Thursday, August 30, 2007

Seeing and Believing

Yesterday I was recounting to a friend how I had talked with the home office for the volunteer gig I want to do next year in Tanzania and how it was really coming together that I would probably be there for 10 weeks starting in January AND how I had been accepted by the ESL certification program and would start 9 to 5 days M-F in November for four weeks AND how one of my instructors is from the one country I know I want to try and teach in and probably has the connections I will need to make that happen.

After the bubbling brook of information and enthusiasm for my initial days of my great adventure subsided she said, "I would say how great it is that it is all working out for you but that sounds like it's just happening and you've put a lot of work into making this 'just happen.'"

I love this friend.

She sees things like that and doesn't let them go unsaid. I have researched and called and networked and am continuing to do so. Lots of folks just observe the outcome and don't recognize the foundation on which its built.

She does.

May her tribe increase ... and may she herself get some good news this weekend!!!*

*Even though many of you don't know her and I'm not using her name, just say a prayer, ok? She's one of the good ones who loves deeply and one she loves is waiting for some good health news.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

A Rainy Night in Houston and I'm Standing in Line with THE List

I heard the words that my friend, a mother of three who is in the midst of a move and starting her own new school year as a high school teacher, was saying. But I didn’t grasp the real meaning until I was standing at a ransacked shelving unit in Target asking complete strangers if they had, as yet, found college ruled notebook paper. Discovering that, yea verily, Super Target was not so super as to have ordered enough of that particular product to satiate the masses who were set forth, lists in hand, by our educational system the first week of school. Neither, I discovered, was Office Max and they topped off my buying experience by having a credit card machine breakdown in the line I had carefully chosen because it didn’t have three weary mothers with carts overflowing with book covers, 2-inch (not half inch!) binders and multi-colored highlighters.

I never knew.

I’ve lived this long and was clueless that such a ritual existed. “They” have The List. But “they” don’t divulge it until the children/youth are seated in their classrooms and thus a system is born.

I’m thinking it’s a Wal-Mart-based conspiracy.

I also suggested that with the one package of 150 sheets of aforementioned college rule paper that my 15-year-old charge found tossed in a bin of writing utensils, we could have perhaps had an auction right there in Office Max and perhaps paid for her first semester of college.

I’m just saying.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Faith Wow!

This weekend the big news was that Mother Teresa had doubts. In fact, she spent most of her ministry wondering where God was.

When I read the account, I had two reactions. First, I thought, "My God, I finally have something in common with Mother Teresa!"

My second was a bit startling. Since she really didn't want her letters of confession published it hit me that she could have possibly lacked in a community who would accept her in her unbelief, a community who gave her the freedom to doubt.

"I have that!' I thought. "I never doubt that I have room to doubt and still be loved by my friends. . . Wow . . . I'm one up on Mother Teresa!"


Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Perhaps I'm Smiling TOO Much!?

Today I had to fill in for my boss who was filling in for our other boss but who had to take care of family business so she wasn't there for my organization's quarterly business meeting.

Still with me?

So I pinned up my dress so I was somewhere near conservative in the cleavage department, reviewed all the Powerpoint slides she'd prepared for a state of the union address and called upon my incredibly gifted co-workers to be ready to fill in the blanks should I stumble with facts and figures -- not my strong suit. I'm all about the story, remember?

But before the report, I had to play her as interviewer. We wanted to feature this incredible pastor who maintained his successful export business while pastoring a church that in the last year or so has started 18 churches which in turn have started 6 more. He's also been "detained" in North Africa when he was picked up on the street because he'd openly answered a woman's question about his faith, and his network of small churches have raised thousands of dollars (and they are mostly churches of immigrant Hispanics) for wells in Mexico. I LOVE this guy!

I also interviewed the co-worker I bragged on in an earlier blog entry.

They were great and I was almost giddy.

I think people suspected I might be a bit toooooo happy about the resignation letter they were also seeing for the first time!

That announcment was in their package of papers but came later in the meeting. Nice things were said about me and I smiled.

After a few more announcements and updates, the rest of the staff and I went to the front of the room to fill in the blanks of the slides. I called on each one of them at one point or the other and they made the stats come alive with stories of what those stats translate into.

I smiled.

I also encouraged, challanged, and declared that since I was leaving I could take a personal point of privilege and say that this staff was one of the most incredible group of consultants I know doing what they do in this country.

I smiled as I acknowledged that I would probably never again work with a group of this caliber.

I smiled when I asked the folks in the room to support the efforts of this staff.

I smiled when we concluded our time with one more pat on the back to those who were there and those who helped to move toward the organization's vision every day.

I smiled when some pastors I've met through the years came forth to hug me.

And I smiled when I walked away, got in my red VW, and saw that location that has housed this meeting for most of my nine years of quarterly meetings in my rearview mirror.

I am, in fact, still smiling.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Every Change Changes Everything

I'm a big fan of systems thinking. Once again, while reading The Week, I was rewarded with a wonderful illustration that serves to unpack this complex subject. The piece, written by one of my favorites -- William Falk -- also prompts the question . . . so what? we do nothing???

