Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Denver Interlude and Holiday Plans

A recent trip to Florida for meetings offered me the chance to stop and spend time in Colorado, my old stomping ground, on the way home. There I did for the first time something I've been doing for almost 20 years on trips to Washington - I set up about a dozen appointments for lunch, dinner, or coffee as a means of strengthening relationships with supporters and significant friends. It's the first time I've made a trip like that to Colorado, though, in the two years since I moved away.

The family I invited myself to stay with (!) seemed a little bemused by this process... it being, I suppose, an unusual one. I'd been doing this for so many years I'd sort of forgotten how much our culture has shifted and how busy people's lives have become. Making time to get together with a friend - one with whom your paths might not naturally cross - is a luxury many cannot afford.

I'm glad - grateful - that it's actually part of my job to do this. It's one of the best ways folks who follow this full-time ministry lifestyle can ensure they are not forgotten but still have relationships back "home" (and hopefully prayer and financial support when that is needed as well).

During the several days I spent in Denver, I ran into and/or remembered others I'd love to catch up with, too. From that vantage point, continuing the process seemed do-able. Now that I'm back in Oregon, with all the responsibilities for work, house, family, and school settling back around my shoulders, I have a harder time picturing myself do this. I haven't even returned messages received from some of those I began to pursue but was not able to see.

One person I met with is a good friend who is single, and who as we spoke alluded to the awkwardness she feels about this week's Thanksgiving holiday. It hasn't been that long; how could I have forgotten what it's like to be single on Thanksgiving? Wondering where you will go, who will invite you and when... the delicate process of answering the inquiries of others when you are not sure they are about to extend an offer or, not interested in accepting it!

The question would come up at church or the office: "What are you doing for Thanksgiving? You'd be welcome to join us if you have no other place to go!" Usually I received several offers on those unflattering terms. Maybe I could go one place for dinner, and drop in elsewhere for pie and coffee? Would that be too weird? Would I feel like the pathetic add-on person and wish I'd skipped the whole thing and just stayed home?

My marriage has generally made my life more complicated, but it does simplify and answer the question of who I'll be with on the holidays. This year's Thanksgiving feast is conveniently close - as will be, I imagine, every holiday that we stay in Eugene. No need to go over the river or through the woods: Grandma Wade lives less than ten blocks away.

I'm a little more bent toward variety than tradition, but tradition wins this time. And I'll include some of my own favorite traditions though they differ from those of my new family. I'll make pumpkin pie from scratch and watch the Macy's parade. And this year I'll try to practice an unholiday-like moderation, as well, as I continue to diet. The pounds and inches are not melting off very quickly, I admit. But I do feel better and am managing to keep the doctor's orders fairly well. When I go see her again next year, I hope there will be less of me.

Restraint has an appeal all its own. It offers a simplicity and clarity which feasting cannot offer. This time of year I often think of my first Thanksgiving in Eugene way back in college days, which began with the usual feast but was followed by three days of ramen and apple slices. I suppose that even that year, the Wade family was gathered almost ten miles north of me in the big house where we'll go this Thursday.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Ministry of Listening - latest finds

Got a few more items for my public file of research and ideas about the ministry of listening:

1. First, from a blogging pastor/writer:
The Most Important Skill of a Disciple Maker

Few skills are more important in life and more underestimated than the skills of listening.

Most people don’t even recognize listening as a skill. It is; and it is a proficiency we can improve with practice. Listening skills can help us in our marriage and in our relationships with our children. Better listening skills can help us be a better boss or a more effective employee. Most of us could enhance our friendships with improved listening skills. And, listening is the most important skill a Christian can have who wishes to help others become better disciples of Jesus Christ.

...If an individual really wants to help another grow in Christ, active listening is the number one skill needed.


(I think this concept could easily be broadened to apply to any type of coaching. Only by really listening to the student or disciple can the coach or discipler give the most meaningful, appropriate input.)
 2. Something I heard about through Joel News (reporting on a similar initiative in Amsterdam).
Underheard in New York

Underheard in New York is an initiative in which four homeless men in New York were given mobile phones and Twitter accounts so they could share their daily lives with others. This led to amazing encounters and changes in their situation.

Watch a video about Underheard in New York >
3. A bit of Bible study I picked up from a workshop at Missions Fest Seattle:
Listening Like Jesus

There are so many strategies and models for communicating the gospel. But is there a missing ingredient in our presentations? Do we give enough consideration to the question, is anybody listening? And if so, do they understand anything we've had to say? After all, who gets to say whether we clearly presented anything - the presenter, or their supposed audience? Again, a principle that probably applies to much more communication than just evangelism. But let's listen in on Jesus and a take a look at a few of his notable encounters, especially in the book of John. 

Take a look at the verbs used to describe the conversation between Jesus and Nicodemus. Some versions translate all of these more simply to "said," but the word used in the highlighted phrases is one doesn't mean just talking, but responding after listening based on perception and evaluation of what has been said:
  • John 3:2 This man came to him by night and said to him...
  • John 3:3 Jesus answered and said to him...
  • John 3:4 Nicodemus said...
  • John 3:5 Jesus answered...
  • John 3:9 Nicodemus answered and said to him...
  • John 3:10 Jesus answered and said to him...
Could it be that really engaging in a listening conversation had to proceed the "sermon" of John 3:10-21? We see a similar pattern in how John describes the encounter Jesus has with the woman at the well:
  • John 4:7 Jesus said to her...
  • John 4:9 The Samaritan woman therefore said to him...
  • John 4: 10 Jesus answered and said to her...
  • John 4:11 She said to him...
  • John 4:13 Jesus answered and said to her...
  • John 4:15 The woman said to him...
  • John 4:16 He said to her...
  • John 4:17 The woman answered and said...
Such language is also used in John 9 as well as Luke 5:22 and 6:3.

Answering like Jesus, the workshop presenter proposed, requires listening like Jesus... not looking for a chance to say your piece, but being ready to give a response to a situation or what others are saying or thinking (1 Peter 3:15, Col. 4:5-6).
4. Finally, if you are a person who prays, you might lift up my friend Shane and some folks he'll be working with in Cologne, Germany, as they go out and listen to immigrants in the next week or so. Very much along the lines of what we did this summer, which I described in A Fresh Look at Exploring the Land.

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

The diet.

That I had put on 30 pounds since I got married was weighing me down (pun intended). This unprecedented development seemed to warrant another I've-never-done-that-before: dieting. I know lots of people who have gone on diets; more, maybe, that have than that have not. Just like I know more people who have gotten married than that have not. But I didn't know how to diet. And I was afraid to ask. The amount and diversity of advice on how to plan a wedding was overwhelming... of the making of books about how to stay married there is no end. And so it is with the amount and diversity of advice about dieting. Who should I listen to? And how much more time and attention was this going to require from my busy schedule?

I get, now, how people can "let themselves go" after the wedding day. For me, it wasn't a matter of laziness or selfishness, just an inability to fit in any fitness goals with the competing priorities of my family... a family that can put away an awful lot of spaghetti or pizza but isn't so keen on fruits and vegetables. My waistline has gone up three sizes, and my clothes no longer fit!

So, I said a prayer and made an appointment to see a doctor. I told her my problem, and she gave me the lecture I wanted and needed. Watch your portion size, she said. "Who makes the meals in your house?" she asked. "I do." "If they don't like what you serve, tell them fine: they can cook," she said. "Fill half your plate with vegetables... a single serving or carbs... just eat a tiny amount of meat." Inwardly I knew Hubs would find this insufficient, but I started to imagine ways we could navigate this process without fights, without anyone starving.

Here was the kicker: "Check out my cholesterol," I asked. "It was high before and can only be higher, now." Sure enough, reported the letter she sent. It's outrageous. Diet time. Tree nuts, olive oil, but no more than four ounces of animal protein a day. And if I can't get the cholesterol down in the next six months, prescription meds.

We agreed that tackling portion size might be the most fruitful strategy to start with. I remembered the advice my weight watchers friends had given me, and the "serves 4" or "serves 6" on my recipes and grocery store purchases, the ones that never seem to make enough for my family these days. I measured the big, heavy square plates we have, the ones that look empty if I only serve what I was raised to think of as a normal serving size. Well, no wonder. Our 10x10" plates have an area of 100 square inches (ooooh, tough math!). The 9" round ones left over from my single days come to only 63 square inches. All those square meals may explain some of the calorie creep.

