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Saturday, 30 August 2014

Synergy: Thoughts on Romans 8:28

My apologies to my regular readers that it has been so long (11 days) since my last post.  The reality of my new roles at school meant working almost full time for the past two weeks, even though I'm actually a part-time employee. 

   A comforting verse in the Bible is Romans 8:28, which states "All things work together for good for those who love God."  The Greek for "work together" is the root word of our English word "synergy."
   An online dictionary [dictionary.reference.com] gives this definition for synergy:

 the interaction of elements that when combined produce a total effect                                          that is greater than the sum of the individual elements, contributions, etc.

Synergy takes place in the body when multiple muscles and nerves work together to achieve health and wellness; likewise, particular medications can work together to promote healing.  

   The first time I remember encountering the English term "synergy" was about twenty years ago when I studied the book Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Steven Covey as part of a course.  The sixth habit that he laid out is entitled "Synergize."  He explained that working with others and accepting their different viewpoints and backgrounds enables people to solve problems and address issues in a way that could never occur if each person worked at them separately.
   During the past week I have observed synergy at work.  My school colleagues and I were led in a two-day workshop on Restorative Practices.  At the heart of this philosophy of relating to people is to give opportunity for people to speak face to face with a clear structure so that everyone is respected and listened to.  When a conflict has occurred and harm has been done, all the parties can be brought together to share how they have been affected.  Each individual also contributes to the way things can be resolved or made better.  When you participate in a restorative circle/conference like this, you cannot predict in advance how the disclosures of the people around the circle will affect the others, or how synergy will occur to bring about a measure of healing.  We were taught as facilitators-in-training to trust the process and to trust the stakeholders involved to arrive at an agreeable solution.
   During our lunch break on the second day a film of a restorative conference was shown.  In 2004 six young men had burned down Mood's Bridge, a historic covered bridge in Pennsylvania.  These young men wanted to meet with members of the community to express their remorse for what they had done. Both the offenders and the community members could have their say without interruption.  It was very moving as the community members who had initially been very angry accepted the regrets and sorrow of the young men and encouraged them to become builders in the remainder of their lives, not destroyers.  The agreement that the conference came to included each offender paying for a sixth share of the cost of rebuilding the bridge.  They would also put in hundreds of hours of volunteer labour in its reconstruction.  While the young men did serve a short sentence in jail, the synergy of the restorative conference led to a more satisfying resolution of their crime than punitive measures alone.  [The bridge has now been rebuilt in the style of the original.]
Image from wildblueberries.com 
   Getting back to Romans 8:28, the synergy that the Apostle Paul is talking about is slightly different.  Here he is pointing to the experiences in a believer's life, the ups and downs, the conflicts and the triumphs, the false accusations and the blessings.  All of these work together or synergize for the ultimate GOOD of those who love the Lord. God is able to take all the pieces that do not seem to fit together and by his Holy Spirit works them together for a purpose.  That purpose involves developing character, which is more valuable than material gain.

Monday, 18 August 2014

A Door to a New World

 The image of a door that opens to a new world and/or a new reality appears often in literature.  We have the wardrobe's door in the Narnia books, the door into the Secret Garden and the platform 9 3/4 in the Harry Potter books, just to name a few.  The word door has this association for most people, and at times when we speak of something being "five doors away", it includes the entire house or room that the door leads into.  When you read or hear the word door, you may have in mind the concept of a physical door (swings open and closed, has a knob or handle by which it can be opened, is able to be locked or unlocked, may contain a window, strong, sturdy).  Some people, who are visual thinkers, picture specific doors they have encountered in their lives whenever this word comes up, and it plays in their brains "like Google images" [1].  One such person is a woman named Temple Grandin.

