Sunday, November 23, 2014

Weekend Update (#Haiku)

Friday, November 21, 2014

Booklovers (#FlashFictionFriday*)

“Description is a bunch of crap. Waste of time,” the short, large-framed, rumpled man spoke disparagingly as he manhandled the stack of marked-down-to-a-dollar novels.

“I want something that tells the story straight with none of that fancy schmancy elaboration. You know, no dream sequences, no flashbacks, no mood setting narratives. Just give me the damn story already. And action. Lots of action. All the rest is just a waste of words. Not to mention ink and paper.”

No one was standing near him in the warm, musty-smelling second-hand bookstore. He was talking to the dust motes, or maybe to invisible elves watching over him from the tops of the bookcases.

“Hmmm. This one looks interesting. I like the cover. The title is catchy. Yep.” He headed to the counter with his prize gripped in his thick-fingered left hand as he dug in his pocket with his right hand, grabbing a wad of crumpled, damp bills. He tossed them on the counter next to his book and went back in for the coins.

“That’ll be $3.17, sir.” The female clerk spoke with confidence and a smile, looking straight into his eyes. She was an inch taller than him with a smattering of pale freckles scattered across the bridge of her nose and dusting the tops of her cheeks. Her hair was a natural reddish brown and her smile was genuine and charming.

He stared at her for a moment, eyes receding into his head as he calculated what was happening, then spoke with a gruff hoarseness, “The sign says all those books are only a dollar!”

The clerk continued grinning pleasantly as she glanced back at the book and the price tag adhering to the cover which illustrated in violent graphics the general plot arc of the story. Something on the cover made her blush as she replied, “I’m sorry sir, but another customer must have put this in the dollar stack by mistake. This one is $2.99, plus the tax of course.”

She spoke with a lovely lilt, her tone not condescending and only slightly apologetic. It was soothing and sweet. He was entranced, disarmed.

“Well, okay, I guess,” the words falling from his mouth like half-chewed food as he counted out the exact change from his sloppy cache of money.

The clerk picked the bills and change off the counter, sorted everything neatly into the cash register, closed it, bagged his book with his receipt, and handed it to him nearly singing, he thought, “Sorry about that, sir. Here you go. Have a nice day and come again!”

“Yeah, yeah,” he growled and grumbled as he shuffled toward the door. “You have a good day yerself, missy.”

He stepped outside into the cool early-winter air grasping his treasure in one hand as he closed his coat with the other. It was a windy and snow-streaked day. “Time to go home,” he spoke spewing steam, speaking to the wind, the snow, the day, the elves. “And meet these new friends.”


* It’s flash fiction Friday! (To learn more about FFF, click here and scroll down.) 
Flash fiction is nothing more or less than a very, very short short story. This one is 500 words. What do you think? Know anyone like this guy? Who are the new friends he is planning to meet? What is the story really about? Please share your thoughts in the comments!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Don’t be fleeced into thinking of this mighty introvert as one who shilly-shallied

When you’re a kid growing up in a small Pentecostal church, knowing God’s will is a big deal. You want to know the formula for getting it right.

Just when you thought you came across something in the Bible that might be “it,” the “anti-fleece” sermon would roll around the next Sunday to remind you that you were wrong. Again.

The “anti-fleece” was a popular sermon I heard a lot growing up. The gist was what not to do when seeking God’s will.


But that’s not the reason I’m bringing this up. The antihero of the “anti-fleece” sermon was poor, old Gideon. Gideon was characterized as a cowardly, hesitant, God-doubting wimp.

In fact, he was described the way a lot of people think of introverts.

Be honest. When you hear someone label themselves as an introvert, adjectives that come to mind probably include at least one of these: backward, bashful, cowardly, fearful, halting, hesitant, indecisive, shy, slow-witted, stand-offish, tentative, timid, wimpy, one who shilly-shallies.

While an introvert may possess one or more of these qualities, none are true synonyms for “introvert.”

In fact, there are many extroverts who are cowardly, indecisive, and more. And there are introverts who are quite courageous.

For example, Gideon.

Gideon’s story is found in the Bible in the book of Judges, chapters 6, 7, and 8.

Other than a brief mention in 1 Samuel 12:11 where he’s referenced by his alternate name, Jerubbaal, the only other notable place he’s cited in scripture is in Hebrews, but I’ll get to that later.

Introverts are cautious

The story of Gideon opens with him hiding in a winepress, secretly threshing some wheat.

And, therefore, he’s a cowering coward.

Of course, this characterization completely ignores that Gideon was hiding from marauding hordes of ruthless Midianites and their buds who “would come like locusts in number,” laying waste to the land, taking everything and anything they wanted by force.

Within the context of the story, hiding in the winepress seems shrewd and responsible, especially given the viciousness of those he was hiding from.

Typical wise introvert behavior.

Introverts tend to avoid the spotlight

As an introvert, Gideon is not shy, timid, or cowardly. His Creator doesn’t believe he’s a cowerer, either. God sends an angel who addresses Gideon as a “mighty man of valor.”

