Wednesday, December 23, 2009

One More Quick Post for the Day...

In the world of random thoughts that roam around my head, I was struck all of the sudden today by how many interesting and smart people there are and how thanks to the internet, I get to learn from them.  I must confess that as I was driving at lunch today my thoughts also turned to how many stupid and annoying people there are, but maybe I just need to separate the way a person drives from who they actually are and what they are capable of.

Some of these brilliant people live on my blog roll (which if you scroll to the bottom of the page, you can see).  One of the principals on this list, Seth Godin, always makes me think.  He just makes so much sense and he professes the type of honest, permission-based marketing that I wish to bring to any business that I am ever involved in, and seek to do currently.  Marketing sounds like a boring business topic, but actually, as you dig deeper into it, it can be a deeply psychological view into human behavior and how it permeates every single thing in our current society.  Godin's views seem to be so counter-cultural (by viewing people as *shocker* human-beings) and against the traditional grain of Marketing 101, that I take his advice straight to heart.

Today I had the privilege to add my dear friend, Rebekah O'Dell's newest blog to my list as well.  Already on here for her amazing pictures, her book review blog on all of the books that she reads is an absolute must-read.  I love her writing - she's an English teacher after all - and superb thoughts on all that she reads.  She is a profilic reader and writer and I'm so excited to get her reading recommendations, because they promptly go up on my "To-Get-To" List :).

Lastly I'll mention another friend of mine, Emily Thompson.  One of the sweetest girls I know, Emily also happens to be one of the funniest.  She is currently a second-year Wahoo and to say that she is a kindred spirit is an understatement :).  She maintains her own wonderful blog, where she chronicles thoughts on college life, relationships, and wonderful, beautiful things like Warrenton covered in snow.  One of my favorite posts that she has written has to be this one on college finals.  So hilarious!!

Twitter allows me many other learning opportunities as well - too many to link to on this blog.  I really have come to believe that that is Twitter's greatest asset - the opportunity to educate and inform others things that you find interesting and relevant.

So anyway, those are my thoughts and links to some amazing people who teach and inspire me!  There are of course a ton of others, so thank you to you all.  All that I am is really a conglomerate of what I learn from you all!

Thought-provoking podcast on "Selfish Giving"

If you have a quick 5 minutes, take a listen to this NPR podcast on "selfish giving"....it's good stuff.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

An Outward Look...

I'm a person of many, many interests.  From art in all its various forms, to sports in all of its various forms, business, international relations, history, literature, movies, TV shows - basically anything that captures my attention and holds it for more than 10 seconds I count as an interest of mine.  One of my top interests though is international relations/foreign affairs (which is intimately tied to the subject of history - to me, you cannot know much or care about foreign affairs if you don't know the history behind the stories that appear in the newspapers).  In the past 24 hours I've come upon two great international relations related content that I think people should know about.

First is a link, courtesy of my favorite reporter, Kevin Sites.  Back in 2005, Kevin did a project for Yahoo!News called "The Hot Zone" - spend a year reporting solo on the human stories behind some of the world's "hottest" conflicts.  If you ever have an afternoon free and you want to learn about some of the more under-reported conflicts going on in the world, go to the Hot Zone archives and read a few of his stories and watch some of the videos that he shot. Kevin is also the author of the book, "The Hot Zone", which I also highly recommend. 

Anyway, any link that Kevin posts on his Facebook page is worth a read, and this one, courtesy of Foreign Policy magazine about the Top 10 under-reported stories of 2009, is no exception.  It highlights foreign policy issues that need to be watched carefully as they could have a great impact on the direction of foreign policy in 2010.

The second thing that I came across was a documentary on PBS, called "The Power of the Poor", which has brought to light a name in international relations that I had never heard of: Hernando de Soto.  And I am so grateful that I have learned who this man is, because his work brought down one of the most brutal terrorist regimes that has existed - The Shining Path in Peru.  I have briefly heard about the Shining Path before and was only vaguely aware of their importance in Peruvian history, but this documentary shed light on the entire situation.  What a story!  What a history!  The Shining Path, so brutal in its terrorist tactics that it was compared to the Khmer Rouge, was a Maoist organization that counted close to 80,000 members.  Fed up with their impoverished situation and frustrated with the government they turned to violence to bring about "revolution" in Peru.  And the sad thing was that the poor were just as much victims during their reign as they were before the Shining Path existed.  In comes Hernando de Soto - a man who "discovered" how to help the poor achieve prosperity through legal reform, making economic progress possible.  His legal reforms undermined the purpose of the Shining Path, and as such, Hernando and his Institute for Liberty and Democracy were targeted by the Shining Path with car bombing attacks and assassination attempts.  But in the end, de Soto and the IDL got their reforms through the corrupted government.  More than 50% of Peru's poor have been given economic opportunity to start their own businesses and enjoy the economic freedom and prosperity that owning their land and access to credit gives to all who are able to do the same.  

