Monday, January 31, 2011

Fly by Night?

"From time to time, as we all know, a sect appears in our midst announcing that the world will very soon come to an end. Generally, by some slight confusion or miscalculation, it is the sect that comes to an end." G.K. Chesterton *

A few weeks ago I wrote about a recent prediction that the end of the world is scheduled for May 21, 2011, and another of many predictions of the same event from some 250 years earlier. As I've reflected on this question I've wondered how I'd respond if I believed these predictions were compelling and correct - and how to respond knowing that my own end, at least, will come at some point in the next 3-5 decades (if not sooner).

Sincere people have looked at the world's end or their own and responded with - well, is this too simplistic?
(1) a commitment to relax: stop worrying, let go, and do the things they've always wanted to do;
(2) a commitment to repent: sober up, make things right, and do the things they've always thought they should do;
(3) an effort to reach as many other people as they can with some message, maybe a variation of one of the two above.

But it also got me thinking about how we respond to people who come into a community - a literal community or a virtual one of some sort - and try to wake up or shake up the people who are part of it. Naturally, I resist, and maybe you do too. I'm usually looking for people whose aim is more to love and serve than to assess and critique - even though a world where people don't question things, where they are just positive and encouraging all the time, becomes shallow and insipid.

I want a winsome invitation, not a voice of condemnation. I'd rather be wakened by a kiss than a shout. But you don't always get your way on these things. And if you're in a burning building, the shout may be best.

So, what happens when someone comes into our churches, communities, schools, or workplaces hoping to turn things upside down? How do you respond?

You could just wait. Passively and skeptically, or actively and receptively. Get to know their heart, see if they are going to stick around, maybe engage them on their hot-button issue and see what it is they have to say. Are they here to stay? If they do not find adequate receptivity for their message they may decide, on their own, to move on. Whether such a parting reflects worse on you or on them is something we may never know.

Question: How do you tend to respond to those who try to wake or shake you? How would you like to respond?
* As quoted in Illustrated London News, September 24, 1927. Found this on in the recently released book The Quotable Chesterton. The publisher, Thomas Nelson, offered me a free copy on the condition that I write and publish a 200-word review (here and on a commercial site). Will do so soon.

Friday, January 28, 2011

A Matter of Perspective: The Danger of a Single Story

“The single story creates stereotypes. And the problem with stereotypes is not that they are untrue, but that they are incomplete. … The consequence of the single story is this: it robs people of dignity. ... It emphasizes how we are different, rather than how we are similar.”

Novelist Chimamanda Adichie
Two of the principles I live by are these: that we are all more ourselves than we are representatives of any category to which we belong, and that we all have many acres of common ground. Chimamanda Adichie’s TED talk, below, (HT a post on Eddie Arthur's Kouya Chronicle) deals with an issue I’ve been considering once again: How easy it is to oversimplify others and judge them based on how well they fit into the mold formed by our own expectations and stereotypes. 

Certainly I’ve fallen into these traps as a mission mobilizer. I’ve used the videos, brochures, and letterhead that try to enlist people in missions with images of locals in their native dress, the stuff they only put on once or twice a year (see Missions Conferences: A Waste of Time?) Of course, we had our standards: We would always use the happy, smiling pictures; no playing up squalor or poverty. No dirty kids with flies in their eyes! 

But surely you and I have also been on the other side, squirming at someone else’s false assumptions of us based on our cultures and backgrounds. I remember how hard it was to overcome the images my friends in Central Asia had that my country was a place where people lived exciting, sexy lives and carried guns everywhere. Or what about the man I dated who had "women" all figured out and was dismayed when I didn’t act according to his script? Surely if I wasn’t like other women I must be going against what God had designed me to be.

Around the same time some Western participants in the recent Lausanne conference were complaining that the African bits weren’t “African” enough, I read a book called Somebody Else’s Century: East and West in a Post-Western World by long-time foreign correspondent Patrick Smith. It includes several rather complex, linked essays about how three Asian civilizations are responding to modernization – from China (where, he says, "Part of what it means to be Chinese today is to be confused about what it means to be Chinese. I know of no Chinese alive who does not, in some fashion, entertain this question”) to Japan, where it makes no sense to tell people that their material goods and technologies are “Western” and therefore foreign. Though of course we still go looking for the people in native dress, don’t we?
“Japan, the ‘real’ Japan one arrives from the West in search of, does not have extension cords running along its floors. Japan is made of… silk, translucent rice paper, and bamboo. It is not made of glass and steel and plastic… for if it is modern it must be Western.” (Somebody Else's Century, p. 9)

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Considering the Roads Less Taken

Every so often someone will ask me if I've ever thought about adopting a child and becoming a single mother. Happened again on Sunday.

