Archive for the ‘Rambling’ Category

When Life Meets Job

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Rarely before have I been in a situation where the line between My Life and My Work has been so blurry.

Used to be I sat bored stiff in an office for a determined amount of hours, after which I cheerily left all behind to commence real life, i.e. visiting family and friends, church functions, Bible studies, eating $5/Footlongs from Subway, etc. 

Far cry from life now.

This week we’re hosting a team of 30.  If I counted the number of hours I’m putting into my job it would be pretty much the same number of hours I’m awake.  On the other hand, it could be said I’m not working at all, just living.

I do enjoy working diverse jobs instead of being pigeon-holed.  Which means I should be in 7th heaven right now, because in the last few days alone I’ve had my fingers in like fifty different pies.  From troubleshooting water problems, electrical problems, and auto-mechanic problems, to managing others working, to driving groups of people around Port-au Prince, to woodworking, to acting as resident tour guide, to assisting in the design of a solar-panel setup, to fixing the back of the canter after it backed into a tree (softly), to discussing the finer points of aid-work with guests, to answering the phone, to answering the door, to comforting a lady who was crying, to chasing a rat around my bedroom with a stick, to you name it, I’m probably doing it.  That’s all within the last 72 hours.

Sometimes I feel frustrated for not having a more relational focus though.  I want to be learning more of the language and interacting more with Haitians.  Discipleship, teaching the Word, working with street kids, aren’t these why I’m here?  But… everything in good time.  Right now I’m getting a crash course in the "logistical” side of living in the 3rd world :-)

I was telling my co-worker Josh there is no doubt value in us knowing how to drive in Port-au Prince.  That way, when the End of the World hits and America is under marshal law and the masses are rioting, we’ll be prepared to drive up on sidewalks and zip around road blocks.  He just laughed and said pretty much everything we’re learning here in Haiti will be useful when the End of the World hits. 

On the flip side, Haiti is also good at teaching us how much we’re not really in control of life at all.  There’s a lot of religion in Haiti and I can see why, this place has a raw quality that can drive a person to their knees, looking to God.

In fact, just that has been happening to me.  The last several days an old hymn has been running through my head and in the mornings before getting out of bed I’ve been singing it:

I need thee every hour, in joy or pain;
come quickly and abide, or life is vain.

I need thee, O I need thee;
every hour I need thee;
O bless me now, my Savior, I come to thee.

My Life is a Story, But How’s the Scripting?

Monday, September 3rd, 2012

Life is a story.  Yours is.  Mine is. 

(heads up, this post isn’t very interesting, just random musings)

One of the dozen or so blogs I follow is Screenwriting Tips.  Every day a thought-provoking tidbit is shared on effective scriptwriting.  Below are several I appreciated on “Crafting a protagonist (hero)”:

  1. At the character bio stage, don’t create characters whose goals fit neatly together like pieces in a puzzle. Instead, give them goals and desires that directly conflict with each other.
  2. Your protagonist gets to be in control during the first twenty pages and the last twenty. For the rest of the script she should be struggling, confused or otherwise on the back foot.
  3. At the simplest level, antagonists are just characters who force your protagonist to make choices.
  4. Think of your protagonist’s arc in terms of sacrifice. At the beginning of the script, she’s willing to sacrifice very little and gets nothing in return. By the end, she should be willing to sacrifice everything to gain everything in return.

I see elements of these “tips” have unintentionally slipped into my own life, largely against my will.

For instance, same as in Tip 1 my desires/goals often stand in conflict: 

  1. Become more involved in Kansas / Become more involved in Haiti
  2. Aspire for wisdom and humility / Aspire for riches and fame
  3. Eat more junk food + never run again / Eat less junk food + exercise
  4. Get married and live a steady life / Stay single and carefree as the wind!

Such dilemmas. 

Even Jesus had quandaries, praying in the Garden that, “this cup would pass.”  He hardly relished the upcoming ordeal, yet desired most to execute His Father’s will, which He did.

Guess it’s not a sin to have a conflict, just so long as the good angel comes out on top.  Why are the right decisions always the hardest ones?

Tip 2 said good stories keep the hero, “struggling, confused or otherwise on the back foot.”  I find in life when things get too comfortable, I get uncomfortable… wondering what’s next?  Surely goodness won’t last… and usually it doesn’t, though oft at my own bequest resulting from a bad habit of signing up for new challenges, a glutton for punishment.

