Lamenting in hope

I woke up yesterday morning thinking about Lamentations.
What was the secret that kept Jeremiah believing, when all around him was destroyed?
He kept his hope in the Lord, despite the destruction and conquest of all he knew.

I see a key idea in verses 19-23, his great statement of hope.
I remember my affliction and my wandering,
the bitterness and the gall.
I well remember them,
and my soul is downcast within me.
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope.
Because of the Lord's great love
we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
They are new every morning.
Great is your faithfulness.
Lamentations 3:19-23

Jeremiah doesn't pretend that he's not upset about what has happened. He lays his pain out before God. I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall The book is indeed a lament, mourning the disaster that has come. But he reminds himself of God's great love and compassion.

What I take as a principle: Lament in hope.
Lament: don't pretend all is well, don't hide your emotions
in Hope: as you pour your heart out to God, trust that he is still with you no matter how bad it feels.

Have I learned to do this myself? Not yet, I still struggle.

Real Wisdom

Wisdom does not mean being so smart you won't be surprised by life. No one is that smart.

Wisdom means knowing who God is and knowing who you are, so that when the unexpected comes, you know how to cope.

This was inspired by a post by Paul Tripp, Prepared Spontaneity (Mon Aug 22nd).

I also like this quote from his "About Me" text.
We believe it is not enough to believe in life after death, we believe in real hope of life before death. We believe in real hope of personal growth and change. We believe in real hope of community and institutional change. Why? Because we believe in the transforming power of Jesus Christ.

A unique wedding vow

Back when we got married our pastor told us he worried when couples wanted to write their own vows. In his experience, custom vows were often overly long and overly idealistic.

But in this wedding last month, the custom vow wasn't too long and certainly not overly idealistic. The bride told the groom that she recognized that only God could love her as perfectly as she wanted to be loved, so she released him from that false expectation that he can and ought to satisfy her every need.

I like that laying aside of unrealistic expectations. It was actually quite realistic about marriage, that it is a hard thing we need God's help for to do really well.

Anger and righteousness

"Human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires." James 1:20

If we believed this, a lot of political discourse might change.

Do I believe this? Do I talk about others as worthless, obtuse, and foolish beyond measure when I disagree with them?

Do I discount people who agree with me yet aren't strident enough in criticizing those who don't agree?

Cheap or costly unity

There is a fast, cheap way to attain unity in an organization. Just get the minority to keep quiet (or fire them). Change in an organization can be complicated by a minority who question the change, who ask the same hard questions several times and are not easily reassured that the details will eventually be worked out to their satisfaction. Costly unity is when both the majority and the minority take the time to explain their perspectives and concerns, and to listen to one another. Any plan or proposal can benefit from being analyzed and critiqued not just by its supporters but its opponents.

Airplane ailerons are an example of this. The Wright brothers really deserve their reputation as aviation pioneers. They were not just the lucky ones who got an airplane off the ground first or had the best publicity. Their success came because they did systematic aeronautical research, doing detailed wind tunnel testing and advancing the systematic data collection that Otto Lilienthal had started (in the process discovering and correcting a significant error in Lilienthal's data). The Wrights realized a key to flight was being able to control the bank of the airplane. But their method of doing this wasn't the best (as we can see in hindsight). Their idea was to make the plane bank by warping the wing. But aircraft designers soon realized that it made better sense to have the wing stay unwarped, and have a small part of the wing able to pivot to control bank. It is hard to imagine metal airplanes the size of a 747 (or even a DC3) ever being built if the whole wing had to warp.

But ailerons were controversial in the early years of aviation. There are echoes of this in the wikipedia page on the history of the aileron . It is hard to say who first invented them and the Wright Brothers didn't like the idea. What if aviation pioneers had pleaded with each other for unity? "Let's unite around the Wright Flyer, it works the best. Wilbur and Orville have done the most research. Let's trust them". If the aileron proponents had been convinced, we might never have gotten past aircraft made of wood covered with silk. What other material can allow for the whole wing to warp? But aileron proponents did not keep silent, others realized that was the better way to control bank, and today we have 747s. Sometimes the majority can learn from the minority. Who of us can claim the full wisdom of God? Wouldn't God be most likely to distribute different aspects of his wisdom to different people? The Wright Brothers had a pretty good airplane, but the aileron idea made better airplanes.

The hard part is when you're a minority, wondering how much noise to make. Is your concern selfish, because you're putting your circumstances or your job ahead of everything else in the organization? Or are you seeing something that others aren't seeing?

