Friday, December 30, 2011

Prejudice against Business-folk

And no, I'm not talking about people who are labeled "socialist" simply because they don't bow at the throne of capitalism.I'm talking more about the idea that those who work in artistic, human service or any lower paying job are somehow inherently more caring, driven, passionate or Christ-like than those who sit behind a desk. It springs from the same vein of the oft misquoted "money is the root of all evil". The actual verse being...

I was on Facebook today and saw a friend's post that got under my skin a bit. He admitted to being eluded by the intricacies of business and continued on to marvel at the fact that every toothpick, shoelace and bathroom deodorizer came from a business effort, headed up by companies with specific goals. Fine...though I've learned to think about these things involuntarily, I realize that most people don't. What got me though, was that he followed up by questioning the manufacturers' love of said toothpicks, shoelaces and deodorizers and then to pose the question of them being motivated by money instead of love for a product. I've run into this attitude in many areas of my life, and I find it entirely off base for multiple reasons.

First off, some people love weird things. They're in the minority, but there is that guy who's running a paperclip factory that's deeply in love with the paperclip...just as in love as the one composing symphonies or helping children. If we're going to evaluate the altruism of an act based purely on internal emotional feeling, they would come out tied. 

Second, just because a job serves people, or is counter culture, doesn't make it inherently beneficial. It took me a second to realize and accept this, but there's a lot of selfishness in my martial art. I see no difference in working 50 hours a week to build a bank account and make CEO than I do working 50 hours a week to improve a skill and win a competition. In both cases, you work to serve yourself. Those goals are not wrong, but the path you walk to get there is what makes the difference. 

Third, a job being inherently subservient does not then make the people performing said work universal martyrs. I've met some twisted human service people. It's not frequently admitted, but while human service jobs seldom offer much pay, the do offer a LOT of power. A VP can fire, cut pay, and cause some serious emotional damage...but still...a teacher can derail a child's progress in life permanently, a counselor can sexually manipulate, a social worker can ruin lives with one decision, a missionary can abuse the very people they were sent to help. The difference? Vulnerability. People do not open up their souls and emotions in the world of the corporate. Of course those things are affected by sheer exposure, but there is little expectation that a supervisor is trying to improve someone's overall life. That's one very honest things about the coldness of business. It's a in exchange for money. That contract limits damages to a degree...but in the human services, people are openly and rawly exposed to those around them.That why a person being apathetic about their job in business doesn't bother me too much, but in human services, I find it offensive and irresponsible...possibly even malicious. 

This is one of the respects in which the world of Brazilian jiu jitsu (which I practice), reminds me very much of the church. The bulk of the practitioners align closely with surfer culture and there's a distinct air of self-righteousness in their having "rejected" more traditional life-styles. How does that line up with church culture? Well, while the institution does carry the hierarchical worship of those with higher incomes, when it comes to the morality of the actual work, those that work in business (not all of whom are bringing home huge paychecks) are seen as moral bystanders, not doing anything wrong, but not carrying on the work of God in their daily lives, though they may be following God's calling on their lives to the letter. The ones who have given up corporate work for the sake of missional pursuits are praised without question. Those who work as teachers and counselors and house-wives are seen as sacrificial and holy (though oddly at the same time looked down upon, which I attribute directly to churches picking up and welcoming in broader cultural norms). 

I've known all this but it was nice to see it articulated in Why Business Matters to God. I'm still working my way through, but it's a great read for anyone working in business and anyone who knows someone who is. 

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Quieting the Mind

I'm pretty bad at quieting my mind and I wonder if it's an introvert thing. I have no problems focusing, but when I stop moving and doing, a new level of activity begins. I do so much in there that when it's time to shut everything out there's a whole world of hustle, bustle and fun ideas waiting to explored rolling around in my skull. So much so that when it comes to prayer, I have to do it out loud, and conversationally.

I first noticed this was difficult for me when, during a spiritual symposium my leadership program in college had us doing, the minister leading it asked us to spend a week focusing on meditation (which freaked out my very religiously conservative boyfriend at the time). The deal was though, that instead of emptying the mind as some Asian religions teach, you're supposed to focus on God.

I remember coming home, hopping up on my extra long twin with the salmon-colored sateen duvet, leaning back against the painted cinder block wall and closing my eyes. Immediately, there was a whole world of thoughts, ideas, memories and fantasies to play with. I used to have an email signature that said "my mind is my playground" and that's exactly what I was facing...trying to concentrate on God surrounded by the things I found most comforting and entertaining.

I did though, improve.

But not too much.

I woke up to pray this morning and sat quietly. I was immediately surrounded by the sounds of songs from YouTube, memories of Thanksgiving, feelings of missing my grandmother, replays of the previous days' sparring and plans of what I'd have for breakfast. My cousin had just told me the night before that she had issues quieting her mind to pray and I chuckled at the mess I was trying to wade through to find the peace I needed to really meditate and converse.

But then I thought to pay attention. Thoughts aren't 100% uncontrollable or random. They happen for a reason and are reflections of choices we make in our hearts, minds and spirits every day. I looked at my hodgepodge and saw a reflection of priorities. Those things were on my mind because they were where I'd put the most emotional focus.

I'd been watching videos on YouTube of old songs to calm anxieties about going back to work. Thanksgiving  was full of new memories of seeing family. I'm fresh into the grieving process of saying goodbye to my grandmother. I'd had a phenomenal day, sparring with a higher belt at my gym who beat me's just a big deal to me.

I take away from that though, that in the last month of holiday preparation, burying a friend and relative, belt test prep and closing out a work year, I have been praying less and focusing less on God. It happened subtly, but it did happen. No...I take that back...I've probably been praying more...but mostly prayers of my own grief and concern for the emotions of those around me. My schedule is returning to normal now though, and while I'd gotten in more time talking to God out of burning necessity, I'd fallen off talking to him out of desire.

That is what I learned from the mess in my mind this morning. 

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Putting Politics Above Faith

I just started posting on race and this subject, I think, is one of the biggest sources of soreness and division between different races of Christians (within races too actually). Maybe it's a weakness on my part, but when a fellow church goer approaches me (or sends me an email) and begins demonizing democrats/liberals/socialists, I IMMEDIATELY put up a spiritual wall (among others). I don't even classify myself as one of those three, but the assumption of agreement alone I find extremely off-putting.

I'll be honest--I receive these exclusively from White, Republican/conservative contacts. Don't get me wrong, I get some"irksome" forwards from Black, Democrat/liberal contacts too, but for the life of me I don't remember one being based on a political party.

I don't like re-posting the work of others, but a friend sent me this and considering the number of blatantly false emails I receive from believers who seem to have no problem bearing false witness against people they've deemed the enemy or people God has allowed to be in power, I felt it was warranted. I was originally published here. Two points jump out at me...

1) That forwarding blatantly false emails involve doing two of the things God hates and
2) "Just forwarding" something doesn't absolve the sender of responsibility any more than it would in the case of gossip.

Here's the post...

As campaign season begins to heat up, I am preparing to find more of those crazy political e-mails in my in-box. They often come from an unsuspecting source, such as a childhood friend or a brother-in-law, and they’ve forwarded it to everyone in their contact list. You know the ones I’m talking about, the ones that spin fantastical tales of malicious gossip about some prominent politician.

