Tuesday, December 09, 2014

A Culture of Learning

It’s been said that the average person suffers from three delusions. First, that he has a good sense of humor. Second, that he’s a good driver. And third, that he’s a good listener! *

On a mission trip, a sense of humor (good or otherwise) sure makes life sweeter. If you’re smart, you’ll let someone with local experience do the driving. But what about being a good listener, a good learner? Many a missionary has discovered he or she isn’t as good at this as first assumed. When you’re in another culture and get overwhelmed, it’s easier to withdraw, stick with your own ways of doing things, and tune out what you can’t make sense of.

What are some ways to avoid that trap, and instead learn as much as we can? Here are half a dozen of my favorite cultural engagement strategies for short-term teams.

» Read the article, Sustaining a Culture of Learning: Six Strategies for Short-Term Teams. I wrote it for a newsletter from Delta Ministries. 

* Told you I was going to find a way to use this illustration somewhere!

Saturday, November 29, 2014

America's new commercial holidays

Once upon a time there was a holiday many Americans liked to think of as relatively sweet and unspoiled, a holiday still all about family and togetherness and celebrating the ways God has blessed us. But now Thanksgiving seems almost crowded out of the calendar by some new holidays, all of which quick research suggests appeared or at least began to be popularized, it seems, in 2012.

A friend of mine expressed great Facebook indignation that she'd shown up at Walmart at 5:30am on "Black Friday" only to discover the deals she hoped for had all been stolen away by shoppers on what I now see is called Gray Thursday ("The evening of the United States Thanksgiving holiday, when some retailers offer sales and stay open until the early morning or all night.")

Brick-and-mortar stores are scrambling to compete, of course, with deals on the Internet. "Cyber Monday" has been around for a while. Now that people don't have to go back to work for fast internet, I wonder if Cyber Monday will be undercut by Sofa Sunday ("The Sunday after the United States Thanksgiving holiday, when people relax at home and purchase goods online or on TV.")

Two more adjacent occasions have been introduced in recent years, both aiming to redirect some of our consumerism into more thoughtful causes: non-profits like the one I work for have high hopes of charitable donations for Giving Tuesday, while shopkeepers look to Small Business Saturday.

If that's not enough, see The Sixteen Days of Holiday Retail.   


Chris and I are looking at holiday shopping a little differently this year. Last week he was offered a one-year hospital residency in Columbia, South Carolina, and this week I learned that we qualify for on-campus housing at the Christian college in that town where I've been chipping away at a Master's degree. If we take the job for him and get one of my school's furnished, two-bedroom apartments (as hoped), we'll be able to stay on top of the student loan payments about to kick in for Chris's M.Div and also do our bit for our two kids in college next year—all without raising our budget. Sweet.

Such an arrangement, though, would mean we couldn't keep all our stuff. It we take the job (which starts in September), the cheap furniture we bought three years ago will be garage-saled this summer. We'll probably keep a few pieces and put them into storage, along with most books and mementos. Clothes, electronics, and kitchen essentials can make the cross-country trip with us. But all the rest of the stuff we have—including wedding gifts, things left behind by the kids, and anything we get for Christmas—has to be evaluated. Worth keeping, paying to put in storage? Small or useful enough to bring along?

Any tendency to want more and better things is put into new perspective. We're not so tempted to take advantage of sales by buying things for each other or ourselves. And we're looking for ways to tell our close friends and relatives: please, don't add to our earthly goods this Christmas.  

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Gossip columnist?

I have on my bookshelf a rather strange volume called The Pop-up Book of Phobias. You flip it open and snakes pop up on one page, spiders on another. There’s the fear of dentists, with a giant drill spinning toward your face. The fear of heights, of course, where you are teetering on the edge of a high-rise building. And the fear of being buried alive, which has you looking up from an open grave with a shovel full of dirt about to come your way. Not something I’ve pondered. Not until I saw this book.

Do you have a phobia? If I do, it might be “The fear of missing out,” sometimes known by its acronym, FOMO. I don’t want to skip a meeting or event or stay home from a party, even, because something important might happen. I try to keep up with what’s going on with people I know, I like being the one to tell someone else about a new resource, or something that’s going on in the life of a friend.

Sometimes I say that if work ever dried up, I could make it as a gossip columnist… but that would be taking it too far, wouldn’t it?

Instead, I’ve been blessed to be able to more or less make my living learning about the world, the struggles and tensions within and between different communities, and things God is doing.

As a writer for a mission organization, a lot of what I do is to curate news, ideas, and resources having to do with world mission, and pass along what I gather to others to stir up prayer or passion or participation in global outreach.

It’s been amazing to discover how God is able to turn my personality quirks into something he can use for the kingdom, and to help accomplish his purposes. And that gives me confidence that he can and may want to do the same for others.

I shared this when I spoke at my home church this last weekend.

At the end of my session, I had the class break into small groups and talk about what it looks like for them—or might look like for them—to be involved in God's work in the world at this stage in their lives.

The best part for me (and for their pastor, sitting half-way back)? It was hearing what they had to share with the group after those conversations. I praise God for what he is doing in and through Wabash Church, and in fact, with his people worldwide.

That, really, is the story I want to tell. It's what I don't want to miss out on!

Tuesday, October 07, 2014

Your Problem and How I Can Fix It

Duane Elmer, in his book Cross-cultural Connections, tells the story of a monkey "rescuing" a fish which was swimming against the current:

"He carefully laid the fish on dry ground. For a few minutes the fish showed excitement, but soon settled into a peaceful rest. Joy and satisfaction swelled inside the money. He had successfully helped the other creature."

The monkey was brave and noble, says the author, but because he could not see beyond his own frame of reference, he assumed what would be good for him would be good for the fish. And he may have never known the damage he did.

