Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Teaching in a Time of Terror

lights the pyramids to show solidarity
with the people of , and
(Seen in The Guardian)
Just wrapped up my last round of 2015 public speaking, admittedly with some trepidation in light of the events unfolding in Paris as my travels began Friday evening.

A major terrorist attack. Another one!

But this one struck a stronger chord than usual with the American media and the public. It set off eddies of Americans talking about how they felt about the media coverage and media coverage about how Americans felt about the media coverage, and so on, until many news sources seem full of conspiracy theories and hawkish reactions. Mine were full of denouncements of those conspiracy theories and somewhat ridiculous statements about pursuing peace and unity (many, ironically, by calling for people to be more upset about more things, though others seemed mostly upset that people were upset and wanted everyone to just calm down). Seemed everybody was commenting on everything else until I dare not say or support anything at all, not with so many people so touchy.

Next on my plate is editing and publishing a set of Missions Catalyst News Briefs, and that will be delicate too, but there at least there's some time to pick and choose words and carefully frame them. Whereas getting up in front of these three Michigan Perspectives classes and talking about Muslims, immigrants and refugees, and understanding people from different cultures and religions, well, that seemed a bit fraught with peril. I didn't want to make things worse or add to what seems, to be, a growing cacophony of emotion and opinion.

One thing I folded in which I hope people found helpful was a discussion of essentialism and nominalism. Picked this up from the class I took a few years ago on contemporary issues in Islam.

Author Matthew Stone asks: what do we think of as being "really real," Islam, the Arab culture, and "the Muslim mind," and similar theories, ideals, and abstractions? Or are such things merely labels and models, simplified maps that may or may not accurately reflect the nuances of the religion, culture, or mindset of the specific community or individual in front of us, and guide us where we want to go? "Essentialism" focuses on the abstraction, while "nominalism" is more concerned with the specific or individual, what people have to say for themselves, not what they are "supposed to" believe or do according to a book or religious leader. Stone warns against what he calls cultural determinism, the idea that people come out of culture and religion factories and can be understood and evaluated according to what we think that factory is supposed to produce.

I think it's an esssentialist argument, for example, that the Qu'ran says (in places) that Christians are the enemy and Islam will triumph in the end, therefore "real" Muslims believe that, therefore "the Muslims" hate Christians and are trying to take over the world. So anyone who says otherwise, e.g., Christians like me or Muslims you actually meet who protest that kind of conclusion vehemently, are lying to you or deceiving themselves. A nominalist point of view can accept that there are Islamists who are trying to take over the world as well as lots of moderates who see things quite differently. Neither one is the "real Muslim," because what's a "real Muslim," anyway?

The making of maps and models gives us tools for communicating and understanding one another, but such tools can only take us so far. We soon find that people are much more diverse and complex. 

See also Models for Ministry (and their limitations).

Thursday, October 22, 2015

South Carolina through the Storm

When our new community was hit by a natural disaster, I couldn't help but watch the local response through the eyes of sociologist (and in particular, a sociologist of religion). How would a Bible-belt state weather this storm differently than the pagans back where I come frombless their hearts? TV was providing nearly 24-hour coverage of the storm during its height, the governor gave press conferences twice a day, and social media feeds were buzzing. All that gave me a chance to find out.

Saturday's rain was steady but the flooding of which we'd been warned had not hit by the time everyone went to bed that night. By morning, things were getting serious. Chris had barely made it home from a hospital call at 3am and knew, first hand, that the roads were no longer safe. Others had yet to reach that conclusion.

1. Going to church.

Churches seemed on the fence about what to do that first Sunday. The multi-site church we'd been attending closed some of their campuses and published statements that if you couldn't get out, it was fine to stay home. Other churches seemed to be taking the same line. But as the morning went on, more and more announced closures. Before long the news anchors were telling everyone "assume your church is closed!" (Not a question of public importance back in the Northwest.) In fact, they cited our local mayors who let it be known that they were asking ALL churches to cancel their services. "This is not a day for going to church. It's a day for Bedside Baptist and Pastor Pillow!" quipped one reporter.

Another new anchor shared how if she hadn't been called in to work, she had expected to be teaching Sunday school this morning down at her church, Shandon Baptist Church. Ironically the lesson was on Noah and the flood! That's not a story that would be told on broadcast TV back in Eugene, even though allusions to Noah or building an ark might be made.

Later we would learn that an older man from our part of town was drowned in his car that morning and had been believed to be on his way to church, First Baptist of Columbia.

Going to church. It's what you do here.

In comparison with some other parts of the country, church-going seems normative. Any time we've run Sunday errands we've noticed a lot of people in their "Sunday best," the existence of many "come as you are" congregations notwithstanding. (A note about "dressing up": What constitutes casual dress is a bit differently here. It might not be overstating the case to say that "dressing down" here is about like "dressing up" in the Northwest.)

Although people in Columbia seem pretty "churchy" to me, some of the older folks Chris is meeting at the hospital express concerns about the younger generation not going to church. They point out that churches that used to be big now are small. Chris has had a number of African Americans, in particular, speak of today's youth as lost or ruined. They blame the situation on people today getting too many government handouts and not having to work for things (as well as not being in church). Not sure how much the input he is getting is flavored by his religious identity (as a member of the "spiritual care" department). He's getting used to being referred to, at least occasionally, as a "pastor." He's had the opportunity to pray with many people.

2. Being the church.

Many, many of the churches are taking an active role in flood response, so much so that by the time our own isolation ended and Chris could get out, we weren't jumping up to volunteer. It didn't seem as if there was any lack of volunteers from among the Christians, from across the state, and beyond. Many churches took people in, collected supplies, distributed water, etc. and I'm sure that fundraisers and flood relief efforts will continue to characterize much of the local outreach for months go come. Well done, South Carolina.

I'm sure there's a lot more that could be said about what it looks like for local Christians to "be the church," but I'll wait and write more about that as I learn more.

Christian identity notwithstanding, the city of Columbia has all the usual "structures of sin" (and then some). There's an unusually high level of violent crime. Plenty of signs of drug and gang activity, too.

