Listen Up! In Which I Talk about Invisibilia and Cincy Stories and Link a Lot of Links

November 30, 2016 § Leave a comment

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By way of Mockingbird, I saw a c-ville interview with Lulu Miller, co-host of NPR’s Invisibilia, in which she speaks on the value of listening to authentic stories. Sounds as if she’s taken some lessons from Dick Gordon.

She’s often amazed at the things people reveal about themselves in an interview. It’s a reminder that when you’re vulnerable, “when you do show your worst side, that can be an act of humanity, because it shows everyone that everybody else is so deeply imperfect,” Miller says. “That can be such a gift, because sometimes people put up such a front.”

(I would think that a lot of the gifts she receives don’t have bows.)

Miller continues about not just listening, but really listening:

“Really listen,” Miller says. “Really show you’re with them. Sometimes people are almost shocked when they’re very closely listened to.” Once the person is a bit more relaxed, she says she starts poking and prodding gently.

“The range of people and their take on the world, that’s what never ceases to amaze me,” Miller says.

Invisibilia‘s most recent episode is titled “Outside In” and asks whether external change can produce inner change. In it, they talk to members of an all-female debate team in Rwanda. Following the genocide in 1994, the formerly male-dominated country was left with a population reported to be at least 70% female—because so many men had been killed, had been arrested for the killing, or had fled. To fill needed jobs, Rwanda legislated gender equality, without first going through a gradual change in culture. Has it worked? Invisibilia follows an all-female debate team as they push against long-held expectations. In one debate, by the luck of the draw, they had to argue the negative position on the topic “Developing countries should adopt Western feminism.” You can listen to the podcast to see how that turned out.

Another Invisibilia installment, “The Personality Myth,” is about the idea that personalities are more malleable than we commonly assume. It focuses in part on a woman who finds out about a TEDx event in the Marion Correctional Institution and meets a prisoner whose personality has seemed to change dramatically. One of the links at the podcast website is to an NPR article on personality tests, written by Annie Murphy Paul, author or The Cult of Personality Testing. If you can’t tell by the title of her book, Murphy Paul is not a fan of such things as the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator. Simply put, she says that “human beings are far too complex, too mysterious and too interesting to be defined by the banal categories of personality tests.”

Even if you agree, that doesn’t mean that you can’t use your four-letter MBTI code for a little fun and games.

Speaking of fun and games, each episode of Invisibilia includes a downloadable coloring page of the episode art.

And finally, back to Miller’s listening skills: John Casey, professor in the University of Virginia creative writing MFA program where Miller studied, describes her in The University of Virginia Magazine as “extremely sympathetic and attentive, and people open up to her because she is open to them.”

Those sound like the qualities demonstrated by Shawn Braley and Chris Ashwell, who direct Cincy Stories in Cincinnati. Their project, inviting locals to tell their unedited stories, began when Braley, a church pastor, was looking for a way to connect with his neighbors. Braley was inspired by StoryCorps and The Moth, two more personal-story telling podcasts from NPR.

But, Braley tells Christianity Today, his main inspiration is “obviously” Jesus. “The marginalized people and the people on the outskirts: He loves them and just listens to them, and that’s why they’re drawn to him. We want to replicate that.”

We can see Jesus’ come-as-you-are attitude catching many people off guard in the pages of the New Testament, and Braley enjoys doing the same.

“What I see often,” he says, “is, ‘Wait . . . there is a pastor overseeing this, and you still let me tell my story?’”

For a taste of Cincy Stories, here’s Caitlin Behle, who says,

I’m still Asian as far as I can tell and I’m still adopted and I feel really good about it so that’s something that I haven’t really had to question . . . until this one time. So in November 2010 I went to Korea for the first time, like since I’d been born there. . . .

