Why Not Begin with Babel?


What if evangelistic presentations began with Babel? Or, what if they at least were framed by the Babel story? This post explores these two questions.

BebelPreviously, I examined common problems that emerge when we start with the Adam story (Part 1, Part 2). I also suggested another way one could start with Adam and Eve without succumbing to individualism or running into a number of apologetic questions.

Today, I offer an example whereby we can start with the group rather than the individual, i.e. the nations rather than Adam as an individual.

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Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 3

3.  Limitations inspire creativity.

I think, commonly, when people speak of “thinking outside the box,”  they really mean the ability to think creatively despite the limitations. So, there is not really a disagreement between “thinking outside of the box” and “thinking inside the box.” However, the point here is that creativity comes from focusing on one’s limitations instead of seeking to transcend them without understanding them.

As I have mentioned before… the engineering design trinity is QUALITY, ECONOMY, and SPEED. One can have two out of three but not all three. One standard must be lower than the other two. Economy (cost) and Speed (time) and quality (meeting performance criteria) are constraints… walls in a sense. Creativity lies in the careful balance of meeting the constraints.

We see this especially in the creative arts. Painting is the use of colors on (commonly) canvas. All sorts of creative “tricks” are needed to display three dimensional scenes in 2-dimensional paints. And when one seeks to go beyond that which is thought of as “real” the challenges become even greater. Yet those same limits may actually be assisted in showing the impossible.

In oral media (storytelling) or in written literature, the challenge is equally great. How does one draw people into a story they cannot see and have not experienced. The limitations of the media, however, often can add to the overall story. I collect old-time radio programs. In radio media, the lack of images often enhance rather than detract from the story.

Truthfully, if one had all the time in the world… all of the funding in the world… and all of the space and material resources to create… most of us would create nothing.

Thinking outside of the box requires a firm understanding of the actual limits of the constraints, and appreciation of those constraints, and an understanding how these constraints can be overcome (in some cases) and even utilized at times.

In missions, there are lots of constraints. Rather than thinking outside the box… let’s appreciate the boxes we are in. Once we understand our constraints, we should be open to utilizing them and growing with them and allowing them to inspire our creativity.



Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 2

  1. Limitations aid growth.

Maybe the best way to explain this is by example. I preach periodically. It used to be that I really enjoyed being given full freedom in what I am to preach on. I liked choosing my topic. But over time, I learned to appreciate being given a topic. The reason is that the limitations actually make me work and study and grow. When I pick my own topic… I tend to fall into old ruts in the road.

Matrix 7I remember a friend of mine telling a story of an acquaintance of his. This other pastor was asked to speak in a church in a different city. He was given a topic to preach on. However, upon arrival he stated that he could not do the topic he was given. He said that on the bus ride to the city, his sermon was picked up by the wind and blown out of the bus. This pastor took that as “divine guidance” that he should be guided by the Holy Spirit on what to preach on. This sounds really holy… but my friend had his doubts. The sermon this other pastor ended up preaching was on the topic he almost always preaches on, based on a passage he commonly uses. My friends view was that the pastor wasn’t seeking to be guided by God… but seeking to be self-guided and, in fact, be lazy.

One can embrace the limitations and recognize them as part of one’s freedom. I believe I have used this example before… but years ago we had young children and an open backyard. We were afraid to let our children get more than a few feet from us in fear that they would run at full speed into the road. We eventually bought a chain link fence. After this, we could allow our children explore our entire backyard. Now if you think about it, there were limits/boundaries before the fence and after the fence. Before, they were there but poorly defined (from our children’s perspective) and poorly maintained (from our perspective). Therefore, we had to keep a close eye on our children. After the fence was installed… the boundaries were clear to our kids and well-maintained from our perspective. The result was great freedom for our children.

We often grow because we are forced to grow. It is good to embrace the limitations as opportunities.

Some More Thinking Inside the Box. Part 1

I have talked about this before… but it seems to be worthy of more thoughts. Since I have started intentionally listening for the phrase “thinking outside of the box” or the instruction “Think outside the box”,

1. The issue isn’t thinking outside of the box but understanding the difference between real constraints and areas of freedom.

Consider the classic 9 point grid. I have used this before. (Ptr. Bart Dela Cruz used this illustration for an article he wrote for our group. I will use the same basic idea but look at it from a slightly different angle.)

Matrix 1What is the fewest number of lines to hit all of the points?  Here are four possible answers:

Matrix 2Matrix 3Matrix 4Matrix 5So four possible answers to the question are 3, 4, 5, and 1. Which is correct?

It depends on two things: DEFINITIONS and CONSTRAINTS.

