Wednesday, February 22, 2012

franklin graham's mistake: why it matters, but not as much as you think

The Internet and cable news were all abuzz yesterday and today concerning remarks made on Morning Joe (MSNBC) by Rev. Franklin Graham, son of Billy Graham and head of Christian relief organization Samaritan's Purse.  Graham, in an interview with co-host Willie Geist and other panel members, seemed to suggest on the one hand that a person's true faith in Christ is known only to them, but then on the other hand expressed far more certainty regarding the Christian faith of Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich than that of President Obama.  He said that Mitt Romney is not a Christian, but a Mormon (for more on what Christians mean when they say this, please visit my previous post here), but that he would be a good President and leader.  He also criticized what he considered to be the inaction of President Obama in urging certain Muslim nations to cease persecuting Christians, citing in particular the situation of persecution of Christians which currently exists in Egypt. 

Graham said faith is something determined in one's heart and one has to ask a person about their faith to know if they are a Christian.  The sticking point for many people regarding Graham's responses when asked about the faith of each candidate is that he then sought to judge the hearts of all of the men involved (as he had said he could not do).  The second sticking point is that Graham suggested that faith is revealed by actions (a very Biblical statement, by the way), but that he seemed to ignore actions that didn't support his case.  President Obama didn't support the social issue stands most important to Graham, ergo, President Obama may or may not be a Christian.  Gingrich had engaged in moral failure, but did appear to be a Christian, according to Graham.  Why not call into question Gingrich's faith, due to his adultery, if actions are the measure of faith?  Why only subject President Obama to hesitancy regarding his faith? 

To be fair, Graham was in a no-win situation from the moment he was asked about candidates' faith.  The best scenario for him would have been to comment equally on all of the candidates that God alone knows their hearts.  He should have stayed out of the politics of it.  He should have done this because the dipping of the toe into partisan politics tends to discredit those who seek to serve the Lord in ministry.

Understand, I am not saying that pastors cannot talk about social issues and call people to repentance.  It is essential that they do so.  But getting into a situation where they are called upon to endorse or repudiate specific candidates is polarizing and gets in the way of their message.  This is why as a pastor, I never publicly encouraged people to vote for any particular candidate.  However, I was firm in my teaching on social issues such as the need of caring for the poor and needy, the importance of stopping genocide, the sin of abortion, and the wrongness of acting on homosexual impulses.  When it came to politics, I would engage in collegial discussions with congregation members, assuming that Christians who believe strongly in God's Word come to different conclusions on how to live it out the teachings of Scripture.

As you can imagine, my views did not place me firmly in either party, and I suppose that helped when it came time to lead a congregation.  I could see different points of view in terms of how we accomplish the goals we are called to as Christians.  For example, Republicans believe that the poor are better helped by a social policy that limits government intervention; they believe that one gains self-esteem from working hard and rising in success based on their own merits.  They do not believe that government money legitimately helps the poor, except in the most dire of cases.  Now, it is perfectly possible to be a strong Christian and hold this perspective.  Of course selfishness can come into play, but so can selflessness.  Many Christians believe that if they are not taxed at a high rate, they will have more money to give to charitable endeavors.  This may not always work, but if an individual is seeking to live out these ideals and help in a more personal way than the government can, we should applaud them for living out their faith.  Conversely, many Democrats believe that the poor are better helped by limiting the opportunity of our human nature to resist sharing. They believe that a free society has a responsibility from all of its members to care for the poor and needy and so they believe in higher taxation to provide the funds for this care.  They believe that the government has a more direct role to play in providing for the poor.  Such beliefs easily hearken back to Old Testament Law in which the whole society was responsible to care for the poor and needy amongst the people.  I believe either position can be reached through serious interaction with Scripture.  Now, is it important for a pastor to stand up and say: "The only viable way for us to see that the poor are served and cared for is _________"?  No!  Furthermore, no method will be perfect, for we live in a sinful world.  But simply because our methods are imperfect, we are not "let off the hook" from trying.

