Sunday, December 25, 2011

Compendium of Links #22

Why is it that the only time I post anymore is when I’m sending up a plateful of links? Maybe because it’s Christmas, ergo, I actually have a life. Weird. And even the compendium is a little late! But enjoy the links on this fantastic celebratory day!

The best bosses lead by failing—in other words, “humble leaders who embrace their failures are more effective and better liked, according to a new study.” No, duh. And why was this a study in the first place? Yes, I understand the importance of trust-but-verify. But this sort of thing seems like it should be left to philosophers, not social scientists.

A quarter of Europe has never used the Internet. Never. Ever. I wonder what that stat’s like in the U.S.? It’s probably higher than you think. The internet doesn’t have much relevance if you’re poor in Kentucky, after all.

If you need to write a sympathy card and have no idea what to say—and I’m with ya there—this guide might help. (Via Challies.)

What was the world Googling in 2011? That link, pointing to the newest Google Zeitgeist (German for “spirit of the age”), is the answer. I’ve seen this billed as “what the world was thinking about,” but I at least know that what I think of and what I Google are two different things. Sometimes they intersect, but more often than not, they don’t. So what do stats like these say?

Norad tracks Santa and gives kids lots of little online games to play. Oh dear. I’m not sure I really want a bunch of kids rotting their brains playing Santa games….. of course, I’m not a fan of much of any other game either…

Except for this one, Circle the Cat. One of the local high school teachers lets her students play this to help them develop their mathematical/logical thinking skills. It’s a little addicting, but I beat it in about five minutes. (And I just beat it again on first try. Sweet.)

I saw this on NPR a few days ago: A mugging victim offers the thief his coat, ends up treating him to dinner and receives his wallet back, out only the price of the meal. An interesting anecdote regarding human behavior and mercy.

And now, from my favorite a cappella group: Not a song.

An… interesting rendition of the poem!

Breaking news archives

What would it have been like to write about the birth of Jesus in AP style?

BETHLEHEM, Judea—Rumors about a baby’s birth in a stable have been confirmed. Jesus, son of Joseph son of Jacob and his betrothed Mary, was born early yesterday morning in a stable-turned-lodging in the city, according to the stable’s owner and census officials who stopped there mid-morning today. The couple journeyed here from Nazareth in Galilee to comply with Caesar Augustus’ census.

Still unconfirmed are rumors that heavenly beings appeared to shepherds in a field outside Bethlehem. No other witnesses to the event have been found, but several sheep were discovered unattended late last night and their shepherds eventually located in the vicinity of the stable. They claim to have been sent there by the angels.

The baby is destined to become the Jewish savior, according to his father Joseph. The royal priests and prophets were unavailable for comment.

It is also unknown whether the bright star first noticed at the first hour of the morning yesterday was related to the baby’s birth, caused by some other event or simply another unexplained astronomical phenomenon.

----

MERRY CHRISTMAS EVERYBODY!!!

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Compendium of Links #21

I’m writing this on Friday, after a good week at work: I’ve been working on improving the articles I write and realized I’d made some progress! Now just to maintain that progress… but in the meantime, here’s some intriguing links from the week:

How rich are you? Really? This data is why I have never, ever been able to take the Occupy movement seriously.

Janie B. Cheaney over at WORLD Magazine ponders the effects of telling every large-scale story from the launchpad of a personal tale.

Is it racism? Tell the story of Reconstruction-era blacks through the experience of one woman (Beloved). Is it capitalism? Sketch the sweep of the Russian revolution through the tempestuous relationship of a single couple (Reds). Multiculturalism? Show one of the most brutal battles of World War II from the perspective of two soldiers—on the other side (Letters from Iwo Jima). This is a valid approach: the inductive method of starting from a single example and drawing larger conclusions from it. But the problem with a lot of contemporary inductive storytelling is that there may be no larger conclusion to draw.

I hadn’t thought of stories that started with the personal and never got around to drawing the larger conclusion. The good stories are the ones that combine the personal and the universal, after all. It hadn’t entered my mind that a story could be personal without having universal conclusions in it. (And for what it’s worth, I see a lot of news articles that begin with a vignette, the personal story of someone who’s caused or been affected by whatever newsworthy phenomenon is the subject.)

Matt @ The Church of No People described the two elements that make the Perfect Romantic Comedy: a man that acts like a woman and a woman that acts like a man, at least in some respects. Figures. The sarcastic tone highlights the dangerous absurdity of a lot of modern chick flicks. (And he highlights one of my favorite older chick flicks, It Happened One Night. He’s right—Gregory Peck is the ultimate chick flick hero!)

One thing I’ve discovered in my new adult life is that there just isn’t nearly enough time to read! Not as much as I’d like, anyway. (At least there’s more time now for reading than I had in college.) So I’m not sure I’ll be able to take this guy’s advice to diversify my reading. I’ll be doing good to read what I need to improve my writing and grow more spiritually. But he’s right that a varied reading habit is healthier than a predictable one.

Robert Niles at the Online Journalism Review (one of my preferred journalism thought websites) lists five more ways we might be able to get journalism right in a convergent media world. I sent this to my editor and she said “yes! yes! LOCAL is what I’ve been saying!” On another journalism note, bloggers aren’t covered by journalists’ shield laws, or at least not yet. I’m extremely curious how the court is going to differentiate between the “mere” citizen-blogger and the established journalist… it’s a different world now. And thirdly, I totally want to do this program to go reporting in Latin America (or the Caribbean). (English version here.) Since applications are received until the end of January I just might apply this year…

Indiana’s trying to foster a good business climate, and that goes beyond one-time tax breaks. Russ Pulliam at WORLD describes the latest reforms and draws conclusions based on the data in the Rich States, Poor States index. I might have to ask somebody in my little town what they think.

Let’s compare the TV tastes of Democrats and Republicans! I find this stuff fascinating. But my favorite show—Doctor Who—didn’t make any of the lists. Sigh. (Via Gene Veith.)

Is mediated communication just catering to self-centeredness and the innate desire for control? Maybe it is. Maybe that’s why half the people I know have engaged in some form of The Facebook Fast more often than “real” fasting. Maybe that’s why I’m not getting internet at my apartment. (Via Challies.)

Just found this today (Friday): There’s a difference between iconography and art, as Joi Weaver at the Evangelical Outpost explains. Wow, that makes a lot of sense:

Ms. Fernandez is welcome to her opinions, and to like or dislike the work as she pleases. However, she has made a very significant error: art is not iconography. The two fields are informed and influenced by each other, but they are distinct. Iconography is created to invite contemplation of spiritual truths, to guide meditation and prayer. Art is, in Fernandez’ own words, “to convey meaning and express beauty.”

And it just might be important to remember the distinction.

LOL: I love Jon Acuff’s “Leg dropping elves” Christmas classic. Sooo hilarious.

Since I used up the one video I actually found this week… here’s one from  my favorite YouTube channel, WhatYouOughtToKnow:

Math is cool. Humor is cool. Both together are awesome.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Philosophy as gainful employment

What in the world did philosophers do to put food on the table? It’s not as if many people will pay you to sit and think, think tanks notwithstanding.

I suppose that’s why they had mistresses—to cover the living expenses.

The six-month school of small-town journalism

About halfway through November, I finished six months at my first job after college, and the first job in my field. Here’s what my first six months of news reporting taught me:

1. Sunshine laws. There are lots of things government entities can’t do in their meetings… for instance, they can’t hold impromptu meetings, except if a dire situation demands it and only then after notifying all the local media. And any quorum of a government body in the same place, discussing business, constitutes a meeting—so elected officials can’t get out of this by getting together for morning coffee and accidentally talking about what-have-you. There’s a whole book on the open meeting and public records laws—and the state will send it to you free, if you want to learn about them.

2. Local government operations. I had no idea before I took this job how many branches there were of just a small city government—how many subcommittees a city council has, for instance. I’d only been to a couple city council meetings before, so I didn’t know what a city council was even supposed to do. Nor did I know much about state budgeting or how that affected the local governments. And I definitely had no idea why a city board of health was established. Do you?

