Friday, December 30, 2011

2011 Reading List - Part 2

Are these the only novels I read this year? Life must be getting too serious. Did discover some new (to me) authors, though. Alan Bradley and Suzanne Collins are best-sellers, and I can see why; I will have to wait (or sneak into Barnes and Noble and camp out) for their most recent volumes. My friend SC introduced me to the delightful mystery writer Catherine Aird. I read Jeanne Birdsall’s second book with a young friend and had to track down the other two as it was so much fun. 

If you got a Nook or Kindle for Christmas this year (or just want to read them on a laptop) why not download and enjoy some free, classic escapes like Christie, Wodehouse, and Doyle?

2011 Reading: Fiction

The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, by Alan Bradley
The Weed That Strings the Hangman's Bag, by Alan Bradley

The Hunger Games, by Suzanne Collins
Catching Fire, by Suzanne Collins

The Penderwicks, by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall
The Penderwicks at Point Mouette, by Jeanne Birdsall

Past Tense, by Catherine Aird
The Complete Steel, by Catherine Aird
Some Die Eloquent, by Catherine Aird

The Saturday Big Tent Wedding Party, by Alexander McCall Smith
The Charming Quirks of Others, by Alexander McCall Smith
La's Orchestra Saves the World, by Alexander McCall Smith

All Seated on the Ground, by Connie Willis
A Christmas Homecoming, by Anne Perry
Rosalie's Career, by Faith Baldwin
The Attenbury Emeralds, by Jill Paton Walsh
Paper Butterfly: A Mei Wang Mystery, by Diane Wei Liang
Paper Roses, by Amanda Cabot
All for One: A Novel, by Melody Carlson

Secret Adversary, by Agatha Christie
Murder at the Vicarage, by Agatha Christie
My Man Jeeves, by P.G. Wodehouse
The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, by Arthur Conan Doyle

Thursday, December 29, 2011

2011 Reading List - Part 1

This must be a new record low for me: I’ve read 54 books this year. Last year - due to the six-month sabbatical? - I set a record high at 122 volumes. What happened in 2011? I think I did more of my reading in a disjointed, online kind of a way instead of curling up with a good book. Also, in February, I both entered a new and rather all-encompassing relationship and began work on a Master’s program. That gave me more stuff to read but also kept me from reading as much for pleasure.

When I moved to Oregon in October I decided to pack up most of my books and put them into storage - and had to say goodbye to my public library too. I may be able to get a local library card here, yet, but it is a little tricky. Either way, will probably be looking to download more content in ebook form. I wonder if my reading life will ever be the same?

Here's my 2011 reading roundup (including, for your convenience, non-affiliate Amazon links). Since the list isn’t that long I’ll fold in some commentary. This post will cover the nonfiction; I’ll list the fiction separately.

This was one of the first books I read in 2011 and I may see if I can hunt it down for a re-read. As I said in my posts about this book here and here, I love Buechner's essays. He captures and is honest about nostalgia and longing in a way that helps me accept both the ways life satisfies and the ways it doesn't. That you cannot go "back home" but it's okay that you still wish you could, that something in you needs this.

Goodwin, a pastor in Spokane, WA, tells the story of the journey he and his family made toward living more intentionally and simply by limiting themselves to locally produced food and other products, e.g., from their own garden. I appreciated both his attempt to speak to environmental issues from a biblical perspective of stewardship and the winsome way he told his own story.

This 2001 book provides a very helpful, “sticky” introduction to what it feels like and what it takes to make successful cross-cultural adjustments when you are a Westerner taking an international assignment. I’m looking for something to recommend to (or require for) professionals heading out on one-month to one-year postings with my mission organization in settings all over the world. Don’t know if I can come up with something that fits the niche as well as this does. The fact that it’s secular means it leaves out a few of the wrinkles that we mission-types face, but also means you can carry or pass it around more freely than if it was full-up with Christian jargon.

