Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Church Mobilization: Handles for Global Outreach

It's been a while since I posted much that's ministry oriented. But a couple of pieces are brewing. Here's the first. 

Churches can be such busy places... sometimes the things that make our churches seem most alive (lots and lots of creative new ministries!) make leaders and other potential participants feel more dead (I can't do one more thing!). So some of us fight to get out of that rat race, trying to take control of our lives and our ministries and streamline them. Keep them simple, focused, efficient. Good move, right?

I'm not so sure. Not if it means there's no place for people to plug in, to find community, to make a contribution. Can you have a healthy church if people aren't connected?

I've been impressed by the stories I've heard about this church and this one. Both took a look at their global outreach ministries and saw them the way many of us see our small group ministries: as a way to develop leaders, foster relationships, make disciples. Staff and leaders chose to see their job as opening the door for others to participate. Their mission programs have plenty of handles, and if someone in the church has an idea they are welcomed and supported as they put it into action. Don't get me wrong; there's quality control, there's leadership. They don't say yes to everything and they don't support 200 ministries at $25 a month.

But they don't leave their global ministries program in the hands of a committee of half a dozen seasoned mission-types, either; they give it away. I think we'd see more healthy churches if we did that.

It's also a way to get away from church mission programs being all about the missionaries. In many cases that doesn't work so well. I know in my church we've fallen back on this. Our goal in mobilizing our church for missions is merely to get people in our congregation to care about the missionaries someone decided to support a couple decades ago. We care about those missionaries, we mission-committee people, but that's because we know them. Most of the folks in the congregation don't. That may be our fault. So should we just try harder, put up their pictures, print everyone a directory, etc? (I'm working on revising the directory, now.)

The problem is that having missionaries pushed on you is kind of like having old friends send you baby pictures of their kids and grandkids. You've never met these babies. Maybe you never will. Do you really want their picture on your fridge, these random babies that belong to someone you may love but who never seems to be included in the picture? Yet any resentment you may feel is tempered by guilt. I mean, what kind of a jerk doesn't care about babies? I think it's the same, in the Christian community, with missionaries.

Whether the "handles" to church mission involvement are hosting, praying for, or assisting a missionary (one, probably, not 30 of them) or something different, I think we need to keep finding those handles. Let's look for the ways people want to engage.

>> Got a good story about a church whose people have many ways to engage in global outreach? I'd love to hear it. Post a comment here or write to me.


Thursday, August 25, 2011

Cleaning My Desk

Once I planned to write a book of poems entirely about the things in my pockets. But I found it would be too long; and the age of the great epics is past. - G.K.Chesterton ("A Piece of Chalk," in Tremendous Trifles, 1909) 

Last night I cleaned out my desk and emptied the two-drawer filing cabinet next to it. I kept some treasures but I also threw away Christmas cards, newsletters, birth announcements, notes from Bible studies and sermons, receipts from purchases of long ago. How long do you save things like that?

I think I know why I save them. When someone teaches me something and I write it down, or passes out a resource list at a workshop, or sends me something in the mail, some part of me seems to believe I have to hold onto it in order to honor that person, their preparation, the connection we have with one another.

Do all these pieces of paper have the same effect on you, or is it just me? How thankful I am that the world has taken a decided turn away from paper. I still print things out, write things down, and open the mail. But I don't have to hold onto that article; I can find it on the internet. I don't need to save your card; I can find you on Facebook. If I need to save my notes I type them up. And most of the newsletters come to me by email now.

I don't have a scanner. Maybe that's what you were going to suggest. I do still have a key to the old office if I wanted to use the one there. So far I haven't. It's easier to throw the paper away.

The things I chose to keep, at least for now, may not be "more important" than what I tossed. I'm not sure. But since there are fewer of them, they may prove more useful. Less likely to get lost or forgotten amid the clutter. I'm hoping to travel more lightly through the world. Or at least through my next move. I've been in this house since 1997.

The reason for this season of purging is that I'm getting ready to move to Oregon and start a new life there. Knowing that Chris is there waiting for me makes it easier to let go of stuff and the relationships they represent, relationships that took the place of family for me for so many years. (Sorry, family!)

Maybe I'll write a blog post or two about the treasures that turned up on these boxes. And share my the list of reasons I'm grateful and excited about the adventure before me.

When I finish going through the personal and household items I will have another go at purging work files. Will continue the process I wrote about here (and probably elsewhere). It's true that about once a month I dig into my four-drawer file cabinet or the boxes in the garage to find something I don't have on my laptop. But most of it is on the computer.