As long as a Christian is in the Word and tries to think about the world from God's perspective, he or she can seek to do good in either (or no) political party.  As the old saying goes, "there is more than one way to skin a cat."  We need to respect that others may have different methods of achieving Biblically-sound goals of good for society and the world. 

The problem is not whether Franklin Graham privately reflects on where he thinks each candidate is at spiritually.  As he pointed out in the interview, evaluating faith and calling people to come to Christ are "his business," just as news is the media's business.  The problem is that Franklin Graham proclaimed publicly what he thought the status of each man's faith was.  Now, how will Franklin Graham be able to preach the Gospel credibly to any of the candidates?  How will he be able to encourage them in faith?

I am hesitant to be too hard on Franklin Graham, however.  We often forget that even pastors are human and liable to make mistakes just like the rest of us.  When they make a mistake, they are reduced to that misstep alone and their finer deeds are ignored.  Franklin Graham was all but crucified on the internet and in the press in the past 24 hours.  And his very real accomplishments on behalf of the poor and vulnerable in the world were ignored.  He was relegated into a very narrow box of what the world thinks a Christian is.

Chuck Todd, political analyst for MSNBC and host of The Daily Rundown, tweeted yesterday morning, "Franklin Graham has a lot to learn from his father."  Fair enough.  But we often forget that Billy Graham also landed himself in political hot water from time to time.  On one occasion, Graham was accused of being a propaganda tool of the former Soviet Union, an accusation not entirely unwarranted, despite his good intentions.  William Martin wrote in Christianity Today: "[Critics] pointed in particular to a 1982 Moscow 'Peace Conference,' which did indeed have a strong anti-American slant, and after which Graham made some inadequately considered—and inaccurately reported—remarks that seemed to describe greater religious freedom in the USSR than in fact existed. Graham understands, of course, that the governments of the countries he has visited have their own agendas and that preaching the Christian gospel is not a major priority. 'Of course they are using us,' he said. "But we are using them as well, and my message is stronger than theirs.'"  To one extent, Graham was being realistic and shrewd.  To another extent, he was being too innocent about the impact of his actions.  Should he have spoken on political matters in such a way?  Probably not.  Was he confusing his calling momentarily?  Probably.

Then there was the even more troubling revelation in 2002 of the Nixon tapes of 1972 which found Billy Graham making anti-Semitic remarks to Richard Nixon, despite his long support of the nation of Israel.  Graham later apologized for the remarks, saying he did not even recall making them.  It's hard to imagine what he was thinking at the time.  Could he have been star-struck by President Nixon?  Could he actually have harbored anti-Semitic thoughts in his heart?  We cannot say for sure.  We can only say that Graham made a very significant mistake, but that he righted it and repented of his words.

Every time Billy Graham attempted to step outside the range of his calling--the speaking of the Law and the Gospel in Scripture--and attempted to lead in matters of politics, he was humbled.  He made some major mistakes when it came to politics.  But he also did tremendous good in the Body of Christ.  His lasting legacy is found in the countless people came to new or renewed faith in Christ through his work of evangelism.  The impact of his ministry will be seen in the assembled saints in Heaven.

We should look at the ministry and work of his son with the benefit of this history in our minds.  Franklin Graham is not a perfect man.  There have been several times he has ventured too much into the field of politics and too far away from his callings to care for the poor and needy of the world and to speak the Gospel.  When he strays from these callings, he is humbled, just as his father was.  However, that does not negate the excellent and massive relief work he does in the world.  Samaritan's Purse recognizes the importance of relieving the suffering of those in need and puts its money where its mouth is.  In the midst of the drought and famine in East Africa, they provided food and relief.  They give Christmas gift boxes to underprivileged children throughout the world through Operation Christmas Child.  Whenever there is a natural disaster in the world, they are there providing aid.  They aid in medical missions, hunger relief, HIV/AIDS care, water programs.  We cannot dismiss these good efforts.  All too often Christians are said to care nothing for the poor.  This is not true of Franklin Graham.  He has invested his life in the care of the poor.  You could say that this ministry is his life's work; politics is only his hobby.

