop people, once we have a real relationship with them. 

But maybe other church mission leaders think more critically. To me, this result suggests that someone raising support would do well to look for support and other connections within churches that already show a high commitment to the kind of work they are doing. I mean, you could be your church's first, only, and most beloved missionary, but if that church falls apart or loses interest, you'll want to have some allies elsewhere. You may be able to find them among people who really dig (and support) your kind of ministry already.

There were some things we didn't ask, and maybe couldn't. Do you think mission committees and other gatekeepers really make decisions about money based on something else, like where you're going to be serving, the size of your family or budget, how cute your kids are, or if you can tell stories that make them laugh and cry?


Wednesday, September 21, 2011


Chris "sent" me these flowers today. Nice, no?
Sometimes it's the little things that make you feel most alive. Like the exquisite small pang of getting up to pour your second cup of morning coffee and finding you've already had it. Deb and I were laughing about that this weekend. Mmmm, coffee!

*    *     *

I sent a newsletter yesterday afternoon. It's already generated a record number of responses - primarily, I believe, because it implied I am engaged to be married.

That's not actually the case. But it's not a huge problem if people draw such a conclusion. Chris and I agreed months ago that we intend to marry. He's ready to buy a ring. We're talking about dates in June. A marriage proposal is just a matter of form. Since that's how things are, we're considering an engagement party in November or December during which we would carry out that rite of passage in the midst of friends and witnesses. Bit unconventional, but I think it sounds fun.

No, I don't know where we'll have the wedding. But probably someplace in Oregon so as to avoid the stress of long-distance planning.

*     *     *

original watercolor by Megan Noel (for sale)
A few days ago I passed through our neighborhood park while on a walk to clear my head. Two little boys coming down the path were cradling something in a T-shirt. I was intrigued.

Yup, a garter snake. They were happy - eager - to show it off the little beauty. "We're going to keep him for a week! Or for a long time! and when he [sic] lays eggs, we'll sell the babies for pets!"

I wonder how the next scene played out with their mom(s)?

*    *    *

My sister lost her job some months ago. While she's been looking for work she's kept herself sane and happy by doing a lot of drawing and painting. The results are pretty fabulous. It's not easy to make a living as an artist. She knows she needs a day job to pay the bills. But it's encouraging that some of her art is selling. Meg has several shows this fall and is getting business through her Etsy shop.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Taking Wing

Image from Brianna Martray Fine Art; photo by Tony Gallagher
The stroll out to the A concourse at Denver International Airport often has some of my city's most interesting art.

Currently the walkway is home to an installation of thousands of folded paper cranes, all in white. Looking more closely I saw that the paper had words. Hmm...  must be recycled.

The story begins with a massive novel to which the artist gave eight years of her life. The book, however, never came to life on its own. About five years ago she gave up on it and began cutting up the manuscript pages lying around her house and folding them into paper cranes.

Since both her computer and back-up hard drive were later stolen, these cranes are all that remain of Brianna's finished novel.

Maybe Brianna was never meant to be a writer. But she's found a path for herself as a visual artist.

Wonder what things you and I have poured ourselves into or clinged to that might better take wing in a different form?

>> See a previous post about airport art.


Thursday, September 01, 2011

Mission Mobilization: What Makes Good Deeds Good?

I've been thinking about good deeds and what it takes to make them good. Good intentions? Good results? Both? Neither?

I've been reading and writing about short-term missions lately. Lots of debate on the internet. I've noticed that some STM advocates believe that the primary benefit is for those who go - often true - and that this is enough to justify the STM.

Sometimes they use a lot of spiritual language: After all [if we can assume God is calling you?] it's not about the results, about what you accomplish, it's about obedience and what God does in your heart through it.

I'm not sure that's a very strong argument. I'm still wrestling with it. Ultimately I don't think it's a question we can answer in abstract and universal terms. God isn't writing the same story in every life.

But certainly (as the popular book puts it) there are times when helping hurts; it can hurt the very people we want to serve. I cringe to see so many people responding to, say, a natural disaster, by making some small sacrifice to feel good about themselves and give someone else a handout. Particularly when it means gathering up stuff in our rich country - sometimes really inappropriate stuff - and sending it to a poor one, thus creating dependency, hurting the local markets, etc. Far better to facilitate the distribution of locally available resources.

And the cities, countries, and regions that receive the most of this sort of aid, for decades or centuries, sometimes just get poorer, more corrupt, etc.

I don't want to take a holier-than-thou or self-righteous approach and just say:
Those people, they need to learn to be more responsible, and we're going to punish them by not giving them any more money or stuff until they get their act together!
No. What I'm saying is:  
We who give, we need to learn to be more responsible. Let's discipline ourselves by not giving on impulse, not giving money or stuff until we've done our research!
Usually, after some big disaster, people are looking for not just ways to give but ways to be more deeply involved.

"Yes, we live in a world where some want to DO more than they want to HELP," writes Ed Stetzer in a recent post on disaster relief, "but at the end of the day that is more selfish than helpful. Ministering to disaster victims should be about meeting their needs, not fulfilling our need to feel helpful."

Our checkbooks may do more good than our presence. And we who give should be aware of the high cost of giving what we have and think is needed, rather than asking someone on the ground.