Gideon’s first reaction is typical of an introvert. He tells his angelic messenger, “Please, Lord, how can I save Israel? Behold...I am the least....”

In fact, his overall response is very introvert-like:
  • He asks for more information so he can better assess what’s happening.
  • He takes time so he can process what’s happening.
  • He seeks clarification to ensure he’s heard correctly.
After all, Gideon is being instructed to go against savage hordes and save his entire people.

True to his created nature, Gideon carefully weighed what was happening before launching into action.

Introverts build on smaller victories

From what I’ve observed in extroverts, they’re response might have been to shout an enthusiastic “Yo! Let’s roll!” while grabbing a sword and running headlong into the fray to do battle, and probably die on the spot.

Extroverts act before they think. Introverts do the opposite.

Gideon’s first task was to destroy an altar and idols Gideon’s father, Joash, had built to Baal, a false god. He plans, gathers trusted helpers, and waits until the whole town is asleep to do the deed, then quietly goes to bed. He recedes until someone points the finger at him.

In the morning, after discovering his involvement, the townspeople demand that he be stoned. But Gideon escapes this close call thanks to Joash intervening.

This would have been a knee-knocker moment for Gideon or anyone; he was only inches away from being killed. But emboldened by the grace God administers through Joash, Gideon uses this success as encouragement to keep going.

Introverts are creative problem-solvers

As the Midianites rally with their allies in preparation to ravage the land, Gideon is empowered with the Spirit of the Lord to sound a trumpet-call to arms.

Following this burst of energetic enthusiasm he has a reasonable crisis of faith and needs a little more reassurance. After all, he was about to confront a godless, head-lopping mob of thousands.

With reverence, humility, and respect Gideon seeks a visible sign from the Lord to ensure he’s heard correctly and is taking the proper course of action.

He gets creative and sets out his fleece.

Some view this as “testing the Lord” and another example of Gideon’s many flaws, pointing to Deuteronomy 6:16 where God cautions the Israelites, “You shall not put the LORD your God to the test, as you tested him at Massah.”

But what happened at Massah? The children of Israel had just recently witnessed the parting of the Red Sea, among other miracles, and were traveling in the wilderness guided by an ever-present pillar of smoke by day and fire at night. Now they were thirsty and threw a tantrum. Like grumbling, fussy children they demand water, claiming they were better off as slaves in Egypt! They were “testy” and impatient with Moses and God.

This isn’t what Gideon is doing. He comes humbly before God seeking one final assurance. This is a natural expression of Gideon’s introvert temperament and personality. The Lord shows no anger or impatience with Gideon.

Introverts appreciate feedback & assurance

Once reassured, Gideon asks for no more signs, but without hesitation does what is asked. And what he is asked to do next is pretty remarkable -- to trim his fighting force from 32,000 to 300!

Later, again recognizing the person Gideon was (and how He had created him), the Lord offers Gideon an opportunity to seek further reassurance even though Gideon didn’t ask.

God tells Gideon to go eavesdrop on the enemy camp. There, he hears a man reveal a dream predicting an Israelite victory, is spiritually bolstered, and without hesitation launches a massively successful assault with only 300 men.

Introverts make bad decisions under pressure & when tired

After successful conquests, with peace and safety restored, Gideon is ready to settle back into a quiet life. But the men of Israel press him to be their king, an opportunity he eschews.

I can imagine the introvert Gideon tired of having to be “on” for such a long time, just wanting to live out the rest of his life in peace. He’s fought a lot of hard, exhausting battles.

Tired introverts tend to make poor judgments, especially under pressure. And that’s what Gideon did. Instead of agreeing to be king, or suggesting everyone take a break so he could think things over, he creates an “ephod” which was a kind of idol.

While the details are sketchy, Gideon takes this ephod and erects it in the city, perhaps in the same place where the altar to Baal he’d torn down a few years prior had stood. His intention may have been to create a visual reminder of all God had done for him and his people, but instead, the ephod became an object of worship and a “snare” to those who worshipped it.

Introverts can adapt to cultural expectations

In the concluding verses of chapter 8, it’s noted that Gideon had “many” wives, a concubine, and at least 71 children. Only sons are mentioned so he probably had some daughters as well. How, you wonder, could someone with such a large extended family be an introvert?

Simple. Introverts know how to adapt to and live within cultural expectations. This ability often causes introverts to be mistaken for being extroverts.

As the influential patriarch of his family, Gideon would have had control over his environment. In his culture and his time, the women watched the children and the men did what they wanted to. It would have been easy for him to manage ample times of solitude to recharge.

Introverts are quiet leaders

Sadly, after his death, “the people of Israel...did not show steadfast love to the family of Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) in return for all the good that he had done to Israel” (Judges 8:34-35, ESV).

Talk about tossing the baby out with the bath water!

But God viewed his situation differently.

