Friday, July 31, 2009

Refrigerator rights

I recently got a call from one of my best friends from high school, who happened to be back at his parents’ house and was remembering times we had spent together hanging out there. We caught up and talked about mutual friends and whatnot, and we recalled all the significant late night conversations that took place around their kitchen table. I mentioned to him that awhile ago I had come across the book Refrigerator Rights, which talks about how real community, friendship and hospitality can be measured by the degree that friends have "refrigerator rights," the comfort level and freedom to just open up the fridge and feel welcome to use things there without asking.

My friend's parents really modeled this for us. They would insist that any of us high schoolers should feel free to get pop or juice from the fridge and snack on whatever was around. This seemed odd at first, but soon became normal for us. And much of our friendship and community was facilitated by the food and hospitality symbolized by open access to that refrigerator.

It seems to me that one easy way to offer refrigerator rights is that the next time you have people over, in addition to asking, "Can I get you anything?" you could also say, "Feel free to get whatever you need from the fridge." And don't get freaked out if people take you up on it!

Monday, July 27, 2009

Success is a lousy teacher

"Once we reach the age of thirty, success has nothing to teach us. Success is fun and rewarding, but we don't learn anything new from it. It's not a bad friend; it's just a lousy teacher. The only thing that can teach us, that can get through to us and profoundly change us, is suffering, failure, loss and wounds." - Richard Rohr, cited in The Folly of Prayer by Matt Woodley, p. 132

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Redefining attitude

I'm an occasional contributor to the Christian business/marketplace ministry site, but I often forget to highlight my articles because of the time lag between writing and publication. So here's part of an article I wrote on "Redefining Attitude" that was posted a few months ago:

In the business world, "attitude" is a bit of a buzzword. One's mental attitude, whether positive or negative, healthy or unhealthy, is said to be a key factor in the success of our work projects and professional relationships. You've seen the motivational posters:

• "A positive attitude causes a chain reaction of positive thoughts, events, and outcomes."
• "A positive attitude is a powerful force."
• "Attitude is a little thing that makes a big difference."

While all this seems to be helpful, it is not distinctively Christian. In fact, the emphasis on an internal positive attitude can devolve into mere selfism, since it doesn't require dependence on God or others.

On the other hand, at my high school church camp, someone would occasionally yell, "Attitude check!" and all of us would respond, "Praise the Lord!" In the Christian world, it's often assumed that the proper Christian attitude is one of always being happy or joyful in the Lord—sometimes in seeming denial of challenging realities. That view also seems somewhat insufficient. Attitude has to be more than just happy feelings.

Is attitude primarily an issue of one's temperament, personality, emotion, or cognitive thinking? Is it just a mood? Can we cheer up and have a better attitude—or is it something more than that?

. . . Our attitude should be like Christ's, not merely in being mentally humble, but in taking the nature of a servant and being obedient to death (Phil. 2:7-8). It's significant that both the Philippians 2 usage of phroneo and the 1 Peter 4 use of ennoia connect a Christian's attitude with Christ's suffering.

If anything, Scripture's discussion of attitude is less about projecting a positive outlook on life and much more concerned with having a willingness to suffer as Christ suffered. For the Christian, attitude is directly connected with action, especially in taking on service-oriented, sacrificial acts.

As Max De Pree said in Leadership Is an Art, leadership means bearing the pain of the organization. That's a more biblical sense of what it means to have a Christlike attitude. Having a good attitude doesn't mean that we are chipper and happy in the face of adversity. A Christlike attitude means that because Jesus suffered, we too are willing to suffer. We do not avoid pain and difficulty; rather, we resolve to face it and bear it on behalf of others, because we know that it will serve the common good.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Partnering with civic organizations

Two alumni of my undergrad alma mater recently wrote an article, "It’s Simple: Why We Partner with Civic Organizations to Serve the Community." It's a great example of how churches can partner with the public or nonprofit sector to seek the welfare of the city and to be good neighbors to their community. Here's part of the article:

Attend a community council meeting and you quickly discover what’s important to the people in your county. What some people call “bellyaching” sometimes tells you the most:

“We don’t have enough programs for our kids.”
“The shopping center is run-down and poorly lit. It attracts gang activity.”
“The homeless are tracking through our property to get to the liquor store.”