Seminary Reading

These are two of four books I need to read for a January class on “Islam in the 21st century.” (The others are Colin Chapman’s Whose Promised Land? And Jimmy Carter’s Palestine Peace not Apartheid. Sandy Tolan’s The Lemon Tree and Mike Kuhn’s Fresh Vision for the Muslim World seem to top the recommended list.) The Burge book provided a helpful survey of the theories and players. 

Jabbour is teaching the class. I’ll be interested in what he has to add about developments in Egypt since his book on the topic was published almost 20 years ago. 

The paper I have to write is supposed to answer this question: “In the war for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world what would it take to empower the moderates and open minded, and marginalize the fanatics in the Muslim world? Who are the main players and what can each do?” If you have any other weighty questions to ask me, perhaps you can hold onto them until I settle this one...!

Other books I read for school, along with various articles:

·         The Old Testament

Related to Global Outreach

These six books were given to me (sometimes by my request) that I might write about them in our Missions Catalyst Resource Reviews. 

Christie’s book wasn’t bad, though it didn’t measure up to two really excellent John Pollack books about the same era which I read on my own (The Cambridge Seven and Hudson Taylor and Maria).

Yohannan’s book felt too much like an advertisement for his ministry, and I think it’s fair to say it was designed to be.

MacLeslie and Shelby’s works both had what seemed to me like significant flaws, but they added something to the world of mission biography, especially through their commitment to personal transparency.

Wright’s book was (as the title might suggest) a breath of fresh air; I’d give it high recommendations – Debbie Meroff’s, too, if you’re interested in Europe. Carter’s book is a novel about mentoring people for ministry. I thought it was very helpful, though as a self-published book it could have used a bit more spit and polish and will be hard to find (link goes to my published review).

Other mission-related books I read and would recommend:

Miscellaneous Nonfiction

I read all three of these on the recommendation of others and for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who knows what's going on in my life. Found each one to be well thought out and helpful.

Read these four with my book club in Denver. We tended to alternate fiction and nonfiction. These were good choices, I thought; Boyle's was probably the best. Some got bogged down in Packer’s book which was rather long.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011


Around the end of 1996 I moved into Highlands Ranch, Colorado, dubbed "Beautiful Highlands Ranch." It was once rolling prairie. The last 30 years have seen the area transformed into a booming suburban housing development which, though unincorporated, supports almost 30 schools, a large post office, great parks and recreation centers, and more.

The whole population of nearly 100,000 people who abide in the ranch are required to submit to a community covenant. Committees patrol the cul de sacs (culs de sac?) to tell residents when they need to paint their houses (approximately every three years) and approve the color schemes. Any changes in landscaping must be approved by the community association; permanent clothes lines and anything else the neighbors might consider unsightly are strictly forbidden. Before the end of next month notices will be sent to any who fail to put away their Christmas decorations for the year, not supposed to be up more than 30 days after a holiday.

It's been 10 weeks since I arrived in Eugene, Oregon. Even with winter coming on, the place seemed so much more alive. There are trees everywhere! But it was autumn, and the leaves were beginning to fall. What do people do with all the leaves? (Compost, maybe?)

To my surprise, the kind of people who in Colorado would have owned snow blowers here have leaf blowers. I don't know, maybe they are the same thing with a different name. (Can you tell I'm more the rake and shovel type?) At any rate, they just blow the leaves from their yards, driveways, and sidewalks and leave them the streets.

Some of the piles of leaves are enormous and have been here longer than I have. Several times I've had a hard time finding a place to park amid the leaf piles.

Such a thing would have been a serious and fine-worthy offense in Beautiful (though largely treeless) Highlands Ranch.

I was discussing the leaf piles with the recent California transplants who own the house where I'm living. They were mystified by this practice as well. Why don't people bag up the leaves? Isn't it the homeowners' responsibility? Isn't there some kind of yard waste pickup along with trash and recycling? Or is it really considered OK to simply leave them in the street?

"They will come," Chris assured me. He was born and raised here. "The city picks up all the leaves."

