Two Sides To The Same Coin

Screen Shot 2014-10-31 at 11.51.04 AMOutrage and glorification.

Oh, I wanted to write so many thoughts on the controversy that is “Ray Rice” or domestic violence. The outcry that was muted early but grew exponentially when the video came out publicly, the many sides to a complex issue that often get boiled down to talking points in the mass media, the many emotional and personal issues that bubble to the surface when a lightning rod issue like this pop up. Oh, I hadn’t the guts or the articulate skills to handle this issue here, so I have steered clear.

…until now.

Now, I am shocked and chagrinned, flabbergasted even when it comes to Halloween. I guess I shouldn’t be. Each year, there are costumes that push the envelope, sensationalism strikes at the most outrageous in our society. Popular sells even if the popularity comes from a negative angle. Really, controversy sells and sells big.

A hurricane becomes wall-to-wall coverage on the weather channel even when there is still other weather to report. Outrageous trials become all that the 24-hour news channels will talk about for days on end when they are sensational enough. And in a social media/sensational driven society, we see the most incredible things, especially in the Halloween season. As long as it stirs conversation or stimulates dialogue, it is fair game.

The first side: Outrage

The same issue that incensed many, so many that the commissioner of the most powerful league in all of the United States is now sitting, maybe squirming  on one of the hottest seats in executive positions worldwide. The story of Ray Rice has gained great traction, and maybe he will escape yet another controversy of public opinion. Perhaps? He is still employed, but for how much longer. Why? Because of an outcry of the public.

Now, the other side of the coin—glorification/sensationalism.

Halloween with its ever growing appetite for the sensational has struck again. Who do I blame for this, the public, individualism, the holiday, some one person, or the dark side in all of us? I have no idea, but this almost makes me more outraged than a penalty (two-game suspension) that was too light to the first guy they ever penalized in the history of the “League” for the issue of domestic abuse.  Should I be outraged when a public figure knocks out his fiancé? Surely, the answer is yes. Should I be outraged for the cover-up (allegedly) that the NFL employed for a little CYA when it comes to public perception, maybe…but I am not sure. That however, is a whole different issue that this post has no time to get into. But when the private becomes public, why should the public debate the private? I don’t know, when am I supposed to judge?

Now, people are creating costumes on their own to play off the unbelievable story of Ray Rice, unbelievable that it still holds noteworthy status, unbelievable that it happened, and now, unbelievable what some people are doing to get their pictures shared all over the place.

ray-rice-costume-3

Should I however, judge this: a costume for trick-or-treating or costume parties on this most crazy of all holidays that depicts an NFL player dragging his beat-up wife around with him? Everything in me wants to say yes. This is an outrage. I should stand up as a decent human being to say this is unjust, this is glorification of the most heinous stuff. Who has the kahunas (not sure the spelling) to go around dressed like this? Who has the gumption to make money off of this? Then again, should I as a Christian, instructed to judge with strict limitations, should I even jump into the fray.  I struggle with this issue, and I struggle with where our culture has gone.

“For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside.” (I Corinthians 5:12-13)

I know we, Christians love to judge the world with condemnation, and for that I apologize on behalf of my brothers and sisters in Christ. Why we feel we should have a say over how those who do not live according to our standard do, I am not sure? Why we feel compelled to hold people to a line that they have not agreed upon, I will never understand. We’ll never guilt people into changing their behavior.

But can I step out from the little box I get put into as a Christian and make a stand on the grounds of common decency. Can I speak for all those who will not that this costume simply violates common courtesy to those who have struggled with issues of abuse? Why glorify it, why put this in the public eye even for the sake of humor or irony, or most especially to make a buck.  I hope this costume remains something only seen as an image online and less as something worn out in public.

I could say so much more of my disgust for humanity over such despicable displays of crass and crude illustrations of our deteriorating society. But then again, there is too much to complain about. This too will pass, and maybe we should focus on ways to help those with internal scars from abuse rather than scolding those that mock the seriousness of this issue.