This is so much less appealing than the still-conceivable idea (please forgive the pun) of getting lucky and skipping straight to grandmotherhood that it tends to shake off the layer of self-pity I wear at times on account of having somehow ended up on the road less taken and missing out on what is apparently life's greatest joy: being a mom.

Whew, that's a long sentence. But it's a complex issue. I can joke about all this easily enough, but shoot, when my period was two weeks late this month - and not because I might be pregnant; I know that much about the birds and the bees - I felt a bit of panic: what, could it be too late? Is it all over for me? What's next, hot flashes? A bad back? Have I broken the biological mandate? Have I made a terrible mistake and missed what I was made for?

But back to adoption. While you don't have to pass a test or complete an internship to become a biological parent, to adopt, you do. I'm pretty sure they set the bar too high for the likes of me. I'm alone, don't have a place of my own, lack parents or siblings nearby to pitch in, and take home a salary that works for me but would probably look pathetic to the people who evaluate these things. Also, even though I like to be around kids I have little experience caring for them, much less the knack or demonstration of investment in child-rearing that I suspect the adoption-patrol would be looking for in releasing a precious child into someone's scare. Oops, I meant to type "care."    

What if I had a husband who was willing to start a family with me, one way or the other? Still not something to enter into lightly, not for the first time, when you're in your 40s. So unless God spoke to me directly about it, I would not voluntarily become a single mother. I know there are some who can. I just don't think I'm one of them.

Question: Would you ever consider adoption? Even if you were single? Why or why not?

Monday, January 24, 2011

Some Prayers

Ever read the book of Tobit? As I prepare for the Bible survey classes that will start me off on the seminary road I suppose I should be glad that the Bibles most evangelicals read have a mere 66 books (and not more), but I'm rather fond of some of the works that got left out. Ah, well, maybe ol' Tobit doesn't belong in the "canon." That didn't stop Fredrick Buechner from producing his short novel On the Road with the Archangel, a creative re-imagining of the tale told from the point of view of the angel who accompanies Tobit's son Tobias and his dog on his epic journey. I commend it to you. Here, as a taste, are the words that open the story:

"I am Raphael, one of the seven archangels who pass in and out of the presence of the Holy One, blessed be he. I bring him the prayers of all who pray and those who don't even know that they're praying.

"Some prayers I hold out as far from me as my arm will reach, the way a woman holds a dead mouse by the tail when she removes it from the kitchen. Some, like flowers, are almost too beautiful to touch, and others so aflame that I'd be afraid of their setting me on fire if I weren't already more like fire than I am like anything else. There are prayers of such power that you might almost say they carry me rather than the other way round—the way a bird with outstretched wings is carried higher and higher on the back of the wind. There are prayers so apologetic and shamefaced and halfhearted that they all but melt away in my grasp like sad little flakes of snow. Some prayers are very boring."

Friday, January 21, 2011

That's Why I Created Page Two

Jon is one of the most enjoyable and effective public speakers I know. This fall he spoke twice at our nearest neighborhood Perspectives on the World Christian Movement class. I knew it was unlikely he would say anything I hadn't heard before, but I was listening closely to see how he said it. You know, learn from the master...

I hate to miss a chance to learn from a master.
Jon is a bit taller. Bit pinker too.
Toward the end of the last session of the class, Jon said: "This is all about finding your part. Don't feel pressured to be or do something you aren't designed for. Probably, after taking this class, you shouldn't drop everything to join the mission committee at church. If you work with kids, don't quit that to get yourself a copy of "Rosetta Stone Czech"! Wouldn't you be more successful and appropriate to keep teaching the kids but look for ways to teach those kids about missions? ...What can you do to be more successful in integrating these things you've learned into the patterns of your actual life?"

