Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Reforming Cowardly Barking

Meet Daisy, the second dog in our household. She is a young dachshund who was added to the family to keep the older dog company. Daisy has acute hearing and barks at the oddest noises. She habitually barks when the house’s heater comes on. Every time I swivel the steps down on the stool in the kitchen she rouses her self from sleep and comes barking. And she even gives a warning yap when I switch the light on in the living room corner.

Now with such sharp hearing you might think she would make a great guard dog, however she is actually a cowardly barker. Some time ago when we had a contractor working in the back yard, Daisy barked continuously to warn us, but she wouldn’t even step one paw out the door to confront the alleged thief. She knew before we did that there was a big shepherd dog next door, but she alerted us with her barking from the safety of her doggie bed in the living room.

Her cowardly barking has been nagging at me for several months. Daisy’s behavior reminds me of how easy it is for Christians to bark and complain about perceived injustices. We can rant and rave over compromised character within leadership or the church’s ignorance of unreached peoples in their community, or any other number of issues within our ministry or teams.

Like our dachshund Daisy, we can feel pretty chuffed with our ability to identify injustices, ungodly behavior, or enemies. We tend to see ourselves as Christian guard dogs. But, like Daisy, we often prefer to bark from safety and comfort. It is way too easy to yap and whine without lifting a finger to bring about change, to lovingly confront others with vital issues, or to pray for God’s practical strategy for tackling a concern.

Jesus actually charged the religious rulers with increasing the rules and laws while not lifting a finger to help bear the burden. The Pharisees and scribes were devout guard dogs of the Law, barking at everyone, but not doing anything to protect or save the people they were barking at. When Jesus came along he saw the same problems, but he was moved by compassion to help lift their burdens. He healed the lame, blind, and lepers. He taught those wandering in spiritual blindness, and he extended forgiveness and love to the disenfranchised of society. His death on the cross made the way for lifting their eternal burden of sin, guilt, and shame.

I’ve started retraining Daisy. When she starts barking at some unknown “enemy” I send her outside to bark. She’s learning not to bark in the house. Thanks to Daisy, I’ve been much more alert to my own tendency to complain! Instead of whinging, complaining, or whining “in the house” I’ve been challenged to go out “there” and take action. Some times it means praying my complaints and doggedly seeking God for justice just as the persistent widow did (Lk 18:1-8). Some times it’s as simple as asking God what he wants me to do about what frustrates me and then go after it.

Daisy’s quirky behavior has had some merit in this house. Thanks to Daisy, I have a constant reminder to quell my tendency to complain. And thanks to God, I can transform my acute sense of wrongs and injustices into points for prayer, love, and action.

Jesus' Take on Titles

Africa has become known for its civil wars, but there’s also been a “title war” taking place within the church over the last decade. Titles became so important, that the church created a hierarchy of titles for pastors to climb. The role of archbishop became the highest place of honor and the miserly title of “pastor” was reserved for the insignificant or the novice. I could conjecture where this title war started, but that would achieve nothing. The fact is that many Christian leaders quickly joined the throng in the race after lofty titles.

So, I was intrigued when I arrived at the topic of titles when studying Jesus’ tirade against the religious leaders of his day. In the middle of enumerating the things they did to receive praise from man, he named title-mongering. As we listen to his teaching, we can clearly recognize that he was teaching his followers what not to do, using the religious leaders as an example. And using lofty titles was one of the taboos he passed on to his followers.

But, what surprised me was the reason he gave for not using titles such as “Rabbi,” “Teacher.” “Father,” or “Master” (Matt 23:7-12) Jesus stated several times, “for one is your Master.” It dawned on me that titles have the potential of deceiving us as leaders into thinking that we are somehow lofty teachers or fathers, or masters! Instead God means for us to be reminded that He is our Master. Christ is our Master. And we are his servants. That simple change in perspective has the potential of changing my moment-by-moment choices.

I understand that Christ would have us as leaders carry titles that remind us of who we serve because we certainly need that reminder on a daily basis! This perception aligns with Jesus’ constant reference to the Father’s authority over him in his every word and action. Jesus consistently reminded himself and his disciples of his servanthood and sonship. And his discussion about titles reflects his practice. As we read the epistles we see that Paul caught this meaning from Jesus’ teaching and constantly called himself a slave of the Lord, a fellow servant with Christ, or a bond servant of the Lord.

In addition if I follow Jesus’ whole discussion of religious leaders, I also recognized that titles are also meant to remind us as leaders that we are serving people. We are meant to help carry the burdens of those we serve. Jesus so clearly showed the leaders’ absorption with their own titles, reputation, and benefits rather than being consumed with caring for those under them. Jesus’ life directly contrasted the leaders’ practices as he constantly ministered to those around him with abandoned disregard for his own needs and reputation.

My discoveries sent me on an exploration trip, not into my titled friends in Africa, but to examine my own “titles” to check if I’ve drifted in my perceptions away from servanthood to my Master. My titles also remind me to evaluate how well I am doing at serving those I am meant to serve? How securely am I anchored to abandoned service, or am I drifting into absorption with titles, reputation, and the benefits of leadership? Since God is the Master, it’s time for a check up with him. What does he expect of me in my service roles and how closely aligned am I or how far have I drifted from his intentions?