Hebrews 11 is known as “the faith chapter.” In it, the writer lists heroic Old Testament characters. These are extraordinary individuals whose stories serve as examples to encourage and challenge our own faith.

Despite his faults, Gideon makes the cut.

Along with others, such as David and Samson (both marked by glaring flaws by the way), they and Gideon are described as having “through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”

The story of Gideon is a wonderful example of how God acknowledges different personality types, and in this instance showing how He deals patiently and encouragingly with an introvert.

The result was Gideon rising to the occasion as an exceptional leader.

He was not an extroverted, outgoing, charismatic, or flashy warrior. He was a quiet leader who faced a tremendous challenge successfully. He was not in it for his own glory. He was in it for the Lord’s glory, and to help his people.

Yep, introverts can be heroes, too. They may not be as visible as Gideon was in his day, but you probably know one.

Or, maybe you are one.

Do you agree that Gideon was an introvert? What other Bible characters would you view as introverts? Why? Do you consider yourself an introvert or an extrovert? How do you view those with the opposite personality style? Sound off in the comments!

Monday, November 10, 2014

The Walking Fled (#PoetryMonday*)

It takes no sixth, but only common sense
To know that in event of zombies near
You are hereby advised to please stand clear.
Do not block my escape route looking dense
Because rather than curling up fetal,
I will promptly flee the undead people.


  * It’s PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 


You can stand and fight them if you want, but I’ll just be on my way, thank you very much. This is what’s called in the poetry biz, light verse. What do you think? Do you like this one? Talk to me in the comments! Share some of your own light verse.

Bombus! Away!

The bumble is a humble bee
Buzzing so sedately,
Until I get a tad too close
Then "Ouch!" he stings me bravely.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

Sticking out our tongues and going “Neener, neener” isn't helpful: Turning swords into honeycombs

As kids we all learned the absurd childish retort for being called names:“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Eventually we kids grew up to learn that this is far from the truth.

Whenever I hear one person call another “Jerk!” (or worse) I cringe. Especially when the name-caller is a fellow follower of Christ.

Why? Because we who are Christians know that all people are created in the image of God. Sure, God’s image in us is flawed by sin, but name calling doesn’t help spread the Good News.

So, Christian or not, it isn’t cool for one image-of-God-bearer to call another image-of-God-bearer a jerk, or worse.

Words can cripple and kill from the soul out. Yet still, we freely lob insults and word-grenades around like candy tossed at a parade.

The name-maiming intensifies around the particularly hot topic of politics. This intensity really ramps up around elections, like the one we’ve just endured.

Now that the voting results are in, the verbal guns continue to come out blazing as insults, false accusations, innuendos, spin, and suspicions are splattered everywhere.

As if any of this is productive!

You dirty, no-good, crazy, son-of-a-@#$&@, lousy evangelical!

In his new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever happened to the Good News?, Philip Yancey exposes how many Americans view evangelicals. He references surveys by Ellison Research of Phoenix that reveal:
“Evangelicals were called illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks, and that’s just a partial list....” [Emphasis mine.]
It’s not just evangelicals who get mindlessly blasted like this. Sadly, these labels and worse get tossed around by a lot of people aiming them at a lot of other people.

You’ll hear these slander-bombs going off in church, at PTA meetings, on the road, at the football game, in the grocery store, on the street in your neighborhood, and in the news.

But you’ll especially hear them in politics.

Republicans toss them at democrats. Democrats toss them at republicans. Liberals toss them at moderates. Moderates toss them at liberals and conservatives. Tea partiers and independents toss them at everyone.

Ironically, a lot of the yelling revolves around accusing “them” from refusing to cooperate with “us.”

And we wonder why very little real work gets done in D.C.

Civility and understanding are impossible when verbal grenades are blowing everyone to bloody bits.

It needs to stop. We can do better.

Emerging from the bunkers to shake hands

We need to behave and play nice. If it won’t happen at among our elected leaders, then it needs to start with us at the grassroots.

Instead of viewing each other with contempt and mistrust and telling “them” to reach across the aisle, “we the people” need to set the example.

Peace in any conflict doesn’t happen until someone risks taking the first step in the midst of conflict. Peace comes at a cost to the initiators who have to be the first to lay down their weapons.

Seeds of peace are planted when we change our perceptions of one another.Adversarial ways of seeing each other will not bring us together, promote understanding, or produce civil discourse:
  • If we view others as a target, we’ll take pot shots at them.
  • If we view others as an enemy, we’ll seek to defeat them.
  • If we view others as stupid, we’ll ignore them.
  • If we view others as wrong, we’ll always fight them.
  • If we view others as bigots, we’ll be on guard against them.
  • If we view others as hostile, we’ll pounce on them.
  • If we view others as pompous, we’ll discount their value.
Get the point?

Jesus offers two antidotes to counter these antagonistic views:
  1. The first is the traditional “golden rule” that says simply, “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12, ESV). You know, do unto others as you would have them do unto you. That’s pretty easy to understand.
  2. The second brings it a little closer to home and is given in the form of a command, not a suggestion or guideline: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39, ESV).
This isn’t simple stuff. It’s a lot easier to hate than love. Revenge and slander are easier than reconciliation. Unity can be messier than discord.

