Remember that church movement "40 Days of Purpose"? I always liked that little slogan. I'd like all my days to purposeful, but recently, not many of them feel that way. Either that or their purposes must be one of the following:
Read church history books.
Clean the house.
Sleep at strange hours and too many total.
Not really what I'm aiming for.
That's why I was excited to read about the two 28-day challenges from the Mahaney (etc) women on their blog. It's always good to have a little push from the outside. Here they are in a nutshell.
The 5 O'Clock Club: For 28 days, would you rise early to spend devotional time with God? Hint: it doesn't necessarily have to be 5 am. AND/OR
The FAM Club: For 28 days, would you fast from one meal weekly to devote yourself in prayer to renewal in the spiritual life of a family member who doesn't have a relationship with God?
When I think about the first of these two challenges, Psalm 34:8 comes to my mind:
Taste and see that the Lord is good; blessed is the man who takes refuge in him.
It seems like it's been a while since I've earnestly pursued intimacy in my relationship with God. His grace through the atoning death of Jesus Christ is enough to cover all of that, but his challenge is this. Taste and see. I think you'll like what you find.
So what I want to ask you is this. Anyone want to join in with me? I'd love to chase these goals in the company of friends or family, and I know it would be an encouragement to converse along the way about how we're growing and how we're enjoying His company.
PS If you need some encouragement, here are some collected stories from other women who have done this before.
1. We had an tremor yesterday-- 5.8 on the Richter scale, with the epicenter 10 miles from here but 25 miles underground. It was definitely the strongest I've felt, despite the very frequent ones in Arequipa and even in Puerto Supe. Still mild-- nothing fell. It was the first one we've experienced since being in Pucallpa.
2. Much more dramatic is the situation in Cusco and Machu Picchu. Here's the update I got from the Embassy the other day.
The airport in Cusco is closed;
The train to/from Cusco and Machu Picchu has been cancelled since January 23 due to landslides;
The roads into and out of Machu Picchu are currently closed;
The Pisac bridge has collapsed;
The Huallabamba bridge is under water; and
There was a landslide in Oropesa en route to Puno, travel is limited.
This week last year my dad was in Machu Picchu and this week two years ago Tim, my mom, and I were there. Sure glad we had different weather! Apparently people are stuck all over the place and the Embassy is actually trying to get helicopters into the area around Machu Picchu to evacuate people. It looks like rainy season has arrived.
3. In response to a general plea from Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools for Spanish (and certain other disciplines) teachers, I wrote my resume and first cover letter this weekend. Super excited about that. First, I love writing. Second, this is the first time I've ever applied for a job that I'm qualified for! It made it about ten million times easier, and I'm feeling great about my upcoming job search. At the same time, I know that my future depends on God and not on my own qualifications. Pray that I would trust Him in everything and joyfully accept what He has for me next.
4. The SAM Pucallpa women are having a little shindig for the newest ladies tomorrow night. As part of that, Marilyn is compiling recipes to give them. I put together my 9 favorites of the ones I have bookmarked (and therefore didn't have to type up). Thought I might pass them along to anyone else interested, although I know some of them have made appearances on the blog before. Here you go. (By the way, the no-bake cookies may not actually be one of my favorites although they are pretty good. They're more for the one lady who has a wheat allergy.)
Tonight the two new teachers at SAM Academy are coming over for Spanish lessons and pizza. Now that I think of it, I've never taught Spanish to adults. It should be fun.
I've been feeling a little weird all day-- somewhat physically but mostly in terms of mood. Finally I decided to take my temperature. Does anyone else have an obsession with the digital thermometer? Whenever I'm feeling bad, I like to take my temperature. If it's over 99, I definitely feel like it gives me the right to feel sorry for myself. Otherwise I just have to buck up. Of course Tim finds this whole scenario hilarious.
Anyway, I have a (low-grade) fever! I don't actually feel that bad, but knowing I'm "sick" erases any guilt about not wanting to sweep the floor for the fifth time today. So Taza and I might just sit in bed and read until my students get here. F. F. Bruce's The Canon of Scripture (for my upcoming research paper) or Martha Stewart Living? Well, I am sick....