They say if you help a newborning chicken (?) crack open its’ shell, it will later die from improper muscle development.  Don’t know if that’s true, but instinctively we know difficulty and struggle yields growth… and growth is good!

All great scripts are replete with struggle and conflict.

In the story of the Prodigal Son, the prodigal was in control at the beginning of the story and never again, soon he was struggling and confused as his life spiraled downwards from a result of destructively short-sighted decisions.  That story is well scripted.  Isn’t it ironic his own worst enemy was himself? something often true in my own life too.

Tip 3 explained the purpose of antagonists: to provoke the protagonist to action, to decision!

Who or what are the antagonists in our lives?  High stress?  An annoying neighbor or nagging boss?  Moral dilemmas?  Ice cream and candy bars?  A broken-down car?  Disappointments?  Internal desires?  Bad health?  Hurricane Isaac?  All the above?

Antagonists are anything that upsets our equilibrium, not just villains.

Though it CAN be villains: I’m currently reading the book, Decision Points by George W. Bush.  The discussion over 9/11 revolved around how that event forced our nation to craft new decisions regarding our attitude towards terrorists.  Antagonists have a way of forcing the issues.

Having a bum back five years ago was an antagonist that forced me to face my mortality and eventually resulted in my reevaluating life, changing direction, and making difficult decisions about the future.  More immediate, the back pain I experienced for several months forced me then to make a decision on whether to have a positive attitude or a sour attitude.  Unfortunately, I made the wrong decision and was pretty sour during that trial.

Tip 4 deals with how a well-crafted hero should substantially change throughout a story, particularly in regards to his values and priorities.

Peter denied Christ three times in one evening, yet later was crucified upside down for refusing to denounce Christ!  Talk about change, he is a protagonist of the first order.

Ever done the exercise where you think back ten years to what an important priority in your life was then?   Ten years ago I was 19 and making the cut in college was a top concern.  Then you think back 20 years ago and ask the same question…  I was 9 years old then and my cup of tea was working towards becoming a computer game programmer.  30 years ago?  At that time I was –1 and nervously anticipating birth.

Seriously, I do at times marvel how different I am now than five years ago, or ten.  Particularly in values.  Looking forward I think, “Where am I headed?  What are my goals?  What am I fighting for?  Are my goals worth fighting for?  What type of sacrifices am I prepared to reach my destination?”

Conclusion

The point of this post was to generate thought in how our lives are not just our lives, but also interesting stories complete with intricate plots and character developments. 

Perhaps we often miss the forest of our lives for the trees of daily living?  I wonder, is my story one of forging ahead to make a difference in things that really matter, or merely moseying in circles?  That thought is sobering.

On a spiritual note, God was working in the lives of honest-to-goodness people in the Bible when they often they didn’t know it at the time.  Most Old Testament characters had no idea of the bigger picture their small part was playing.  I like to think that in the same way God is using my life to weave a larger tapestry: someday I’ll see it, stand back, and say, “Wow!”

J.R.R. Tolkien, a master story-teller in his own right, wove clues on his philosophy of “story” into the very script of his most famous story, The Lord of the Rings (watch it here):

Frodo: I can’t do this, Sam.

Sam: I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It’s like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger, they were. And sometimes you didn’t want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going. Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo: What are we holding onto, Sam?

Sam: That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo… and it’s worth fighting for.

I would add to Sam’s comment there is a God who promises a new day, a bright one, for those who hold to faith in Him, an invisible being who has made outlandish promises to humans through his Word, the Bible:

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations… Without weakening in his faith… he did not waver through unbelief at the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised.(Rom 4:17-22)

The Shocking Semantics of Culture Shock

Monday, June 18th, 2012

So the powers that be, whoever they are, have determined Culture Shock has four stages. 

However, I’m not convinced Culture Shock has only four stages, just as I’m not convinced public speeches have only three parts (introduction, body, and conclusion).

I’ve heard speeches before that were all body; I’ve heard speeches that were all conclusion; and I’ve heard speeches that were all introduction.  I’ve also heard speeches that weren’t much of anything, and wondered why I was wasting my time listening to them.

In my opinion: reality defies description.  And life is messy.  Yet this doesn’t stop the powers that be from putting Speeches and Culture Shock into tidy boxes.