On my Saturday shopping expeditions, I've noticed a change over at the Whole Foods. A new sign has popped up here and there amid the heirloom tomatoes, specialty cheeses, and fresh-roasted coffees, bearing the single virtuous word: "Local." It's a wonderful salve to the conscience: My fellow shoppers and I live amid such embarrassing abundance, yet simply by paying $4 for a head of local lettuce, we can do our part to save the planet from global warming. Or so it seemed, until some scientific spoilsports at Lincoln University in new Zealand ran all the numbers. To accurately calculate a product's cabron impact, they found, you have to go beyond "food miles" -- the distance that kiwi or artichoke-flecked sausage traveled before reaching your table -- and figure in how much fertilizer, transported water, electricity, and other energy was used to produce it. Lamb raised on New Zealand's sunnier, grasier hills and hipped 11,000 miles to Britain, the study found, produced a mere 1,520 pounds of carbon emissions per ton. "Local" British lamb, which requires more intensive ccare, prodcued 6,280 pounds --- four times as much.

As if that heresy were not upsetting enough, a British scientist has calculated that walking to the store contributes more to global warming that driving a car. Walking, it seems, burns calories, which have to be replaced by eating food. And producing food -- especially beef and dairy products -- is more carbon-intensive than burning a smidge of gasoline, particularly since ruminating cattle emit so much methane. Now does this mean we can do nothing to slow global warming? No. It only means that the world is enormously complex, and that simple soulutions to big proplens--solutions that make us feel comforted and virutous -- are almost always illusory.

Monday, August 13, 2007

Gotta Love the Irony

I'm on hold with the Baptist-based financial organization that has collected my retirement funds for the last 20 years. I'm sitting at my desk. I'm waiting to ask questions related to how I can get my money out of their hands and into the hands of a not-tied-to-the-denomination financial group.

The "on hold music" is a rousing piano solo of some old time gospel song. Meanwhile, my office radio is blasting away with Tim McGraw's "I'm gonna live like I was dying."

I'm thinking, "I'm working on it, Tim, just give me time!"

Learning Takes All Forms

Cross cultural work begs the metaphor. Some have suggested that diversity is like a patchwork quilt. Others say it's more like a stew. Still others have claimed the mosaic. As with most comparisons, the similarities eventually leave us at loose ends, blend into mush, or crack in some way.

But I love that we strive to connect something visual and artistic with the joys and struggles of communicating across/around worldviews and cultural beliefs.

I also love when the work creates in us the possibility of something heretofore unimaginable.

One of my cohorts at work is, by appearance, the least likely cross-cultural guru one could conjure. She looks dowdy. She dresses economically (which means that long skirts with shirts tucked into her rounder than her bustline waistband are her preferred uniforms ... with good shoes or flip flops). Her haircut is one that she could get at a barber shop since it's so short. She doesn't look her age (older than me) nor does she look young. She's timeless in her appearance ... pretty much the same woman I saw the first day I came to work here over a decade ago.

I made the mistake of initially judging this book by its cover. DOH! What an idiot I am!

She has transformed herself in the time I've known her -- not once but over and over again. She doesn't have a degree, yet she can now stand before thousands (and has) and speak to them of orality and how to address cultures who don't think in outlines and arguments. She doesn't capture your attention when she walks into a room because she's shy enough that she's usually looking for a space in the back where she can blend in. But the moment you offer up the floor for questions, she has them.

She spent much of her early adulthood raising two children as a single then remarried mom voluteering at a church as a preschool teacher. Now she uses experiential learning better than any education professor I ever had. In fact, she may be better at it because she doesn't rely on theory but her own experiences and she doesn't bother with trying to convince you of anything. She trusts the experience to do her teaching for her.

Recently she spoke of a small group she's brought together around the Russian language (a locale she's adopted and now helps to develop evangelistic strategies for) and scripture. Only most of the group aren't believers. And she's cautioning the one who is to keep it in check and allow thought-provoking questions just hang. (Challenging I'm sure to the the former Pentecostal who might usually have jumped on opportunity to provide THE answer.) In this group, she's got a physicist who knows three languages, an aging Ukrainian, and an atheist . And she speaks of their journey with more joy and enthusiasm than I've ever seen come out of a revival speaker.

Her latest tale involved them talking about the animals affected by the fall. Using her best take on scientific lingo, she asked, "Since we've spent some time on the assumption that the creation and fall of man stories are not true, let's give some equal time to the assumption that they could be true. If so, what about the animals who -- without sin -- had to die to cover the nakedness of Adam?"

When your audience has just spent several discussion minutes laboring over the animal kingdom, that kind of question is going to stop them in their over-analyzing tracks!

She's come a long way from home living centers in Sunday morning classrooms with fake kitchens and baby dolls. And yet she hasn't. Because for her, it's always been about learning and still is.

I'm going to miss all this woman has to teach me. I can't wait to see who will fill her shoes (flip flops) in my life.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Ever Happened to You?