3. Using religious language.

In the Pacific Northwest, it's not uncommon for people to speak of prayer in times of crisis, but you're just as likely to hear references to "sending good thoughts your way." Many prefer to sound spiritual without being religious. I'm not hearing that in South Carolina. When people talk about praying for others or asking prayer, it sounds like they really mean prayer, as in interceding and talking to a Sovereign, Creator God. I like that. So, during the storm and in the follow up, there was a lot of talk about God and about prayer, and people said things you wouldn't necessarily say in other parts of the country. They talked about "being a people of faith."

I suppose they are probably just as likely to say "I'll pray for you" without actually doing it... orthodoxy is one thing; orthopraxy is another.

Another aspect of religious speech I struggle with a bit more. That's the expectation, in religious circles, that people are supposed to respond in ways they really wouldn't in any other context. In a classroom, workplace, or with family or friends, who shouts out agreement to someone who's talking? You don't do that! Well, not beyond nods and "uh huhs" and the like. But in all the churches we've visited and most of the chapel meetings I've been to on campus, people have been scolded if they don't offer  enough "amens."

I really don't like that. I'll agree with you if I agree with you, not just because you say so, and I'm probably not going to shout it out!  And if I were going to do that, why not use ordinary English?

We had a pastor back in Eugene who always asked us to flip back and forth between different passages, and often he'd say, "when you're there, say, 'I'm there.'" (Instead of "say amen!") That made a lot more sense to me. He was actually asking for feedback, not demanding a religious response.

So, I don't want to "amen." I see that it's expected, though. Oh well. It's not like I've never run into this before. I probably need to just let go of my reasons for finding it ridiculous or manipulative and accept it as part of the culture. Not wrong, just different.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Flooding in South Carolina

About a fortnight ago our whole town was preparing for rain. And not just a little rain, but the kind of rainstorm they say happens every 500 or 1000 years: 12 inches or more over one weekend. A few parts of the state got more than twice that.

The danger, of course, was flooding, and though the death toll was mercifully low, property damage was extensive. Hundreds of South Carolina dams, bridges, and roads were affected. The city's water system was compromised, some lost power as well, and hundreds of people were temporarily evacuated from their homes.

We live on the campus of a medium-sized Christian university on the edge of town. It's built on a hill and well designed for drainage. There was little to no damage here and we were quite safe and comfortable. Because of our location, however, we don't have many options when it comes to roads that connect with the rest of the world. When a local creek flooded badly, both of the closest currently approaches to the nearest highway were closed.

Getting to a gas station, grocery store, or Interstate means driving 13 miles further out into the country. So, although we're in the city limits, we find ourselves now about an hour's drive from town (and Chris's job) depending on the traffic.

It was unsafe to drive anywhere last Monday and Tuesday, and with Thursday and Friday already off for "fall break," the university decided to close down for the whole week, only opening again this Monday. Most of the staff and faculty, including many who were accustomed to getting here in only minutes, have to drive an hour or more each way just to get to work. The Christian school that shares a campus with us has set up extra school bus runs to collect kids whose parents used to just drop them off here but whose travel patterns are now severely disrupted.

People I've talked to seem surprised that we're so affected by these floods, so I just wanted to explain. Yes, all the water has subsided, and of course much of the city was never under water anyway. But you didn't have to go far to find places that were. Now we're all just dealing with the aftermath, which in some cases is going to take months.

What interests us and the campus community the most is when Monticello and Fairfield roads, the ones that could get us to the closest highway, are likely to open.

Rumors vary. Yesterday the school nurse told me another faculty member had reporting at a meeting hearing that Monticello would be closed not just for a month but for two months. Gulp...

Yet Chris came across a news story last night in which a reporter said, "We spoke to DOT, and it anticipates Monticello will be reopened by next Monday." (The DOT website still says November 6, though, and that's the official line from the school at this point, too.)

Pretty big variance, eh? If the road/bridge there was flooded but not damaged, they just need to do an assessment and reopen it. 30+ crews are out checking and working on roads and opening them as fast as they can safely do so. Reports about Monticello had said they believed the bridge supports were undermined. Maybe that's not true!

Chris is finding the long commute quite trying. When he has a day shift, he has to leave about 7:15am and won't get home until 6:15pm. Since a big part of his job is being an on-call night chaplain, though, he's also expected to be available every Friday, Saturday, and Sunday night to respond to any crises when the day staff isn't in. Since he couldn't get there from home in a timely way this last weekend, that meant leaving the house at 3:30pm on those days, spending the night in his office at the hospital with an air mattress and sleeping bag, and not getting home until 9:30 or so the next morning... before leaving again at 3:30 to get back. He was only called to see one patient during those three nights, but he had to be there.

Looks like we'll have at least one more weekend like that. But maybe several. We hope at least one of the routes that would shorten his route will open up and let him spend the weekends at home.


So there's my flood update. I'll try to write here again soon to share some cultural observations about life in the South and what Chris is encountering as a hospital chaplain here. It is challenging to find time for blogging with both a manuscript and a thesis proposal in the works and due within a week or two of each other, and other writing projects too. But I seem to find time for Facebook, games on my iPad, and watching TV with my husband. So I guess I can't honestly complain that I "don't have time" for more fruitful practices like blogging, journaling, or reading.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Help! I Can't Communicate with My Mandarin-Speaking Grandpa

It's not only people who travel or move to other countries that have to be very intentional if they ever want to cross-cultural barriers enough to communicate. The same challenges face our ABC (American-born Chinese) friends and other children of immigrants. Language gaps are exacerbated by cultural ones and interpersonal discomfort... coming from the feeling that you OUGHT to be able to connect and already have lots of common ground.

I enjoyed a recent story on Global Voices, originally from PRI public radio, about one young woman who made a decision to find out what her grandfather had to say.
"...in all the years of spending time with my beloved grandpa, YeYe — him driving me to tennis lessons, teaching me how to make dumplings, and taking me to meals upon meals after school at McDonalds (his go-to spread is the Big Mac with Coke, mine the dollar menu chicken sandwich) — we’ve had never had a real conversation.

"YeYe is from Taiwan and only speaks Mandarin Chinese. My parents are from Taiwan too, but I was born and raised in the US. Though I understand a tiny bit of Chinese, I pretty much only speak English. To call our conversations simple would be a gross understatement. It’s basically: hello, how are you, are you hungry, on repeat.