Basically, de Soto defeated the terrorism of the Shining Path through legal reform that allowed capitalism to flourish among the Peruvian poor and give them opportunity that they never had before in their entire history.  There are definitely still impoverished people in Peru - the documentary definitely addresses this - but the opportunity that never existed before to not be poor now exists for the Peruvian people.

This gave me hope, which is not something that I often have when it comes to world conflicts and systemic problems like poverty.  But perhaps if we approached the Middle East, Africa, and former Soviet republics with legal reform that made economic prosperity through capitalism possible, we would disable the power of Al Qaeda, Hezbollah, and other "big-name" terrorist organizations.  It is a solution that is rife with hardships, difficulties, and complexities - but isn't that also true of trying to "solve" this problem militarily? 

Anyway, it is a topic that has piqued my interest and once I read de Soto's book, "The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else" I'll be sure to share my thoughts :).

Monday, December 14, 2009

Book Review: Where is God When it Hurts?

Where Is God When It Hurts? Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey

My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I believe this book should be an absolute must-read for anyone who professes the Christian faith.

A sentence like that usually rings hollow to me, but honestly, there is nothing hollow about this book. I wish I could physically take the words from the pages and permanently implant them in my brain because there is so much truth to them.

The main point of the book is about suffering and pain and it attempts to address some of the common questions about the subject - why is there suffering, how do you deal with suffering people, what are the ramifications of suffering, how do we do even more damage to suffering people?

Yancey begins his book by explaining the benefits of physical pain by taking us on a journey through the lives of lepers who, because of their disease, no longer feel any pain - and the damage that occurs to them because they can't feel pain. From there the book delves into where is God in suffering, examples of suffering people, and then flourishes into an explanation of how God has suffered, the hope that we have in spite of our suffering, how we can use suffering to transform our lives, and why Christianity - of all the world religions - is particularly equipped to handle suffering.

Yancey limits his tome to just dealing with people in physical pain and suffering. He mentions mental anguish only in how it relates to the physical pain of people and how it causes them to question a loving God, and not as a subject in and of itself, but the lessons and advice that he draws from dealing with people in physical pain can certainly be brought to those that deal with emotional and mental pain and suffering.

What I loved most about this book is the reminder to Christians of the hope inherent in the resurrection that allows us to cope with suffering. That death is Not the end, and death doesn't need to be "accepted" - death is painful and hurts, but because of Jesus, it has been overcome, and because of Jesus we get to share in that victory. I also loved how Yancey reminds us that for a moment in time, God put on flesh in the person of Jesus and came to this earth, and suffered with us. Every time that Jesus encountered a suffering person, He not only healed them, but He also transformed them. And now we have the Holy Spirit, God within us, who hears our suffering groans and brings them to the feet of the Father and Son.

The other thing that I loved about this book is how it gives advice on how to help suffering people. You cannot go through life without encountering suffering people, and Christians, in particular, are called to be the body of Christ to these individuals. But how do we, imperfect people with even more imperfect words, help the suffering? It is a hard question that Yancey addresses with particular insight and I feel better equipped for it.

My only wish is that I had read this book a long time ago, for I've seen, lived with, and tried to walk through suffering with a lot of people. I just hope that going forward I will be able to overcome my own revulsion to pain and suffering and walk alongside those broken hearts and bodies, offering the real and true hope of Christ to those I have yet to encounter.

View all my reviews >>

Friday, December 11, 2009

Undone

All I can say at the outset of this post is that I hope I can capture the magnitude of all that is inside me right now - all that I am learning, and all that I have learned - about my Creator and how real He is to me these days. 

And part of me hesitates to go forth and proceed with this post.  It frankly feels awkward to write about my experiences with God.  Shouldn't I just write about, expound upon some of the awesome experiences I had last month?  Write about Red Bull BC One, or any of the other many wonderful things I got to experience?  Or crafting another tale about how there was a second mouse this past Monday?  Sure - I could do that.  But it would also be hollow and shirking one of the important aspects of this blog to me, which is to share a little that God is doing in my life.

Frankly, He has undone me.