It's easy enough to draw the moral from a simple story like that and apply it to, say, serving the poor, or any kind of cross-cultural ministry. In his next chapter, however, Elmer quotes the newspaper editorial columnist Sidney Harris who applied the principle much more broadly, claiming that "every book that is ever published, every article ever written, and every speech delivered should have the subtitle 'How to Be More Like Me.'"

Why do you suppose we find this kind of thing so appealing? Why do we eat up the self-up titles, the seven steps to success in this area or that, the recipes for happiness? I'm amazed how appealing these promises can be.

What would it take to drop the subtitle and stop making those kind of false promises in what we write or say?

Monday, October 06, 2014

Full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.

"Like the majority of humankind I don't know much about wholeness at first hand," writes Fredrick Buechner. "It is something that, at most -- like Abraham and Sarah and Moses and the rest of them -- I have every once in a while seen and greeted from afar, as the author of the Letter to the Hebrews puts it, but that is about all. I like to believe that in a disorganized way it is what I am journeying toward, but the most I have to show for my pains is an occasional glimpse of it in certain people who had clay feet more or less like the rest of us but who struck me as being at least a good deal wholer than I have ever managed to become myself."

"...To be whole, I think, means among other things that you see the world whole." Having told stories about his grandmother Naya, one of the people in whom he had seen something more like wholeness, he explains, "She saw both the light and the dark of what the world was offering her and was not split in two by them. She was whole in herself and she saw the world whole.

"The world floods in on all of us. The world can be kind, and it can be cruel. It can be beautiful, and it can be appalling. It can give us good reason to hope and good reason to give up all hope. It can strengthen our faith in a loving God, and it can decimate our faith. In our lives in the world, the temptation is always to go where the world takes us, to drift with whatever current happens to be running strongest. When good things happen, we rise to heaven; when bad things happen, we descend to hell. When the world strikes out at us, we strike back, and when one way or another the world blesses us, our spirits soar. I know this to be true of no one as well as I know it to be true of myusself. I know how just the weather can affect my whole state of mind for good or ill, how just getting stuck in a traffic jam can ruin an afternoon that in every other way is so beautiful that it dazzles the heart. We are in constant danger of being not actors in the drama of our own lives but reactors. The fragmentary nature of our experience shatters us into fragments. Instead of being whole, most of the time we are in pieces, and we see the world in pieces, full of darkness at one moment and full of light the next.

"It is in Jesus, of course, and in the people whose lives have been deeply touched by Jesus, and in ourselves at those moments when we also are deeply touched by him, that we see another way of being human which is the way of wholeness. When we glimpse that wholeness in others, we recognize it immediately for what it is, and the reason we recognize it, I believe, is that no matter how much the world shatters us to pieces, we carry inside us a vision of wholeness that we sense is our true home and that beckons to us.

"...All his life long, wherever Jesus looked, he saw the world not in terms simply of its brokenness -- a patchwork of light and dark calling forth in us now our light, now our dark -- but in terms of the ultimate mystery of God's presence buried in it like a treasure buried in a field."

Source: Essay "The Journey Toward Wholeness" in the book, The Longing for Home, HarperSanFrancisco, 1996.

Saturday, October 04, 2014

Autumn in Japan

Thought some of you might enjoy this look at fall, coming to us from the other side of the Pacific: 
Mount Fuji in autumn

"Kyoto and its royal courts were once strictly regulated by the changing seasons - many of the ancient traditions still exist.
  • Shokuyoku no aki (time of hearty appetites) so as the heat dies down, the Japanese enjoy culinary treats such as maple leaves in tempura
  • Tsukimi (moon viewing) when people stand on a hill with lashings of tea to view the harvest moon which is thought to be larger and more radiant than at any other time
  • Dokusho no aki (autumn reading) because the shorter days make one more reflective than during the brassier days of summer
  • Supotsu no aki (autumn sport) as students enjoy the "crisp autumn air," despite the fact that typhoon season makes early autumn here anything but crisp"
Source: Why Japan's beaches are deserted - despite the sunshine (BBC News Magazine)

Friday, August 29, 2014

Back to School

The back-to-school season is upon us. Yes, I'm back at it, too; a generous gift will cover my tuition this year. Thankful for that, but cognizant of the time and energy it takes to work and go to school while serving and supporting a family all doing the same.

I did the first week's work of my online class last Sunday before leaving on a business trip and used a comp day on my return to get week two done; from here on out, though, we'll settle into a pattern of schoolwork every Saturday.

Hubs is driving to Portland on Mondays, now, for the final stretch on his M.Div. Daughter Haley is back at college in California. Son Daniel hasn't started classes yet, but he made it to the 5:30 am polo-team practices this week (!) and has his first pep rally with the band tonight. Monday night he goes back to his mom's place for the next two weeks, ready to register Tuesday and start actual classes on Wednesday. Senior year. Both Chris and Daniel graduate in June! Haley and I will finish a year later.

On Monday I snapped a picture of Chris heading off to class with his backpack, but he didn't want to see it posted on the internet. What, no more back-to-school photos when you're 45?!

See, though, 20 photos of kids' journeys to school from around the world (Global Citizen). 

Children are accompanied on their walk to school through Guizhou Province, China 
Flickr: Jeff Werner

Monday, August 11, 2014

Tim Keller on Understanding the Ego

"The ego often hurts. That is because it has something incredibly wrong with it. Something unbelievably wrong with it. It is always drawing attention to itself -- it does so every single day. It is always making us think about how we look and how we are treated. People sometimes say their feelings are hurt. But our feelings can't be hurt! It is the ego that hurts -- my sense of self, my identity.

"It is very hard to get through a whole day without feeling snubbed or ignored or feeling stupid or getting down on ourselves. That is because there is something wrong with my ego.

