Tuesday, July 31, 2007


It has been a year and four months since my father passed away. I am learning the long road of grief. Just over a year is not the long road, but it is long enough to see the beginning of the long road. It is long enough to move through the initial shock and all the firsts.

One thing I am finding about the long road of grief is that there are benchmarks that come by once per year whereby a measurement can be made.

For example, last week at family camp was a very healing week for me. It was good to compare it to last year at camp. I remember last year at camp how strained all of my conversations were with people. I recalled how lacking in humor the whole week was for me. I remember last year's weight of seeing all of those people for the first time since my father died.

This year at camp, nothing was a first. It was lighter and funnier and normaler. I got a chance to prove to myself that I can be in that situation and remember who I am, to some extent. I also got a chance to reflect back and see how far I have come, and it is encouraging. However, it also gave me a chance to realize that there is so much more ground to cover. There are places, little pockets, in my life where I am still not strong. My heart limps sometimes and in certain situations. There are some situations I am just not ready for. Will I ever be ready for them? Time will tell the truth about those.

I have come to believe that losing a parent or someone super close is like a brain injury in which you lose some memory and lose the use of parts of who you are. Recovery comes over long stretches of time, though sometimes in spurts. There is no guarantee that all former memories and abilities will be regained. Life may have taken a permanently new direction without your permission and there is no recourse, no way to resolve it, no getting back on track. There is a new track. The loss is permanent and the hope is that other parts of the brain, of life, can in some way compensate for the missing pieces. There is hope for a mosiac of helps from all over to, in some artistic or even cartoonish way, reconstitue what is lost.

Oh sure, you hear stories all the time of people making it, but you also hear the stories of the people who never were the same again - in the worst of ways. In stronger times it is easy to believe that you are the kind of person who makes it. However, when days come along that the fact that there is just one more day to plow through throws you into fright, it is easy to believe there is no hope. Sometimes the the swing between hope and hopeless is taxing - violent.

There are days when the fact that there is in some way an autopilot function in this human life is cause for the highest gratitude because it is what got you off the pillow and what brought you back to it once again. There are days when the social scripts for polite conversation were essential, and it was good that they were memorized because there was no cognitive reserve for the creation of sense-making words. Laughs were laughed not in repsonse to humor, but to cues for laughter. There are zombie days in grief.

There is another piece to grief that I have learned. It takes more energy to arrive at the same amount of action than it did before. I might be getting older, but I don't think that accounts for all of this experience. Or maybe grief ages people more quickly. Whatever the case, if I do not work harder to get into the day than I did before, then the day might just eat me up and slowly digest me. It's like having 25 extra emotional pounds to carry. I am not sure if I'll ever get to let those pounds go, but I am sure that with effort, I can get better at carrying them.

It might be that those pounds become part of who I am.

Well, it's late and I need to get to bed.

Beautiful and Ugly Conversations

Conversation is essential to relationships. Some conversations are problem solving conversations. Some conversations serve to ease discomfort. Some conversations communicate information. Other conversations are just plain hilarious. There are conversations which are creative, full of discovery, or educational.

And then there are conversations that tear down. There are conversations that waste time, distract, or dismantle. These kind of conversations are better left unconversed.

Conversations are not neutral. People entering conversations leave them different.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Blog Off - gone camping

I will not blog until I am done being at this lake. End of July or so.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Mission Dei In The Crisis of Christianity: A Book Review

Fred Peatross has written a book. Actually, he has written a few books. But the book I want to point you toward is Missio Dei In The Crisis of Christianity.

This is a good book and worth a read for a lot of reasons, but I want to share two of these reasons with you.

