Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed piece on the conflict in Sudan, the heartbreaking contrasts he has observed while traveling there, and what world leaders could learn from compelling stories like that of Mariam’s and Hamat’s:
Mariam was pregnant when the Sudanese Army invaded her village here in the rebel-held Nuba Mountains and shot her husband dead. Enraged, she took over a mounted machine gun set up by rebels and began to rake the soldiers as they burned the village’s huts. […] When her due date came, two months ago, Mariam delivered her baby by herself inside the cave. She named her baby girl Fakao, which is shorthand for: bombs are dropping. […] “When this child was in my stomach, I used to run from the bombers,” Mariam told me as she nursed Fakao in front of her cave. “I named her this so that I could remember the struggle we went through to give her life.” “If I ever see the enemy again,” she added, “I will tie this baby to my back and pick up a gun and fight them.”
In an anti-Christian campaign a dozen years ago in this Muslim-dominated country, the authorities began arresting Hamat for ringing his church bell and preaching to his congregation. They would arrest him each Sunday, according to his account and that of neighbors, and then beat and torture him for a few days.
Each Sunday, after a few days of recovery, Hamat would struggle back to the church, ring the bell and begin another service. Then police officers would come and drag him out for more torture. Once they shot him, and he almost died. A month after that, when he could move again, he roused himself out of bed one Sunday morning, limped to the church and boldly rang the bell to deliver another service.
Thom Bassett on how Ulysses S. Grant almost quit the army during the Civil War:
By the time Sherman came to see him, Grant was determined to leave the Army for good. Sherman recalls in his memoirs that he begged Grant not to strike his colors. He first reminded Grant that he himself had been “cast down by a mere newspaper assertion of ‘crazy,’” but after recovering his confidence at Shiloh had been given “new life and now . . . was in high feather.” He then entreated Grant to take heart from his own example. If he quit the Army, “events would go right along, and he would be left out; whereas, if he remained, some happy accident might restore him to favor and his true place.”
His friend’s encouragement rallied Grant, and he promised to think things over. On June 6, the day after Sherman’s visit, Grant wrote him to say he would remain in the Army after all. Sherman’s reply that same day shows how well he already understood Grant: “You could not be quiet at home for a week when armies were moving,” he wrote, “and rest could not relieve your mind of the gnawing sense that injustice had been done you.”
According to Kare Anderson’s research study, the one thing that most captured the attention of young children at Disneyworld wasn’t the costumed characters, flashing lights or the rides. It was “their parents’ cell phones, especially when the parents were using them”. In her post, Anderson discusses what this reveals about the power of attention, how it influences us and those around us, and how we can mold our attention patterns for the better:
To learn about your own attention patterns, examine someone else’s. Most motivational speakers, self-help writers, therapists and pharmacologists encourage us to focus on “me.” They suggest that we look inward to understand and improve ourselves for a happier, better life. That’s not wrong; it is just incomplete. Instead of just asking, “What most preoccupies me? Does it make the make the world seem welcoming or withholding?” reach out to someone else. Be the best listener they’ve had in months. This is the first and most basic ingredient in any interaction. Simply gazing steadily and warmly at that person, nodding at times and reiterating what you heard will activate an empathic,mirror-neuron response in both of you.
Giving and receiving undivided attention, even briefly, is the least that one individual can do for another — and sometimes the most. And yet, attending to others doesn’t just help them — it helps us, by evoking responses that help the listener feel cared for, useful, and connected to the larger world. Paying attention may be an individual effort, but it’s also a kind of social cement that holds groups together and helps them feel part of something greater than themselves. It’s not always easy, but you can improve with practice — and find yourself becoming more flexible, more open to new ideas, and better able to resonate with others. Inevitably that leads to a richer, more meaningful life.
David Murray takes a look at the previous article, “What Captures Your Attention Controls Your Life” and shares his convictions about the pitfalls it revealed and how he wants to avoid with these pitfalls with his loved ones:
I have very little memory of my grandmother on my Dad’s side, but the one thing I do remember from my vacation visits to her home in the Scottish Highlands, and from her year of staying with us in the lowlands, is that a large black book had her full attention.
When my kids look back on my life I hope they see that what had my attention and controlled my life was a black book. Not a black phone.
Karen Swallow Prior with a list of worst Christian cliches. As for myself, I think I unintentionally overuse “intentional” (see what I did there?). On another note, while I’m being frank, I think Prior was spot-on when discussing the phrase “a real heart for God” — what about having “a real MIND for God” as well?
David Dunham on the dangers of masking maturity issues as gender issues in the church. On the one hand, I can see his point about how framing maturity issues as gender issues can actually exacerbate and lead to more problems down the road. And if he’s attacking mere caricatures of biblical manhood and womanhood, I tend to agree with him. Indeed, to the extent that “masculinity” is under the umbrella of “maturity”, I agree that the real issue is the latter, not the former. Nevertheless, regardless of the pitfalls which Dunham decries in his post, there is a special significance in looking at this situation as related to “gender”, rather than “maturity”, issues. In fact, the reason why talking about “masculinity” and “femininity” is so important is because it goes to the heart of who we are as men and women and to the heart of our identity as imago dei. Biblical manhood and womanhood cannot be properly understood, appreciated and responded to without the proper understanding, appreciation of, and response to the gospel message. If this is what Dunham had in mind, then I think our disagreement is a matter of semantics. If this ISN’T what Dunham had in mind, then I guess I politely disagree with some of his premises:
Of course, this only represents a shade of the real position. But it is a position that seems to be missing the real point: Gender is not the problem.