Tomorrow I'm leading the second half of the Alpha training for pastors. I'm excited to finish up the training and to see how God will use the Alpha course in Pucallpa.
The two main focuses of tomorrow will be praying for others and how to best administer an Alpha course in Pucallpa. I plan to spend most of the administration training in a group, brain storming ideas and encouraging the leaders to think of how they can best adapt the course to target those that they'd like to reach.
Please be praying that it would go well and people would leave ready and planning to run an Alpha course.
Tomorrow I'm taking the final exam for my first seminary course, Church History to the Reformation. I've done the whole thing through correspondence of course and have thoroughly enjoyed myself. As a reflection for my own purposes, here are a few things I've learned:
1. The value of truth. From the Son of God to missionaries in hostile countries today, a lot of people have died for their convictions about Jesus Christ. I loved learning about the people who fought for doctrinal orthodoxy throughout the ages, and it makes me appreciate so much more the importance of thinking correctly about God. I will never look at the Nicene Creed the same way now that I see in it responses to all the diverging beliefs of the 1st to 4th centuries.
2. The value of Jesus. Those same martyrs' stories (Polycarp, Perpetua, and John Huss in particular) brought me to tears more than once. As I heard their last words and the way they responded to their persecutors, I was encouraged to love Him more. He is worth my life and everything else.
3. The positive legacy of the Catholic Church. In Peru more than anywhere, the Catholic Church gets a bad rap. I was glad to learn about the champions of truth in the Catholic Church throughout its history and to find specific reasons to appreciate this part of Christendom.
4. The ongoing call to reformation. It's interesting to see that Martin Luther didn't come out of nowhere. There were dissenting voices against ecclesiastical abuse, moral laxity, and doctrinal error from the 2nd century on. I'm looking forward to my second church history course and finding out more about how the 16th century reformers brought that tradition to a new level.
5. The "why" behind separation of Church and State. After seeing the way Western Christianity was completely corrupted by worldly power in the Middle Ages, I'm happier than ever with the American separation of Church and State. Want to take "one nation, under God" out of the Pledge of Allegiance? You won't find me leading the revolt. I'm wholeheartedly convinced that what we forfeit for the sake of separation, we gain a hundred times back.
Wish me luck on my test tomorrow! Actually I'm feeling pretty good about it. Next week I need to write my research paper, which will be on something related to the canon of the New Testament since those are the only books I happen to have available here (actually "book"... there's only 1... plus a number of Google Books and other resources I found online). I'm hoping to start Church History 2 (Reformation to present) on February 1.
There's a great little store on the Yarinacocha plaza that has maybe 20 stalls of Shipibo women selling their crafts. I'm not sure how it works exactly because the women seem to be operating together or at least helping each other out. Part of that is that only half of them (or so) speak Spanish. The rest speak their native language (Shipibo).
Tim and I went this week to buy cloths for a runner and placemats (not to be used together!) and had a lot of fun.The women always seem friendly and happy, and I love seeing them working on their crafts. These cloths are hand-tinted with natural dyes and then embroidered by hand. They're all different of course. I'm going to "mount" them on dark brown cloths to make a set of 8 table cloths.
You can learn more about the Shipibos and their handicrafts here.
Saturday's Alpha training went quite well despite only having 6 people present when we began. Fortunately, in Peruvian fashion, more came and there ended up being a total of 16 people, a few more than I expected. One surprise is that 2 pastors ended up coming even though I couldn't get a hold of them and was told they were out of town.
Having never seen or participated in an Alpha course, the leaders can have a difficult time understanding the concepts. I think it can tend to be a bit abstract at times. To counteract that, I had about an hour and a half workshop time where we acted out a few different small group scenarios, talked about good questions vs. bad questions and practiced some of the techniques presented in the video.
