Another Song, Another Memory: The Call

June 10, 2016 § Leave a comment

Speaking of songs, here’s another one I like: “The Call,” by Regina Spektor. It shows up at the end of Prince Caspian, the second film in The Chronicles of Narnia series.

I watched the movie with my kids during one of our times on furlough/Stateside service. It’s easy to draw parallels between the Pevensies’ travels and cross-cultural service, and given the Christian underpinnings of C. S. Lewis’s writings, the missionary aspect isn’t too far away either.

The lyrics of “The Call” certainly are evocative for me. They begin

It started out as a feeling
Which then grew into a hope
Which then turned into a quiet thought
Which then turned into a quiet word
And then that word grew louder and louder
‘Til it was a battle cry

I’ll come back
When you call me
No need to say goodbye

The song plays over the closing scene of the film, as Peter, Susan, Lucy, and Edmond return from Narnia to World-War-II London. If you’ve ever come back “home” after living abroad, you know the feeling. It’s as if nothing has changed, but everything has—in big and small ways. Susan is called by the wrong name and Edmund realizes he’s left his new flashlight behind.

Of course, the lyrics don’t fit the missionary “call” perfectly, and “The Call” isn’t a “missionary” or “Christian” song. That makes sense, as Regina Spektor isn’t a Christian songstress. Born into a Russian Jewish family in 1980, the Spectors moved to the Bronx when Regina was nine. She tells The Village Voice,

I don’t even know half the time what exactly I believe. I do know that in some moments, I’m sarcastic about religion, and sometimes, I’m in awe of it, and sometimes, I’m angry at it, and sometimes, I love it.

The Village Voice says Spektor “can’t explain the meaning behind any of her songs, because she doesn’t so much write them as much as let them happen” and then goes on to cite “The Call” as an example of that process. Spector referst to writing the song, which she did late at night after a private screening of Prince Caspian, as “one of the most pure things that ever happened to me.”

If even Spektor doesn’t claim to know what her songs mean, I figure that gives me liberty to work my own meanings into “The Call.”

It also lets me stop trying to understand “Samson.”

Samson went back to bed
Not much hair left on his head
He ate a slice of Wonder Bread and went right back to bed
And history books forgot about us and the Bible didn’t mention us
And the Bible didn’t mention us, not even once

(Cristina Black, “Are You There, God? It’s Me, Regina SpektorThe Village Voice, June 10, 2009)

A Couch, a Song, a Memory

June 2, 2016 § Leave a comment

2476830065_9ca3ca3943_mI have nice memories from people coming to visit us while we were overseas. Yes, the visits were often hectic and tiring, but some of the best moments were the quiet times when we were all sitting in our living room, having honest conversations about life in another country—honest, thoughtful, and heartfelt conversations.

During one of those times, Laura, a young lady from our home church sang for us. Her father, Phil, was our church’s worship minister, and he’d written a song named “Sovereign Lord,” which had gone on to win the grand prize at the 2002 Write about Jesus competition. We knew that Laura had recorded it, accompanied by her brother, Nathan, who was also on the trip (yeah, they’re a gifted family). So as we sat, gathered around our couch, we asked Laura to sing.

When people came to visit, they often brought us gifts—books and DVDs and cake mixes and games. This was a different kind of gift, and one of the best that we received.

What a nice memory.


[photo: “My New Couch,” by Star Athena, used under a Creative Commons license]

In the Light, in the Dark, Remember

May 18, 2016 § Leave a comment

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

In Where Is God when It Hurts? Philip Yancey quotes these words of Joseph Bayly, former director of InterVarsity press and former president of David C. Cook Publishing. Then Yancey adds, “Yet sometimes the darkness descends so thickly that we can barely remember the light.”

Missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot has this to say about God’s truths in the dark times:

Take the word of the Lord in your darkness. If He died to let us live in His company, is he likely to abandon us just because things look dark?

Missionaries are known for shining light in dark places, but that doesn’t mean that they never experience the pain and confusion of personal darkness themselves.