Erin O’Hare, “Lulu Miller on the Fulfillment of Making ‘Invisibilia,'” c-ville, November 9, 2016; Annie Murphy Paul, “Personality Tests Are Popular, But Do They Capture the Real You?” Shots, NPR, June 25, 2016; Michelle Koidin Jaffe, “Podcast People,” University of Virginia Magazine, January 19, 2015; Jennifer Ditlevson Haglund, “How Uncensored Storytelling Helped Cincinnati Churchgoers to See Their Real Neighbors,” Christianity Today, September 2016)

[photo: “Listen to the Radio,” by Mike, used under a Creative Commons license]

Are We Complaining Too Much? [posted at A Life Overseas]

November 21, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Authenticity. It’s a big buzzword today, popular among millennials, pastors to millennials, mom bloggers, and . . . missionaries. Sharing shortcomings and struggles has many benefits, not the least of which is showing other imperfect people that they’re not alone.

But where that sharing grows and grows, there is bound to be pushback. One person’s honesty is another person’s whining. One person’s transparency is another’s self-centeredness. One person’s telling it like it is is another’s pity party. One person’s authenticity is another’s complaining.

So, are we complaining too much?

I think about that quite a bit. I believe it’s important to share our struggles, openly and honestly, but when I get ready to do just that, Philippians 2:14 often comes to mind. Actually, it’s not the verse itself but the children’s song based on it: “Do everything without complaining / Do everything without arguing / So that you may become blameless and pure children of God.”

Maybe it’s not enough to ask, Are we complaining too much? Can we, in fact, complain at all?

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . . 

[photo: “Frustration,” by Jason Bolonski, used under a Creative Commons license]

A Soldier’s Letter, Unopened and Unread

November 11, 2016 § Leave a comment

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To the men and women in the armed forces, thank you for serving our country. The sacrifices you make are more than I will ever truly know.

I just listened to a re-airing of a 2012 NPR interview with Brian Castner, author of The Long Walk: A Story of War and the Life That Follows. Castner served as commander of Explosive Ordnance Disposal units in Iraq. The entire conversation is well worth listening to, but one part that jumped out to me was when Terry Gross asked Castner about a letter he’d written.

When groups visited us on the mission field, we’d have them write letters to themselves before they left, and we’d mail them the letters several months later. The idea was that the notes would be a reminder of what they had felt and experienced—sort of an encouragement to their future selves. We also think this is a great thing to do with missionaries who come off the field as a way to help them process the changes that they are going through.

Castner’s letter is one he wrote to his sons before he went to Iraq, a letter that they were to read if he didn’t come back, a letter that still sits in a safe, a letter that now frightens him. It’s not always easy to get a message from the person you used to be.

“You haven’t read it since you’ve gotten back,” says Gross, “and you don’t even remember what you wrote. So I guess I’m wondering why you kept it, and yet why you haven’t read it.”

Castner replies,

You know, as a bomb tech, you don’t spend a lot of your life being scared, but I’m scared to read that letter. I don’t want to read it, because I don’t know what I put in. And I’m afraid that it’s going to just be full of bravado and flag and country and this is my great purpose and a lot of the things that I felt that just don’t make a lot of sense anymore.

I kept it because it is honestly who I was, and either when my sons are older or after I’m gone, it’ll give some insight, I suppose. I feel like I can’t throw it out unless I read it first. And since I’m too scared to read it, it’s still sitting there.

The host on NPR says that Castner recently came across the letter, and he reports that it remains unread.

(“‘The Life That Follows’ Disarming IEDs in Iraq,” “Fresh Air,” NPR, July 8, 2012)

[photo: “Envelope,” by skeptical view, used under a Creative Commons license]

He Said, She Said: Believe in the Darkness What You Have Seen in the Light

November 1, 2016 § Leave a comment

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Zermatt, Switzerland

I began my post “In the Light, in the Dark, Remember,” with a quote from Joseph Bayly (1920-1986):

Don’t forget in the darkness what you have learned in the light.

I trust Phillip Yancey, who writes that Bayly said it, but I couldn’t find a specific citation and I was curious if it was original to him. Then I got a copy of Miriam Rockness’s A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, a collection of the missionary artist’s thoughts, paired with her watercolor paintings. This is the same Lilias Trotter that I wrote about back in July. In the book, I found these words:

Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light.