"It is incredibly busy trying to fill the emptiness. And it is incredibly busy doing two things in particular -- comparing and boasting. ... The way the normal ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.

"In his famous chapter on pride in Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis points out that pride is by nature competitive. It is competitiveness that is at the very heart of pride. 'Pride gets no pleasure out of having something, only out of having more of it than the next person. We say that people are proud of being rich, or clever, or good-looking, but they are not. They are proud of being richer, or cleverer, or better-looking than others. If everyone else became equally rich, or clever, or good-looking there would be nothing to be proud about.'"

Source: The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness, Timothy Keller

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The "Look at Me!" Lifestyle

I did a good bit of my growing up in a quirky, connected small town, an island in the Pacific Northwest. I don't idealize that way of life but I certainly came to miss it. I was in junior high when we left; we moved four more times before I was out of my teens. I graduated from a high school of 2000 students, most unknown to me, and never found reason to go back.

There are worse things than being anonymous and invisible. And starting over a few times helped me grow and develop without getting stuck or having to keep carrying around awkward mistakes and embarrassing moments. All of us can profit from the occasional chance to get away from disappointments, poor choices, or a bad reputation. To start again with a new school, a new job, a new friend. I don't regret that.

Sometimes I've wondered, though, what it would have been like, what I would have been like, if we'd stayed in one place. 

Now that I'm back again in a quirky, connected community, I see the difference. I notice how Chris and his parents expect to run into people they know wherever they go; I listen to their stories, and I realize that people here are quirky and connected, not invisible and anonymous; this is kind of what I remembered and what I had in mind. Chris, on the other hand, is restless to get out. He's ready to start over.

Do you think our culture as a whole has changed, though? For example, being a teenager now is subtly different than it was a few decades ago. There are still the cool kids, the popular kids, but nobody has to be isolated, anonymous, invisible. If you have a phone and a couple of social media accounts you can find friends of a sort, people like you, and can express yourself. It's true for people in big cities, small towns, faceless suburbs; doesn't matter. You may not show up much in the high school yearbook or get your name in the local paper, but still be all over Facebook or Instagram.

Experienced this at the ballgame Chris and I went to a week or two ago. Yes, Eugene has a baseball team (the farm team of a farm team!) and a couple thousand people showed up to watch the Eugene Emeralds play the Hillsboro Hops. They had all these little promotions and activities between innings, and ordinary people were chosen to participate. There was a beanbag toss for free ice cream cones which Chris said his kids had done many times when they were smaller. When one batter got a double, everyone in section 4 (our section!) got coupons for double bacon cheeseburgers at Carl's Jr.

At one point a cameraman came toward us with what the musical cues told us was the "kiss cam." Apparently he was ready to put us up on the big screen if we were willing to provide the image for a 10x20' public display of affection; we were and we did. Later, the ballpark announcer gave out a hashtag and encouraged everyone to pull our their phones and snap selfies of their day at the ballpark to post on Twitter or Facebook and be broadcast on that same 10x20' screen. So we did. Look, there we are! Celebrities for a second!

It may only be for a second, but the seconds come so often I think they add up to far more than Andy Warhol's 15 minute of fame. 

"The places to which people in the past looked for guidance in finding identity--such as the church, tradition, and social conventions--have been superseded. People now look to the media for guidance in discovering a sense of self. Therefore, it is no shock that we find people living life as actors. ...We have grown up in front of screens and cameras; we know what it is to consume media and to perform, even if it is just for those around us. Life has become a media performance, and we already know the lines."

Mark Sayers, The Vertical Self

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Growing Out, Growing Up

Sharing a kitchen table with a growing, carb-loving, teenaged boy and a man twice my size had its effect on me. Or maybe it was eating off those hefty, 100-square-inch plates we got with department-store gift cards. And leaving behind the community rec. center and the beautiful running trail by the river. At any rate, in the early days of my marriage I traded in old habits for new ones that did not suit my slighter frame and thereby gained 30 pounds in 18 months.

Got to the point I'd had enough of that. I found a doctor to confirm what I knew to be true, lecture me on health and nutrition, and threaten me with a prescription for statins. Yeah, high cholesterol. Went home that afternoon and signed up with a bossy, legalistic, calorie-counting web service to train me how to eat less and tell me how I was doing.

Looks like it did the trick. It's been nine months, and I've just about lost those 30 pounds. Might not be able to get into my wedding dress, but, well, no need to. And can wear most of the other clothes packed away after that first summer.

I may gain it all back, it's true. But now I think I know how to keep the pounds off and have the will to do it. That's a good feeling. I don't have total control of this situation but nor am I completely powerless; I have choices to make but can make them and live with the results.  

People of any age can struggle with weight, I know. Yet in my mind the whole weight-watching thing is very much associated with middle-aged women. So this whole experience, along with all I've encountered as a step-in parent to a couple of almost-grown-up children, has helped me recognize and accept my new place in the human community. No longer a young person, but a member of the society of parents (and other grown-ups).

Funny that it should take so long.

"I am still every age that I have been. Because I was once a child, I am always a child. Because I was once a searching adolescent, given to moods and ecstasies, these are still part of me, and always will be... This does not mean that I ought to be trapped or enclosed in any of these ages...the delayed adolescent, the childish adult, but that they are in me to be drawn on." - Madeleine L'Engle

Thursday, June 12, 2014

When Bookworm Summer Camp Gets Cancelled

The most difficult thing I’ve dealt with lately may surprise you unless you know me well. (If you do, well, you know!) A month ago I learned that my university had changed the requirements of my major in such a way that while I’m closer to a degree, I can no longer justify the two classes I’d been gearing up to take this summer. What?! I was so looking forward to the books, and lectures, and the chance to get out of town and meet new people a lot like me. Like summer camp for bookworms! It may sound strange, but I couldn’t think of a better way to spend those extra weeks of vacation I get for what my company (kindly) recognizes, at least from a benefits perspective, as almost 20 years of service (while Hubs only gets five days of paid leave a year).