"I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to realize all this, but I decided to finally try to have my first in-depth conversation with YeYe.."
Listen to the story about Yowei's attempts to change this. 

Monday, October 05, 2015

Is It OK to Pray This?

“When the question rises, ‘Is it okay to pray this prayer?’ let the answer be once and forever settled: Yes, it’s okay. How? Just ask!

“We worry about knowing exactly what to pray in some cases because we think we know what to pray in all others. We may, at times. But aren’t there many times that we have asked imperfectly? God was not befuddled. Our ignorance did not clog the wheels of the universe.

“When we are uncertain as to how boldly we may ask, we are saying, ‘I’m afraid to ask for this because I might confused the Almighty. I may just force His hand to violate His own eternal purposes, and suddenly bring our world to a screeching halt when my mightiness of faith has secured an answer on earth which God didn’t really want to give.’ It is as though we sometimes think that a cosmic accident might occur if we invade heaven with a request that would somehow slip through the machinery of providence without being checked out carefully. Somehow God would find himself awkwardly glancing toward earth wondering, ‘How did I ever let that happen? I must be more careful about my answers to prayer.’

“‘But,’ you will ask, what if my request isn’t appropriate to God’s will? What if I am asking for something that I shouldn’t?

“The discovery of God’s perfect will won’t happen by excursions of human reason, assertions of man-made theology or personal opinions about ‘how I think God does or ought to do things.’ To the contrary, the Bible tells us how to discover His will through praying, not how to find His will and then pray.

“‘I implore you, brothers and sisters: present yourselves before God in a posture of worship, the kind that God accepts. It’s the only truly intelligent thing you can do. Therein you will find a transforming of your mentality from the world-way of thinking of God’s new way for you, and therein you will discover the whole counsel of His perfect will’ (Romans 12: 1-2, paraphrase.)”   -- Jack Hayford

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Made It to the Atlantic Coast

This summer, we traveled from the Pacific to the Atlantic!
In the last family update sent to all the folks on our mailing list, we reported that two days before we left Oregon on a 3.5-week journey to South Carolina, we got a call from the hospital whose invitation to join their chaplain residency program had motivated the 3,000-mile trek in the first place. The program was off. We sensed God’s guidance to go ahead with the move anyway.

Now get this: Two days after we pulled into town, Chris learned that the hospital had just created two new positions for the chaplains they had to have, residency program or no, and they wanted to fill them fast. Before the week was out Chris had met with the staff, filled out an application, been interviewed, was offered a job, and took it. We’re praising God for providing!
  • A job where Chris can take his next steps as a chaplain and minister to people in need.
  • A great place to live on campus at Columbia International University.
  • A warm welcome and the start of friendships on campus, in the community, and in a local church.
Read more about our trip across country and what we’re doing now in our September Newsletter.

Friday, July 24, 2015

En route, traveling light.

Before I moved to Oregon a friend gave me "After the Boxes Are Unpacked," a chirpy self-help book for Christian women. It was pretty good, but the way it was written suggested it was mostly for middle class mommy-types whose husband's professional jobs in business or the military brought them the crisis of dealing with moving companies and having to find someone new to style their hair. So while some of the content applied, without a husband, kids, dog, much in the way of money, or any particular concerns about who does what to my hair, I found that much of it didn't.

This move, nearly four years later, finds me fitting the profile a little better. Married now. Acquired, along with a ring and a husband, married-woman things like KitchenAid mixer and a couple of kids to miss and worry about and try to get through college (though they're not coming with us). My nesting/settling/protecting instincts have definitely been more deeply stirred, along with some insecurities I'd rather leave behind. I still don't care who cuts my hair, though. And this time, no moving truck at all. Don't need one. We're traveling light.

I went to Oregon with 25 boxes of books. Whittled that down to 16 for this move. And only three boxes of them are coming with us. At least a dozen boxes of files from my Caleb Project days went into the recycle bin. Hubs sold his moped, gave away the grill, packed away the camping gear, and said goodbye to a large collection of aging electronics. All told, we got rid of about 50% of our belongings (including nearly all the furniture) and left about 30% in storage back in Eugene.

With a mere 20% of our stuff in tow, unpacking boxes in our furnished apartment will not be so daunting. We made it to Colorado where we're lingering a while. Will hit the road again on Tuesday and plan to arrive in Columbia with our two Hondas, Saturday morning. Should be unpacked and moved in by nightfall.   

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Ledger Sheet

(See also Pesky Emotions).

It would be great if the language of gratitude were my native language; it isn't. I still increase my own suffering by interpreting situations with an invisible ledger sheet in hand to record the pain, loss, or disappointment. At times I just count up my losses while overlooking or discounting gains and take the whole thing very much to heart. To change this approach takes a conscious decision rather than doing what comes "naturally" and getting upset.

I'm keenly aware that we moved out of our house five weeks ago and I still don't get to go home, not for another two weeks. We're staying with people when we're not in hotels, and moving from one set of circumstances and relationships to another, without the chance to go "home" to some more comfortable way of life in between. This vulnerable season has brought lot of my insecurities to the surface.

The first morning we were staying in the place where we're currently laying our heads was a rough one. I was the first one up and in my pre-coffee stupor got confused about how things were supposed to be done in this house and ruined the coffee maker. I filled the entire house with smoke, woke the household, and added to that ledger sheet of mine the humiliation of being laughed at by my husband and the folks we're staying with  (who were glad the smoke wasn't from something worse and happy to laugh it off, though of course we speedily replaced the damaged items).

I hate being discovered making foolish mistakes and being laughed at, though. So I took the whole thing very hard and just wanted to run out of the house and never return. Yeah, not really an option. And certainly an overreaction to the event.

Then over the next few days things like that happened again. Not so dramatic, just little situations such as often come when you are staying in another person's home and reminded that they want you to do things the way they would do them. My cross-cultural experience seems to make it worse rather than better as previous parallels come to mind, situations I navigated either poorly or well but where the same emotions surfaced.

So I wondered if there was anything constructive I could do with that. As I reflected on the strength of my own emotional response to these incidents I remembered occasions from when I was as young as five or six and received correction for things I often didn't know were seen by others as wrong or inappropriate. You know, "getting in trouble." At what point did my little brain decide that "getting in trouble" was the worse thing that could happen? How much as this affected the way I see myself, others, and God or how I navigate life even now (at least at times)? And what can be done, even without professional help, to heal the ancient wounds and improve my responses to these "trigger" events?