Should we call into question Graham's words this morning?  Certainly it is fair to do so.  But we ought not blow his words out of proportion.  We ought to look at the full man with a balanced eye and give thanks for all the good that he, yet an imperfect sinner saved by God's grace, does in the world.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

ash wednesday

Ever since I entered the Lutheran church, Ash Wednesday has been one of my favorite days in the church year. Maybe it has to do with coming to the Lutheran church when I was going through a profound depression as a teenager. Maybe it has to do with the sign of the cross on our foreheads that links us Christians together as we go back into the world. Maybe it has to do with the concrete nature of using a physical sign to convey a truth.

But I suspect that the main reason I am so attracted to this day is its honesty. You know, we walk through our lives, making small talk and speaking platitudes, talking about the weather and Linsanity and Downton Abbey, but when it comes down to it, there are very few moments that are fundamentally, deeply honest.

We feel this inner drive to be nice and sweet and look on the bright side. And sometimes that is really good. After all, being positive helps us in many ways. But at least once in a while, we need to get serious and admit our frailty, our pain, our neediness.

I think sometimes we cover up our pain thinking that God will not love us if we reveal who we truly are underneath the shiny paint. So--like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden--we hide, hide from the voice of God, from the nearness of God. We dare not let Him get too close.

That's why Ash Wednesday is such a breath of fresh air. It is maybe the one day in the whole year when we can get honest with ourselves and with God. It is the one day in the year when we can say, "I am a sinner and I am going to die." Those are the two things that are hardest to admit. But when we admit them, as Jesus said, "the truth will set us free." Admitting our brokenness means God can finally get in there to work some healing. And the first step of healing is knowing that despite every disgusting, ugly, despicable thing about us, God loves us. We may be dust, but we are dust that God loves. God can do amazing things with dust. He after all formed the first people from dust. And when we die and become dust again, He is able to raise us and make us new all over again.

In 2 Corinthians 5:20-21, Paul begs us, "We implore you on Christ's behalf: Be reconciled to God." He then goes on to tell us that God made Christ sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. In other words, Christ wants to heal you, but in order for that to happen, you have to admit you have a problem. You have to admit the truth of Ash Wednesday: "I am a sinner and I'm going to die." Only then does Christ reach in and say, "Alright...finally you admit it. Now I will take that brokenness from you and give you all that is mine." Think of it like a marriage: When you get married, you move in and bring all of your separate stuff together. What is the husband's is now the wife's. What is the wife's is now the husband's. That's how it is with Christ. What is yours is sin, brokenness, death, the power of the devil. That is Christ's now. What is Christ's is God's righteousness, healing, and resurrection...and that is now yours.

Christians are people who have faced up to the fact that we have a problem...sin and death. And we are people who know Christ will one day do away with all of that and make everything new. But in the meantime, we have many trials and pains. Ash Wednesday is about that too. It is deciding that instead of walking away from your pain, you are going to walk through it. The people of Israel had to go through the wilderness to get to the Promised Land. Jesus had to go through the 40 days of temptation in the wilderness before His ministry. Paul and the apostles had to go through tremendous trials in their ministry. And yet, with them, we look honestly at the worst this world has to throw at us...we face up to it...and then we say with faith, "This is not all there is!" With Paul, we say, "(We are) sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; poor, yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything." For in Christ, we have everything.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Book Review Friday: When Work and Family Collide by Andy Stanley

When Work and Family Collide: Keeping Your Job from Cheating Your Family by Andy Stanley (Multnomah Books) is like a modern-day book of Proverbs, speaking to the workaholic spouse and parent and providing direct and wise counsel on how to stop the madness and reclaim the most key priorities of life.

Andy Stanley is the founder of a megachurch, North Point Ministries in Atlanta.  As any ministry family knows, the Church can be a very demanding profession.  One has spiritual reasons for neglecting one's family.  The needs of congregation members never end and one can easily gift their loved ones the short shrift.  Yet, Stanley has steadfastly sought to prioritize his family members, despite the intense demands of starting and running a new congregation.  He is a valuable role model for the over-stressed, over-worked typical American.