3. Schools. Just being in a classroom doesn’t make anyone an expert on schools. I’ve learned more than I thought possible about state and federal hoops that schools have to jump through, just because I’ve been covering a couple local school boards. And I’ve learned about the extra work that comes with state and federal grant funds. School administrators speak a lingo all their own that’s taken me months to understand, too—stuff like IEPs and House Bill pick-a-number. I’m still deciphering some of it.

4. Contact info. I’ve learned to save every business card I’ve ever touched—the oddest was when I needed the cemetery manager’s phone number—and to write down the name and number of everyone I’ve ever called, even the random woman connected to a military moms’ support group. I’ve also learned that most people’s e-mail signatures contain all the contact info you could ever need. Once I’ve got e-mails, business cards and scraps of paper with lots of names and phone numbers, I enter the info into the computerized address book—which is searchable. “Searchable” is music to my ears when I want some bit of information instantly.

5. Organization. The notes I now deal with are way more voluminous and complicated than anything I ever wrote in college. So, I’ve learned to stay on top of my filing, putting all my notes for a story with that story and all my related stories in their file and all the related files (local government, local organizations, county stuff) in their respective hanging folders in the file drawer. If I don’t do it quickly, it’ll overwhelm me! And I label every CD I use as soon as it leaves the disk drive, even if I plan to throw it away. I label with information as detailed as will possibly fit on a CD face; I can’t have umpteen disks lying around that all say “photos.” All my story ideas are kept on index cards in a green box so I don’t lose track of them, too.

6. Practical clothing. I was once sent to a firefighting simulation site wearing flip-flops and went slipping around in the fine gravel. Since then I’ve either worn durable shoes or kept a pair in the car. I never know if I’ll get sent out to some site piled with dirt or debris—I can’t be wearing pretty heels then. I also dress in layers—especially blazers—so I can get comfortable whether I’m outside in the freezing cold (or sweltering heat, in the summer) or inside where the temperature’s drastically different.

7. Attitude. The kind of story I get out of an interview or event depends greatly on the attitude I take toward it. If I go to a meeting that I assume will be boring, the story I write will be boring. If I think the photo op I’m sent to is ho-hum, I’ll get a decent photo with an uninteresting cutline (caption), not the full story that’s lurking beneath the annual potluck announcement. If I enjoy the topic I’m writing about, I’ll pay attention, ask more questions and be able to write a better story.

8. Integrity. I’ve learned I should just be honest with people, no sugarcoating, no empty promises. To say the same thing to people who want opposite answers, and to admit flat out that I just don’t know. It’s simple, but not easy—for example, sometimes I forget what I’ve told people I’d do for them, like drop off a few extra copies of a newspaper, and that becomes an empty promise. So I try to make up for where I’ve fallen short. And in a small town, that makes a huge difference. People will let each other know who’s trustworthy and who’s not.

9. How to improve. Just doing journalism has taught me a lot, sure, but I learn even more when I take the time to read good books about writing and to read good newswriting. When I read one of my favorite newsmagazines, I study what made a given article so interesting or so authoritative. After I notice those things, I imitate them. Humility is a must here—the guts to admit you don’t have everything perfect.

10. Humanity. City managers, state senators, chamber presidents and school superintendents are people, no more, no less—just like me. They’re not to be feared nor stereotyped, but rather deserve to be treated decently. After all, they can appreciate a joke and make a mistake as easily as I can. And they might be just as intimidated by the journalist as the journalist is by them.

I’ve been at this job a whopping six months. There’s plenty more to learn, and I look forward to the next half a year’s education.

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

I just can’t wait…

Tim Challies had this on his blog this morning. Oh my goodness, it’s the funniest video I’ve seen yet this winter.

Yes, yes, I’m looking for a Mormon disco ball. The joke’s on me more than it’s on you.

Saturday, December 03, 2011

What 50,015 words taught me

Last month, I learned I can write 2,000 words of fiction in an hour and a half if I don’t think too hard. It’s not good fiction, but it’s grammatically correct.

I also learned that if I quit watching movies, reading novels and surfing the Internet, I can write a 50,000-word novella in one month, start to finish.

This year I participated in National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, for the second time in my life. It comes every November and the goal is to write 50,000 words in one month just for the sake of writing. The first time I participated, I was a sophomore in college with nothing better to do besides watch YouTube videos. This time, I had an apartment and a full-time job. I even had to cook for myself. Was this really a good idea?

So I made a bargain. If I could manage it, great. If I started to get overwhelmed, if I lost sleep or if my concentration at work started to suffer, I would give it up immediately without the guilt of quitting.

But I hate to quit.

I’m just about convinced that the reason I actually finished NaNoWriMo was because I don’t have a family to care for, unlike most people I know; heck, I don’t even have a boyfriend to text endlessly. Yeah, I had to put off writing for several days over Thanksgiving, but the weekend after—when most people were traveling and I’d already done my road trip—I doubled up the writing (with the help of multiple naps and chick flicks) to recover the ground I’d lost.

Another big reason is that I don’t have Internet at home, so it was easy to limit my Internet usage: I made about 75 percent fewer trips to the library. (That also helped limit the number of movies I watched!) A laptop without internet is boring—or, not distracting, so I could write profusely in a comparatively short time.

So this is what I did: If I wasn’t out of town or completely exhausted, I tried to write 2,000 words every night (and double that the last weekend). That’s about an hour and a half to two hours of work, depending how much writer’s block I experienced. I’m not a fiction writer, so it might have taken other people less time.

In order to find that extra… 45-plus hours of time in the month, I quit watching movies almost entirely (well, I did watch five all month) and quit reading books, too, besides cutting down my time on the Internet. I put off dishes until the sink overflowed (not recommended) and simply skipped most cleaning (not that big a deal; I’m not an incredibly messy person to start with).

It’s not a lifestyle I could maintain indefinitely. But for a month, for the bragging rights and the chance to see how much free time I really have… it’s worth it. I wrote the 50,015th word at 6:50 p.m. Nov. 30, 2011. I am a NaNoWriMo Winner.

Top ten reasons Thanksgiving is better than Christmas

10. If you’re born on Thanksgiving, you don’t have to suffer sharing your birthday with a major holiday every single year, world without end, Amen.

9. You can celebrate in October and nobody looks at you funny. Or if people do, you can tell them you’re Canadian. Visiting family overseas gets so much simpler.

8. It’s more fun to whoop like an Indian for the class play than to pretend you’re scared of a short angel in the Christmas pageant.

7. Sometimes it’s actually warmer than 45 degrees on Thanksgiving. On Christmas, the best you can hope for is snow to go along with the freezing temperature.

6. It’s always a Thursday, so you’re practically guaranteed a five-day weekend. This year, Christmas is on a Sunday. Try figuring out your holiday then!

5. The point of the holiday isn’t lost in the commercials.

4. TURKEY STUFFING. Even better than hot cider.

3. Nobody’s afraid to tell me to have a happy one.

2. No gifts = no gift drama.

1. People all over the country stop to thank their family, their friends and God for the blessings they usually take for granted.

That being said—do you agree? Which holiday is your favorite?

Compendium of Links #20

Unfortunately my mom’s van died this evening as she was driving home from my little town’s Christmas celebrations. As she was driving. So, she pulled into the parking lot of a township garage and called me for a ride the rest of the way home. I figured that, since I’m back at my parents’ house anyway, I’d take advantage of the wi-fi there!

Tim Challies wrote a loooong blog post about how to go about reading Scripture for a congregation, be it a congregation of five or fifty thousand. He’s got a lot of good stuff to say. One of my pet peeves is hearing Scripture read without any inflection.

Challies also put me onto this article about how modern church growth strategies (ones based on sentimentality and pragmatism) flies in the face of the Gospel’s true call to churches.