"When will they come?"

"They've already started. They'll get there when they get there."

Yesterday, a dump truck and bulldozer came down my street, and, working in tandem, picked up all the leaf piles.

(File this under "It's not wrong, it's just different.")

Friday, December 23, 2011

Scents of the Season

Well here we are - just past winter solstice and made it to Christmas Eve-eve. Today is a day off for me. I will do some reading for school but also make a couple of pies for the Christmas dinner to be held tomorrow.

What tastes say "Christmas" to you? I'm going for chocolate and peanut butter, as I understand both flavors - especially together - are quite popular with the Wade family. Christmas is a great time for chocolate, yes? Or maybe any time is!

A few days ago we found ourselves at Bath and Body Works investigating their selection of aromatic candles. Two for $20, and no tax here in Oregon. Glass jar, lid, three wicks ("burns faster that way," Chris suggests).

Some of the scents and their names made me laugh. "Gingerbread" and "peppermint" are straight-forward enough, but what does it tell you to know something comes in the flavor of "sleigh ride," "deck the halls," or "winter"?

The brother of a college roommate was a jazz musician and sometimes composer. Judy enjoyed coming up with names for pieces he had written or should write. And instrumental music is like candle scents, or more so, isn't it? Call it whatever you like! It was her hope that he would one day write a piece called "Green Chavez Lane."

QUESTION:  What name would you love to give to a scent, color, song, etc?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holidays and Happiness

How do you feel about Christmas?

For at least a couple of decades December was my favorite time of year. I think that was true even when my family was disintegrating and I was making the transition into the grownup world. Whether I was with family or with friends, it was a special time of year. Nostalgia can linger for a long time.

Some time in my 30s, though, I think I crossed a line. Just as a prediction of snow came to mean slick roads and scary commutes, not sledding and staying home, the approach of Christmas has come to bring with it more stress than jollity. As a way of taking responsibility for my own emotions, I've tried to "manage" the disappointment away through the choices I make, but not with much success. Reading back through my holiday posts on this blog I think negative or ambiguous feelings about holidays have come to outweigh the positive ones; now I have little expectation that it will be the hap, happiest season of all.

I am, at best, cautiously optimistic.

Does it have to be that way? Let's not insist on happiness, like it's some kind of right, but how about choosing joy? Hmm...

Although the correlation is inexact, age seems to be the most significant factor. Little ones are supposed to love Christmas and by and large they do. But it's usually the grownups who call the shots for what Christmas will be "like" any given year. How do we pull together in a way that feels both loving and authentic?

It's been a tough year for the family I'm joining. Some major illness, disappointment, and loss. As I find my place in a family that includes a teenaged son and daughter and three teenaged nieces, I wonder how they feel about the holiday. It's a little hard to ask: I know you don't believe in Santa or anything, but Christmas, is it still magic for you? Is there anything I can do to help keep this time special for you? (Or to experience some magic for myself, seeing it through your eyes?)

Chris and I are also talking, in broad-brush terms at least, about starting some traditions of our own. 

While the Christian feast of the incarnation requires no trees, sweets, or wrapping paper, there are some cultural values connected to Christmas that I find particularly helpful: gratitude and giving.

A big part of Christmas, as I was growing up, was making those shopping lists, going to the drugstore for fancy soaps for the great aunts, wrapping up jars of homemade jam for the teachers, picking out a stuffed animal for my sister and some new socks for Dad, brainstorming with him about what Mom would like. In more recent years the great aunts are gone. I guess I could have still sent my online professors jars of jam (what would they say? We've never met!). Meg might still like the stuffed animals; I did not go that route but did bring back something a little playful for her from my spring trip to Siberia. And I did get Dad socks, last year, and Mom can always use something to keep her warm, too.