When I say the words “culture shock,” I’m referring to that mouth-opening, jaw dropping, deer in the headlights SHOCK one experiences upon seeing certain foreign practices (like electronic toilets, suited people picking up trash with salad tongs, or men in gourds wielding bows and arrows). 

My version of of culture shock has only one stage: shock.

The four scientific stages of “culture shock” seem to rather describe four stages of “cultural adjustment.”  Concisely, they are:

  1. Excitement / Holiday / Honeymoon (0-3 months)
  2. Withdrawal / Negotiation / Anxiety (3-6 months)
  3. Adjustment / Confidence / Feeling “normal” (6-12 months)
  4. Mastery / Enthusiasm / Comfort (12 months+)

I love how the stages even come with precise monthly timelines.  Shucks, I’ve gone through all four of those stages before in a New York minute.

Take, for instance, the time I saw a group of Hippos down by a lakeside in Kenya:

  1. First, I felt Excitement at viewing such monstrous animals sooo close!  It felt like I was on a Holiday, perhaps even a Honeymoon (except I was by myself, so not really).
  2. Then, in my Excitement to get even closer, I accidentally touched a high-voltage electric fence separating me from said hippos, which resulted in Withdrawal, Negotiation, and dare I say? Anxiety
  3. Next, I Adjusted to the situation, standing back from the fence, and after some time even began snapping photos with Confidence, and several minutes later, when the tingling died down in my leg, started feeling Normal again.
  4. Finally, having Mastered the situation, I turned my back on the lumbering mammals and with a satisfied chortle, muttered under my breath, “Veni, vidi, vici,” as I returned to the Comfort of my lodgings.

So, in a nutshell, that’s the shocking version of Culture Shock.

On a serious note, when it comes down to it, Culture Shock is simply dealing with differences – first noticing differences, then reacting to them in some manner.

The reaction may be naively happy (stage 1), overboardily grumpily (stage 2), with toleration (stage 3), or cheerfulness (stage 4). Other reactions include yelling, belligerence, and manic-depression, to name a few.

Now, regarding re-entry shock I’ll refrain on commenting as I’m still re-entering, and haven’t been away from home long (only 6 months) so am predicting a mild case, if anything. 

One of the first observations I did make upon arriving in the USA was how I could now understand ambient conversations again.  This was surprising as I’m used to only hearing gibberish from strangers. 

The first time I noticed this was while heading towards the immigration check-in counter at the Honolulu airport.  The man behind me was grumbling about how slow the moving sidewalks were: “They just built this wing of the airport, you’d think they could have made the sidewalks a little faster! it’s like half a mile we have to go here and good gracious, we have elderly folks, they can’t stand up forever!” 

Sorry buddy, it’s only survival of the fittest here.  Those who can’t stand longer than the two minutes required to reach immigration are gonna get left behind, turns out the only law they follow in Hawaii is the law of the jungle.

Honestly, I’m thinking to myself, “Only in America do we complain about the speed of the moving sidewalks!”

36 Hour Countdown

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

Feel like I’m about to go over a waterfall.  Can see the drop-off ahead and hear the booming water, but where I am now is still calm and tranquil.

Not sure if everything is going to fit into my backpack.  Guess I’ll find out tomorrow when I try stuffing it all in.

Lot of little details coming together.  Miss just one of them and they might turn me around at the border of some country.  For instance, yesterday I got a Yellow Fever shot (live vaccine) and round three of Hepatitis B.  Pretty much caught up on shots now.  I think.

A friend of mine (who is a world traveller) told me often on the night before he leaves on a big trip he lays awake in bed wondering if it’s all going to come together.  I know how he feels now, there’s a lot of unknowns in travelling.

Probably humans in general dislike unknowns, but I think it comes even harder on Americans as we’re so used to living lives of control.  Push a button and our garage door opens, push another to electronically set the temperature.  Want coffee?  Set the timer, it will be ready in the morning. 

All my machines do my bidding, I run a tight schedule, and often feel dependent on no one but myself.  This is an illusion of course, but adds up to me not always being happy when things are going on outside of my control.

But I think being in situations where I have to rely on others is healthy, even though scary. I think it’s healthy because it gives me practice in trusting God, which is also scary. Trusting God with the big, important things in life (like my life) is gosh-awful scary. I think the scare factor alone is why most people don’t do it (myself included many times).

Ok, enough soliloquy for tonight, I’m crashing. 