Today in particular, I am feeling especially vulnerable to His love.  I don't know if it was the blue sky with white clouds, or the barren beauty of the trees in winter, or seeing these pictures of some friends of mine who have gone through a mighty struggle to bring their family together, or the post that accompanied the pictures, or reflecting on the true power and hope of the resurrection during my morning reading time, or processing through the meaning of suffering with the help of Philip Yancey in his wonderful tome, "Where is God When it Hurts?" during my lunch hour.

Perhaps the feelings of my heart are best summed up in this quote: "Every experience of beauty points to eternity." ~ Hans Urs Von Balthasar

How do I put into words the way my heart leaps when it sees a barren tree?  When that tree reminds me of the complicated beauty of life that lies underneath all the gloss and greenness of the leaves?  That the twisting beauty of each branch is like a thread that reminds me of my own complicated twists and turns.

How do I share the tears that spring forth when I read these following words from Philip Yancey's book on suffering and wonder if in my "Christian" sophistication I too have lost the power and hope of the resurrection and fail to share that with all those that I interact with?:
"On the day before Thanksgiving of 1983, Martha died. Her body, crumpled, misshapen, atrophied, was a pathetic imitation of its former beauty.  When it finally stopped functioning, Martha left it.  But today Martha lives, in a new body, in wholeness and triumph.  She lives because of the victory that Christ won and because of His 'body' at Reba Place, who made that victory known to her.  And if we do not believe that, and if our Christian hope, tempered by sophistication, does not allow us to offer that Truth to a dying, convulsing world then we are indeed, as the apostle Paul said, of all men most miserable."

How often I forget that Truth in my life.  That the hurts in my life, the wounds of my heart, will be healed and made anew.  And that this is the power of the resurrection - this life isn't the end.  Yes, we can begin living eternally here and now, but the wounds, the suffering, that we accumulate along the path are not the end.

This journey is filled with so many twists and turns.  In the span of one year I have gone from the lowest of lows to the highest of heights - and yet, my Father was there in all of it - even in His silences and distance.  And the thing is, unknowingly to me, Christ transformed my suffering.  He used it to reach a place of depth that I rarely visit on my own.  And because of that discovered depth, I feel the peace of His blessings to a greater degree than I ever have before.

How do I share with you, reader, the oppressive darkness and despair that covered my soul this past summer?  How do I explain the feelings of a broken heart from dashed, wrecked, ruined hope?  Praying desperate prayers, clinging to a thread of faith, though every logical fiber in my being said "what's the point?" and "is this even real?" How this was the second time in my life in which I have had a real crisis of faith?

And then how do I explain praying daily for my Lord to strengthen my hope just a few months later and rejoicing beyond words in the life that I have been blessed with?

I am so thankful.  Thankful for all that the Holy Spirit has revealed to my heart lately.  Thankful that in every experience of beauty that I have been blessed to go through, He has spoken to that hurt heart and given it healing, revealing a little of Himself in each instance.  Thankful that He was (and is) in every smile from a friend.  Thankful for a wonderful family that is as constant in their presence as He is.  Thankful that He is teaching me about real forgiveness, humility, suffering, and most of all love in all of these things - A true love that knows me - that sustained me through the dark.

So, here, at the end of this post, I hope that I have been able to communicate some of the true majesty and true mystery of my Lord.  He has undone me this year - in more ways than I will ever be able to explain here - and I will keep praising His Name, thanking Him for doing so.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Mousetrap

SCENE: It is a sunny Monday morning, bright with sunshine and possibilities as Lauren arrives at another day of work.  Having just finished listening to Michael Bolton's Christmas cd, completely satisfying the Christmas light-rock regions of her soul, she ascends the stairs and walks over to her desk.  As she approaches her desk, her coworker in the cubby next to her, greets her...

Alicia: "There's a rat in the ceiling."
Lauren: "What?!"
Alicia: "I heard something scurrying about in the ceiling or something and I think there's a rat up there."
Lauren: "Okay...well, uh, hmm, that's interesting." (Silently Lauren thinks to herself, "A rat in the ceiling? Riiiiggghhttt....")

...A few hours go by, Lauren and Alicia working away at the day's various tasks.  Then, as Lauren is sitting at her desk, typing an email to her boss, she all of the sudden hears a scurrying noise.  Mid-sentence, she pauses, and looks over at her group of Christmas boxes that sit underneath a section of her desk.  She waits a moment, listening intently, because she was sure that she heard something and a feeling of dread washes over.  After hearing nothing for a few moments, she goes back to her email, only to be interrupted again by the noise...

