Monday, August 29, 2011

Wallace & Gromit, move over!

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My friend Lindsey at World Vision had an awesome idea to help people who are struggling with famine in the Horn of Africa. Today through Wednesday, we are doing this "Social Media Moment" thingy where we are trying to mobilize bloggers and other social media users to spread the word and raise support for 12.4 million people who are threatened with starvation in Somalia, Kenya and Ethiopia due to a terrible drought, civil war, and recent sharp increases in the cost of food. More than 30,000 children have already died.

Lindsey's idea was to ask people to think about what in their lives they could give up this week, in order to enable them to text $10 to help famine sufferers (by texting the word FAMINE to 20222 on your mobile phone). We are asking bloggers to devote some space on their blog this week to their answer to that question. We are also asking Facebook and Twitter users to talk this up, using the hashtag #FamineNoMore.

Blogger Joy Bennett wrote an amazing and creative blog about this on the World Vision blog this morning. Included are all the tools bloggers need to chat this up, including a badge which automatically links their blog posting to Joy's. It's cool to see the rows of little icons representing the different and very creative bloggers who are writing about their "One Thing" that they are giving up this week in order to help make #FamineNoMore. (Hopefully you can look and see my little icon there too!)

I spent the better part of the summer of 2006 in Africa and really fell in love with the people I met there, so this crisis has hit hard for me. Therefore I've been thinking very hard about what I would give up. And to be honest, I'm struggling. I don't spend that much money each week on Starbucks (I make my own coffee at home) and don't usually go out to movies. Darlene and I do eat out a lot but weren't planning on doing that this week, anyway. (Plus, I already have a folder full of Groupon coupons which have already been paid for, for local restaurants.)

So I started thinking. What do I really, really love? And what do I spend at least $10 on each week?

Then it hit me: CHEESE.

(No!!!! My mind and my stomach is rebelling already!)

I know what you're thinking: Seriously? Cheese?!? That's stupid. Who spends $10 on cheese?

Well, just ask my wife. It's a fetish for me. I love to peruse the fancy cheese aisle at Costco. I've tried nearly all of them. Stinky blue cheeses? I'd happily use a brick of really stinky blue cheese in place of a bar of soap. Holy cow, stinking hot, BBQ Hot Wing cheddar cheese? It lights my fire. Yancey's with wasabi horseradish? Moishi moishi, come to papa.

If the moon was made of cheese, I'd go there. (Wallace and Gromit, move over!) New York, Wisconsin, Tillamook, Oregon ... I rotate through their extra-sharps, white, yellow or orange. The sharper, the better. (Sampled with a small glass of chianti or a nice chardonnay ... no, don't get me started on wines!)

But my all-time favorite cheese, I think, is a smoked cheddar. I bought an amazing cheese a few weeks ago. It was smoked over applewood, thoroughly infused, with paprika adding a little color to one side. It was AMAZING. This morning I ate the last piece for breakfast.

So, I was all prepared to head back to Costco and drop $10 on another brick. (Was it $10? I think so. I really don't care what it costs. As long as I have some.)

But then, gosh darn it, I started asking piercing questions like, "What do I love that I'd be willing to give up this week so that someone might have a better chance of surviving the famine?"

So, I'm doing it. I'm skipping Costco and avoiding the cheese aisle in their deli, at all costs. Hopefully I won't starve this week.

So here we go, pulling out the cell phone and texting "FAMINE" to 20222 ...

... I got an immediate text back saying, "To confirm your $10 donation to World Vision reply with the word YES. Terms at hmgf.org/t reply HELP for help, STOP to cancel  Msg&Data Rates May Apply"

So, here goes ...

... my index finger quivers over the send key. Thoughts of smoky sharp cheddar dancing before my eyes ... but no, I can do this. I AM BIGGER THAN THE CHEESE. (Okay, I realize there's a double meaning there ...)

"YES"!

Well, if I can do it, you can do it too! We can lick this thing together. Cheese, or no cheese. (Oh, doggone it, I just used the words "lick" and "cheese" in the same sentence. It's going to be a long week!)