Hope for Even the Biggest Losers

Thursday, December 16th, 2010

Can The Worst Become Best?

Ever notice how the worst often becomes the best? The kid with worst teeth gets braces, making his the straightest on the block. Saul, the persecutor of Christians, becomes Paul, the Christian Apostle.

Granted, sometimes the worst stays the worst. Some kids have terribly crooked teeth with no opportunity to get them fixed. And some people stay bad: Pharaoh, the persecutor of the Jews, only went from bad to worse.

And granted, sometimes those who start out with everything end up rising to even higher greatness. Joseph in the Bible was a good egg all along, yet still ended up with even more power and influence. And my brother Joe had braces, though I always thought his teeth looked pretty good from the start.

An Analogy From The Biggest Loser TV Show

The Biggest Loser LogoHave you seen the show, "The Biggest Loser?" It’s clever.  It takes grossly overweight individuals and puts them in a contest to see who can lose the most weight by body percent.  The title is a misnomer, as the biggest loser is in fact the biggest winner: he gets $250,000, fame, and loses enough weight to be considered healthy again. 

What this show has to do with my opening observation is that some of the people on this show go from being the most obese (400+ pounds!) to some of the fittest, in shape fellows.  Incredible.

I watched the season finale at my brother Joe’s house this past Tuesday (yes, the same one with now straight teeth). Ironically, we ate snacks through the entire two hours.

What struck me most was the liberating transformation of the participants’ attitudes, not just their bodies. Seeing people step from an old depressed self into freedom was inspiring. I’ll admit, when I see a grossly obese individual in public (sometimes so heavy they ride around on a motorized scooter), it’s tempting to forget there’s a human soul in there, with feelings and emotions.

And some of the participants were pretty gross looking at the beginning. I feel sheepish to admit most these people would have been the type I’d have written off in my mind as slobs with no ambition. But by the end of the eight months these same people had completely transformed and you could feel their pride over the change: They had been set free and were beaming!

And they were all quick to give credit where it was due: "We never could have done it on our own," they each said.

As the new, thinner, disciplined personas emerged, it was satisfying to realize how likeable these people really were. They were great people who had become trapped in destructive cycles of poor choices, hopelessness, and depression. But now they were set free, hopeful regarding their future, and joyful. It makes me look at obesity in a new light, in light of what could be.

We are ALL Biggest Losers

I think this is how God views all of us in our sin. With our yucky hearts (with which we ALL will act out as much as we can get away with), we’re a lot like the Biggest Losers on the TV show.

But thankfully for us God looks beyond our sin sickness to envision what could be. Where others are revolted, God envisions redemption and healing. God doesn’t see addicts, he sees people in captivity in desperate need of freedom.

And there is no one too far gone for God to not be able to reach down and free.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” (1 John 1:9)

What about Real Life? What about Andrew Henderson?

Ok, hold on as this post is about to take a disturbing turn…

In light of the sickening story that hit the Wichita Eagle this past week about one of The Biggest Losers we could envision (convicted rapist Andrew Henderson) let me go on a limb and say God doesn’t see a rapist, he sees a selfish, rebellious human being who in fact despises his own actions, is ensnarled by lies, and has a crater in his soul which can only be filled by love, and that only if he has a repentant heart.

Boy, I hate to open this can of worms, but since my motto is, "life is messy," I guess I will. Andrew Henderson’s story gets to the heart of "life is messy." You can find the article on kansas.com (linked above) but be warned, it’s disturbing. 

What I found most fascinating in the article was where it broached the subject of forgiveness. In particular, how the girls’ rescuer Shelly was treating Andrew now that he is in prison and the change Andrew has made since being put in prison five years ago:

Almost immediately after she saved them, Shelly began doing things that baffled and upset the twins. She wrote Andrew in prison, hinting at kindness. She worried that judgmental inmates might hurt him. His answer surprised her: Putting him behind bars was the best thing anyone did for him, he told her. He said he would not have stopped. He said he was sorry.

The twins scoffed when they heard this.

And after she [Shelly] reached out, some neighbors confessed to disgust. They should burn, one said of the Henderson males. Why are you being nice to them? Monsters.

Shelly felt sorry for these critics. What kind of Christianity was that?

“I’m not foolish about Andrew,” she said one day, with Kathie sitting beside her on the couch. “He hurt the girls too much. I want him to be punished too. But of course he can be forgiven. What Christian should think otherwise?”