1. The book is short. Why is a short book a good book? Well for one, it is digestable for just about any reader. There is good theology in it, but not daunting theology. Books bogged down too much in theology come across as more interested in you reading the book than in doing anything with what is being said in the book.
Peatross has integrity. You get the feeling Fred is more interested in you going out and doing mission than spending tons of time reading the book.
2. The Church Has Left The Building. Peatross gives us the clear message that church is leaving the building. The interesting thing is that while the church is leaving the building, it is not leaving God. This book taps into the current ecclesial zeitgeist of the church shedding its institutional skin for freer and more adventurous way.
There are a bunch more goodies in Missio Dei. Go get it.

Research: Mission Impossible

A cross-sectional study in which data are collected at one point in time.

A longitudinal study is a study in which data are two or more points in time (at least three points is preferrable).

Both approaches have their place in research and have brought us much knowledge. However, it is important to understand their limits and the limits of research in general.

The bottom line is that it is super hard to know something.

Suppose you go to your local Barnes and Noble and pick a novel off the shelf, open to page 152, and begin reading. It's going to be really hard to capture the gist of the plot. You might get a little more if you pull ten novels written by the same author from the shelf, open to page 152 of each of them, and begin reading.

The obvious flaw in your strategy for learning ht eplot is that you are not beginning at the beginning. Jumping into a story right in the middle of it is the way most social research is conducted.

For example, there are tons of studies on teenagers. Most of these studies are conducted when the teenager is a teenager, but have not considered the decade and half prior to the time of the study. I did one of these studies myself. I will probably do more.

You'd do better starting at the beginning and ending at the end.

But that is really hard to do. There are some studies (major projects and datasets) that have followed people from birth and into several decades, but these are super expensive and take tremendous commitment and patience on the part of the researchers. It also takes great forsight. How do you know which questions to ask at birth which will matter in 10, 30, or 50 years?

Research is an important thing in our world and has lead to some terrific discoveries and creations; however, there should be no hope that it will be the panacea, the solution, the end of the matter. Research is the search for truth - the ever-present, ever-elusive reality that refuses to be tamed. We should research this world we live in and at the same time understand that there is no arrival with research.

Research does not bring about intellectual closure, and anyone hoping for it to do so will become disillusioned. Instead, research reveals options, pathways, directions. Intellectual closure is an impossible mission.

If you want to be a researcher, you had better be prepared to walk into a story that is already in progress and do your best to find your way around in it. You enter the story of the lives of the people you interact with and you enter the larger story of research itself.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Deconstructing Your Spouse

What you believe about your spouse and thetrut about your spouse are not the same. Always. The best you can do is gain a closer approximation of who you are married to.

Let's assume I'm right in saying above. If I am right, then some people would be very discouraged by the fact that they can't know your spouse fully. It would feel risky. It might feel unstable or insecure. There might be the fear that not knowing is bad and therefore there can be no trust.

On the other hand, some people would be energized by the fact that they can always, even into old age, learn more about their spouse. There is no cause for boredum in marriage when there is no limit to what you can continually learn about your spouse. These marriages do not get stale or stuck. There is the constant sense of hope, of wonder, of intrigue in the marriage hat can never be fully known.

Going a little further, not only can you not gain a complete knowledge of your spouse, your spouse does not remain the same. So, even if you were to come to complete knowledge of your spouse today, she or he might not (will not) be the same perosn tomorrow.

So, in order to know your spouse as close to the real spouse you are marriage to, you must be willing to challenge your own "knowledge" about him or her. You must deconstruct your beliefs and reconstruct you understsand according to what is happening in real time.

What about the past? Yes, it matters, but we cannot remain there. The past is part of the accumulated present and anticipated future.

You may not be loving your spouse until you deconstruct her or him.

Saturday, July 14, 2007

Friday, July 13, 2007

Biblical interpretation for our times

"No greater love hath mortal man than to go to Michael's with his wife."

-My wife interpreting scripture.

YES! She gets it. She has replaced "for a friend to die" with "go to Michael's with his wife."

Michael's = death. It's the perfect interpretation.

Whoa, that really speaks to me. I am getting credit for those Michael's trips. YES!