A few years ago, I received an e-mail about how the Clintons had murdered Vince Foster, along with dozens of their political enemies who had also died under mysterious circumstances, such as cancer and old age. I also have gotten an e-mail informing me that George W. Bush “masterminded” the 9/11 attacks in order to start a war on terrorism. If that were true, I only wish he had spent a tenth of his time masterminding the occupation of Iraq.

No one has been the subject of these scurrilous e-mails more than President Obama. In the virtual world, he was born in Kenya, went to school at a Madrassa, will not pledge allegiance to the United States, used a Koran to be sworn into office, and is a socialist, communist, terrorist, fascist, Black Panther, Black Muslim, and the anti-Christ.

Recently, a sweet Christian woman sent me an e-mail comparing President Obama with Hitler and the rise of the Fourth Reich. This “theory” was attributed to a friendly looking professor (his photo was included) under the subject line “What if he’s right?” Of course, he isn’t right. In fact, he didn’t even say it. According to Snopes, this professor disavowed all knowledge of the e-mail and the original source was traced to an anonymous poster on a right wing blog.

It does not surprise me that there are political operatives who are not above smearing their opponents. What is disturbing is that otherwise good people have no reservations about perpetuating these kinds of vicious lies. When I’ve confronted people with the fact that their e-mail is not true, the general reaction is to slough it off, as if they are absolved of all responsibility since they merely forwarded it. Or, somehow, the rules don’t apply if it is about some prominent person who they don’t agree with politically.

The Bible is very clear about how it views this type of behavior, no matter what the excuse may be. There are several verses in the Bible about submitting to our appointed leaders. (Romans 13: 1, 1st Peter 2: 13 and 14, Hebrews 13: 17). In Titus 3:1 and 2, Paul tells us, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to do whatever is good,to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and to show true humility toward all men.”

By doing a little fact checking and applying some common sense, most of these e-mails can easily be proven to be factually wrong. “Forwarders” are not only abdicating their responsibility to seek the truth, they are engaging in the act of spreading rumors and possibly giving false testimony. Willfully participating in this behavior hits on at least two of the six things the Lord hates. “…a false witness who pours out lies, and a man who stirs up dissension among brothers.” (Proverbs 6:19)

So why do nice people so readily forward these hate-filled missives? Most of the ones I’ve seen are written to play on preexisting prejudges and fears. Like watching a scary movie, the reader willfully suspends their disbelief in order to participate in the narrative of the (fictional) story, such as being persecuted by an evil, oppressive force. Of course, this has the result of demonizing the other side and creating an even deeper divide in families, communities, and the country.

The participator of these campaigns are also allowing themselves to be deceived in another way…Many of these e-mails have embedded “cookies,” allowing the host sender to track each forwarded e-mail. This enables the originator to build a list of active addresses, which they can then sell to spammers.

When someone sends out an e-mail to all their friends, they are not only giving the gift of spam, they are also becoming willful participants in a very real form of gossip, deception, and character assassination. Based on scripture, these “forwarders” are putting their politics above their religion. Perhaps they should ask themselves, do they really want to be on the side that is willing to spread lies to win an election? If so, what does that say about their politics – and their religion?

When in doubt, it’s always good to go back to what Jesus tells us, “But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.” (Matthew 12: 36) And don’t get Jesus started on the larger issue of judging others. “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” (Matthew 7: 2)
So, crazy e-mail forwarders, consider yourselves warned…If I read that Barrack Obama is a member of the Illuminati or Mitt Romney has a secret family in Canada, I am obligated to let you know that this behavior is not acceptable. Paul tells us, “For those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear.” (1st Timothy 5:20) I’m not sure, but that may mean I am supposed to “reply all,” and that’s just going to be awkward for everyone.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

White Hug, Black Handshake

So it's time to shift this blog. I kinda knew it was coming since my Brazilian jiu jitsu blog has shifted recently too to more of a business focus.

I'd still like it to stay relatively focused, so I'm taking a step back from one topic that I think doesn't have much left for me to explore personally...singleness. Not that there isn't more to discuss, but I've come to a few "conclusions" that don't think merit too much more writing...

  • God doesn't intend for everyone to be married, regardless of what family, national or church culture says
  • The social and church focus on marriage flies directly in the face of the many Biblical examples of singles serving God
  • Christians are just as susceptible to marrying for social, superficial and downright stupid reasons as non-believers, and we're subject to the same repercussions (though God can help you through)
  • Neither status is inherently morally superior to the other and both offer special opportunities for growth
  • We segregate too much
  • Neither understands the other well and everybody needs to talk more 

In its place, I want to address race. Why? Because churches are insanely segregated (something I think is culturally based, but I think we as Christians should be able to grow past) and I have some unique experience in the area. For the past 25 years, I've been "the Black one". I now attend a predominately White church and went to predominately White, Christian elementary and middle schools. I hung out with some Christian groups in college and again..."the Black one". At the same time, I attended predominately Black churches for the first 25 years of my life, and got to see "the White one"...the converse of my experience...played out a couple of times.

Second "Why"? Because I've heard the whispers and comments and assumptions that easily could drive people away. Both groups believe their cultural take on Christianity is outlined in some unknown book in the Bible, and both go to extra effort to maintain those "scriptures", speaking their prejudices openly and alienating (sometimes I think intentionally) those that are different.

I've thought about it since I started this blog and while I didn't intend to write on race when I first started, I've always wondered how I would kick something like that off if I did. I figured...why not start with the first thing an outsider would experience entering a church? The greeting.

I think it's pretty common knowledge, but greetings (and the inherent personal space) are highly cultural. From contact-less Japanese bows (best greeting ever IMO...but I'm not a big toucher and am a bit of a germaphobe) to Latin kisses, they run the gamut. The tricky part? Perception and adjustment. If you're not used to contact, you will see higher contact cultures as invasive. If you're used to more contact, you'll see a group as cold and removed.

So yeah...the hug. If I'm wrong, correct me, but I don't think White Americans were always universally huggers. I'm sure there's some corner of the country out there that makes a habit of hugging people they've known for all of five seconds, but I'm going to say it's a relatively new development. I noticed it popping up in churches the same time I saw it in business (the day my CEO hugged me totally caught me off guard). I've accepted them as one of those things minorities learn to adapt to. Part of the whole "minority rights, majority rule" or "when in Rome" deal.

Just as I learned the cheek kiss during my days dancing salsa, I've learned to bow when visting my brother in Japan. Neither though, like the hug, will ever be comfortable or natural. I was raised in a Black family and a Black church, and hugs for me will always be reserved as a signal of familiarity...not necessarily deep, long-term or profound, but I still find it weird to hug someone I've never said more than "hi, how are you doing" to. When I started attending a Black church in Orlando during college, there were very few hugs because hugs are "special" for Black people (I'd dare to say even outside of the US). We're more handshakers until we've talked a bit.

So what's that mean? Nothing and everything. Religion and faith are highly personal and comfort is a big deal...but...