I am curious, what do you think? Of all of it?

Voicemail Instructions And The Silliness Of Them

Let me continue to step into this new category for my writing—things that make you go hmmmm. This one however, makes me want to get a little vocal in the moment. Only in the brief moment, and maybe for a few moments as I write this post. You will think it is silly at first. And maybe a little outdated on second thought, because who really cares anymore. I am talking about voicemail. And not the topic of voicemail no, I am talking about the voicemail prompts that cell phone companies created to help people know what to do with technology.

man-with-phone-troubleI barely have time to make phone calls, much less for somebody to not pick up the phone. Now, if I wait through all of that and still have something essential enough and long enough that it requires more than a text message to convey, I have to wait another moment for the lady to tell me what to do.

Hold on. I know… I know; that sounds a little sexist, but usually the voice is a manufactured female voice that explains the procedures of voice mail. Which if you think about it, who needs to be given the procedures of voice mail in the year 2014. Maybe learning a VCR was hard, but don’t we know how to use voicemail by now. Wait for the beep. Yes, that is the key. Wait for the beep. Wait for that thing that indicates the recording will begin…now. And at that point, go. Begin saying anything you want. Okay, that seems basic enough. Is this still new for people? Is it important enough to still be included in the beginning of voicemails? And yes, I know that the instructions go further than informing people of the beep that is coming to indicate the point in which a message can be left. And maybe some of my angst in these special prompts comes from the fact that it is harder to fake out the incoming caller that you are actually picking up their call. Perhaps the instructions serve one if muted, vital service to the community. All righty then, After the beep instructions, there are other things that can be helpful. Now, when you are satisfied with your message, you can either hit a button to do more things with your message or merely hang up. It might be nice to have options for how to leave your message, urgent, important, hilarious, serious, Quixotic or whatever options these newfangled cell phones do with my voice mails.

Questions: How many people even use these options when leaving a voice mail? And Does anyone pay attention when they are   given an urgent voice mail. Shouldn’t every voice mail I leave be urgent for my friend, family member, co-worker or random person I met at the meeting from yesterday? I mean I have important information to pass along. At least it is important to me. But I don’t have time to push a special button to convey the urgency of my message. Okay, so there are unnecessary, but interesting options that I can be informed of regarding my voice mail. And there might be one helpful one. This is what to do when I am not satisfied with the message I want to leave, which happens a lot. Okay, Okay, there might be a slight but unessential need for the voice mail manual. I might want to know what to do when I leave a rambling, unintelligible voice mail. In that case, why can’t we get something uniform, so that every direction can be the same. Press 2 if you are interested in changing your voice mail. Then we could get it into the common practices of every one using the phone. Maybe this is why the kids these days are bypassing voicemail altogether and going straight for texting.

Maybe.

But really, the time wasted waiting for the menu of options and instructions on how to use a simple piece of technology could be used for far better things in this world. If we added up all the time flushed down the drain while we wait to leave a message, we could probably quantify the number as unimaginable, which raises other far more important questions. Questions of the utmost importance beginning with this one. What could we do with this time:

  • Save the world
  • Stop sharks from being over fished for the fins.
  • Put an end to terrorism.
  • Bring down the price of higher education.
  • Produce renewable energy.
  • Pass out shoes to everyone in the inner city in need of shoes.
  • Find healthy families for the growing number of unwanted kids in our country.
  • And the list goes on.

I mean we could do some incredible things if we did not have to waste our time waiting to leave a message. Oh, but you say, you can push a button to skip those instructions. Can I? First, I have to wait to listen to what number I can push, if that cell provider even offers a short cut key. Then I have to memorize which number works for which company, and which friends use which providers. This is just too much work. I want to begin something new. I want to change the world. And this is where I am going to start. Could we start a movement that would call for the elimination of pointless instructions?

What else is overly pedantic or pointless when it comes to instructions?

