Archive for March, 2012

“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.”(Joshua 1:9) 

According to intercultural communication expert Galina Elizarova,  with English, everything is articulated in a logical way. The English speaker is straightforward and seeks to get the message out in the shortest distance, especially if he or she is an American.

Elizarova notes how lawyer-oriented we are, with all our details and interpretations. Everything has to be spelled out.

 Conversely, she explains that Russian, her native tongue is expressed quite differently. Whereas an American textbook teacher’s manual will tell a teacher,for example: “Have the students write a dialogue. Put them into pairs”, a Russian would consider that quite silly.”Why”,  a Russian might respond,”of course you put them into pairs. It’s a dialogue.”

 While the Americanl communication is more of a straight line, the Russian counterpart is illustrated by more of a broken line. Some things are articulated and some things are implied. The context is relied on to interpret the message.

 Before I get on my high horse and criticize the Russian communication methods, I need to heed Elizarova. She notes that Russians believe there way of communicating to be world-class, and cites as evidence the great literature of authors such as Tolstoy and Dostoevsky.

 Elizarova says that someone who is not aware of the Russian language may hear a discussion and think it is “like a hell. What are they talking about and how do they manage to understand one another?”.

 She cites an example of a terrible miscommunication between an American exchange student and her Russian host mother. It was an episode which left the Russian lady feeling very betrayed and the exchange student, who considered herself quite “Russian”, very confused.

 The host mother got sick with a very bad flu. The American girl, age 22, came to the door of her room and asked her if she could go to the disco.

 The Russian woman’s reply in her language from her sickbed was,”You may if you can.” The American girl processed this through her grid, which came out with: “ ‘You may’=’I have permission’; ‘if you can’=’I am not sick, so I am able to go’.” Off to the disco she went.

The American girl from her point of view was being very responsible at her age even asking for permission. The Russian woman was really saying,”You can’t go because I am sick and I may need some help, like water or something.”

She expected the American to get the context. The Russian host Mom expected the girl to be mature enough to decipher and decode the message she was sending from between the sheets with a high fever.

I sometimes feel these days that I too am expected to  try and decode what God is trying to tell me. However, there is no Star Trek communicator or Google Translate website that will unravel His message.

A friend just posed this joke which applies on his Facebook wall:

For spiritual math nerds:

Jesus was teaching his disciples and said,”The kingdom of heaven is like y=2-6 (x squared minus 6). One of them leans over to his buddy and asks,”What´’s that all about?” The other disciple answered,”Oh, He’s just teaching in parabolas again.

Given that I hated geometry in school, and any kind of math for that matter, you can see through this bit of humor my frustration with God’s communication. However, I know Him well enough I believe to think that He does want me to know His message. God is not in the business of making the finding of His will like some kind of shell game where I have to guess where the object is.
It’s not His fault I find His communication so cloudy. As Richard Niebuhr noted in his work “Christ and Culture”, Jesus is not a part of culture or even “above” culture. He is transcendent. Jesus is in no way subject to or related to our culture; He transforms it.
God’s made his transcendence clear through the prophet Isaiah. He said that His way of thinking and His way of doing things were not ours –not even close (Isaiah 55:8).
 Paul echoed this view of God in Romans:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and[i] knowledge of God!
   How unsearchable his judgments,
   and his paths beyond tracing out! 
“Who has known the mind of the Lord?
   Or who has been his counselor?”[ (Romans 11:33,34)
Thus, as a Christian I am faced with a God  who seems to be speaking Klingon to me. Although I want to follow Jesus, the communication is so high context (out of this world) that I don’t get it.
Larry Crabb in his book “The Silence of Adam” seems to have an answer to my dark dilemma. Crabb says it is my job, not God’s,  if I am to be a manly man, to speak into my darkness.
Unmanly men, says Crabb, walk around asking God,”What should I do?.” As the author notes, these men say,”There has to be a code.”
 Nope, there isn’t a code or a decoder.  Crabb writes,“God knows what we should do. Surely He will tell us…He is telling us what to do, but it’s not a code. He tells us to be men, love Him and then to do whatever we think best.”
To repeat Crabb: It’s our job to speak into the darkness. If we are followers of Christ and are doing our best to seek Him, Jesus whispers in our ear,”You can do it. Go get ‘em tiger.” Jesus isn’t a micromanager.
 The problem, says Crabb, is that there is a second underlying question to the “What should I do?” interrogative. It is,”Do I have what it takes?”
 Where we men especially fear to step into the darkness is in our relationships, says Crabb. However, he says we have to do so, giving others freedom, “releasing all efforts to control the outcome.”
 This is quite a hard teaching for someone like me, the ultimate control freak. While Jesus isn’t a micromanager, I am. As Crabb says, there are no guarantees, however.
 What he says unmanly men do is stick to the comfortable, stay with what they know, and avoid risks. What he calls for is for us men to step into the “mystery of relationship” and yet to avoid lighting our own fires as we do.
 I recently had an interaction with a lawyer by Email. I believe this woman was getting very frustrated with me because I was trying to cover all the bases and stay away from any kind of risk, or at least keep it to a minimum. (Maybe I should have been a lawyer!)  Only when she assured me on a bunch of counts did I give the go ahead to proceed.