When I saw this, I contacted Rockness, through the blog she writes about Trotter. When I asked her about the source of the quotation, she replied,

This is one of my favorite Lilias quotes. It was taken from her diary, 10 August 1901. She was taking a “break” from the heavy load in N.A. and, after having a reunion with her brother in Zermott (Switzerland) she sought a place even higher in the mountains to “be alone with God.” And, here, as always seemed to be the case for Lilias, God “spoke to her” through His Handiwork. She writes, “‘Believe in the darkness what you have seen in the light’ – That was this mornings ‘first lesson’ – For when I opened my shutters about 5.30, there was a lovely clear happy morning sky above the grey gold rocks a[nd] glistening snow of the Weirshorn & Roth-horn. While a thick bank of white cloud lay below in the valley – Half an hour more & it had risen around us till there was nothing to be seen but a few dim ghosts of trees. Yet one knew having once seen that sky, that a radiant day was coming, & that the clouds could do nothing but melt. And me[lt] they did, the peaks glimmering like far off angels at first, & clearing till they stood out radiant & strong, with the fogs dropped down to their feet like a cast off mantle. All depended on what one had seen first.”

Elsewhere in her blog, Rockness puts the quotation in more context, describing the “heavy load” that Trotter had experienced in North Africa:

It is interesting to note that when Lilias recorded the above statement of faith in her diary, she was in the midst of an unprecedented and sustained period of challenge in ministry. After more than 3 years of political opposition  and spiritual oppression, their work had come almost to a halt. Activities in Algiers and itineration in Algeria were severely curtailed as they were dogged by the shadow of suspicion.  Even their most beloved Arab friends pulled away in fear of being identified with them.

(In this post, Rockness shows the date for Trotter’s journal entry containing the darkness/light phrase as August 16, 1901.)

In A Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Rockness writes that the difficulties faced by Trotter included the investigation of English missionaries by the ruling French government and the targeting of young Algerian converts by sorcerers using poison and “black magic.” Also, a missionary family that had come to help in the ministry left after six months, unable to meet the demands of caring for their three children in Algeria.

Trotter writes in a journal entry from 1897,

One literally could do nothing but pray at every available bit. One might take up letters or accounts that seemed as if they were a “must be”—but one had to drop them within five minutes, almost invariably, and get to prayer—hardly prayer either, but a dumb crying up to the skies of brass.

For Trotter, during difficult times, the skies could turn to brass and clouds could obscure the sun and envelop the world around her. But she had seen the “clear happy morning sky,” and she knew that a “radiant day was coming.” It “all depended,” she writes, “on what one had seen first.”


John Ruskin, Trotter’s good friend, and artistic mentor earlier in her life, had had his own encounter with the Swiss town of Zermatt (Zermott) years before. As a young man in 1844, he captured the scene there in the watercolor below.

zermatt

(Miriam Rockness, ed., A Blossom in the Desert: Reflections of Faith in the Art and Writings of Lilias Trotter, Discovery House, 2016; Rockness, in response section of “Lilias Trotter Symposium,” Lilias Trotter, August 17, 2016; Rockness, “Believe!” Lilias Trotter, July 28, 2012; Rockness, Passion for the Impossible: The Life of Lilias Trotter, Discovery House, 2003)

[photo: “Switzerland-55,” by Strychnine, used under a Creative Commons license; John Ruskin, Zermatt, public domain, from artinthepicture.com]

Looking for Mic-Drop Methods in Missions

October 24, 2016 § Leave a comment

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I don’t much trust stories that end with “And they all lived happily ever after.” That’s because experience has taught me that princes often turn out to be less than charming and fairy-tale princesses turn out to be, well, only in fairy tales. Of course, we don’t hear “happily ever after” a lot any more, not because we no longer hope for happy endings, but because our vocabulary has changed. Now, we’re more apt to end our stories with something more modern, more definitive, more in your face . . . something more like a mic drop. You know, that’s where you extend your arm and let your live microphone fall to the floor. It’s an exclamation mark with attitude. It’s the walk-off home run of speech making and story telling. It’s “Game over.” It’s “‘Nuf said.” It’s . . . “Boom!”

