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)