And what about the carefully packed and labelled boxes they agreed to keep at the old office for me? They're still there, and I still have a key. Do I bring them home or take them to the dumpster out back? Will I have a place to put them when I get to Oregon? After all, it's not like I'm leaving my job; it comes with me. I like being the one people can ask when they are looking for some long-lost thing. I see myself as more archivist than packrat. The truth is somewhere in the middle. And with most of those files, it's a long shot that I'll need them again. I think that with my eyes fixed on the future I can release more of those papers and folders as well.

>> See also: Moving On After Moving In (and other articles) by Susan Miller

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

From around the blogosphere: personal development

Some things I read this summer that stuck with me:

Kay Day on proclaiming insecurities as truths (Loop de Loops in La La Land)
Jon Acuff on the god in our heads (Stuff Christians Like)
Jon Swanson on practicing marriage (300 Words a Day)
Seth Godin on the overwhelming fear of being wrong (Seth's Blog)

Praise the LORD, my soul;
all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
Praise the LORD, my soul,
and forget not all his benefits—
who forgives all your sins
and heals all your diseases,
who redeems your life from the pit
and crowns you with love and compassion,
who satisfies your desires with good things
so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

Psalm 103:1-5

Thursday, August 18, 2011

My New Laptop Cord, and Marketers v. Lawyers

Maybe I told you how the day before I went to Siberia the power cord for my Toshiba laptop suddenly stopped working. I barely had enough juice to make a backup of files before abandoning the whole machine to the care of a clever friend. I finished my day's editing work on a computer at our local library, packed up, and went to the other side of the planet.

It turned out to be less a problem than I'd expected. Reduced to an iPod Touch and portable keyboard - gifts from a generous friend - I had little trouble keeping up with notes and correspondence while overseas. All I'd need to get my email, etc. was an internet connection, and that was not so hard to come by in a prosperous city. Even in Siberia. Remarkable how our tech needs have shifted from software and hardware to services and access, isn't it?

Meanwhile, back in Littleton, my tech friend discovered where my laptop cord was broken. He sliced off the end, soldered on a new piece from a machine in the junk pile, and carefully bound it up with duct tape.

This fix worked for almost five months. Then the connection, loosened by my usual degree of rough-ish handling, stopped working consistently. Sometimes it produced sparks! 

Chris noticed when he came to visit. This man of mine has a special relationship with technology - the way some people are great with kids or trusted by animals. It's a little eerie. I sense his equipment would never end up in such sorry shape. We shall see how patient he is with me and my ways. Or maybe he'll reform me.

"Fire danger," he declared. "We'll have to see about getting a new cord." I nursed it another month or so before I knew: It was time. The cord was getting too temperamental. I'd have to take action.

Monday I shopped around online and ordered my new cord. To my amusement the supplier was able to identify a great many features possessed by my new power cord, including a "Velcro cord management system." How's that for playing up a piece of plastic-coated fabric that sticks to itself? I said to myself: Marketers have been here!

Today the box came, and I saw that the lawyers had bested the marketers. Or at least they made sure they'd have their say. Three little booklets with a total of 75 pages of information and instructions, some in other languages. Also an extra piece of paper with this ominous threat:
WARNING: Handling the cord on this product will expose you to lead, a chemical known to the State of California to cause birth defects or other reproductive harm. Wash hands after handling.

1. Do you still use a laptop? Some? Less than you used to? Other devices serve you just as well?

2. Do you see the inclusion of a piece of Velcro as a "feature"?

3. Would you wash your hands after handling a computer cord that might expose you to lead? Do you think the State of California is onto something?

4. Do you pay more attention to marketers, or lawyers, or view both through a veil of skepticism?

5. Did you know that snake charmers play music because the instrument looks like a stick for hitting the snake, not because snakes can be charmed by music? No ears. Oh, wait, that has nothing to do with this blog post.


Friday, August 12, 2011

Lovelife FAQ

In continuing the theme of my previous post, transparency: A couple of friends with a soft spot for love stories have asked for more info on this relationship I'm in. Who is this guy I'm dating, and what's our story? I'm a little shy about showing my inmost thoughts, but maybe this is a good venue to share the facts.

Who is this guy? His name is Chris.

What's he like? He's kind, friendly, stable, positive, helpful, and in other ways wonderful. And he's made it a high priority to love and encourage me. I'm amazed by that.

Where does he live? Eugene, Oregon.

Where did you meet? About 20 years ago when we were both in college. We've stayed in touch in an exchange-Christmas-cards-and-newsletters kind of way. We were fans and supporters of each other's ministries and used to encourage one another and talk shop. But of course, he was married, so neither of us saw the other as anything but a platonic friend.

Oh, he was married? Yes. Divorced painfully (but finally) several years ago.