To address concerns like these, our community council naturally looks to its members, local law enforcement, and a host of civic organizations. While these groups may not be explicitly Christian, they are already engaged in many of the issues that should concern the church.

So, when discussing whether the church should partner with the government to serve its community, our first impulse has been to ask, “Why not?” If civic agencies organize themselves to invest in our kids, shelter the homeless, or care for any of those who have been marginalized, why wouldn’t the church, in the name of Christ, show up to work with them? If government bodies are fed up with the filth or the gangs or the drug abuse, then why wouldn’t we join them, in hopes of realizing true transformation?

Many of these agencies, after all, have already done much of the background work to identify needs and establish relationships; the church can extend its reach rather quickly by serving alongside them. And by doing so, we might help the community renew its confidence in the church as an agent of change. We can demonstrate that we’re not just a bunch of “bellyachers” ourselves, but that we care for our community and want to be part of transforming it.

Working with and through government agencies is also a healthy expression of the church as “the people of God everywhere and all the time,” rather than as an organization that just runs its own Christian programs. Simply put, “being the church” in the community does not require that we invent our own stuff.

Consider this: If the government operates an after-school program at the local recreation center, but most of those staffing the program are from the church, isn’t that the church being the church? Preaching the gospel may not be the program’s objective, but attracting 100 kids for a few hours every day certainly creates space for the gospel. It’s a venue where we can show up with the hands and feet and heart of Christ.

Monday, July 06, 2009

The "more likely to be killed by a terrorist than marry after 40" myth

Audio and video for weeks 2 and 3 of my Willow Creek class are now available online. Week 2 was on "Seven Myths About Singleness and Marriage," and week 3 was on "The Power of Community, Inside and Out." Here's part of week 2, one of the myths about singleness and marriage:

Have you seen Sleepless in Seattle? Remember the line: “It’s easier to get killed by a terrorist than to get married after 40”? Where does that come from? Well, it comes from a 1986 Newsweek cover story. In 1986, Newsweek reported on an unpublished study and said that by age forty, a single, educated career woman is more likely to be “killed by a terrorist” than to ever get married. Supposedly they had a 2.6% chance of getting married. The study argued that “white, college-educated women born in the mid-1950s who are still single at 30 have only a 20 percent chance of marrying. By the age of 35 the odds drop to 5 percent.” This study was widely quoted. The only problem was that it was totally wrong.

A Census Bureau report from about the same time found that single women at 30 had a 66% likelihood of getting married, not 20%, and at 40 had a 23% probability of marriage, not 2.6%.

The killed by a terrorist line wasn’t based on any research on terrorism. It was an exaggeration on Newsweek’s part, not a statistical finding of the study. It was written as a funny aside in an internal reporting memo by Newsweek’s San Francisco correspondent Pamela Abramson. She said years later, "It's true--I am responsible for the single most irresponsible line in the history of journalism, all meant in jest." In New York, writer Eloise Salholz inserted the line into the story. "It was never intended to be taken literally," says Salholz. But most readers missed the joke.

Newsweek finally retracted this “killed by a terrorist” claim twenty years later, in May 2006. Twenty years after the original article, they reported: "Those odds-she'll-marry statistics turned out to be too pessimistic: today it appears that about 90 percent of baby-boomer men and women either have married or will marry, a ratio that's well in line with historical averages."

The new article now says that the odds of getting married after 40 are more than 40%. And contrary to earlier projections that college educated women are less likely to marry, it’s now much more likely for women with college degrees to marry than not. A 2004 study says that of female college graduates born between 1960 and 1964, 97.4% will marry.

The original 1986 article looked at 14 women who were single and supposedly more likely to be killed by a terrorist. Twenty years later, Newsweek managed to track down 11 of the 14. Eight are married and three remain single. In other words, 72% of those eleven got married. One got married at age 40 and remains blissfully married at age 50. Several have children or stepchildren. None divorced. And none have been killed by a terrorist.