Friday, August 26, 2011

Casting Our Cares Upon Jesus

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We pour out our miseries,
God just hears a melody.
Beautiful, the mess we are;
The honest cries of breaking hearts
Are better than a Hallelujah

I'm not a huge Amy Grant fan, but whenever I've heard "Better Than a Hallelujah" on the radio it really seems to bless me. This morning, that blessing was put into sharper focus than ever as a result of both a challenging workweek, some personal things I'm struggling with, and a passage I studied last night:
"Casting all your cares on Him, for He cares for you." (1 Peter 5:7)
http://www.flickr.com/photos/willhumes/3211225569/
Jesus was using a word here that fishermen frequently used in reference to their everyday task of continually casting out their nets to find fish. It isn't simply a one-time event, it's something that you have to do over and over again if you want to get fish. Why? Often the net comes up empty, or sometimes with only a few fish in it. I enjoy crabbing, and when I drop a crab pot into the water, wait 15 minutes or so and reel it back up again, most of the time it doesn't have a huge, juicy crab in it ... usually it's something I really don't want, like a starfish or some other inedible bottom-dwelling creature (if anything). So, in order to catch a crab or two, I often have to re-bait the trap and drop it again. Keep on casting, until I find what I'm looking for.

So why do we have to keep on casting that net of cares to God? Why does it sometimes come back empty, or with an answer we didn't expect? After all, "He cares for us," right? Why doesn't He simply fill it up with the answer that we are looking for?

I think the reason is that God knows that fishermen need to be about the business of fishing. If on the first cast of the day, He filled up their nets with large, juicy fish, what would they do with the rest of their time? Probably nothing good. Maybe spend all day drinking margaritas on the beach. Which sounds nice, but what fishermen really need to be doing is fishing.

And what we as God's children really need to be spending our time doing is talking with God. Casting our nets keeps us connected to Him, instead of laying on the beach and wasting away in Margaritaville.

Jesus said to Martha, who was distracted by all her responsibilities and angry at her sister Mary for sitting at Jesus' feet and listening to Him while Martha toiled away: "Martha, Martha: You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed, or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her."

In the midst of all our cares, we have a choice. We can be distracted and upset by them, or we can "cast them upon Him" ... choosing to sit at His feet and listen to what He says. What will we choose today?

Saturday, August 13, 2011

On Wasting Time

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"Wasting time" watching eagles fly with my sweetheart, atop a bluff overlooking the Snoqualmie River in North Bend, during our 32nd anniversary.
Because I am coming off a four-day vacation, I have been thinking this morning about Seth Godin's recent blog, "Wasting Time Is Not a Waste."

Basically he defines (with tongue in cheek, I'm sure) "wasting time" as any time that's not directly devoted to productivity (working). And then he says, we can "waste time" poorly, or we can "waste time" well.

Wasting time well (which is not a waste) is measured, he says, by the extent to which your investment of wasted time either/and: 1) brings you needed rest, 2) brings you needed discovery, or 3) brings you joy.

I like that, and it also got me to thinking about a biblical view of "wasted time." From the very beginning, God ordained a cyclical time of rest for we weak and frail human beings who don't know any better (and that's apparently all of us), and He called it "Sabbath." In Sabbath, we were obviously to rest, that was a fundamental part of the fourth commandment as revealed in Exodus 20:8-11 ...
 8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.
 The impetus for the Sabbath was resting in God's work. Jewish scholars took the "rest" part very seriously and took great pains to define exactly what "rest" meant. But there were more than simple elements of "rest" (kicking back, doing no work) in the Sabbath. There were also elements of discovery ... and if you dig deeper, elements of joy.

Over and over again in Exodus, the sabbath is referred to as a day "holy unto the Lord." Chapter 31:16 says it was to be "celebrated." It was an occasion for joy, even in the midst of "denying yourself" (Lev. 6:31). And a denial of self, in Scripture, is always portrayed as a refocusing from self to others, first and foremost, focusing upon God.

This is why the Jews attended Synagogue on the Sabbath. Lev. 23:3 calls it "a day of sacred assembly," a day in which to show reverence for the Tabernacle or the Temple as God's dwelling place. Discovery of who God was and how to draw near to Him, in the sacred assembly, was a part of the "rest" that God required, a refocusing upon the person and work of God (and off of ourselves and our own desires).