   Ms. Grandin was born in Boston in 1947 and at a young age was diagnosed with autism.  She began speaking later than most children and had difficulty interacting with others socially.  If we consider autism to be enigmatic today, multiply that several times in the 50's and 60's when she grew up.  Despite obstacles, Grandin graduated from high school and college, earning both a Master's Degree (1975) and a Doctorate in Animal Science (1989).
   Something depicted well in the HBO Film Temple Grandin was the way in which her high school science teacher helped her conceptualize her future in college.  Dr. Carlock said to her:
        "Think of it as a door.  A door that is going to open up onto a whole new world for you.  And all you
        need to do is decide to go through it."
Several times in the film, Temple Grandin needs to go through a scary door to get to the new world she will become part of--from the frightening automatic door at the grocery store that reminds her of a guillotine to the door of a slaughterhouse she will ultimately redesign to be more humane and the cinematic door she walks through to speak publicly about autism at a national conference. 
   Temple Grandin is an individual who has been tremendously influential in the area of treatment of animals at slaughter facilities by using her visual mind and attention to detail.  As she heroically stepped through various doors, she also extended "the horizons of the possible" [2]  for many others.

[1] Temple Grandin. "The World Needs All Kinds of Minds" TED talk, 2010.
[2] Andy Crouch Culture Making (2008), pp. 17-36

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Power Parable: The Persistent Widow

The parable of Jesus that appears in Luke chapter 18 has been given alternate titles by different editors:  The KJV calls it "The Parable of the Unjust Judge," while the NIV gives it the name "The Parable of the Persistent Widow."  Through these two titles we are introduced to to its two characters.

The Unjust Judge
This man takes on the status of a god because he has no sense of accountability to anyone.  He does not fear God or care about the opinions of others.  He has a position of privilege, which cannot be taken from him. In the big picture, however, the judge receives the power he has as a gift. Romans 13 is clear that all governing authority comes from God and is intended for the benefit of society as a whole.  His power exists to restrain evil and to put people in their place when they step over the lines that jeopardize community.

The Widow
She is facing an adversary, and nobody will stand up for her--no husband, and apparently no sons.  She knows that the judge has the authority to help her, but he refuses.  Instead of despairing, she continues to have a kind of faith in his office, what he is supposed to do.  Despite her vulnerable place in society, she does not crumble.  She continues to point out his obligations until he can't stand it anymore.  Even if she does not awaken a conscience hardened by his sense of invincibility, she nevertheless receives the justice for which she has been pleading.

   We join the ranks of the persistent widow when we send a letter or email to the Prime Minister or President on behalf of the unborn or when we advocate on behalf of a prisoner of conscience through Amnesty International or Voice of the Martyrs.  Sometimes we get back the carefully worded form letter that tells us our letter was intercepted by an administrative assistant.  But sometimes we hear the astounding news that a prisoner has been freed, as recently occurred in the case of Meriam Ibrahim.  In that case the Sudanese officials did not so much change their policies about the status of Christians or their belief in the death penalty, but they were overwhelmed by all the "persistent widows," who pressured their governments to save this woman's life.
   I don't want us to miss the point of this parable, however.  It is really about prayer.  The ultimate purpose of the parable is to contrast God with the unjust judge (or any corrupt leader).  God will see to it that his chosen ones, who call out to him day and night, will receive justice.  There is no favourtism with the Lord; his sense of justice is unbiased.  This may also be a reminder to us that when we pray about the settling of personal disputes we ought to pray for Justice and not simply getting our own way.

Wednesday, 6 August 2014

Power Parable: The Rich Fool

Luke 12:13-21New International Version (NIV)

The Parable of the Rich Fool

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”
14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?” 15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.”
16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man yielded an abundant harvest. 17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’
18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store my surplus grain. 19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’
20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you.Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’
21 “This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves but is not rich toward God.”
   Humans are vulnerable creatures, and we know it.  The man in this parable has determined to overcome his vulnerability with wealth.  Any problem that comes along he would have the power to bribe or buy his way out of, he thinks.  The man is already rich at the start--he owns land and barns--but now he is able to harvest much more than usual.  What does he decide to do?  He seems to think there is no such thing as too much. He will build bigger barns to hoard all the wealth.  No relationships with others (no wife, children, neighbours) are mentioned.  His self-talk is all confidence: "You have plenty of grain laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry."  He has set himself up for the ultimate in leisurely and self-indulgent retirement.  He is blind to other uses of his crops and money besides to honour himself.  However, the wealth he embraced for the sense of power it could give him cannot forestall death.  It has become a snare and will do him no good in the end.
   We are vulnerable, and we know it.  Those who live in war zones or places where famine has struck will admit it out loud, but those in prosperity still experience it.  We start saving for retirement as soon as we start working because meeting or exceeding life expectancy has its costs.  Complex tools are given by financial planners so that clients will have enough to be "comfortable."  Will it ever truly feel like enough?  Do we even consider the possibility that a nest egg could be "too much"?
   An opposite parable also teaches that "life does not consist in an abundance of possessions."  A hard-working couple with a large family just manages to make ends meet month after month.  Giving to the welfare of the church and other people is a way of life, even when it makes them tighten their own belts.  When they begin to receive a social security cheque at age 65 they can't believe their wealth.  They have no mortgage or rental payments and life simply.  They can afford to pay their adult daughter's airfare to visit them twice a year.  They lend some of their extra money to a Christian school, and donate back the interest payments. After the wife outlives the husband, she eventually moves to nursing care.  At age 95 she passes away at peace with everyone in her life and fully contented; she leaves behind just a few dollars to pass on to each of her children. 
   This was the living parable of my grandparents' life, and it continues to give me perspective as I make financial plans.