What about you? Did you wake up this morning to bright sunshine . . . or do you find yourself in a dark night of the soul?

Following are some promises of Jesus that we will all do well to recall, regardless of current circumstances. If you’re living in brightness, may these add to your joy and confirm your resolve. If you feel enveloped by darkness, may even one or two push against the shadows and take root in a corner of your heart.

As you read the promises below, I hope you’ll be able to hold tightly to each one. But if you find it hard to hold on to them, know that one who said them is holding on to you.

Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

Read the whole post at A Life Oversees. . . .

(Philip Yancey, Where Is God when It Hurts, Zondervan, 1977; Elisabeth Elliot, A Lamp for My Feet: The Bible’s Light for Daily Living, Servant, 1985; All scripture quotations are from the NET Bible® copyright ©1996-2006 by Biblical Studies Press, L.L.C. http://bible.org. Used with permission. All rights reserved.)

[photo: “Exodus 3:2 – the Burning Bush, B&W,” by zeevveez, used under a Creative Commons license]

Personality Tests Can Be Functional and Fun, or Pass Me the Ball, Cinderella, We’re on the Same Team

May 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

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What are you? An ISFJ? Hmm. Me? I’m an INFP. Hmmmmmmmm.

Many people, including current and potential missionaries and other church-worker types, have taken the popular personality test the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MTBI). And many of them have their four-letter label memorized. This gives them the ability to carry on quite a conversation based on their combination of characteristics. It also gives them the ability (or at least some think it does) to announce their letters as a way to say, “Don’t blame me, that’s just the way I am.” Take, for instance, what Sarah Condon, blogging at Mockingbird, has to say about the MBTI:

As a J, I can tell you that it was the fastest way to sort out the weirdos from the weirdest. And also, it was a great way to preemptively excuse your bad behavior. Once I learned my Myers Briggs, I could say whatever I wanted. It was like the “God put it on my heart to tell you . . .” of liberal Christianity. As long as I reminded people that my INFJ plight makes me “decisive and strong-willed” or “easily mistaken for an extrovert,” I could dole out all kinds of insistent and unwanted opinions.

Don’t judge Ms. Condon too harshly. She later repented of her ways.

In the missionary world, agencies and churches often use the MBTI to learn about candidates and to help them learn about themselves. The test can also be a tool for building teams and for giving team members insights on how to deal with each other. In addition to the MBTI, other useful tests include the Sixteen Personality Factor Questionnaire, the Minnesota Multiphase Personality Inventory, and the Color Code.

But is there a better test for looking at team dynamics? I think I may have found one. It’s ESPN’s new-just-last-week Which NBA Team Are You? quiz. Of course, you’ll have to care about professional basketball to get into this one, but what better way could there be to analyze teamshipfulness? Come on, the quiz even has Team in its title! (A word of caution: Before you take the quiz, please understand that we all can’t be Warriors.)

Not a basketball fan? Then try the Major League Baseball Fan Compatibility Test or Which NFL Team Should You Really Be Cheering For?

Obviously I’ve gone from “useful” personaly tests to simply fun (which can be useful in its own way). So, in that spirit, here are some charts for your MBTI type.

Who are you? Hermione, or Dumbledore? Superman, or Batman? Or are you a great dane, or a chihuahua?

Which Disney Princess or Heroine Are You?
Which Disney Prince or Hero Are You?
Which Saint Are You?

Which Star Wars Character Are you?
Which Battlestar Galactica Character Are You?
What Dr. Who Character Are You?
Which Harry Potter Character Are You?
Which Downton Abbey Personality Are You?
Which Avengers Character Are You?
What Marvel Characters Are You?
Which Hobbit Character Are You?
Which Lord of the Rings Character Are You?

For some more stand-on-their-own tests, ones that don’t require an MBTI code, here are

Which Superhero Are You?
Which Bible Character Are You?
What Shakespeare Character Are You?
Which Disney Character Are You?
Which Zootropolis Character Are You? (I guess Zootopia is called Zootropolis in the UK.)
Which Force Awakens Character Are You?
Which Hunger Games Character Are You?
Which John Hughes Character Are You?
Which Children’s Book Character Are You?
Which Dessert Are You?