The comments at the bottom of this article on kansas.com are boiling – you can feel the scathing heat as people blast Shelly’s forgiving attitude and lash out toward a God who would let this type of evil continue for years. Where was God? Why didn’t he intervene?

This comment (edited) is typical:

…you say, "God will always be there for you”?

And he sure proved it every moment these children prayed & cried & begged for help.

We are All Born Captive to Sin

The existence of evil is perhaps the most serious accusation leveled against Christianity.

In light of the current Christmas season, is all really well here on earth? And what about the angels who appeared, heralding, “Peace on earth, good will toward men?” (listen to these two clips in my last post for poignant dramatizations)

*sigh* the problem is we all deserve death because of our sins. We all have the dreaded disease.

One person commented on the Henderson article with this same thought:

Jesus came to save sinners, and in his eyes all sin is the same. Obviously, the consequences are much sadder in the case of a pedophile, but sin is still sin. -kansas.com

Last Saturday I went to a Hare Krishna lecture (long story) and guess what the message about? Our need for cleansing from the impurities in our hearts.

I would suggest all humanity knows instinctively there is something broke inside us, that we are guilty. This is true whether we are from India or North America.

We have all rebelled against God.

“For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life…"

Andrew was simply at an advanced stage of acting out.

Why did he go so far? I would say, “Because he was getting away with it.” And I would also say that every human being alive would stoop to the same level of depravity and even lower if left unchecked.

“Why don’t we then?” Because there are usually negative consequences. For Andrew the negative consequences were temporarily removed, though they did eventually catch up to him.

Here’s the kicker: Refraining from evil to not get punished is not living in freedom from ones own sin nature. You can tell who is really free by who remains upright when the societal norms are removed.

For example, when soldiers were given orers to perform acts against humanity in the Holocaust, many did so quite readily.

My point is this: If you have not been set free from sin by God, you will always slip down to the lowest denominator you can get away with. It may be lying, office gossip, slander, using people for your own benefit, lusting in your mind, despising your brother, or getting drunk, but all these are indicitaive of one who has not been set free from sin.

“So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” (John 8:36)

We might not like it when someone receives forgiveness because we want them to burn. But this attitude is dangerous because we all deserve to burn. It is only by God’s grace there is hope for any of us.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” (Matthew 5:7)

Can God Bring Freedom to Perpetrators and Healing to Victims?

Humans are the ones who screw things up and hurt other humans by our own selfish decisions. God gave us free wills and he lets us use them.

But God is also in the business of healing, redeeming what we break.

It’s ironic how God’s grace is actually magnified when he works transformation in Biggest Losers, taking the disgusting and transforming it into a highly prized possession of value. 

When I read this letter Andrew wrote the reporter of the article from prison I have to wonder, “Has God set Andrew free?” I don’t know, but Andrew does sound genuinely repentant, which is a good first step…

What about the victims? Can they find healing?

I believe God is able to make all well and bring healing to victims of denigrating evil; whether they be holocaust survivors like Corrie ten Boom (read this most amazing short story about Corrie forgiving) or children like the Henderson girls.

How does God bring healing? How does God right wrong? I don’t know. But He can, and in real life examples He Has (like Corrie).

At a personal level, I’m thankful the Lord is able to look beyond my sin and offer me forgiveness, reconciliation, and adoption.  I’m thankful He doesn’t write off Biggest Losers because then he would write off me.

“But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’ For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." – Jesus Christ

When Jesus came to earth 2,000 years ago, it was the entrance of God’s Kingdom of Love and Peace to earth.

Like a mustard seed, His Kingdom was planted; and like a Trojan Horse, it slipped into a lowly manger stall. His entrance was a collision of two Kingdoms. And good eventually will triumph over evil. 

Jesus the baby is now Jesus the King seated at the right hand of God, waiting for the fullness in time when He will come back to conquer, reign, and make his enemies his footstool.

I want to close out this post with an excerpt from the book of Revelation.  It’s Christmas time, where we look back 2,000 years to the Advent.  But let’s not forget the future, the hope to which this Biggest Loser is looking forward:

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God… On each side of the river stood the tree of life… And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.

No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads… And they will reign for ever and ever.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End. Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city… "

The Spirit and the bride say, "Come!"

And let him who hears say, "Come!"

Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.