I read a piece a while back written by an organizational consultant who was called in to a women's organization who wanted to attract more racial and economic diversity. The consultant made suggestions about making meeting times that were accessible to women that worked. She recommended opening health and beauty discussions up to racially diverse products and health conditions that affected Black, Latina and Asian women. After acknowledgement of their validity and brief discussion, all suggestions were politely and softly rejected. Why? Because the board was concerned that their current members would inconvenienced and uncomfortable.

And that's what I think almost any discussion of race in the church comes down to. Comfort.

New people are uncomfortable walking into a strange church. Current parishioners are uncomfortable with demographic shifts. I've heard it all. "You know she's just here to get a Black man." "Every time I come there's more of them here." Statements of discomfort and fear of change. Since there is such a strong social component to church attendance, I don't think it's possible for an organization, or individual visitors to get past those issues unless the possibility of discomfort is accepted or even embraced as a component of Christian growth.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Action and Motivation

So we've been talking action plans in small know, actually applying all the ideals and concepts and warm fuzzies you walk out of church with. On the way home tonight, I was talking with my cousin about a pretty deep and ongoing frustration in my life and she, not knowing what we've been covering, asked me "...and how are you going to show him love?"

The him in that question is a difficult person in my life. An admittedly vindictive, aggressive, insulting person who, from what I can tell, tries their best not to be happy. I paused. I had nothing real. Don't get me wrong, I know what to do. When they insult, don't retaliate. When they need help, give it without grudge.  When they lash out, remain calm and patient.

"I do all that, but honestly, not out of love."

I do it out of wanting to maintain my perception of self...out of not wanting to feel guilty if this person hurts themselves...out of trying to be part of maintaining a positive environment. None of that though, is love. Ego...guilt...avoidance, yeah, but not love.

We came to the conclusion that while the application is specific, people who show no apparent glimpses of lovability, require the application of agape, which is CRAZY difficult to develop. I've had conflicts with people where...even if we butted heads, I could clearly see where the issue was and where their damaged spots where...where my damaged spots were, took a step back and loved everything else. But easy. it's loving the pretty parts, not the whole person. Whole person love, especially when you can't see redeeming qualities...yeah...

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Are you sure you want to be a Christian? Really sure?

Jesus asks Christians to give up a LOT of stuff in this life. Control of life choices, what we do with our bodies, money,'s a big decision.

When I first started training Brazilian jiu was quite an experience. The people were insanely warm and welcoming...and they threw me into a vomit inducing warm up. They were supportive and patient...and they paired me to spar with a bear of a man within a week. As an art, Brazilian jiu jitsu has an insanely high rate of attrition--it's estimated around 90% at each belt level. People aren't getting kicked out or failing. It's just that hard to stick with. I couldn't understand why, two months into training, I was begging to sign a contract, but the head instructor still wouldn't let me. "Are you sure?" I was asked over and over again.

I sometimes wonder what would happen if churches functioned in a similar manner. I'm not saying they should...I'm not even sure how you'd implement that, but to this day, I wonder. 

Friday, September 16, 2011

It takes faith to be single.

So I started the process of putting an offer on a house yesterday. It's already been torturous and I'm just getting started. I'll be honest, this is one of the few times where I've thought "ya know, if I weren't single, this would be easier." I've thought the same thing about having more money, making more money, having a rich uncle, living in an area with a lower cost of living...all those thoughts though, reflect that I'm concerning myself with things that I should be leaving to God.

I kinda knew that about the money and whatnot, but then I started talking to my mother about how much anxiety the process brings. She built and financed her house with my father in her late 20s. She told me that she didn't remember being as worried as I am, but that that's probably because she wasn't signing up for the commitment alone. I imagine that does give you a bit of a backup plan.

Being in a relationship, waiting for that "knight", it provides you with another area in which you can put your faith in that retirement account or higher paying job...all earthly securities. 

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Irresponsible Giving

In any question of giving there is one fact that does not change regardless of the situation. Good or bad, trust or mistrust, the giver does not know what will happen with the gift. Yes, a person could have bought food a hundred times with a donation, but this time, they could use it to go buy drugs...or the opposite. Even if you give food or clothing, it can be sold for other uses or given to help someone else in even greater need. You simply never know.

What we do know though, is what our stance says about us. In this situation of uncertainty, what you actually have is a choice between two risks.

1) You risk depriving someone in need.
2) You risk enabling someone's destructive behavior.

The big question is, why are you willing to choose one over the other? I personally believe that, especially in situations where you cannot be sure you're enabling someone, risking depriving someone is the greater of the two evils.

I've gotten into this discussion with a lot of Christians, and I know it's a common source of conflict. I ran into a new version in the post of a fellow jiujitsuka asking for donations to UNICEF for the crises in eastern Africa. If you'll take a look, one of the first comments is, in a nutshell, "Their government is the problem. We need to solve that problem first."

I agree that social institutions are frequently the problem. (I also believe that the either/or fallacy is a complete cop-out). Amartya Sen  has produced some compelling essays on the the concept of famine. One of the recurrent themes is that famine is not an issue of supply, but instead, access to supplies. While I do believe it is imperative that we not ignore the big picture, lets be honest--most of us have very little chance of influencing foreign governments...and honestly, God calls us to do what he's enabled us, which in 99% of cases, means doing small things to make a difference in people's immediate, short-term lives.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Batman, Bacteria and unBelievers

So the recent threat of a MRSA infection in my face, and subsequent trip to the ER, and even more subsequent isolation from the general population have given me a lot of time to:

1) Think about my faith, which...judging by my first night of freaking out, and subsequent relief at the reassurance of doctors/ weaker than I'd care to admit.

2) Watch WAY more TV than normal

The recent financial issues of the world have produced all kinds of reactions in people and the people that lead those people and the people that follow those people...reactions that are very telling regarding the amount of weight people put on life on this earth.

I see it this way. kinda like college. The afterlife is like the "real world" (a term I loathe) and there are four groups of people.

  • Those that study because they enjoy studying
  • Those that study because they feel it will prepare them for life after college (I'm thinking this is where Christians are supposed to generally fall...Matthew 6:20 and whatnot.)
  • Those that party because they enjoy partying, and figure everything will just turn out ok
  • Those that party because they feel that college is their last shot at an enjoyable life, and they've got to get their jollies in while they can.

When I first thought about this, atheists and agnostics immediately ran through my mind as falling under the party category--then I realized a non-belief in God or a questioning wouldn't necessarily preclude a person from belief in a life beyond the one we know now and that it's quite possible to see many tenets of Christian behavior lived out in non-Christian lives. Of course, the transverse is also true...there are party elements in the behavior of many Christians too. As much as we condemn people for partying, drinking, gambling, sex, drugs, and whatever else is that really that much different than expending efforts to leave a legacy to grandchildren or establish a career reputation? Aren't they both just stocking up experiences/items for enjoyment in this world?

least horrifying picture of the newest Joker I could find

I think it's part of the INTJ package, but I frequently wonder why people do things...not just why they buy Honda over Toyota or sit in the front of the room as opposed to the back. I mean the large scale stuff. The stuff we invest their real time and energy into. (Working in a business environment, I find myself wondering more and more every minute of every day.) I'm at the point where I think that's about the only question that matters. Democrat? Republican? I don't care. I want to know what kind of America you envision. Livid about Casey Anthony going free? Not concerned. I want to know how you feel about child welfare in general.