As I realized I’d have to cancel my trip to the South, I felt the usual weight of summer depression descend on me as it has almost every year as far back as I can remember. Depression about the long, unchanging days, a life without structure or markers; depression about myself and my life. In years past I've found one of the few effective strategies for fighting it has been to go somewhere for a few weeks. Somehow being away from home made it easier to set aside the self-pity. Better yet was when I could pour myself into a mission team who, for a month or two or three, would have to be my friends and who would need me to be the kind of grownup who focused on looking out for them rather than giving center stage to my shame about being lonely and pathetic in the social department. Those were actually some great summers!

If, though, summer struck and my calendar was empty, some of my panic and shame had to do with being single. I envied those with families or the kind of friends who do family-like things like camping, road trips to national parks, and free concerts in the park with a picnic basket. Now and then a family or group of friends would include me or respond to my invitation to do something like that, but I wasn’t a good social organizer, and they did tend to be the kinds of things someone would just want to do with their family, if they had one.

I have mixed feelings about “having fun.” I like to go exploring in places both familiar and unknown, and I like to play with words and ideas; I love a great three- or four-way conversation. But other kinds of fun – “summer fun” like water sports and volleyball and frisbee and goofing around, physically – are just not my cup of tea. So summer was often a reminder of what a wallflower I was, and that opened the door to a debilitating sense of being different, of being a nerd (though that’s cool now, what?) and a loser (still not cool, not ever).

Now I have a family now. They don’t share very much of my odd sense of what’s fun and what’s not, but some of it. That’s a big help. Right after I had my biggest emotional melt-down over all this, Chris came home with a glossy magazine listing and describing all the local campgrounds and many of the summer events, and we talked about places we'd like to go. An actual camping trip is going to be hard to schedule, but we’ve already made a trip to the coast for a local festival, took in an old car show, and spent a few hours on the banks of a beautiful little river while our son and his friends played in the water and Chris took pictures. As neither a child nor the parent of one I still self-conscious; a bit of a misfit. I sort of fit. Not the fit I’d like to imagine I would have in an ideal world. Well, such is life.

With a family, I now have people to do things with, more companionship. But the cost has been high in terms of other relationships. With two jobs and the whole wife/mother thing, I haven't been able to make the kind of friends I’d like to go do fun things with (by whatever definition of fun).

The difficult truth to face here is that I’ve never been very good at building and maintaining those kind of friendships, much as I desire them, apart from some kind of structure that throws me together with people like me on a regular basis – like those mission teams of years past, or the close relationships I used to have just by showing up at work and at church events. And that's not really happening now; opportunities to just show up and be with people are rare for me. If I have to get on the phone and ask someone to have coffee or go for a walk with me, it’s like I just can’t do it, can’t take the social initiative. I’ve always been shy. And because I know that’s fairly ridiculous in a grown-up person, I beat myself up over this foolish, crippling social handicap, and fear that if I do have the opportunity to share my heart with someone, all the deep and ugly loneliness will come spewing out (it happens) and who wants to take that out in public?

We’ll make it through this summer, and maybe I’ll even have some fun (by my definition or in spite of it) and some of the structure will return in the fall. The sticker price of my husband's recent surgery was steep; the hospital alone wants $4,000 for it. So I'm not sure I'll be going back to school. My tuition, being optional, is probably the first thing I will choose to cut. It can wait. And maybe that is God's gift to me. I could use some of the time and energy – both this summer and in the fall – to work up the courage to pursue some friendships eh? I do have a few, now, they’re just kind of new and fragile and could wither away if I don’t nurture them.

This may be the key. Check out this encouraging article I read today: How to Regain Hope in 5 Minutes

Friday, May 02, 2014

Three Delusions

"It's been said, sometimes seriously, and yet sometimes tongue in cheek, that the average person suffers from three delusions.

First, that he has a good sense of humor.
Second, that he's a good driver.
And third, that he's a good listener.

"Now I've always thought that it was pretty important to have a good sense of humor in life. I think that makes life go a little bit better. And in our civilization and in our culture, it's very very important that we're good driver.
"But of those three, the only one that's absolutely crucial to spiritual growth is that we be good listeners."

Scott Wenig, speaking at South Fellowship, April 6, 2014
Love this anecdote and intend to steal it for use in my own teaching!

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Pretty things, painful memories, and how I was surprised by wholeness

Shortly before Chris and I got married I went back to Denver to help my old housemate pack up and prepare to move out of the place we'd shared for fifteen years or so. She had been there longer than I had and faced some serious and painful downsizing. Her grandmother's china was on the got-to-go list. She offered it to me.

I was touched by the offer of these treasures and the chance to carry on some of her family history. I didn't take the boxes with me, though, since I was flying. Instead I left them for the moving truck.

We said goodbye, and I returned to Oregon to continue the task of setting up my own new household, itself complicated by the realization that Chris and I had rather different preferences for well, almost everything, it seemed. We both had sacrifices to make. The wedding registry process was rough. Neither one of us wanted to fight about things like dishes and towels or wedding music and decorations, for that matter when there were so many more important things to work out. But we were mystified by each other's preferences in each of those areas and more. I ended up taking back quite a few of the wedding presents one of us said we wanted but the other didn't like. We defaulted to what was functional and plain.

I'm not really a girly girl but was sad to have so few pretty things, and to realize that many of the pretty things I already have would probably have to stay in boxes until, maybe someday, we get a bigger place, or don't have any kids at home.

