Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Thomas Friedman, lifelong learning & "curiosity quotient"

In recent months I've spent a chunk of nearly every day scanning for interesting stories to feed the Mission Catalyst Twitter stream. It now has more than a thousand followers. Seems like a good application of what we say on the website, that "our staff read and distill dozens of mission-oriented news sources so you won’t have to, while providing easy access so you can learn more."

Trolling for news so much is doing weird things to my brain; I think need to be more efficient with it and set up some boundaries, as well as prioritizing some less frenetic activities. My former way of life felt more balanced, but I should acknowledge that the housework and cooking that take up time I used to give to reading books and getting out (socially and for exercise) are also, in their own way, life-giving. Anything that takes me away from my computer from time to time is good.

News-sleuthing, though, is a good fit for my bent towards, "hey, have you heard about this?" I love good stories and ideas. Collecting and sharing information with others is part of what I feel like I was born to do. It's great to have a job that capitalizes on cultivating that curiosity and making those connections.

A New York Times editorial from Thomas Friedman says that increasingly, such skills will be required for every "decent job." Lifelong learners have an advantage; such habits help them be more flexible and resilient. That's because whatever we know and know how to do is going to become obsolete faster and faster.
Now, notes Craig Mundie, one of Microsoft’s top technologists, not just elites, but virtually everyone everywhere has, or will have soon, access to a hand-held computer/cellphone, which can be activated by voice or touch, connected via the cloud to infinite applications and storage, so they can work, invent, entertain, collaborate and learn for less money than ever before. Alas, though, every boss now also has cheaper, easier, faster access to more above-average software, automation, robotics, cheap labor and cheap genius than ever before. That means the old average is over. Everyone who wants a job now must demonstrate how they can add value better than the new alternatives.

When the world gets this hyperconnected, adds Mundie, the speed with which every job and industry changes also goes into hypermode. “In the old days,” he said, “it was assumed that your educational foundation would last your whole lifetime. That is no longer true.”
Friedman goes on to say:
How to adapt? It will require more individual initiative. We know that it will be vital to have more of the “right” education than less, that you will need to develop skills that are complementary to technology rather than ones that can be easily replaced by it and that we need everyone to be innovating new products and services to employ the people who are being liberated from routine work by automation and software. The winners won’t just be those with more I.Q. It will also be those with more P.Q. (passion quotient) and C.Q. (curiosity quotient) to leverage all the new digital tools to not just find a job, but to invent one or reinvent one, and to not just learn but to relearn for a lifetime. 
The rest of the article deals more with government and politics, but you can check it out here.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

How can you know?

One of my big editing projects these days is cleaning up contents for The site gets about 200 visitors a day – great numbers for this niche. Many seem to find it helpful for finding their place in global mission, with various opinions on how to get there from here. The best of the material was polished and published in a book in 2010. The web site, though, did not get all the updates. And, in general, it needs someone to give it a little love. That's where I come in.

Using the book version to guide my revision of the web contents, I’m impressed by the publisher’s thorough edits. Phrases sing. Every word carries its own weight. Well done, Authentic! I'll strive to follow your lead.

Whoever edited the book also tried to translate much of the religious jargon. For example, references to "knowing God has called you" are rewritten to speak of God's leading, direction, or guidance. Does this reduce some of the barriers to service? When I look at the original submissions, I see some contributors felt strongly about the word (and idea of) "calling." What do you think about it?

Some people consider a personal, mystical call from God essential. Others warn against that expectation. Perhaps the best answers take a middle-of-the-road approach. They explain that God leads us in various ways and that each story may be different. I find some of these articles quite challenging and inspiring. I thought you might, too! Consider the following:

Q: How can I know if God is leading me to become a missionary?

A: Ask yourself the hard questions.

Answer from Elisabeth Elliot, who worked with her husband Jim Elliot on translating the New Testament into the language of the Quichua Indians in Ecuador. Later, as a widow, she lived and worked among the Aucas.

Amy Carmichael was the founder of the Dohnavur Fellowship in India. When people wrote to her suggesting that they might like to come and work in India, she would ask three questions:

– Do you truly desire to live a crucified life?
– Does the thought of hardness draw you or repel you?
– Are you willing to do whatever helps most?