Jon did hand out a worksheet with "next step" ideas - resources for the journey, he called it. Concrete tools the students could use. But it was simple and clean; no half-inch margins or 8-point fonts.

He also issued an invitation to respond, but he was not going to put anybody on the spot, just encourage us to take 30-60 minutes sometime within the next week to spend time with God asking, "How do you want my life to be different?"

He asked us if we felt we could honestly pray, "Lord, by your grace and for your glory, I will commit my life to obeying your Great Commission, wherever and however you lead me."

Then he handed out a worksheet titled "Developing a Personal Strategy." It included five fairly open-ended questions:

1. Share. What has God taught me that I need to share with the significant people in my life? How can I prepare so that I will be an effective communicator?
2. Grow. How am I going to keep my vision growing? Is there someone or some group with whom I should team up for encouragement and accountability? What other resources can help?
3. Integrate. How do I want my life to change, in the immediate future, as a result of this experience? How will I integrate what I've learned into my everyday experience?
4. Serve. As best I understand myself right now, I think God may intend to use me in the following kind of role as a World Christian: (Or, I need to seek further clarification of my role.)
5. Mobilize. How can God use me to mobilize my church or ministry? What's my next step? For whom should I be praying to sign up for the next Perspectives class?

Then Jon added, "I know, someone of us hate anything like this worksheet. You don't want to be boxed in. And that's perfectly fine. And so, for you, that's why I created page two."

He had us flip the page over. The other side was blank. Do it yourself. Get out your crayons and go.

Love that. Sometimes people need structure, sometimes they need freedom. Wise is the mobilizer who doesn't try to decide for someone else.

"Much to learn, you still have." - Yoda

> Consider how - as a teacher, leader, or influencer - you can offer both structure and freedom to groups of people with different styles.

Monday, January 17, 2011

Stories of War, Stories of Peace

January 17, 1991, was a Thursday. I spent a few hours of it in my university's student union building near where a few lines from Martin Luther King were painted on the wall. With me was a guy from the Reporting I class that was to drive me to tears on more than one occasion.  (J-school can be a scary place for people who think they already know how to write.) 

Our assignment? Stop students passing through the halls and ask them what they planned to do for the upcoming Martin Luther King Day holiday. These were college kids, of course, and - though they'd been attracted (as I had) to campus partly because it was a place where ideas matter - they mostly fell into two camps: those who would spend the day sleeping, and those who would spend it studying. A few were heading for the beach or mountains, but nobody was thinking of King rallies or public service projects. 

Trying to find a story in our interviews was sort of a lost cause. I'm sure we turned in something. I hope we got something more than a story about student apathy.  

As we headed back to the dorms we heard about what was apparently the day's "real" story. Another student told us that a wave of bombers had taken off from Saudi Arabia and launched attacks on Iraq. Operation Desert Storm had begun; our country was at war.

Another, much quieter story would develop soon. A guy I'd recently met would lead a team of humanitarians into Northern Iraq to serve and befriend the Kurds who were among those who'd suffered most under their country's regime. He helped Kurds vaccinate their sheep. Odd choice for a pastor and English teacher, but he saw the need and responded. His coming alongside them opened many hearts. 

What's a big story? What's a small one? Saturday I had what seemed almost a chance encounter with a young couple from Tucson. As we ate lunch, my friend's fiance told me what it had been like the previous week when someone at his neighborhood grocery store pulled out a gun and shot his representative to Congress. I came home to read the latest in a series of emails from friends on the other side of the world, Tunisia, announcing that it looks like to their great dismay it's time to evacuate.   

I've been holding up these two stories next to each other and looking at them from different angles: Tucson, and Tunisia. This weekend I was sort of pleased to see "Tunisia" stories edge out "Tucson" stories in most of the media I sample. Arab lives are worth as much as American ones. I like to see Americans "count" them. 

What stories have biggest claim on our interest? Recently a member of the small group I'm part of mentioned the parable of the Good Samaritan, given to address the question "Who is my neighbor?" asked by members of a community who - my friend said he'd read - defined "neighbor" as "those who live within a day or two's journey." With current technology and transportation systems, you and I live within a day or two's journey from almost 7 billion souls. Hmmm. 