I also recalled that one of the most tried-and-true tools of dieting is writing down everything you eat. That provides a reality check, a bit of accountability, and I thought it would work for me. Surely there's an app for it? Sure enough, Google led me to a free (though ad-bedecked) website - probably one of many - that helps dieters track food, activity, and goals. It asked my height, weight, age, and gender, then matter-of-factly informed me what my target weight should be. I can get there by losing 19 pounds, and make it by the end of February if I limit myself to 1400 calories a day (v. the 2000 the USDA uses as a norm). Moreover, if I tell the website what I eat, it will calculate and keep track of the calories and other details and let me know how I'm doing.

Sunday was day one. A family birthday party put me over the top: 1800. Day two kept me hungry but the website gave me an "A." I'm performance-oriented enough that this may do the trick. I'll let you know how it goes.

See also a previous post on how we talk about health choices: Free to Be You and Me

Friday, September 20, 2013

Women of the China Inland Mission: Elizabeth Wilson

Today someone came across and commented on one of my 2008 posts - one that tells the story of Hudson Taylor's little sister Amelia and her lesser known contributions to the formation of the groundbreaking China Inland Mission.

Amelia prayed for her brother, was his faithful friend and correspondent, and helped raise his children along with her own. By the time she was my age she and her husband had stepped into a crucial role in the young mission's home office. They hosted many mission candidates and missionaries in training as well as those transitioning into home assignments. Even when she was an elderly, crippled widow, Amelia would take tea with the young people who applied, encourage them, and help the candidate committee size them up as potential CIMers. As CIM/OMF popular historian Phyllis Thompson put it, "Without the root under the ground, there would be no tree. Without the Amelias, there would be no Mission.”

Today I came across an essay about another great woman of the CIM, Elizabeth Wilson. Just a few years older than Hudson Taylor, Elizabeth met Taylor at prayer meetings in London when both were young. She became an enthusiastic supporter of his work and the China Inland Mission. Committing her own life to missions at the age of 20, she wanted more than anything to go serve in China herself. But as the only unmarried daughter in her family, she had to stay home and care for her invalid parents. It was decades before she was free to leave.

Did she give up her intention? She did not. Three weeks after her last surviving parent died, Elizabeth  contacted the agency and offered her services as a self-funded missionary. She was 46 (one source I found said 50). Starting so "late," she never gained the fluency in Chinese that some of her colleagues achieved, but she did her best, and she could keep up with the rigors of travel.

At the time they described her as being "well past middle life." But that had its advantages. "As a senior person in a young mission, she had a unique ministry of support and encouragement to the younger workers," says Valerie Griffiths in Not Less Than Everything: The Courageous Women Who Carried the Christian Gospel to China. Her silver hair was an asset; Chinese Christian women hobbled miles on their bound feet to meet the "Elder Sister," convinced that she was old and wise.

Elizabeth was committed to going where the need was greatest and coming alongside overworked coworkers. At one point exhaustion threatened to overtake George and Emily King, far inland and away from any other workers in Shaanxi Province. Elizabeth and a young recruit Emily's age, Annie Faussett, set off on an arduous, thousand-mile, three-month trek to join them. Emily King was newly married and expecting her first child, and she was overwhelmed. The church was growing fast. Many Chinese women crowded into her house to get a glimpse of the first foreign woman most of them had ever seen, and they stayed to listen to what she said. But she could not keep up with the ministry opportunities; she needed help. In come Elizabeth and Annie, accompanied by two Chinese believers. In the next year 18 Chinese women were baptized there.

See also Going Where the Need Was Greatest: The Story of Elizabeth Wilson.  

Monday, September 16, 2013

11 Untranslatable Words from Other Cultures

Thought you might enjoy this, friends.

11 Untranslatable Words From Other Cultures
Explore more infographics like this one on the web's largest information design community - Visually.

Saturday, September 07, 2013

Wrestling with those "I can't stand it" thoughts

A more personal post today. Hubs and I have a painful, ongoing conflict over where we're going to live when he's out of seminary. Where we go initially likely depends on where we can get a paid internship for him, and then a job with a paycheck sufficient to pay off the federal student loans that are paying for his degree. So we may not have an abundance of options. Maybe, though, if we decide where we want to be, we can aggressively pursue connections in that area as the job search season approaches. If the doors open up, what he really wants is to move to Hawaii (or some other tropical island).

Usually when he brings this up, a storm starts to rise within me. I hate to deny him anything he really wants... so externally I may try to just go with it. I try not to camp out on the subject, but just let it float by. Especially in front of other people. Because after all, who wouldn't want to go to Hawaii?

Me, that's who. And my emotional reaction is so strong and frightening it's probably important to figure out what the thoughts behind it are and if they are sound, or helpful. It's clear they are not helpful, since they create such a storm within me and between Hubs and me.

I think it's what my professor this summer (see "How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts") called "I can't stand it" thoughts. Or to put it another way (and this doesn't sound very flattering...) "low frustration tolerance." The way those thoughts work is that you freak out when something starts to develop or threaten to develop which is more than you can handle: if that happens, you believe or fear it will destroy you. You "can't stand it." This kind of thinking actually increases your level of fear and pain, because it adds to any list of pros and cons the major con that whatever it is might kill you. And chances are that is not true.

I know why I think moving to Hawaii might kill me. Well, not kill me, but bring on a nervous breakdown, which is maybe my biggest, deepest fear. Having a nervous breakdown, that's what I think might kill me. May have some level of PTSD from how freaked out I was about having suicidal thoughts when I lived in Central Asia more than a decade ago. Result, I think going overseas (to live, not visit) would cause me to explode into a hundred little pieces. True? Probably not. And Hawaii, while literally "overseas," hardly holds the challenges of living in another country!

My concern is not about Hawaii; I could take it or leave it. I like the green parts. I like being near the water. I don't like the wind whipping around my hair and getting dust in my contacts and not having seasons. But all in, all, it's as nice as anyplace else, and better than many other places.

The problem is leaving the continental US. I'm concerned about an increase in social isolation if we move further away from all our family, colleagues, friends, and supporters. The logic breaks down when I confess I hardly ever see any of these people anyway. My responsibilities - two jobs, grad school, house & family - seem too heavy for me to justify getting out of the house on a regular basis. I work from home and find a surprising and persistent lack of alternatives in our current circumstances. But sometimes I get to travel. If we moved further, I wouldn't be able to travel much at all, and I really like the things I get to do when I travel - conferences and events, face-to-face meetings, teaching and taking classes, etc. In fact, I'd probably have to quit my job and find another.

Apparently, the problem is not Hawaii... It's how I'm living when I'm in Eugene: isolated and frustrated. And aaaargh... I can't stand it!

Of course all this is pretty tough on Hubs, because he wants to be the good guy who would never force the woman he loves to do anything she didn't want to do. He also wants me to get out of the house and spend time with other people. I don't know which one of us is more surprised that I haven't been able to do that. But the more emotionally whacked out I become, the more my native shyness and flat-out fear of interacting with other people increases, and picking up the phone seems impossible. Is this how agoraphobia begins?

Sigh. May be time to bring in the big guns. Professional counseling. Hate it. Can't afford it. But the alternatives are probably worse and more costly. Meanwhile, there are some smaller steps I can take, so that's what I'm going to do. Took one step today. What step can I take tomorrow?

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Disputes about the word "so"

So, some people really don't like to read or hear sentences that begin, unaccountably, with the word "so." To me it suggests a continuing conversation. To the purist, it's a conjunction, and should no more lead off your sentence than a "but," "and," or "though." Now you know!

An odd assignment in a biblical hermeneutics class I'm taking as part of my seminary studies had me exploring uses of the little word in various contexts in the book of John. What does John mean when he says so?

There are some variations in meaning for this word. The Greek version of it shows up in John 3:8, 14; 4:6; 5:21, 26; 7:46; 8:59; 11:48; 12:50; 14:31; 15:4; 18:22; and 21:1,  and in most these passages it means (and may be translated into English as) "this is how" or "in this way." Not "to this degre." So, more "thus," less "very." John's using the word as a conjunction, not a modifier.

The reason for this assignment? Turns out that when "so" sneaks into the uber-famous King James Version of John 3:16, there's good reason to believe it means the same thing there, despite tradition and appearances. Not like this:

"I asked Jesus, 'How much do you love me?'
And Jesus said, 'This much.'
Then He stretched out His arms and died."

Sorry! (Actually, I'm not sorry. Always found that Christian T-shirt sentiment a little creepy.)

