Thursday, January 31, 2008

Overheard in Montrose, CO

A young man is smoking a cigarette by the gas pump at a convenience store. A young woman in his car is shaking her head disapprovingly.
--"Oh, come on! I just got out of prison!"

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Can this be true?

I read the following statistics from

58% of U.S. adults never read another complete book after high school.
42% of college graduates never read another complete book after college.
Only 32% of the U.S. population has ever been in a bookstore.
80% of U.S. families did not buy or read a book in the previous year.

Surely not . . .

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Quick trip

I leave tomorrow for a long weekend trip to Colorado. I'll be presenting a session for Faithwalking. You can check it out at I'm excited about getting away for the weekend and having some time with a friend I rarely see--also to see what God has for me and for the 21 other participants/leaders. And I'm sure the surroundings will be beautiful. I'll be back on Monday afternoon.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008


We've been sick around here for a week now and, just for the record, we're sick of being sick! Fortunately, Rebecca has stayed healthy (we attribute it to the fact that she never gets to hold the remote control) but the rest of us have been pretty pitiful. Mowgli and I are bouncing back, now, thankfully. He went to school today and I'm going to work today and tomorrow. C is still fighting, though, and has an appointment to see the doctor this evening. I guess everyone has this at some point every winter . . . but it's still no fun.

"And hope does not disappoint . . . "

After my post about doubt and faith, I got an email from my dad saying that I may have come by my "gift" genetically. He added, "Thinking about this, it occurs to me that the opposite of doubt is not faith, but hope. Or, perhaps hope is an important ingredient of productive doubt." I'm hoping I come by his wisdom genetically as well. I love the idea of "productive doubt."

"We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure . . ." Hebrews 6:19

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Feeling like a rock star

C and Mowgli took their second trip to an orphanage in Hue Hue Tanango, Guatemala this month. This is a photo of Mowgli just seconds after he got off the bus the first day, being mobbed by some of his "groupies" from last year. Last year, they called him the Spanish word for "Curly" but apparently they recognized him without his long hair. I love the wide-open expression on Mowgli's face--he loves this kind of thing--I remember it from when he was a little boy and I see it more and more often as he moves away from adolescence. We're definitely grateful for all the friends and relatives that made the trip possible again this year--the impact on the lives of the orphans as well as the investment into C's and Mowgli's lives is incalculable.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The gift of doubt (part 2)

It was hard for me to leave the post from Jan 10 up on the blog. It was raw when I wrote it and then I felt a little exposed afterward. But it's important to me to be as authentic as seems wise and so I managed my anxiety about it and left it alone.

I'm aware that the best answer to my dilemma about suffering is mystery. Not mystery as in "I dunno, it's a mystery" but the recognition that the deepest questions are never answered with answers but with even deeper questions and with paradox and with faith.

I'm good with that. I gave up a long time ago having to figure out the universe (as long as I can control it, I'm okay.) But it makes it hard to trust. That's where the struggle is. I read this today on another blog: "There are two sorts of belief. One is the type you act on and the other is the type you use to feel good about your place in the universe." Isn't that great?

Obviously, I want the type you act on. But it's hard to take risks in a universe that seems so arbitrary and chancy. So much of what passes for faith feels like superstition to me. But on the other hand, the kind of faith you don't act on isn't really faith, is it? I still believe that faith that doesn't work in suffering doesn't work. And plenty of people seem to have a faith that does work in suffering. Having never really suffered, I pray for the latter to show up when I need it. I guess that's faith.

Monday, January 14, 2008

My happy girl

At church yesterday, one of the girls in the youth group was being very smiley and positive and one of the girls asked her, "Why are you so happy?" She answered, "I don't know--I'm just happy . . . (pause) . . . this must be what it feels like to be Boo!"

Friday, January 11, 2008

How we change (part 2)

I'm always looking around for evidence that people really do change and that transformation really is possible. Today's Exhibit A: TLC's What Not To Wear. Do you know this show? Basically this is how it works: Hosts Stacy and Clinton sneak up on some poor, unsuspecting (and badly dressed) young woman and tell her that her friends and family have nominated her for the show. She is usually confused, humiliated, and intrigued. Then, they offer her a $5000 debit card and a trip to NYC for a new wardrobe . . . but, there's a catch. In order to take the money, she has to promise to allow them to go through her closet, comment on everything she wears, and then throw most of it in the trash. Then she has to follow their advice on choosing a new look.

