Good Littering

Despite living in the Philippines for 10 years, my Tagalog is still pretty poor. Living in Baguio City, a very English-friendly city, does not help. Having a quadrilingual wife also has allowed me to be slack in my language. However, a couple of phrases I learned quickly here:

BAWAL UMIHI DITO

BAWAL MAGTAPON DITO

The first one says “Do not urinate here.” The second says “Do not litter here.” These are written all over the place along roads. Apparently people need a reminder.

This got me reflective about littering (not so much about urinating). Littering is essentially to place things where they do not belong. Receptacles are available to put stuff in, and when you put them in other places outside of these receptacles… well, that is littering.

I have heard of evangelistic littering. Jehovah’s Witnesses forget their newsprint quality magazines lying on tables of places they visit. A visitor to our house decades ago “forgot” his Book of Mormon. It had a tract inside explaining how the book predicted a lot of events, such as the coming of Christopher Columbus in 1492. Since there are no copies of this book existing prior to the early 1800s, and the style of the writing is at best a sort of AV1611, hard to see who would be impressed by this. But who knows.

Evangelical Christians have also tried this. They leave tracts and things in public places hoping that someone will read them and respond to them. Of course, people in most places have been pretty innoculated to tracts. So many of them are horrible anyway. So many focus on a god that most people would not desire to worship or follow. Because of the failure of littering tracts, some have switched to littering CDs or DVDs. For awhile, at least, there was a window of time where such littering would draw interest enough to look and listen. Not sure… this time may have passed.

Language has its limits. Although people like to talk about the power of the message of God, that power can often demonstrate itself in the hardening of peoples hearts and tearing apart relations. That is not a justification for not sharing the word… but simply a recognition that the Word of God needs to be expressed and interpreted within the context of Christian Love (truth, power, and allegiance encounter fail without an initial and continual demonstration of love encounter).

Returning to littering… is there good littering? I believe good littering occurs when we litter… good, or goodness. Jesus talked considerably on good littering. He noted that in most cultures, doing good things is generally reserved for (properly receptacled in the context of) relatives, nice neighbors, friends, good people. Jesus suggested that goodness should be littered… not limited to these “proper” receptacles. They should be thrown around carelessless to strangers, aliens, and enemies. I would suggest that such littering can be at times planned and intentional… but the expression “random acts of kindness” certainly has its appropriate moments of application as well.

Since it is pretty obvious that Christians are in a war of ideas and ideologies and cultures that at times escalates into rage and violence… our best weapons are not bombs and drones and “riling up the troops”. Getting continuously “shocked” at the inhumanity of humans through social media doesn’t help much either. (Seriously… how can anyone who wasn’t raised in a cave on a different planet be shocked at atrocities that people do to other people.) Even proclamation of the word, has its limits without a proper context.

God’s message of hope should be proclaimed in a mission field that has been carelessly (and carefully) littered with God’s love. When the clutter becomes so thick that clean-up crews cannot keep up in hiding and dumping it… people are ready to listen.

Martha, the Second Self, and Wintergreen Moments

A couple of days ago our center here (Bukal Life Care) showed a video. It is “Healing the Shame that Binds You” a lecture by John Bradshaw done back in the mid-80s. Although I had seen it several times before, this time one thing struck me particularly.

Bradshaw spoke of people who can’t really enjoy or live in the moment. They enjoy looking at photographs of vacations or big moments. However, when the photos were being taken, they weren’t really having a nice time. At the time, they were either worrying about everything happening, or focusing on what is to happen next. He described these people as ones who live as if they are in a car that is moving through life but they are seated backwards… appreciating what has already passed by. He said that these people often feel like they are living with a second self. One person is a body acting and interacting while the second, conscious, self is watching cautiously what is happening.

I find that in myself… both in ministerial activities and in life in general. When asked what was the happiest day of my life, I had trouble coming up with a good answer (I still do). It wasn’t when I got married… I was too focused on making sure that everything came together for the ceremony and the reception. It wasn’t the births of my three children… I had too much to worry about. It wasn’t when I received my doctorate, I had to think about what happens next. I do feel then as if in the big moments I am watching myself experience events rather than experiencing them first hand.

Ministry and Missions can be like that at well. When our team would organize projects I would like to say “I worry so you don’t have to.” I know the Bible says not to worry… but I think the focus is on the problem of “not trusting” rather than dealing with concerns and contingencies. Still, there is something that does truly suck the joy out of life when each moment is lost in details and analysis…  living as a disconnected second self.

Recalling the story of Mary and Martha, I have often had problems with Jesus gently scolding Martha and suggesting that Mary had chosen the better thing. Martha was doing what needed to be done while Mary— frankly— wasn’t. But maybe, just maybe, the issue wasn’t about work, and maybe it wasn’t about worship or adoration.

Maybe it was about… THE MOMENT.  Mary was there living and enjoyment the moment. Martha was distracted and fussing around. She could not appreciate the moment.

The problem is what to do with such knowledge. Should everyone simply goof off… not do anything and live in the moment. I don’t know. Things still need to get done. One does have to think about what can go wrong. One does still need to plan. But missions/ministry should never get to the point where one cannot feel the satisfaction of service to and communion with God.

I used to organize medical missions. I would worry and worry and worry about details. The volunteers, the money, the medicines, the packing, the transportation, the partners, the venue, the weather, the patients. It really sucked the joy out of serving. And as the day would start there would be chaos, crowds, and concerns. I would run around worried about everything. But maybe an hour or an hour and a half into the mission, usually, things would settle down. The mission would be moving forward like a well-oiled machine. I would stop… look around… find a place to sit and lean back… and enjoy the moment. I would feel what I call my “Wintergreen Moments.” A Wintergreen Moment is when I feel a satisfied peaceful coolness wash over me. I relax, and live in the moment. A perfect stillness. I would take it in for a few moments… and then scurry off to make balloon animals for the kids.