Stanley's running idea throughout the book is that there are only so many resources to go around and we will necessarily let someone down.  In this way, we will either "cheat" our families or our workplace.  Stanley says we ought to rather "cheat" our workplaces before we "cheat" our families.  He points out that employers often do not value our loyalty and efforts, but that our families absolutely require it.  He says that the workaholic's prayer is, "Dear God, you do what only I can do while I go do what many other could do just as well or better."

When I first started reading this book, I struggled with Stanley's use of the word "cheat."  When I struggled so much as a young pastor, wife and mother, always feeling as if I was letting someone down, this was precisely my worry.  I often thought to myself that I was being paid by my employer and I could not dare to let them down because that would be like cheating or stealing.  Yet, for my family responsibilities, I was not paid.  It would not be stealing to let them down, but it did tear my heart out.  As I progressed further in the book, Stanley made it clear that he is not saying that Christians should defraud their employers of their due by sneaking out the door or just letting things go.  Rather, he advises directness with one's employer.  He holds up Daniel 1 as an example of how to appeal a rule that is forcing one to go against their convictions.  His insights about presenting the issue to the employer directly, listening to their concerns, and seeking to come up with a solution that meets both parties' needs seemed to me wise and practical.  (However, I always did struggle as a young pastor with figuring out who my boss was: God?  The church council--who changed every year and who each had different expectations?  The average member?  The bishop?  Still, conversations such as these would have been helpful to have had with the council, even if the revolving door of people entering council positions introduced some difficulties.)

This is a very helpful, readable book with a lot of wisdom, helpful stories and illustrations, and strong conviction.  It holds up the importance of our family relationships as the most important commitments in our lives.  It also includes a very helpful 4-week study guide for groups to use in discussion.  Recommended.  3 1/2 stars.

Disclaimer: I received this book for free from WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group for this review.  I was not required to write a positive review and the opinions included are my own.

To read the first chapter of When Work and Family Collide, go here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

and we have a winner....

Drumroll, please....

The randomly-chosen winner of the book, Healing Your Church Hurt by Stephen Mansfield is....

Timothy Swenson!  Tim, please email me your address so I can mail you your certificate for your free book.  Congratulations!

For the rest of you, make sure to check out my review here and consider purchasing a copy.

Monday, February 13, 2012

only my daughter

Things to categorize under "Only My Daughter":
--Only my daughter would get up from sleeping in bed after making a messy to CHANGE HER OWN DIAPER WITHOUT CALLING MOM
--Only my daughter would make such a mess of it that when I finally heard her crashing around her room and went upstairs, the messy was smeared into the floor...leaving me wondering CAN THIS BE CLEANED UP?  (It could)
--Only my daughter would empty half of her bath soap in the tub in an effort to clean herself and then giggle at her luck at getting a bubble bath in the middle of the night
--Only my daughter would crack me up with post-bath acrobatics
--Only my daughter would leave me with a tender heart after having been down on my hands and knees scrubbing up the most disgusting mess ever
--Only my daughter makes such gag-worthy tasks an act of love
--Only my daughter...fills my heart with love...

I don't know how it can be that we had such tender moments after this diaper cataclysm.  But we did.

You couldn't have explained this to me at all before I had kids.  It defies explanation.

I love that little stinker.

happy galentine's day!

Christopher and I are fans of the NBC comedy, Parks and Recreation.  In the sweet episode from last week, Leslie celebrates "Galentine's Day" (the day before Valentine's Day) by celebrating her female friends and attempting to find a love match for her best friend, Ann.

Well, I'm not going to try to find any of my single friends a husband; matchmaking has never been my forte!  But I do want to take this invented holiday to reflect with thankfulness on the wonderful gift of female friends in my life.

I'm afraid that for many of my single years, I didn't appreciate female friends as much as I should have.  My focus was so fully on finding a husband to love that I placed less value on female relationships.  Plus, I thought I had more in common with male friends.  How little I knew!

But the beginnings of marriage and motherhood have shown me that while a wonderful, loving husband is a gift of God, there are some parts of life that only a woman friend can understand--because your experience is her experience too!

Only a woman can understand the crazy ups and downs affecting our emotions and bodies each month.

Only a woman understands how physically connected we feel to our children, in such a way that we would kill or be killed if only to protect them

Only a woman understands the wonder of feeling a tiny baby growing within your womb.