Late To The Party

I love to be the first one in line, even if it means cutting. I love to know new information before anyone else, maybe because I caught it on Twitter, or maybe because I am higher up on the gossip chain. I love being in the know.

I love new information. I love anything new, and I love being able to share that with others. I like to be ahead of the trends and not behind. I love to ride the wave and not miss it. But mostly, I just like to be a part of the party, whatever key party that is. I just like to be in more than out, a part more than left out, included and not excluded.

So it can be pretty hard to impress me with something new, or something that I did not already hear about elsewhere.

Now, knowing that, I don’t mind being fashionably late to a party, but this week, I feel like I have been super late to the party.

What party?

For the first time in my life, even though it always sounded like a good place to be, I found my way to the Foursquare Missions Press Banquet. Before going, I often thought it would be a nice place to network and eat good food. I love missions and am open to anything mission related. However, I seemingly never allowed the Press to rise to any priority on my radar.

printing

Why?

That is a good question, you ask me. Well, to not beat around the bush, I thought the Press was antiquated. Even as a missionary, I just did not see what the big deal was as I hadn’t seen it applicable to my situation. Furthermore, I saw the print medium as going the way of the buffalo. The idea was nice in a former time, but with newspapers going out of business, magazines closing down, and everything moving online, I simply figured this was nice but not essential any longer.

Boy, oh boy, was I ever wrong.

Watch this video, and you will see.

Innovation captured my heart immediately when I caught what the Press was up to. They are looking for new ways to utilize the print medium, working to get posters printed, books published and disseminated, training materials and gospel tracts available in formerly difficult places. The current levels of creativity at FMP are beyond my wildest imaginations.

This thing (FMP) birthed out of a retired man’s vision a generation ago and full of retired volunteers today has such creativity and cutting edge desires to help get the gospel into the hands of local people, I am blown away. This is something I can get behind. This is something I wish I had been behind for a long time. My question this last week has been a consistent and constant one. Why didn’t I know about this? Do others know, and if not, how do we get the word out.

My heart was gripped as statistics were shared, as milestones were celebrated and most of all salvations piled up in large part due to the faithful work of the Press. People are getting the word into their hands and finding God. This is more than incredible. This work is life changing.

And then there were stories, and stories. People are working hard to meet the urgent needs. The church in one nation is looking for ways to minister to the 1.5 million refugees that have shown up on their doorsteps the past couple of years because of the Islamic State. And the stories kept coming, the urgency could not be more clear, and the people at FMP couldn’t be more diligent and creative to meet the need they were called to meet.

When I heard another national leader from a closed country talk about how this will help them since the materials that get shipped to their island nation never make it farther than customs. Well, they might make it a little farther as they get dumped into the ocean never to be used much less seen by the vibrant church of that nation. What doesn’t get used? Tracts: In a nation where sharing the gospel is illegal and cause for the police to drag you into an interrogation or even an enhanced version of rendition with or without due process, a tract can be covertly passed from friend-to-friend. When people see these Christians living the gospel and exuding joy, they ask questions, and an inconspicuous tract passed from one hand to another allows opportunity to continue the dialogue after some reading has been done.

But evangelism is not the only call for printed materials. Leadership development often hinges on having resources to study. There is so much more benefit to seeing these materials passed around in a cost effective and safe way but I think enough has been said at this point.

If you have more questions, look up the site for the Missions Press. If you want to contribute, click here.

What captures your heart about innovation in mission?

Ready and Willing: A Church That Serves

serveI would like to be ready when called upon. Ready to serve that is.

I notice that we call the military the uniformed services; implying a strong sense of servant inside the colors of the Army, Navy, Marines or Air Force.

Also: The police are known by a motto: To serve and protect.

Serving is valued and admired in many parts of our society. However, I wonder if it is valued by many as it should be in the church. Are we known by serving the way the military is. Do we get people coming up to us regularly saying, thank you for your service. Well, maybe that is taking the analogy too far. We don’t do it for public recognition.