Our Missions Catalyst news sleuth just submitted her stories for this week's edition. She included the observation that while Christmas came with an overabundance of stories about religious persecution, she's welcoming a new year's focus on stories of cooperation and solidarity. I think conflict and persecution are inevitable in our religious world, but still, blessed are the peacemakers.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom

"Several winters ago my wife and I and our then twenty-year-old daughter, Sharmy, went to that great tourist extravaganza near Orlando, Florida, called Sea World. There is a lot of hoopla to it -- crowds of people, loud music, Mickey Mouse T-shirts, and so on, but the main attraction makes it all worthwhile. It takes place in a huge tank of crystal clear, turquoise water with a platform projecting out into it from the far side and on the platform several pretty young women and handsome young men in bathing suits who run things. It was a gorgeous day when we were there, with bright Florida sunlight reflecting in the shimmering water and a cloudless blue sky over our head. The bleachers where we sat were packed."
Can you picture it? You can. I love the way this man writes.
"The way the show began was that at a given signal they released into the tank five or six killer whales, as we call them (it would be interesting to know what they call us), and no creatures under heaven could have looked less killerlike as they went racing around and around in circles. What with the dazzle of sky and sun, the beautiful young people on the platform, the soft southern air, and the crowds all around us watching the performance with a delight matched only by what seemed the delight of the performing whales, it was as if the whole creation -- men and women and beasts and sun and water and earth and sky, and for all I know, God himself -- was caught up in one great, jubilant dance of unimaginable beauty. And then, right in the midst of it, I was astonished to find that my eyes were filled with tears."
Love that line about what the killer whales call us. Ha!

Discovering that his experience was by no means unique, Buechner continues:
"...I believe there is no mystery about why we shed tears. We shed tears because we had caught a glimpse of the Peaceable Kingdom, and it had almost broken our hearts. For a few moments we had seen Eden and been part of the great dance that goes on at the heart of creation. We shed tears because we were given a glimpse of the way life was created to be and is not.

"The world is full of darkness, but what I think we caught sight of in that tourist trap in Orlando, Florida, of all places, was that at the heart of darkness -- whoever would have believed it? -- there is joy unimaginable."

Fredrick Buechner, The Longing for Home, pp. 126-127
Question: Where have you caught glimpses of the Peaceable Kingdom?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

A Blogger's Dozen: Good Eggs Who Write Stuff I Read

Many of the blogs in my aggregator are, like mine, relatively amateurish and/or personal. Few are  updated regularly. Sigh... There are, though, some active sites I've enjoyed in recent months which might have a broader appeal. Thought I'd share the pleasure. Not meant to be a complete list.

1. Paul Merrill: "Observing the shiny bits of life since I can remember. I love: the mountains, my wife & kids, good chocolate, strong dark coffee, autumn, perfection, and imperfection." See Shiny Bits of Life.
2. Jon Swanson: A friend of Paul's, Jon is a pastor, writer, and "social media chaplain." See Levite Chronicles and 300WordsADay.
3. Donald Miller: The popular author of Blue Like Jazz, etc. also works out ideas on his blog.
4. Jon Acuff: Stuff Christians Like "is a blog about the funny things we Christians do." It's hilarious, and has helped fill the gap I felt when the wickedly funny Lark News went into reruns (SCL's a bit gentler).

Several of special appeal to people part of the whole missions gig:

5. Check out Missionary Confidential ("everything a missionary isn't supposed to say")
6. See Ben Meredith's Assume the Best ("how to laugh at the process of raising support") 
7. And don't miss Jamie the Very Worst Missionary ("inappropriate remarks, embarrassing antics, and generally lame observations about living life as a Christian missionary in Costa Rica")
8. A leader with Wycliffe Bible Translators, Eddie Arthur blogs on a variety of topics at Kouya Chronicle.
9. More than a blog, Justin Long's site The Long View is "about the unevangelized, mobilizing new missionaries, swarms, and mission issues." Justin is also a prolific tweeter, passing on news from around the world. Super useful for my work.

On and off I read a couple business/communication/tech gurus:
10. Seth Godin
11. Chris Brogan

Hmm... where's my #12? Maybe you can suggest something. What blogs have you been enjoying? Any you'd specifically recommend to others? It might be bad form to suggest your own, but please include the URL when you leave your comment here.