The problem is not that men can’t fight or wear pink neckties. Popular preachers might like to highlight those things because they get a laugh, but such things don’t identify the real source of a young man’s failure. The real problem is a failure to grow up, to take initiative and be leaders. And while some theologians want to root this failure in abandoned gender roles, it seems more likely that it is rooted in a culture that coddles teens and expects them to be selfish. Some will call this an issue of semantics. After all, in calling little boys to grow up, aren’t we saying they need to “act like men”? At one level, I suppose we are. But by making this an issue about gender and not maturity, we are creating some real problems for the Church. I have seen at least three potential and real problems…
I was listening to a sermon by Tim Keller that addressed common objections to the Bible as God’s Word, and I thought he made a very clever point. He has a way of turning an objection into a virtue…
Admittedly, I never watched the show, was aware that its founder, Phil Vischer, lost ownership of the show after bankruptcy issues, or knew that it was even a Christian-themed show for kids. That said, I found Vischer’s admission from an interview last fall, about how the show “convinced kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity”, to be both insightful and instructive:
I looked back at the previous 10 years and realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity. And that was a pretty serious conviction. You can say, ‘Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so,’ or, ‘Hey kids, be more kind because the Bible says so!’ But that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality.
American Christian[s]… are drinking a cocktail that’s a mix of the Protestant work ethic, the American dream, and the gospel. And we’ve intertwined them so completely that we can’t tell them apart anymore. Our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good so God will make all your dreams come true. It’s the Oprah god… We’ve completely taken this Disney notion of ‘when you wish upon a star, your dreams come true’ and melded that with faith and come up with something completely different. There’s something wrong in a culture that preaches nothing is more sacred than your dream. I mean, we walk away from marriages to follow our dreams. We abandon children to follow our dreams. We hurt people in the name of our dreams, which as a Christian is just preposterous.
C Michael Patton on how his exploration into the gift of prophecy led him down a very dangerous road:
That morning, as the events of the last dream casually moved through my mind, just as I was about to discard this dream without second thought, I remembered my plea before the Lord, “Lord, if you have something to say to me through prophecy or through a prophet, please help me to know and accept it.” Was this something that the Lord wanted me to know? Was this dream a word from the Lord? Surely not. But, if I am serious about what I prayed, I need to consider this. It was an unusually clear dream (or was it?). It was an unusual dream. I dwelt upon it all morning. The moment I would discard it as ridiculous, it would resurface. It was as if I was supposed to remember this dream. Before I left for work, I thought about talking to my wife about it, but then I changed my mind. I need to leave this one alone, I kept thinking.
By midday I was consumed by the dream. Finally, I got on my wife’s account on Facebook and queried “Lewis Johnson.” My dream was about my wife. In the dream, she was having an affair with a man named Lewis Johnson (those of you who are theological gurus, quit laughing!). The main thing I remember from the dream was what I was supposed to do. Indeed, it was what I felt compelled to do. I was to search my wife’s account on Facebook for “Lewis Johnson,” the man with whom she was having an affair. After wrestling with this all morning, I finally did. I went to her account, signed in as her, and typed “Lewis Johnson” in her Friends query. Result? No Lewis Johnson found.
I hung my head in shame. How could I have had such a terrible and wayward thought? But, sadly, this fruitless Facebook search did not stop my wondering (prophecy seeking?) mind…
As Charles Spurgeon once said – The church is imperfect, but woe to the man who takes pleasure in pointing out her imperfections!:
Not every opinion deserves a place at the table. It is the responsibility of a church’s elders to monitor the conversation going on in their church and encourage the positive and confront the negative.
Sadly, some people just don’t listen. They are too self-assured. Reasonable discourse leaves them unsatisfied, because they are unsatisfiable. They do not feel that you understand them until you agree with them. The only acceptable outcome is their outcome, which they will pursue relentlessly. The Bible calls this kind of person a scoffer (Proverbs 9:7-8; 13:1; 15:12; 21:24). He (or she) might be a highly impressive person outwardly. Very able. A strong personality. Convincing. But even in little ways (“. . . winks with his eyes”), this person sows discord in their church — small provocations with big impact.
And you know what? You and I need to look out that window far more than we need to look in the mirror. Left with just a mirror, we’re vulnerable to the lie that this world really does revolve around us, that our problems and our sins and our struggles are the most important thing about us. They’re not. The most important thing about us is that we’re united to the One who stands at the center of the story. Our lives are bound up with his. Our stories are caught up in his story – not the other way around.
So what have you been standing in front of today or this week: the mirror or the window? Yes, you probably need to glance in the mirror from time to time – but then God is well capable of bringing you the mirror when he knows you need it. Until then, come away from the mirror for a while and gaze out the window at a glorious story, a story that’s much bigger than any of us but that gives meaning to every part of our story. Come to the window and behold the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Come to the window and be transformed!