Only a woman understands how draining it is to have birthed a new baby.

Only a woman understands the guilty feelings as she is pulled between work and home, always feeling she is letting someone down.

Only a woman understands postpartum depression.

Only a woman knows what it is like to feed another human being from her body.

Only a woman understands the anxiety of each stage of motherhood, as we struggle to figure out what is best for our children.

So....for all of my female friends who I am blessed to have in my life...thank you, from the bottom of my heart.  Thank you for your kind, loving words.  Thank you for your Facebook messages and emails when I need a word of encouragement or advice.  Thank you for your phone calls.  Thank you for cooking for me when I was torn in body and spirit from the pains of labor.  Thank you for making time for me.  Thank you for encouraging me in faith.  Thank you for being a sisterhood to me.

Happy Galentine's Day, ladies!  I love you!

Friday, February 10, 2012

Enter to Win: Healing Your Church Hurt by Stephen Mansfield

If you read my review of Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People by Stephen Mansfield, you know that I think it is a book that every Christian who has been hurt by another brother or sister in Christ should read.

Tyndale has provided me an opportunity to give one of you a free copy of this book.  To enter the contest, just answer the following question in the comments below by Wednesday, February 15 (MST).  If you win, I will post your name here on the blog on Thursday and get in touch with you.  One entry per person, but multiple members of a family may enter.

Here's the question for you to answer: What is one lesson that you learned in your experience of church hurts or church conflicts?

Book Review Friday: Healing Your Church Hurt by Stephen Mansfield

When I signed up to be a book review blogger last month, one of the books I was most excited to read was this week's featured title: Healing Your Church Hurt: What To Do When You Still Love God But Have Been Wounded by His People by Stephen Mansfield.  (The first version of this book was titled ReChurch.)  I was excited to read this book because, frankly, I needed it.  I still need it.  The last year of our time as pastors in North Dakota was fraught with conflict that exhausted me and wore me down.  I came to Montana wanting to be very slow about getting involved in church.  I would support Christopher is his role as pastor and be a positive presence at church, but I felt just very, very tired of the pain that churches cause.  I was bleeding inside and I was pretty angry.

God has slowly been bringing me back from that battle-weary state.  He has been so very good to me this year, surrounding me with trustworthy friends with whom I can be real and deepen my faith.  He has blessed me with an incredible Bible study where I get to be a participant instead of the leader.  There is still healing left to do, but I have begun to feel the cynicism and anger recede and a softness of spirit develop in me.

Healing Your Church Hurt is a book to help people whose hearts have been broken by the Church.  Stephen Mansfield writes from the perspective of a man who has been deeply hurt by the Church.  He writes of his experience: "For nearly a decade, I had been the pastor of a growing and influential church.  It had been a glorious experience and I had loved the life that we shared and the history that we made as this nearly four thousand-member congregation pursued the things of God.  But then, for reasons that don't need airing here, it all came to an end amidst conflict and uproar.  Oh, it was a classic--complete with a conspiring church board and gossip packaged as 'sharing' in prayer meetings and accusations flying fast and loose.  Demons danced and angels wept, and I should say quickly that I sinned too."

Sound familiar?  I know that it did to me.  Mansfield goes on to write that he was becoming broken and bitter, cynical and angry.  He went over the whole horrible story over and over again in his mind, even after he had left the congregation where the wounding occurred.  He began to develop hatred for those who had attacked and hurt him.  He describes his soul as a "toxic bog" at this point.

Mansfield says that at this point in his descent, God sent him a group of "bold and unapologetic" pastors who took him to task, strongly confronted him, and forced him to face what he needed to so that he could find healing.  They were his coaches, helping him to not only heal but begin to live out a hopeful future.  But it was hard, strenuous emotional and spiritual work.  Since that time, Mansfield found that God was constantly bringing him into contact with people who had been wounded by the Church.  He began to realize that inherent in these encounters was a call.  This book was written to help fulfill that call.  Mansfield now writes to every Christian who is in the position he was in.  He writes as if he is now one of the bold, confronting pastors, challenging us as readers to be all God calls us to be.