I am not sure that I will ever get to the point that I can embrace being rather than ministering in a disconnected worry and scurrying manner. But I find that grabbing a few tenuous moments… “Mary” Moments… Wintergreen Moments… helps me avoid the burnouts and frustrations that hit so many in ministry.

Problem With Debating

At the bottom of this article is a link on Online Debating. It points out that it is better to seek clarification (understanding) than persuasion.

I like to think about 4 major types of conversation:

DialogueThe article points out that debate (or I listed as “apologetics/argument”) has problems. Positively, it is likely to be better than polemics/preaching because it at least respects the other person enough to listen to what they have to say. But seeking understanding rather than change has advantages. In the article below, two effects are listed: “Bias Confirmation” and ” Backfire Effect.” One can’t do much about the former, but backfire effect can be lessened if on focuses on understanding/clarification, rather than change.

Move toward Dialogue over Lecture improves things further since one is respecting the other person by listening to them.

I would like to suggest (without proof except anecdote) that missions is more effectively carried out through dialogue than the others. The next best is teaching. After that is a toss up: argument or preaching. While there is a lot of tradition in support of preaching… I see little evidence that it works now for much more than confirming what people already believe (preaching to the choir). I could be wrong.

Here is the article:

http://derekouellette.ca/will-almost-never-win-online-debate/?mc_cid=e4ba21a776&mc_eid=a5352fa8df

Redemption and Old Rundown Buildings, Part 2

In the previous post, I spoke of restoration. But sometimes a building passes the point of no return (or of no repair).

When I lived on Woodchuck Hill, we had an old barn. The silo was gone… one of the first memories I had was when my dad pulled over the silo when I was about 3 years old. When my dad died, we sold the house and outbuildings to my cousin.

Years later, I spoke to my cousin. I mentioned to him that the barn is getting pretty old and harder to maintain. I said that if it looked like he would be unable to maintain the barn, have it disassembled to have the timbers reutilized. Within a couple of miles of our house were several barns that had collapsed under their own weight and were rotting into the ground.

My cousin had to move and so the barn is owned by another. It still is standing. Someday, however, it will give way. It would be shame if it just rotted to nothing.

Why? The barn is sneaking up on being 150 years old. It is big and made of massive white pine timbers. These white pine timbers were cut from virgin forest. Such trees essentially do not exist anymore (at least EXTREMELY RARE).  These trees that were used date back before the American Revolutionary War. Entirely possible that some have rings dating back to Columbus.

It would be a tragic waste to lose these timbers.

In missions, things fall apart as well sometimes. Sometimes a person crashes or a ministry is destroyed. Sometimes restoration is not a viable option… but redemption is still possible. Redemption has to do with creating good where there was bad, beauty where things were only ugly.

In redemption, when things cannot be restored, they can at least be repurposed. Are we able to look at the difficulties that come our way and see them as hopeless… as failure? Or can we see the possibility of God making ALL things beautiful in His time. A minister who has failed or a ministry that is rotting away is sure to have some components… timbers… that are valuable and unique. These should not be lost.

Can we restore what is broken? Can we repurpose what has been destroyed?

Redemption and Old Rundown Buildings, Part 1

I was raised up on a hill in the Allegheny foothills known as Woodchuck Hill. While in many parts of the world civilization/development is taking over land, here things have gone the opposite way as old farms disappeared, people moved to the cities or to where jobs were, and the forest took over.

On the hill (a part that is curiously known as Emery Hill… although part of the same hill) was an old house. The picture above is not the house… it is somewhat smaller but looked at about that level of disrepair back around 1970.

When I was around 4 or 5 years old, we would, on occasion, drive by it (it was not on our main route to town). I would look at it and say to my mom, “That house is falling apart. I sure hope that it will be fixed up before it is too late.” 

On one occasion of the many times I expressed hope that that house would be repaired., my mom said with exasperation, “Robby,” no one else in the world ever called me Robby. “Robby, that house will never be repaired. It is too far gone. No one will ever fix it up. You just need to accept that.” I don’t remember if I cried… but I recall feeling very sad.

Something strange happened. A few hunting buddies in the city decided to buy the house and turn it into a hunting lodge. They repaired it, fixing the roof and repainting it. Over 40 years later it is still standing.

For years… decades… afterwards, when my mom and I would drive by that place, she would say to me, “Robby, do you remember that old place. That was the place you loved as a child and didn’t want to see fall apart. I tried to tell you that there was no hope for that old house… but you were right, and here it still is. Isn’t that wonderful!?”

And I suppose that is wonderful. Sometimes we need to be reminded that there is hope when things seem hopeless. I suppose that is why I love shows that take old houses or old cars and bring them back to life.

There is something beautiful in redemption. One form of redemption is restoration. The taking of something and bringing it back to what it was meant to be. A house is restored to a house and a car to a car. With people… restoration involves taking ruined lives and bringing them to what they were supposed to be. Ecclesiastes says

For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die;
a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
a time to kill, and a time to heal;
a time to break down, and a time to build up;
a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
a time to seek, and a time to lose;
a time to keep, and a time to cast away;
a time to tear, and a time to sew;
a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
a time to love, and a time to hate;
a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

In missions, there should always be more building up, planting, healing, and sewing… redeeming through restoring.