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Brand Loyalty

The Pope reminded us recently that salvation is through the Cathloic Church. It's disappointing. I remember the same message from my church (Church of Christ). I spent years of my life feeling lucky and glad that I was in the right church, that I was saved because I was not deceived like the people in other churches - false chruches.

When I learned that more people than Church of Christ people are "saved," I was mixed in my feelings. On the one hand I was glad that more people were acceptable to God, but I felt betrayed as well. What I counted on to be truth was just a marketing effort to promote brand loyalty. Oh, it was a sincere and naive effort most of the time, but marketing none the less.

I survived. I am okay in my faith. However, that is not the case for some others. What passes for truth, all too often, is an institutional, self-promotional power grab which uses Hell as a wedge against people of the wrong denomination, group, or belief. Lots of people get the taste of this kind of ingrouping and outgrouping and run for the hills.

I am sure the Pope's words about the Catholic Church being the only one's who can be saved are comforting to the faithful, but how can it look like much more than a marketing ploy?

My hope is that people will not be fooled by these exclsuive claims, this cornering of God.

God's not limited to a church, a denomination, a doctrine.

Monday, July 09, 2007

The Talk(s)

My wife and I began what is going to be a series of planned and impromtu talks with our children about sex. My wife spent Friday evening and half of Saturday with our daughter and I did the same with our son.

There were planned conversations like the classic, "Where do babies come from?" conversation and the, "Here's what is and will be happening to your body" conversation.

No question was off the table.

"How does the dad give the mom the seeds?" was my favorite question from my seven year old.

Talking about sex with your children can be an intimidating thing to do. There are certain fears that parents have about doing some sort of damage to their kids. And, it is good to be cautious. At the same time, it is important to understand that sexual conversation is upon them already.

My daughter told me about a boy in her 3rd grade class who was always talking about humping. After some exploration of the kind of humping he was talking about, it turns out he was talking about what dogs do. "Humping," as it turns out has not changed in definition since I was a kid - a relief or sorts for me. However, it did alert me to the fact that this kind of conversation and likely a whole lot of others are eching through the school walls in third grade.

Another thing to consider about talking to your children about sex is that young children, unless they have had extensive TV exposure or experienced abuse, is that kids have not been exposed to the misuses and abuses of sex. Sex, when spoken of in appropriate ways, cannot be a dirty thing to a kid. Sex isn't dirty. It's interesting to a kid. It's weird to a kid. It might be gross to a kids, but not in an immoral sort of way.

Biological forces are at work in your child which will lead them to shed their little bodies for larger adult bodies. Sexual development is not something to be left to the echoing voices in school. At some point in school there will be formal sex education. It is good to have laid some groundwork at home prior to this happening in school.

Finally, what I like most about the time I spent with my son (and the time my wife spent with my daughter) was that we can talk. They are not afraid to ask us a question. Since I didn't freak out when my son asked me about how the dad gives the seed to the mom, he does not think that to be a bad question. What awful tihngs can be done to a kid who asks an innocent question. I told him it was a really good question and that he was smart to think of such things.

I want that door to remain open as long as as possible. The longer he feels safe asking me such questions the better chance I have in making a difference in his life. Because, no matter what, he is going to ask these kinds of questions and many, many more as he grows. I'd rather he ask me than someone who gives him bad information. I'd rather I show him how to get good information than to leave it up to the boys in class who "know" about humping.

Friday, July 06, 2007

To Be A Reseacher 2

This is my second installment on being a researcher. The first is here.
The strange thing about being a researcher is that you have to be creative, imaginative, and take risks.

Creativity, imagination, and risk-taking were not words I would have associated with being a researcher a year ago before I entered into my doctoral program. What creativity or imagination does it take to crunch numbers? How risky is a spreadsheet full of numbers?

Oh, but the spreadsheet full of numbers is just the means by which you arrive at something meaningful. The creativity and imagination comes in the questions. Yes, there is the literature search you do to come up with questions, but that is limiting yourself to other people's imagination if that isall you do.