Sentimentality and pragmatism are the one-two punch which has the American Church on the ropes, while a generation of church leaders acquiesces to the demands of our consumer culture. The demands are simple: tell me something that will make me feel better (sentimentality for the churchgoer), and tell me something that will work (pragmatism for the church leader). Yet it is not clear how either one of those are part of what it means to be the church.

….The fundamental problem with the one-two punch of sentimentality and pragmatism is, of course, the church's job is not to affirm people's lives, but to allow the gospel to continually call our lives into question.

My little town has a community chorus that’s performing Handel’s “The Messiah” tomorrow—and I’m in it, too! I’m using CyberBass’s online MIDI files to practice since they  have each part highlighted in separate files as well as the general files with all the parts at equal volume.

Speaking of “The Messiah…” this is how not to do it. (HT: Challies again… apparently his posts are all the online reading I’ve been able to get to lately!)

And for your video this week: First, background information…. this guy flew through the Alps for 11 hours in a glider, without a motor. James Fallows discusses how. The video below shows the beautiful mountains the guy saw. (The video text appears to be in Italian and it sounds like that’s what he’s speaking. I was proud to be able to make out a little, based on what I know of Spanish.) About ten minutes into the video is the only shot that isn’t taken straight on from the plane’s cockpit. A map at the end of the vid shows the flight path.

Ohhhhhhhh my. I would like to see the Alps myself, someday. Actually I think it’s already on my bucket list.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Blessings

I began pondering a question last week. What do you do when you’re not yet 22 and you’ve already achieved a major career goal?

My dream before I graduated was this: Someday I wanted to have a job I loved, in a little town I enjoyed, and to have my own place. I wanted it to be full time and pay enough for me to live on and have a few adventures. I wanted to be challenged and never to be bored.

Guess what my first job after graduation has been? At the risk of repeating what I’ve said in earlier posts, allow me to summarize for you the position I started in the day before graduation.

First, it’s taken care of the tangible requirements—it’s full time and I earn enough to rent an apartment on my own that’s “practically perfect in every way.” I have enough funds that I can save some, contribute to my church, and still take road trips to Boston every now and then.

Then there are the intangibles—what some would say are the more important pieces to job satisfaction. I have a fantastic boss, a Christian, that knows how to let me work in my own way as long as I do the job well. Plus I can set my own hours so I don’t have to wake up before seven o’clock except for, say, twice a month.

I do something different every day, no exaggeration there, and just about everything I cover is interesting. (The only exception would have to be some school board meetings, but that’s beside the point.) Some of the stories I cover are hard—giving me that challenge I need—but I’m not overwhelmed (most of the time). I learn something new about the city or about government, about my job, about life, every day.

This great job landed me in a town replete with sidewalks. That sounds like an insignificant characteristic, but to me it’s like stepping into a suburb of Heaven. There are also several city parks, with a small river running through one of them, plus a nature center just five miles away and another nature preserve a little farther from my residence. A 32-mile bikeway runs two blocks from my front door. My neighbors are wonderful (and happen to be my pastor and his wife and son). And perhaps most wonderful of all, my family lives just 20 minutes away.

How much more blessed can a person get?!

So I wonder… what’s next? Moving to Costa Rica, or to Boston? I’m beginning to wonder how much better that could possibly be, as blessed as I already am. Or maybe I just have no idea of what bigger blessings are in store!

Compendium of Links #19

I spent a lot of time on Thanksgiving reading random links. Ahh, I was so thankful for a day off and prolonged exposure to the Internet. That was the first time I’d spent any significant number of hours just reading miscellaneous Internet articles!

From College Major to Career—chart of how various college majors help students succeed (or not) in the job market.

The 2011 Facebook infographic, showing that, theoretically, 11 percent of the world has a Facebook account. Never mind that some folks have multiple; it’s probably statistically insignificant.

One Christian wife (and author and college professor) writes about seven misconceptions she’s encountered about submission. A short but interesting read, if you’re into the egalitarian/complementarian debate.

You know how things get really… interesting when you try to translate them? Brands are even better. CitiBank becomes “the star-spangled banner bank!”

C.S. Lewis and Rob Bell both hold/held questionable theological beliefs. One writer thinks evangelicals love the one and hate the other because of the different emphases they had in their writings/ministries. I think it’s because C.S. Lewis actually clarifies, logically, what he’s differing about, when he does touch on the subject, while Bell… just gets on my nerves with the whole postmodern equivocation thing. (Note: I’m going by the NOOMA videos here. They left enough of a distaste that I couldn’t bring myself to track down a book of his to read.)

And in honor of our recently departed holiday: Grateful people have better health. Yup, they just spent a bunch of money to affirm scientifically what we already knew. I guess that’s the job of the social sciences sometimes.

Your weekly musical contribution: More guitar music!

Much as I wish I could play like this… it’s almost funnier to watch his head.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving

I’ve devoted very little space on this blog to my favorite holiday, I noticed. But it’s coming up in just two days now, Thanksgiving that is, and with it all the pure holiday joy associated with it.

I will not name the first reason I had to consider the holiday a special one for me. The main reason, however, is the positively Christian reflection it inspires in each of us. For what are we thankful? What blessings have we overlooked this year, until now? Where do we find contentment in the midst of difficulties, or for what should we worship God in times of peace?

On  my part, I’m thankful for my family. The best part about Thanksgiving is the chance I have to spend several hours on car rides with my immediate family to spend a rambunctious weekend with most of my extended family. I get along well with everyone in those groups, so the time we’re forced to spend together feels nothing like an enforced gathering. On the contrary, when we have to part I’m invariably loth to do so.

Thanksgiving is almost as consistent a family time as Christmas, but without the gift-giving stress that goes with the later winter day. That, together with the general spirit of gratefulness that pervades the holiday, makes it in fact a purer honor to God, I think. It’s more Christian to give thanks than to become greedy for gifts.


Other things I’m grateful for:

My friends, especially:

--my college roommate, who put up with me for three (3) years

--several other faraway college friends with whom I try to keep contact

--new friends in my new town who have embraced the strange youngster in their midst

My job, because it’s awesome and I get to do what I love!!

My little iPod

A youngster at the local primary school who likes reading to me once a week

Sidewalks

Warm socks and blankets

Fountain pens

Peanut butter

Schwinn

Gardens and public parks

Hot running water

Sewing machines

Days off from work

…What are you thankful for today?

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Walking to church

The church I’ve started attending since moving into my apartment is near enough that I can walk there if I want. Granted, I went to a residential campus college and rather enjoy the slower modes of transportation to start with, so my estimation of “close enough to walk” may vary from that of others, but this distance, I think, would generally be considered a decent walking distance.

So, I do walk to church, about 95 percent of the time. (Once it was raining, and another time I was leaving straight for the next town over after church, so I drove in those cases.) And nearly every day after church, I am asked, “do you need a ride?”

What kind folks! I thank them graciously but briefly explain that, really, I like to walk, and besides it’s a nice day out.

I’ve been rather obstinate on this one too, walking even in the chilly weather and after dark. The cold will eventually get to me—I’d rather be in Costa Rica—but the dark, that isn’t a problem.

In fact, it casts a whole different glow to the walk. Instead of the green trees, I am met by antique-looking street lights, which one by one greet me with a hazy shine as I pass. The stoplights shine much more overtly in the dark, of course, and the very sounds change.

If I cut through the city park on the way, I cross a creek whose gentle, puddling sounds catch the ear much more readily in the dark. They always remind me of stargazing excursions with my best college buddies. And in the gleam of the old street lights, the flowing bit of water looks very like a sparkling mesh of starlight, filmed and replayed rapidly.

The combination of sight and sound there compels me to stop, gaze and attend to the mysterious message it carries, every time I pass there on my way home from evening services. Then I look up from the faux starlight to the real, only partly obscured by street lighting but clarified by the chill wind that dusk brings. And I ask the wind how anyone can choose to drive to all destinations when sights and sounds such as abound in this town are to be had.