Some scholars disagree, but how John uses the word elsewhere suggests that here, too, it refers to the manner and expression of love (this kind of love), not the degree of it (this much love). Small difference? It's enough to use a different translation. English a few centuries ago, in the day of ol' King James, used "so" primarily in the same sense as the book of John ("this happened, so that did"). Today's English, though, tends to use "so" primarily as an adverb indicating degree. ("I am so totally ready for the weekend, what about you?")

That renders the King James version of this verse - and translations that do homage to it - a bit misleading. For 21st century American readers, ol' John 3:16 might be better rendered "this is how God loved the world," not "this is how much God loved the world."

Does that change the meaning much? I think it moves the emphasis from God's warm fuzzy feelings to God's world-shaking actions, from the greatness of his heart to the greatness of his gift. As the saying goes, love is a verb.

For more on this translation issue see So, What? John 3:16 and the Lord's Prayer (God Didn't Say That: Bible Translations and Mistranslations).

Saturday, August 24, 2013

Talking about Church Planting

Someone reminded me the other day that they don't understand some of the things I talk and write about, even though it's good to hear from me. It stung just a little - I wondered how often I'm simply not connecting with people, too enthralled with my own voice to realize I'm not making sense. Happens too much!

On the other hand, the ways I'm trying to grow as a research and  missiologist may not be enough to get me into a crowd of academics and experts. Every now and again I test those waters, show up at a conference or something. Sometimes I find more welcome than I expect. Other times, less. My social anxiety tends to increase the chances that whatever comes out of my mouth will sound awkward and come from a place of fear and uncertainty. It would be better, I know, if I learned to relax and listen and adjust a bit more.

And meanwhile, such pursuits may also cost me the opportunity and ability to be make sense to people who walk around more in the "real world," who are more concrete and relational. Hmmm.

Resources on church-planting

With that said, though, here a couple of things you may find interesting, if you're still reading, and interested for some reason in the missiological questions I've been exploring lately.

Church Planting and the Mission of God (article)

When we talk about church planting it can be a little different than church starting. What's the difference? Well, I think church starting happens a lot of ways. The most popular church starting strategy involves a group of people getting mad, leaving their home church, and starting another church. In most cases I wouldn't advise this strategy.

Church planting, on the other hand, involves an individual, mother church, and/or a group of people going out to start a church for the purpose of engaging a community through gospel proclamation and demonstration.

Church planting, unlike church starting, should/must be mission driven.

Church planting grows in the soil of lostness (hence "planting") where men and women far from God are challenged with the claims of the gospel of Jesus Christ by a group of intentional believers.

Church Planting Movements: Making Disciples and Planting Churches in Hard Place (video)

This video from a webinar explores some of the practices and assumptions that characterize a few common church-planting approaches being attempted in some of the places where there are few followers of Jesus - among the least reached. Production values on the video are a tad low, but the content is significant. Watch it in full-screen mode to view the charts clearly.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A Fresh Look at Exploring the Land

Last month I spent just under two weeks in a major European city which has long been home to a large and growing immigrant population. The Europe-focused ministry that sponsored the trip brought me along to help train some of their staff in the principles and practices of ethnographic field work (as well as beginning such work in that city). Doing ethnographic surveying is one of the first 2-3 steps in their plan to try to launch rapidly reproducing church movements there among the immigrant peoples there and in dozens of other cities in the next five years. The subsequent steps involve a well-developed strategy for prayer, a structured evangelism blitz, and following up all who respond by organizing discovery Bible studies and simple, reproducible churches - ultimately encouraging those who are part of the movement to begin taking it back to their homelands.

One reason I wanted to participate in this project was to help me re-think my assumptions about culture. Specifically, I'm struggling to understand what place cultural differences and cultural learning have in ministries that are operating with pre-determined strategies and tactics. These guys knew exactly what they wanted to see happen and how they were going to go about it. Why would they want to learn about culture?  Were they prepared to change anything on the basis of what they might learn? If not, was the research really necessary? Ethnography - seeking an insider's perspective by learning about a culture from face-to-face interviews with the insiders - is something I haven't been willing or able to let go of, over the years. It's something I love, and who else will wave the flag for it? But maybe I should look for other avenues and give up my ideas that church planters should be interested in this kind of stuff.

I realized, as my questions crystallized, how much my early training in ethnography was focused on developing strategy. Our big questions were 1) who are the people groups (stratification), 2) what are they like (social structure) and 3) how can they be reached? The last question we usually explored through the lens of social dynamics and the studies of receptivity, ministry history, and church growth.

The thing is, as the years have gone by, those three big questions seem to resonate less and less with people I train. The mission community as a whole has found answers to question #1 and has relatively little felt need for people group studies. I would like to see missionaries hold their people-group lists a little more lightly; they don't tend to reflect many of the sociologically significant divisions that really exist on the ground - functional "tribes" - because language and ethnicity don't tell you everything or reveal the ways communities are affected by social dynamics like globalization, government policies, and immigration. At any rate, as the lists of sociolinguistic peoples have improved and gained acceptance, interest in stratification studies of any kind has waned.

Interest in question #3 has also declined. For one reason or another few seem interested in developing strategies highly informed by cultural research. Even the whole area of "contextualization" is often discussed in broad sweeping terms (what words should we use for God when we talk about him with Muslims?) as if it has little to do with on-the-ground contexts, the ways in which one community, city, or region differs from another. And here I thought that was the point of contextualization!

So, more than a decade ago I stopped thinking of our research reports as strategy reports, and focused more on writing them as cultural descriptions. And if I'm honest about it I have to admit that even in our earliest days of ethnography for church planting, few of those who embraced the research used it in any great degree to develop their strategies (though they did use it; see below).

One factor in our lack of influence over vision and strategy was that most of our researchers had little training in ministry models. They did not know how to use language that would show respect to their readers' training and assumption and still make a difference in how missionaries pursue church planting. Since I had learned everything I do more or less on the job, it was hard for me to see beyond the models I'd inherited. I sensed they were limited or broken or waning in relevance, but I didn't know what do do about that. That's one reason I decided to go to grad school, actually.

One thing I noticed was that even those who did not think we had anything to contribute to strategy development often ate up our prayer materials, videos, and cultural descriptions. There's still a niche market for people group profiles, National Geographic style articles, prayer guides, great photography and all that. As long as those things were part of the picture, both those who had very loose ideas about strategy - maybe considering it arrogant to go in thinking they knew what they were doing - and those who had their strategies all figured out in advance - like my colleagues on this trip to Europe - could see the value in doing ethnography. They wanted us to do it, or to do it together with us. Maybe it was time for me to let go of my high-minded ideas about why.

Here's what remains. I think it's more than enough. Even for those who don't see ethnography as a building block for their strategies can experience the following benefits:

1. Doing ethnography and/or reading the results of it still provide anyone involved in a church-planting effort with valuable help in loving and understanding the people they want to reach.

2. Ethnography also uncovers moving and significant stories to share in raising up prayer and more workers.

3. Ethnography can uncover anticipating obstacles and opportunities for ministry efforts - felt needs, hopes and fears, and patterns of relationship.

4. Ethnography can reveal  a better idea what stories and principles are likely to mean the most to people, informing evangelism, discipleship, and teaching efforts.

In my book, that’s plenty. Maybe we were just taking ourselves - and the role our work could play in strategy! too darn seriously. 


Our ethnography training sessions in Europe were all videotaped and the ministry plans to use them in creating a curriculum to train teams in other cities. The video team also got footage for promotional materials they’ll be able to use in raising up prayer teams and evangelism teams. They’ll probably use some of the stories we heard to create a one-week prayer guide for supporters of the prayerwalking teams to use back home.

Maybe it won't all happen. Maybe it won't all work. (I'm not the only one carrying around models that may not be sufficient for their purpose!) I could turn my hands to other things, but I am no longer haunted by a fear that I must, that the model would have to be thrown out all together. I can rest easy that my investment in passing on what I do know about ways to explore another culture was worth it. I got some answers to my questions.

Monday, July 22, 2013

"Many drowning victims go down unheard"

In a recent newsletter, a friend of mine serving in sort of a pastoral role overseas described an "aha!" moment he had when reading about how people people drown:
"While TV and movies typically depict drowning victims thrashing about, yelling for help and waving arms to get the attention of anyone who can help, in reality the opposite is generally true. When someone is drowning, they struggle quietly, with little energy to attract attention as their body and mind instinctively act to reserve energy just to try to keep afloat. In fact, there are many victims of drowning who are within earshot and perhaps even within reach of someone who could help but who isn’t even aware that someone is in trouble. With no energy to hold up that arm to signal that they’re in trouble, many drowning victims go down unheard, unseen, and sadly, unhelped."
(Read an article about this here.)