That's the real difference between people, and I believe there are fewer people out there that do things "just because" than we would like to admit. I simply don't believe that most people are just dogs chasing cars. Most of us have an end game in mind, whether we admit it or not.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The married people in my single life.

Slightly off topic, but still on, I just read a quote from a great blog that sums up so much of my wonderment at the church's focus on marriage and procreation...

"but I’m also wary of the church’s intense focus on coupling up, as if getting married is the pinnacle of Christian life. That seems odd for a faith that follows the example of a homeless bachelor.

My theory on that is the church has WAY more of a Victorian influence that we'd care to admit, but I digress... 

I gotta say, I am genuinely thankful for a few of the married Christians in my life. Why? Because talking to them, you can tell they haven't chosen "a team". They're focused on their marriages, they talk to you as an equal, they're dedicated to their spouses, and you can tell that they don't worship their marital status...that their individual relationships with God take ultimate precedence. And while I'd rather get a cavity filled than sit through a romantic comedy or romance flick (I'm dead serious), when I see couples in movies working as teams to accomplish something bigger (The Mummy, Harry Potter) it does make me feel all warm and snuggly.

I've come to believe that people choose a team (married or single) well before marrying age and it's completely independent of their actual marital status. Some singles worship their freedom just as marrieds worship their wedding bands. People that worship neither, but appreciate the status for the role it plays in their lives? ...them I really enjoy. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011

10 Myths about Introverts

I ran across this on another blog, and it bears repeating. I remember having each and every one of these labels applied to me as a child in church. I'm hoping people in all circles of life will become more aware of the very basic and elemental differences between introverts and extraverts, and come to see that both are valuable to the church in their own way.

Myth #1 – Introverts don’t like to talk.
This is not true. Introverts just don’t talk unless they have something to say. They hate small talk. Get an introvert talking about something they are interested in, and they won’t shut up for days.

Myth #2 – Introverts are shy.
Shyness has nothing to do with being an Introvert. Introverts are not necessarily afraid of people. What they need is a reason to interact. They don’t interact for the sake of interacting. If you want to talk to an Introvert, just start talking. Don’t worry about being polite.

Myth #3 – Introverts are rude.
Introverts often don’t see a reason for beating around the bush with social pleasantries. They want everyone to just be real and honest. Unfortunately, this is not acceptable in most settings, so Introverts can feel a lot of pressure to fit in, which they find exhausting.

Myth #4 – Introverts don’t like people.
On the contrary, Introverts intensely value the few friends they have. They can count their close friends on one hand. If you are lucky enough for an introvert to consider you a friend, you probably have a loyal ally for life. Once you have earned their respect as being a person of substance, you’re in.

Myth #5 – Introverts don’t like to go out in public.
Nonsense. Introverts just don’t like to go out in public FOR AS LONG. They also like to avoid the complications that are involved in public activities. They take in data and experiences very quickly, and as a result, don’t need to be there for long to “get it.” They’re ready to go home, recharge, and process it all. In fact, recharging is absolutely crucial for Introverts.

Myth #6 – Introverts always want to be alone.
Introverts are perfectly comfortable with their own thoughts. They think a lot. They daydream. They like to have problems to work on, puzzles to solve. But they can also get incredibly lonely if they don’t have anyone to share their discoveries with. They crave an authentic and sincere connection with ONE PERSON at a time.

Myth #7 – Introverts are weird.
Introverts are often individualists. They don’t follow the crowd. They’d prefer to be valued for their novel ways of living. They think for themselves and because of that, they often challenge the norm. They don’t make most decisions based on what is popular or trendy.

Myth #8 – Introverts are aloof nerds.
Introverts are people who primarily look inward, paying close attention to their thoughts and emotions. It’s not that they are incapable of paying attention to what is going on around them, it’s just that their inner world is much more stimulating and rewarding to them.

Myth #9 – Introverts don’t know how to relax and have fun.
Introverts typically relax at home or in nature, not in busy public places. Introverts are not thrill seekers and adrenaline junkies. If there is too much talking and noise going on, they shut down. Their brains are too sensitive to the neurotransmitter called Dopamine. Introverts and Extroverts have different dominant neuro-pathways. Just look it up.

Myth #10 – Introverts can fix themselves and become Extroverts.
A world without Introverts would be a world with few scientists, musicians, artists, poets, filmmakers, doctors, mathematicians, writers, and philosophers. That being said, there are still plenty of techniques an Extrovert can learn in order to interact with Introverts. (Yes, I reversed these two terms on purpose to show you how biased our society is.) Introverts cannot “fix themselves” and deserve respect for their natural temperament and contributions to the human race. In fact, one study (Silverman, 1986) showed that the percentage of Introverts increases with IQ.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Christianity and Evolution

So I've been reading about evolutionary Christianity today. On a side note, I don't really like that title. I would think reversing it would be more appropriate, as to not imply that the faith is altered by the science...but then I guess the reverse would imply an entirely different branch of study altogether, and I'm assuming it isn't. Anyway...reading about evolutionary Christianity and it got me digging again back into my questions about Charles Darwin's faith and thoughts on theism.*


I'm honestly really excited about getting the newsletter. The relationship between Christianity and the study of evolution is something I've always wondered about, and it's nice to see people with the research chops to do it justice moving it forward. The movement can easily be dismissed as Christians living in a modern world trying to reduce at least one area of friction...understandable, because there are many. I thought that myself for a while, but I don't think it's entirely true. I believe a quote taken from the site more accurately describes what's going on:

“Studying evolution is like following cosmic breadcrumbs home to God."

I know the concept of even considering evolution is sacrilege to many believers...something I only somewhat understand. I know that evolution has been a primary weapon used against those that do believe...and I do know that some of the findings of researchers directly contradict Biblical teachings, but you could say that about any field of study. I don't know how, but the Christian junior high school I went to managed to teach us both creationism and proper science. Because of this, I never learned to see the two as conflicting with one another. Difficult to resolve? Yes, but not entirely incompatible. I believe that science and nature, like any work of art, are tangible insight into the character of their creator. One hallmark of the growth of my faith came to me early one morning in a physics lab. We were studying torque and it hit me how beautiful a science it was. Poetic. Graceful. Balanced. Infinitely complex and ever moving. Characteristics I immediately saw as a reflection of the being that had put them into motion.

What I do not understand is the desire, especially of believers, to reduce God to a being simple enough for us to understand with minimal Santa or a magician.  I think this is part of the reason so many Christians react so negatively to even the discussion of the adaptation of any species**. It is very possibly laziness. Faith aside, we as Americans are a generally lazy, undisciplined culture. We see it visually in rising obesity levels, but I think that's the least of our problems. Laziness of thought and behavior worries me much more.

I'm sure some would say it's simply better not to question, not to ask, but I don't think asking is a sin. I went through a period in my life where I seriously doubted my own existence. And I don't mean in a "what's my purpose?" kind of way. No. I'd moved past agnosticism and into hard core doubting of the existence of self. Honestly, questioning the existence of God doesn't come up on the radar of a person who questions if there is even anything there to do the questioning. In that still, small voice we always hear about, God told me it was ok. He created this creature that was doing all the doubting, and that doubting was a not-so-positive outgrowth of one of the gifts he'd given it, but it was ok and part of the process.