Throughout the course of the book, I appreciated Mansfield's direct voice.  He doesn't tiptoe around the truth but states it baldly and strongly.  He does so with compassion and love, but he speaks the truth that sets us free.

One of the chapters that I most appreciated in the book was "The Sea Breeze of the Centuries," in which Mansfield tells the story of several prominent Christians in church history who suffered terrible pain at the hands of other Christians.  I don't know why I had never thought of this before, but it never occurred to me that some of the worst pain the heroes of the faith endured was at the hands of other Christians.  Mansfield tells of how George Whitefield had rotten eggs and pieces of dead cats thrown at him when he preached, of how he had drummers try to drown out his preaching, of how he once had someone try to urinate on him while he preached.  (As someone who once had a prominent congregation member stand up after a sermon I gave and publicly reprimand me for it, I began to feel, reading this, that perhaps I had not had it so bad after all!)  Even worse, Whitfield was attacked on theological grounds by his good friend, John Wesley, in a very public way.  This wound was perhaps the worst of all.  But Mansfield shows how Whitfield worked his way through the pain and found healing.  He also tells the stories of St. Patrick, Jonathan Edwards and Bono, and ways that they also encountered wounding at the hands of the Church.  But of how they did not stay in that broken place, but went on to healing.  These stories were powerful to me and I will likely return to them again and again.

In the remainder of the book, Mansfield continues to speak truth in a direct way to those of us who have been wounded by the Church.  He reminds us that we should expect that other sinners are indeed capable of evil, though they are believers; we ought not be sentimental about the people of the Church, but should face the facts as they are.  This truth resonated with the Lutheran teaching that believers are fully saint and fully sinner.  This does not mean that we cannot grow in character, but it does mean that we will always be flawed and broken and sinful until God takes us home to heaven.  And so, we should not be shocked when a Christian wounds us for he or she is still a person in process, a broken person, just like us.

In "The Throne Room of Your Mind," Mansfield provides a powerful image for what to do with the sins committed against us.  This single image is worth the price of the book and much more besides; I think it has changed my life.  This chapter helped me so much because I have always felt in attempting to forgive someone that I simply don't know what to do with the very real presence of their sin.  And so I rehash it again and again.  Now, I have a place to put it.

This is a deeply wise, challenging book that every Christian who has been hurt by other Christians should read.  It is chock-full of truths that can change your life and transform you from a broken person to whole person.  It is also immensely readable.  Highly recommended.

5 out of 5 stars

To learn more about this book, visit the Tyndale website here.  In addition, you can read a free excerpt by going here.  To learn more about Stephen Mansfield, you can visit his personal website as well.  Finally, watch this blog for your chance to enter your name in a drawing for a copy of this powerful book.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Tyndale House Publishers, Inc.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

Thursday, February 9, 2012

introverts and leadership

Look at a job listing for any leadership position and you'll probably notice that people are looking for a superhuman.  Not only must a leader be a visionary, but he or she must also be charismatic with people.  Pastors must get the bottoms in the seat, but also produce well thought-out, deep sermons and set a compelling and Scriptural vision for a church.  Political leaders must spend time "relating to" people and kissing babies.  Leaders must be: Happy and hopeful.  "On" in public, all the time.  Yet, conscientious and attentive to detail.

We cannot, of course, have it all in one person.

I have wondered for a while now if part of the reticence to Mitt Romney as a presidential nominee is not only due to the occasional insensitive comment he makes or his position-shifting, but rather to some introvert tendencies that he seems to display.  (Note: Though I attempted to do research on whether Governor Romney is, in fact, an introvert or not, I was unable to find any definitive data.)

Though we do not know for sure if Governor Romney is an introvert, we can certainly agree that he displays a certain social awkwardness and stunted ability to turn on the charisma and charm people. 

Yet, we also know that Governor Romney thinks in a careful, nuanced way, as he did in his rich and resonant speech on his Mormon faith and religious faith in America in 2007.  Romney is a deep thinker, but not necessarily skilled in extroverted back-slapping and baby kissing.  People hold this against him, but I ask if his lack of people skills means he cannot be a great leader? 