Laying down our verbal weapons and coming out of our bunkers makes us all vulnerable. But being vulnerable is the only way to get to where we need to go.

Even the strongest, healthiest families have to work through issues when they come together under one roof for the holidays. That’s just the way it is with us humans.

But the strongest and healthiest families got to be strong and healthy by listening to one another, caring about one another, respecting one another, accepting one another, overlooking faults, bearing with one another, and learning to live with differences of opinions.

We need to do the same as a nation, starting with the neighbor we can’t stand or the co-worker with the crazy ideas or the outlier with the odd tastes in music or those in that “other” political party.

We all want to be treated with respect & taken seriously

In the third episode of the TV show Madam Secretary, sensitive documents are leaked revealing that U.S. government workers have tagged world leaders with insulting descriptions in memos. These revelations lead to serious rifts in relationships between the U.S. and important allies.

These careless and demeaning words could lead to nuclear powered sticks and stones being brought to bear.

The Secretary of State, played by Téa Leoni, defuses the situation and then orders a “decree” to be sent to all 31,822 staffers in her purview stating, “From now on I expect all correspondence at every level of confidentiality to be civil and respectful, worthy of the office being represented.”

I’d like to see such a decree actually implemented, in Washington, D.C. and beyond, on memos and mouths!

This should be standard operating procedure in all walks of life in all communication, verbal or written.

Especially for those of us who claim God as our creator, Christ as our savior, and the Holy Spirit as our empowerer.

A much less hostile and far more positive discourse will emerge simply when we stop labeling each other with derogatory adjectives such as “illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks.”

In fact, Proverbs 12:18 cautions that “rash words are like sword thrusts” while promising that “the tongue of the wise brings healing.”

If there’s one thing we need as a nation, it’s healing.

Proverbs 16:23-24 offers path forward stating, “The heart of the wise makes his speech judicious and adds persuasiveness to his lips. Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (ESV).

Let’s lay down the swords and bring out the honeycombs.

If you’re a democrat, how do you view your republican friends? If you’re a republican, how do you view your democrat friends? How do you talk about others with whom you disagree? What kinds of emails do you forward to your friends? What steps have you taken to increase civility and respect in your circles?

Some justify name-calling by pointing to Jesus’s calling the Pharisees “serpents” and “vipers. Is this really a legitimate argument for insulting others?

Monday, November 3, 2014

At least it was a colorful death (#PoetryMonday*)

The leaf falls
twists, turns, tumbles
       twined in the wind
held up

Perhaps I can fly
it thinks

       But no
alas it lands
at last
       to die
returning to the earth
returning to earth


  * It's PoMo! To learn about PoMo (POetry MOnday), click here and then scroll down. 

  It's fall. The leaves turn and tumble. What more inspiration does one need to write a poem? Have you written one lately? Do you like this one? Talk to me in the comments!

Friday, October 31, 2014

Don’t hit me! Resurrecting real grace & giving faith more than a ghost of a chance

When I was a kid I loved to go to the local YMCA. My dad’s boss, Mr. Meek, would buy memberships to the Y for the families of his employers, an incredibly kind gift. As a member, I could get my buddies in for a small fee. We would head there many weekends and weekdays over the summer.

Besides swimming, there was a room full of table games like foosball, ping-pong, and whatnot. One day while standing idly in the game room, someone tapped me on the shoulder saying, “Hey, buddy!”

When I turned around -- Pow! -- I was punched firmly in the jaw and went down. I think I may even have been out for a couple of moments and saw a star or two.

The kid who hit me took off with his buddies, laughing. Kind of like Scut Farkus and his sidekick Grover Dill in “A Christmas Story,” minus the humor.

I didn’t know the kid, but had seen him around and knew he had an air of “ill repute.” He wasn’t the kind of guy I would have chosen to hang with.

The experience drained a little of the fun out of going to the Y. From that moment on, I was always on my guard.

The Y lost a good bit of its attraction.

Grace misspelled as O-U-T-R-A-G-E-!

A few days ago I was scrolling through posts in a Facebook group consisting of people who grew up as I did in the Assemblies of God (AOG). Someone shared a link to an article posted in an AOG online magazine asking if this article was “concerning to anyone.”

The article was titled, “Desires in conflict: Hope and healing for individuals struggling with same-sex attraction,” and subtitled, “Practical tips for those who find themselves in a position to help people struggling with same-sex attraction.”

The conclusion of the article issued a call for gentle grace:
“In closing, it is important to remind ourselves that sin has damaged and broken everyone’s sexuality — not just those who struggle with same-sex attraction or a disordered sexual identity. The sin of Adam and Eve affects every aspect of our creation and existence. No one escapes the effects of the Fall. No part of the human existence remains untouched....When defending our scriptural stance and interpretation regarding serious issues, let us be careful to not further damage the hurting and broken seekers and instead offer the good news of Jesus Christ with compassion and love.”