So basically, when people are most in trouble may be when they are the least able to cry out for the help that they need. See an analogy that goes beyond the beach or pool? Ever seen it in your own life? What are the applications to us for our lives and ministry? There could be people near us who are close to going under but can't get our attention. How might we train ourselves to be better lifeguards, more alert to the subtle signs that someone's in trouble, and prepared to take the initiative to follow through with a response?

Friday, July 19, 2013

Church-planting movements and my questions about culture

A Wind in The House of Islam

Recently I had the opportunity to hear a presentation by David Garrison. It was a small group so I was able to corner him with some of my big questions, ones I struggle with every time another ethnography project comes along.

More than a decade ago Garrison wrote a book called Church Planting Movements. It sent a lot of ripples through frontier mission world. Although he definitely came out with a model (the basis for many of the models frontier mission agencies are using today) he built it on pretty solid phenomenological research. That's a fancy way of saying he's thinking descriptively, not prescriptively. Lots of stories, lots of case studies... then look for the patterns that emerge, after. He basically "reverse engineered" the movements he found and looked for best practices. Plenty of people responded negatively though, and some accused him of developing a formula and saying it would work anywhere. I don't think that's what he meant to do, but it came across that way, especially in the hands of folks looking for a "silver bullet."  

Now Garrison is writing another book about these movements, with similar methodology, and this time focusing on movements to Christ taking place in the Muslim world. According to Garrison, though hundreds of formerly Christian people groups turned to Islam in the first 1300 years after Muhammad, we only find one or two movements in the other direction during that time - a movement of Muslims becoming followers of Jesus. All along there have been individual conversions, but not growing, reproducing movements.

This though, has now changed. From 1980 to 2000 there were eight movements like that around the world. Since 2000 he's been able to document about 70! Continuing research suggests the number of these movements is growing. This is historically unprecedented, and a lot of people in the circles I move in are pretty excited about it.

Garrison defines a movement to Christ as being voluntary (not a matter of coercion) and involving at least 1,000 baptized believers and/or 100 churches within a ten-year period. And for this research, he's been careful to confirm that these churches were made up of people from Muslim backgrounds, not animistic or Christian elements within a Muslim culture or country.

Movements, Models, and Diversity

With my background in cultural research, my ears perked up a bit as he explained that his title, A Wind in the House of Islam, alludes to a global "house" with nine rooms, the nine major affinity blocks - I realized he wasn't talking about cookie-cutter movements that all had to look the same.

"Nine Rooms in the House of Islam"
I think this a healthy step back from what Stone described as "essentialism," (see previous post) which would lead Christians to think Muslims are all alike and that there may be some common strategic key to reaching them.

Garrison says on the book website,
"Though Muslims everywhere share many common bonds... Muslims are by no means a monolithic culture. Muslims vary widely in their culture. From West Africa to Central Asia to Indonesia, Islamic cultural practices are as diverse as the people themselves.”
"For this reason, we have chosen to examine what is happening in the Muslim world with special respect to each of those distinct cultural regions or affinity blocs. These nine regions share mutual history, languages, geography and intertwining ethnicity. By examining movements within each of these distinct cultural zones, we are better able to understand how God is uniquely at work within each one.”
After hearing Garrison's presentation, I introduced myself and told him I was trying to figure out how cultural differences, cultural understanding, and cultural training might fit into the church-planting, disciple-making movement models currently being adopted by more and more mission agencies and Christians working cross-culturally (CPM/DMM). He was aware of some of the ethnographic work I've been part of and did not seem to see a conflict at all.

But he did make this distinction:

The now traditional model for incarnational missions focused heavily on training and sending out foreign missionaries to the least reached places, where they attempted to contextualize their message and their way of life out of love for the people in their host culture and in hopes of being able to say, "follow me as I follow Christ." The end goal, though maybe seldom realized, has been to reach those who will reach others; to work oneself out of a job and gracefully exit as the church or ministry becomes self-sustaining.

The new models place much less emphasis on the role of missionary, but work to empower and encourage highly reproducible local leadership from the get-go. It doesn't work like magic, but if it works at all, the problem of missionary contextualization quickly fades away in favor of indigenization (which I am pretty sure nobody disputes is much more effective; and it's the goal of the incarnational/contextualizers, too).

Cultural training, cultural understanding, are still crucial, Garrison told me. "Keep doing it!!" he urged when I asked flat out. If an outsider is involved in the movement at all, he or she will need that cultural savvy to establish credibility. And probably to navigate the issues that arise, though they may be - perhaps always have been - out of our control. Just because we're not putting so many eggs in the incarnational basket doesn't mean we don't need to appreciate cultural dynamics, he said. They still play a significant part.

This was helpful, but I still don't "get it." I need to ponder these things more, I think. I am not entirely convinced that what I've been taught - and what I've taught - about the importance of culture meshes with the CPM models. I'm trying to figure out what we need to rethink and revise, at least in teaching culture to folks who have fully embraced CPM models and assumptions. And off I go to Germany to teach it one more time with a colleague asking the same questions. Please pray for breakthrough in our thinking on these questions.

Another thing I'm trying to keep in mind is Matthew Stone's warning in Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic against cultural determinism - itself a form of essentialism, it seems. May our research never become dogmatic and directive, assuming that people always do what their culture tells them to.
"Muslims are not products of cultural factories; Arabs are not all the same. Understanding someone's culture is tremendously helpful in understanding that individual, but I shy away from embracing cultural determinism that glosses over differences and can, in its worse form, view individuals as merely an expression of culture."

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Models for Ministry (and their limitations)

Every Christian model for evangelism and discipleship claims to be grounded in scripture and yet often these models contain contradictory recommendations or approaches, points out Matthew Stone in the book Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic: A Non-model Model.

One problem with models is that they tend to leave out personality. God gave you a personality, and he wants you to use it. Maybe the best way to do that is to evaluate the strengths, weaknesses, and effectiveness of the models that exist and the practices and perspectives of others... and sort out what you think will work for you. Or try it and find out. Just trying to work the model without alteration, to force it, may be an exercise in frustration and futility, simply because of who you are.

Similarly, ministry models usually fail to adequately account for the individuality of those you are trying to reach. When your assumptions and generalizations don't accurately describe the person in front of you, your model will not fly. It doesn't respond to who they are. And in spite of the many observable patterns that describe the thoughts, feelings and behavior of members of the human family, few principles apply to all of us all the time.

For example, you've probably experience discomfort at some point attending an event designed to please people like you but based on assumptions that didn't ring true. I've felt the rub, myself, from the belief that teens are supposed to love rock music and playing sports, or that you can touch women's heart by appealing to them as wives and mothers and doing crafts together.

Stone, who has a background in philosophy, cites the distinction between essentialism and nominalism as a key factor in how we approach models for ministry. I found this very helpful. Basically, these two deal with the question of whether we see abstractions and theories as being the "really real," more real than the individual or specific (essentialism - we focus on what we consider the 'essence,' I guess)... or we see abstractions, theories, and labels as being helpful tools for communicating, and possibly quite applicable, but not as fully "real" as what's individual and specific, such as the person in front of us (that's nominalism).

Where you are on the spectrum between the two will have a great affect one how you understand and approach Muslims, says Stone:
"If you tend to see Islam as the primary reality and groups of Muslims as somehow participating in that larger reality... you might be predisposed to expend your energy trying to get at the essence of Islam and its message, trying to understand 'the Muslim mind' or 'Arabs,' etc. If you see particular expressions of religious beliefs and practices of Muslims as primary and view Islam as merely a word that is helpful to communicate with others... you might then try to study specific beliefs of particular Muslims, the diversity of expressions of Muslims as they live and believe, the multiple interpretations of the Qur'an and Sunnah (the example of Muhammad as captured in the hadith), etc." 
"When we think that Islam is the really real, we tend to lump Muslims together and blur diversity."
Models are helpful, but they are like maps, drawing a picture of reality by simplifying it.
"Models of mission are helpful when viewed in a big brush stroke kind of way, but they are not helpful to the degree that they get in the way, when they have us focus too much on the model and our loyalty to it and too little on the uniqueness of the [person] in front of us."
In the circles I move in, it seems pretty easy for people to get a little carried away about their strategies and techniques, so I found Stone's explanation of his reservations about models very helpful. Do you?