Yes folks, I own a car and use it regularly. But if I can, I make the time to walk. It saves me, perhaps, from succumbing to the ever-increasing pace of modern life. (Cliché I know, but it’s true.)

Compendium of Links #18 (Comedy and economy)

Well, I covered my first election. That experience might become a blog post in itself. And I nearly hit 20,000 words last night in my NaNoWriMo novel. If I had been able to stay awake any longer I would have written the 308 more words required to actually reach 20,000!

But now for your weekly dose of really random links…

ban Comic Sans – oh my. It’s a haven of hilarity for graphic design nerds. And there’s even a host of alternatives to Comic Sans. How’s that for a positive approach to what could become a wholly negative campaign? (HT: Wesleigh)

The United States Department of Fear – parodying the real Dept. of Homeland Security. It’s amusing, though I don’t entirely agree with its politics. And I’m always a fan of parody and satire because, done in the right way, it can point out inconsistency, hypocrisy and/or subconscious assumptions that need to be recognized. (Stuff Christians Like is by far my favorite parody website.)

Along those same lines, the Chicago Tribune recently profiled a Christian (read: clean) comedian to highlight the bigger news: Christians like to laugh, if the joke isn’t crass or laced with profanity. Or something along those lines. That’s a whole untapped audience, according to the comedians the writer interviewed. I suppose. On the other hand, most of the so-called Christian comedians aren’t that funny, except for this one guy I saw on video once that did a hilarious routine about airport bathrooms. (And it was entirely a clean routine! The focal point of the bathroom part was the sanitary hand dryer that doesn’t actually dry your hands!) (HT: Challies)

Now for a different note: The U.K. newspaper The Guardian declares that U.S. unemployment isn’t the 9.1 percent the government’s been registering, but more like 16 percent. The writer does so by taking the second reading the government puts out, the one that counts discouraged workers and folks who are part-time but would rather be full-time. Maybe so, but it seems like we slip into comparing apples and oranges if we take this higher number and contrast it with the 2007 4-percent number, which probably didn’t include discouraged workers and unwilling part-timers either (though there were likely fewer of them). (HT: Gene Veith, I think)

And an opinion writer/economist at the Washington Post says the U.S. government’s budget just can’t be balanced without pain. Cutting wasteful spending, or taxing the rich, won’t be more than a drop in the bucket—there’s got to be some serious reductions. And it’ll hurt… so no politician will propose such a thing. (HT: Gene Veith)

Now, some wonderful guitar music courtesy of my roommate (she sent me the link on Facebook):

I WISH I COULD PLAY LIKE THIS. (Without having to practice for years.) I’ll content myself with the “replay” button.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

John Piper’s book on missions (part 4)

At last—we return to missions and worship to conclude the book.

It’s obvious by now that Piper is strongly influenced by Great Awakening pastor Jonathan Edwards, and he says as much here. Then he goes on to explain that missions is necessitated because “creation is telling the glory of God, but the peoples are not treasuring it…. The ultimate issue addressed by missions is that God’s glory is dishonored among the peoples of the world.” Then he connects worship with missions and all that with compassion for the lost: “Unbelief not only dishonors God but destroys the soul….And so missions is driven by a passion not only to restore the glory of God to its rightful place in the worshiping soul but but also to rescue sinners from everlasting pain.”

The final chapter, probably the one that most enthralled me, deals with the nature of worship itself—what is this that we’re trying to propagate throughout the world? I’ll let him tell it himself, in abbreviated form:

Worship in the New Testament moved toward something radically simple and inward, with  manifold external expressions in life and liturgy.

The epistles of the New Testament contain very little instruction that deals explicitly with corporate worship—what we call worship services…. [Jesus] diverted attention away from worship as a localized activity with outward forms and pointed toward a personal, spiritual experience with himself at the center.

What makes worship worship is what happens “in spirit and truth”—with or without a place and with or without outward forms…. “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him” (Col. 3:17).  This is the essence of worship: to act in a way that reflects the heart’s valuing of the glory of God.

Upon re-reading this final chapter to refresh my memory of the particulars that made me so satisfied on finishing the book, despite its middling literary quality (I’ve never cared for Piper’s writing style), I realize again that it is this focus on worship and God’s glory that made the book so compelling a case for world missions.

I hope the four-part summary I’ve written doesn’t make you think you don’t have to read the book now. It’s not a “have-to” thing at all, obviously; but if you’re interested in missions, whether as a possible missionary or as part of a missions support network (i.e. a layperson), I strongly recommend at least reading the first three chapters and the final one. (There’s a conclusion that summarizes all the parts, if you want to skip the rest!) The slightly repetitive style can be borne if you concentrate on the substance of what he’s saying, and maybe read a little faster than you’re used to.

For what it’s worth, this is my take on his writing style: He’s a preacher, so he’s used to conveying a message through spoken word, which requires much more repetition than is necessary in writing. (See, I learned something in my speech and rhetoric classes!) My hypothesis is that he’s simply more used to speaking than writing, even at this late stage, and so falls into the old, repetitious habits. Give him a little grace for it.


Addendum especially for Mom: I know you were interested in how he dealt with the issue that in Calvinism only the “elect” are bound to end up in heaven, and nobody else can even ask to get there. (A simplification, but you know what I’m talking about.) I excerpt here, from p. 55, the only bit that addressed predestination:

There will always be people who argue that the doctrine of election makes missions unnecessary. But they are wrong. It does not make missions unnecessary; it makes missions hopeful. John Alexander, a former president of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, said in a message at Urbana ‘67, “At the beginning of my missionary career I said that if predestination were true I could not be a missionary. Now after twenty years of struggling with the hardness of the human heart, I say that I could never be a missionary unless I believed in the doctrine of predestination.” It gives hope that Christ most certainly has “other sheep” among the nations.

When Jesus says, “I must bring them also,” he does not mean that he will do it without missionaries. That’s plain from the fact that salvation comes through faith and faith comes through the word of his disciples. Jesus brings his sheep into the fold through the preaching of those whom he sends, just as the Father sent him. [emphasis original]

Aside from that, the book’s focus lies mainly as I’ve outlined, on getting God the most glory through bringing diverse peoples into Christian communion. Overall I thought the book was quite compelling even if one did not subscribe to Tulip theology.

Monday, November 07, 2011

John Piper’s book on missions (part 3)

The second of the three sections in John Piper’s book “Let The Nations Be Glad!” dealt with the necessity and nature of missions work, and to be honest this was where I got really bogged down in reading.

The necessity of missions, according to Piper, lies in the fact that people simply can’t be saved apart from belief in God as revealed through Christ in the Scriptures. And in the fact that the thing they’re getting saved from is eternal, conscious torment—no more, no less, no annihilation nor other escape available. Piper won’t have any of this salvation-through-general-revelation, wishy-washy watering down of the truths that by their existence implore us to get busy about evangelism and missions. (OK, so he didn’t actually say “wishy washy watering down of the truths,” but he may as well have done so!)

That chapter was mostly proving the truth, via demonstration in Scripture, of the preceding statements—theological and doctrinal paths I’ve walked before and wasn’t too keenly interested in reviewing. Yes, I believe it, and yes, it sure makes missions desperately important!—but I’d rather spend my energy reading something else, like, say, missionaries’ prayer letters….

Then there was the chapter discussing the question of whether the Great Commission’s mandate to evangelize “all nations” just means “as many people as possible” or “as many different ethnicities and tribal groups as possible”—whether the goal was number or variety. Piper goes for variety and diversity here. I don’t think I ever asked myself this question, of whether God means us simply to evangelize as many as possible (maximizing the results of our effort, shall we say) or to reach as many groups as possible, like different tribes speaking different languages, even though that might require more energy expended per convert. (Man, I sound like a mathematician here.) But I didn’t feel like I needed fifty pages of repetitive statements and Bible verses to help me answer that question.