How did those in the Facebook group react to this article?

Most were certain Satan was at the helm of the AOG. A comment by a woman named, ironically, Joy, sums up the general consensus of responses: “Yikes! ‘Concerned’ sounds like such a mild reaction in this context! I need something more like ‘outraged’!”

So much for grace.

I don’t mean to beat up on the AOG or any specific group who adheres to biblical Christian faith.

We all have skin in the blame.

A person walks into a church and...

Church, religion, Christians, evangelical are all becoming bad words, and we who fit these labels wonder why.

We shouldn’t.

In his new book, Vanishing Grace: Whatever happened to the Good News?, Philip Yancey references  surveys by Ellison Research of Phoenix that indicate 36% of Americans have no idea “what an evangelical Christian is,” a mere 35% believe they know “someone very well who is an evangelical,” and  51% are certain they don’t know any evangelicals at all.

But these same people still have a clear opinion about evangelical Christians. Not that we Christians would hold opinions about others we don’t know.

Yancey quotes the president of the research company who stated, “Evangelicals were called illiterate, greedy, psychos, racist, stupid, narrow-minded, bigots, idiots, fanatics, nut cases, screaming loons, delusional, simpletons, pompous, morons, cruel, nitwits, and freaks, and that’s just a partial list....Some people don’t have any idea what evangelicals actually are or what they believe — they just know they can’t stand evangelicals.”

Frankly, a lot of evangelicals can’t stand evangelicals, but that’s fodder for a different blog post.

A lot of believers are certain we possess “sin-dar” as we attribute a plethora of bad thoughts and behaviors onto those around us.

Or we stand inside the doors of our churches as if the entrances are equipped with sin scanners waiting for them to beep as “those” people walk in. When the alarm sounds -- Bam! -- we knock them down by the power of the Spirit and beat the hell out of them, figuratively speaking of course. They’re not sure what hit them, or why.

Somehow this just doesn’t fit with Jesus’ invitation to “Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29, ESV).

Seek first to understand

So what do we do to fix this?

Yancey says, “To communicate to post-Christians, [we] must first listen to their stories for clues as to how they view the world and how they view people like [us].” We need to find a way to move beyond being “perceived more as guilt dispensers than as grace dispensers.”

He found a clue for doing this when he spent a day with Henri Nouwen who had spent time in San Francisco working in hospitals with AIDS patients.

“I’m a priest,” explained Nouwen, “and as part of my job I listen to people’s stories.” As he heard story after story recounting promiscuity, addiction, and other self-destructive behavior, what Nouwen picked up on was a theme hinting of a “thirst for love that had never been quenched.”

He told Yancey that his perspective changed and his prayer for others became, “God, help me to see others not as my enemies or as ungodly but rather as thirsty people. And give me the courage and compassion to offer your Living Water, which alone quenches deep thirst.”

Yancey’s new book is rooted in a prior book, What’s so Amazing About Grace, that concludes with this thought: “The world thirsts for grace. When grace descends, the world falls silent before it.”

Given that the labels above (psychos, racist, bigots, delusional, freaks, etc.) applied to evangelicals are often applied by evangelicals to those “outside the fold,” sitting down at the table together is going to be tough.

As one person stated, “We’re suspicious of one another. So we start off with a grudge.”

Still, explains Yancey, “For true dialogue to occur, we must cut through those stereotypes and genuinely consider the other’s point of view. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’”

Smacking people upside the head with a Bible is not grace. Being outraged toward others is not loving them. These are failed and polarizing tactics, to say the least.

As Yancey says, “I’ve yet to meet someone who found their way to faith by being criticized.” Or, we can add, by being bludgeoned.

Moving from overt obnoxiousness to subversive grace

Yancey’s book consists of 13 chapters broken out into four parts. There is a separate study guide with a DVD available that covers the book in five sessions.

After laying out the problem of being guilt dispensers in part one, Yancey challenges us in part two to become instead dispensers of grace as pilgrims, activists, or artists.

We are all pilgrims. That is, we must view our faith walk as a process, not as having “arrived” and “holding all the answers.” Viewing others from a self-righteous sense of holy superiority or “knowing it all” is not attractive. We follow Jesus as we walk alongside others.

The activists are those who are probably more extroverted. These are the change agents wading into the fray, engaging in politics, doing missions work, engaging in international relief activities, handing out hot meals to the homeless, hanging out with friends and being salt and light in unlikely places.

The artists are most likely more on the introverted side of the equation, those who tend to be a little quieter in their evangelizing. Instead of crowds, they share faith quietly with one or two at a time. They are the writers, teachers, hospice workers, bloggers, painters, sculptors, musicians, and behind-the-scenes workers.