Monday, 4 August 2014

Food Bank Diet for Two, Part 2: Menus and Lessons

The food bank diet my husband and I followed  started with supper on a Tuesday and ended with lunch on a Saturday.  Unless otherwise indicated, the food listed was for EACH person. These were the meals we ate:

Day One
Supper: Potato and Sweet potato (canned) puree with a sausage patty per person.  Small amount of sauteed green onion & broccoli.  Plain lettuce leaves.  Drinkable yogurt.

Day Two
Breakfast: An orange cut in wedges and (shared) 1.5 cups oatmeal boiled in diluted canned coconut milk with brown sugar

Lunch:  Two hamburger buns with cheese, lettuce and sliced meat, an apple, 1/2 cup yogurt

Snack: 2-3 Lemon creme cookies; glass of orange juice

Supper: Mushroom soup deluxe, containing boiled broccoli and sliced lunch meat; 1/2 raw red pepper; leftover potato puree fried as a pancake.
Dessert: Vanilla yogurt smoothie with a whole orange (very pulpy!)

Day Three
Breakfast: Drinkable yogurt; Two sliced of toast with a fried egg

Lunch & Snack: repeat of Day Two except with an orange instead of an apple

Supper: Sausage Patty; Scalloped potatoes with green onion and cheese.  1/2 raw red pepper and plain lettuce leaves.
Dessert:  Strawberry yogurt

Day Four
Breakfast: Oven pancake (thinly sliced apple covered by batter of 3/4 cup milk, 2/3 cup flour, 2 eggs baked 20 minutes in a 400 F oven)

Lunch: Repeat of Day Two except no fruit; lettuce, meat and cheese on 2 slices of bread instead of buns.

Supper: 300 grams of pasta with simple cheese sauce and lunch meat (shared).
Dessert: Drinkable yogurt, last cookies

Day Five (at a campground)
Breakfast: 1.5 cups oatmeal boiled in water with brown sugar and the last of the milk (shared)

Snack: One apple (just Harriette)

Lunch: One can beans and sauce, heated with 5 slices bread and butter (shared); Fried potatoes.*
*We cheated a little in this meal.  Our children had some grated cheese from their wraps that they could not finish, so we put it on our fried potatoes.  My husband also ate one of their plain wraps.

Leftover Food:
200 grams of pasta and 3 potatoes

Lessons Learned

  • Not including our children in the diet ended up being quite difficult.  They sometimes eyed our food and wanted us to share.  It was more complicated to cook separate menus, but we did both eat scalloped potatoes, which were baked in two different pans to keep us honest with portion sizes.
  • For the latter half of the diet, my husband had a nagging low grade hunger.  Both of us missed not having a little something to eat before bedtime.
  • Never before had I cooked oatmeal in coconut milk.  I had never made an oven pancake before either. These two recipes turned out to be unexpectedly delicious, but I don't think I will start buying coconut milk regularly.
  • When you have a really limited amount of food, you tend to not want to share, even with your children.  I did not like this feeling.
  • After each meal, I wanted to lick my plate so that nothing would be wasted.
  • For me, it was a fun challenge.  For those who need to rely on a food hamper on a regular basis, the experience is much different.  I was mindful of that reality throughout our days on the food bank diet.

Would you ever consider doing something like this?  It is a good awareness exercise.