Note: Get frustrated reading too much on-screen? Buy some more eye drops, or see For Happier Reading Online: Some Browser Tips (The Subversive Copyeditor).

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Learning from the Deaf How to Hear

Carolyn Stern is a doctor with a great gift for listening. So it may surprise you to read that Dr. Stern is deaf. More specifically, she is Deaf - a member of the Deaf community. Although several technologies help her to hear somewhat and to speak with clarity, she relies heavily on sight. She reads lips and body language.

People in the Deaf community would consider it "a slap in the face" to look away from someone trying to communicate, so Dr. Stern doesn't flip through her charts or look away when her patients talk. She sits, facing them, with an attitude of openness and availability. She has to if she's going to "hear" what they have to say. And she really listens. "Because it's hard, and even considered rude, to take notes while someone is signing, people who are Deaf often have more highly developed memory skills than hearing people do."

So says Nathaniel Reade in his article "See What I'm Saying," a profile of Dr. Stern in Southwest Airlines Spirit Magazine.

And, while studies suggest the average doctor will interrupt a patient after just 18 seconds,
Dr. Stern listens without interruption, offers quiet encouragement, and lets her patient speak until she is completely done. She repeats back what she hears; she asks follow-up questions, she makes sure her patient feels heard.

"Good listening is active; it requires a back-and-forth between speaker and listener.
The goal should be a maximum amount of overlapped understanding between the two," the article continues.

Because people who are Deaf use a visual language, says the author, they often see things the rest of us miss. "Deaf people are highly attuned to visual nonverbal behaviors, a quality which lends itself well to health-care-related interviews," says the AMA's Christopher Moreland, also Deaf. "While the words are important, equally important is observing how a person express those words, in particular picking up on hints that something has been left unspoken."

The ability to recognize and articulate nonverbal communication signs is one of the most important skills of active listening. Dr. Stern - who knows what it is to struggle for communication - has mastered it. 

What is there here for the rest of us?
"The value of good listening isn't just confined to medicine. We spend about a quarter of our day listening, more than any other communication activity. Our culture gives prizes and presidencies to great speakers, but most of us wouldn't know how to be good at the 'important and neglected art' of listening. Yet studies show that good listening leads to better performance in everything from marriage to business."
Listening well cuts company turnover, increases customer satisfaction, nurtures trust, saves relationships.

I don't have Dr. Stern's "handicap" and probably you don't either. But I see great room to improve in my listening: to let someone finish their thought; to "hear" both the words and the nonverbals, to clarify and repeat back and respond and remember what has been said: to make it my goal to have a "maximum overlap of shared understanding." By such standards, who of us is not - in the most negative sense - deaf?

Sorry, my original source for this story, the Southwest Airlines magazine, is no longer accessible online - January 2011 edition? Several other articles about Dr. Stern can be easily found in an internet search, however.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

The Ephrata Cloister and the End of the World

Have you heard about the Christians convinced Jesus will come back on May 21, 2011? Maybe you've seen the news articles or the billboards. The claim has attracted a good bit of laughter and/or scorn from all quarters, including a much-commented-on recent article at Jon Acuff's Stuff Christians Like ("Precisely Predicting the End of the World").

Got me thinking about something I saw on my informal religious history tour in Pennsylvania back in 2009. The Ephrata Cloister was founded by a German Anabaptist mystic who took up William Penn on his welcome to settlers seeking freedom of thought just when Germany was really cracking down. Yes, that's what brought America "Pennsylvania Dutch" of all flavors.  

Like the guys at Family Radio who are planning on a May Judgment Day, Conrad Beissel closely studied the scriptures for clues about the Second Coming. He also had the benefit of a personal revelation from God that the end was going to come during his lifetime. So Beissel set up a community committed to living as much as possible as people in training for heaven.

I like this basic principle - living as people made for the world to come - but how to apply it? Not sure how I feel about what these guys came up with.

Since there will be no marriage in heaven, Beissel strongly encouraged celibacy on earth. Since there will be no eating, drinking, or sleeping in heaven, he and his followers limited themselves to one simple, vegetarian meal a day and as little sleep as possible. Although certain concessions were made for followers who did not make all these commitments, the inner circle lived a remarkably disciplined, ascetic life. They were in training.