Deep questions. But probably good ones to unpack if I want to conquer my fears, stop taking myself too seriously, and grow in resilience.

 It's OK, Marti, said the gentler voices I'm trying to listen to more often: your pain and suffering are real and valid and it's OK to be stressed and worn out by all this transition. But are you willing to consider that there might be another way? Yes, I know there is another way, and I'm willing to lay this way down and consider other ways to look at things and other ways to respond.

One of the strategies that seems to work the best is to start a fresh ledger sheet: a list of blessings, gifts, benefits, and wonders. It doesn't take much more than just a choice to shift my gaze to see how this season of transition has been one with blessing after blessing, troubles averted, and unexpected gifts. I'm grateful for so many signs of God's hand on us and ways he's using this season for our good and to bring good things to others as well.

Just writing or talking it out helps put my melodrama into perspective and provides the objectivity I need to carry on. If I don't want to take all this out on others, it helps to keep a journal handy. If I use it to record troubles, it lightens them. If I use it to record blessings, it gives them extra weight.

See also: Counseling (2010 post)

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Identity Shifts

My decision to get married a few years ago brought with it a whole kit and caboodle of new identities. I became not just a wife, but a seminary student wife, fire department wife, and guy-with-a-host-of-health-issues wife, as well as a parent. And not just a parent but a swim team, water polo, band, and Boy Scout parent. And as a stepmom, I lurked somewhat in the shadows on those parenting roles, not feeling the full weight of them but also unable to confidently take a place among the moms because the kids already had a mom and she was probably there too. A relief in some ways; a tension in others.

All these new roles might have helped me make friends. That sort of happened. But the circumstances were stacked against me; my background and interests were generally quite different from those of the people in the circles where this new life has taken me. It was hard to find  common ground. I often felt I didn't have time for friends and/or I couldn't be a good friend because I had all these things I had to do with or for my new family, including getting dinner on the table every night and trying to put in a full week of work (not always successfully).

Now Chris is done with seminary. This week he leaves the job that has sucked so much life out of him, and he'll be leaving the fire department soon, too. And his health is pretty good now. We won't have any kids living at home, since home, in its previous sense, is no more. Swim team and water polo are behind us, and we'll be 3,0000 miles away from any band concerts or Boy Scout events... and from the regular round of Wade family birthday and holiday gatherings too.

Yup, just over three years into parenting, I'm an empty-nester! Sometimes I joke about that because I know how funny it sounds. But it's weird funny as well as ha-ha funny. I feel some of the same mix of grief and relief, pride and concern, that "real" parents feel about having the kids out of the house. I'm kind of used to Haley doing her own thing, but I don't want to say goodbye to Daniel!

What will the next year or so mean for me in terms of identity? I'll still be a wife and parent, of course, but the job descriptions are quickly changing and the emotional price tag, which had been so high, has just been drastically reduced. My social calendar is practically empty! But I can have friends again, right? At least theoretically? I know, it's not automatic, and I'll still be working full-time and going to school. But I'm praying for a good friend or several. A supportive small group. A church where I can serve and connect with people in more meaningful ways than of late, and yes, maybe even a book club.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

People don't need good advice.

"People don't need good advice, they need good news," one of my Twitter feeds tells me. "My friends appreciate my advice most if it’s brief and wrapped in encouragement. Advice is a seasoning, not a meal," says another.

"Few people like to be told what to do or how they should do it,"  says a leadership guru I also follow. "Leaders often inadvertently discourage their staff by being overly directive."

Many of us get defensive when someone tries to tell us, to our face, what to do. Like little kids are wont to tell their older siblings: "You're not the boss of me!" Just listening to another offer unsolicited advice is tough for me... I find it hard not to leap to the advisee's defense and defend their right to reach conclusions and make decisions on their own.

Despite this resistance to being told what to do, why do we we embrace advice so readily when it comes from a more impersonal source? Few can resist seeing what someone else has to stay in a those ten-steps-to-success, eight-mistakes-you-might-be-making, or five-things-you-need-to-do-right-now sort of list-icles.

Maybe it's like reading your horoscope or a fortune cookie. You know you can take it or leave it. Whereas when a friend, colleague, or family member puts a finger in your face or starts laying out a case, whether harshly or lovingly, about what you (yes you, personally) need to do, emotions are provoked. You know that a response is required.

What do you think?

Tuesday, June 02, 2015

Odd jobs, new ones, and those soon to be obsolete

About a year ago I wrote about a woman I met who had one of those jobs I didn't know people had... as a pretend patient to train medical students. New jobs crop up all the time these days. Back in the late 50's when my mother's parents urged her to become a teacher (a suggestion that didn't stick) they probably had no idea that the career as a software tester she'd eventually pursue was even an option. Who'd imagine it? As Douglas Adams once said,

“Anything that is in the world when you're born is normal and ordinary and is just a natural part of the way the world works. Anything that's invented between when you're 15 and 35 is new and exciting and revolutionary and you can probably get a career in it. Anything invented after you're 35 is against the natural order of things.”

One of my favorite movies, Katherine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy's Desk Set, explores the tensions of a group of information specialists afraid of being made obsolete by a computer, one that probably had less power than the phone you carry in your pocket.

Such tensions haven't gone away, but gotten "worse." Today I came across an article from a 2014 edition of The Economist assessing the likelihood that various livelihoods will disappear as people are replaced by machines. The article is behind a pay wall, but here's a chart summarizing their predictions along with a caption:

"Which jobs will be obsolete in 20 years and which are likely to survive? We looked at the impact of automation in an article last year. Telemarketers and accountants beware. Personal trainers, dentists and the clergy are unlikely to disappear any time soon." http://econ.st/1KKj91U

Monday, May 18, 2015


It's about time for another email update, but meanwhile, here's the inside scoop on our plans!