Any kids? Two teenagers: a 17-year-old daughter and 14-year-old son. Yes, I've met them and I really like them, though we haven't had much time together at this point. They split time between their dad's and their mom's nearby. Chris is a real family guy. "Cool - package deal!" I'm thinking - though I know that building a life together may hold significant adjustments for someone like me who's lived such a different story thus far.

How did you get together? Went on a date last August, another in December, and started communicating more, and then...

How long have you been an item? Since the beginning of February. Mostly long distance, obviously. Got to change that. Though I'm grateful for technological developments. Long-distance phone calls no longer cost an arm and a leg and we can even video-conference pretty easily, every day, even when I'm traveling. That's been a great help in staying connected, getting to know one another, and keeping things fairly "real."

Is he into missions, too? Yes and no. He's more of a hands-on "ministering to human need" kind of guy. He enjoys serving people and loving God. Serves as a volunteer EMT and chaplain for his local fire department. He's got a medical-ish day job as well, enough to pay the bills while he works on an MDiv degree to qualify him as a full-time chaplain down the road.

The global missions world I swim in is part of his background, though: Chris was a mission major in college. In fact, he was on his way to serve in Africa in the mid-90s when his mission agency discovered he was a techie and asked him to come to HQ as their first webmaster and internet-based mission mobilizer. He did that for a decade. And as I said, we were big fans of each other's ministries and helped each other regularly during that time. No, he doesn't want to be a webmaster anymore; not enough interaction with people.

Chris can see being a missionary... but also loves living out his faith in a more secular world, too.

At first I thought this relationship wouldn't work because we seem to be on different paths in ministry. Yet as long as we value and support each other's service - and we do - the differences don't seem to be a deal-breaker. We both have diverse skills and interests. How God might lead us to serve together down the road is an open question.

What's next? For the sake of the kids, of course, Chris needs to stay in Eugene. I'm in a position to be more flexible. I'm preparing to move so we can be together. It's rather handy that after going to college there I know I like the city, climate, and culture. It's closer to my family and old stomping grounds in Washington, too. My supervisor is supportive of the move. I believe I can continue my work from there - including raising support to cover salary, benefits, and expenses. (My budget may change a little but it's more likely to go up than down.)

How can we pray for you? Ask God for an affordable and appropriate living situation for me. I've got some commitments in Denver in early October but would like to move after that. It's a little awkward at this point: I'm not sure I can move until I've got a place to live, but may not be able to find a place to live until I'm ready to move. But that's just logistics, and it's not the main thing. Pray for our relationship to continue to grow in fruitful ways. Ask God to guide us. And please lift up the kids. Thanks!

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Newsletters, and Living Life in Public

"It is like telling somebody in detail how you are before they have asked the question, How are you? Indeed, it isn’t like it; it is it.” 

Fredrick Buechner, on memoirs

Every now and again I realize how public my life has become. Today was one of those days. I send out my words to an unfiltered audience not just through this blog and mechanisms like Facebook and Twitter, but also using more intrusive means like speaking at churches or classes, making phone calls, sending email. Today a set of resource reviews went out to 5000 people; I wrote and edited them and signed them with my name.  

But I also sent out what's known in missions parlance as a prayer letter. More than anything else, this responsibility has required me to be more transparent than most people are. There's a level of personal accountability built into my very job. I've got these witnesses. 

Hitting a glitch in the process I'm using meant I had to push send on each of the 400+ emails. I'm not complaining about the work. Unlike so many people, I enjoy writing newsletters -  and the delivery is much easier than it was in the fold-stuff-and-slap era of paper and stamps. I only do a handful that way, now. But I realized as I was sending those emails one by one that I don't know very many of the people on the other end. Some of them I met (or didn't meet) when I lectured at their Perspectives classes. They checked a box on a form to get my letters along with whatever else I may have been offering at the time. Others I may have known personally at some point but don't know if they still have much interest in hearing about my life and work. Do they really want to get these letters?

Perhaps it's time to switch over to some kind of email service that allows people to unsubscribe without having to go through me. I've mentioned that before without taking action on it! 

On the other hand, I'm a big fan of weak ties. It's nice to have an easy way to stay "sort-of-in-touch" with people who share some interests, values, or experiences. As I worked my way down the list today, I remembered good times with people I haven't thought about in some time. I smiled to think of them, and wondered what they are up to. They've got the inside scoop on me, now. Maybe some will write back. I'm not looking for a one-to-one ratio, but I do like to hear from people.

Before I send another newsletter, I think I'll set a goal to respond to a dozen of those I've received from others. Let them know I'm still glad to be on their list.

See also: Personal Newsletters - All about Me or Something Good for You?

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Language and/or Arts

It happened again, this morning... during worship a young woman joined the band on stage to "sign" the songs we sang. Does this happen at your church? What do you make of it? 