An incurable imagination must be what drives the researcher.

"I wonder what would happen if..."
"Has anyone ever thought about..."
"Is anyone asking ___________ about this phenomenon?"

Taking risks means doing something different in front of other people. It might be using a different method of analysis. it might be asking unconventional questions. it might be trying out a sophisticated method you have never tried before. It is presenting your findings in front of other people at conferences.

There are political risks in research as well. Your findings might get you tagged as a liberal or a right-winger. You might be misquoted or taken out of context. You might get challenged or refuted. You might get completely ignored altogether.

In my first year of doctoral work, I tried super hard to think of the right question. I wanted to do it right. I floundered badly for weeks on end. What I failed to do was get curious, get creative and get imaginative. I failed, in essence, to take the necessary risk which is required in a full and generous use of my own imagination. An imaginative person is motivated to work hard because his or her work is a mission, it is an adventure, and it is fun.

Yes, I said fun.

If you cannot have fun being a researcher, then I wonder why you would want to be one. Change the world? OK, maybe, but even then, change it into what? Even in landmark, groundbreaking research, there has to be a sense of adventure and curiosity. I guess you could bring home a paycheck and that is enough for you, but that is enough to create something that matters to anyone else? Maybe.

One of the most important lessons I have learned is that researchers are creative.

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The Flowers oF Hastings

Click here to see the flowers of Hastings, Minnesota.

Happy Bithrday, America

Happy Birthday, America.
Thanks for the freedom you have generously given me.
Thanks for the cool holidays like the 4 th of July where I get to watch colorful explosions.
Thanks for prosperity.
Thanks for the opportunity to get an education.
Thanks for plenty of food and clean drinking water.
Thanks for freedom of religion and freedom of speech.
Thanks that you have said "All men are created equal."
Thanks for trying to live up to that ideal (and including women in that ideal).
Thanks for a culture that presses toward innovation.
Thanks for the optimism.
Thanks for democracy and giving people a voice.
Thanks for setting up mechanisms of change self-critique.
America, you are not perfect, but you have done some wonderful things. So, today I honor your 231st birthday with respect and celebration.
America, please continue to make every effort to move toward greatness in generosity, compassion, and courage.

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

All (?) in the family

You would think that a question like, "Who is in your family?" would yield identitcal results from one family member to the next. Well, it doesn't. Who is considered a family member is subjective and can be unique to each member of the family.

When families blend and form stepfamilies, the answers get even more divergent. Consider the research below.

Stepfamily Living
Family Identity: Children and adults often define family membership differently. In one study, children and adults were asked to identify people they consider their family.
  • Less than 10% of children failed to mention a biological parent,
  • 31% did not include a residential stepparent in their family list.
  • They were also more likely to omit stepsiblings from the list (41%).
  • Just 15% of adults, on the other hand, neglected to list stepchildren.

Furstenburg, F.F. (1987), The new extended family. In K. Pasley & M. Ihinger-Tallman (Eds.), Remarriage and Stepparenting: Current research and theory (p. 42-64) New York: Guilford. Reported in Susan Stewart, Brave New Stepfamilies, 2007.

This is important to understand because it reveals that people in stepfamilies get familied at different rates. You can imagine the potential for conflict when a stepparent who has familied their stepchild tries to assert authority on a stepchild who has not familied the stepparent.

"Who are you to tell me what to do?" is likely to be the response.

So, the point here, I think, is that people get familied at different paces and that familization pricess must be respected.

Peace is like...

There is a future for the man of peace. Psalm 37:37

Sometimes this kind of saying is hard to believe. Wars, small and large, dot the earth. There is violence in all cities and towns. Domestic violence and violence against children occurs at alarming rates. There is much evidence to say that there is not much peace to be found.

But this verse is not saying that there is peace. Instead, it implies a lack of it. It implies that a man (person) of peace is a rare and good thing. A man of peace is patient. It does not say that he has a present, but it does say that he has a future.