In part three, Yancey lays out a practical and personal theology of sorts, addressing the God question, the human question, and the social question. He provides tools and reasoning to show that faith does matter, that God is there and He cares, and that the purpose of holiness is to lift us up to our full potential. “Somehow,” he states, “we need to communicate to the uncommitted that God wants us to thrive, to live in joy and not repression, trust and not fear.”

Part four addresses how to live out faith in culture. Given that politics is such a big part of our culture, even “a sort of substitute religion” for some, Yancey offers five suggestions for safely engaging politically: (1) Clashes between Christ and culture are unavoidable, (2) Christians should choose their battles wisely, (3) Christians should fight their battles shrewdly, (4) In engaging with culture, Christians should distinguish the immoral from the illegal, and (5) The church must use caution in its dealings with the state.

You say you want a revolution

Finally, in the last chapter, Yancey suggests, “Rather than looking back nostalgically on a time when Christians wielded more power, I suggest another approach: that we regard ourselves as subversives operating within the broader culture.”

“Subversively,” he continues, “we act out our beliefs as they go against the grain of surrounding culture. When parents discard unwanted children, Christians make a home for them. When scientists seek ways to purify the gene pool, Christians look for special-needs babies to adopt. When politicians cut funding for the poor, Christians open shelters and feeding stations. When law enforcement confines criminals behind barbed wire, Christians run programs for them.”

Yancey also states that “Art may be the most effective subversion tactic,” citing that the books he read as a younger man “subverted the fragile world of fundamentalism” he grew up in.

Whether through activism or art, he explains, “Gradually, like the melting of a glacier, change takes place and what first seemed subversive becomes an accepted feature of the landscape.”

It’s only through selfless love and the power of grace that we can win the world over to faith, not through criticism and outrage.

In other words, we Christians need to stop punching our neighbors in the jaw, no matter what names they call us.

They're thirsty. Let's offer them the thirst quenching Living Water. After all, isn’t that what Jesus would do?

NOTE: To comply with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255): I selected this book to review and received it free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.

Additional resources:

How I encouraged Phil Yancey by embarrassing him.

In 1982, I wrote a review of another Yancey book, Open Windows:
“This is a select collection of articles, essays, and interviews some of which appeared in Christianity Today, Leadership, and Christian Century. They represent the remarkable breadth and depth of thought of one of the best living Christian journalists. Yancey writes with clarity, conciseness, and craftsmanship seldom found in most Christian writing today. He infuses factual reporting with honest, unaffected humanity and emotion....This is a gem of a book. It should be read for its content -- what it has to say; and for its style -- how it says what it says.”

I was stunned when Yancey responded to my little review with letter that said, in part, “I know authors probably aren’t supposed to do this, but I wanted to drop you a note to thank you for the embarrassingly positive review of my book....[I]t arrived on the day when I really needed it.”

What I wrote then still applies today. So blush on, Mr. Yancey. Blush on.

You can click the image below to enlarge it and read more. 

Wow! This is one expensive book!

You may have seen this slightly over-priced edition of Vanishing Grace on Amazon listed for more than $2,000:

Not that you would, but don’t buy this one! Yancey’s book is good but it’s not exactly worth $2,000. This is an example of what’s called “bookjacking.” Click here to read more about this practice.

In his book Yancey offers one person’s observation that “When Christians talk to you, they act as if you are a robot. They have an agenda to promote, and if you don’t agree with them, they’re done with you.” How do you engage with those around you, especially those who disagree with or disregard your faith? Please share your thoughts in the comments!


Wednesday, October 29, 2014

On death, taxes, committees & meetings: 10 great tips for improving your posse’s email communications.

Everyone’s got a gang, is part of a posse, kicks it with a clique, or serves some unheralded role on a church, school, community, or work committee.

Ah, yes, the dreaded “c” word -- committee (C1)!

To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes -- and participating in committees, groups, clubs, organizations, projects, and the meetings they entail.”

Of this reality there is only one thing more arduous than actually planning and managing the meetings -- the second most dreaded “c” word -- communicating (C2) about them!

C1 always requires a good dose of C2.

Think about it.

Whether it’s work meetings, your coffee klatch gatherings, or PTA planning sessions, keeping everyone in synch as to what’s happening where and when can be a challenge. One that’s often overlooked or not taken as seriously as it should be.

Common excuses for failures to communicate are that it’s just so much work, too time-consuming, that using email is too hard...

Blah blah blah....

Enough with the excuses, already!

The result of flailing in your communication efforts is chaos, confusion, and the collapse of your group.

Communicating well and keeping your group members looped in and clued up isn’t that difficult.

Here are ten tips for keeping your committee communication copacetic by using email effectively to administer a healthy dose of vitamin “C2”.

1. Have a point person.

Clearly identify one person as “the” single point of contact for all communications. Don’t assume someone will do it. Don’t pass the responsibility around. Pick a person and give them the reins to your communication. They may wish to recruit a back-up, but leave that to them. Once they are in place, funnel all group communication through this one person.