I guess I’ve usually pictured the growth of missions as a bar graph, with different areas of the world simultaneously becoming more permeated with the gospel (like the bars measuring different things can all rise at the same time), than as a linear progression, where you have to reach so-many-converts in one country before you start evangelizing the next one (like a line going from the left side of the page to the right; it’s two-dimensional). Intuitively I think you spread out the work as far as possible, to the ends of the earth; I didn’t need Piper to tell me that. But that’s just me, and I’m sure there are many who would be interested in the in-depth discussion of the meaning of “all nations.” (Complete with Greek word studies, cross-checking with other words of similar meanings, and comparisons with words that mean “tribes” and “families” and “households”… yes, he does take it very far.)

I had to force myself to sit through those chapters, but once through, I got to the final piece of the book and was reluctant to put it down when bedtime came. I’ll summarize that piece in the final part of this rundown.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

John Piper’s book on missions (part 2)

So. After that thrilling first chapter relating missions and worship, Piper followed with two more chapters relating missions to prayer and suffering, respectively.

The gist of the prayer chapter is this: “Life is war, so prayer’s for all-out fighting, not making a nice living room more comfortable.” (That’s a paraphrase, by the way.) Piper likens prayer to a walkie-talkie between the front lines and central command, meant to keep those essential supplies and reinforcements coming. (Again, there’s a multi-page set of Bible quotations, this time illustrating all the things the disciples prayed for… healing, boldness, unity, discernment, and I could go on.) Seeking God for everything, he says, gives God that much glory—and we’re back to the whole point of a Christian’s life, glorifying God. So missions cannot exist without prayer; that’s the way God set it up to work, apparently.

The feeling of being in a war, with huge stakes, and with prayer as the walkie-talkie for supplies and reinforcement, makes sense with what I’ve been reading lately in the New Testament. I’m halfway through Acts in particular, and the way the church got straight down to business, with all its might, struck me as the very attitude that we ourselves need to take towards missions. And the zeal with which they prayed! I can’t imagine what it would be like to be up all night, literally, on my knees and concentrated on one single request for God to answer. (Just goes to show how much room I have to grow, I suppose.)

The final chapter in the first section of the book, as I said, related missions to suffering. Without listing every one of the six reasons he delves into regarding why God allows—nay, appoints—suffering in the lives of his most devoted workers, I will quote briefly:

The process through which he [Jesus] grew in deeper and deeper obedience was the process of suffering…. God knocked the props of life out from under Paul’s so that he would have no choice but to fall on God and receive his hope from the promise of the resurrection. This is the first purpose of missionary suffering: to wean us from the world and set our hope fully in God alone.

Suffering is finally to show the supremacy of God…. Christ’s power was Paul’s only power when his sufferings brought him to the end of his resources and cast him wholly on Jesus. This was God’s purpose in Paul’s thorn, and it is his purpose in all our suffering. God means for us to rely wholly on him.

And you see, yet again we return to the prevailing theme of the book: missions, growing out of worship, aims primarily to glorify God.

I’ll summarize the second section (of three) in the next installment, then in a fourth and final post, I plan to wrap this up with a summary of the last two chapters.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Compendium of Links #17

Yeah. I don’t get online all that much (except if I’m at work—maybe someday I’ll compile a work-links compendium). But real life is more rewarding: hitting the 8,000-word mark for NaNoWriMo last night; listening to the sports editor try to stuff as many Tootsie Rolls as possible into his mouth; walking down Main Street (or rather, the local equivalent) on a sunny November afternoon; talking to the pastor over the back fence.

Dr. Randy Carlson, radio speaker and author of The Power of One Thing, has a website devoted to teaching people how to achieve their goals, and the neat thing is that it’s Biblically based. I heard about him and the book via a Boundless podcast and he sounded like he was right on target, though the cheesy language on the website made me giggle a bit.

Speaking of Boundless, they had a post on what to do (and what not to do) on a blind date. Because meetings through mutual friends still surpass online dating as the number one way that couples meet.

Child sacrifice is a bustling business in Uganda. (Via Gene Veith, I think.) And I had no idea until a couple days ago:

Schoolchildren are closely watched by teachers and parents as they make their way home from school. In playgrounds and on the roadside are posters warning of the danger of abduction by witch doctors for the purpose of child sacrifice.

The ritual, which some believe brings wealth and good health, was almost unheard of in the country until about three years ago, but it has re-emerged, seemingly alongside a boom in the country's economy.

The mutilated bodies of children have been discovered at roadsides, the victims of an apparently growing belief in the power of human sacrifice.

The world’s most popular books, compiled into a top-100 list! I’ve read several of these and enjoyed them. Maybe I’ll pick up a few of the ones I haven’t read. One of these days I really will read Rebecca. Same goes for Cien Años de Soledad (One Hundred Years of Solitude).

The Atlantic magazine reports that bullying might be better stopped by teaching the victims healthy resistance behaviors:

Though it wasn't astounding to find out that half of the children reported being the object of taunts, gossip, or intimidation, how they reacted to their harassers was. The key to anticipating victims' responses, it turns out, is to figure out their motivations for interacting with their peers in the first place. That is, kids who wanted to be popular and feel superior tended to retaliate impulsively. Those who wanted to appear cool by avoiding criticisms were more likely to pretend like nothing happened. And those who were genuinely interested in fostering friendships tended to react in healthful, positive ways. They asked their teacher for advice, sought emotional support, and found means to solve the tension with those who harassed them.

And for your listening pleasure: the talented Annie Moses Band. They are summarily added to my Christmas wish list.

If I were at my apartment instead of the library, I would set this on “repeat” and dance around behind the privacy of the curtains!!

John Piper’s book on missions (part 1)

As promised, I tracked down “Let The Nations Be Glad!” by John Piper, read it, thought (preliminarily) about it, and am here to convey a rundown of the book. This post will be dedicated solely to the first chapter, that being one of the three that most stuck in my mind.

Sure enough, his statement that “missions exists because worship doesn’t” appears on the very first page of the very first chapter! (It’s the third sentence of the book.) So, he says, “worship is the fuel and goal of missions”: goal because, well, what’s better than worshiping God? And fuel, because as Piper writes, “you can’t commend what you don’t cherish”—so a Christian has to worship God with his life before he can convey that passion to others (the unreached).

The bulk of that first chapter is spent fleshing out what it means to make worship the central goal of all of life, and why in the world God would be so selfish as to ask that every soul in the world spend its energy glorifying God. (Trust me, it’s the best thing that could happen to you. Piper agrees with me, or rather I with him.) I know many people would struggle with the idea that the whole purpose of man is to glorify God and with the idea that it’s not wrong of God to seek his own glory all the time, but it’s something I’ve already understood for several years, so I’ll skip over most of the explaining he does there. I did appreciate, however, the five solid pages filled only with quotes from the Bible illustrating God’s focus on doing things “for My [that would be his] name’s sake.”

At the end of that first chapter, Piper writes about something I’ve rather wondered about for some time: how one cultivates a “love for the lost.” You see, I never did get that idea—what is it, that someone feels toward a nebulous concept such as “the lost”? Piper quotes a YWAM leader:

….Many believers search their hearts in condemnation, looking for the arrival of some feeling of benevolence that will propel them into bold evangelism. It will never happen. It is impossible to love “the lost.” You can’t feel deeply for an abstraction or a concept….

Piper adds his own caveat to that, but it is encouraging to know that I’m not the only person who doesn’t generally feel warm fuzzies toward a lot of faceless entities. Not that I don’t believe strongly that unreached people need to hear the Gospel—far from it. Just, I don’t get the feelings sometimes associated with the words “love for the lost.” It’s more a decision than an emotion, for me at least.

Next up: notes on the next couple of chapters regarding the supremacy of God in missions through prayer and suffering. Heady stuff.

A song for the kitchen

Upon perceiving a full sink:

I hate dishes, yes I do!

I hate dishes, what say you?

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

NaNoWriMo

Just like tearing petals off a daisy, I have asked myself whether to participate in National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) or to forego it this year. If I participate, I’ll feel obligated to write 2,000 words a day. If I don’t, I’ll kick myself for not trying.