SCHOOL: School is wrapping up for the Wade family...
  • Chris graduated with his M.Div. a week ago (and there was much rejoicing!)
  • I wrapped up my grad school semester May 15 and am off until the end of August.
  • Our daughter Haley is in finals week, though as she hopes to stay in California for a summer job, we may not get to see her again. Glad we flew her in for her dad's commencement. She starts her senior year at Biola in the fall.
  • Daniel is coasting through the last couple of weeks of high school and will graduate on June 6, just under three weeks from now. He will stick around Eugene for the time being, continue to work as a life guard/ swim instructor, and start community college in the fall.
MOVING: Yep, this is our summer of transitions!
  • May 23: Garage sale #1
  • June 6: Daniel's graduation
  • June 13: Garage sale #2 - furniture must go
  • June 14-28+: Stay with C's parents while he continues to work
  • June 20: Finish cleaning rental house and turn in keys
  • Late June/early July: Final trip to WA
  • Date TBD: Load up our two cars and head to Colorado
  • July: Vacation and visit friends in CO, then continue driving East
  • Aug 1: Move into (furnished) apartment in Columbia, South Carolina.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

"I can't believe Gilbert is dead!"

I grew up spending as much time with my nose in a book as with my friends; probably more. As an addiction, reading had some good side effects but some downsides too. My ability to make real-life friends was sometimes enhanced by the insights I gained from my imaginary friendships but also hampered by the limited amount of practice I gave myself with real people. It was often easier to retreat to re-reading a favorite book (where I could be sure that everyone would behave just as they had last time) than to get out there and learn the lessons of the playground. Even now, I sometimes struggle with frustration when others don't say the lines I've written for them and when scenes don't unfold according to script. Though I think that happens to non-readers, too.

These days many seem to find television and movies the more satisfying, engrossing medium. "Today, the TV set is a key member of the household, with virtually unlimited access to every person in the family," says the sociologist George Gerbner, who compares the power of television to the power of religion. "The more time people spend 'living' in the television world, the more likely they are to believe social reality portrayed on television."

I am not surprised to know people who feel more connected to characters on the screen than to neighbors, classmates, or coworkers, and maybe even family members. But when you add on the continued growth of celebrity culture, it has some funny effects, doesn't it? We start to feel as if musicians, athletes, and other celebrities are our real friends. And you can actually meet them. Follow them on Facebook. Write to them on Twitter. They are real people, even if their "brands" are carefully managed.

But what about actors? The job of these men and women, explicitly, is to present themselves as something other than they are... to portray the characters that, in a novel, would live only in one's imagination: Now they have flesh and blood.

A number of people I know were recently upset and saddened by the death of Canadian actor Jonathan Crombie. He's best known for portraying the young love interest in the much-beloved 1985 movie Anne of Green Gables. He was still in his forties and died rather suddenly of a brain hemorrhage, so that ups the tragedy factor.

Yet why were the fans sad? Few, I suspect knew much about the actor or had followed his modest career these last 30 years, much less his health, family, or inner life. They were sad because Gilbert was dead. Of course Gilbert was a fictional character and had never been alive in the first place.

What do we make of this? A healthy sign that one's imagination, empathy, and sense of play are still working, or something more ominous and distorted? Is it different from children playing with dolls, animal-lovers attributing human motivations to their pets.... or me crying over a book? (which seems perfectly justified! Or.... okay, maybe it's the same thing.) Is it a matter of degree or effect, a question of whether they express a healthy creativity versus an obsessive, corrupting, or idolatrous one?

We live in a post-modern day and age where it's hopelessly old fashioned to defend the notion of a common "reality" or the importance of being connected to the "real world." Under such conditions, it would seem like nonsense to evaluate these behaviors in terms of how they reinforce or distort our sense of and taste for what is true, real, good, or best. Wouldn't it?

Monday, April 20, 2015

Free ice cream other fringe benefits

"Crying because 'free cone day' at Ben and Jerry's is tomorrow while I'm at work!" posted one of my Facebook friends. She's a young woman characterized by a mix of sharpness and silliness I find rather endearing. While other friends bemoaned such bad luck, I briefly considered pointing out the happy fact that activities like going to work are what make treating oneself to an ice cream cone possible on any day, not just once a year. I said nothing, though, not sure that my relationship with her is strong enough to bear the weight of such logic!

Since then I've been thinking about how much I take for granted the intrinsic blessings, big or small, that come with the intrinsic limitations of my own life and maybe those of each one of us.

Friday we stopped by Chris's university in Portland to have lunch there on our way to Seattle, and caught sight of a flier advertising a sunset dinner cruise for seminary students. No price listed, but tickets for that particular experience run $70 a person; no chance it's free? Actually, it is, and we're signed up. One of those little perks that come along with the sacrifice of time and money we've made to get Hubs through school. And a nice way to celebrate graduation. Thank you, Lord.

Today I am working on resource reviews for the weekly, online magazine I manage. I regularly rejoice that I've got a job that allows me to spend so many hours playing with words and putting together articles, almost all of which are published. This morning, that meant spending a couple hours reading a mission-related novel. It's pretty good. I'm going to recommend it. But am trying not to feel guilty about starting my work week with such a pleasure!

None of us love our jobs (or our lives) all the time, but isn't it great to have a job with many moments you can love... and that provide the means of enjoying other things you love? 

Friday, March 27, 2015

South Carolina Food Taste Test

...In which several West Coast people--people like me--sample South Carolina delicacies for the first time. Shrimp and grits, boiled peanuts, or spicy ginger ale might be a little uncommon. At least I've never tried them before. But where did they find Californians who haven't had sweet tea?

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Smiles in the Aisles

When I went on a company-sponsored cruise a few years ago, I was dismayed by the pressure to be pleased at all times. It's not that our company was necessarily supporting this manipulative practice, but the hospitality industry certainly was. Am intrigued by the idea that happiness is something you can mandate, cajole, engineer, or  produce.

It seems that a significant part of the business of offering great service these days is telling people you’re offering great service. Persuade people to like you by telling them how much they like you. Give them a gift and leave the price tag on; make sure they know about all its features and how "perfect" it is for them. As if they have no choice but to like it. And be happier as a result.

Amazing how often this actually works. People are happy because you tell them what a great time they're having (Though, silly me, I want to reserve the right to come to my own conclusion).

On a flight home from Orlando I noticed (and yes, smiled) at Delta Airlines’ boast of “75 years of smiles in the aisles.”

Is labeling the java “great coffee” supposed to set people up to enjoy it more? Does it work? 