Amy established a wonderful home for children who otherwise would have been consigned to temple prostitution. Don't make up your mind that you are going to Africa or to China or to India to do a specific kind of work. In my experience, virtually all missionaries are asked to do many things not in their job description.

When Jim Elliot was considering missions, he didn't know where to go or what to do. But he did have two ideas. So he started corresponding with one missionary in India and another in Ecuador. In view of the information he received, he made a choice – Ecuador. But before deciding, he first did a lot of thinking and praying. It wasn't a wild guess but an act of faith in the God who promises to guide.

Jim used to say, "you can't steer a parked car." It makes sense to move in the direction you believe God is leading – trusting him as a faithful shepherd to lead you in paths of righteousness.

A: No special guidance is necessary.

Answer excerpted from an article by Robert E. Speer, chairman of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in 1901.

If people are going to draw lines of division between different kinds of service, what preposterous reasoning leads them to think that it requires less divine sanction for some to spend his or her life easily among Christians than it requires to go out as a missionary to the unreached?

Is it not absurd to suggest that a special guidance is necessary to become a missionary, but no direction is required to gratify personal ambitions?

There is something wonderfully misleading, full of hallucination and delusion in this business of missionary guidance. With many of us it is not a missionary call at all that we are looking for; it is a shove. There are a great many of us who would never hear a call if it came.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

"Artificial Maturity"

Recently had a Twitter conversation with a new follower who referred me to a book that looks interesting. Tim Elmore has been involved in youth ministry for a number of decades. I've used some of his material in the past. His new book is Artificial Maturity: Helping Kids Meet the Challenge of Becoming Authentic Adults. Here's part of an interview with the author (posted on Amazon).

* * * 

Q: What caused you to write the book Artificial Maturity?

A: As I concluded my research for the book Generation iY, I began seeing so many students who were beginning well—then not finishing—in school, work, sports, and other areas. Adults assumed they were mature and ready for a task or commitment, but unfortunately, they were not. I compare it to “fools gold.” It looks real, but it's just an illusion.

Q: What exactly is “artificial maturity”?

A: Artificial Maturity is the result of two realities in our culture today:
  • Kids are over-exposed to information…far earlier than they are ready.
  • Kids are under-exposed to real-life experiences…far later than they’re ready.
This over-exposure, under-exposure enables them to appear very smart, savvy or confident, but [they] may lack emotional maturity, life skills or wisdom that comes in time.  

Q: Describe the world that kids are living in today. Do the challenges override the opportunities?

A: A shift has taken place between early Generation Y and later Generation Y kids. Although born perhaps less than a decade apart, there are measurable differences:

Early Generation Y (Born in 1980s)
  • Highly compassionate
  • Technology is a tool
  • Activists (They are passionate)
  • Civic-minded
  • Ambitious about future
  • Accelerated growth 
 Generation iY (Born since 1990)
  • Low empathy
  • Technology is an appendage…
  • Slack-tivists (They are “fashionate”)
  • Self-absorbed
  • Ambiguous about future
  • Postponed maturation
Q: What are some key steps that need to be taken for artificial maturity to evolve into authentic maturity?

A: Adults must perform some balancing acts with kids, helping them balance autonomy and responsibility; information and accountability; screen time and face-time (in-person experiences); community service opportunities with self-service time. Two examples are:
  1. We must be leaders who are both responsive and demanding. We must offer support but also enforce standards. I describe this type of leader as a velvet-covered brick: soft and supportive on the outside but strong and principle-centered on the inside. We must balance tough and tender leadership.
  2. We must relay messages early and later in their childhood and adolescence:
Early Messages (First ten years)
  • You are loved
  • You are unique
  • You have gifts
  • You are safe
  • You are valuable
  Later Messages (Next ten years)
  • Life is difficult
  • You’re not in control
  • You’re not that important
  • You’re going to die
  • Your life is not about you
* * *

Readers, what do you think about these ideas?

The distinction between children of the 80's and those of the 90's seems harsh, but (if accurate) may explain why so many young folks lack the passion and people skills I thought their generation was supposed to have. At the same time, I look in the mirror and my "emotional intelligence" is not what it could be. Often my fairly high level of self-awareness holds me back rather than empowering me to respond with maturity; I pick up on things and get upset about them but don't translate the insight or energy into a positive, helpful response.