Some months after the wedding, my roommate's sister had to make a trip to Eugene and brought me the three boxes of china. She also gave me some disturbing news about my old roommate, now living with their mother in Washington. It had been a tough transition for her. As I soon discovered, the china hadn't fared well, either. I opened the first box and unwrapped a few things. How did so many of them get broken? I must have thrown some things away, then, but I pushed the boxes back and decided to deal with them later.

Later finally came just last week. Chris and Daniel were both away for the night. I steeled myself for what I thought would be a depressing task, another scene of pain, disappointment, brokenness.

But it was not. I didn't find a single broken piece of broken china, just one after another that was beautiful and whole!

What had happened? I briefly imagined that Someone had worked a frivolous miracle on my behalf, but I suppose it's more likely that I had thrown away the only broken pieces the first time I opened the boxes, not realizing the rest were just fine.

I was further surprised to realize, as I surveyed our kitchen, that I would not have to re-pack the boxes and return them to the garage. Our spacious kitchen has room. So I began using the most serviceable looking pieces, like the cups that aren't paper-thin and edged with gold! Who knows, maybe I'll have some reason to get out the really fancy ones now and again, too. (Like a visit from my old roommate, who I'm glad to say is doing much better. She mostly just needed the time to grieve and adapt.)

Looking back on those days, two years ago, when Chris and I were struggling to furnish the house, I realize how far we've come in appreciating each other's values, preferences, and perspectives. Sometimes we are even able to find things both of us like! Moreover, love continues to cover: we like to please each other, and that goes a long way to producing kindness, respect, and forbearance. There are lots of things I now do or think about his way, and things he does or thinks about my way. Marriage is certainly harder than living with a roommate. The stakes are higher. But, with time and patience, we're learning how to walk together.

The morning after I unpacked the china, I made breakfast for us both and served it on our "new" plates. I knew better than to offer him tea or coffee in these lovely little cups; he's not a hot-drink kind of guy and wouldn't have much use for cups that only hold a few ounces. But I'll enjoy them. And I suspect he will enjoy seeing me enjoy them, too. 

Monday, April 28, 2014

The Professional Patient

A few years ago I wrote a post about Chesterton's playful book, The Club of Queer Trades. Each member of this elite society earns his position by inventing a completely new way of making a living. As I said then, this marks the book as somewhat dated. Today, new trades are being invented all the time.

Still I was charmed to recently come across one that was new to me. Danielle came across it almost by chance but found she had a knack for it and now gets as much business as she can handle.

She works as a pretend patient for medical students in training, especially nurses. It's quite the thing, now, a way to train tomorrow's medical professionals in a realistic but sheltered environment, practicing things they might not have the chance to practice or experience with real patients... at least not without doing harm.

One day she's vague and quiet; another she may keep trying to get up and escape. She's part model, part actress, and does her best to display the prescribed symptoms that the students might demonstrate they know the appropriate responses and treatments. Sometimes she's paid to spend the whole day in bed in her pajamas - but "on stage" in a simulated hospital room. The week we met she was preparing to be a kidney patient who was a conservative Muslim and spoke only Arabic.

Would you want to work as a simulated patient?

I didn't ask how much this job asks her to lay herself bare or accept embarrassing intrusions.

Tuesday, April 08, 2014

Contextualizing the Messenger

"Are your efforts to contextualize the gospel all about you?" asks Eric McKiddie in a recent article for The Gospel Coalition. Like many who hear about the concept, those words brought to mind the goateed, hipster urban church planter or the foreign missionary in native dress. Contextualization was, well, kind of cool. And here he was moving from a somewhat stuffy church in the heartland to a more casual, trendy church plant in the Bible belt. Score! Preaching without a tie!

But as much as Eric enjoyed adapting to his new context, he came to realize he had yet to learn some of the lessons from 1 Corinthians 9.
Though I had read this passage countless times, I noticed something I never saw before: sacrifice was the hallmark of Paul's contextualization. Verse by verse, the Spirit began to show me that my enjoyment of my next context—even if not in egregiously sinful ways—betrayed more of a concern for my preferences and pride, not the lost.
Are You Serving Others or Yourself?

"I have become all things to all people" (1 Cor. 9:22) is a theme verse for contextualizing the gospel. Paul determined to meet people where they are. If we are not willing to bring the gospel to unbelievers in the midst of their mess—just like Jesus met us—then it will be hard for unbelievers to see that Jesus can save them out of the mess they are in.

But when you scan your eyes up a couple verses, you see the way Paul becomes all things to all people: "I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them" (1 Cor. 9:19, emphasis added). Contextualization starts with service. Becoming all things begins with serving all people.

Over and over Paul shows how he set aside his preferences to see others believe the gospel.

Are You Contextualizing to All or to Some?

In every sport I've played I've been coached to stay on the balls of my feet. Back on your heels, you are unprepared to react. But if you stay on the balls of your feet, you are ready to move toward the action. For Paul, contextualization was about doing gospel ministry "on the balls of his feet." He was ready to serve anyone at any time in any way.

This is different from how I often hear people discussing contextualization. People often talk about aiming at one context: the poor, the city, the university students, and so on. But Paul was ready to contextualize the gospel to anyone at hand:

To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that by all means I might save some. (1 Cor. 9:19-22)

Wherever you live—whether city, suburb, or rural—are you willing to contextualize the gospel to all, even people you don't like so much? Or are you merely willing to become some things to some people, that by some means you might save some?

If you have an overly defined segment of the population that you are trying to reach, it is possible you are merely trying to reach people whose company you prefer.
Jesus Served Us

In Philippians 2:7, Paul describes the incarnation as Jesus "taking the form of a servant." At the outset, Jesus looked to the needs of others. Moreover, Jesus was a servant through his death, "For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Mark 10:42). These bookends show that Jesus' entire ministry—from birth to death—was marked by giving up his rights as the eternally begotten Son to serve sinful people like us.