Oh, why not? Onward with the novel-writing challenge! It’s not like it’s a big deal if I don’t write the 50,000 words by November 30.

And after all, if I write more than I ponder, I could get an easy 2,000 words in a couple hours. 2,000*(30-5)=50,000, assuming the Thanksgiving holiday and one day a week are all that I spend not writing. This just means I won’t watch any movies for the next thirty days. (Also that I might take one of my extra vacation days just to spend on housework and such that I’m sure to put off in favor of writing….)

Therefore, in honor of my second year participating in NaNoWriMo and with every hope of finishing again: I do declare that I have an excellent reason to slack off on blogging, e-mailing, Facebooking, movie-watching, book-reading and all other forms of cultural or social engagement, with the exception of work-related duties and Thanksgiving, until December 1!

Life on my own #16: Wax on, wax off

My dad has bugged me twice about winter’s onset and the necessity of waxing my car before its arrival. I responded both times: “I’m getting there. I have to wash it first, though, and ______ meeting/event is happing so I can’t wash it immediately.” Or something along those lines.

Finally, the weather and my work schedule cooperated for a favorable car-care day last week! I spent my mid-day break filling up the gas tank, inflating my tires to the proper pressure (a Boston road trip really takes it out of them), and purchasing a few things to wash the car. I didn’t even have a sponge anywhere in my apartment… but now I do! A big honkin’ one that’s practically the size of my arm!

I have never seen liquid wax before, though.

The wax I found at the dollar store was the same brand as I was used to, but came in a bottle, not a round green tub that resembled an oversized tuna can. I purchased the strange item anyway. Couldn’t hurt.

Between getting off work and covering the opening of a new wing in the local hospital, I took my new gigantic sponge and a bucket of nice warm soapy water and washed the car hood.

Then I had to go to that evening ribbon-cutting, where I met a nice endovascular (I think…) doctor who tried to explain to me the process by which he relieves certain types of chronic back pain. However, he speaks hospital-speak and I speak newspaper-speak. Have you ever tried to explain a rather technical subject, one you deal with daily, to a completely ignorant person whose technical jargon is entirely different from your own? You have? You and this poor doctor should commiserate. I don’t think I understood one sentence in ten that he said.

I returned to my simple task of car-washing after that befuddling encounter. Armed with gargantuan sponge, refilled water bucket, and kettle filled with non-soapy water for rinsing, I set to work, and soon had the car washed up. Even the top—that was no easy task, but fortunately the car’s small enough that I can reach across half the top if I stand in one of the doorjambs. (Doorjambs? Is that what you call it in a car?) Unfortunately, I also had car dripping all the water (soapy and non-soapy) onto the gravel driveway, creating a serviceable moat.

I toweled off some of the surfaces that were still wet, then retrieved this strange-looking bottled wax I’d purchased. It wasn’t even a green bottle! And it certainly didn’t look like a jumbo tuna tin.

Yet I was unfazed (or, only partly fazed). Pour a little onto the wax sponge-thing, rub the car in circles, add more wax when it looked like it  needed more—actually it wasn’t hard to use the liquid wax. Except that I kept dropping the wax applicator into the very muddy driveway. It rolled under the car once, too, requiring me to do my best to kneel onto the only patch that wasn’t covered in an inch of mud. It wasn’t covered in mud only because it was rather thick, raised gravel, thus inflicting a bit of pain onto my patella.

At least I hope that was my patella. Otherwise, I’ve forgotten everything I learned in anatomy five years ago. It’s a definite possibility. (How’s that for an illogical cliché?)

The neighbors, who also happen to be my pastor and his wife, came out to their back yard as I was half-finished with the waxing job, so I paused to chat over the fence. It’s a short picket fence, so I can see their faces, unlike the fence in Home Improvement. “Wow,” my pastor said. “You don’t see a girl waxing her own car very often.”

Well who waxes their cars, then, is what I want to know!

At the beginning of November

I can hardly believe I’ve spent two and a half months… make that four months… in my apartment, and have been working at the paper for nearly four… rather, over five months. It doesn’t seem like it’s been nearly that long.

I suppose that’s what adulthood feels like—the days smush into each other, the weeks blur together and the months pass before you know it.

Case in point: When I wrote those two paragraphs, I had titled this post “Halfway through September.” And it’s already November 1st.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Compendium of Links #16

This week I had a bunch of evening events to cover that were not meetings. Go figure! Well, one of them was a meeting, but it was on the same evening as two other non-meeting-events, so I still count that evening as a weird one.

Nathan Busenitz (whoever he is) talks about the “I Can Do All Things” verse that everyone quotes (and that I wrote on my college graduation cap). Contrary to how most people take it, it’s about contentment. And I would certainly not change my decision to write it on my grad cap even after reading this:

Out of context, Philippians 4:13 is used as a blank-check promise for whatever is desired. But in context, it is a verse is about contentment. It’s not about your dreams coming true or your goals being met. Rather it’s about being joyful, satisfied, and steadfast even when life is hard and your circumstances seem impossible. [all emphasis original]

The BBC reports that an independent study (funded by interests whose goal is to discredit assertions that man’s actions are causing the earth to warm) has confirmed that the earth is warming. More research to come on ocean temperatures “in order to construct a truly global dataset.” (HT: Gene Veith)

Jon Acuff over at StuffChristiansLike (yes it’s a parody blog takeoff of another parody blog) made this observation staring at a WalMart magazine rack:

The promises that the front cover of men’s magazines make were eerily similar to the promises that the back cover of Christian books make. So I thought it might be fun to play a little guessing game and see if you can figure out which is which.

Play the guessing game over at his blog.

I had never heard of a bamboo bike before last Sunday night, but apparently they’re cheaper to make than aluminum ones. They might provide more affordable transportation to poor Africans, too. So I googled “bamboo bike” and came up with a website for The Bamboo Bike Project, but it hasn’t been updated in what looks like quite a while.

And this week’s video is purely for its audio:

I’ve been stuck on an America (band) kick for the last week and a half. “Tin Man” and “Sandman” are another couple I enjoy.

Life on my own #15: Crock-pot chicken

You know what living by myself means? I can make supper at whatever time I feel like. A very bachelor(ette)-esque thing to say, I know, but when I’m trying to work around a crazy journalistic schedule it’s something I’m highly grateful for!

Another great supper-related perk is that I can make whatever I want. Even if it’s an experimental dish….

A few days ago I decided to try out my new(-to-me) crock pot (or slow cooker, for the brand-conscious among us). In order to do this, I opened up my fancy-schmancy new (really, new, this time) crock pot recipe book. It’s chock-full of taste-tested recipes and one of them caught my eye: Chicken with Applesauce.

Reason 1: It’s chicken.

Reason 2: It’s applesauce.

Reason 3: It has very few other ingredients.

Reason 4: It’s chicken. (This cannot be stressed enough.)

Therefore, I spent most of my lunch break that day preparing the recipe—browning the chicken, slicing it up into smaller pieces, and dumping together the applesauce, barbecue sauce, and… well there were other things that went into it, but obviously they weren’t that important. And I turned the crock pot on and left, confident that a delicious rice-topper would await me upon my return from work in the evening.

I told the sports editor I was planning to eat chicken with applesauce and he said I could keep it. Well, I  thought it sounded like a nice combination. *shrug*

Once I got home from work (or rather, from the bulk of the workday), I checked it—the chicken smelled wonderful and just a little stuff had stuck to the sides of the crock pot (easily removed in cleaning, no doubt).

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The appearance was a little odd—but in my experience, anything made to go on top of rice is like that; and besides, I’m used to eating weird-looking things. (It comes with having traveled to foreign countries.) At any rate, after inspecting the chicken I embarked upon the second experimental food adventure of the day: making rice.