In recent years I've made a a few more grown-up additions to the giving list. I've often picked out presents for my several dozen supporters. I've enjoyed making year-end financial gifts to people I can't support year-round. My inbox is full of year-end appeals. Looks like I have maybe $200 tops that I could distribute that way this year, but maybe Chris and I can make those decisions together? I enjoyed picking out poinsettias and delivering them to a few of his patients last weekend. It would be good to do more of that.

Pat, my news sleuth in New York, recently brought to our readers' attention the connection between happiness and giving. Read about it here (scroll to the last item).

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Meeting God in the Prophets

My most recent class, one of four Bible survey classes for my seminary program, covered the Old Testament books of the prophets. Although this chunk of scripture doesn't include all the unpopular books of the Bible (!), it does include most of the obscure ones (like Obadiah and Zephaniah).

I suppose the Old Testament as a whole is kind of tricky. What is there here for us? The prophets’ words detail expectations which do not seem to apply to us or prophecies denouncing the behavior of people who lived long ago and kingdoms far away. If you're a Gentile - as I am - Israel may seem quite a foreign nation or the people of an old an outdated covenant, and what do we care about, say, the Amonites or the Jebusites? Yet God reveals himself and the ways he works with men and women and their communities through the stories, conversations, and prophecies of the Old Testament. It was cool to have the help of scholars to get more of the inside scoop on what these guys were saying and what it meant, historically.

Take the book of Isaiah.
He's the prophet most quoted in the New Testament. How does Isaiah show us God? I mean, besides the passages we know because they get quoted a lot?

I had an assignment to study the titles Isaiah uses for God and to write a paper about one of them. It was one that Isaiah uses a couple dozen times, and it only appears a few other places in the Scriptures: The Holy One of Israel (Is. 1:4; 5:19, 24; 10:20; 12:6; 17:7; 29:23; 30:11, 15; 31:1; 37:23; 41:14; 43:3, 14; 45:11; 47:4; 48:17; 54:5; 60:14, 2 Ki. 19:22; Ps. 71:22, 29:18; Jer. 50:29, 51:5, Ezek. 39:7).

Great. Israel. What's the big deal about Israel here, and who is the Holy One of Israel? I was suspicious; I didn't want to fall - inappropriately - into the trap of believing the answer is always "Jesus." Because sometimes the terms the Bible uses for Jesus can also be used to describe someone else. Other people are even referred to as "saviors," "anointed ones," or "messiahs."

When I pulled together all the references to the Holy One of Israel, though, it was pretty clear. They were divine in every case. The Almighty God, the Creator of the Universe, and Holy One of Israel are one and the same.

Any exploration of Isaiah’s teachings on the Holy One should take into account the centrality of God’s holiness in Isaiah’s understanding of him. Think about it: what's the big, formative event in Isaiah's life? Surely it's his encounter with God at the time of his calling as a prophet (6:1-8). He saw his own sin and God’s holiness and it is likely he never forgot it. Let's take a look.
In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord seated on a throne, high and exalted, and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphs, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (6:1-5).

Remarkable things happen as the scene unfolds. Isaiah sees his sin atoned for and his guilt taken away; immediately he responds to the question, “Whom shall I send?” and is given a mission and a message. What a transformation!

The ministry he is given is to be God’s spokesman to his people in a time when they are committed to sin, to anything but what God says. Isaiah calls them to turn back. He describes the consequences of their choice not to trust in God, the Almighty God, the Holy One of Israel. The book of Isaiah speaks words of judgment but also words of comfort and hope as God continues to call his people to return to him and speaks of the day when this return will happen.