DEFINITIONS:  What is a line. The last figure shows a single line. Some would argue that it is not a single line because it is curved. They might argue that a line is straight. They learned that in math class. Of course, there may be more than one definition. An artist is likely to question of limit lines to straight ones. Besides, even if one used a mathematical (and Euclidean) understanding of lines, other problems come up. In math, a line goes in both directions forever and ever and ever. That may not seem to be an issue, but when one gets to constraints… this is important. Line segments have endpoints, lines do not. One can also ask how thick is the line. In math, lines have no thickness… but in the real world they do. If one allows a thick enough line, the entire grid can be covered by one tiny part of a straight line. But we won’t worry about that (or non-Euclidean space and other novelties).

CONSTRAINTS. If one uses straightness as a limiting part of the definition, there is still the question whether the correct answer is 3, 4, or 5. One constraint would be boundary constraints. Is one allowed only to use the space with in the grid, or can one use all space. Another constraint is action constraints. For example, can one lift one’s pen during the action or no? One could also add equipment constraints, such as whether one can use a special pen with two or more marking components or a pen that can turn off and on marking while never leaving the surface of the paper. Once again, won’t concern myself with that here.

mATRIX 6Consider the matrix above. Suppose the leftmost column describes definitions of lines and the top two rows describe combinations of constraints, then the blue and red text describes the possible answers to the question of the least number of lines to hit every point on the grid. The point is not to “think outside of the box” but to understand what genuine limitations one has and what limitations one does not have.

A little game we do in Community Development training. It is tower-building. We give two teams some materials (like string, tape, and straws). and tell them to each build the tallest tower. Sometimes we tell them that they are limited to the materials we give them (external assets). But sometimes we tell them nothing on that issue. Therefore, they are not constrained from using other stuff they can find, like desks, chairs, and the like. The point there is that in one case one is limited by a real constraint (external assets of string, tape, and straws) and sometimes one has no such real constraint. In the latter case, the real constraint is missing and so one has the opportunity to discover which team (or both) constrained by their own self-made limitations. Of course, one could take it further. One team could tape one end of the string to the ceiling of the room and let it dangle to the ground where it is again taped off and call that a tower. In such a case, the definition of what constitutes a tower (free-standing, self-supporting, or not) needs to be addressed.

In other words… the key point is to be able to separate genuine limitations (walls) one must deal with, and limitations that we may place on ourselves but are not inherent to the problem. One must recognize the difference between the real box and the box that we mistakenly create for ourselves.

The next two posts will deal with a couple of other issues regarding the box (limitations). The second post is that limitations help us grow. The third, related somewhat to the second, is that limitations inspire creativity.

The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism

The Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism.

This declaration is provided for personal meditation and evaluation. I have good friends who are very much supporters of “Christian Zionism” so my comments on the Declaration referenced here are cautious. I think there are a lot of good points, although I don’t see any reason to think that a ending of “CZ” would have much of an effect on death and suffering in the Middle East. History gives little comfort in that area.

I remember over 20 years ago having young Palestinian boys in the streets of Old Jerusalem chant, “Buy before you die! Buy before you die! Die for the glory of Saddam Hussein!” It is easy for me as a Western Christian to love one side (the Israelis treated me very well) and hate the other side. But as a Christian, I am not tasked to do the easy thing.

Missiologically, however, Christians actively picking sides and even appearing angry when harm occurs to one side and gleeful when harm occurs to the other, has a horrible impact on missions. Ultimately, Christians need to place People above Politics, and God above all else.

Despite popular sentiments, the sword has commonly one its struggle with the pen… but in Christian ministry, love has a much better track record than the sword, or power in general.

Struggling Creatively

My ancestors are Swedish. My great-grandparents came to the US in the 1880s. Not too much of Swedish traditions were passed on to me. One thing that was passed down to us was Swedish food. I knew about limpa, ingladt sil, potatiskorv, lingenberry, sylta, rotmos, gloog, rice pudding, lutfisk, among other things.

One time, my aunt and uncle went to Sweden to visit some cousins who live there. They were treated well and there was much good food to eat. My aunt and uncle noted the general absence of what they considered to be Swedish food. They were told that the food they were being served in Sweden was, indeed, Swedish food. When informed of what we in the US considered to be Swedish food, they responded… “Oh… that’s peasant food.”

If I had taken time to think about it, I should have guessed that. My ancestors were peasants. My great-grandparents were impoverished farmers. They left Sweden because they sought economic opportunities in America. Their struggles forced them to come up with creative solutions. If they were wealthy, they would not have had reason to come to the US.

Poverty was the motivation of my great-grandparents to change their circumstances. Struggles in life are not necessarily bad. We need them, sometimes, to motivate us to make good decisions. When things are going well, we are not willing to take risks. Yet, risks are needed at times.

Some struggles are good… they force us to open our minds to what God may have for us. It is hard to be open to change when the place we are presently at is comfortable. Comfort and Convenience can stifle Creativity.

People like to say the well-worn quote that “Necessity is the Mother of Invention.” However, the so-called “necessity” is often simply seeking comfort and convenience. To me the challenge is how to be creative and inventive without truly achieving comfort and convenience.