I have a hunch we all have imbalances like those Elmore describes. Are they more or different among today's young people?

It seems an all-too-common flaw to measure others' journeys by our own, e.g., expecting them to know or do things at the same ages that we did. Both our kids are confident and accomplished in things I never would have tried (and, yeah, would tend not to value), but then they lack what seem to me "basic" skills. Don't get me wrong - I think our kids are great. But I'm still in step-parent culture shock and there are some things about their lives and the way they've been raised that I find hard to accept.

Our son has had his first girlfriend but asked me the other day for help defining what nouns and adjectives were. I think I owe him an apology for expressing too much surprise over his challenges in English class. After all, I well remember my mother's horror when I was his age and did not know my multiplication tables -- as well as the questions (not from my parents, but other friends and family) about how late and little I "dated." What is normal, anyway? Sometimes Hubs and I seem worlds apart on the question. I want to do a better job picking my battles, though. Sometimes it's easy, like accepting the new (to me) way "our family" makes peanut-butter sandwiches. Other times it's more upsetting, like the way "our family" sees adolescent dating.

Perhaps the journey to maturity is one with a variety of routes? 

Do you see a shift between early and late GenY? Do you agree with Elmore's description of this shift? What about his suggestions for how adults should respond?

Wednesday, January 09, 2013


Portland, Oregon – the only big city close to where I live – boasts almost 500 food carts. Most gather in "pods" of at least a few mobile eateries parked together on an otherwise empty lot, sometimes forming a semi-permanent food court. On a rare visit to the city we sought out The Sultan's Kitchen, one of several Turkish vendors and reported to specialize in iskender kabob, my favorite Turkish dish. They did, and we got some.

If you find yourself in Portland you might look for what you long for on the Portland Food Cart map (or yes, there is an app for it.)

Thai, Vietnamese, and Indian options abound and are a safe bet in my book. Here’s a taste of what else you might find.I love some of the names they chose.

Viking Soul Food: Swedish dishes
Adaddin's Castle: Iraqi cuisine
El Sultan: Mexican and Greek food
Eurodish: specializing in Eastern-European-style home cooking
EuroTrash Food Cart: inspired by Spanish and Portuguese cuisine
Pyro Pizza: wood-fired oven pizza and handmade sodas
El Masry Egyptian: Egyptian food including gyros and shwarma
Beez Neez: great sausage cart even serving reindeer sausage
Tabor: Czech food cart featuring the Schnitzelwich
The Swamp Shack: Cajun dishes from a food cart
Big-Ass Sandwiches: specializes in a big sandwich with your choice of meat topped with fries and cheese sauce
No Fish, Go Fish: specialty and seasonal soups along with small "no fish" fish-shaped sandwiches
Honkin' Huge Burritos: vegetarian burritos that are truly huge, even the small one
Cool Harry's Frozen Yogurt: locally made organic frozen yogurt in unique flavors
The Frying Scotsman: traditional Scottish fish and chips
Perierra Creperie: French-inspired handmade savory and sweet crepes
PDX671: Guam-and-Pacific-NW-influenced food
Pepper Box: breakfast tacos and other New-Mexico-inspired foods
Fuego de Lotus: Venezuelan-inspired fare
The Dump Truck: handmade Asian dumplings
Wolf and Bear's: Israeli-inspired food like falafel and hummus
Emame's Ethiopian: Ethiopian food
Island Grill: Hawaiian plate lunch
Weenies From Another World: hot dogs and hamburgers
London Pasty Co: traditional British pasties
Herb's Mac and Cheese: mac and cheese and more
Cake on a Hot Tin Roof: dessert cart
Nong's Khao Man Gai: specializing in a single dish - khao man gai, a rice dish with chicken and spicy sauce
GF Chef: real food, gluten-free

Questions: If you were looking for a great food cart, what would you be happy to find? If you were starting your own, what would it be and why?