Many of the passages that speak of God as the Holy One of Israel underline Israel’s lack of holiness and rejection of their holy God. In the first couple chapters of the book, Isaiah calls on the heavens and earth to listen to the accusation: Judah had forsaken the Lord. The people had turned their backs on him and spurned the Holy One of Israel (1:2-4). They spurned the word of the Holy One of Israel and rejected his law (5:25), causing his anger to burn against them – and this even as they said they wanted to see God show himself.
Woe to those who draw sin along with the cords of deceit,
and wickedness as with their cart ropes,
to those who say, “Let God hurry,
let him hasten his work
so we may see it.
Let it approach,
let the plan of the Holy One of Israel come,
so that we may know it.”   
How tragic that though the people knew God as the Holy One of Israel, they were otherwise greatly misguided about holiness. In fact, they called evil good and good evil, Isaiah says, and God will strike them down (5:20-25). Many other passages in Isaiah and the other prophets detail the sins of Israel and the nations; throughout, God’s holiness stands in stark contrast to the people’s lack of holiness. While Sennacherib king of Assyria is later rebuked because he has insulted and blasphemed the Holy One of Israel (27:23), the people of Israel have often done much the same thing.

One of God’s strongest accusations against the people of Isaiah’s time was that they looked to human powers rather than their Almighty God in times of trouble. They carried out plans, but not God’s plans. They formed alliances, but not by his Spirit. They sought help from Egypt without asking God for direction about this (30:1-2). As Assyria threatens them, they put their confidence in their old enemy Egypt, now perhaps an ally. These hopes that will prove to be misguided. If only they had trusted in God! They are like rebellious children and unwilling to listen to the Lord’s instructions. Furthermore, they are impatient with God’s prophets, to whom they say, “Stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!” (30:9-11).

Understanding Isaiah’s use of the term “the Holy One of Israel” not only helps us understand the character of God as seen in his relationship with Israel, it also shines light on the deity of Christ. Reading the New Testament and taking its words at their modern-English face value, we might well question whether Jesus actually claimed to be divine or was seen that way by his first followers. Was he just a good man or anointed prophet later “deified” inappropriately by the emerging church?

Isaiah helps us answer this question. The writers of the New Testament must have had the words of the prophet Isaiah much in their minds to quote or refer to them as frequently as they did. They knew they worshiped the same God as Isaiah, the God who revealed himself and his plans through this prophet. When Isaiah talks about the Holy One of Israel, he is always talking about God. So, when Christ is referred to as “the Holy One” (Mark 1:21-24, Luke 4:31-34, John 6:68-69), hearers steeped in the words of Isaiah would understand that to mean he was not just a good person but a divine one.

The first place we here about Jesus’ position as the Holy One spoken from a surprising source – a demon. When Jesus and his disciples go to Capernaum, Jesus goes to the synagogue and teaches with an authority that amazes the people there. While Jesus is teaching he is apparently interrupted by a man in the synagogue possessed by an evil spirit. He cries out, “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:21-24, Luke 4:31-34).

In both accounts of this event, Jesus commands the spirit to be quiet and to come out of the man. Yet the situation makes such an impression on the people that news about Jesus, who he is, and what he is doing spread quickly throughout the whole region of Galilee (Mark 1:27-28, Luke 4:36). Jesus’ teaching and healing made an impression, but were the people also impressed by his “authority” as the Holy One? Jesus heals many and casts out demons, but will not let the demons speak because they “knew who he was” (Mark 1:34). That Jesus was the Holy One as well as the anointed one or Messiah may have meant a great deal to Jews who had been waiting for the fulfillment of many prophecies in Isaiah.

The disciples of Jesus also saw and acknowledged that Jesus was divine in calling him the Holy One. John reports Peter using that term when the people start to desert Jesus. Jesus asks the twelve if they want to leave him, too.
“Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God’” (John 6:68-69). 

The Holy One of God! In using this term, is Peter acknowledging that Jesus is God’s answer to the separation between a holy God and sinful man? Is this title a statement of the gospel? Certainly Peter’s response to Jesus brings to mind Isaiah’s response to the Lord in Isaiah 6, or the response he longed for from the people of Israel when he pleaded with them to trust the Lord and not their own strength or the strength of their neighbors.
“Come now, let us reason together,”
says the LORD. 

“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool" (Isaiah 1:18).