Thursday, March 05, 2015


OK... so blogging is hard to fit in these days. February was another month of publishing 40,000+ words elsewhere, and both February and March have had a sometimes frenzied load of travel and teaching. I meant to at least get a newsletter out before it began but settled for a frantic-sounding one, midstream, a few days ago.

Perspicacious readers should be able to tell that I need more time to sit still and ponder, but that's not going to happen just yet. I get back home from my last trip on March 21, but will probably be behind on my graduate school studies by then and have to scramble to catch up.

Of course, each of these activities has a sweetness of its own and can be very rewarding. That's part of why I do them. But the adrenaline from these events, increased by doing them all at the same time, is a dangerous addiction. Both Hubs and I are prone to this pattern. So the days one of us wants to just chill out are often ones when the other wants to be productive and has a long to-do list. I don't see us getting a consistent weekly sabbath until school is out.

I wonder if we can schedule a spring "break" to disrupt this cycle? Maybe around Easter?

If you haven't seen that frantic newsletter (and want to), take a look.

Wednesday, February 04, 2015

I might blog. I might not.

I'd like to blog more just like I'd like to read more. In both cases, the old habits suffer from too much competition. I'm spending my words elsewhere. Decided to keep track of the bigger chunks for a bit. My records show I wrote/edited about 30,000 words in November, 50,000 in December, and 40,000 in January. I started counting because I had friends doing National Novel Writing Month (with its 50,000 word goal) and I wondered how my own capacity might compare. Now that I've got a read on that I'm not sure I'll keep counting.

Up next? Travel-and-teaching season. I'm scheduled to teach eight classes or workshops in various cities across Oregon and Washington over a period of 3-4 weeks this spring, and following that, will make one of my semi-annual business trips to Florida.

In light of this schedule, I'm leaving the door open: I might blog while I'm on the road. But in case I don't, I'll try to schedule some reruns of favorite posts and topics from the 8+ years of Telling Secrets. Diving into the archives from time to time reminds me where I've come from and helps me reconnect with ideas I still find interesting or helpful. I hope they'll interest you, too.  

Friday, January 30, 2015

Women in Missions: William Carey's Praying Sister

It's been many months since my last entry in the series of accounts and reflections on women in missions, but just came across something good I want to share with others who are interested in this kind of thing. This comes from Joni Eareckson Tada. I'll have to do some more digging to find the original source material.
"While he labored in the distant land of India, back in England, William Carey had a sister whom he affectionately called Polly – Polly was bedridden and almost completely paralyzed for 52 years. William wrote to Polly all about the details of his struggle to create primers and dictionaries in the various Indian dialects, as well as the difficulty of figuring out how to get these books typed and printed. And with every letter from William that she received, Polly lifted these needs up before the Throne. Every day for 52 years, she faithfully prayed for her brother.

"Now I don’t have to tell you that really inspired me. There she is Polly for all intents and purposes a quadriplegic, unable to walk or use her hands. But that didn’t paralyze her prayer life. And, oh, were William Carey’s efforts blessed by God – not only was India reached for Christ, but what he did became a model for modern missionaries even to this day… all because a paralyzed woman prayed.
"A lot of people know about the work of William Carey, but not many people know about the sister behind the scenes whose prayers guaranteed the success of his efforts. Polly’s testimony tells me that the life of any Christian can have huge repercussions for the kingdom. Think of it: if God can use bedridden quadriplegics to open doors to the Gospel around the world, what can He do through your prayers?! Little wonder the Bible says, 'Pray without ceasing.' … for God knows what great things are accomplished when people pray."

» Read more.

Teaching on Women in Missions

I need to brush up on this topic in preparation for teaching Perspectives classes this spring. One of the lessons I regularly teach is built around four men who are held us as "pioneers" of new ways of doing mission: William Carey, Hudson Taylor, Cameron Townsend, and Donald McGavran. Since all four men were married (Carey had three wives and Taylor and Townsend each had two), it's a cinch to fold in content about the eight women, and hard to resist adding in a few more women who were a significant part of their ministry teams.

I think it's important not to wave the "girl power" flag too briskly. It's too easy to send out a male-bashing message, and we certainly need more men who are willing to serve in missions even though they long been outnumbered by the women. Yet mission history is still typically written and taught with a focus on men, and the women's stories ought to be told as well.

For anyone who teaches this lesson and wants some ideas, here are a few of the women whose contributions I highlight. I've also blogged about some of them here, it's easy to find more material online, and I'm happy to share my teaching notes.
  • William Carey: wives Dorothy, Charlotte, and Grace; teammate Hannah Marshman
  • Hudson Taylor: mother Amelia, wives Maria and Jennie, teammate Emily, sister Amelia
  • Cameron Townsend: wives Elvira and Elaine, niece Evelyn, the anonymous woman who told him he'd be a coward for going to war and leaving the women to carry out missions, and the teams of single women he sent out like Loretta Anderson and Doris Cox. 
  • Others: If there's time I usually fold in stories about Mary Livingstone, Mary Slessor, Ann Judson, Isabel Kuhn, Lottie Moon (and her sister who was a physician in the Middle East), and the women's societies formed to support missionaries and send out single women.

Monday, January 26, 2015

Anticipating Apartment Life

It's been nearly 20 years now since I moved from my last apartment into a small house in the Denver suburbs, rented from a friend and shared with a roommate or two, and featuring a two-car garage, white picket fence, and a dog. Yes, a little bit of the American dream. Lived there until my move into fairly similar digs in Oregon at the end of 2011.

The move to Oregon was fairly wrenching since it required sorting through everything and putting most of my stuff in storage, saying goodbye to a lot of friends and a great church where I was known and loved, moving in with strangers, and six months later setting up housekeeping with an actual husband and a couple of teenaged kids who had their own stuff and ideas about how to live and keep house. Moving, marriage, and step-parenting quickly revealed how little my efforts to avoid becoming an inflexible and eccentric old maid had succeeded.

So it is with some trepidation that I now consider our next step, which this time involves a 3000-mile cross-country summer drive to a different part of the U.S. It means saying goodbye to our first home together and moving into a furnished two-bedroom apartment much like the one I left when I upgraded to a "real house" in my twenties.