Assuming she says yes, that's exactly what happens and it is hilarious because, frankly, the nomination to appear on the show is usually well-deserved. Then we see her on the hidden camera either defensive ("I don't think that wearing legwarmers with my camo shorts is THAT bad!") or completely humiliated--and actually, those two things probably overlap a great deal. Then Stacy and Clinton give her a lesson on dressing for her body type, ways to bring out her assets, fashion tips, etc. which she mostly rejects.

Then she goes to NYC and starts shopping. Day One is predictable--she's either resistant and rebellious or she's weepy and overwhelmed. She buys some things and then goes home and tells the secret camera about how hard it was, how much she hated it, how it's not going to work. Day Two is equally predictable--Stacy and Clinton appear out of nowhere, affirm the good choices she made, and set about showing her how it's done. They coax her into trying new things, they give lots and lots of praise as well as some humorous criticism, and they challenge her to explore why she gravitates to the bad choices.

This, actually, is where the transformation comes in. By the end of the week, after new wardrobe, hair and makeup, the woman not only looks completely different but has wrestled with her self-esteem, her identity, her sexuality, and her life's dreams. She says things like, "I never realized I had something to offer," or "I always just wanted to be invisible," or "I've never been told I was worth anything," or "I want to be the person I look like now."

So how does it happen and how can we replicate it? (I can just imagine TBN's What Not to Believe . . . hmmm . . . I think it's has potential . . . ) Here are some of my thoughts:
  • The woman is given an extended period of time to think about herself and her choices. I think this is one of the most effective things about counseling--that whatever happens in the session, having an hour from time to time devoted just to taking care of myself and listening to myself is helpful. Change rarely happens without reflection and most people devote almost no time to it.)
  • Teaching concepts is just a small part of the experience. Actually, the bulk of the experience is given to practice (and not just practice but practice with a mentor.) Whether we're talking about school or church or parenting, I think we put way too much emphasis on the imparting of information. It's important, but by itself, it's not usually transformational. Practicing with a mentor is.
  • The level of intensity is ramped up. Urgency is created and the tension is sustained. At least for a week, it's impossible to go back to business as usual. Studies show that we remember far more of what we learn when emotional intensity is present. (That's up to a point, of course--it is possible for anxiety to get so high that the brain doesn't really function at all.)
  • There is a real and tangible reward--a $5000 debit card--as well as clear direction about how to change. Even if you don't want to make the changes, you understand clearly what the rules are.
  • There is lots and lots and lots of positive reinforcement. I think we forget how powerful that is and how many people there are in the world who are starving for it.
  • There is the opportunity to "try on" new things, to experiment with unfamiliar ways of being, without having to commit to them or feel ashamed if they don't work.
  • The application to real life is powerful. The woman on the show starts to think about how her life hasn't been working and how she could live differently--far beyond just changing the way she looks. She begins to dream about new possibilities for herself and eventually is swept up in the hosts' optimism about her life and what she has to offer the world. She ultimately changes, not out of obligation but because she has a transformed view of her life.

So . . . I think I have probably just done the first ever analysis of TLC's WNTW--and it should probably be the last.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

The gift of doubt

I was so sad when Meredith Emerson went missing in Georgia last week, especially since we all knew how it was going to turn out. I was sad when they found her body in the woods and when they arrested the man who led them to her. But I was horrified when I heard on the news this morning that she was alive for several days, until Friday, and that she was tortured before her death. It was even worse to hear that there were several close calls, sightings of the killer while he still had Meredith in the back of his van, alive.

Here's the thing I don't understand and no one wants to talk about. You know she was praying throughout her entire ordeal, begging for help. You know her parents and friends were praying. She was on every prayer list in Georgia and people all over the country were begging for her safe recovery.

Even as they were searching for her, my Sunday School lesson on Sunday was about how we can trust God in the new year because God rescues those who call out to him and rescues those who are in peril. I went out to lunch yesterday with a woman who heard my lesson and was so excited because God did JUST THAT VERY THING for her this week. I don't know how to wholeheartedly trust God because I don't know where he was this week while hundreds of people were looking thorugh the Georgia foothills for a young college girl, when just a tiny intervention--a subtle reminder in the mind of a waitress, a glimpse of recognition in the memory of a park ranger--would have brought Meredith home safely.