What Kind of Car Are You?
What Cat Are You?
What Dog Breed Are You?
What Tree Are You?
What Instrument Are You?
What Animal Are You?

OK, on those last two. . . . For team building, I know that a complete orchestra needs all kinds of instruments, but when it comes to animals, would you want a pride full of lions, or should there be a couple sheep around for mealtime balance?

(Sarah Condon, “Personality Assesmentss: Grace and Neurosis,” Mockingbird, Marh 24, 2016)

[photo: “Cinderella | Soundsational,” by chris.alcoran, used under a Creative Commons license]

Mom and Dad, Thanks for Letting Us Go without Letting Go of Us [Repost]

July 24, 2015 § 2 Comments

[In honor of Parents’ Day, July 26, I am reposting an open letter from my wife and me to all parents of missionaries. We wrote it during our time serving in Taiwan.]

Dear Mom and Dad:

Thank you for raising us to know about God and his love for the world.

Thank you for letting us go without letting go of us.

Thank you for forgiving late birthday cards.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for giving up time with your grandchildren.

Thank you for your e-mails and letters and calls.

Thank  you for sending Barbie Dolls, Tic Tacs, Koolaid, socks, Reader’s Digests, and Lucky Charms cereal.

Thank you for your questions about our new home and work.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when we tell you how exciting it is to live in another part of the world.

Thank you for being patient and understanding when, two days later, we complain about living in that same place.

Thank you for not making us feel selfish for wanting to go.  Sometimes we feel that way on our own.

Thank you for listening to our stories about people you’ll never meet with names you can’t pronounce.

Thank you for being our ambassadors.

Thank you for sending clippings from our hometown newspaper.

Thank you for telling us about our neighbors, classmates, and cousins—all the stories that don’t make the news.

Thank you for letting our brothers and sisters stand in for us when we’re too far away to do our part in the family.  (They really should get their own letter.)

Thank you for loving us.

Thank you for trusting Jesus to take care of us when you can’t.

Thank you for being proud of us.  We are proud of you.

We chose to be a missionary family, not you, and we understand that our move has meant many sacrifices for you.  You are not only a part of our family but an invaluable part of our team.

With all our love,

Your children

[photo: “leaving us,” by Petras Gagilas, used under a Creative Commons license]

Encountering God: A Tale of Two Bushes

July 15, 2015 § Leave a comment

[I’ve written a post for today at A Life Overseas. The introduction is below. Come join me there, finish the post, and stay awhile.]

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A fresco by Raphael, in the Vatican Museums

I want to hear God. I want to know his specific will for my life. I want him to tell me what to do next. I want . . .

A Burning Bush

It worked for Moses. When he was on Mt. Horeb and saw the bush that burned but didn’t burn up, he went over to get a closer look. That’s when God spoke to him in an unmistakable, clear, audible voice.

God called him by name.
He announced who he was.
He told Moses the overall plan.
He answered Moses’ questions.
He promised to be with him.
He gave Moses a sign to show that he had sent him.
He revealed his name to him.
He gave him step-by-step directions.
He told him what to expect.
He gave him the ability to perform three miraculous signs.
He promised his help.
And he responded to Moses’ fears by allowing him a helper.

Yeah, a burning bush. That’ll do it.

As a former missionary—oh, forget that—as a believer in God, I’ve faced many times when I’ve wanted him to communicate with me through a miracle. I’ve even been tempted to let my imagination wring meaning out of not uncommon occurrences: The supermarket is selling spagghetti 50% off? Surely that means that God want’s me to move to Italy . . . and I can leave with only half the money raised . . . right?

But when it comes to hearing from God, I think there’s another kind of Old Testament bush that we should look for—

A Broom Bush . . .

Go to A Life Overseas to continue reading.