When it comes to mission work, are you looking for a method that will produce a mic-drop moment? Are you in search of a fool-proof plan that is the perfect answer to the question “What would Jesus do?” Are you hoping for a newsletter story that emphatically tells how you’ve unlocked the secret to soul-winning?

I don’t much trust those stories either.

And that’s because when it comes to mission strategies, after the boom of the microphone hitting the floor, you can expect some kind of a bounce and a clatter and a roll. Those are simply the sounds of real life.

Continue reading at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Mic,” by Robert Bejil, used under a Creative Commons license]

Your Little “g” greatness Is Still Worth Finding

October 22, 2016 § 1 Comment

I’m only about one and a half olympics behind on this post, but at least I have the editors of Advertising Age’s Creativity Daily Newsletter on my side. Back in 2012 they said,

Arguably, the campaign that will continue to resonate with viewers well after the Olympics are over is Nike’s “Find Your Greatness” campaign. . . .

I’m a little late to the party, since I hadn’t seen any of these videos until a couple days ago, but they still resonate with me—four years after they were made. Do you remember them?

Art director for the campaign, Sezay Altinok, says,

Greatness isn’t reserved for the chosen few in one special city, it can also be found in London, Ohio, and London, Norway, and East London, South Africa, and Little London, Jamaica, and Small London, Nigeria and the London Hotel and London Road and anywhere else someone is trying to find it.

This sounds like little g greatness to me, which must be a close kin to little h heroes.

(Nike: Find Your Greatness – Jogger — Best of 2012 TV #1Creativity Daily Newsletter, August 2, 2012; Find Your Greatness, Sezay Altinok Creative)

Duy Huynh’s Ethereal Art of Displacement

October 14, 2016 § Leave a comment

Inspiration can come from almost anywhere. Take, for instance, a recent trip to Kirkland’s, the home-decor store. I’m not talking about their Bible verselettes painted on pallet boards (not that there’s anything wrong with that) (it seems pretty popular right now). I’m talking more about things that get me thinking about crossing cultures, relocating, transitioning, and the like.

So on that trip to Kirkland’s, as I thumbed through the stack of framed art leaning against the wall (stampeding horses, bikes on Paris streets, a flower garden), I saw a print of an Asian lady surrounded by hummingbirds carrying keys. Interesting. I wondered who’d painted it, and I had to look no farther than the tag attached to the frame. It was Duy Huynh, a Vietnamese-born artist who came to the US in the early eighties. According to Huynh’s website,

With difficulties adapting to new surroundings and language, he took refuge in the art of comics, cartoons, and graffiti. His first art commission came in the third grade when a classmate hired him to draw the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Payment came in the form of 2 dollars and chocolate milk for the week. More importantly, Duy learned it was possible to make a connection through the use of a visual language.

His “about” page goes on to say that a common thread in his art is “geographical and cultural displacement.”

Ethereal characters maintain a serene, precarious balance, often in a surreal or dreamlike setting. With his figures, Duy explores motion along with emotion in order to portray not just the beauty of the human form, but also the triumph of the human spirit. Images that recur, such as boats, trains, suitcases, and anything with the ability of flight relate to travel, whether physical or spiritual.

Below are some of Huynh’s works that grab my imagination. I could tell you how they represent “geographical and cultural displacement” for me, but it’s better that you interpret them yourself. And don’t search online for the artist’s explanation of his images. He wants you to supply that on your own.

Maybe you’d like some of his other works more. He’s got quite a few to choose from. But if you want to buy Fair Trade Frame of Mind, don’t go to Kirkland’s. It sold out a couple weeks ago and isn’t available on their website anymore. That makes me sad, because it never even went on green-tag sale.

Of course, Huyn’s style may not be your cup of tea. Kirkland’s still should have you covered. Maybe you’re more into psychedelic cows. Apparently that’s a thing, since more than one version is available (not that there’s anything wrong with that) (inspiration can come from almost anywhere).

Fair Trade Frame of Mindfair-trade-frame-of-mind

Mindful Migrationmindful-migragion

MindfulNest Cultivationmindulnest-cultivation

Homestead and a Steedhomestead-and-a-steed

Of Wind and Water
of-wind-and-water

Never Mind the Clouds
never-mind-the-clouds

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