I tried to focus a lot on the leaders answering their own/each others questions so that they will be better prepared to handle and think through the difficult situations once I've returned to the States. It went quite well and in the end they appeared to have a strong understanding of the concept and strategy of the small groups. Plus they had practice coming up with their own questions and reshaping them to help draw people out.
Next Saturday and I'm going to be spending more time talking about the administration of the course and how to best adapt it to each church's situation. I think it will be good and I hope people will leave ready to start their own Alpha course.
Part 1 of Tim's big event, the Alpha Training Conference for pastors and church leaders, is two days away. He's busy preparing in a million different ways, from meal planning to writing role playing games.
I'm still amazed that he's really doing it. When we arrived 2 yrs ago, he barely spoke Spanish. Now he's made contacts with dozens of Pucallpa pastors, arrived at something of an expertise in Peruvian Alpha, and mastered the language enough to be confidently approaching a fully day teaching in Spanish. Not bad.
Our desire is that this conference encourage and equip churches to implement the Alpha Course with their congregations or in their communities in the next couple of months. We'd love to see several Alpha Courses up and running before we leave Peru in April. Please pray for the conference!
1. For just the right participants. So far there are only 8 people coming. That could be really good, because training here has proved difficult, and less people might mean better learning with more specific teaching. At the same time, we want lots of people to run the course! We're trusting that God will bring the right people. Keep praying anyway!
2. For Tim's preparation. Pray for wisdom, discernment, creativity.
3. Language. Pray that Tim would speak well and communicate clearly.
4. That the conference would birth courses. Pray that people would put what they have learned into use.
5. For Tim's heart. Pray that he would be encouraged and positive.
If my daily NYT email keeps me up to date on generally important news, Google Trends is often my window to nonsense news. It's this little list on my iGoogle homepage that tells me the top 10 Google search items of the last few hours. Mostly it's intriguing or hilarious. Anyway, that's how I decided to look up "Brit Hume" and found out about the whole controversy surrounding his pro-Christian comment on TV.
More than anything, the outcry over Brit Hume reminded me that I'm not your average American. Sometimes I forget that, living here and looking back romantically at my cultural home. I'm reminded that going home may not be so easy.
I was glad to see this Op-Ed column in my New York Times email this morning. It's not that I expect everyone in the US to share my views on faith, but I had hoped for sensible at least. The column was a reminder that mainstream "normal folks" might not be so ridiculous after all :-)
Liberal democracy offers religious believers a bargain. Accept, as a price of citizenship, that you may never impose your convictions on your neighbor, or use state power to compel belief. In return, you will be free to practice your own faith as you see fit — and free, as well, to compete with other believers (and nonbelievers) in the marketplace of ideas.
That’s the theory. In practice, the admirable principle that nobody should be persecuted for their beliefs often blurs into the more illiberal idea that nobody should ever publicly criticize another religion. Or champion one’s own faith as an alternative. Or say anything whatsoever about religion, outside the privacy of church, synagogue or home.
A week ago, Brit Hume broke all three rules at once. Asked on a Fox News panel what advice he’d give to the embattled Tiger Woods, Hume suggested that the golfer consider converting to Christianity. “He’s said to be a Buddhist,” Hume noted. “I don’t think that faith offers the kind of forgiveness and redemption that is offered by the Christian faith. ”
A great many people immediately declared that this comment was the most outrageous thing they’d ever heard. Hume’s words were replayed by Jon Stewart on the Daily Show, to shocked laughter from the audience. They were denounced across the blogosphere as evidence of chauvinism, bigotry and gross stupidity. MSNBC’s Keith Olbermann claimed, absurdly, that Hume had tried to “threaten Tiger Woods into becoming a Christian.” His colleague David Shuster suggested that Hume had “denigrated” his own religion by discussing it on a talk show.
The Washington Post’s TV critic, Tom Shales, mocked the idea that Christians should “run around trying to drum up new business” for their faith. Hume “doesn’t really have the authority,” Shales suggested — unless of course “one believes that every Christian by mandate must proselytize.” (This is, of course, exactly what Christians are supposed to believe.)
