Monday, February 23, 2009

Power to the People

Chew on this, from MaryKate Morse's Making Room for Leadership, and tell me what you think of it:

Power is less like a tool we use to make something happen and more like the water we drink to stay alive. . . . In healthy settings, individuals have the power to make changes in their lives, either internally or externally. They are free to contribute to the well-being of their community. . . . This essential ability to choose does not come with one's name on an office door or with a specific role. It is the nature of being human.


Thoughts?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Lenten Readings from Me-Ville: Heads Up

Lent is coming! A church near where I live is reading through my book Deliver Us from Me-Ville as part of its Lenten observance. It actually seems like a pretty good resource for Lent, if I do say so myself: during Lent we take a long, slow look at ourselves and invite Jesus to guide us from ourselves to his cross and then on a life journey of discipleship. Really--you can make it work.

Anyhoo, this church has created a reading plan for the book, which the pastor graciously shared with me, so that I might share it with you. It'll also be posted to the Facebook group, if that's your preferred venue. But I'll also be posting a quote from the book here every day during Lent, with the kind permission of my publisher, to serve as a sort of checkpoint for you as you make your way through your Lenten observance. Tell your friends--make it communal or something!

Daily Reading Plan
Week 1: The High Cost of Living in Me-Ville
 Day 1 Pages 15-19 Feb. 23
 Day 2 Pages 19-23 Feb. 24
 Day 3 Pages 25-30 Feb. 25
 Day 4 Pages 30-37 Feb. 26
 Day 5 Pages 37-41 Feb. 27
 Day 6 Day off Feb. 28
 Day 7 Day off Mar. 1

Week 2: Jesus Visits Us in Me-Ville
 Day 8 Pages 43-47 Mar. 2
 Day 9 Pages 47-52 Mar. 3
 Day 10 Pages 52-57 Mar. 4
 Day 11 Pages 58-63 Mar. 5
 Day 12 Pages 63-67 Mar. 6
 Day 13 Day off Mar. 7
 Day 14 Day off Mar. 8

Week 3: Jesus Displaces Us
 Day 15 Pages 69-75 Mar. 9
 Day 16 Pages 75-78 Mar. 10
 Day 16 Pages 78-82 Mar. 11
 Day 18 Pages 82-87 Mar. 12
 Day 19 Day off Mar. 13
 Day 20 Day off Mar. 14
 Day 21 Day off Mar. 15

Week 4: Jesus Delivers Us
 Day 22 Pages 89-93 Mar. 16
 Day 23 Pages 93-99 Mar. 17
 Day 24 Pages 99-102 Mar. 18
 Day 25 Pages 103-105 Mar. 19
 Day 26 Pages 105-113 Mar. 20
 Day 27 Day off Mar. 21
 Day 28 Day off Mar. 22

Week 5: Jesus Binds Us Together
 Day 29 Pages 115-121 Mar. 23
 Day 30 Pages 121-124 Mar. 24
 Day 31 Pages 125-127 Mar. 25
 Day 32 Pages 127-133 Mar. 26
 Day 33 Pages 122-138 Mar. 27
 Day 34 Day off Mar. 28
 Day 35 Day off Mar. 29

Week 6: Getting in the Way of Jesus
 Day 36 Pages 13-144 Mar. 30
 Day 37 Pages 144-151 Mar. 31
 Day 38 Pages 151-157 Apr. 1
 Day 39 Pages 157-161 Apr. 2
 Day 40 Pages 162-164 Apr. 3
 Day 41 Pages 165-171 Apr. 4
 Day 42 You’re done! Or are you…? Apr. 5

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Lighten Up, in the Name of the Lord

More to come on National Pastors Convention, but in the meantime I came across the following in Dark Night of the Soul, which, it turns out, has nothing to do with Batman:

With respect to the fourth sin, which is spiritual gluttony, . . . such persons expend all their effort in seeking spiritual pleasure and consolation; they never tire, therefore, of reading books; and they begin, now one meditation, now another, in their pursuit of this pleasure which they desire to experience in the things of God. But God, very justly, wisely and lovingly, denies it to them, for otherwise this spiritual gluttony and inordinate appetite would breed innumerable evils. It is, therefore, very fitting that they should enter into the dark night, . . . that they may be purged from this childishness.


