Monday, June 30, 2008

Professional v. Perfect

Related to my post on thing being no big deal, there is a lot of thought connecting perfection with professionalism, particularly in the Church. One of the things I appreciate about many emerging churches is the attempt to separate those two. Professionalism does not mean perfection. Things do not have to go just right and look wonderful in order to be professional. In fact, I think the most professional people are those who can deal with unknown while maintaining a clear sense of and direction toward purpose.

There is a certain amount of quality that goes along with professionalism, and that varies by industry. I think professionalism relates more to using resources wisely and to the best of people's abilities. Too much focus on perfection, though, makes us forget about our true purposes. I see that happen a lot. I'd rather forgo perfection, even professionalism, to maintain a clear sense of purpose, meaning, and good intentions in what I do.

Related to the Church, Sunday morning gatherings should be focused more on connecting with people and providing ministry than putting on a good show. This isn't anything new; many people have said it. However, many people also say they agree with this statement, but continue focusing on superficiality in the name of professionalism. Professionalism while sacrificing ministry is not worth it. Thoughts?

Sunday, June 29, 2008

No Big Deal

Okay, I have an confession to make. When I mentioned I was looking at different web browsers and social networking sites, it wasn't that simple. I kept feeling a lot of anxiety about having to make a decision about what I would use... because evidently it would be the final decision about what application or site to use, all of which are free.

I do this a lot, does anyone else? I go into something, believing I have to make it perfect. That makes it really hard to enjoy or explore. Particularly because most of the decisions we make are not final ones (there are of course notable exceptions, like having a child). Things like a web browser. So I try it for a while, and if I don't like it, I can switch. No big deal. I can try a social networking or bookmarking site. If I don't like it, I can stop. No big deal.

Approaching everything like this seems to take the power out of God's hands. We have to have control over everything. Even our experiences. And we don't even realize we're doing it. If you find yourself doing this also, try to remind yourself that it's not a big deal. Mistakes happen. If you see me doing it, you can remind me of it, too! :)

And frankly, even with critically important decisions, we still need to acknowledge, accept, and embrace the unknown. Brad Paisley's Make a Mistake was something I listened to a lot to remind myself that mistakes are okay, even good and even in big decisions.

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Maintaining Connections

Related to my post on endings, I was going to make some comments about how technology is helping us stay connected, rather than the contrary, as popular opinion has long proposed. I then noticed my friend, Rich Samuels, posted something similar, so I want to reaffirm what he said.

While I have actually not be a fan of the social networking websites, I just started trying out a couple of more... because of my nerdiness. Yes, that's right. I was looking at different web browsers and came across Flock, which is based on Firefox, but has a lot of neat features built in, including blogging functions and social networking. It helps bring everything to you. Since I could use new fun technology features, I thought I would try some of it, and I realizing that it can be a very nice way to stay connected to people.

One of my struggles with social networking and forums before is that you have to constantly go somewhere else to check it, whether or not it's updated. It seems like a waste of time and energy. But with this new browser, the info comes to you, like email, and I like that. I've also started getting into the RSS realm, and it has really helped me stay in touch with people, news, and commentary. As I talk about conversation being important here, I recommend these tools as ways to keep up-to-date and involved in the conversation, particularly when things like Flock make it easy to do that!

I also constantly maintain that relationships are the primary purpose in our lives and the means for spiritual formation, so I guess I have little reason to keep resisting these formats just because of their popularity (why do we do that sometimes?). In fact, they can help our spiritual formation and keep us focused on our purpose in our lives. Just like Rich Samuels said in one of his comments to me about business, these social networking technologies can also help us keep focused on the higher goal of technology--to keep us connected and in relationship rather than just efficiency and productivity.

Friday, June 27, 2008

Following, Not Perfection

Christianity Today featured an interesting article today, exploring a new diagram for sharing the Gospel.

Now I'm not a big fan of diagram evangelism. It often seems too formulaic. However, Mr. Choung, the creator of this diagram, makes an excellent point that I think helps make this diagram successful. On page 3 of the article, he states:
Jesus' invitations into the kingdom seem to be summed up in a couple of words: "Follow me." Jesus didn't always require people to see the depths of their sin before they started a journey with him. They just needed to be willing to change.
How true is that?! I've never thought of it in those terms, but that's probably part of my problem with the over-focus on sin that often occurs. Just like I had talked about in my message at The Gathering a few weeks ago, change is a process, which includes a time of being unaware of what needs to be changed. That includes aspects of our spirituality.

So why do we expect others to instantly see all of the ways they need to change just because we gave a nice speech on sin and salvation? It's not that simple, and God Himself didn't even do it that way. Being willing to change, on the other hand, is very different. That includes a lifelong process and journey. That's what Christianity is really about...


Last night was my last class. Ever. Done. I haven't not been in school since Kindergarten. I'm not sure I'm ready, to be honest. It's so familiar. It's how I've identified myself.

But beyond that, my doctoral program has been unlike any other. It's been intense, not just academically, but emotionally and relationally. I have been with the same group of about 20 people for four straight years. We have gone through a lot together. For me, I've gone through one of the lowest points of my life (my aunt's death) and one of the highest (my marriage), with these friends lifting me up the whole time. Some of the faculty, too.

Sure, we'll see each other when we walk next May (I don't graduate until I finish a one-year internship) and at various events, like weddings. But we're used to seeing each other twice a week for six hours at a time.

Last night I couldn't get it to sink it. It felt like any other class. But it wasn't. I don't know when I'll see many of them again. We'll talk, but it's not the same. We're all thrilled to be done with class, but it's still sad.