Tomorrow: Movements, models, and cultural diversity

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts

One of the objectives of the class I'm taking this summer is to develop a personal awareness of the ways one is most likely to sabotage relationships. Well, specifically, cross-cultural relationships with people who happen to be Muslims. Seems a lot of us get a little touchy when others - Muslims, or anyone - look at the world very differently than we do, open their mouths and talk about what they think and feel, and reject or even criticize things about how we think and feel. We think we're being attacked. We may have the same reactions in marriage, or getting along with our coworkers, or being riled up about things on the evening news or passed around on Facebook.

One of our books includes a chapter called "How Not to Sabotage Your Efforts to Reach Muslims." As the author points out, Christian books about reaching Muslims tend to externalize the tension we feel, as if Muslims are the problem, and if they just wouldn't be so Muslim we wouldn't be so upset about things. But if Muslims are just being themselves, do we have to get ourselves upset about it?

It shouldn't surprise us that people sabotage their efforts to reach Muslims the same way they - or should I say we - sabotage all kinds of efforts and relationships. If we are upset, likely our communication and behavior is going to be effected. And underneath that agitation are unhelpful thought patterns like these:
  • Demandingness: absolute shoulds, oughts, musts, “have to’s”, and needs (I need to be perfect, people have to listen to me, they shouldn't reject me if I tell the truth, etc.) 
  • Awfulizing: believing that something is terrible, horrible, or awful (maybe dwelling on and inflating something negative and being unable to accept or let go of it).
  • Low frustration tolerance: believing that you can’t stand something, that it is too much, or intolerable. (thus increasing your own sense of psychic pain - you think it's more than you can take and will make you explode or crumble or something).
  • Self-downing: believing that the self is no good, beyond hope or redemption.
  • Other-downing: believing that someone else or a group of others is no good, beyond hope or redemption.
  • Overgeneralization: believing about a situation, person, or group that it will always be a particular way or will never change.
Source: Reaching Muslims with Love and Logic, by Matthew Stone.

I don't know about you, but I recognize those thoughts as pretty familiar ones. And they sabotage me in life, generally, and especially in relationships.

When our emotions are those of anger, frustration, anxiety, depression, and fear - rooted in such thought patterns - we then engage in unhelpful behaviors like defensiveness, blame, aggression, avoidance, rudeness, and dwelling on the negative. Those kind of emotions and behaviors may be normal and seem justified, but they don't help build relationships, do they? So we need to find a way to deal with those emotions and behaviors - and the thoughts that lie beneath them - if our goal is to build effective relationships or have a "ministry."

I found it helpful to hear my professor, who is a practicing psychologist, talk about "upsetting ourselves" instead of "being upset." That kind of language helps me take responsibility for my own emotions and emotional reactions - I have to acknowledge that nobody is forcing me to be upset, to worry, to be stressed out. Those things are not mandatory.

One problem, he said, is that we don't have an effective theory of emotions. Most people believe that circumstances, people, or the way we are raised are the causes of our emotions, despite the fact that research and other sources of authority (e.g., the Bible) do not support this theory. So our instructor offered us what he called the "ABC model of emotions." This is easy. I think I remember it. And, in digging a little deeper, I see it comes from cognitive behavioral therapy.

A = Activating event, or trigger. The situation or experience (past, current, or anticipated).
B = Beliefs about that event. Thoughts we have when the situation or experience happens.
C = Consequences. Our responses, both emotions and behavior.

Most people believe A causes C. (e.g., that situation frustrates me; that person makes me mad, etc). But A triggers B, and B causes C. Our emotions and behaviors are largely caused by our thoughts and beliefs about the way things are supposed to be. And that is good news, because we can't change other people and often cannot change our situation. While changing our thinking is difficult, it can be done if we're honest with ourselves about what we think, willing to work at thinking differently, and ask for God's help in doing so.

So, how can we avoid sabotaging our relationships and other efforts? Stop and consider what things are getting us upset - or, more precisely, what things we are upsetting ourselves about. What are our unhelpful responses when we are upset? What are we thinking? Is what we are thinking true? Is there another way to think about it or something else we can focus on that might be more productive?

Note: I've queued up several more posts on significant ideas from my latest grad school class - come back tomorrow for the next one. 

Thursday, June 20, 2013

Some thoughts about divorce

I've been thinking about the uneven treatment given to single moms and single dads. I wonder how much our culture's growing respect and support for single moms as victim/heroes increases the tendency of frustrated women to desert their husbands and leave their marriages. Because, for whatever reason or reasons, almost all divorce proceedings in America are initiated by women. Offering support to divorced or divorcing women is better than stigmatizing them, to be sure, but there must be a way to be supportive of women and of marriage, too?

In relatively few cases does it seem appropriate to ask why someone isn't married anymore. Is it anybody else's business, after all? Usually the answer is no. But that doesn't mean people don't make assumptions. And more often than not, I think the assumption about a single mom is that she was in a bad marriage or relationship and he left her. Or even if she did the leaving, things were so bad it's a good thing she got out... she'd taken as much as she could from him, she gave it her best go while he was blind to her needs. That's the story I hear a lot of women tell. So we all need to gather round her and the kids and help them out. So she's the victim, or she's the hero, or both. That storyline rings true for some single moms, to be sure. Maybe a lot of them. Many of them lose tremendously in a divorce and never make up the ground.

But what this cost us, as a society? I keep coming across women who left their marriages without much justification and are being honored by others for their decision to stand up for themselves and go the single-mom route. And I think that's a problem because of the effect that it has on their husbands, kids, the grandparents who end up pick up the pieces and paying the bills, and the other women who watch and get misleading ideas about what marriage is supposed to be and what smart choices look like. Because while being married is a struggle, divorce has a viciously high price tag of its own, and many a bad marriage can turn into a good one with the passing of years.

It used to bug me when I'd hear about all these church outreaches to single moms. As a single woman who never had children I was a little jealous of how much people would bend over to help single moms. After all, I was all alone, didn't make that much money either, and I could use help with car repairs and yard work, too! Why the breaks for women who got pregnant? Now that I've had a taste of parenting I think I understand a little better.

In marrying a single dad, I've seen how the narrative about single moms affects the single dads. After his wife deserted their marriage, C. discovered how much people in the community – and, especially, the church – respond to divorced men with subtle suspicion. People treated him differently. As if he must love the kids less, have abused or betrayed his wife, been the one who abandoned them, and who perhaps continues to neglect as much as ever or more. The way people treat a single dad suggests a belief if a man is divorced, it must be because he blew it. Is that what they think?

Divorced or divorcing women don't get that same message. They are treated given the benefit of the doubt, supported, rallied around. With some girl-power thinking thrown in for extra measure. Not that I want them demonized, but what about defending husbands and fathers, or at least dropping this prejudice and discrimination against them? Many a single dad may be struggling to get by, deeply committed to his kids and making sacrifices to serve them, and just as frustrated by the shuttling back and forth, shared holidays, and tensions over differing values between two households.

I was quite mindful of those stereotypes myself. I asked a lot of questions before I was willing to get serious about C. I didn't say yes to him until I was satisfied. Some of the people who didn't get to hear the answers for themselves remained a little worried and afraid on my behalf.

All this suggests to me that many people don't believe in no-fault divorce as much as they may claim. They suspect he betrayed her or drove her to leave him, that he is more to blame. Why is that? Is there any way we can say whether one party is more to blame than the other? If not, why this prejudice? If so, is it "true" in any objective or measurable sense that men are worse at marriage and parenting, or more to blame for divorce, than women are?

Friday, June 14, 2013

After the MVA (motor vehicle accident)

Consider, for a moment, this nightmare scenario. You've been in a car accident. You're alive, but your car is mangled. You're pretty sure your body is too. Your leg is pinned under the dash, and you cannot move.

Someone calls 911 and the police and fire department arrive. But what then?

Rather than remove you from the car, I've learned, the fire department gets out their oversized can-openers and removes the car from you. They cut out the windows, slice up the roof, roll the front of the car forward, take off the doors -- whatever's needed to safely get you on a backboard and out of the vehicle.

Hubs and the guys he works with at our local fire district used last night's drill to practice their car dismantling and patient extrication skills. (I have to remind myself to call it "extrication" and not "extraction." The latter would save a syllable, but turn it into a job for a dentist or oral surgeon). The training officer had picked up some junkyard cars for this purpose. How many instructors have such an interesting shopping list? A month or two ago they burned several such cars to a crisp while practicing how to respond to a car fire.