Through all that and now, I have to say I'm grateful for my brief membership in Mensa. Though I met some rather unpleasant, superficial and self-absorbed people, through joining a national group of Christian Mensans, I also learned that the church had other people like me.

Still though, as interesting as I do find this topic, I am, at the end of the day, a pragmatist and an INTJ. I have a distaste for the debate of evolution and creation, even within the respective camps. None of us have observed any of the processes that brought us here and I genuinely believe that all our measuring and theorizing amounts to little more than very intricate guesswork. And...we have much more important things to do. For Christians, the gospels line those things out pretty I won't be spending too much time pondering this one.

*I don't consider his periods of belief and disbelief to change the truth of his research or of God. I've seen some Christians site Oscar Wilde's rumored conversion to belief on his deathbed as some sort of proof of the wrongness of his previous if they weren't wrong enough at the time, or as if the converse never happens. I do think it's a wonderful thing, but no more wonderful than anyone else making that same journey at any other point in their lives.

**I admittedly carry a bit of a chip on my shoulder in this area, since for years I felt that the very mind God had given me was being denied, suppressed and demonized by the church. As if we weren't commanded in Luke to point that very mind in love toward him. I didn't begin healing until one day, during lunch, I heard Ravi Zacharias over the radio say "The church has done a huge disservice to intelligent Christians." I almost cried. I didn't know that anyone even acknowledged that we existed. With all the fights over doctrine and the trinity and homosexuals and race, I'd never heard anyone so much as mention us. Which isn't to say that intelligence falls into the same category as any of those things, but it does deeply shape the way we approach God and the world.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The arranged marriage of my faith.

First let me say the tradition of arranged marriage is unfairly demonized. And yet I feel it's a pretty bad idea's just that it seems no less effective in accomplishing whatever the ubiquitous "institution of marriage" is trying to accomplish, than its free-wheeling, Western-styled sister is out to do.*

Today, I had another, subtle change in attitude toward something I'd once perceived as mundane, necessary or even somber. My first was probably at age 16 when I looked at my Bible sitting on its marble windowsill and I no longer saw a textbook. Instead I saw a guidebook that had been given to me for my personal benefit. This time, it was communion. I looked up from my chair, saw the wooden trays and thought "yay communion!" and then "did you really just think 'yay, communion'?" As I child I...had mixed experiences. When I was very young, it meant my mother would be singing in the choir, so my brother and I got to sit with her over in the corner. To this day, I tear up when I hear "Come ye Disconsolate" or "Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus"...songs I've come to associate with my mothers's gentle, second soprano voice and its framing of my childhood. As a teen, it became the part of service that took church from long to REALLY long and left all us kids itchy in our seats, passing notes back on forth on TI-82s. Today though, I came to genuinely see it for what it was. Time to commune with someone I love and am learning to love more...and I was excited.

I make the comparison to arranged marriage because Christians that are raised in the faith have similar orientations to those who entered into marriages that were decided for them by someone else. They don't get the big, "impressive" stories of how they met completely by accident on a plane to Nevada or stories of constant, new and exciting revelations about seemingly superficial details about the lives of their partner.  They end up forming a relationship not of their choosing and working through it for years, sometimes for better, sometimes for a lot worse.

Still though, there persist stories of couples, who, despite not having left their romantic lives up to fate, found loving and fulfilling relationships. Like a woman betrothed, I didn't choose to go to church on Sundays as a child. I didn't choose to attend a school that included a course on Biblical study. I didn't choose to pray with my parents. All of that was chosen for me. I really didn't start executing choices until I was in high school. And yes, it's something for which I am grateful. Not because of the direction it was pointing me in...though that I am thankful for, because I had parents that pointed me toward the faith of Christianity moreso than the religion...but mostly instead because it makes the transition easier.

There are spiritual disciplines and concepts that are hard. They just are. Financial discipline, serving, Biblical study, prayer, personal sacrifice, controlling of the tongue, controlling of the body, regular service attendance, patience, forgiveness and understanding with other members of the body of Christ. Those take time, effort and sacrifice to learn, put into practice and make habits of and I'm willing to bet none of them come instantly with salvation. Kind of like love seldom comes instantly in arranged marriages. Sometimes it grows. Sometimes it never comes. Sometimes the relationship turns into resentment and hatred of something familiar and confining.

In any case, I'm an thankful for the arrangements that have been made...and honestly for how they were my life.

*I make a very stark personal distinction between marriages God has "endorsed", and those that are done simply for the sake of being married or not being single. The latter is what I'm referring to in this post.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

On Emotion and Impulse: A Ravi Repost

There are a few choice famous people that really stand out to me in their thought processes and efforts. Ravi Zacharias is one of them. I won't gush too much, but he sent out the piece below in his most recent newsletter.

Emotion and Impulse

Author Daniel Goleman wrote a best-selling book in 1995 called Emotional Intelligence. He begins that book with the heart-stirring story of Gary and Mary Jean Chauncey who were in the Amtrak train that went down over a bridge into swirling waters which swallowed up the lives of many. They themselves were trapped in their compartment as they tried desperately to save their eleven year-old wheelchair ridden daughter Andrea. They succeeded in saving her life, and they did so at the cost of their own.

In describing this noble act, Goleman points out that such emotionally charged moments do not give birth to impulse in a vacuum, but rather it is the outworking of a commitment to certain values and truths already made in one's life. I believe Goleman is right in this sense. What is most obvious in the love and commitment of these parents to their young one is that passionate commitments never stand alone; they stand on the foundation of a worldview.

I mention this holding thought of many wars and much heartache around the globe, killings, insurgencies, and other manmade devastations. We shake our heads in disbelief that murderous and cruel individuals can masquerade throughout the world as heroes and saviors. They are not. They are destroyers of lives, addicted to hate and power. The truth is that many have wedded hate to their own selfish wills, and once hate lives in the human heart reason dies.

In fact, this is why Jesus said that it is not murder that is the crime; it is hate, the foundation where it all begins. He said that it is not adultery that makes a relationship wrong; it is the lust from where it all begins. You see, our actions do not come just by impulse. They come by a system of values to which our lives are deeply committed. Murderers and masterminds of violence and oppression are rarely emotionally deranged people; they are morally perverted. Their thinking is destructive and their emotions follow.

There is a simple lesson here. We must learn to think righteously if we are to act righteously. We must think justly and honorably and mercifully if we are to act with goodness and honor and mercy. And for this kind of strength, only God’s power is big enough. I hope your life and mine can learn to think God's thoughts after Him. Only then can hate be conquered and life be lived with truth and love. 

Tingles and Goosebumps and MMA

"Who doesn't like the tingles and goosebumps?"

That was a question posed at our last small group in reference to the exhilarating experiences that growth as a Christian has to offer. At first I thought "yeah...tingles are nice." But then I REALLY thought about it. While most emotional experiences are too complex to be simply liked or disliked um...tingles and goosebumps... not my favorites.

I believe that Christians all come from different starting points and we grow toward different goals, for which God has equipped us and customized our paths. Mine...well it goes a little something like this.