How do we respond to the way Jesus served us? By giving up our rights and serving others, whomever they may be, to bring them the gospel. It will require sacrifice, to be sure. But that sacrifice does not come without a reward, as Paul says, "I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings" (1 Cor. 9:23).

Read complete article.

Thursday, March 06, 2014

Taking your cultural "strengths" overseas

In the last two weeks I've visited seven Perspectives classes to teach lessons on mission history. Before my spring "tour" is done I will attend a mission conference in Portland, participate in a week of meetings around a forum for church leaders in Orlando, spend a few days in Southern California, and then, March 31 and April 10, teach two more Perspectives lessons. Those are a culture lesson. In pulling up my notes about crossing cultures I remember how much fun this material is to teach. It's more personal. And much less "sage on the stage." I'll step more fully into the mode of "guide on the side," raising questions and inviting the class to discuss their own experiences and concerns and come to their own conclusions.

I'm also reminded how easy it is to believe that working in a cross-cultural situation is hard because of problems with the other people's culture. But that's not a very helpful conclusion. It's no use going around expecting other people to change on our behalf. Far more effective to acknowledge and examine our expectations and look for ways to adjust them along with our thinking and behavior. Those are the only thing over which we have at least some control.

I like the way Kenyan pastor Oscar Muriu describes these tensions:
Americans have two great things going for them culturally. One is that Americans are problem-solvers. Every time I come to the U.S., I like to spend a couple hours in a Wal-Mart. I find solutions to problems that I never thought of!

The rest of the world, even Europe, isn't so intent on solving inconveniences. We tend to live with our problems… Americans don't easily live with a problem—they want to solve the problem and move on…

The second great thing for Americans is that your educational system teaches people to think and to express themselves. So a child who talks and asserts himself in conversation is actually awarded higher marks than the one who sits quietly.

Those two things that are such great gifts in the home context become a curse when you go into missions. Americans come to Africa, and they want to solve Africa. But you can't solve Africa. It's much too complex for that. And that really frustrates Americans.

And the assertiveness you are taught in school becomes a curse on the field. I often say to American missionaries, "When the American speaks, the conversation is over." The American is usually the most powerful voice at the table. And when the most powerful voice gives its opinion, the conversation is over.

I tell Americans: "We're going into this meeting. Don't say anything! Sit there and hold your tongue." When you sit around a table, the people speaking always glance at the person they believe is the most powerful figure at the table. They will do that with you when you're the only American. And at some point, they will ask you: "What do you think?"

Don't say anything. If you say anything, reflect back with something like "I have heard such wisdom at this table. I am very impressed." And leave it at that. Affirm them for the contribution they have made. Don't give your own opinion.

Americans find that almost impossible. They do not know how to hold their tongue. They sit there squirming, because they're conditioned to express their opinions. It's a strength at home, but it becomes a curse on the field.

(Source: Problem-Solving, Opinionated Americans from Leadership Journal, The African Planter: Nairobi Chapel pastor on mission trips, and working well across cultures. An interview with Oscar Muriu (quoted in Leading Across Cultures: Effective Ministry and Mission in the Global Church pgs 110-111)

Thursday, February 13, 2014


This morning I made Daniel a couple of peanut butter sandwiches. Haven't done that in a while.  But it got me thinking about the social dynamics around this simple act.

When Chris and I were dating, I was a little horrified that he made his kids' lunches. Usually breakfast too. And though his mother, who they lived with, often made dinner, Chris showed himself more than adequate to take care of that as well. On one hand, part of me secretly hoped that after we were married he would serve me (and the kids) in those same ways, and sometimes he has. But I knew it was more likely that those kind of responsibilities would shift to my shoulders. As that happened I've received it with mixed feelings. I enjoy many of the tasks of housekeeping, but I'm a professional with a full-time job, too, and it's hard to do both. 

In my family where I grew up, making your own lunch was like making your own bed - a sign that you were a responsible person - or deciding what to wear - not something you'd want to delegate to another. It was your lunch, not your mom's lunch, and you should make it.

Turns out, in the family I married into, making your kid's lunch was a way to say "I'm here for you. And I love you."

It's hard to let go of one story and accept another, or accept both of them as valid. I'm regularly surprised and disappointed how much my self-righteousness asserts itself to defend my preferences, my ways, my ideas about how things are done or what they mean.

But I love Daniel, and not just because I love Chris. And I've recognized one way of showing it is to feed him.

Family dynamics have shifted, and Daniel usually makes his own sandwiches now. But I've learned to make them the way he likes them, as I did today. A thin layer of peanut butter on both pieces of bread, carefully spread to the edges. Generous layer of jelly or honey on top of that. Some assembly required, but no slicing. (That surprised me: I remembered that my dad always sliced sandwiches on the diagonal, my mom on the horizontal. Yet here was another option!)

In her book, Loving Someone Else's Child, author Angela Hunt says that stepfamilies, despite their problems, can give kids some unexpected benefits. A larger/blended family includes "more people with diverse personalities and styles and backgrounds and so there are more sources of social and cognitive stimulation for kids. In the long run, kids in stepfamilies could be developing more effective ways of dealing with a greater variety of people..."

"Children with 'step-in' parents usually have multiple role models. They will observe different parenting techniques and will have more models from which to choose when they are parents someday... they learn that it pays to be flexible."

In the long run, set-in-their-ways stepmoms may experience the same benefits, too! 