Here's what one car looked like after they were done with the extrication drill. If it wasn't totalled before, it is now.


Friday, June 07, 2013

Today's dilemma

Life will tell you that what you think doesn't matter.
What I love about my job is that it's all about thinking. And it matters.
The problem with a job that's 90% thinking? Thinking well requires sleeping well.
Sleep is a tight commodity around here. My husband's schedule varies wildly without notice; he's getting very frustrated with that. Our son has had to be woken at 5:00 and driven to morning workout, though today's the last day of that for a while.
Meanwhile, I can't think straight.
Tomorrow, I'm sleeping in.
Next week, more sleeping. That's all I'm capable of thinking right now.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

What do we mean when we talk about being happy?

Hubs and I ocassionally hit relational white water when we're talking about the future. Some of it has to do with different views on the pursuit of "security." I may naturally place a higher value on that elusive commodity than he does. Leaving my old life behind (and becoming a new mom of sorts!) has increased that greatly. Getting older, too. In my twenties, I didn't have a problem moving away from parents and striking off on adventures; now I just want to settle down and make sure everyone's OK.

Yet I've just married a guy who is counting the days until we can head for the open road. I'm confident we'll be able to chart a reasonable, mutually respectful and satisifying course in time. But am grateful we still have a couple of years to figure it out.

A recent article in The Atlantic Magazine on How Happiness Changes with Age may be relevant:
"Social psychologists describe this change as a consequence of a gradual shifting from promotion motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of what we can gain, or how we can end up better off, to prevention motivation -- seeing our goals in terms of avoiding loss and keeping things running smoothly. Everyone, of course, has both motivations. But the relative amounts of each differ from person to person, and can shift with experience as we age."
"In a recent set of studies, psychologists Cassie Mogliner, Sepandar Kamvar, and Jennifer Aaker looked for evidence of how our sense of happiness changes with age by analyzing twelve million personal blogs. Specifically, they were interested in seeing what kinds of emotions the bloggers mentioned when they talked about feeling 'happy.'

"They found that younger bloggers described experiences of happiness as being times when they felt excited, ecstatic, or elated -- they way you feel when you are anticipating the joys the future will bring - like finding love, getting ahead at work, or moving to a new town.

"Older bloggers were more inclined to describe happy experiences as moments of feeling peaceful, relaxed, calm, or relieved - they way you feel when you are getting along with your spouse, staying healthy, and able to make your mortgage payments. This kind of happiness is less about what lies ahead, and more about being content in your current circumstances."
My husband jokes that when he turned 40 he started counting backwards. That makes him the younger of the two of us, now! Maybe in this sense he is.

The Atlantic also mentions differing motivation structures for what we want from our jobs.
  • Those with more "promotion motivation," often younger, are looking for jobs where they can develop their skills. They will choose work environments that will help them grow and offer increasing responsibility. 
  • Those with more "prevention motivation," often older, are more concerned about job security and flexible work schedules.
It's pretty easy for me to see the shift in my own life. Just this weekend I was explaining to Hubs that I'd joined C.P., my previous ministry, and moved to Colorado, not because it was the only kind of ministry I'd want to be part of, but because it was an ideal place to find the kind of development and advancement opportunities I was seeking. I loved being in the middle of things, working at the hub of the wheel. The other ministries I was looking couldn't really provide that. And now? I miss it, but don't need it as much. So when I was looking for a new place on the ministry org chart, what I wanted was a team that was healthy and mature and would give me a fairly long leash. My criteria had changed.

C. is in a different place entirely. He's trying to start a new career. So he looks at it much the way I did when I was in my twenties. In the context of marriage, I think both of us may be tempted to look down on the other because we're in a different place on these things. Even as I hope he won't think of me as an old lady, I need to commit to not treating him as if there's something childish about his perspective and values.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Becoming an expert learner... by leveraging ignorance

Getting ready for another ethnography project - a week-long training session with a group of folks preparing to launch a new life and work in a European city. Heading over there at the end of July. The friend and colleague I'm working with came up with a clever acronym we may use to organize the training... and maybe his rewrite of a 1995 manual, Exploring the Land.

DELVE: A model to learn about the peoples of your city

D: Discover (background work)
E: Explore (go out and make observations)
L: Learn (get into conversations, ask questions, delve into deeper issues)
V: Verify (pool what you get, study it, and confirm it with others)
E: Express (share what you found with stakeholders and supporters)

Like it?

As we launch the first part of D: Discover, I'm a little impatient. I'm sure there's a lot of info out there and want to make sure we learn all we can before we dive into field work. And I'm a little insecure: I've never been to the new host city, except for hanging out in the airport in transit to Africa or Asia, and I know very little about it. On the other hand, I've done this kind of work in a lot of places and am at least as comfortable in the role of a learner as in the role of an expert. Guess I've been doing this long enough that I'm becoming an expert learner.

Maybe that's why, in building bridges with people, I find myself alternating between volunteering information to show I'm savvy, and asking big, open-ended questions as if the other person knows everything and I know nothing.

All things considered, I think leveraging my ignorance works better than leveraging my knowledge. Probably because there's much more of it!

Monday, May 20, 2013

School Days, Status Report

Just finished my eighth seminary class - out of 20 - for an M.A. in Intercultural Studies. Looks like I still have that 4.0, too. That may be a sign I'm putting too much into these classes. They have been rather easy, I admit. And my professional skills and experience serve me quite well in such a context. But it's still a time commitment. The school recommends planning to put in 10 hours a week per class, and that's about what it takes.

With two more classes this year, I'm on track to reach the half-way point in December ... after working on it for three years. At this rate, the degree will take a total of six years. The prospect of not finishing until December 2016 is a bit discouraging, I admit. I did my Bachelor's in four, didn't I? On the other hand, it's clear to me I'm getting more out of these classes than someone would if they stayed on campus and did the whole Master's in two years. It's also less strain on me, my family, and our bank accounts for me to do this program one class at a time. Of the four of us, I'm the one whose degree is the least "necessary," so I feel the need to scrutinize the situation each term to see if it seems wise to take another class. I'm grateful that so far the answer is yes.

If all four of us finish our programs and graduate in a few years, there's going to be a lot to celebrate!

Hubs: M.Div (chaplaincy)
Expected graduation date: May 2015

#1 Son: High school diploma
Expected graduation date: June 2015

#1 Daughter: Bachelor's degree (psychology?)
Expected graduation date: May 2016

Marti: M.A. (intercultural studies)
Expected graduation date: December 2016

Thursday, May 16, 2013

What shocks us in culture shock? The situations we encounter, or our own reactions to them?

"Westerners in developing countries learn many things about themselves they might never have discovered had they remained at home. The smoothly functioning wheels of Western civilization protect us from many of the grating encounters that are so common abroad and that so acutely test our character and spiritual resources.

"…So much has been written about “culture shock” and the need to adapt to foreign customs, food, concepts of hygiene, and viewpoints generally that few missionaries get to the field without a thorough indoctrination to the culture of the country to which they are going.

"They have learned, in theory at least, that the key to a successful ministry will lie in their ability to assimilate that culture and to free themselves from the attitudes and prejudices of their own. They have been warned about the inevitable feelings of superiority, paternalism, disdain, impatience, and frustration that they are sure to experience and to which they may have previously considered themselves immune. Finally, they have been told that the course of their entire missionary career will ultimately depend on one thing: their day-by-day, step-by-step walk with God.

"Such preparation is necessary and helpful. In spite of it, I suspect that most missionaries during their first few years feel as we did – that they have really botched things up. Intensifying this feeling are friends back home who insist on setting them on a pedestal and making long excuses for their mistakes.

"…It’s not the situations we encounter in this place that are so unexpected, it’s our reaction to them."

Thomas Hale, in Don't Let The Goats Eat the Loquat Trees

See also a 2009 post: Culture Shock? We Don't Have It!

Friday, May 10, 2013

Adjusting to a New Normal - Family Life

Mother's Day approacheth. The first one I've encountered since taking on a maternal role, even a hyphenated one. As a new step-mother to teens, I'm a backup assistant parent at best. But I work at home and my husband has a busy and unpredictable schedule, one that seldom allows him to keep any consistent family commitments. So I'm also a default housewife. That's added plenty of chauffeuring and planning and shopping and cooking and cleaning to my life, especially during the weeks D. is with us. Yes, I know, I have it much easier than most "real" moms. And I'm still able to get my work done and keep up with my grad school classes.