It's not like 'closed captioning for the hearing impaired," or having someone translate for the Spanish speakers among us. I'm pretty sure the only people in our congregation who understand ASL are girls like her who picked it up as an interesting challenge, second language, or something they might be able to use in ministry - or, apparently, in worship. 

Since we can hear the words sung all around us and see them projected on the screen, the meaning is not lost. It's not as if she were speaking in tongues. Nobody is excluded. In fact, most of us could probably pick up some of the words from the signs alone, just as I could identify words and phrases from an article written in French or German. 

But we don't have any members of the Deaf community in our church. And neither the sermon nor the announcements are signed, so if Deaf people came and wanted to feel at home they'd find rather limited service. 

Is it language, or just art? Something like having an interpretive dancer join us?

See also: Learning from the Deaf How to Hear

Friday, August 05, 2011

Animal House

Do you ever have jealous or competitive feelings toward the animal world? It seems a little petty (no pun intended) but this is sometimes a struggle for me. Yes, even from the top of the food pyramid, from the apex of the animal kingdom, I don't like it when people treat their pets as, well, top dog. 

So I get sulky to be scolded for scooting a dog off the sofa so I can sit down - while if he destroys my slippers it's somehow my fault. I feel slighted when having the cat's favorite treats is higher priority than making sure there's coffee in the house for me. No, it doesn't reflect well on my character, I know! 

Currently I share digs with a tabby cat named Lucy. Not my cat, and not quite our cat - but sort of. Really my housemate's cat. And I find myself a little miffed that my complaints of ants on the counters got no hearing until the little critters were found in Lucy's bowl. THEN the varmint-elimination process was speedily enacted. 

Like decisions about pet care, deciding what to do about the ants and acquiring the necessary supplies is basically D.'s responsibility. She pays for utilities and most household costs; I write a check for my share. She is the brains of our operation; I, the brawn. I open lids on jars and get things down from top shelves. I mow the lawn, take out the trash, vacuum, and actually clean out the litter box as well. For the most part this is a good arrangement. But as in any household, we have slightly different values and priorities and have to make sure we're giving each other grace and tolerance. 

You know, she's a cracker-jack researcher, this roommate of mine. She systematically researched and implemented several non-toxic anti-ant strategies using household products. Too bad the vinegar didn't work. When other efforts failed, she found and picked up some ant traps that are specially made to trap these particular ants. D. may be a big animal lover but has no soft spot for bugs - luckily. Did I say she's an ace at solving any plumbing problems, too? 

I do sometimes wish for a man around the house. I don't mind being brawn, but I'm not actually "handy." When the guy I'm dating came out to visit recently, he washed and waxed my car, pointed out my license plate tags were expired (I hadn't noticed), and replaced a florescent light fixture that was no longer working. I purred louder than Lucy. 

What may be my favorite thing about my housemate - D., I mean, not Lucy - is how well she knows and understands me. She can finish my sentences; she knows what I mean even when I can't put the words together right. She likes to listen, laughs at the same things and enjoys the same kind of stories as I do, gives good advice. An excellent companion. 

And I think she's mostly solved our ant problem.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Consumer Campouts

Photo: Paul Merrill
Wednesday was opening day. Yes, Colorado got its first Ikea. It seem that fans of the Swedish furniture store are legion. Thousands lined up to be among the first inside. There were certainly some perks not available to those (like me) who were content to peruse pretty pictures in a glossy catalog...

It was like Christmas in July. The Colorado store is Ikea's 38th outlet in the U.S.; to celebrate, the company pledged to give each of the first 38 customers in line on Wednesday a free sofa. The next 100, a free armchair. Earliest birds on Thursday got a queen-sized mattress. Other eager beavers got gift cards, food vouchers, and the opportunity to be first to ooh and aah over the impressive displays of fine European design.

By Monday afternoon, more than 100 people were camping out in order to save their places in line.

*     *     *     *     

That night the roommate discussed the phenomenon of consumer camp-outs with friends in her book club. "How much would they have to PAY you to camp out for 48 hours like that?!" While some of them - like Deb - had done things like that in their youth, nowadays the discomfort and inconvenience of it leaves the adventure in the shade. "A quarter of a million dollars" was the figure they settled on.

Really? I was amazed. Nobody paid the people who camped out at Ikea, did they? Certainly not thousands of dollars. People who camp out for concert tickets, film debuts, and holiday sales are there for the privilege of SPENDING money - though maybe less than they would if they didn't camp out. They aren't being paid. 

Readers, would you have to be paid? How much? Would a thousand dollars do it? Less? More? What retail opportunity or incentive would it take for you to spread out your sleeping bag on the sidewalk for a day or two?

P.S.: While this Ikea may be crowded for the next couple of weeks and weekends, the store is prepared. Lines to get in had died down by 11 am on opening day.