Chris starts his new job around September 1, and my classes start the third week of August. In terms of the job, it's a big step forward, but in terms of our standard of living, well, it will be a campus apartment. I think we'll be surrounded mostly by other young marrieds, many a couple decades younger than we are.That's going to be a change.

By global standards, we'll continue to live a life of plenty and privilege. Almost 900 square feet just for the two of us? Should be plenty, right?

I wonder: Have a couple years of marriage since the last move made me more pliable? Or has the continued aging made me less so? I hope the former outweighs the latter. I feel more secure now than I did then, and therefore ready to say goodbye to some of the stuff and way of life I clung to so hard when I moved to Oregon, a move that required so much of me that I felt a defensive attachment to the things I thought I ought to be able to keep.

Those Caleb Project files boxed up in the attic? I really don't need them anymore. I can let go. The books? I don't have to keep them all, either. If Chris can give up his moped and barbecue grill, well, the couple pieces of furniture from my childhood home which I went to great effort to move to Colorado and then to Oregon may finally be garage-saled, too. It's not worth it to get a moving truck at this point, not with a furnished apartment waiting for us when we get there, and a good chance we'll be back (or moving elsewhere) in just a year or two. Chris's folks have offered us space in their attic, so we may not even need to pay for a storage unit. If everything comes through on the rental, we'll sell what can't go in the attic and travel through life a little lighter. "Settling down" and maybe even buying a house are at least a few years in the future for us... maybe more. So living with less is the only wise thing to do.

I'm not the only who has attachment issues to work through at this point. Our son is dismayed to see the two big recliners from which he's watched hours of television (and fallen asleep doing homework) are both on the got-to-go list. Sorry, kiddo. Whatever you can cram into the little room at your mom's house, it's yours.

Friday, January 09, 2015

"God had better start treating me fair"

This comment, from someone named Lyle, was posted through the Q&A forum on a website I help manage:

"If god wants me to start going back to church, he had better start treating me fair"

It's been haunting me ever since I read it.

If it's true, as A.W. Tozer once said, that the most important thing about us is what we think God is like, what about this perception so many have that God is wronging us, that God, if there is a God, is clearly giving us so much less than we deserve, that God is cruel or deeply unfair? Sounds like a monster, not a God. How could you embrace, love, and worship such a God?

Yet many do not seem to get past this trap, believing that they could only worship a God who was much better than the only God they can imagine must exist based on all the trouble in their hearts and in the world. Of course, looking to our own imagination as a reliable source of what God is like is not the only option, but so many seem to start there and can't get past the obstacles they find.

I heard something similar from a friend who is trying to figure out if there's a way to rediscover and reclaim the faith of her childhood after having walked away from it some years ago. As a young adult she just couldn't keep believing in or trusting the Christian God whom she saw doing things like letting little kids get leukemia and die. Years later, she's still struggling with much the same thing. How can God let her suffer like she has been suffering lately? Why is God "making" her and her family go through all this pain and torture? She's prayed and found it doesn't "work." Meaning that God does not do what she's begged him to do. Her problems - and they are serious ones - have not gone away.

Well, there are worse places to go with your anger and disappointment at God than to talk to people who love God, or even talk to God himself about how angry you are. He can take it.

I want to comfort my friend in her struggle and not push religious or trite answers on her, but she's practically begging for answers, and certainly a part of her suffering is with the sense she has that God himself has let her down. So perhaps the kindest thing I could do for her, along with just listening to and loving her, would be to tell her or show her how she's got God wrong. I want to tell her he's not like that, not at all like that.

Doesn't she see - doesn't my online commenter see - that God is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in love? That we, who were made for a purpose, for relationship with him, reject him at nearly every turn and yet he pursues us, and showers us with blessings whether we respond to him or not? That the existence of evil and pain in the world does not mean God himself is evil and the source of pain? 
“What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. The history of mankind will probably show that no people has ever risen above its religion, and man’s spiritual history will positively demonstrate that no religion has ever been greater than its idea of God. Worship is pure or base as the worshiper entertains high or low thoughts of God.
“For this reason the gravest question before the Church is always God Himself, and the most portentous fact about any man is not what he at a given time may say or do, but what he in his deep heart conceives God to be like. We tend by a secret law of the soul to move toward our mental image of God. This is true not only of the individual Christian, but of the company of Christians that composes the Church. Always the most revealing thing about the Church is her idea of God.”

– A.W. Tozer, The Knowledge of the Holy (New York: HarperCollins, 1961), 1.

Monday, January 05, 2015

Multi-tasking. It's like smoking pot, apparently.

Moving into a new year hoping to get more and/or better work done without working longer hours (since, with two jobs, school, and family, I really don't have the time to spare). Am thinking I need more rigid boundaries between each of my tasks and the things that would distract me from focusing on them - often other and perhaps equally valuable tasks. Some of these activities may constitute healthy and helpful "breaks," but unfettered can become sinister. Here’s something to consider in that regard.

"Multitasking may be ubiquitous in today’s plugged in, multi-device world, but you’ve probably already heard not everyone thinks just because you can do multiple things at once you that you should.
'A study done at the University of London found that constant emailing and text-messaging reduces mental capability by an average of 10 points on an IQ test. It was five points for women, and 15 points for men. This effect is similar to missing a night’s sleep. For men, it’s around three times more than the effect of smoking cannabis. While this fact might make an interesting dinner party topic, it’s really not that amusing that one of the most common "productivity tools" can make one as dumb as a stoner.'
"That means when you're switching between answering emails and doing important tasks for your business, when it comes to mental function, you'd be better off if you were stoned. Or, as another quote from the book highlighted by Barker puts it, "when people do two cognitive tasks at once, their cognitive capacity can drop from that of a Harvard M.B.A. to that of an eight-year-old."

Source: Inc.com

See also: Five Ways to Keep Yourself Focused at Work

Thursday, January 01, 2015

Books read in 2014

My book-reading life continues to be a modest one, as in the last few years I’ve been living in a place with limited library access and also spent far more time playing games, perusing random stuff on the Internet, and watching movies and TV shows with my less book-oriented family. Even so, I'm still able to do a good bit of book-reading as part of my job and graduate studies.

Here’s a list of the 45 books I read in 2014.