When God gave Conrad his revelation he had spoken to him in German - clearly, God's language. So those in the Ephrata Cloister did not consider it worthwhile to pick up the local language (English) for their remaining days on earth. Nor did they train up any leaders to join or follow Beissel; successors would not be required. And, since Christ was to come like a thief in the night and his followers were urged to watch and pray, members of the Camp of the Solitary (as they called themselves) kept vigil every single night, not returning to their narrow planks and wooden-block pillows for a few hours of sleep until the wee hours had passed.

Beissel's death before Christ's return was something of a crisis. Without their charismatic leader and the sense of an eminent end of the world, the order did not last.

So here's my question: Do you think one of the dangers of a focus on the next life could be a blindness to the unique purposes and opportunities of this one?

Monday, January 10, 2011

Me, I Like the Crust

For baking brownies with extra edges
There's more than one way to make a sandwich. It was in northern Morocco that I first saw someone hollow out a baguette, throwing away the soft part to make room for more filling. The crust, not the middle, was highly prized. In the same way, if you buy a torta on the streets of Mexico your carne comes in a tasty, crusty roll. Yet take high tea with the British or American upper crust (sic) and you'll get your sandwiches with nothing crunchier than the cucumbers.

I like crusts. What about you? 

In the same way, the edges of my day seem the most valuable. I realized a couple years ago that I do my best work before 10 am or (especially) after 4 pm. Unfortunately my job was based on 8-5 office hours, with the first hour given to meetings. So I seldom felt as productive as I might be. In order to deliver what I thought of as my best work I ended up spending a lot of evenings and weekends at the office. While I enjoyed those Saturday afternoons and Friday or Sunday nights on my own, I knew I wasn't getting enough down time and resented working so much overtime, even as I'd chosen it myself.  

Nowadays I'm enjoying my work more. I work less and accomplish more working at home and on my own schedule. I often reach for my computer first thing and put it away last thing, but in the middle, I give myself more margin to goof off, run errands, do chores. It's like a day with extra crust.

Similarly, I find Mondays and Fridays are the days I most want to work. It's in the middle of the week that I lose my way. So I go with it: I make Wednesdays my lighter day, sometimes even running my week on a "four tens" schedule (working M-Tu, Th-F). It's like having two Mondays and two Fridays.

The biggest problem - since the how-do-I-get-my-people-time one is working out fine - is that my preferred schedule doesn't necessarily jive with the way the rest of the world (my world) operates. I'm ready to make those phone calls or send those emails on Friday afternoon, but plenty of people have already checked out and don't want to receive them. Similarly, my East Coast colleagues don't want to interact after I get my second wind 4:00 pm my time. 

>> Have you found a way to match your schedule with you most natural personal rhythms? How do the people around you respond?

P.S.: Here's one bonus instance of "extra edges." Friends of mine live on Lake Tapps, a body of water that, though less than five square miles in area, boasts 45 miles of shoreline. That's a lot of waterfront property, eh?

Friday, January 07, 2011

How to Get Things Done

Ever have a bunch of things on your plate and don't know where to start? Do you really do the hardest or most important things first (as gurus advise), or try to get the easy ones out of the way to clear the space for them, or baby yourself with the fun and distracting things because it's too painful to face anything else? Or maybe you approach life as Alison confesses she does:
“For me, the answer to the question ‘When do you write?’ is easy: I write when I’m avoiding some other important task. For example, this essay is being written on April 23, and my taxes are not yet done. I also write when the bathroom needs cleaning, when the garden needs weeding, or when I’m skipping an important meeting...

“The best place to write, I’ve discovered, is parking lots. The parking lot of the gym is exceptionally good. I can avoid working out and begin a poem at the same time.” (Alison Luterman, “The Secret of My Success,” The Sun, Nov. 2003)
Ah yes, that sounds familiar. My January newsletter is done, 10 days before I intend to send it. Email, Facebook, Twitter, and even this blog seem to get attention that my scary research project of the moment may not receive, especially if it involves unrequited phone calls.

Real and meaningful deadlines and the sense that people are watching help a great deal. But often I don't have that kind of support. Missions Catalyst, with its weekly pub date and waiting audience, always always gets done; I think we've missed two issues in the last five years and only because of tech problems.

What about you? What helps you get things done?

