My Friends Make Stuff: Unbound by Jann Treadwell

060002I have an embarrassing confession to make—well, embarrassing for a pastor:

I’ve never been on a mission trip. 

I’ve visited other countries for learning and cross-cultural work, and I’ve done mission projects in my own community, and I even planned a mission trip when I was a youth director, but I went to seminary before the trip took place. When I got ordained, I was busy having babies, so the month-long trip to Kenya sponsored by the church I used to serve wasn’t feasible. I wasn’t involved in the church as a teenager so I missed the boat then too.

Jann Treadwell is a retired certified Christian educator and was the Association of Presbyterian Church Educators’ 2010 educator of the year. Her book is Unbound: The Transformative Power of Youth Mission Trips, and it is both theological and practical.

Jann weaves together the “why” of mission trips (what makes them powerful and transformative) with personal stories and lots of nuts-and-bolts stuff as well. As someone on the outside look in on this whole experience, these stories are inspiring.

The appendix, full of release forms, suggested bible studies, and chore charts would be invaluable to someone planning a trip for young people that isn’t just feel-good tourism but something deeper. Is that you? If so, give this resource a look.

I Don’t Believe in Soul Mates

Look what we did!

Look what we did!

Happy 20th Anniversary to me and my favorite person*!

It feels both bizarre, and the exact opposite of bizarre, to have reached this milestone. Being married to one another is just what we do, is all. There are all kinds of books and articles about how to have a happy marriage—I’m not inclined to add to their number, even if I felt I had some wisdom to offer, which I don’t. Because I’ve got to be honest. Marriage is a crap shoot. You hope you have some enduring compatibility and you work at it and you let a lot of stuff go, and still there’s all this stuff that acts upon you that you don’t have a lot of control over. Financial hardship can be a huge stressor. Health crises can put couples to the test. Family support is invaluable.

The presence or absence of those things does not mean a marriage’s success or demise. But we don’t do this work in a vacuum. And Robert and I have been very lucky.

Check out this interesting post that correlates divorce rates to a whole host of factors. Did you know that the more people spend on their weddings, the more likely they are to divorce? And the more people who attended your wedding, the more stable your marriage is likely to be?

I am a fan of John Gottman’s work about making marriages work, and give his books to couples I’m counseling before marriage. Aside from that, anything I could say about marriage would be A Guide To Being Married to Robert Dana, and that’s just not going to be very useful to you.

Instead, if you’ll indulge me, I wrote this a long time ago, and I post it in honor of the day.

i don’t believe in
soul mates,
The One,
you complete me,
i’ve been waiting for a girl like you,
a feeling deep in your soul says you were half now you’re whole.

but i did have a dream once:
i stood outside my childhood home
and a party buzzed and clattered within.
and my guide (faceless person)
said my soul mate was inside.
i wandered slowly,
scrutinizing each face:
is it you?
hmm… no.
let’s see. no.
maybe? no.
oh, no! no!

at first, i was unhurried;
later, i grew troubled:
the crowd had thinned,
maybe he’d left,
while i was wasting my time
with my who’s who
of what-might-have-beens-and-thankfully-weren’t.

in the last room
he turned,
you turned,
and smiled,
plaid shirt and jeans.
(where are your glasses?)
and the great thing about dreams is,
you get to be surprised
by the predictable.

i woke up, and the dream,
everything,
vaporized; i was bereft,
but a miracle happened–
you didn’t disappear.

i don’t believe in soul mates.

i believe in
choices, experiences,
quiet over breakfast,
a hello at the end of the day,
the heaven in ordinary things,

and this dream.

~

*That’s a reference to Jake Armerding‘s song, “Favorite Person,” which I’ve been humming all day. “When we all stand as one, when they’re playing Mendelssohn, when we’re rich, when we’re poor, when we are forevermore… you’re my favorite person in this world.”

This Video Will Convince You To Put Down Your Phone… Or Should You?

This video made the rounds recently on Facebook (ironically enough).

I’ll admit, I found the video convicting. I think technology-free zones—what Sherry Turkle calls “Sacred Spaces”—are very important. The dinner table. The carpool line at school. Our loved ones should not have to fight to get our attention in these and similar places.

There’s evidence that the mere presence of a cell phone can degrade the quality of conversation, even when that phone is not being used. And frequent cell phone use has been correlated with more selfish behavior.

But. And this is a big BUT:

I’m pretty tired of the preachiness around technology. The news is not all bad! My smartphone is a powerful tool that helps me organize and manage a very complicated life. If you walk by Robert and me in a restaurant and one of us is on a cell phone, it’s probably because we got a text from the babysitter, or we’re checking movie listings. Save all your tut-tutting, please.

And as for all these so-called zombies looking down at their “idiot machines,” unless you’re playing Candy Crush or watching Netflix, chances are good there’s a human being on the other side of that screen. Are those relationships unimportant because the person happens to be living somewhere else? Tell that to family members who rely on Skype or FaceTime to connect with one another.

Remember the Little House books? The Ingalls family left the Big Woods of Wisconsin and saw the rest of their family… like, never again. Do we really want to go back to that for the sake of some kind of technological purity?

For the next few days I’ll be with a group of pastors, Christian educators, and other church leaders at Austin Seminary exploring “spirituality in the smartphone age.” My hope is that together we’ll start constructing a theology for our digital culture that is embodied yet connective, realistic yet hopeful, and most of all, helpful to people trying to navigate this world we now occupy.