How will we respond to God’s plea to be reconciled to him? If we respond with surrender and trust, we become the Holy People of whom Isaiah had spoken (62:12). In fact, Peter uses strikingly similar language in his letters. The Holy One of Israel has even raised up Gentiles to be, now, his people.
"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.

“Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Pet. 2:9-12).

Monday, December 19, 2011

Experimenting with Invisibility

It's a staple in the fairy tales: the magic power of invisibility. Would you want it? To wake from the dream or look up from the page is, I think, to realize that invisibility may not bring only power and autonomy but sometimes impotence and pain. The stories of invisibility may illustrate this loss as well. Consider the despair of an Ebenezer Scrooge or George Bailey and the joy both have in being returned to the world where they again speak and act and touch the lives of others.

I’ve written about these matters before. I suppose, in part, that a desire to be heard and seen and known, to be accepted and understood and celebrated are what motivate me to keep a personal blog. I wonder though, where I cross the line between a legitimate, God-given desire to belong and an illegitimate, God-like desire to be worshiped? What can be done to correct this, to put me that place where I can honestly say I’d rather be a doorkeeper in the courts of God than to, you know, be the one up on the stage?

In the last year or so my desire to be acknowledged and valued has come into sharper focus. I'm asking the Lord what he wants to do with this thing. Leaving a town, church, home, etc. where I was a person of some importance and coming to a place where I am more of an unknown brings it up again.

Being among people who have different ways of keeping score has also been humbling. Just a few days ago we went to a kid-parent event where one of Chris’s old swim-team buddies told a story about running into someone else from high school, someone who remembered her well but she didn’t even know who he was because he was not a swimmer. Ouch! What popped into my mind immediately was the time Yvette Bailey in eighth grade slapped me in the hallway outside of art class just for being a white girl. Whoa; how are those things connected? Oh dear. Apparently I've got some unresolved issues... surprise!

Oh, and then here’s Christmas. The time when so many of us want everything to be just perfect – our families, our achievements, our feelings, our budgets, the gifts we’re able to put under the tree and the ones we find there for us. Real life has a way of, you know, not cooperating with such desires.

Here I am getting ready to marry someone who thinks I’m wonderful, yet - himself happy to serve behind the scenes - notices my desire for what he calls celebrity and suggests it may be, um, sin. Huh; yes, well. Perhaps. I don’t want to admit it. I just don’t want to be invisible, that’s all, right? No, let’s be honest, I want to be important. Very important. What am I going to do with this? Lord, what do you want to do?

Then I find myself penciling in another couple items on a mental list of slights from the ministry I serve with (hey, that’s right, “serve”!) and realize I’ve got to lay this thing down before the Lord again. Yes, the terms of my employment are a bit odd; there are a few ways I’m the “one of these people who’s not like the others.” Though I pretty much am the one who came up with the terms, I forget that and feel sorry for myself, as if putting me in different categories or leaving me off lists mean I don’t belong or that I’m invisible, but are either of those things necessarily true?

As I look for God’s perspective on these things I remember other humbling seasons I’ve been through before and think about how all of us want to be humble but who wants the humiliation that it takes to get there?

Well, maybe I’d better turn the corner with this post. It just so happens that there are some practical ways out of this mental-emotional swamp. Unless you are clinically depressed or something, the way out may be pretty easy. I find all I have to do is grab onto the ladders of grace that God so graciously provides.

What are they, for you? Most of mine have to with gratitude. Stop counting disappointments and slights, and look for the blessings, often wrapped up in the same package. Pray. When I’m honest, when I ask God what’s going on and open my eyes to it, I realize how good I’ve got it. I start thanking him for the good stuff. And the "bad" stuff too, actually.

When I’ve got my eyes on him the sun cuts through the dense fog and I get a whole different perspective. Wow. How blessed I am. I feel so much better. Rather than wondering why nobody is worshiping me, I turn and give worship to God to whom alone worship is due. I put on Handel's Messiah or read a psalm or two; I go back to Isaiah 6 or something and my whole perspective changes.

Somehow I don’t feel invisible anymore.