God doesn’t want us to get in a fig about what title we are called, but he does want us to be serious about who we are serving and how! I believe that’s what was important to Jesus. That’s Jesus’ take on titles, and that’s what he wanted to pass on to the generations of people who would follow him and would be called by his name.

photo courtesy of photobucket

Saturday, January 8, 2011

Blue Coat Hangers and Change

My thinking started with a “blue hanger.” I was helping my mother-in-law hang up the clothes from the dryer. She instructed me to put her trousers on a blue hanger. I have to admit, my immediate thought was “how ridiculous,” and then I thought to ask her “why?” She told me that the blue hangers were stonger. Simple! I’m glad I asked. While hanging up her trousers I shared with her my delight in hanging clothes on the clothes line in South Africa with color matched clothes pins. Not because they are stronger, but because I love coordinated colors! Simple! We had a good laugh together.

We all have reasons for our decisions and habits, reasons we may have completely forgotten until a disturbing disruption or someone’s strange question reminds us. The factors we consider in making those decisions vary – maybe color, practicality, speed, comfort, beauty, simplicity, historicity, family concerns, taboos and on and on!

I was acutely aware of how easy it was to disregard my mother-in-law’s desire to use a blue hanger. Color choice seemed rather a peculiar point, but strength made more sense! And my color choice for beauty probably seemed ridiculous when my husband was trying to help me hang up the wet clothes. The factors we each considered were different. I lean toward beauty and practicality while he leans completely towards practicality! The factors reflect our personalities and our values.

You know, I easily slid into using the blue hangers to help my mother-in-law, but I haven’t always been so quick to adapt to other’s ways of doing things. Some things just look ridiculous from my perspective because I’m looking through my very limited viewpoint of a few factors!

When we moved to Africa I was bombarded with so many other factors that I had rarely considered previously – community, unfailing politeness, and unbounded hospitality. I found my ways of doing things totally disrupted as I needed to incorporate these other factors into my decision making! I couldn’t just decide for myself, I had to consider my whole team! I couldn’t just speak what was “normal,” I had to carefully weigh every word and inflection! I chafed against many of the required changes at first, but eventually, I too considered many of these newly acquired factors when making decisions.

Seeing, hearing, and understanding another culture definitely exposed me to a broader array of factors to consider in making decisions. So when I consider making changes in my life now, I also need a shift in my decision making factors. Just talking out my reasoning for old ways can help me see why I’ve been stuck. Sometimes reading the Word can jog me out of old ways of thinking and challenge me with other factors I’ve ignored. And sometimes it just takes God’s revelation to clearly see factors I’ve never considered and I’m on my way to new behavior.

I’m really excited about blue hangers now. Not because they are color coordinated with my clothes, but because they remind me that I have so much to learn from others and from God. And blue hangers remind me that a shift in perspective is vital to change.

picture courtesy of photobucket

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Lessons from my 2010 Teaching Adventures

While we’ve made some major transitions and experienced some personal crises this past year, we have had some significant teaching adventures in various regions of Africa. As we approach midnight of the last night of this year, I paused to consider a few lessons I learned from this year’s teaching adventures.

1) Doing interactive teaching in three languages: We were privileged to do several workshops with leaders speaking English, French, and Portuguese. There was an amazing buzz as individuals did simultaneous translation with small groups of listeners while we taught in English. For discussions we broke learners into groups by language so they could process and scribe discoveries in their heart language. It was difficult to have all the charts and task assignments translated and written out in three languages before teaching. Facilitating group feedback through interpretation was also complicated. Interactive teaching in three languages – challenging! The impact? Awesome!

2) Facilitating workshops with my husband: I found how difficult it is to “lead” in the classroom when your assistant is your own husband. No matter how gracious you are in taking the reins back, it can look like you are running over your husband’s authority(a cultural taboo in Africa)! I also discovered how challenging it was to follow my husband’s lead when he was in charge mostly because I misread his intentions. I tried to take an assistant’s position and simply scribe group responses for him, while he was waiting for me to participate in some of the discussions from the front! Alertness to body language, clearly defined roles and agreed upon cues are vital in working together successfully.

3) Teaching member care skills in the African context. We shifted the focus of our member care training to the developing of specific skills that we wanted students to be able use when returning to their fields of service. That focus required that we incorporate lots of practice time into our daily schedule and eliminate some of the up-front teaching!

I found the most successful sessions were those in which we broke skills down into small stages of teaching and practice, teaching and practice. By the end of those sessions, students were quite comfortable in completing all of the steps. And the most important factor for most of our African students was the role plays in which facilitators demonstrated various skills such as confronting, debriefing, re-entry briefing, and grief briefing. The visual presentation enabled them to “see” how to do the skill and recall the mini-drama.

Most of the lessons I learned this year were out of teaching adventures that stretched us way beyond comfort level and into unchartered territory. To keep learning, I’m looking out for more teaching adventures and gearing up for more risk-taking. Meanwhile, I keep learning at the feet of the Master Teacher.