[photo: “O Adonai,” by Lawrence OP, used under a Creative Commons license]

Tracing Paul Tillich’s Words on Listening and Love

June 20, 2015 § Leave a comment

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The first duty of love is to listen.
—Paul Tillich

I really like this quotation. It brings up images in my mind of friends sitting together over cups of coffee. Or maybe they’re a husband and wife, or a parent and child, or a teacher and student . . . or adversaries. Their body language and the expressions on their faces show that they are intent on truly hearing what the other has to say. Simple images for a simple quotation. At least it used to seem simple to me, until I traced it back to its origin.

First of all, did Tillich really say, “The first duty of love is to listen”? The answer is yes . . . and no. He’s the source, but those aren’t his exact words. More on that later.

So who is Paul Tillich, anyway? Born in Germany in 1886, Tillich grew up to be a well-known existential theologian (well-known, at least, among those familiar with existential theologians). After finishing his university education, he was ordained a Lutheran minister and served as a military chaplain during World War I. Following the war, he lectured in German universities, but that came to an end when he was banned from those institutions because of his criticism of Hitler and the Nazis. He then moved to the US to teach at Union Theological Seminary, learned English, and later taught at Harvard and the University of Chicago, in time becoming an American citizen. Tillich often published his thoughts in book form, one of the more famous being his three-volume Systematic Theology.

What is Tillich’s theology? Here’s where it gets a bit tricky. Some describe Tillich as a Christian theologian, some as an unorthodox Protestant, some as an existentialist philosopher, and still others as a pantheist or atheist.

Regardless of the controversy (or maybe because of it), his writings have a cool factor amongst today’s younger, hip Christian set. In Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Brett McCracken puts Tillich on a list of “Things [Hipster Christians] Like.” But like isn’t strong enough for some, as McCracken says that “artistic-minded Christian Hipsters love Tillich.”

And that brings us back to love and listening, and to power and justice, as well.

That’s because the source of the Tillich quotation above is his book Love, Power, and Justice. The book’s subtitle is “Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications,” and chapter headings include “The Ontology of Love,” “Being as the Power of Being,” and “A Phenomenology of Power.” Sounds rather deep, no?

Here’s the relevant passage about love and listening (with my own emphasis added). In it, Tillich is discussing “the relation of justice to love in personal encounters.” He writes that it

can adequately be described through three functions of creative justice, namely, listening, giving, forgiving. In none of them does love do more than justice demands, but in each of them love recognizes what justice demands. In order to know what is just in a person-to-person encounter, love listens. It is its first task to listen. No human relation, especially no intimate one, is possible without mutual listening. Reproaches, reactions, defenses may be justified in terms of proportional justice. But perhaps they would prove to be unjust if there were more mutual listening. All things and all men, so to speak, call on us with small or loud voices. They want us to listen, they want us to understand their intrinsic claims, their justice of being. They want justice from us. But we can give it to them only through the love which listens.

To be honest, much of Tillich’s writing is over my head. It’s not that I don’t grasp what he’s saying in this passage, it’s when he does things such as explore the concept of being that I lose ground. I had to look up ontological. I found out it means “metaphysical, or the branch of metaphysics that studies the nature of existence,” but you already knew that, right?

So where does this leave us? For me, it’s back to where we started. We still have the popular “quotation,” and I don’t think it will be replaced by the real thing any time soon. It’s nearly accurate and it’s Twitter-sized, with plenty of room to spare for hashtags. Now when I hear it I’ll still imagine those people sharing a conversation over coffee, but while their mugs will say, “The first duty of love is to listen,” next to those mugs will be some books whose titles I don’t quite understand.

[To see why a blog about cross-cultural issues is interested in the topic of listening, go here.]

(Arne Unhjem, “Paul Tillich: American Theologian and Philosopher,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, Brett McCracken, Hipster Christianity: When Church and Cool Collide, Baker, 2010; Paul Tillich, Love, Power, and Justice: Ontological Analysis and Ethical Applications, Oxford, 1960)

[photo: “Rayon de Soleil,” by Dominique Garcin-Geoffroy, used under a Creative Commons license]

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