Monday, January 07, 2013

Exegeting Culture

Several posts I've recently read that deal with cultural learning:

4 Things You Should Know about Your Community (Rick Warren, on his "pastors" blog)
Studying Culture (Natalie Bunch and Caleb Crider, The Upstream Collective)
Understanding the Culture Around You (David Cashin, Columbia International University - first in a series of six videos on ethnographic research for missiological purposes)

See also a previous post on Collaborative Community Ministry.

Tuesday, January 01, 2013

2012 Book Report

Time for my annual reader’s roundup! Sparse again this year – fewer than fifty volumes in all, and the list is a bit eccentric. My life is good, but comes with less access to books and less discretionary time to read than I had in days of yore. The saving grace: I get to read for grad school, and it remains part of my day job too.


Creating an Intimate Marriage, by Jim Burns
Some Assembly Required, by Anne Lamott
The Mormon Faith of Mitt Romney, by Andrew Jackson
Born to Run: A Hidden Tribe, Superathletes, and the Greatest Race the World Has Never Seen, by Christopher McDougall
At Home: A Short History of Private Life, by Bill Bryson
Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters, by Annie Dillard
Forty Odd, by Mary Bard

Right Ho, Jeeves, by P. G. Wodehouse
The Lost Gate, by Orson Scott Card
The Forgotten Affairs of Youth, by Alexander McCall Smith
Henrietta Who? by Catherine Aird
Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet, by Jamie Ford
Moloka'i, by Alan Brennert
A Most Contagious Game, by Catherine Aird
Passing Strange, by Catherine Aird
The Limpopo Academy of Private Detection, by Alexander McCall Smith
Back Home Again: Tales from Grace Chapel Inn, by Melody Carlson
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows
Bridge to Terebithia, by Katherine Paterson
Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant, by Anne Tyler
Cat among the Pigeons, by Agatha Christie
Providence: Once Upon a Second Chance, by Chris Coppernoll


For New Testament survey class:
Acts, Epistles, and Revelation (the Bible)
An Introduction to the New Testament, by D. A. Carson and D. J. Moo

For a class on the mission of God:
Discovering the Mission of God, ed. by Mike Barnett and Robin Martin
Called to Reach: Equipping Cross-Cultural Disciplers, by William Yount and Mike Barnett
An Army of Ordinary People, by Felicity Dale
Who Is My Neighbor? By Phillip and Kandace Connor
And the Word Came with Power, by Joanne Shetler
Servant on the Edge of History, by Sam James

For a class on urban church planting:
Planting and Growing Urban Churches, ed. Harvie Conn
Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century, by Aubrey Malphurs
Church Planter: The Man, the Message, the Mission, by Darrin Patrick
Church Planting Movements: How God Is Redeeming a Lost World, by David Garrison

For a class on contemporary issues in the Muslim world:
Whose Promised Land? by Colin Chapman
The Rumbling Volcano: Islamic Fundamentalism in Egypt, by Nabeel Jabbour (read in 2011)
Jesus and the Land: The New Testament Challenge to "Holy Land" Theology, by Gary Burge (read in 2011)
Palestine Peace not Apartheid, by Jimmy Carter (read in 2011)

(Most in hopes of reviewing them for our online missions magazine)

Women of Faith and Courage, by Vance Christie
Serving As Senders Today, by Neal Pirolo
Miraculous Movements: How Hundreds of Thousands of Muslims Are Falling in Love with Jesus, by Jerry Trousdale
Unashamed to Bear His Name: Embracing the Stigma of Being a Christian, by R.T. Kendall
In The Land of Blue Burqas, by Kate McCord
Ambassadors to Muslims, by Fouad Masri
People Raising: A Practical Guide to Raising Funds, by William Dillon
Don't Forget to Pack the Kids, by Jill Richardson
The Final Assault: A Novel about Finishing the Task, by Steve Smith
Threads: One Family's Unlikely Adventure in Business, Mission, and Church Planting, by Arlene Richardson
The Multilingual God: Stories of Translation, by Steve Fortosis
Translating Christ: The Memoirs of Herman Peter Aschmann, Wycliffe Bible Translator, by Hugh Steven
How God Became King: The Forgotten Story of the Gospels, by N.T. Wright
Kingdom Journeys: Rediscovering the Lost Spiritual Discipline, by Seth Barnes
Yielded Captive, by Dalaina May
The Yankee Officer and the Southern Belle, by Nell Chinchen