Funny how some of the markers of great piety in our era--voracious appetite for spiritual reading, frequent meditation on the Word of God, and so on--are here considered markers of spiritual immaturity. It explains some of the bemused comments about evangelicals I've read in books by monastic Catholics such as Thomas Merton. Begs the question: which spiritual disciplines do you suspect someone like St. John of the Cross might suggest you lay off for a while? How would you respond if a spiritual giant told you to lighten up?

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Epiphanies of Recruitment

I'm at the 2009 National Pastors Convention in San Diego, hawking books and courting authors. Fun fun. I've never been to this conference, but as you might imagine, a gathering of two thousand pastors involves quite a bit of talking. I've had really interesting conversations with people from all over the country, but the thing that struck me the most is the recurrence of "epiphanies of recruitment."

An "epiphany of recruitment," a phrase I first read in Brian Mahan's nearly perfect book Forgetting Ourselves on Purpose, is a moment that, in retrospect, serves to bring clarity and cohesiveness to a person's vocation, a moment in which the veil shrouding God's plan for a person's life is pulled back enough to engage the conscious mind in a way that will sustain the subconscious over time. An example in the book was Dorothy Day's childhood conversation with her mother about people who can't afford to have doughnuts for breakfast. She recounted a sense of urgency that her ample supply of doughnuts be made available to such under-resourced people. Dorothy Day went on to be a champion of the poor in the middle of the twentieth century.

The two epiphanies of recruitment I heard described today both coincided with the person's conversion to Christianity. One asked his grandmother for a Bible, decided to start reading it with a short piece, settled on the book of James, and came across the following passage:

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.


That verse--not the more popular altar-call verses like "God so loved the world . . ."--taught him what it meant to be a Christian, and among other things, that meant a lifetime of looking after the fatherless and the widow. He was about eight at the time.

The other epiphany of recruitment I heard about today involved a teenager who stumbled across a weekend-long outdoor festival of Christian musicians and speakers. The young man was riding his bike when he heard what turned out to be a multiethnic choir; as he listened to the choir sing, he heard a voice whisper, "This is what God's church looks like." He rode his bike back the next day and the day after that, and converted to Christianity. He's now pastor of a thriving church that is thoroughly multiethnic.

I don't suppose that all epiphanies of recruitment are so salient, but they are all, in theory, that seminal. We file them away, however, and in the interim between our preadolescence and our adulthood, culturally bound expectations and social politics conspire to whittle away at our idealized ambitions and supplant them with something more mundane, more pragmatic. Mahan's book offers exercises to bring those epiphanies into sharper focus for our adult selves; he translates Dorothy Day's experience, for example, with "Did you ever have a doughnut plan? What happened to it? Have you thought about trying it again?" Seems like a good question to throw open to the 3+ readers of Loud Time: what comes to mind from your experience as you read about epiphanies of recruitment? What happened with it? Have you thought about trying it again?

And perhaps further than that, how can we keep alert to the epiphanies of recruitment occurring in the lives of young people around us? What is our responsibility as observers of such moments?

Sunday, February 08, 2009

I & Thou in San Diego

This week I'll be in San Diego, California, for the National Pastors Convention. There I'll be working in the bookstore, trying to woo customers toward the books that my employer is publishing; I'll also be drinking lots of coffee, trying to woo writers to publish with us. To top things off, I've learned that the publisher of Deliver Us from Me-Ville will be there as well, and I'll be trying to woo them into publishing my next book. All that wooing should keep me pretty busy.

It's a good thing that this past week a group of my coworkers, guided by the Suburban Christian, spent an hour discussing the book I & Thou by twentieth-century philosopher Martin Buber. We approached the topic, which deals with the tension between relationship and function in how we interact with one another and with the world we inhabit, and most supremely with God, from the perspective of a publishing enterprise. If the tendency to define our various encounters as person-object (I-It)is a corruption of our created instinct to be relational (I-Thou), is the book-publishing industry inescapably objectifying and commodifying, or is there, for example, a way of reading books as an I-Thou encounter? More pressing, perhaps, and more ethically urgent is the question of whether we can enter into contractual relationships with authors, whether we can subject authors to a production schedule, whether we can give any consideration to readers, without falling into the objectifying pattern of an I-It relationship.