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Mission Headline News

The publication I manage (re-)published 150 news stories in 2010, so I considered taking a stab at a top-ten news story list. But what criteria to use? In our news coverage, we're not really trying to cover all the top stories. We also tend to aim for balance more than bigness, skipping stories well-covered elsewhere. On the other hand, in doing so, the news sleuth and I both like to think that we’re giving readers a taste of Heaven’s Headlines. I'm pleased with this approach and don't expect to change it.

Some other sources covering the missions-and-religion beat, using various filters different from ours, did make year-in-review lists. Maybe you'd be interested. Here are three of them.

> 2010 Religion Stories of the Year (Religion Newswriters Association)
> The Year in Review: Top Spiritual Trends of 2010 (J. Lee Grady, Charisma)
> Top 10 News Stories of 2010 (Christianity Today)

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Never Heard of Him. You?

Shoot, this is the stuff that makes all of us look bad. The popular Christian music group Sonicflood worked with the Southern Baptist's International Mission Board to record a music video used with the annual Lottie Moon Christmas offering - an offering which will fund much of the Board's excellent work around the world in the year to come. It was filmed in and around Damascus, Syria, including the road where Saul had the remarkable conversion some 2000 years ago that did so much to further God's mission to the Gentiles. Yes, people like you and me.

But whoever produced the video threw in some bumper-sticker mission motivators that just don't stand up to what we know about the world. I don't want to single them out unduly. You see statistics abused and used to misinform in lots of places. But how sad to see the Board educate their congregations with misleading information.

"There are 6,426 unreached people groups who have never heard the name of Jesus Christ" it proclaimed. And yes, with the nature of the medium, they said it without any source information or explanation of that statistic. "We know who these people groups are, what they are called, their dominant faith, their culture," it continued.

Too bad they didn't "know" that - even and maybe especially in the places around the Middle East where this video was shot - it's quite difficult to find people, much less whole "peoples," who have not heard the name of Jesus.

What is it about that phrase "never heard the name of Jesus" that evangelical preachers and mission mobilizers cannot resist? The fact is, Jesus has very high name recognition. Many who are part of these unreached groups have not only heard about the name of Jesus, but also know more about Jesus and those who follow him than most of us know about them. That doesn't mean what they've heard is accurate, that they know Jesus, or that they even have personal relationships with Christians - in most cases they do not. Yet most have heard the name and probably hear it often.

"Are We There Yet?" raises a missiological question. I guess four minutes isn't long enough to unpack it. But there's a world of difference between knowing the name of Jesus and knowing him.

Another missiological question for the Baptists - and all of us who believe that human beings were made to know God and make him known - might be, "do we care yet?"

Note: Yes, readers, I know that several of you wouldn't agree with me about the uniqueness of Jesus or the claim that human beings were made to know God and make him known... If you'd like to talk about that, let me know. But I think this probably isn't the best forum for that conversation.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Crazy about You

Ever feel like the Twitter fail whale?
"Dear whomever may be reading this. Even though you may not believe me, somebody out there is crazy about you." So says Twitter. This was one of the most popular tweets recently.

Twitter does rather lend itself toward bumper-sticker statements, doesn't it? So, do we believe it? Should we? Is it true? Seems more wishful than reasonable. Surely not everyone - even everyone reading this - has someone who is crazy about them. But I suppose that many of us, though well loved, fail to receive from that love the strength and joy that might be ours. We choose instead to look on the dark side of things and live in bitterness rather than gratitude.  
"And the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not comprehend it." (John 1:5)
Does "crazy about you" imply romance? Can't say I have such a person in my life: a mate who delight in me being me, who love my heart and the way my mind works. Sometimes, the possibility that such a relationship could come together seems impossible to me.

But as an experiment, I started a mental list. A list of people who are crazy about me (I think). Pretty encouraging. Unless I actually am crazy and/or mistaken, it's a pretty long list. I am rich in friends. (Among other things this gives me hope of someday making a match.)

Either way, I am deeply blessed. Especially with the Creator and Sustainer of the universe topping my fan list. Amazing!

Got 20 minutes to think about what holds you back from giving and receiving love? Check out this great TED talk. As I listened to it I realized that while I feel I still have a long way to go, by God's grace I've experienced a lot of what it means to be what Brene calls "wholehearted."