In my work as a pastoral intern and then as a pastor, I found two things to be true.  One was that I was naturally shy and could easily use that as an excuse to hide out in my office, avoiding the difficulty of social interaction.  Certainly, I brought some of people's occasional frustration with me on myself.  For to be a good pastor, you must love and know your people, not just think about them.

But the second thing I found to be true was that while I often needed to stretch outside my comfort zone more than I did, like a rubber band, there was only so far I could be stretched without snapping.  I can develop skills that do not come naturally, but I cannot change my overall personality.  For good or for ill, I am an introvert.  I like people, but I don't gain energy from being with them most of the time.  I enjoy having long periods of time spent in thought and reflection.  I function best when I can read, encounter new ideas, watch the world around me and carefully analyze what is good and what can be better.  I like to listen to people and learn things about them, too.  I believe I serve best when I am allowed to use these gifts, rather than hide them under a bushel, forever chasing the unreachable goal of an extroverted personality. 

We need both extroverts and introverts in the world of leadership.  Extroverts excel at reaching out to large groups of people and making them feel wanted, invited, and cared for.  They know how to generate excitement and enthusiasm.  They know how to get big groups of people together.  They know how to form a tribe.

But introverts stand back in the shadows and carefully analyze not just the quantity but the quality of the work.  They know that depth is just as important as breadth.  Introverts listen to people; they pay attention.  To put it baldly: They know when to shut up.  They offer correctives and cautions that extroverts in their enthusiasm may have missed.  In their willingness to spend time alone in thought, they help governments, companies and churches to develop integrity and depth in the work that they do. 

Without introverts, it is hard to form a mission with depth.  Without extroverts, it is hard to get people to buy-in to the mission. 

Yes, I am painting in broad strokes.  There is a continuum, to be sure, of introversion and extroversion.  But to simply choose our leaders based on their charisma, without attention to their depth and character, is a mistake.  Perhaps we ought to look at our potential and current leaders with an eye to whether they surround themselves with people who balance out their inadequacies, with an eye to their character, with an eye to the depth of their thought.  After all, it is not enough to build a tribe if you have nowhere to lead them.

Note: Politics can be a powder keg and I am certainly not endorsing Governor Romney in this post, but am simply offering some food for thought, regardless of who each of us votes for in the midst of the election season.

For more on introverts and extroverts and leadership, check out this article on Psychology Today's website and this one on

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

a love letter to my messy house

Dear Messy House,

I know I grouch and complain about you more often than I should...and I take you for granted more times than I could number.  I shout, "I CAN'T. TAKE. IT. ONE. MORE. MINUTE!!!"  I'm sorry...please forgive me.  I want to take this opportunity to tell you thank you for all you do.

Thank you for the dirty socks and discarded newspapers by the bed.

Thank you for the pile of books beneath my daughter's bookcase.

Thank you for the stickers that are, well, everywhere: stuck to my daughter's toy kitchen, washed and dried into my sweatshirts, piled on the kitchen table, strewn on the floor.

Thank you for the cluttery scattered art projects that seem to be collect dust and disintegrate everywhere.

Thank you for my husband's teetering pile of books and papers on the table by his Lazy-boy.

Thank you for the mountain of smelly laundry collecting in the hamper.

Thank you for the pine needles that are trampled in again the moment I vacuum the floor.

Thank you for the water-splashed bathroom counter.

Thank you for the Mr. Potato Head arm, the blankey, the duck umbrella, the box of markers, the toy grocery cart, the toy dishes, the single toddler slipper...that manage to find their way around the house.  Thank you for all the trips I make through the house picking up single items and restoring them to their places.

Thank you that my house is never fully clean, that it is always in a state of upheaval and clutter.

Thank you...because this means that tiny feet tramp here and there...that a squeaky musical voice is heard through this house...that a strong and loving husband absent-mindedly drops papers here and there...Thank you for your daily cluttery signs that this house, this life of mine is peopled, is inhabited, is filled with light and love.  Forgive me for my exasperation and frustration.  Yes, we need order and cleanliness, but neither will be perfect, not as long as the strong steps and the flitting tip-toes of the ones I love most are found here.  And so I will take your clutter...I will receive your dust bunnies...I will give thanks for your scattered toys.  For I once was alone and I prayed on my knees, with tears, for these people to come.  I must not forget to give thanks that they are here at last.