I'm naturally a pretty stoic person. One of my father's favorite memories is of his father openly admiring the emerging personality of my two-year old self. "She's not always smilin' and laughin' like other children." I wasn't one of those bubbly, endearing children. Some of my earliest memories are of people talking to me in kiddie voices and my not understanding why. Though extroversion and expressiveness was highly prized in my culture and extended family, I was raised to appreciate logic and reservedness.

When I was a teenager, my long time pastor died and my church home took a turn for the more charismatic and emotionally expressive. This came under leadership (a series of pastors) that was more interested in status, possessions, social clubs and attention. I was younger and not as in tune to social environments, but I remember a lot of fruitless conflict, scandal and division.

During that period I learned a lot of mistrust. I developed a distaste for gospel music that persists to this day...part of that is the musical character itself, but part is also a simple association with an unhappy corner of my life. I learned to mistrust emotional expression and in turn, began to mistrust emotional experiences (something that bled into all areas of my life, of course). Multiply that by my aforementioned nature and I ended up in a place where I've had to learn to re-trust, and re-appreciate emotions

To be completely honest, I find almost all emotional extremes to be slightly stressful, so of all the experiences that God brings into my life, I prefer the peace and still waters to the exhilaration and exuberance. I experience excitement very similarly to anger. Yes, excitement is preferable, but I find it tiring and, after a few moments with it, I'm ready for it to pass. I prefer exploration to adventure... fulfillment to elation...sadness to despair. .

On a side note, I took a break to see the results of one of the fighters from the gym and he talks about his recent disappointment and a prayer he prays before every fight. In the same study, we'd discussed the importance (and difficulty) of praying for not just what we want, but also for God's will and guidance. It was nice to hear that sentiment reiterated.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

The crazy stuff I believe.

One of the best books I've read in the last few years is The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson. Put most simply, it's a book about the history of humans use it, how we've changed it and it's changed us. It's won a lot of awards and attracted a lot of criticism, but one passage in it really got me thinking about faith. is a matter of belief, even faith: belief in the person paying us; belief in the person issuing the money he uses or the institution that honours his cheques or transfers. Money is not metal. It is trust inscribed. 

One of the biggest turning points in my life as a Christian was accepting that logic isn't the end all and be all of human existence. A long time ago, a former pastor used to say something that confused me deeply. Quite frequently he would call from the pulpit "You have to know that you know that you KNOW that you know." I never understood how the concept of knowledge could be applied to something none of us had ever seen and could not possibly, logically "know". Sure, there are elements of logic in Christianity and you can use it to decipher issues in life and Biblical study, but at the end of the day, it really doesn't make logical "sense".

Mr. Ferguson got me thinking of other things in life I simply "believe" with little physical or experiential evidence.

  • The theory of relativity: Sure, I understand it from a very basic, scientific level, but I've never personally conducted any experiments and really have no experience with its applicability across the universe. 
  • Man landing on the moon: Yes. I believe we did it. I've seen shuttle launches and pieces of moon rock. Still though, I've never been to the moon myself, couldn't build a shuttle or complete the calculations needed to get a craft to the pretty round ball I see at night. 
  • The existence of...anything in space. I just saw the movie Thor (which I LOVED conceptually and visually) and the most amazing part for me, were the scenes flying past nebula, planets and stars (...ok...the Ice Giants were cool too). But still, as much as I do believe they do exist, I have as much proof that they exist as I do Bigfoot or Nessy or the Chupacabra.
  • Almost...all of history: I've seen quite a few historical artifacts, Dowager Empress Xi Ci's palace, Akhenaten's death mask, Ancient engravings at the ruins of Tulum...all of them amazing. The stories behind them? I'm taking people 100% at their word. I saw none of them created and have never spoken with any one who has. Considering that "history is written by the victors", and I've done absolutely no work in archaeology, that's pretty much the definition of blind belief. 

Why believe things like this? Is it because they're convenient and fit neatly into the way I see the world? Is it because belief to the contrary would label me an outsider? I'm really not sure. What I do know though, is that believe and faith, in the secular and the spiritual, require suspension of reliance on the absolute reach of your individual understanding and experiences. 

Monday, May 30, 2011

Why Christians should take job burnout seriously

I sometimes think Christians are slow to admit dissatisfaction with or burden from their work life...kind of like mothers are reluctant to say they're tired or frustrated in their duties caring for children...they feel as if admission, even to themselves, will bring judgement and is an indication of inferiority on some level. Here's a list of reasons that I think it's essential that we be honest with ourselves and others about how job burnout affects us:

  • It's not a sign of weakness or a deficient relationship with God. Yes, you may need to focus more in a time of employment crisis but the fact that you're not skipping and singing through a minefield doesn't make you a bad Christian. 
  • It doesn't make you ungrateful. It's a tricky dichotomy. Situations in life are seldom clean cut blessings or difficulties. Family is a support system, a blessing and sometimes a burden. Financial success is great, but brings with it additional responsibilities and changed reactions from those around us. Why would a job be any less complex? Even in difficult economic times, it's possible to be thankful that you have a job that provides for your physical needs, but still be worn down by the psychological and emotional effects that it brings. Those too, are real. 
  • Job burnout affects your relationships. With your coworkers, your parents, your wife, kids, friends, strangers, all of them. How exactly depends on an individual, but if you are emotionally drained from work, you don't instantly become a wellspring of positive interaction when dealing with people. Ignoring it will take a toll on your life. All of it. 
  • Job burnout can weigh on your physical and mental health. These are probably the first symptoms people are willing to admit. A failing gland and lost hair were my call to the reality of the weight of the work environment. 
  • If affects your job. Most people need their jobs for things they need AND things that make them happy. Even though you might not be trying to buy your happiness in diamonds, pearls and really sweet rides, chances are there are simple things in life that bring you small pleasures that do cost a few dollars. Unfortunately, if you're burnt-out, your performance will suffer, which will likely add pressure from higher ups and, if you're the kind of person that's likely to suffer from burnout, will weigh on you in the form of anxiety and personal doubt.
  • It may be a sign of something bigger. I don't believe burnout just happens. It's there for you to learn. It's there to nudge you closer to God. It's there to show you what you need. It's never just there.
  • It will change your relationship with God. This has been the trickiest for me. Personally, I'm not one of those people who runs to God when things are bad. My first instinct is to solve problems myself. For good or bad though, it does shake things up.

So yeah...guilt, shame, fear, denial, whatever the reason, we all owe it to ourselves to be honest about this "phenomenon" of modern life. 

Sunday, May 29, 2011

"I'll go to church, but I'm not getting to know anybody."

A friend of mine said that to me this week. Voices echoed in my head "you need to get to know people" "People in church are flawed just like anywhere else." I couldn't bring myself to pass any of that on though, because, despite my recent renewed efforts to connect with Christians I attend church with, I knew, and felt, exactly what she meant...and I honestly didn't have an answer.

From youth activities to volunteer projects to singles Bible studies to young adult groups and women's dinners, I've done and been involved with probably every type of function a church can possibly have to offer. I've been burned and disappointed the same way there that I have been at work and in social activities, so when she shared to me how she'd been turned off by the gossip and backstabbing she'd recently witnessed first hand at a friend's church, all I could do was listen.