But then there's CNN and the photo of Meredith Emerson and her brokenhearted family. I constantly find myself resisting and challenging any theology that doesn't stand up to their experience this week. I've been told that my problems with the suffering in the world are overly dramatic. I've been chastised that "mature believers" don't ask those questions any more. I've been told that "everything happens for a reason, even if we don't know what it is right now." But if my theology doesn't work for a terrified young woman tied up in the back of a murder's van, it doesn't work.

So, I keep trusting but not unquestioningly and not wholeheartedly. I know people--people close to me--who don't have this anguish, who can trust "in spite of," who don't ask these questions. I know that I irritate them. But it just won't go away. I wish I had their faith. Once, when I told C that he has the gift of faith, he told me that I have the "gift of doubt." (He meant it in a good way.) This is a gift I'd like to give back.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Every change changes everything

C and I went to see Charlie Wilson's War tonight. Wow, talk about the law of unintended consequences . . .

Except for the bogus southern accents, this movie is everything a movie should be. Go see it. Take your copy of The Fifth Discipline Fieldbook with you when you go. Man . . .

(BTW, it's rated R . . . if you're squeamish about the F-word, don't go; or if you go, don't blame me.)

How we change

Have you seen what's new with Miss America this year? After the pageant was deemed too lame to even televise last year, it was picked up this year by TLC, but not as a pageant . . . as a reality show. The intro begins, "They've spent a lifetime preparing for this moment (cut to footage of stiff-faced women in big hair) . . . and everything they've learned is about to change." Later, we're told that the show's consultants (aka, celebrity judges) will make the Miss America contestants "real, relevant, and 21st century."

In the first episode, the women apparently were given tasks to do while the judges watched them for style, poise, etc. and then at the end, the top three and the bottom three were given feedback about their performance. Here's the part I saw: Miss Idaho, in the bottom three, was told that her appearance was too "dated" and too "beauty queen"--hair too big, makeup too much, inappropriate for the casual setting of the day's tasks. Then she says defensively, "If this was good enough to win "Miss Idaho," then I think it's good." My first thought, just before I changed the channel: "Honey, do you want to be Miss Idaho or do you want to be Miss America?"

What would happen if, in an effort to make ourselves "real, relevant, and 21st century," we did spiritual and congregational transformation like the new Miss America reality show. What if other believers with a wider perspective than ours watched us perform our religious duties and then gave us feedback about it? My experience is that we would argue and resist and defend OR that we would agree, make a superficial change, and then go back to business as usual.

But what if--unlike Miss Idaho--we really wanted to win? What if we wanted excellence more than we feared change? What do you think? Would transformation happen?

I spend a lot of time and energy thinking about how people and systems change. This is partly because I am continually optimistic about the possibilities of change. For example, I'm completely nerdy about the new year and the potential for change that it brings. Also, people pay me money to help them change in ways that will make their lives better. Of course, they also resist all my efforts to help them change! We're all Miss Idaho at heart, I think!

To be honest, the reason I resist change is that my life works so well almost all the time. I can know that the changes I want to make are important, that they line up with my values, that they would improve my life . . . and yet, I don't change because I don't have to. Jack Denison, commenting on the work of Robert Quinn, writes, 'The better you function within your paradigm and the more you have invested in it, the more you stand to lose by changing it."

Friday, January 4, 2008

The last movie was Bratz (Boo's choice), which is pretty much two hours of my life I'll never get back, but tonight's movie made up for it in spades.

Tonight's movie was The Namesake--a visually beautiful and emotionally moving film about the experience of an Indian family, their Hindu heritage and their immigrant experience in the US. It is subtle and slow, trusting us to understand what is happening without having it explained to us. By the time the movie is over, each of the characters is so dear to us and we're truly sad to see the relationship end.

Interestingly, the book I read this week happened to be Digging to America, which is also a slow and subtle story about an Iranian immigrant family and their experience of America, as well as their American friends' experience of them. We see how the generations and the genders struggle in different ways to gain acceptance and identity and we see how relationships are shaped and sometimes damaged by those almost imperceptible slights, assumptions, and expectations that we all bring to our interactions with each other.

So, two lovely experiences this week . . . which should more than make up for two hours spent with the Bratz.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Movie week

While C and Mowgli are in Guatemala, Boo and I are watching a movie every day. (So far, we've seen The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, Hairspray, the latest Harry Potter movie, Waitress, and Amazing Grace.)

Last night, we watched Amazing Grace, the story of William Wilberforce and the process by which the British slave trade was ended exactly 200 years ago. It isn't a well-written film and it is often over-wrought, but it reminded my often cynical and disillusioned heart that one person really can change the world.