Tuesday, February 04, 2014

2013 Santa Clara Fire Department's Volunteer of the Year

Serving with our local volunteer fire department costs Hubs - and costs our family - a lot. It can also be quite rewarding. Sometimes at the same time. We were dismayed when the pager went off just before a big family dinner Christmas Eve. Minutes later Chris was saving the life of someone else's wife, mother, and grandmother, not returning until she was in the capable hands of the ER doctors and staff. Somehow after that opening Christmas presents did not seem such a big deal. He came back reeling from the tsunami wave and trough of adrenaline that comes at such times. When we fell into bed after the candlelight service that night, we were both exhausted, thinking about and praying for the other family and wondering if they'd have a greater loss before morning.

This Saturday was the annual awards banquet for the fire department. Had a hunch Hubs would be honored. Indeed he was. There's a nice plaque to hang on the wall, with his name added to one that hangs in the station. There were pictures and lots of hugs. A shoot for promotional photos is scheduled for next week. Long, loud, standing ovation. Lots of people came up to us that night to say they thought the recognition was a long time coming.

Last year's Volunteer of the Year, a good friend, read the following kind and honoring comments before presenting the award to him [edited slightly for clarity and a more general audience]:
It is my honor and pleasure to announce the 2013 Santa Clara Fire Department's Volunteer of the Year. It is something we all look forward to each year as it represents why many of us do what we do as volunteer firefighters and EMTs in our community. We work hard, and this is a very special opportunity to thank and praise someone special for their dedication and hard work in department. The award represents a wonderful appreciation and honor from your colleagues and your peers.

Our Volunteer of the Year is decided upon by the three preceding Volunteers of the Year. When we sat down to decide who it was going to be, there was no conversation or doubt as to who it was.

This volunteer has been unwavering in their dedication to our department since [he] joined us in 2007. Statistics and numbers can mean a lot; and if you look at this volunteer's numbers, they speak for themselves.* [He has] been in the top five responders every year since he joined, and rarely misses a drill. [He] will come down for calls in the middle of the night, on the weekends, middle of family dinners, and early mornings.

This year's Volunteer of the Year does something very special for our department and our community that sets him apart: he serves as our department chaplain. He stays with family members after a difficult call where a patient dies or suffers traumatic injury. He offers a shoulder to cry on for wives who have just lost their husband or comforts a parent as we take care of their sick child. He prays with people when they need a prayer. These duties often leave him on the scene of a call long after us other responders leave and go back to our homes and our families; he stays.

He also offers support and friendship to all of us here at SCFD. He has a talent for keeping an eye out for our well being and offering an ear if we need to talk about a difficult call we have been on.

I should also mention that this year's Volunteer of the Year has done all of this all while working a full-time job, being a father to his children, and a husband to his wife. This person included a special part of his wedding ceremony to "turn in" his pager to our Chief so he could spend extra time with his new bride … But I remember pretty clearly that we had a house fire the next weekend [after he was back], and lo and behold, when we came out of the fire, there he was running our rehab unit. And to top it all off, he is also is nearly done with his Master’s Degree in Clinical Chaplaincy.

Now that I think we all know who I am talking about. It is my honor to announce Chris Wade as Santa Clara Fire Department's 2013 Volunteer of the Year.

Congratulations, Chris!

* In 2013 Chris responded to 244 9-1-1 calls.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

February/March Travels

Unpacking from last weekend's overnight trip to Portland, I'm realizing I won't be moth-balling my suitcase any time soon. (Wait, does anyone still use mothballs?) Yes, it's nearly time for my usual springtime spate of speaking gigs. I'm exited about it; I do enjoy the chance to get out there and shine. Though I need to make sure I'm on top of the deadlines for my writing projects and the more mundane stuff at home. I should also be sure to replace the aging battery and balding tires on my car, lest they cause unexpected adventures along the way.

I'm teaching eight Perspectives classes in three states. Last year it was a different lesson each time, but this time I'm playing more to my strengths and should be able to get by with just blowing the dust off three of my better lesson plans.

Add in one overnight conference thing in Portland, and another of those eight-day trips to Florida for meetings with my Pioneers team, and here's what we've got:

Feb 20 - teach Perspectives lesson 7 (Bend, OR)
Feb 23 - fly to Louisiana
Feb 24 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Feb 25 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Lake Charles, LA)
Feb 26 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (Baton Rouge, LA)
Feb 27 - teach Perspectives lesson 7/8 (New Orleans, LA)
Feb 28 - fly back to Oregon

Mar 2 - teach Perspectives lesson 7 (Richland, WA)
Mar 5 - teach Perspectives lesson 8 (Portland, OR)
Mar 7-8 - Muslim ConneXion (Portland, OR)
Mar 15 - fly to Florida
Mar 16-21 - agency meetings (Orlando, FL)
Mar 22 - fly back to Oregon
Mar 31 - teach Perspectives lesson 10 (Portland, OR)

Friday, January 17, 2014

The weird world of stepparenting

Is any of this OK for a stepparent to say? Maybe it's
not ideal for a parent, either!
If someone were to tell you they never yell at their kids or speak harshly to them, you'd wouldn't think them completely honest, would you?

But being a step-parent, loving someone else's child, is a different kind of relationship than parenting, and exercising power and discipline (except over oneself) are really not part of the job description. Certainly, losing your temper or exerting your will (because "I am your mother") seems really inappropriate, along with parenting "techniques" like nagging, giving commands, issuing ultimatums or punishments, and withholding privileges. I don't recall either of my stepparents doing those things either, ever, at least not with me. (Though I'm aware of a few times they pulled such strings through my parents.)

And for their part, my stepkids are almost unfailingly polite to me. That's also how I tend to respond to them, as well as to my own stepparents. Eye-rolling, sarcasm, and battles of the will seem saved for the parents-in-the-flesh, if they are around.