But shouldn’t this same attitude of serving be emblematic of the church. Shouldn’t we be known by our love and not our divisions, Our charity and not our self-focusedness, compassion and not our protests, mercy and not condemnation, by our good deeds and not our holier than thou attitudes, our graciousness on  social media posts and not our complaining or divisiveness, by our serving and not our preaching? Shouldn’t this be what defines the people of God. I know it did define many of those in the “Hall of Faith”. God called David his servant, Moses his servant. Even Jesus said he came to serve and not to be served.

Now, I know the stereotypes are not true of every church just like codifying a generation as the Millennials likely poorly defines any one individual in that generation. And yes, there are many churches and good Christians who embody what it means to be Christ-like and serve their neighbor, their family and their community.

I am fortunate enough to be part of a church that has this as their ethos. #LoveServeConnect

The Connection Church in Lake Forest has worked hard to not only serve but earn a reputation of serving. When two years ago, we tried (before my time here, I was still in Thailand as a missionary) to get into city events to serve our city, we were told no. We tried repeatedly, but continued to get a closed door. Finally, we simply served by picking up trash after city events, quietly living out our value of serving or being Christians In Action (CIA).

Eventually, after doggedly working to serve the community God placed us in, the city called back. Another club could not fulfill their commitment, and the city event had become shorthanded.

The city told us we could serve under one condition. No preaching. This is a city event. And rightfully so, we would come alongside what the city was doing and serve the people of Lake Forest.

One event turned into another and another until we started getting a reputation with our bright orange Connection Church hats which pegged us as the church that cares for their city.

At a recent city council meeting where one of our staff pastors gave the invocation before the meeting, the Mayor stopped the meeting to tell the 100’s of people waiting to receive their prizes from the 4th-of-July parade that this pastor was from the Connection Church, the church that serves in all the city stuff.

Now, here is the kicker. Last weekend was the Autumn Harvest Festival. Yes, the event that happened to be the first event we tried to get into. We tried again last year, and again we were told no. The city had begun allowing us into some of the events, however, this one had plenty of volunteers from the different clubs at El Toro High School. But this year, things were different.

Scheduling conflict. Uh oh, and the city was scrambling. Why?

The Homecoming dance fell on the same night as the Harvest Festival, so the city was down some 40+ volunteers. With only a few days’ notice, they called us. They called us. I thought I should write that twice for effect.

Out of the clear blue, unsolicited, and without any notice, the city called us to ask for our help. When they were in a pinch, who did they turn to? They turned to the church. The church who has earned a reputation for serving. Isn’t that simply the coolest thing ever.

They called us, a church. Yes, a church and asked for help. These are the same people who used to tell us no for whatever reason. I tend to think  it was likely not trusting churches to be about serving anything but themselves now called on us, a church. Why, because they have grown to know we are about serving God in every way he asks us. Whether it is cleaning the parks, the waterways, being a part of events that we could be ambivalent about, or being a part of everything else they do. The city knows we care genuinely for the well-being of the city and not merely what gets us butts in the seats at our services or events. They know we are selfless and trustworthy.

They called, and we rallied our forces as best we could do last minute. Sure we wish we had more people available or could have done more, but what people wouldn’t want to always do more to serve the kingdom of God and the community in which they live.

All we could do is be ready and available for when the call came. We could simply be obedient servants of Christ to our world.

Sometimes God meets us at our point of obedience. And sometimes he doesn’t. We are simply to be obedient.

We might serve our heart out and say, what was the point. Often it is hard to quantify the point of serving. We just serve. We serve with the reality there is a balance that we do not run ragged or exhaust people in the process. We serve strategically and to our fullest capacity and not beyond.