  1. Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good, by Jan Karon [Latest Mitford novel; some really good bits but not very cohesive] 
  2. Shepherds Abiding, by Jan Karon [Mitford “Christmas” novel; quite good] 
  3. Goodnight June, by Sarah Jio [just for fun, but rather flawed] 
  4. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis [probably my favorite Narnia book] 
  5. The Last Battle, by C.S. Lewis [another Narnia book; audio recording by Patrick Stewart] 
  6. Home, by Marilynne Robinson [well-written but darker than her related novel, Gilead
  7. Clouds of Witness, by Dorothy L. Sayers [Lord Peter Whimsey mystery] 
  8. The Faith of Ashish, by Kay Marshall Strom [Christian historical fiction, but didn’t ring true] 
  9. The Finishing Touches, by Hester Browne [just for fun; charming “chick lit”] 
  10. The Storm, by Frederick Buechner [he always gives me something to chew on] 
  11. The God of the Hive, by Laurie R. King [Sherlock Holmes and Mary Russell mystery series] 
  12. The Bridge, by Karen Kingsbury [I read one of hers every now and then but they’re rather sentimental and simplistic; therefore, popular!] 
  13. Emergence, by David R. Palmer [re-read of a favorite sci-fi novel]
  14. The Colors of Space, by Marion Zimmer Bradley [another sci-fi book, new to me. Pretty good.]
  15. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street, by Jeanne Birdsall [re-read of a wonderful kids book] 
  16. The Magician's Elephant, by Kate DiCamillo [lovely children’s book by a great author] 
  17. The Boy on the Porch, by Sharon Creech [OK, if not her best; focuses on foster parenting]


Mission Books

  1. A Wind in the House of Islam, by David Garrison [a look at movements to Christ in the Muslim world; significant book, though it was overpromoted in my circles, and didn't really deliver, I felt.]
  2. When Missions Shapes the Mission: You and Your Church Can Reach the World, by David Horner [exposes, challenges how many churches give little more than lip service to world missions; a tough read, really. Written primarily to pastors who want to change that.] 
  3. Mission Smart, by David Frazier [for church leaders and prospective missionaries, on key questions and issues to deal with in preparing for mission service] 
  4. Here to There: Getting From Commitment to Commissioning, by David Meade [similar to Mission Smart in its aim, but far too prescriptive for me to recommend it widely]
  5. Beyond Ourselves: How Can the Unreached Be Reached? by D. Kroeker [a thoughtful call to stop asking “what can I do?” instead of “what needs to be done?”] 
  6. Contagious Disciple Making: Leading Others on a Journey of Discovery, by David Watson, Paul Watson [how/why to implement a “discovery method” to disciple-making in any context.] 
  7. Tradecraft: For the Church on Mission, by Larry E. McCrary, Caleb Crider, Wade Stephens [great practical material about approaching the world with the tools of a missionary, but made less useful by it’s “everyone’s a missionary, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!” stance]
  8. Go Tell It: How--and Why--to Report God's Stories in Words, Photos, and Videos, by James Killam, Lincoln Brunner [small audience, but I’m in it: a guide to missions journalism] 
  9. Distant Fields: The Amazing Call of George Markey from Farmland to Missions, by Jed Gourley [A tribute, from protégé and son-in-law, to a missionary whose life was cut short. More of a life story than a missionary bio, though; focus is on his early life and U.S. ministry, and mission career did not model approaches I'd commend to others] 
  10. The Finish Line: Stories of Hope Through Bible Translation, by Bob Creson [Inspiring, though it is kind of an infomercial for their work] 
  11. Kisses from Katie: A Story of Relentless Love and Redemption, by Katie J. Davis, with Beth Clark [call to surrender to God; passionate young woman tells the story of her move to Africa to give her life to working with orphans and the poor]

Seminary Books

  1. Turning Points: Decisive Moments in the History of Christianity, by Mark A. Noll [a bit unnecessarily reductive, but that makes it easier to grasp; good scholarship; readable]
  2. Getting to Know the Church Fathers: An Evangelical Introduction, by Bryan M. Litfin
  3. Systematic Theology: An Introduction to Biblical Doctrine, by Wayne A. Grudem [OK, I only read half of Grudem’s massive work; the other 600 pages are on my syllabus for 2015!] 
  4. When Temptation Strikes: Gaining Victory Over Sin, by Larry Dixon 
  5. Five Views on Sanctification, by Melvin E. Dieter [bit of a muddle, I’m afraid – felt more like an excuse for five academics to get something published than a guide to help readers understand the views; might have been more helpful if it included more divergent views]
  6. Evangelism and the Sovereignty of God, by J.I. Packer [I may blog more about this one]

Other Nonfiction (probably the best books I read this year)

  1. If I Had Lunch with C. S. Lewis: Exploring the Ideas of C. S. Lewis on the Meaning of Life, by Alister E. McGrath [one charming and beloved English theologian researches, helps readers discover and appreciate another, though likely more readers know Lewis than McGrath]
  2. Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake, by Anna Quindlen [good essays from a fine writer about her views (not as universal as she may suppose) on being a woman, feminist, baby boomer] 
  3. Painful Blessing: A Story of Loss, Recovery, Hope, and Faith, by Jill Krantz Viggiano [Jill writes about the experience of walking with her husband in recovery from a serious stroke. Informative; could help people know they aren’t alone and get perspective on the experience]
  4. And Life Comes Back: One Woman's Heartbreak and How She Found Tomorrow, by Tricia Lott Williford [Tricia writes about the experience of suddenly losing her husband and becoming a young widow and single mom; a good read] 
  5. The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, by Timothy Keller [recommended; a contemporary apologetic from the New York City pastor] 
  6. Through the Children's Gate: A Home in New York, by Adam Gopnik [essays from a gifted columnist about life in the city] 
  7. David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits, and the Art of Battling Giants, by Malcolm Gladwell
  8. First Family: Abigail and John Adams, by Joseph J. Ellis [very interesting; recommended]
  9. Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother, by Eve LaPlante [great book on the family and cultural context in which Alcott lived and wrote] 
  10. In Search of Deep Faith: A Pilgrimage Into the Beauty, Goodness and Heart of Christianity, by Jim Belcher [personal memoir and literary/theological travelogue; favorite genres all in one!]