Lauren: "Alicia did you hear that?"
Alicia: "Hear what?"
Lauren: "That scurrying noise?"
Alicia: "Uh-oh - no, but see..."

...As Alicia is speaking, Lauren hears the scurrying noise for a third time and knowing/dreading what that noise means, launches her rolling chair away from her desk and glides away from the corner.  As her chair rolls to a stop, she pivots away and quickly as she can in her heels, flies down the stairs, through the offices, through the showroom and to the back warehouse to find her trusted warehouse manager and friend, Jimmy to come and take care of the scurrying problem.  However to her dismay, she finds that Jimmy is nowhere to be found.  Failing to locate Jimmy, she quickly traverses back to into the office portion of the building and finds Brian Boyle sitting at his desk...

Lauren: sweet, urgent voice "Hey Brian, what are you doing? Are you working on anything important?"
Brian: hesitantly "Hey LT.  No, just working on some billing. Why, what's up?"
Lauren: "Well, I have a scurrying problem that I need someone to come and take a look at."
Brian: "A scurrying problem?"
Lauren: "Yes, a scurrying problem - please, come, quick!"
Brian: "Ok, I'll be right there."

...Brian goes off to the kitchen, where he meets his coworker, Pat Pinkman, and together they make their way to the upstairs offices.  Meanwhile, Lauren has gone back upstairs, is relaying the situation to Alicia and standing outside of her cubby, looking at the dreaded corner.  Brian and Pat finally make it upstairs....

Lauren: "I think the Christmas boxes is where the noise is coming from..."

...As Lauren relays this information, Brian and Pat start moving some of the boxes, remarking how they don't see anything, while Lauren looks anxiously on over the glass wall of her cubby.  Then out of nowhere, as the last box is removed, a blur of gray scoots across the back corner of Lauren's desk area...

Lauren: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

...Upon seeing the mouse, Lauren runs down the stairs, into the front lobby, hyperventilating.  Brian and Pat react to this as if Lauren has sprouted three heads.  The next moment later, unable to be drawn away from the horrific scene, she makes her way back up the stairs, only to discover from Brian and Pat that they had let the mouse get away...

Lauren: "What do you mean that it got away? Where did it go???"
Brian & Pat: "It got away, sorry. Don't know where it went.  Maybe you should get rid of some of the cracker boxes that you have around your desk, as you have like 8 boxes sitting around here."
Lauren: "Being that as it may, there is still the issue that there is a MOUSE here! What are you going to do?!"
Brian & Pat: "Uh...don't know."

...As Lauren processes this with wide eyes, she realizes that yet again she must find a solution to the problem.  So with the intent of getting a mousetrap to dispatch the rodent with, she goes downstairs and asks Miss Joan if there are any mousetraps around.  Finding that there are only traditional mousetraps around, she takes one back upstairs to Pat & Brian, but does not want to use this particular trap because she does not want to see the dead mouse.  She needs a more humane mousetrap, the kind that capture the mice but you never see them once captured - they are just contained in the black container of death.  So she grabs her purse, which she was informed could possibly contain the mouse because the boys did not know where it had gone, and quickly marches off to the local Bloom grocery store to find her humane mousetrap.  Thankfully Bloom does not disappoint, having several varieties available.  Locating the appropriate D-Con trap that she needs, Lauren makes her purchase, along with her lunch, happens to run into a past coworker that she quickly says hello to and decides against relaying the current trauma that she is in, as she needs to get back to her desk to set the trap.  Back at the office, Brian and Pat have set the traditional mousetrap in the corner where they last saw the mouse and once Lauren returns, informs her that the trap is there.  Regardless, Lauren puts down her humane mousetrap, and now a competition has entailed to see who's trap captures the mouse first...

...A quick five minutes later, between the time it took Lauren to place the trap, walk back downstairs to stick her lunch in the microwave, and then back up the stairs with the intent to check her emails quickly to see if she had received any pressing emails during the time of this ordeal (during which time, her coworker Alicia had erected a barricade in front of the entrance of her cubby in the hopes of keeping the offending rodent out of her cubby), she glances over to where the traps were set and to her horror sees the inhumane trap flipped upside down with a grey mass sticking out from underneath it...

Lauren: "AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!"

...Again Lauren flies down the stairs in utter fright.  Pat & Brian having heard Lauren's yell from the back of the offices, nonchalantly made their way back up the stairs, curious to see which trap had succeeded.  Upon learning that the inhumane trap (their trap) had worked, they congratulated themselves, shook their heads at Lauren's fright, and grabbing their foe by its tail, disposed of it in the dumpster...

End Scene