This combination, though, leaves little or no margin for any interests of my own. I've virtually stopped reading and writing for pleasure (both lifelong habits), and I seem to have given up maintaining my friendships or developing new ones as well, a significant loss. My husband is just as surprised as I am to see those things go, and worried. He didn't want to see our marriage cost me like this, and he wonders how much my wounds are self-inflicted. I'm not sure, myself. It's good to stop and remember that even though the wife, stepmother, and housekeeper roles are the newest ones I've taken on, I made the decision myself not to quit my job or drop out of school (and not to sacrifice family life to make ongoing spiritual or relational commitments at this time, as much as I mess them). If my plate is too full, I can take responsibility for that and not treat it as something that was done =to= me.

It's also been a relief just to let go of what expectations I can and accept the new normal. While it lasts. There will be another new normal after D. leaves for college, after C. finishes seminary, and we'll probably be moving away in a few years. While this is a challenging season, it's also a gift. We haven't lost any parents yet. We still have the kids around. In years to come that is going to change.

The depth of my cross-cultural know-how and experience has been very helpful. I know what it is to lay down my identity, to become, at best 75% of who I thought I was, and maybe much less to start with. But to discover, with surprise, ways to become a new person who may even fit into the new culture at nearly that 75% level - in time, a 150%, bi-cultural person. Joining a family seems much like moving to a new country.

There is something to be said for starting marriage before tackling parenting. I can see the wisdom in waiting a while. Yet marrying into motherhood, and with kids not yet full-grown, also has its benefits, and it's good to stop and reflect on them. For example it's much easier for me to enjoy and relate to D. as a real person than as an extension of myself, as so many parents do. Things are simpler, cleaner, than if he were my biological child. We're "family," but I can be a friend in a way that his parents cannot, not yet... even if the complex, intimate connection he has with them is not something I can experience.

A sincere affection for D. has grown up within me. I desire to do anything I can for him, to enjoy and protect and provide for him, to cheer him on. I don't feel anxious or need to pressure him to turn into a certain kind of person. I want him to be who he is, to become who he needs to become. I actually find it easier to give him my loyalty and expect the best from him than I do with his father, my husband -- whom I can't seem to avoid treating as "an extension of myself," a man whose values, preferences, and choices feel like a threat when they clash with my own.

So how are we celebrating mother's day weekend? By sending D. back to his mom for the next couple weeks. It's appropriate that he be there for mother's day, and it will be nice to have a breather, after. This two-week period included the adjustment to D's recent decision to stop eating meat. It's been hard enough budgeting, shopping, and cooking for our conflicting needs and preferences without this additional restriction, and I did not take the change very well. I think I'm OK with it now. When D. returns, we'll have a few weeks of getting up at 5am to get him to water polo practice (after which, thankfully, he'll be on summer schedule, which runs a bit later. Practice will be on the other side of town then, but he plans to bike it when he can).

It's a relief to be traveling on my birthday (coming up on four years in a row). In the same way, it's a relief not to have the kids around on mother's day. Dispels ambiguity. I don't need to think about the day being about me in any way. I can look forward to a good chat with my mom, probably touch base with my stepmom as well - I have a new appreciation! - and enjoy a day with my mother-in-law.

Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Gender-neutral language

Maybe you heard about the legislation signed by the governor of Washington State requiring the revision of all existing laws to use gender-neutral language. Apparently the process has been going on for some time, and 3000 laws have been revised... going back to 1854. Florida and Minnesota have already completely revised their laws in this way. About half of all US states have made some move of this type.

Among the terms previously revised were fireman, policeman, clergyman, and ombudsman. The banned words catching the headlines now include fisherman, freshman, journeyman, signalman, and penmanship. A dispensation was granted for a few rank-and-role-related terms the military uses, and the term "manhole" is also permitted because no reasonable replacement could be found.

Some of the suggested terms are graceful, others, less so: fisherman becomes fisher, freshmen are first-year students (or first-year legislators?), journeymen are journey-level workers, signalmen are signal operators, and penmanship becomes handwriting (for those rare occasions one writes by hand, I guess). Just as chairmen are now chairs, ombudsman are now ombuds (moves that still sound odd to my ear).

I'm not opposed to language evolution, including an intentional move to use more inclusive terms. As a writer, editor, and student, I'm accustomed to looking for wording that is more accurate or respectful, even if it takes more space or takes some extra effort to avoid clunkiness. (It can be done!) I wonder what the price tag will be, though. Do we care enough about the benefits of these changes to make them, er, mandates? Today it's rewriting laws, reportedly a six-year task for Washington's 40-person code commission. Is that as far as it goes, or will we accept legislation that requires such changes be made across the board?  

Perhaps changes will be allowed to unfold more naturally and voluntarily (if indeed they do catch on) in other public contexts -- lest our public schools, say, divert too much scarce money and manpower (oops!) to retraining staff, rewriting software, and revising and reprinting any documents that refer to their high school or college freshmen. And what about the business sector? Will Fisherman's Friend and Fisherman's Wharf be working on name changes? Maybe they already are.

Recent news reports -- the conservative ones with some snarkiness -- note one industry that has recognized what some consider a potentially offensive term, and they areworking to replace it:
The residential real estate industry is even jumping on the PC bandwagon: the term “master bedroom” is being phased out, according to the Baltimore Business Journal. In its place, builders are beginning to use the term “owner’s suite” or “owner’s bedroom” to describe the largest bedroom in a home. A survey found that six out of 10 major Washington, D.C.-area home builders are making the change on their floor plans. The reason? “Master” is seen by some as offensive on two fronts: gender, where it apparently sounds masculine, and, race, where it supposedly conjures images of a slave-master. Not to be picky, but I’d think that those who find “master” to be racist would find “owner” offensive as well.
What do you think? How do you look at this issue, or this legislation?

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Surrender in three simple steps

In Alcoholics Anonymous, they describe surrender in three steps, writes my friend Deb K. in her blogpost, Raise the White Flag!

1. I can't do it.
2. God can.
3. I will let Him.

"I've walked this road before with my husband, Randy, as he struggled to find freedom from his addiction to alcohol. And as I struggled to let go, to finally admit there wasn't anything I could do to fix or change him," she says. 

"It's funny how we think we have the power to help someone else choose life over an addiction or other destructive behaviors. Fear got in the way of my ability to surrender my husband. I believed I had the power to decide for him. I thought if I let go of Randy, he would die. That's a scary place to put ourselves in - and rather presumptuous. Do I really think I have that kind of power?"

Readers, have you ever come face to face with the power of surrender? Have you seen it set you free?

See also my posts on "The gospel of not good enough."

The prequel: Asking for Direction(s)
Part 1: Waving the White Flag of Surrender
Part 2: Best Week of Your Life
Part 3: Pretty, Popular, Good

Monday, April 15, 2013

Perspectives on my Perspectives semester

I started teaching Perspectives classes in the mid or late 1990s, and have been an instructor at 6-12 classes a year ever since. Once I got my groove on (teaching the history of Christian missions) I only had to make relatively minor adjustments from one class to another. Usually if I changed something up it was more because I was getting bored with the old stuff and discovered something new that I liked better than that what I'd been teaching wasn't working.

Most years, teaching opportunities came in twos and threes. I'd teach in one church on a Sunday afternoon, another that Monday night, and maybe a third on Tuesday. With many classes within a couple hours' drive of my house, I could pull off all my responsibilities for a semester - preparation, travel, and teaching - with an investment of maybe 50-60 hours per six classes.

When I moved to Oregon, though, I told my previous contacts that I didn't want to teach outside the West. I hoped I'd still be invited to Colorado (and get a free trip to visit friends there out of it!) But they have an abundance of qualified teachers in that area, so nobody has contacted me about coming back. Opportunities in the Northwest have been fewer because they don't know me here. I've traveled long distances for each of the six classes this term. I've also been invited to teach different topics each time, so I've had to prepare a new material, and put in 150-200 hours of my work time instead of 50. That's meant I've worked very long hours these last six weeks. I've had less time to put into other projects, including some I'm pretty sure would mean more to my supervisor.

A couple of people have asked me, lately, why did I make trying to get into these classes such a priority? What makes it worth it to me to do this kind of thing? I wasn't sure how to answer.