See also: Staying Warm, Keeping Cool, and a Word from Shel Silverstein, Counseling, and Healthy.

Friday, December 09, 2011

Experimenting with Autonomy

Next week the people I'm living with take off for California, Uganda, and India, and I'll have the place to myself until some time in April. I've never lived alone. Ever. But I am glad for a chance to have a taste of it before I begin what will be 20, 30, 40 years of marriage. You know, as long as we both shall live. Never done that either.

I'm interested to see what the experience of living alone will be like for me and how it may relate to what comes after. Perhaps I need some sweet solitude before I enter the next phase. Maybe keeping house on my own will reinforce my conviction that together is better than alone -- to keep me from looking back with regret. It may motivate me for the hard work of compromise that will come with marriage and family life. It's a chance to experiment with autonomy, while I still can. And to learn what lessons it may have for me.

It's not like I'll be all alone, all the time. I have a car, after all. There are places to go, places with people. Chris will come over, and I'll still be at his place pretty often. Then this summer we'll get married; I'll live with Chris and Daniel, and sometimes Haley. So my solitude will not be shadowed by the fear I've been haunted by in recent years, the fear that I'm going to end up alone because I'm not the kind of person other people want to have around. Nope: not going to happen.

At any rate, I'm grateful for the provision of this living situation. Six weeks of companionship with some like-minded friends, that's been great. Then a place of my own. For a while.

Something I've penciled in for the first couple days after they are gone is to put up my Christmas tree. Fetched it from the storage unit last week; the box is in the trunk of my car. I left nearly all the decorations back in Denver with Deb. They were mostly hers, I think, and she will be there one more Christmas before she too moves and will not have a place for them.

So yesterday I went to Target and bought some lights and baubles for the tree. I'll add these to my collection of ornaments, mostly snowflakes crocheted by my grandmother a few years before she died. If the tree still looks bare -- will it? -- I'll see if I can persuade my nieces-to-be to help me with some origami. They all went to a Japanese-language elementary school and apparently mastered the art. For me, a chance to learn something new.

The next year should hold many such opportunities.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Tearing up the One-way Streets

A few more things for my public file on the topic of listening as ministry:

1. Leaders Have a Lot to Learn

A few years back I posted an item illustrating how those who might usually be the leaders and the teachers can keep growing and learning as they invest in reverse internships.

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal covers much the same ground, providing more background and some pithy quotes about reverse mentoring.

A common application seems to be that senior leaders look down the corporate ladder for someone to help them learn the latest paths in communication and technology. When a Gen Y reverse mentoring program took off at one company, it became cool; all the managers wanted to have their own "junior mentors."

2. Learning Builds Bridges

A couple of Christian leaders are asking how these ideas might apply in making disciples. Miguel suggests discovering discipleship opportunities by putting ourselves in reverse discipleship situations - finding someone who doesn't know Jesus to teach us how to do something we need to know.

It's not a new idea. Many missionaries, moving to a new culture and finding themselves in a place of incompetence, look to local folks for orientation. They humble themselves to engage in culture and language learning by immersion. This process is painful, but often more effective than other approaches, and so endearing it can yield deep and life-long friendships. (To short-circuit this process, just limit yourself to learning from other expats or local Christians, or skip learning and dive right into teaching and leading). 

3. Leaders Need to Listen and Learn

In what I see as a related note, Steve Moore's recent vlog talks about closing the feedback loop. He explores the vital importance, for leaders, of finding effective feedback. We need people in their lives and organizations who can help us see our blind spots and destructive behaviors.

Steve says that as an organization grows it tends to build one-way streets. Nobody wants to tell the leader that he's making a big mistake, that he's alienating people or basing his decisions on flawed information.

Good news - and affirmation - flows up. Bad news - and correction - flows down. Effective and growing leaders need to break up those one-way streets and set up structures to give them crucial feedback.  

Read or heard anything lately about listening, something you found helpful? Let me know.