Writing about this though, I'm realizing it's not just about the church. I'm dealing with, and have dealt with the same efforts to degrade and wear down self-esteem and well being in others in the secular areas of my life. There, I've had the same apprehensions, misgivings and overall wear in my resolve of getting to know, and getting involved with new groups.

Long story short, I'm tired, my friend is tired. A lot of the world is tired.

I think this issue is especially relevant to singles and those who don't have children because we inherently have more time and resources to connect with groups. That though, also puts us in a position where we're more frequently exposed to environments that wear down our social tolerances. Those of us that are introverted or socially shy, wear down more quickly because there are fewer benefits offered us in group participation. What's more, with time and age (I'm calling 30 as the magic age) the prospect and hope of "new" sparkles less and less.

I'm at a point in my life where I'm genuinely beginning to question the benefit of planned, large group interaction, aside from the satiation of some extrovert needs. I'm reminded of the fact that around him Jesus had a relatively small group of connections, and even within that small group, he kept a few apostles closer than others.

When I look at all the problems, all the willing bodies lost to bad environments, all the hurt feelings and crushed enthusiasm, I do see one common theme that this book addresses. Basically, it's a no tolerance policy for rudeness, abruptness, callousness, meanness, underhanded behavior and the like. That means that people entering an organization know it's not tolerated and when it's seen, it's addressed immediately with a warning. Repeat behavior earns an expulsion.

I know that doing this in the church wouldn't work the same as it does in business, but I think the spirit of dealing with detrimental and poisonous behavior is one that all organizations, business or otherwise, would benefit from.

All of this makes me beyond thankful for the friends and Christians that I do have in my life, since the idea of building those types of connections and trust at this age seems, though not impossible, incredibly difficult. 

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Why aren't you drinking?!?!

I was watching the George Lopez show last night...he was demonstrating to his wife how people from his family deal with issues, which in this case, was by taking two shots of tequila. Both times, the audience hooted and clapped. My first thought was, Really? That's what we're clapping for now? The consumption of alcohol? Something that happens every day, in every city and has been for thousands of years? 

Yes. Yes it is what we're clapping for now. It truly baffles me how American society today seems to see alcohol consumption as expected, yet simultaneously worthy of praise. If you've ever been to a networking event, dinner meeting, meet and greet or even just out with coworkers after work, there's no doubt you've been confronted with this issue, most likely quite directly. Most Christians I know are teetotalers, some even refraining from food cooked with alcohol (or so they think), so I know this has to be a problem a lot of us run into. 

Personally, I don't take issue with alcohol consumption. I love the culinary arts and keep 10-15 bottles of wine, sake and various beers on hand at a time for cooking and will occasionally have a glass with dinner when out. Though I don't like hard liquor, I come from a family that doesn't drink, but that does believe in grapefruit toddies when ill...and I just finished making a bourbon chess pie. So basically I believe in the Ephesians 5:18 take on alcohol:

Ephesians 5:18 

18 Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit

Basically it falls into the same category as money...not inherently wrong, but the issue is the overuse/abuse.

I've dealt with it this problem for years, but lately people seem to be getting more direct. The conversation usually goes like this:

You're not having anything to drink?
Not tonight
Why not??
I'm not a big drinker.
I bet you are! 
I'm really not.

And don't think having a glass of wine in your hand will stave off the questions...

You're only having one?
Yeah. I'm not a big drinker.
Why not? I'm going to get you another drink.
No thanks.
No really, I'm fine with this. 

Now...I know these conversations aren't generally meant with any ill will. People usually just want you to join in the party because, for some odd reason, they feel that if everyone isn't participating, drinking isn't quite as enjoyable. If I had to take a guess though, I think there's something pretty sad going on. I think a large number of people need alcohol to deal with their true feelings and desires. Many people say they need alcohol to dance or perform, and I've even heard the statement that people who don't drink can't be trusted because they are hiding something and are scared it will slip out if they get drunk. In an age of supposed enlightenment and more focus on self, I'm really not sure how that came about.

But general policy on confrontation? Don't back down. I've got a decent amount of mass on me, so it takes a few glasses of wine to even get me tipsy, but I know my limits. I get my one glass that I sip VERY slowly (people do notice, despite what you may read in magazines and online). I may do a second, but regardless of who's offering, I turn down anything after I start to feel the effects. I once had to turn down our senior VP who insisted on getting me more drinks. Not gonna lie...he didn't like it.

I am looked upon strangely and people do remember. Some people have even taken it as a game to get me to drink more than I want. I've never gotten angry or offended, but have instead just maintained an even, light tone when turning people down, because honestly, a large number of people will take your limitations on drinking as you judging their personal behavior.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Christians and Job Burnout I think I'm officially suffering from job burnout.

A couple months ago I started taking some of those quizzes that seem to be everywhere online, and I tested moderate risk for burnout. I just took another one and I'm up to high risk. It's a little hard for me to believe because I've always associated the condition with working excessive hours (which I haven't been lately)...sure, that's one of the factors that contributes, but there are quite a few others (feeling like you make a difference, interest, feeling like you're part of a team working toward the same goal) that have been weighing on me lately.

Quizzes aside, I'm just tired of doing things. Not sleepy or physically tired...but my will is shot. I used to come home and immediately start my evening workout. I’d cook dinner then move on to some language studies. Next came my nightly 15 minutes of cleaning and that was my evening. I enjoyed it, it kept me energized, and I could watch Spanish news. My life wasn’t perfect, but the setup I had was nice.

Fast forward to today, more than a year after I finished business school. I fully expected to spend my days rested and ready to enjoy life like I did before I added school on top of a full time work schedule. Needless to say, that didn’t happen. I’m still careful to make sure I spend my free time doing things I enjoy…linguistic studies, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, cooking classes...but…it’s hard now. I find myself blanking out while sparring. I don’t want to practice my pronunciation. I find myself shying away from recipes that take too much work.

My first fear was that I was slipping back into the situational depression I believe I experienced in my first job out of undergrad, but that's not it either...I don't have even the slightest taste of the hollow hopelessness that came with that trip.

I thought that maybe I wasn’t sleeping enough. I never do honestly, but I decided to make sure I was getting at least 8 hrs a night. Strangely, I was still waking up tired, while on weekends, I felt fine after only six hours of sleep.

My next solution was a vacation. I took a week and a half around the holidays, hoping it would help from the traumatic introduction I had to my current assignment, but it was horrible. I spent the entire time short of breath, chest tight, checking to make sure my inhaler was close by.

So I ran to the internet to find some inspiration…some other Christians who’d struggled with the same issue. Unfortunately, I wouldn’t find much. It's kind of sad how little advice there is for Christians suffering from job burnout. Most of what I've seen mimics what you find on secular sites, replacing "your family and friends" with "your faith and relationship with God." Sometimes you find advice to find a new job, make your current work environment better or to determine what you need out of life.

I’m not going to complain too much though, because even looking back on job issues I've overcome only through faith and divine intervention, I can't find much advice to give others but the trite, and somewhat dismissive "pray about it" and "listen to God". A friend of mine currently going through cancer treatments said something to me recently...he mentioned how painful it was to hear people simplify what he needs to do to get through his struggles, even if they'd been through similar situations themselves.