The best we could come up with, I suppose, was to establish reminders with ourselves that the people we encounter--whether authors, coworkers, customers, critics, gatekeepers or reluctant readers--are whole persons, not demographic statistics or content-producing machines or two-dimensional nuisances or even golden calves to revere. If we were made to relate mutually, as subject to subject, then our capacity to reduce others to something less is something we contrive, something we manufacture. Sometimes that's just how it has to be in a world such as ours, but it's healthy every now and again to remember that, when the e-mail's been sent or the account has been closed or the book has been read or the contract has been signed--when our relationship as it is comes to a natural, if only temporary close--those we relate to don't cease to exist.

So if I see you in San Diego and you get the feeling that I've switched on autopilot or run you through some kind of suck-up flow chart, remind me that you're human, and I will sheepishly apologize and try to enjoy the moment with you. But while you're there, be sure to check out the IVP booth, and stop by the David C. Cook both to pick up a copy of Deliver Us from Me-Ville.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Spam of the Day: This Beautiful Mail

Haven't done one of these in a while, but I enjoyed this letter quite a bit.

Hello,
How are you today? I hope you are fine. If so thank be to God almigthy.
please excuse me, I saw your contact email while browsing through the
internet so I decided to contact you despite that I have not seen you in
person. It will be my pleasure to communicate with you. My name is Grace
John, 26 years from Liberia in West Africa. I am single girl looking for
honest and nice person. Somebody who care and fear God whom I can partner
with. I don't care about your colour or ethnicity.

I would like to know you more, most especially what you like and what you
dislike.I'm sending you this beautiful mail, with a wish for much
happiness. I am looking forward to hear from.

Thanks and God bless.
Love from,
MissGrace

If you're going to send me spam, I'd appreciate it if you took a cue from Miss Grace and make it beautiful.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Welcome Home, Millard Fuller

Millard Fuller, founder of Habitat for Humanity, is dead.

I got really involved in Habitat at college because the justice work of other organizations on campus was so abstract, indirect. They were doing good work, but I wanted the immediate return that came with helping a house go up. Habitat's success, I think, has a lot to do with its tangibility; you meet the homeowners as you help them come into their home.

Fuller was a Christian ecumenist, defining the "theology of the hammer" as something we can all agree on as true in the truest sense: that a God by any name would want people to live in safety from the elements, that anyone who claimed to follow God owed concern to his or her neighbors. I remember reading Theology of the Hammer and thinking that Fuller was not a very good writer, but I remember reading the book even years later.

I remember being very angry at some communities for their reluctance to allow Habitat projects into particular neighborhoods. I suppose, on the far side of (a) thirty and (b) homeownership, I understand the concern for property values and whatnot. But it's still not cool, and I still get angry when I occasionally hear that some neighborhoods stand in the way of decent housing for earnest would-be neighbors.

Anyway, good on ya, Millard Fuller. You'll be missed.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

I, Thou & Meow

From I & Thou by Martin Buber:

Sometimes I look into a cat's eyes. The domesticated animal has not as it were received from us (as we sometimes imagine) the gift of the truly "speaking" glance, but only--at the price of its primitive disinterestedness--the capacity to turn its glance to us prodigious beings. But with this capacity there enters the glance, in its dawn and continuing in its rising, a quality of amazement and of inquiry that is wholly lacking in the original glance with all its anxiety. The beginning of this cat's glance, lighting up under the touch of my glance, indisputably questioned me: "It is possible that you think of me? Do you really not just want me to have fun? Do I concern you? Do I exist in your sight? Do I really exist? What is it that comes from you? What is it that surrounds me? What is it that comes to me? What is it?" . . . The animal's glance, speech of disquietude, rose in its greatness--and set at once.


This Thursday my friend the Suburban Christian is going to help me and several of my colleagues at our publishing house understand how that passing moment with a cat relates to the industry of publishing, selling, buying and reading books. Stay tuned here, there and at Strangely Dim for a report of the discussion.