You must realize, my poor mother has never learned the secret to making rice on the stove without it all sticking to the bottom of the pan. She always makes it in the microwave, setting it at whatever partial percentage the microwave cookbook prescribes and letting the rice puff up that way.

Me, I have a microwave that has two settings: on, and off. Not exactly conducive to cooking rice.

So I looked at the back of the rice bag and figured I would just try it on the stove to see what happened. If worse came to worse, I’d still have at least some rice to eat, I figured, and soaking a pan in water for a few hours does wonders for sticky food. (I know this by experience. Eggs and potatoes stick really bad and so do some cheese dishes. Oh, and burned hamburger and burned pancakes and… well just about anything burned.)

Water, butter and rice were dumped into a small saucepan and cooked exactly according to the directions on the rice bag, and what do you know?

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Nothing stuck. In fact, the rice was pretty tasty and only a teensy bit soggy (well maybe not soggy, but a little over-moist would be more accurate). I haven’t yet solved this mystery. But it was convenient not to have to soak the saucepan.

And the resulting 7 p.m. meal was quite satisfactory!

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Sunday, October 23, 2011

Keats on sharing nature

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O Solitude! if I must with thee dwell,
Let it not be among the jumbled heap
Of murky buildings; climb with me the steep--
Nature’s observatory—whence the dell,
Its flowery slopes, its river’s crystal swell,
May seem a span; let me thy vigils keep
’Mongst boughs pavilioned, where the deer’s swift leap
Startles the wild bee from the foxglove bell.
But though I’ll gladly trace these scenes with thee,
Yet the sweet converse of an innocent mind,
Whose words are images of thoughts refined,
Is my soul’s pleasure; and it sure must be
Almost the highest bliss of humankind
When to thy haunts two kindred spirits flee.

—John Keats’ first published poem

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Compendium of Links #15

This week, I spent a lot of time on vacation… in Boston. You’ve read about it already, I’m sure, but I had to prevace this installment of the Compendia with that note because it explains why I’ve spent very, very little time browsing the Internet. Now for your feature presentation….

An acquaintance from college is nearly finished with the Mystery Can Game. Read that linked post for the introduction, then follow his progress from his homepage.

Kate Bolick, writing for The Atlantic (only one of my favorite magazines), thinks American society is moving beyond the ideal of traditional marriage. While I may not agree with her conclusion, the sociological observations she makes are intriguing. (Maybe off, too, but fun to read nevertheless.) In particular, I enjoyed the connections she made between the feminist ideology, the post-Boomer focus on emotional fulfillment, and the dearth of marriageable young males.

We’re just crybabies in the Westexactly what I was telling my friends last weekend! Think about it—if you own a car you are one of the richest seven percent of people in the world. Please don’t tell me how unfortunate you are because capitalism has ruined your life.

The irony? The financial districts of Beijing, Mumbai and Nairobi, last time I checked, aren’t teeming with people yearning for the downfall of capitalism. Indeed, an attempt to launch Occupy Mumbai this week fizzled and died. That’s because, to most Indians, capitalism means investment and the possibility of a better job.

No video for y’all this week, but I’m sure you have your own videos you can send me….. Smile

The autumn woods

About six miles from my apartment, there’s a nature preserve, nearly all wooded.

At night it could be freaky, but I find it fascinating. I said as much at a night hike that the local parks district held late last month.

Just imagine—at night, the spiders are spinning, the crickets are chirping and the slugs… well, the slugs are doing whatever they do, I suppose. Sitting there and eating mushrooms. No joke, we found a bunch of slugs chowing down on some odd fungal growths on a log. Big critters too—the mushrooms must have been good for them.

But the spiders—at night you shine your flashlight to the right and to the left as you slowly traverse the paths, and suddenly a thread of silk catches the light. Keep your beam shining upon it and you begin to see the entire web, in whatever shape the spider has found to fit the niche where it has made its home. Some of the webs are smaller than others. Most surprisingly, nearly all the spiders are themselves tiny, some of them too small to see more than three feet away.

Some of the spiders don’t really spin webs at all—what they make are more like nets, more or less, sometimes pulling leaves together to make a miniature hideaway. Those spiders’ nets remind me of the clumps of hair and dust that I’m forever sweeping from my floors.

My favorite spider is a kind of orb-weaver, one that reminds me of a Roman soldier every time I see it. Don’t ask me why—I haven’t a clue. But this spider has a rather pyramidal, sort of spiny abdomen, and it’s always right there on its web, standing like a sentry. I imagine that if it really were a sentry, it would use its abdomen like a bludgeon.

There are more normal-looking spiders, too—brownish ones and nearly albino ones, mostly. And like I said, almost all of them are tiny, small enough that you feel as if you would frighten them rather than the other way around. They’re hardly the size of an ant.

Besides the spiders, there was a lot of fungus growing in the woods. Mushrooms of various types—including one that felt to me like a marshmallow—littered the ground and nearly covered the dead wood we found occasionally. And there was that one bunch of slugs eating away at the insides of some mushrooms. That was weird.

Shelf fungus grew too, mostly on the dead wood. Have you ever picked a mushroom and smelled it? A wild mushroom, that is, not the kind you get at the grocery store. The scent of a wild mushroom somehow feels jarring in the midst of a nighttime stroll through the forest.

Of course, when I went, the scent of rain mingled with the mushroom I held to my nose.

The sound of birds, crickets and squirrels completed the enchantment of the nature preserve. It didn’t matter much that one could still hear the highway not far from the wood; to have it almost drowned out by the tsking, chirping, and clicking sounds made by the nocturnal animals was… glorious.

That’s the only word I can find that properly describes the experience. It is here that I find the most vivid illustration of the glory emanating from God himself.

And it’s back to work

The only bad thing about vacations is that they end!

After my wonderful trip to visit my college roomie, now going to grad school in Boston, I had one day to recover—thanks to long experience telling me I wouldn’t be either rested or prepared to go back to work immediately. I spent Wednesday sleeping, doing laundry, and generally taking it easy in order to be refreshed for the short workweek ahead. (Yes, very short.)

Then came Thursday. It came early, too, beginning with a 7:30 a.m. meeting I had to cover. Such is the life of a reporter; my time, though flexible, is partly ruled by the meeting schedules of various governmental bodies. I barely dragged myself out of bed, still groggy from losing sleep over the entire extended weekend, and got to the morning meeting of the county park district.

Doesn’t sound too enthralling, right? Actually it’s better than it sounds. It’s a good thing for the park district that their meetings are down-to-earth but not meandering! I look forward to covering these people, since they’re no-nonsense with the business agenda but they still crack jokes as they see fit. Plus, these are the types of people that I get along with—nerdy and outdoorsy. (They get excited over owl tagging and random salamanders found in Target foodstuff crates. Not exaggerating here.)

It might help that they like me at the moment—I ventured onto their 32-mile bikeway a few weeks ago and wrote about it for the paper.

A little coffee and the humor at this meeting put me in a good mood for the rest of the morning, until I could go home for an extended lunch break (read: naptime). Then this afternoon, among other things, I had the chance to ride in a crane—a very, very large crane, at which the eye level from the driver’s seat was about forty feet up in the air. Beware, those who are afraid of heights.

I definitely had no idea this morning that I’d be riding in a crane this afternoon. But that’s the fun of reporting. No two days are alike. I wouldn’t want them to be, either.

Can you tell I love my job?

Life on my own #14: Photography in Boston

One of the many perks of being young and carefree: I can go pretty much… anywhere.

That is, anywhere I can afford. But to be honest, most people have concerns other than financial that keep them in one place for most of their time. Me, all I have to worry about is if I have extra bucks in the budget and extra vacation time to use.

I had some of both—and a very dear friend living about twelve hours away—so I took along a college chum and we drove to Boston from Ohio, stopping at my chum’s house on the way there (and back) for sleep. We had a glorious time visiting my college roommate. And to top off the wonderful vacation, my roomie took me to see the sights…

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Quincy Market at Faneuil Hall.

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Harbor.... :)

Fun with black-and-white photography at Copp's Burying Ground.