2. Learn how to use email. 

It isn’t hard. No matter if you use Gmail, Yahoo, Outlook, or whatever, there is plenty of online help. If hands-on help works better for you, phone a friend (but not me ;-) to come over and walk you through the steps. Write them down and keep them handy as needed.

3. Always include a pithy subject line.

Always! Never, ever send an email with a blank subject line. Doing so annoys your recipients. A lot. The subject line is how recipients can readily see that your message is one they must open and read. Don’t waste it!

4. Use BCC for all recipient emails. 

I’m sure you’ve received emails that were top-heavy with long lists of the email addresses of every recipient. You have to scroll and scroll before finding the message. To avoid this, use BCC. If you don’t know how, then learn! Put your own email address in the TO section, and everyone else’s email in the BCC. Doing so keeps everyone’s email address private and eliminates accidental and embarrassing “reply all” messages.

5. Never assume anything.

Never ever! Except to assume your recipients don’t know everything. This doesn’t mean you view them as stupid, but that you understand not everyone knows where to find “the best restaurant in town,” or “the big bookstore with the free meeting room,” or “the back room in the church.”

Never assume your recipients know anything and so tell them everything. There will always be someone who doesn't know or has forgotten. Plus, people move! It can be dangerous to direct people to a meeting at “so and so’s” house when the “so and so’s” have moved.

6. Keep emails simple & use lists.

Put key information on separate lines in an easy-to-scan list below a short, to-the-point explanatory narrative. The list can be bulleted or even numbered if appropriate.

For example, like this:
The Holy Berries will be meeting at Bob and Carol’s house this week on Wednesday to plan our holiday outings. Ted and Alice are bringing snacks. You are welcome to bring a friend.
WHAT: Meeting to discuss holiday outings.
DATE: Wednesday, November 19, 2014
TIME: Starting at 7:00 PM and wrapping up around 9:00 PM
WHERE: Bob and Carol Hinkley, 909090 West Palm Avenue, Lakeford, OH 48998
PHONE: Bob’s cell is 216-888-1212, Carol’s cell is 216-888-2121
OTHER: New members are welcome.
People are busy. Formatting the message with lists allows for a quick scan to gather all the essential information. Keeping the message short also allows for it to be easily copied and pasted into electronic calendars.

7. Offer complete contact information. 

In every communication you send out, always include the names, phone numbers, and email addresses of appropriate contacts. Never send an email that doesn’t include at least one phone number for recipients to call if they have questions, or get lost while trying to find your meeting place.

8. Include a GPS-friendly address. 

It’s maddening to be a newbie and receive directions that rely on local landmarks, complicated directions, or assume detailed knowledge of the area.

Gah! If you’re expecting people to show up somewhere, always include a complete address they can punch into their GPS. This means they’ll need the number, street name, and city at a minimum.

If you’re sending the message and you don’t know the address then look it up and verify it! Don’t assume your recipients can figure out where the “dark red house three blocks south of the corner of Elm Street and Nightmare Avenue” is. Especially if the dark red house was just painted blue!

9. Add a concise signature to all of your email.  

This is something everyone who uses email should do. Whether you use an email client on your computer or use email located in the mystical cloud, every email application includes somewhere in the settings the ability for you to add a “signature” that will be appended to every email message you send. A signature is not an opportunity for you to include a cute little saying, but rather a way for you to always share your essential contact information without having to re-type it.

What should usually be included in a signature is your full name, your primary email address, your phone number, and sometimes your mailing address. Other bits of useful info could include the URLS of your websites or blogs, or for your Twitter, Linkedin, Facebook, and Google+ accounts.

But don’t get carried away and clutter your signature with useless stuff that makes it more annoying than useful.

10. Send your messages early, later, and just in time. 

When it comes to communicating, the adage about “once and done” does not apply. The best times for emailing your team are:

  • Right after a meeting: This way you can recap what happened in a written record.
  • Halfway between meetings: If you meet monthly, about two weeks out from the next meeting is a good time to send a meeting reminder. Use a slightly different subject line than you used in your previous message.
  • Within 24-48 hours prior to a meeting: Again, never assume that because you sent one or two messages that everyone read them or remembers there’s a meeting coming up. Simply re-send the prior message and include any new information. Again, use a slightly modified subject line so recipients understand it’s a new message.

11. Bonus tip! Be consistent. 

This tip applies to your communication as well as managing your meetings.
  • For Messages: Send group messages from the same email address using readily recognizable words in the subject line, and format your emails the same way each time. Create a template for building each new message.
  • For Meetings: When holding meetings, always have the same start time. When possible, keep them at the same location. If they are monthly, aim for the same day every month (for example, the second Tuesday of each month). 
Consistency in meetings and messages reduces confusion and keeps chaos at bay.

Let all things be done decently and in order!

The old tried and true guideline for creating effective communication is to always include who, what, when, where, why, and how, and doing so in a manner that is complete, concise, and clear. (Ooh, three more “c’s”-- C3!)

Following these guidelines coupled with the 11 tips listed above, your messages will be on target and well-received.

You see?