All that to say, we served and saw some big wins:

  • We have gained great favor from our city. The future benefits cannot be imagined. God has opened a door for us that rarely gets opened to any church in any city.
  • We had people come to serve who saw a rough day turn into a good memory as they served their hearts out. They can see that the church and God are connected to them being a blessing to their city.
  • We connected with people in our community that we have lost relationship with. But because we were there, they saw us and reconnected relationally.
  • We allowed the city to keep their event open. At the end of the event, I talked with the city’s point person, their recreational specialist (a title I would love to obtain one day). I told her as our church’s point person, I apologize for not getting more people to turn out. Last minute, we just had a ton of scheduling conflicts with our people. She was more than gracious. What she said in reply warmed my heart more than words could say. She said, because we came, they could keep the activities open. Let that sink in a moment. They might have had to close down parts of their big harvest party that draws out tons of families from their normally isolated, individualistic  suburban rhythms. Children and parents might have walked away disappointed or worse.

But because a church had earned the reputation they had, the city could rely on the Connection Church to be there when needed. It takes a lot of work to earn a reputation, and sometimes when it feels like what is the point, God opens up an opportunity. It is our responsibility to step into the void and answer the call.

Let’s be people who embody the core value of Jesus found in Phil 2—a servant.

What are ways that you work to serve people?

Language Is The Key To Understanding Culture

Recently, I was teaching my class on multi-cultural evangelism when we came to the section on Contextualization.

I could get into this murky, and yet fascinating topic of contextualization for days and days, but here we were taking a helicopter level overview as we scanned the topic.

Now, how does language factor into understanding the culture. Can’t you just read all the best books out there to know the culture, what not to do to easily offend the host culture? Can’t you just talk to people to find out what all the new things and customs you are observing mean? Surely, there are plenty of English speakers in most countries to let you get by at this.

And yes, you can skate by with a basic knowledge of the culture. But language matters so much. Language matters for communication. We know it is important to speak to people at a heart level. We can’t do that even if they learn English really well. Language communicates love. As we attempt to learn the language of the host culture, we demonstrate great love to want to know their language. But these are issues of cross-cultural communication.

How does language matter for contextualization?

It should be self-evident that we need to know the culture to the best of our ability if we are going to contextualize the faith into a new place, shouldn’t it. But still, so many missionaries resist language learning.

Again, language is the key to unlocking the mystery of cultural differences.

If we want to establish Christianity as a natural, indigenous practice within a given culture, we first must learn the culture. And learning the language provides a pathway to deeper understandings of the culture. So I am giving yet another reason to go for it. Language pays off with great dividends even as it slows one down in the beginning.

Let me give an example, which comes from the most simple of devices used every day…the clock.

4673-clocks-81

The clock, What? … wait a minute, you need to know language to know what the clock says? Isn’t that universal.

Wait, wait. That is what I am trying to say. We must leave all assumptions behind as we learn language and culture. They go hand-in-hand.

In Thailand, they tell time very differently than we do. And we did not understand this immediately, because telling time comes a few lessons after learning the alphabet and basic survival words like where is the bathroom.

As we talked to our friends who had nominal English skills, we began learning about their life, their routines and their patterns. Often, our conversations were quite basic, like when did you go to bed last night, when did you wake up, and what did you do today?

We were always shocked when we frequently heard young people telling us they went to bed so late at 5 o’clock. We thought, whaaaaat? This cannot be. That is late indeed, but why are so many people getting so little sleep.

We racked our brains for weeks, thinking something is off. Maybe Thai people really only need three hours of sleep and when they only get two, they struggle. We just did not see what we did not see until we knew more about the language.

And sometimes, you just don’t see what you don’t see until it smacks you in the face. And that just takes time as you learn a culture, a people, a language.

The light bulb went off when we came to the lesson on telling time a couple of months into Thai lessons. Without getting too technical, the way Thai people tell time is completely different than the West tells time. Rather than the military clock or the 12-hour am and pm clock, Thai people break their day into six hour increments—essentially: morning, afternoon, evening and early morning. 5  o’clock really meant 11 o’clock at night. Hmmm, their clock is very different than ours, we thought. But things started falling into place when we understood how they talked about the day, which was quite different than how we understood the day but similar enough. The gears turned rapidly as language began to unlock some of the mysteries we had.