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And por supuesto, there are many more photographs, but that was a brief selection from our early wanderings. Besides sightseeing, we held a crazy hair and make-up party in order to record video of ourselves doing very silly things—all that in honor of another dear friend who is currently teaching English overseas at an international school. (The gist of the six-minute video was, “we miss you!”)

That videotaping was probably my favorite old-friends moment of the trip. But there were many other fun times—like the random photo shoot we held near the harbor, in an attempt to capture the perfect image for my chum’s senior recital posters.

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It’s now her Facebook profile picture as well.

Thank heaven this wasn’t going to be my only foreseeable chance to visit Boston—there were so many other things we wanted to see and do, and only about forty-eight hours in which we crammed what we could. Even so we managed to hit the high points of the Freedom Trail, a few scenic stops, Harvard and the Boston Public Library.

Had you asked me a few years ago what I thought of road trips, I would have denied that I would ever venture on one—I hated driving. And I still don’t handle very long periods of it too well (though I did manage about five hours last Friday night!). But you know what? Some things are worth a little sacrifice of comfort!

Trips to Boston included.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Missions in the context of worship

“Missions exists because worship doesn’t.” –John Piper

This week is missions conference at my newly adopted church. The featured missionary in yesterday’s morning service started by saying that the reason for missions couldn’t be as superficial as “Jesus said so in the Great Commission.”

(And at a Christian and Missionary Alliance church as missions/Commission-focused as mine have been, that’s a weighty declaration.)

Sure, he said, it was a command Jesus gave, but that couldn’t be the only basis for such a large-scale project. This missionary to Kosovo had wondered about the real reason for missions, the reason behind the mandate, even as early as his first months in college.

But—what was the answer? It begins with this: Jesus calls us to be missionaries, each in his own way, for one purpose: To bring more people into the knowledge of God, to make them his worshippers.

The purpose of all of life, reiterated the missionary, was to worship God, to give him glory in everything we do. Worship, then, is paramount; it’s the only thing that can truly fulfill us. (Shades of a Shorter Catechism there.) But for so many people around the world—as our acclimated Kosovar said, about two billion people—that everlasting, complete fulfillment in worship is elusive, not even possible without the aid of someone to teach them about it. They cannot worship. Therefore, the temporary work we call missions was established—temporary in that at some point it will cease to matter at all, once the entire world knows the Gospel and the end of the age comes. Its only aim is to bring more people into the band of worshippers.

It is a means to an end and that end is approaching. When the end arrives, the means will no longer be needed.

We don’t become missionaries for the sake of missions itself, or even for the sake of the Great Commission.… We become missionaries because there are whole nations in which the worship of God is never, ever practiced. Missions exists because worship doesn’t.


I can’t describe how deeply that concept imprinted itself onto my soul. I suppose it’s one of those things that one knows but does not realize until it’s pointed out by someone wiser—that relation of missions to worship (and the supremacy of worship in just about everything, the other thing I’ve been learning over the last few years).

It may also have been because I’ve already been meditating on certain aspects of the nature of worship for the last week or two. (And when I say meditating, I mean I couldn’t get it out of my head every spare moment. That counts, right?) It amazed me how thoroughly the morning’s message dovetailed with the main subject of my devotions lately. Maybe it shouldn’t surprise me, but it did, and it gave me a reason for praise.

At any rate. After quoting Piper’s pithy statement, the missionary followed it with a longer quote from him, a much more succinct explanation of that phrase than I could hope to write. I wish I knew what the quote was from. I do know that Piper wrote a book about missions called “Let the Nations be Glad!” that I have wanted to read. Mom lent me her copy this week; I’ll read it and report the gist of it.

Life on my own #13: Lost keys

A common misconception among the general public is that losing your keys is a subtle sign of dementia.

It has to be the other way around—at least in my experience, it’s the lost keys that cause the dementia!

Back at my parents’ house, there’s a message board hanging in the foyer of the house. Its importance lies not in the irrelevant shopping receipts and smudges attached to it, but in the four hooks at the bottom edge, from which all the house and car keys hang. Those hooks have prevented many a headache.

At my little apartment, I have no such message board and certainly no such hooks. I really shouldn’t need them, should I? Young as I am, with no one else in the house to “move my cheese,” my keys are always right where I left them.

In theory, that’s a perfect solution to the problem of lost keys. In practice, that’s as relevant as a pink buffalo. (Come on, when was a pink buffalo ever relevant to anything?)

Many mornings, I’ve awakened rubbing my eyes and racking my brain for where I left the keys the night before. On the dining room table? That’s a negative, but only after moving all the mass mailings, books and other miscellany that litters the table. Maybe they’re on the dresser… hidden among the jewelry, pocket litter and coins that obscure the wooden surface.

This is a small apartment. Finding my keys shouldn’t be this hard. They aren’t on the couch… are they? (Aha! There we are!)

And so I trot happily to work, keys in pocket or in purse where they stay nearly all day. At work I’m more organized and never lose my keys. I just leave them sitting on my desk as I walk out the door, that’s all. Once I had to return three times to my desk to get everything, including that pesky set of keys.

As if that weren’t enough, the changing weather complicates the situation even further.

Have you ever counted how many pockets are on your person when it’s cold outside? Me, I usually have six or eight. Two or four pants pockets; a couple more pockets in my blazer; and another pair in my coat. To compound the issue, I usually have an extra coat at work in case the weather turns colder mid-day. Who can tell which coat I wore last?

That’s six or eight more places to lose my keys!

And it’s embarrassing when you’ve lost your keys on your own self. Can you hear that jingle? They must be in this pocket… no, wait, maybe this one…

Once I sat in my car for at least half a minute picking through my four pockets and my purse, looking for that darn set of keys. After a nature hike, no less. I checked the ignition—not there. I even thought heard them jingling as I shifted in the seat. But they weren’t in any of my pockets. What, did I lose them in the woods? I can’t possibly find them after an hour of hiking! What am I going to do??

…Oh, right. Under my coat, I’m wearing a hoodie. With two more pockets. The proper procedure in this instance is to smack one’s forehead, exclaim “that’s where they are!” and drive off with all haste.

Note to self: Don’t go on nature hikes unless it’s eighty degrees out. It’s not worth the mental health risk.

Compendium of Links #14 (Question edition)

This week I realized that half the random links I view are actually e-mailed to me by my editor. Who knows where she finds these things, but they’re oddities for sure. Like the first one…

What would you do for five bucks? Would you do a video while speed drawing any funny character with a personalized message in the speech bubble? Would you send me five origami dresses? Would you crochet a small octopus? I am not making any of these up…

But the real question is: Would you cheat on a test? An infographic from Wired Academic says most young people would. (Via @PaulGlader)

Another good question: Does information really want to be free? Well, you could call it getting a free ride—and it just might ruin the very information (and music, or video, or whatever) it seeks to transmit. Or so says Robert Levine in The (U.K.) Observer, and he makes a good case for it:

Technology executives aren't exactly shedding tears for companies such as EMI, saying they just can't compete online. But much of the competition EMI are up against isn't the kind to encourage, because it won't lead to better products. The Pirate Bay never tried to release better music than EMI – it just distributed the same music in a way that didn't provide any compensation for its creators. Similarly, the Huffington Post doesn't compete with other newspapers for stories – it just summarises news other papers have already reported. Legally or not, the companies essentially outsource their costs. In economic terms, they're getting a "free ride".

Know a victim of sexual assault? Here’s what to say and what not to say.

My last question, I promise: Are you a textrovert? That is, an introvert who suddenly becomes extroverted—but only when venturing online, like on Facebook or chat rooms or whatever next-generation website is the fad. I’m not so sure I am, or at least, I’m not anymore as much as I used to be… I don’t think.

I promise, this video is not about questions. But it’s absolutely hilarious—a sort-of deleted scene from one of my favorite TV shows (which I am watching entirely via.

This is my kind of humor. Get it or die.