Here's an example of an email. Click on the image above to view it larger.

Do these tips make sense? Do you have any communication horror stories you can share? How about additional tips? Any pet peeves about serving on or leading committees? Don't be spooked! Sound off in the comments! 

For daily tips, always read "Dilbert"!

12. Another Bonus Tip!

What's the one secret that rules over all the other tips?

Never assume!   

When crafting any communication (email, memo, letter, announcement, etc.) never assume your recipients know anything about what you are going to tell them. Don't assume they know what your last meeting covered. Don't assume they know when and where the next meeting will be held. Don't assume they know the agenda. Don't assume they know your phone number. Don't assume they've read past messages. Don't assume they fully understand all that's been explained to them before. Every time, tell them everything they need to know as if they've never been told before.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Let’s have some wholly holy fun by putting the “hallow” back in Halloween!

In Edgar Allan Poe’s fictional short story, “The Masque of the Red Death,” a wealthy prince, Prospero, gathers his friends into a sealed abbey, determined to hide from the “red plague” ravaging the country outside.

Believing they are safe from a disease that kills quickly and brutally, Prospero and his guests party on. After some months, someone new shows up and, well, things go opposite of what was intended.

In other words, they circled the wagons against the “evil” they perceived in the world but it still got in. And it killed them.

Kind of like a lot of Christians do when it comes to Halloween.

These fretted believers behave as if this is what Paul admonished in Ephesians 6:
“Finally, be hidden in the Lord and in his mighty power. Circle your wagons so that you can avoid the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is against our ungodly neighbors, as well as scary things going bump in the night and against the spiritual forces of evil who come trick or treating at our doors. Therefore bunker down, so when the day of evil comes, you’ll be clueless as to what’s happening, and after you have cowered in fear, you can point to how the world around you is going to hell in a hand-basket.”
No, no, no! That’s all wrong!

Halloween’s tainted muddled history

As a kid I loved Halloween. So did my friends. We dressed up as friendly spooks, good witches, silly pirates, and raggedy little beggars.

Our goal was candy.

The decorations on the doors we knocked on were of cute hunch-backed kittens, smiling little witches, toothy Jack-o-lanterns, and dancing cardboard skeletons.

Besides trick-or-treating, there were the Halloween parties --many hosted by our churches -- with games, bobbing for apples, costume judging, apple cider, donuts, and more candy.

It was fun. Innocent fun. I’ve captured the mood in a poem called “Rounds” (click here to read).

But, even then, there were those who were beginning to insist, because some were claiming Halloween had some dark roots, the holiday was an anathema event for real believers.

There are always the party poopers.

Yes, I know, there are the claims of our modern Halloween having origins in the Celtic fire festival called Samhain, a celebration related to the end of the harvest season. That it was picked up by the Druids, Wiccans, and other pagan groups and made one of their prime “religious” days. And that now there are those who make it a day of evil.

So what?

We shouldn’t care! Or at the least we should not be fearful.

The claim is that by participating in Halloween in any way, Christians are somehow worshiping the devil or yielding themselves to that evil.


Again, no, no, no!

He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!”

Halloween is also tied to All Souls’ Day and All Saints’ Day. In the day’s title is the clue to a better response from Christians. Halloween is merely a shortened version of All Hallow’s Evening. The definition of “hallow” is “to make or set apart as holy; to respect or honor greatly; revere” (American Heritage Dictionary).

Just as people can be made new and holy in Christ, so certainly can man-made holidays. We don’t need to hide from a calendar event.

Instead of ceding ground to the enemy and letting evil rule, we need to recognize that what Paul was really admonishing in Ephesians is this:
“Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on the full armor of God, so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Ephesians 6:10-13, NIV).
In other words, put on your costumes and let your light shine! It’s time to stop running, come out from hiding, take a stand, and put the “holy” into Halloween!

Fostering whimsy and joy over horror and fright

There are some churches who have grasped this truth and offer events such as “Holy Ghost Parties” or “Boo Bashes” or the semi-lame “Harvest Happenings.”

While these are moving in the right direction, they do so hesitantly by labeling these events as “alternatives” to Halloween.

It’s time to get over the skittishness and start having truly “Blessed Halloween” events.

The focus is to have fun not promote fright. Keep things light and point to the “hallowed” aspect by dressing and decorating appropriately.

A simple rule of thumb here is to aim for whimsy and not horror. If anything depicts cruelty, it’s over the line and not appropriate. This eliminates blood, gore, and worse, including “Christian” haunted houses that depict horrible accidents and the like.

I miss the days of truly “Happy” Halloweens. I abhor what’s become mostly a giant horror-fest.

It’s time to push back the darkness and light a candle -- and put it inside a happy Jack-o-lantern.

Have a happy, holy, and blessed Halloween!

Agree? Disagree? Why or why not? Do you enjoy or hate Halloween? What's your favorite Halloween memory from childhood? What's your biggest complaint about Halloween now? Don't be afraid! Sound off in the comments!