See also my post on Counseling (10/29/10).

Monday, January 03, 2011

Longing for Home

Home. What does that word bring to mind, first? A place of origin. An ultimate destination. And those places in between but especially when you were a child or raised children where you feel or felt you belonged and which in some sense belonged to you.

That's what Fredrick Buechner says in his book The Longing for Home. "I suspect that those who as children never had such a place in actuality had instead some kind of dream of such a home, which for them played an equally crucial part."

Few of us have the same home from beginning to end. We stretch the boundaries of the word when, like me, we go "home" for Christmas to different houses in different cities to an ever-shifting group of people - grandparents gone, and maybe parents; family members divorced, remarried, bringing in someone new. Maybe, at least in some setting, you the newcomer - hoping to be accepted and to feel that you belong in this place or with these people. Is this home? Is this family?

And even those we know more or less from the beginning of life until its end are apt to change into something unfamiliar, as we ourselves change.

Ideas like home and family may become something of a polite fiction - words we use to describe things that are too complicated for such short syllables.

In all his peripatetic childhood, the one house that of all others felt like home to Buechner was his grandparents' large, clapboard house in a suburb of Pittsburgh. Something about the place - and especially about his grandmother, who more than anyone else "inhabited" the house - suggested timelessness and permanence, beauty, serenity and love.

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.
"All of this makes me wonder about the home that my wife and I created for ourselves and our three daughters, both of us coming from the homes of our childhood and consciously or unconsciously drawing on those memories as we went about making a new home for the family we were becoming."

"It was the little world we created to be as safe as we knew how to make it for ourselves and for our children from the great world outside which I more than my wife was afraid of especially for our children's sake because I remembered so vividly the dark and dangerous times of my own childhood, which were very much part of me still and continue to be.

"In that Vermont house I found refuge from the dark, as I always had, mainly in books, which, unlike people, can always be depended upon to tell the same stories in the same way and are always there when you need them and can always be set aside when you need them no longer.

"What my wife brought to the home we were creating was entirely different. The chief delight of her childhood in New Jersey had been not indoor things, as with me, but outdoor things. She had loved horses and animals of all kinds and growing things in gardens and almost by nature knew as much about trees and birds and flowers as most people have to learn from books and then struggle to remember.
"She planted a fifty-by-hundred-foot vegetable garden and flowers all over the place. She saw to it that each of our children had not only horses to ride but other animals to love and take care of - for Sharmy, Aracana chickens, who laid eggs of three different colors; for Dinah, a pig who grew to the size of a large refrigerator and didn't suffer fools gladly; and for Katherine, some fawn-colored Toggenberg goats who skittered around the barnyard dropping their berries and gazing out at the hills through the inscrutable slits of their eyes."

"...Like everybody else, what we furnished our home with was ourselves."
>> Think about what makes a place feel like home for you. Where or with whom do you feel that sense of belonging and that the place or people belong to you? Where or how do you find or try to create what Buechner calls "refuge from the dark"? Are the strategies different for others in your family?

Saturday, January 01, 2011

Favorite Spots in S. Puget Sound

My trip home was feeling long - I hadn't planned enough things to do, not wanting to be stressed out trying to make arrangements and accomplish them. But boredom sets in too easily, and then I wish I had something to do. Thursday I had no plans. It was a crisp, sunny day - a perfect time to go visit two favorite spots: one a five-minute drive northeast of my mom's place, the other ten minutes southeast. 

At Redondo Beach I put on my headphones and got in a two-mile run. The boardwalk was a bit icy and the tide was high, the wind whipping the waves violently against the piers and sometimes coming up through the planks of the boardwalk.

I love that kind of energy.

The second spot, the Hybelos Wetlands, was also cold but pretty quiet. Unmelted hailstones from a storm the day before covered the trail with a snow-like blanket of white. I was amazed how much green I saw. They call Colorado - where I live now - "Colorful Colorado," but it has nothing on Washington. Green doesn't grow in the winter. But in Washington the wild things keep on coming - I saw moss, ferns, brambles, and hardy little plants sharing space with dark pools and the gray, brown, and red of all kinds of trees and undergrowth. 

I was not the only one who went there for a walk that day. It's a pretty shadowy place, though, and everyone was well bundled up.