Thank you, messy house.

A Grateful Wife and Mother

"God sets the lonely in families..."--Psalm 68:6

This post is linked up with the Practices of Parenting Blog Carnival over at Emerging Mummy.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Book Review Friday: White Bread by Aaron Bobrow-Strain

White Bread: A Social History of the Store-Bought Loaf by Aaron Bobrow-Strain (Beacon Press) is due to be released March 6.  After wading through it this past week, I have to say that this book comes across as a well-documented term paper, but as a literary work that ultimately fails to satisfy, engage or provide meaningful solutions to the problems it lays out.

White Bread seeks to explore the efforts Americans have made throughout the past century to eat well and the impact these efforts have had on society, both intended and unintended.  Bobrow-Strain says that the intent of his book is to tell the history of those who "thought that getting Americans to eat the right bread (or avoid the wrong bread--could save the world--or at least restore the country's moral, physical, and social fabric."  The book lays out the different Utopian dreams that American society had for the "proper" bread, which was defined differently depending on the era.  In particular, Bobrow-Strain documents the rise of sliced white bread and what American's embrace of it says about us and about our view of the world.

Where I found myself most connecting to the book was in Bobrow-Strain's self-criticism of the dream of a foodie.  He points out that high ideals about food that are meant to increase a democratic people's approach to eating actually often end up dividing people and leaving more people hungry.  I have often though about this as a person who generally does not shop at Wal-mart on principle (I don't like what they pay their employees or how they treat them).  Despite my attempts to resist the "man," I sometimes forget that while Wal-mart doesn't pay its employees much, it does provide really low prices for staple items, including food, which lower income people need.  Is this really so evil?

Anyone who reads my blog regularly knows that I consider myself a foodie, I'm interested in ideals like trying to eat locally (though I'm not at all obsessive about it), and I love artisan foods.  But I also have often thought of how middle-class concerns about organic, local-grown, and artisan are completely irrelevant to someone in poverty.  I posted to Twitter this week two tweets that I thought made the point: "Is my arugula organic?

So, I appreciated this self-analysis from an idealistic foodie point of view.  We middle-class foodies need to be careful not to be so self-involved with obtaining supposed perfect food that we ignore the stomach-gnawing pains of the hungry.  To be more socially conscious as we pursue good food, to think about how we can share bounty with the world, would be a great place to start.

Although one cannot fault the depth of research conducted by Bobrow-Strain, what this book ultimately suffers from is a lack of narrative.  One could argue that this is a science book or a sociology of food book.  But books that hope to engage the masses can include both a successful treatment of niche science/sociology and story.  Story is what keeps the reader engaged and connected to the sometimes technical material.  A book that effectively engages this dynamic is The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, which tells a very scientific story of cells and medicine, but does it in a narrative fashion. Bobrow-Strain could have accomplished this through a different narrative in each chapter or he could have found a way to bring a running narrative through the entire book.  Either method would have greatly improved what unfortunately turns out to be a well-documented listing of relevant quotes and facts.

Bobrow-Strain did succeed in convincing me that our Utopian goals for bread and for food in general often lead to more exclusion and more hunger in the world.  But he didn't successfully leave me with a take-away understanding of what I should do to change this.  His book is a cautionary tale, but it could easily leave me afraid to try to change the food situation in the world for the better for fear I will impact the world in a wrong way.  He doesn't actually say not to try; in fact, he argues for the contrary.  But even his own efforts to try on a food worldview of "fermentation" (a yeast metaphor that is the opposite of the sterile and "pure" worldviews of past food theorists) seems somewhat unconvincing to himself.

I left the book with some positive take-away, but also with a sense that perhaps the author succumbed to over-thinking our relationship with bread.

2 1/2 stars out of 5

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Beacon Press.  I was not required to write a positive review.  The opinions I have expressed are my own.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 <> : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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