In therapy, we try to make the end of treatment as smooth as possible and talk it through. It often feels odd because we don't do this in the rest of our lives. We don't do this with school at all (graduation ceremonies help, but not really). Most of me wants to just pretend nothing has changed and let things dissolve away. It's easier. For the moment...

But endings happen in our lives. They're a critical component. And they have spiritual implications, which can be positive or negative, depending on how we handle them. But in order to make a positive impact, we must handle them, which is not easy. Having people around to help you through them is an important way of getting through them, I believe.

I've had a lot of endings in the last couple of months, and I think more are coming soon. I think it will be helpful to have some time off of my biggest responsibilities to recuperate. We often don't let ourselves have the time to adjust. Let's see how well I do (my guess: not as well as I should :) ).

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Money and Social Work

Continuing the discussion of the role of money, particularly in the church, I want to make some comments about the relationship of money and social work.

We have several people in Nepal right now on a medical mission providing eye glasses and medicine to the Nepalese people. A few days ago, I had an interesting conversation with a wonderful lady in our church who was born and raised in Indonesia (and she is ethnically Indonesian). She commented that many people to whom we provide missions work don't need our help because they are happy. She used herself as an example, commenting how all the men in her country were gone to war when she was little. The women had to try to make a living to keep their families alive. They had no money. They would be the perfect candidate for a honorable church mission trip. Yet they were happy. They did not feel like they were missing anything.

I commented back to her that we (Americans) are, in fact, the ones who are in need of help and happiness because we need money to make us happy. She just smiled and nodded. Not that money is necessarily bad (or the root of all evil). But I get quite frustrated when we believe money can solves all problems. That seems to be the case in a lot of social justice work (and mission work). Throw some money at people or a cause, and the problem will be solved (at least our consciences will be clear since we helped someone).

Is that really helping others? Seriously?

One of the things I really appreciated going to Isaiah House a couple of weeks ago was what Ander said about what helped people. It isn't giving people food (the official work we do there). It is relationships. Amen! One of the reasons I don't like getting involved with a lot of social justice work is superficiality of it all. Throw money and concrete stuff at people, and you've change them, made them equals, and fixed their problems. Ha! Relationships do that, not money. I appreciate that Ander has the right perspective.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

For-profit and non-profit

As I moved from the student world to the "real world," I've been the influence of money a lot more. Recently, my classmates and I were in one of those lovely all-day seminars (on a Saturday, no less) for school. It was about non-profit business management, as many psychologists go on to run non-profits. As we all know, money is essential for living in today's time. I find that unfortunately because it moves our focus off the truly important pursuits.

Anyway, I've been struggling a lot recently with the influence of money and when it is legitimate (and necessary) to have earning money be a priority. I have always thought it needs to be something to be considered, but should not be at the top of a priority list. I always thought companies were interested in bettering the world and making better products (i.e. a computer company's main goal should be to make a better computer with making more money a nice benefit from that). However, our speaker emphasized that the difference between for-profit and not-for-profit businesses is just that: The former's primary goal is to make money.

I cannot wrap my mind around that. While basically the purpose of all of my jobs has been to make money, it was also a means to an end--to get myself through school, for instance. That feels different than creating a career and company out of the pursuit of money. Is there ever a time that is okay and acceptable, particularly for a Christian?

I have also been learning that despite the designation of not-for-profit, such organizations have money as a major priority. Granted, some of it is needed to survive. Money is necessary to do good work a lot. But when does raising that money cloud the objective of doing good work? How do we try to maintain proper priorities? I'd love some insights on this...

Tuesday, June 24, 2008

The Purpose of Blogging

When I started this blog, I had high hopes of having regular posts that would form various series of topics (like my attempt on peacemaking). With the end of school, posting became a burden, with one more thing to do to try and write a coherent post that would be brilliant, insightful, and inspirational.

I thought the purpose of a blog was to make a major difference in the world. But is that really the purpose? I saw a t-shirt on a website recently that said, "More people have read this shirt than your blog." I laughed out loud when I read that. And believe it or not, I didn't really care that that was true in my case. I don't know if anyone reads this.

Which gets to my question of what is the purpose of blogging, at least for me. My goal here has been to get people to think and get into dialogue about difficult topics. That doesn't mean I have to have the answers or even insightful comments. That just puts performance pressure on me.

That's one of my biggest struggles: Performance and perfectionism. I read this interview with the director of WALL•E, in which he discusses how with Toy Story, they attempted to please the Disney execs. And the project was almost cancelled. The Pixar people then went back and made the movie they wanted. The result was the smash success we all know.

It's amazing what happens when we listen to hearts versus our heads of what to do next. Whenever I have caught myself in this struggle and moved toward listening more to my heart, I've been told I make much more of an impact on people.

So that's my goal here. I'm going to try to stop performing and just post whatever is on my mind and heart, even if it's not in a well-thought-out series of brilliant insights. Maybe it'll get someone to think. And if no one else reads it, at least it's helped me to think and process my own thoughts and struggles...

As an adjunct to this, I've included a new box on my blog that has other articles and blog that I have "shared." I may comment, I may not, but they're things that I think are interesting, often to get people to think. And feel. I hope... :)

Friday, June 6, 2008

First Professional Publication

My first professional publication is now available from Ashgate. I contributed to a chapter in the new book, Religion and the Individual.

Our chapter discusses exemplar Muslim and Christian interfaith peacemakers from around the world. We were invited to contribute our work to this book after a presentation in the UK.

Just had to brag... :)


Got a question, struggle, or doubt you'd like to see addressed here? Contact me, and I'll try to discuss it (and may even help you get an answer).