Such discovery of God results in joy, as Jesus Christ assured us in John 17 when (in the midst of His greatest trial) he prayed that we would experience His fullness of joy.

So, Seth hits it right on the head, from my perspective. If vacations are simply wasting time in empty pursuits of self-gratification and "entertainment," they are truly a waste. But if in your vacation you can truly get rested up, engage upon a discovery of who God is and who we are in right relation to Him, and experience as a result the joy that knowing God and loving Christ brings to our hearts, such "wasted time" is far from a waste!

Friday, August 05, 2011

The Butterfly Effect

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Some faceless chap in Nairobi owes me — big time.

We all know what the butterfly effect is, right? A butterfly flaps its wings, somewhere in the jungle in Papua New Guinea, and stirs a leaf which drops a drop of water onto a hapless frog. Startled, the hapless frog takes a leap ... right into the mouth of a hungry alligator. (Do they have alligators in Papua New Guinea? I'm not sure.)

The alligator, delighted with its meal, decides it's time for a nap. He crawls out into a warm, sunny space on a rock and falls asleep. Right before a tiger comes sauntering across the rock. (I suppose there aren't tigers in Papua New Guinea, either, but just go with it.)

The tiger comes unexpected upon the napping alligator, and a big fight ensues. The roars and snarls startle a huge flog of pelicans, nesting nearby, and they all take to wing, rising high into the humid sky. The massive stir of air from the wings of so many large birds is just enough to encourage a little storm action in that humid cloud, and a thunderhead begins to form. It's near a convergence zone — where warm air meets cooler — and the thunderstorm begins to swirl angrily and grow larger.

Slowly the storm crosses the Pacific, gaining momentum. Eventually it gathers strength and becomes a terrible hurricane which rains down destruction on many countries.

All because a butterfly flapped its wings in Papua New Guinea.

So, back to Nairobi. Well, first I should let you know that I have been using the same old dog-slow laptop computer, a Dell D-630, for several years now. I am hard on computers, always trying to push them to their limits and beyond, so the net effect is they get slower and slower and slower. Eventually I am trying to do the job of a web guru with stone age tools. At least in relative terms.

So, I was overdue for a new computer. My new department didn't have budget for it, but they did have a used hand-me-down E-model (left by someone else who had moved on from my old department after it was closed) which was still significantly newer and better and higher capacity than my old Dell D-630. So they sent it to my employer's IT department who started working on configuring it for me.

Unfortunately this is not a rapid process. The easy part is erasing the hard drive. The hard (and slow) part is putting all the software I need on it, copying across all my data files, configuring it to be exactly the way I want it. As it turns out, this takes weeks.

A week ago, it was almost ready. But then the guy who was working on it either quit the company or got laid off, I'm not sure which. I was sure he was done with it, but apparently he didn't document his process very well, because they weren't. They assigned a new guy, who was going to start over.

Enter the faceless chap from Nairobi. One of my colleagues was there on assignment, covering the famine in East Africa. She was walking down a crowded street, toting her nice fancy laptop (at least fancy compared to mine), when our faceless, nameless chap snatched her bag from her shoulder and quickly disappeared into the crowd.

So my colleague was laptopless. She managed to get a loaner and was limping along.

Meantime, my coworkers here started trying to figure out how they were going to get her a new laptop. We have no budget for such things. So they started looking at me hungrily. "Hey, she can have my old one," I volunteered.

When they gave me that look like, "Yeah, right," and didn't say anything in response to my generous suggestion, I knew I was hosed. Damn that butterfly.

So, what was formerly MY new laptop is now being reconfigured for my colleague's use, when she returns. The hurricane is gathering strength.

Okay, okay, I didn't write this blog just to gripe. I think there's a principle at work here. Perhaps one lesson to be learned is that our actions have ripple effects, consequences which we can in no way envision when we decide to act. That thief had no way of knowing, I'm sure, that his choices would put in serious jeopardy my ability to save the world.

And perhaps another lesson is: take care of your laptop computer. You might be using it for the next 10 years.