Peace is like yeast. It needs some time to make its impact.

Peace is like a tree. It needs time to grow. The more it grows the stronger it is.

Peace is like a river. In appearance it is gentle, but it carves away rock and carries away trees.

Peace is like the wind. It cannot be stopped or killed. It can go anywhere.

Peace is like the sun. Just because there are times when you cannot see does not mean it is not there.

Peace is like ants. Constantly busy toward a goal and undeterred by barriers.

Peace is like a pregnant woman. There is the ever emerging promise of something wonderful that becomes more and more noticable over time. Though pain and sometimes deep fears join along in the journey, the end result is a wonder and the pain and fear fade in to the shadows.

Peace is like kudzu. It grows on existing structures and changes them.

Peace is like blanket of snow. It first blesses with its beauty, but them eventually melts and quenches the thirst of winter dried soil.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Calling Names

I posted previously about the power to name. I took a look at the negative side of naming, which I will call labeling.

There is a good side to naming. Giving or using appropriate names is different than, even the opposite of, labeling a person. Parents name their children. It is a powerful thing to do. It is an intimate thing to do. That name almost always remains for the duration of the child's life.

People who know your name can talk with you. People who know you by a label cannot speak with you. They can talk at you or near you - they might be able to talk (down) to you, but not with you. People who know you by name know more than just the word you respond to. They know you.

You know who the people are who are capable of, who have the right to, call you by name.

The book Watering On Water is a great book that has a lot to say about the power of naming, and the power of labeling.

And then there is God. The ancient Jewish people had a way of referring to God a the YHWH. This has been translated as Yahweh, Jehovah, or Lord. What I like about the way the Jewsih people dealt with the name of God by not actually having the name for God means that they recognize that they cannot name God. Not being capable of naming something means that the thing, whatever it is, defies the container in which a name would place it.

God cannot be named, contained, or defined. God cannot be labeled and cast aside like so many people have been from all times. God names. God names the namers. God does not label.

God has released the power to name to people. There are few greater acts of trust than giving someone the power to name.

Fear and Love

There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

I John 4:18

Hate is usually considered the opposite of love. Some more discerning people have suggested that apathy, not hatred, is the opposite of love. Either of these could be correct, I suppose, depending on the definition of love and the context of the conversation.

The above verse from I John might suggest another way to understand what love is not. Love and fear cannot co-exist. Where thre is one, the other cannot be. I am not sure if that makes them opposites, but it is clear that they are not compaitble.

Fear produces nothing good. It is out of fear that one person abandons another. Fear is the root of betrayal. Fear is the fountainhead of violence. Fear is what makes selfishness make sense to a person. Only in a matrix of fear does selfishness appear to work.

Love, on the other hand, connects people. It is the motivation for truth and in fact is truth in its purest form. Love heals. love protects. Love makes certain that others are not merely considered, but exalted. Only in the matrix of love does selflessmess work or make sense. And there there is love, fear evacuates. Fear is afraid of love, but love is not afraid of fear.

There is no greater courage than that which love produces. Fear might produce a lot of energy, but it produces only the kind of cowardice energy that results in violence and self-destruction.

The way of love comes in part through the discipline of self-confrontation. The un-self-confronted life is not worth living. It is not worth living because fear thrives in the unexamined, unconfronted parts of the soul.

The discipline of self-confrontation is that which assumes that one is good and there are things which mar the goodness that must be confronted. It assumes that the self is the place to start with critique and change.

Self-confrontation must never be confused with self-condemnation. Where self-confrontation is driven by love, self-condemnation is driven by fear. Self-confrontation is about unearthing the good while self-condemnation is about punishing the bad. To the undiscerning eye, these two processes may appear to be identicle, but be assured that the end product of each is solid proff that they are opposites.

The love-driven self-confronter ends up as a better person, humbled and confident. The fear-driven self-condemner ends up a damaged person, and will become self-loathing or narcissistic (A derivitive of self-loathing).

Love is the only way.