Now, things started clicking. And it took many language lessons to get to an easy answer, but without language lessons, we would be dependent on others giving the answers.

Another issue for language being the key is illustrated in this post about grain jai which is the basis of much of Thai culture. This word is untranslatable into English. One must learn the concept which can only come through learning the language.

Are there times that not knowing the language matters, what if it is only youth language?

Things that make you go hmmm…Dress Shoes

I want to begin a category on the blog that maybe answers no specific question other than those little things in life that make you go hmmm.

Let me illustrate through this post.

Dress Shoes.

Blucher alden atom

What is the deal with dress shoes? I am not talking about the dress codes or formal events that bring the requisite nature to these shoes. I don’t even mind dressing nice or looking the part. Well, I should not fully say I don’t mind. I like looking the part, but by the end of the day I loathe my shoes, or at least my feet do.

This has gotten me wondering, wondering several things in which all come back on the maker, proprietor or inventor of these shoes. And ladies, don’t even worry. I know you have it way worse with your shoes than us men will ever have it.

Nonetheless, I want to ask the question on every medium I can, or at the minimum this one, who thought dress shoes was a good idea?

For starters, I can’t even fit my foot in my shoes without cramming, jamming and even using extra utensils (shoe horn) to get my foot squeezed into these fashion-conscious, dress-appropriate footwear.

Who thought it was a good idea to make a shoe that takes such vigorous work to get onto the foot?

Okay, but good things come to those that wait. I get that. Having a difficult time getting into something should not on its face make it a bad invention or creation. I get that. But the lack of ease to sliding on a dress shoe only begins the questioning.

Beyond the fight to put on the shoes I don’t like, once it fits onto my foot, the clock starts ticking . With my silly feet and chicken legs, I only have so much time I can wear them. I choose not to say comfortably as it is not a limited time of comfort I have. It is a limited time of well-being. I am starting to think of how I can utilize the stool more in the classroom, sit more often in the office, or simply stay off my feet that do look so handsome with these fancy shoes. My feet and legs just can’t take too much. The other day, after changing out of my shoes into my flip-flops, I wobbled around for about 10 minutes as the strength came back into my muscles and ligaments and stability into my joints.

Is it possible that the man or woman behind the dress shoe is really a sadist? Surely, they are a capitalist.

No one can deny the money-making that flows in from dress shoes. Who do “they” aim the dress shoe market at but business people, professionals, and fancy-pants men of all makes and models. In other words, they aim the shoes at the people who can afford to pay for the shoes that have little practically to offer beyond fashion and appearance of professionalism.  Thus, they are not marking down prices to help the blue-collar worker, or the student scrapping by. No, they mark it up for the white-collar guy. Interesting that the clergy gets the white collar even as they make far less money, but that is a story for another day.

Here is one way to illustrate what I mean about the ability to afford shoes. My dad worked for Motorola who suggested a professional attire. However, most people wore comfortable tennis shoes or loafers. When my dad asked if they would provide dress shoes that looked the part and wore comfortably (a rare find indeed) he was told no. When he countered that they provided work shoes for the factory workers, they did not budge. The factory workers boots needed to be up to specifications for safety sake. When safety gets involved, corporations will spare no expense. But dressing up can be afforded by those who make the money to look the part.

So with the reality proven sufficiently that the designers of dress shoes are sufficiently capitalist, I still wonder if they are just messing with people.

Do they laugh at home behind closed doors at what uncomfortable shoes people are willing to wear day-in-day out. Do they collaborate with one another on how to make it worse and not better. So many questions and so little time.

Maybe I am just a professional in a beach bum body wishing to get away with flip-flops. Maybe, I just need to shop more to find better shoes? Or maybe as I am getting older, I am feeling the aches and pains more.

Finally, WWJD? Would Jesus have worn dress shoes?

Well, I think I have sufficiently scratched the surface of one of those things that makes me go hmmm.

Help me understand this thing called dress shoes?