Somewhat more plausibly, a few of Hume’s critics suggested that had he been a Buddhist commentator urging a Christian celebrity to convert — or more provocatively, a Muslim touting the advantages of Islam — Christians would be calling for his head.
No doubt many would. The tendency to take offense at freewheeling religious debate is widespread. There are European Christians who side with Muslims in support of blasphemy laws, lest Jesus or the Prophet Muhammad have his reputation sullied. There are American Catholics who cry “bigotry” every time a newspaper columnist criticizes the church’s teaching on sexuality. Many Christians have decided that the best way to compete in an era of political correctness is to play the victim card.
But these believers are colluding in their own marginalization. If you treat your faith like a hothouse flower, too vulnerable to survive in the crass world of public disputation, then you ensure that nobody will take it seriously. The idea that religion is too mysterious, too complicated or too personal to be debated on cable television just ensures that it never gets debated at all.
This doesn’t mean that we need to welcome real bigotry into our public discourse. But what Hume said wasn’t bigoted: Indeed, his claim about the difference between Buddhism and Christianity was perfectly defensible. Christians believe in a personal God who forgives sins. Buddhists, as a rule, do not. And it’s at least plausible that Tiger Woods might welcome the possibility that there’s Someone out there capable of forgiving him, even if Elin Nordegren and his corporate sponsors never do.
Or maybe not. For many people — Woods perhaps included — the fact that Buddhism promotes an ethical life without recourse to Christian concepts like the Fall of Man, divine judgment and damnation is precisely what makes it so appealing. The knee-jerk outrage that greeted Hume’s remarks buried intelligent responses from Buddhists, who made arguments along these lines — explaining their faith, contrasting it with Christianity, and describing how a lost soul like Woods might use Buddhist concepts to climb from darkness into light.
When liberal democracy was forged, in the wake of Western Europe’s religious wars, this sort of peaceful theological debate is exactly what it promised to deliver. And the differences between religions are worth debating. Theology has consequences: It shapes lives, families, nations, cultures, wars; it can change people, save them from themselves, and sometimes warp or even destroy them.
If we tiptoe politely around this reality, then we betray every teacher, guru and philosopher — including Jesus of Nazareth and the Buddha both — who ever sought to resolve the most human of all problems: How then should we live?
It’s reasonable to doubt that a cable news analyst has the right answer to this question. But the debate that Brit Hume kicked off a week ago is still worth having. Indeed, it’s the most important one there is.
We got to pick up Ellie this morning from the vet, and I'm relieved to report that the bill (while still high) was under my "worst case scenario" estimate. All in all, Ellie spent 12 days and nights at the vet, had one major surgery and two smaller procedures, and took plenty of meds. Whew!
The work isn't over, and we're now responsible for injecting her with various solutions in two places twice daily. Not looking forward to that. She's sporting this nice faja and is supposed to stay still. Yeah, right. She's already leaped (lept?) over a ditch once. I forgot that if I told her to come, she would come running. Oops.
I do think that she's probably more likely to stay still here at home where everything in her world is right (than at the vet where she has to keep her eye on everyone).
On the twelfth day of Christmas, I got to come home! Taza was waiting for me in the window and wagged her tail non-stop for about an hour. We'll pick up Ellie at the vet in the morning. Ellie, the miracle dog, who swallowed a mango pit and lived (barely).
I'm not sure I'd say I'm glad to be back in Pucallpa, but there was a certain comfort about pulling into the teeny airport, knowing how to argue over the mototaxi fare, and driving into my neighborhood with all its rich, green, jungle vegetation.
This month is going to be a busy one for us. In particular we're thinking toward Tim's Alpha Training Conference in a few weeks. It's something he cares about so much, and he wants to do it with excellence. That takes a lot of work, and the emotional energy involved in its preparation is no small deal either.
We're also beginning to think and plan for coming home. That's a little scary and exciting all at once. Prayer request #1-- jobs. I'm sure we'll have a lot more to say on that topic in the future.