Might be different if the kids were younger or living with us full-time. But signing up to marry someone with teenagers seems to mean seeking to be their ally. And, to the extent they welcome it, friend. Maybe that's a better job description than a parent gets, though it's certainly a less intimate one. I will never experience the contrast for myself, and I don't know what kind of ("real") parent I would be if I had the chance.

Don't get me wrong, things aren't bad in our house or in my relationships with the kids. But it feels like as a stepmom I'm simply not allowed to be mad at them (and show it) the way one does with a spouse, sibling, or parent. Nor can I discuss them with my husband the way I might they were "ours" in the traditional sense. Complaining to him about his daughter would be like complaining to him about his mother, not a good idea - better to listen supportively to any of his frustrations, but keep my own opinions more or less to myself.

So being a stepparent is a weird thing. It tries to tie the hands and make you bite your tongue. Our relationships are marked less by the tough love of family, more by the service and civility of  housemates, coworkers, or friends. Perhaps that's a good thing. The challenge of being a mother is not one for me, but I know how to be a good housemate, coworker, and friend.

Friday, January 10, 2014

What if it did happen?

Do you have dreams apparently entirely in another language you're trying to learn, or see yourself shine as you show off a skill you'd love to master?

Have you ever composed the perfect essay, story, song, or sentence in your head only to find it flee (or flawed) when you get a chance to write it down?

Or maybe you just imagine conversations where you connect (or conquer, as the case may be) in ways that never seem to happen in "real life." (Why not? Do you think it's just because the right circumstances didn't quite coalesce or the other person botched their lines?)

I'm wondering if the voices in our heads telling us the words could be perfect are more about confidence and not content. That feeling of getting it right, not the key to getting it right.

If that's the case, it's a beautiful dream about speaking flawless French; you didn't dream it all in French. It's the hope of writing that great song or story, it's not the one that actually came to you and somehow got away. It's wishful thinking about how you'd like to see yourself navigating relationships, probably not some kind of divine or diabolical inspiration.

Is this part of the appeal of fiction? Does it open the door for us to dream those dreams awake?

We watch a lot of action films in our house. Not my thing, really. On the one hand, I don't find them credible. I don't believe. You may see yourself as a soldier or superhero but the chances are very slim you will ever shoot anybody with a gun or run for your life or get in a car chase. Maybe the same could be said for the cheesy chick flicks for which I [sometimes] have more sympathy.

Is that desire, though, why you want to be that guy or that girl for an hour or two - maybe every night! - because it's not going to happen for you otherwise?

For me, the adventure aspect of the action films is overshadowed by the violence. When I watch violence on screen, I feel much much the same as I would if I saw it on the street. That's not what I want to feel. Even if I could suspect my disbelief, it's tough so suspend my dismay at what I'm watching.
  So the other thing about the fantasy stories of whatever type is the question, "what if it did happen?" Is that something to hope for, or a threat? Both?

Inside, do you really believe you'd have the courage, strength, or skill to come out on top? If opportunity or grand adventure really did come knocking - if your dreams began to come true - how would you respond? How would you handle it? Do you have what it takes, like that character?

Self image is a funny thing, isn't it? Maybe dreams and fantasy are where our hopes and fears come out and play.

Friday, January 03, 2014

Reading in 2013

This year I read just over 50 books. Not since I was 10 or so have I read so little as I have in the last couple of years, those that have passed since I left Denver and came out here to get married. Except for the months I spent overseas, that is. When I lived in Central Asia I read everything slowly. I chewed on it and copied down favorite passages in a journal. And that year, like this one, I had little library access and lived with people who prefer television and movies over reading. That won't change, this time. But I'm hoping to cultivate a greater reading life in 2014. I miss that part of my life a great deal and won't have more seminary classes until June.

I'm vacillating about heading to the Eugene Public Library to persuade them to give me an out-of-district library card, at $120/year (plus paying to park there!) I don't think I'd have gotten my money's worth on that until now, with so much less peaceful time and space for reading... but now may be the time? I do have access to a church library and several school libraries, though they aren't anywhere near my beaten path and have rather limited collections of the things that most interest me.

Under such circs, I've made do primarily with books I can get for free, e.g., in exchange for reviews, or in Kindle editions from my old library back in Colorado (which graciously still honors my library card). One thing I like about Kindle books is that they return themselves; that saves time and puts one less thing on my to-do list. One thing I don't like about Kindle books is that most libraries have rather limited collections of them in comparison to their printed books. So I can't necessarily keep up with all the books I'd like to read if I'm not interested in buying them.

In light of those dynamics, my reading list has been more eccentric than usual. Want to take a look? I just listed and ranked most of them on Goodreads.

A dozen of these titles were read (sometimes skimmed) in order to write reviews for Missions Catalyst, our weekly ezine. Another eight or nine were for the three seminary classes I took. That leaves only about 30 I read just for fun, like the mysteries by Jacqueline Winspear, Catherine Aird, and Anne Perry. (Or edification, like Tim Keller's excellent book, The Meaning of Marriage. Want to hunt down more by him). Some of the school and work books were quite fun or inspiring, too. I'm quite glad I read Hidden in My Heart, Mondays in the Middle East, and Fields of Gold - memoirs from Christian workers in Japan, the Arabian Peninsula, and Kazakhstan, respectively. 

More than two-thirds of the books I read were ebooks or audiobooks, not paper ones. Guess I've crossed over to the modern world, in this one respect anyway, eh? Certainly getting my money's worth for buying an iPad a few years ago. I seem to take it with me everywhere.

Related Posts:
2012 Book Report
2011 Reading List - Part 1 | 2011 Reading List - Part 2
2010 Book List
Read in 2009 - Part 1, Nonfiction | Read in 2009 - Part 2, Fiction
Book Blogging Roundup (2008)