The hard part when you're in the majority, recognizing that someone who keeps bringing up the same concern might have a point, they might not be refusing to go along or blocking progress for selfish reasons. Maybe your plan or policy has a tweak needed, and listening to the minority can show it to you.

So let us take the time and effort to attain costly unity.

An earlier post on unity: Dwelling in Unity

Made to Stick

Model 1: A traveling businessman is offered a drink by an attractive woman. He takes it, and the next thing he knows he is lying in his hotel bathtub with ice around his body. He calls 9/11 and they tell him he's the victim of organ thieves – his kidneys have been stolen.

Model 2: "Comprehensive community building naturally lends itself to a return-on-investment rationale that can be modeled, drawing on existing practice."

If you read these two, which one will you remember an hour from now? The organ thief story (which is an urban legend by the way). Why? Because it is a story, simple, concrete and evokes emotion.

.Yet the second is the way many organizations write about what they do. Why? Because it sounds more professional? Because its easier? (You don't have to stop and think about what exactly you mean, and how you would express it to someone who doesn't know your organization).

Another example: if John F. Kennedy were a CEO he might have said: "Our mission is to become the international leader in the space industry through maximum team-centered innovation and strategic aerospace initiatives." Instead (because he knew something about how to communicate), he said our goal would be to send a man to the moon and return him safely to earth by the end of the decade.

It's a challenge to write things that really say something, that are simple and concrete. But its worth doing. The easy "semantic autopilot" way of saying things the way you've always said them does not really communicate.

My source for this: Made to Stick by Chip and Dan Heath.

The surprising compassion of Anne Frank

Anne Frank is best remembered for her diary. The diary is well written and a compelling story of surviving while hidden away. But more memorable than that, in my opinion is something else she wrote, a short story (perhaps a novella) called Cady's Life.

Cady is a Dutch Christian girl who has a Jewish friend Mary. Cady worries about her friend as news comes of the Nazi's deporting Jews. She goes to encourage her friend one night and discovers an empty, sealed apartment. A Gestapo man threatens her with a pistol, she shows her identity card to prove she isn't Jewish, and he shoves her to the ground but lets her leave. Back home she feels guilt. "Why did Mary have to go away when she, Cady, could stay here? Why did Mary have to suffer her horrible fate when she was left to enjoy herself."

It's mind-blowing to me how this teenager, fearing for her life, can yet imagine the situation of friends who aren't Jewish, and how they would feel survivor's guilt. Maybe the story was partly wish fulfillment -- Anne perhaps wishing she weren't Jewish so she wouldn't be killed. But if it was really wish fulfillment, it would have been a story about schoolgirl adventures, such as looking forward to her prom (or whatever the equivalent was in 1940s Holland). What astounds me is how she, in danger of death herself, can imagine the life of someone who wasn't Jewish. One could also imagine she might feel bitterness or scorn towards Gentiles who weren't doing anything to help the Jews, but she does not.

It is axiomatic that a writer tells his or her own story. What astounds me in this story is Anne Frank telling in a convincing manner someone else's story.

Thanking God for both arms

I watched Soul Surfer last night, so I'm thankful today to have two arms.

My favorite part of the story was when Bethany has tried to surf competitively again and failed, then goes to Thailand on a mission trip to help survivors of the 2005 tsunami, and helps a little boy (then the whole village) not to be afraid of the water. I liked the idea of Bethany learning compassion and finding people with greater difficulties than her.

I was convinced as I watched that I was seeing the real Bethany Hamilton portraying herself. The stump looked totally convincing. Then at the end they showed video of the real Bethany Hamilton. Apparently the actress, AnnaSophia Robb, wore a green sleeve on her left arm and they digitally removed that from all the images. An astounding work of special effects. After some searching, I found a pic of her with the green sleeve.

Looking at pictures of the real Bethany and her real parents online, they look like fairly average people. I'm wondering why no one makes a movie about average characters with average looking people to portray them.

Amazing faith

In Luke 7:1-10, Jesus was amazed at the centurion's faith. What was amazing about it? He was willing to believe Jesus could heal, even if Jesus didn't follow the standard narrative (go to the sick person, lay hands, say 'your faith has made you whole').

So let us remember that though God is with us, we cannot predict how he will come through for us. Let us, like the centurion, give God freedom not to follow our script. (Since he likely won't anyway, we'll save ourselves some confusion and disappointment).

Luke 7:1-10