I have to acknowledge there's some performance motive. I've got a lot of stuff in my head I want to share with other people. It was great to be able to pass along some ideas and questions that have piqued my interest in the last year, and that helped me grow and refine my thinking. And now I have half a dozen interesting and effective lesson plans that are up-to-date and ready to use for the future. Normal life provides few opportunities to take on concrete challenges, perform in some way, and get meaningful constructive feedback. So maybe teaching classes is like my mom making something to show at the county fair, my sister entering an adjudicated art show, or my stepson signing up for an optional swim meet. I don't need the blue ribbon, but just being accepted and making a good show helps me improve my own "performance."

There are some other things I get out of this, for myself. I made about $1500 in honorarium payments and book sales. Not much if you're thinking of the hourly rate, but this goes toward my salary and helps bolster the ol' ministry account. I signed up a bunch of new people for our online magazine. The all-expenses paid trips to Alaska and Michigan were certainly a treat, and so was the opportunity to make some meaningful connections with mission leaders and other like-minded people across the state of Oregon. I certainly made some new friends for myself and possibly for Pioneers, an organization many of them had never heard about before.

Other motives are more external. I like to do my part in keeping the fine institution of Perspectives rolling along. I believe in what they're trying to do. The coordinators of the six classes were helped in accomplishing the goals of their programs, and they were glad to have my help. A number of the participants told me how much they felt encouraged or informed by something from my teaching or example. Somehow just having a woman show up and talk about missions makes a huge difference to people. Most of the instructors are still old white guys. Many of them do a fabulous job, but sometimes people need to see someone different in that position, someone who doesn't fit the profile, in order to say, hey, maybe what they are talking about is for me, too.

It's good to get enough feedback to know that my contribution is making a difference. But I have to resist any tendency to try to be a superstar in this rather small mission-speaker world. The temptation is there. When I asked questions about the speakers before me, I felt a stab of jealousy at hearing students and leaders praise the most popular speakers on this circuit, all men who impress classes with their flashy performances. It's probably a good thing that I don't do this kind of thing full-time. By this time of year my job there is done. I organized and packed everything away and will likely not need it again until 2014.

It's better for my soul to put in more hours behind the scenes than on the stage. It's also more consistent with what I'm trying to teach and model - being a servant and willing to be forgotten, not an impressive hero about whom others say, "I could never do that."

The last class I taught was the one on incarnational ministry ("building bridges of love"). I tried to emphasize approaches that major on listening to learning from people in your host community and affirming and empowering them. I shared this story and asked them to wrestle with it. I closed with this quote and the story of this man.

I think it all worked pretty well this year. To God be the glory. Here's some of the student feedback.
"I really enjoyed your lecture. I thought your personal experience in the field was very on point for this lesson. I enjoyed the open discussion in class. I thought it was great that you allowed us to process through some of the material as a group." 
"I really appreciated the way Marti's presentation facilitated open conversation and dialogue among us students. This class was by far the most open and comfortable session we have had so far as a group, and it felt REALLY good. Thank you Marti for being so personable, approachable and letting the Spirit lead."

"She was one of the best teachers yet! She knew how to engage and make us think."

Monday, March 25, 2013

Feng Shui and Instructional Design

"The way the room is set up effects how people learn," says Beth Kanter, who makes much of her living doing training for nonprofits. "I strongly believe that a workshop, panel, master class, or even a keynote that is interactive is more engaging, people pay attention, they make connections to what they already know and are far more likely to apply it. Certain room set ups encourage interaction between the participants and the workshop leader, others do not."

When I teach, I usually don't have much say in how my room is set up, and sometimes don't know until I arrive. If it's a workshop conference, it's usually theater style or sometimes classroom. When it's a Perspectives class, they nearly always go with "banquet."

If asked what I prefer, my request usually depends on the size of the group. Theater-style doesn't lend itself to interaction, and I don't like banquet-style for a small group - it pushes people away from me and each other, and they end up by sitting in twos and threes at tables too large for them. When we fewer than 20 people I ask for something more like "boardroom" or "U-shape."

A bad experience in January reminded me how difficult it can be to provide anything like instruction when you're giving a presentation or teaching a workshop - one a bazillion - at a large conference. And part of that has to do with these issues of room setup and group size. What will the room be like? How many people will come, and who? You don't know until it's too late; you have to think on your feet and adjust.

Beth doesn't mention group size, just describes her ideal room set up for effective instruction as "round tables in a room with space to move around, projection, the ability to move the group outside for some of the sessions, and wall space to showcase the products of learning." And if she doesn't get it, she "hacks" the space to accomplish what she intends.

This year I made strides in moving away from the lecture format (often expected in environments where I teach) and toward greater participant engagement. I think I still have a way to go. I still do more of the talking than anyone else.

And the wall space requirement? Haven't even begun to go that direction. In reading Beth's post, I realized I'm still balking at including exercises that require learners to write things out in magic marker and put them up on the wall. It's partly due to fears of letting go of control and running out of time. But it's also because those giant sticky note pads that you can just tear off and stick on the wall seem too expensive, and I don't have a good way to carry them in my luggage.

Well, looks like Amazon will sell you a two-pack for US$40. That isn't so bad. Or how about this simple solution:

1. Ordinary butcher paper or easel pad paper (which I can just ask my hosts to provide, or pack in a cardboard tube), and
2. Masking tape. Or duct tape to be a little more playful.

Maybe next time!

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Motivating volunteers with meaningful work.

These days Hubs' fire district is talking about what to do about the low turn-out rate. Many of the volunteers are not making the minimum standards in terms of showing up for calls. Too often, the dispatcher makes a "second tap out," paging everyone again when the trucks don't leave the station within five minutes of the first call. Previous leadership was a bit more hard-nosed about that kind of thing, willing to put pressure on and, if necessary, dismiss those who did not measure up -- and somehow also able to inspire a level of loyalty and comradeship that have since declined. But it's hard to dismiss people when you don't have enough to start with.

I shouldn't go into more than that ... but it got Hubs and I talking about how to motivate volunteers. And doing research on it, too. More than 70 percent of all firefighters serve as volunteers. When your workforce is made up of volunteers, it does change dynamics a bit. Your hands are somewhat tied. Both in terms of sticks and of carrots. One of the sources we found mentioned gimmicks like free pizza and prizes offered at training sessions and business meetings, as well as organizing social events, making the firehouse a pleasant place to hang out, and giving public recognition to members for various accomplishments.

Another source recommended tapping more into the intrinsic motivations that bring in volunteers in the first place. Why do people become volunteer firefighters anyway? Most of them want to make a difference for their community. The calls that make it "all worth it" to them are the ones that involve putting out fires and rescuing or resuscitating people. They want to be heroes, yes. But they really just want to make a difference; what they want is to do the job. So creating meaningful training sessions, raising the bar, and equipping them to be increasingly competent in doing that job, that's what keeps volunteers motivated. Being clear and consistent about expectations also helps. Some seek opportunities for promotion. 

But if what we need is people that are "all in," how to you get there from begging people to join up and hoping a few will say yes? Even the self-described expert in maximizing volunteer power, who said "recruiting is like dating: don't ask for marriage on a first date" was clear that volunteers, even if they haven't made any long-term commitment, are motivated by projects and experiences that they recognize as meaningful. They have to see that their being there, matters.

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Spiritual Formation and Extroverts

I while back I wrote a post about a conversation with my friend Lisa. Through our local seminary she was enrolled in a study program in the area of Spiritual Formation. And she was putting the finishing touches on a dissertation exploring spiritual formation practices designed for extroverts.

American culture as a whole and American churches in particular tend to cater to and reward extroversion and ignore or punish introversion. Except, that is, in the key areas of personal growth and spiritual formation. This is where introverts shine. They write books and lead sessions on how, if you want to become a mature Christian, you have to go off by yourself alone with a journal and be silent and listen to God.

Sounds like a good idea, but is that the way it has to be? Are there ways to tweak the traditional spiritual disciplines in a way that they are not such a struggle, and actually work, for those who are extroverts?

For more about Lisa's research, what motivated it, and what she discovered, read her summary Spiritual Formation and Extroverts.

By the way, I am an extrovert, but the way I prefer to "talk" is on paper (or, more accurately, computer screen) and in public. I don't want a private journal, I want to communicate. In a soul-searching season around the time I turned 30 I wrote a 40-page autobiography. Very personal stuff, but fairly well organized and processed and in search of a plot. I didn't lock it up with instructions that it was to be burned after my death, as I have a hunch a true introvert might do. Instead I chose some highly trustworthy friends and asked them to read it and tell me what they thought it meant.