Sooooo . . . I'm all about living as honestly as possible, allowing folks to be who they are, hoping that they grace me with the same gift, and earnestly seeking to be mature in the practice of being a human.

Here's the rub . . . I recently spoke up and said what I needed from someone. Healthy, right? I offered that I had no expectation that just because I said it that it would now translate into reality and acknowledged that my need to set a boundary wasn't to be taken as a demand for them to honor it. I simply needed to say aloud what I needed. The problem is that after this very healthy exchange where no one got defensive, emotions were expressed but not projected, etc. etc. etc., I wanted to call later and say, "Are you ok? Because really, if I hurt you, just forget it."

I'm thinking the road to emotional health is filled with just such speed bumps as these.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Sailing, Sailing

He held out his hand and I took it, wondering if he could guess the strength of my grip was only a suggestion of the power of my soul. Our eyes met . . . and that was the last time they would that day.

I wasn't what he expected and I knew it. He'd seen photos. He'd heard stories. But he was obviously disappointed and it showed.

After the obigatory toast when we boarded the 70 ft sailboat, he directed all his monologues towards Gary and Traci. I use the term because he wasn't really engaging anyone in conversation. I wanted to stop him at some point and suggest that he could breathe, that I got the message, and that I had no intention of jumping him -- physically or verbally -- in the next three days we'd be together.

We soon learned that the ship had much in common with an aging drag queen -- somewhat spectacular from a distance but upon close inspection the cracks were not only showing but affecting performance. They had been hit by lightning a few days before and the rainy summer had not been a profitable one for charters so money was tight and repairs were still on the "to do" list. Batteries were the big loss so we couldn't flush after each use, the showers worked only after the motor had been running a while, and the speakers for the promised music were iffy as well.

As soon as I learned what we had boarded, I made a slight adjustment in my thinking and had a great time. Luxury charter? No. Camping out at sea with an incredible view no matter which way I turned? Absolutely!

The first mate made me laugh and that made up for the silent treatment I was getting from the captain who was almost twice the young man's age. He had a way of telling a joke that was almost as amusing as the punch line. He would grin, announce that he had a joke, pause, grin again, and after a few moments when I came to realize he was retelling it in his head first, laugh aloud before launching into the telling. I laughed every time.

Gary asked the 28 year old what he had done in high school (because he truly looked like that was only a few years before) and he replied, "Drugs." Traci asked what kind. He said, "Uh yeah."

Should give you some sense of the cadence of the guy's stories.

While I was obviously not the captain's choice in the looks department, I did seem to be his therapist of choice. Granted, I'm all about questions so after the dead silence of the early morning with him three feet away smoking the first of his pack of cigarettes for the day and me writing in my journal whenever he made noises that his personality was now fortified enough to emerge, I would start simply.

"Your neck still bothering you?" this came after I had offered up massages all around and he had noted that he carried his tennsion there.

And he would begin ... I learned his work background, his Navy career, how many times he's been to the doctor this year and previously, how much needed to be done on the boat, how little he had with which to do it, his plans for the future, his regrets from the past and much, much, much more.

Reminded me of the time I hit the jackpot on a penny slot machine and how the $800 payoff I won after only two tries made itself known with a droning tickety tick sound that just kept going and going and going. Only this "payout" wasn't going to buy me dinner or cover the cost of a show.

I finally told him that I understood why he liked to shoot craps for his gambling of choice. He did it every day he sailed.

I had inquired about working on the boat prior to seeing the captain or the ship. He said he had a full crew for the fall. At the time, I was slightly disappointed that my year of adventure wouldn't be launched as dramatically as I thought. Now, I'm quite content in knowing that my three days on board made for a beautiful vacation (you should have seen the full moon reflecting off the water as the breeze blew over the deck) and will leave chasing that dream to a captain whose eyes can't see what's right in front of him.

Magical Sunday

I'm overwhelmed when I least expect it. Today, I watched the movie Practical Magic with Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman and one of my favorite actresses -- Stockyard Channing. The movie is more than a story of spells of course. The real story is the power of hands held tightly together in love.

Something in that film made me know that the time has really come for me to leave. Perhaps the focus on finding one's heart's desire prompted it. Maybe it was the lessons learned even in the mistakes made (and Nicole's character was a definite screw up). Possibly, I longed to believe in something again with the absolute "rightness" that the "aunties" believed in themselves and the power of their family. Or maybe I just want to find my own Aidan Quinn!!

What I know is that you can't truly leave by running away and for the most part, I'm not. I also know leaving wouldn't be possible for me without the promise of arms outstretched to embrace me at each return. Those arms are not the arms of a lover, partner, husband or anyone committed to me by words. But each day, I'm reminded that I am not alone. And that un-aloneness makes the idea of a few goodbyes so much more bearable.

If I could conjure some magic, I would cast a spell so that every time I thought of someone I hold dear, they would smile. Then we could share that moment no matter how many miles separate us.

Smiling even now . . . .