I've decided to turn my struggles into something more, so if you suffer through the same issues, check out my newest blog-venture that will hopefully help you out some.

I'm guessing a lot of authors out there are trying to avoid that. 

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Being an introvert and attenvion vs. interraction

I remember my first solo musical performance in front of a large was done at the height of popularity of my church in the community. We had a new, dynamic pastor that kept the building (that seated over 500) packed to the point people that people had to be sent to satellite areas downstairs to watch the service on a closed circuit feed. It was the Sunday before Christmas, and I'd been asked to reprise my performance of The Little Drummer Boy (that I'd played for the kids program) for the whole congregation. It was a beautiful, rich arrangement that did an amazing job of reflecting the meaning of the song. I spent the whole performance, terrified by the church's deafening silence while I played. (There aren't many instances in Black sacred music where there is not either clapping or singing or yelling...constant feedback from the audience, which is honestly characteristic of our culture as a whole.) 

I finished the song, stood, turned to bow and saw the entire congregation on its feet, roaring and clapping. It was a nice feeling to know that people had appreciated something I did so much, but honestly, not enough to draw me back. 

That's my favorite performance of the song. Bowie's voice still surprises me in its non pop-funk form.

At the church I was raised in, kids basically had two options for sang in the choir, or you ushered. My temperament in no way fit the energetic, attention-loving environment of the kids I knew that sang, so I became an usher. We had quiet meetings to coordinate our sitting, standing and door blocking, which I didn't mind too much, because we only met once a month, the meetings were only about 30 min and I had a massive crush on one of the guys.

Fast forward 15 years and lo and behold, I'm an usher again. Our recently arrived missions pastor came to me a couple months back and asked if I'd consider greeting for a couple of special occasions. He kept talking and said something that surprised me...genuinely surprised me...and I don't surprise easily by any measure. "You have such a positive welcoming energy, I was wondering if you'd help out." I swear I froze, waiting for a punch line. I know I've become more open in recent years (though not more extraverted), but I thought there must be some other 6' tall Black woman with natural hair that only shows up on days I'm not there that he THOUGHT he was talking to. (I might have brushed it off as flattery if someone at work hadn't said something similar a few days before.)

So I'm greeting today and it started to hit me what the real difference between ushering and singing at my old church was. If you'd asked me years ago, I would have said it was people who liked interacting with people (singers) and those who didn't (ushers). But today, realizing that I'd spoken to every person that set foot in the building, and remembering the faceless mass that had been behind me during that entire performance of The Little Drummer Boy, I understood that the position of greeting/ushering requires much more interaction on a one to one level than performing does.

Attention...I'm not sure what part it plays in the introversion-extroversion spectrum...I know many extroverts that enjoy attention and some that don't...can't say the same for introverts though...I know a lot (which is a big deal since we tend to stay in our little holes) and I can't name one that actually enjoys the attention of others. Yes, there are many introvert performance artists, but they seem to tolerate the attention as more of a hazard of the job than a reward (Johnny Depp comes to mind).

All I can think is that attention can translate as a sort of one-way, social interaction...because honestly, what is conversation but a series of alternating, mini-performances with cyclical feedback and what is performance besides a conversation?

Sunday, May 1, 2011

My favorite apostle

Yesterday, I went to see the exhibit, Vatican Splendors. If it comes to a city near you, I highly recommend it. I have a lot to write about the things I saw, but it was amazing to see the growth and change of the early Christian church...the influx of pagan culture...the efforts to remove it and get back to the church's true work. I have to credit my little Southern Baptist elementary and middle school for teaching us about the history of the Catholic church (along with other denominations and other religions)'s given me a different take on the institution than a lot of Protestants I've run into. I once dated a guy in college who considered it to be a satanic cult and had no idea that the Protestant church, though quite different now, was born as an effort to strip off the excesses and misdirections that the Catholic church of the time had gotten caught up in

The art though, was amazing. I almost cried when I rounded a corner and saw a reproduction of The Pietà . The use of images in churches does run the risk of promoting idolatry, but many of the works themselves, I found them helpful in remembering those Christians who had gone before and what had gone on in their lives...especially those of the apostles. I mean, there are twelve of them and no matter how hard or long you study them, it can be easy to get them confused.

St. Andrew by Francois Duquesnoy

I've always found myself drawn to two in particular: Paul and Andrew. Paul I've always known why...he was the thinker of the group. Andrew though...I realized that I knew nothing. I did some quick digging and found out he was the silent, even tempered apostle. Again...makes sense. I just find it funny that the attraction was subconscious. Now I want to see the MBTI for Christians who like specific apostles. Unfortunately, very little of his work survived the passing of time. I'm hoping I can learn more from this book that I just loaded into my Kindle. 

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Привет России!

Just checked my stats and I was really surprised to see the country with the second highest readership was Russia so...Hi Russia!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Being the good apple

Now, I'm all for showing love for jerks. Sometimes they're just misunderstood or hurt or confused...but what do you do when you're in a group and there's one person that's just... ruining everything by the sheer fact that they exist? I don't mean a personality difference or occasional conflict. I mean someone that absolutely obliterates any harmony and happiness a group or organization may have ever known. The kind of person whose venom no one seems to be immune to.

I just finished reading this blog on Psychology Today that addresses these "bad apples". Unfortunately, it doesn't give too much insight (in this post) on how to deal with them, but it does bring up a very interesting point.

"Conclusions - "Bad apples" are people who are internally conflicted. These internal conflicts tend to spread up to the level of the group, decreasing the groups' complexity, flexibility, and their ability to grow and adapt. On the more positive side, conflict resolution spreads as well, up from inside us and into our relationships, and down from our relationships to make us more internally flexible as well.

Implications - Expect conflict. Embrace it as a human condition. It is a means to our peril, as well as to our future resilience. And if you run into a bad apple, RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!"

That little bold part? Crazy important for anyone that aims (or has) to function as part of an organization. It tells me that if you want to truly resolve conflict, it has to come from you, internally to do so at any lasting level. 

Doing the whole business jig for the past few years, I've had my share of conflict resolution classes and one thing they don't seem to reflect, is that conflict resolution, very much like breaking up a fight, means you're very likely to incur some personal damage for the sake of maintaining peace. Even if a person, like me, isn't very prone to internalizing direct verbal jabs or general animosity, remaining calm and stifling emotional reactions while swimming deep in highly emotional situations does take a toll. 

I've come to realize that God has put me into a couple of situations in my life to pay that toll. Someone's even told me to my face that I have a calming effect on people. I genuinely enjoy that I can be an aid in adding a little rationality and calm to situations where there seems to be so little. Over the long term though, I've found that it can become burdensome, with me eventually harboring resentment and anger toward those who allow the "bad apples" to flourish be they the bad apples themselves, or someone else. 

Hearing God's guidance when it comes to timing of my involvement in situations is particularly difficult for me...knowing when to show up (not just when it's comfortable for me or when I'm excited about something) and when to leave (not just when I'm tired...or after I'm too exhausted to carry on) requires a lot of listening, which in turn takes vigilance in my prayer life.