This technology is here to stay. We need to be wise as serpents and gentle as doves about it. That requires more nuance than you’ll get in a viral video, no matter how gripping it is.

Stay tuned.

“Will You Kiss the Leper Clean?” — On Ebola and Our ‘Tribes’

medium_15122301850

President Bartlet: Why is a Kundunese life worth less to me than an American life?
Will Bailey: I don’t know, sir, but it is.

-The West Wing, season 4 episode 14, “Inauguration, Part 1″

Yesterday I attended a workshop led by Brian McLaren, author of Why Did Jesus, Moses, the Buddha, and Mohammed Cross the Road?*: Christian Identity in a Multi‐Faith World.

McLaren likes to mix things up in his work, blending Bible, theology, history and anthropology. He talked about our evolutionary history as a species—a story of expansion and migration from the southern part of Africa to all of the world’s major land masses in about 130,000 years. What allowed this expansion to happen? Our identity as tribal beings, McLaren argues. We cohere into groups. We put on our “tribal paint.” Sometimes that’s literal identifying marks—gang signs? hipster glasses? tricorn hats and NRA t-shirts? Sometimes it’s a religious or political doctrine to define who’s in and out.

And we band together against common enemies and threats. “When people feel that a group they value — be it racial, religious, regional or ideological — is under attack, they rally to its defense, even at some cost to themselves,” he said, quoting this article by Jonathan Haidt in the New York Times, called “Forget the Money, Follow the Sacredness.”

There’s evidence that this tribalism is hard-wired. Young children naturally gravitate to people who are like them, racially and socially.

Jesus, by contrast, breaks down this tribal identity in the gospels, constantly lifting up the dignity of those on the margins and outside of the club. It’s interesting to relate this posture of Jesus to the idea of his being “without sin,” or fully divine as well as fully human. Is there something about our tribal, with-us-or-against-us mentality that is fundamentally flawed, even sinful?

Sure, it’s the evolutionary mechanism by which we expanded and thrived as a species. But now a new evolutionary shift is necessary—because our tribe is the whole human race. Globalism means that what impacts people across the world will inevitably affect us here, sooner or later. Just look at climate change. Yes, more vulnerable populations will feel those effects sooner than more affluent ones. But we will all be affected, no matter what our tribe.

Or take Ebola. This past summer, when the death toll was confined to West Africa, I heard lots of genuine concern and sadness expressed… often followed by the sotto voce comment: “I just hope it doesn’t come here.”

Well, Ebola is on our shores now. How could it not be thus? As David Wilcox sings, “There is no more far away.” We may still have our tribes, but these tribes mix and infiltrate and bump up against one another on a massive scale, the likes of which we’ve not seen in those 130,000 years. Our ability to survive and thrive will depend on our ability to transcend our own tribalism, in effect to go against our own evolutionary wiring.

As a Christian, I see Jesus as the model for that work, though there are other models as well. But we know it when we see it—stunning examples of people going beyond their own self-interest and those of their immediate tribe. Sacrificial love. Love that costs something.

Consider this heartbreaking story from StoryCorps about nurses in Sierra Leone, and how difficult it has been not to offer basic human expressions of care to those who are grieving. Imagine not being able to hug someone who’s lost 10 members of their family.

One day, an Ebola-infected mother brought her baby into a hospital, Purfield recalls. The mother died, and the baby was left in a box.

“They tested the baby, and the baby was negative,” says Purfield. “But I think the symptoms in babies and the disease progression in babies is different than adults.

“So the nurses would pick up and cuddle the baby. And they were taking care of the baby in the box,” she continues.

Twelve of those nurses subsequently contracted Ebola, Purfield says. Only one survived.

“They couldn’t just watch a baby sitting alone in a box,” Dynes says.

The title of this post is from a popular Christian hymn called “The Summons” by John Bell. It’s been going through my head since the Ebola outbreak began. Those nurses who cared for that infant, refusing to let it just be a baby in the box, “kissed the leper clean.” But it may have cost them their lives. I hate that it did—I want such heroic love to be rewarded. From an evolutionary perspective, it’s not helpful for the good ones to die—we need their like to propagate. And I want nurses and doctors to take appropriate precautions.

But perhaps such stories can live on, to tug at our humanity and to inspire and direct us to seek out the path of sacrificial love, regardless of tribe.

~

*Why did they cross the road? To get to the “other.”

photo credit: Dietmar Temps via photopin cc

A Simple but Heartfelt Thank You

I ran across this exchange on Facebook today, kinda by accident:

Screen Shot 2014-10-09 at 8.19.57 PM

 

I know Mary from way back, but it still freaks me out when I stumble upon people I don’t know who’ve read my book. There’s a big part of me that still thinks the readership consists of close personal friends and everyone my mother knows.

Sabbath in the Suburbs turned two last week. People are still buying it—not hordes, but a steady stream. And folks are still write the occasional review too, which makes me happy—even when they aren’t great reviews. (The most recent review on Amazon was three stars because it “didn’t live up to the hype.” That tickled me to no end. I have hype?!?)

Even more fun, I get to come and meet so many of you who want to explore this book with your church small groups, young families, women’s groups and the like. Though that travel is slowly morphing into events for my next book, Spirituality in the Smartphone Age, the topic of Sabbath is still quite vital and important for lots of you. And that makes me happy. And grateful.

So thank you for reading. In a world crammed with words, your attention is both an honor and a gift.