I am in a pretty dark place right now. I have no idea what to do.

Oh, I take that back. I think I know what I should do, but I don’t have the resources and it scares me to death. Like I did with the lawyer, I am trying to cover all eventualities and avoid losing face, or worse.

This is where trusting God in the darkness comes in. I am following Him these days I think to the best of my ability. Oh sure, I have my moments, but generally I am hanging on to His every word (although, like I said above, I think I need a decoder).

In my current midnight hour (and I ask, when will the dawn ever come?) I don’t have much choice. Yet, I am hoping I end up like Howard Schulz, who was given this quote by Harriet Beecher Stowe when he began to turn Starbucks around after the recession a few years ago:

“When you get in a tight place and everything goes against you, till it seems as though you could not hang on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.”  

Nice words”, the skeptic in me saysBut there is no need for cynicism if the same communication is penned by God.  

Even if I don’t decode the message right and the tide sweeps me away(again, there are no guarantees), God is still trustworthy, hey. I am made in His image.

I am His son. He has delegated a whole heckuva lot to me. My word to myself is, “Run with it.”


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 “My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth. He will not let your foot slip—  he who watches over you will not slumber;  indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The LORD watches over you—the LORD is your shade at your right hand;  the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life; the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore (Psalm 121:2-8).”

Gregory House, the doctor on the TV series that bears his surname, is appearing before Dr. Cofield.  House is being questioned by Cofield about a mecial case that went terribly awry.

House defends himself: “My process is proven. Good things usually happen. Bad things sometimes happen.”

Cofield replies: “And when bad things happen, we should figure out what went wrong, so we can learn from it and correct it.”

House isn’t buying it. He has been around long enough to develop his view on such matters.

House disagrees, telling Cofield tartly,”So that we can assign blame instead of recognizing that bad things sometimes happen. It was nobody’s fault.”

The “it” was the near death of House’s colleague and subordinate Dr. Chase. He was stabbed with a scalpel in the heart by a patient who went berserk.

Dr. Cofield hears the testimony of House’s team and learns of the manaical methods he uses. He comes to the conclusion that the case was a fiasco.

Cofield determines that House is responsible for setting an atmosphere that led to the stabbing, even though the team agrees with their boss that the stabbing was “nobody’s fault”. House is only saved from being suspended and sent back to prison because it would constitute a parole violation by the last minute testimony of the wife of the patient who knifed Chase.

The patient was transferred to another hospital, but his wife tells Cofield that House told her of the cause of his problems as he was being taken away and has saved his life. Cofield suddently switches what appeared to be a guilty verdict to one exonerating House.

Surpisingly, House calls Cofield a coward and tells him he only declared the situation as nobody’s fault because of some spouse’s bursting into the room and intervening. This is surpising. House is a curmudgeon and has never been one to admit mistakes.

However, down deep he does care,, and he blames himself for what happened to Chase. In the end, House goes to Chase, who is going through physical therapy in order to walk again.

House uncharacteristically says to Chase,”Cofield says what happened to you was nobody’s fault. He was wrong. I am sorry.”

House has experienced a sense of shame and tries to deal with it. Since the beginning of the episode he has been transformed to saying that what happened was “nobody’s fault” to admitting his guilt.

Erwin Lutzer, the pastor of Moody Church in Chicago,  says that there are two kinds of shame. One is the objective shame we experience before God, who justly calls our actions “sin”.

Then there is subjective shame. This comes from our experiences. For example, we may be shamed because of being abused in a terrible home while growing up.

Lutzer says shame began at the Fall. It was there that he says the “blame game” began.

 After the fall Adam blames Eve. Eve blames the serpent.  

As a result, there is a defense mechanism in the human psyche that is going to say,”I am not responsible you are responsible”. Lutzer notes that some people are psychologically incapable of taking responsibility for their sins and their mistakes,and they will through ingenious  ways seek to  destroy all the people around them to protect themselves from exposure.

 Lutzer notes that society aids and abets this. It says to reconstruct the reality around us to exonerate ourselves from shame.

Shame, says Lutzer, is felt deeply and it can ruin us. Is it any wonder we go to such lengths to avoid it.

I find myself this day trying to make sense of shame. I was told today that my contract at my job would not be renewed.

Frankly, I saw it coming. My attitudes and responses to these circumstances have not been the best. I have been trying to exonerate myself and put the blame on others.

The truth is that the blame for my demise is difficult to ascertain.  I can’t decide if I was a victim of office politics or if I dug my own grave. Even so, there is shame.

In the last year I have learned an important lesson that I hope will help me deal with m job loss, at least in terms of my view of my identity. It involves having gained an understanding of whose land I live in.

Much of the world lives in what I call “the land of apples”. In this place, what matters is the plaudits of others, trophies and respect from men, and things like acclaim from your employer. I have decided that this land is not my home.

Where I try to live every day now is in “the land of oranges”. They are sweet oranges because Jesus lives there and runss the place. This country runs on the basis of His promises and His grace.

My thoughts fall in with Lutzer’s ideas about dealing with shame. He notes that Jesus took our shame on Himself.

Lutzer says His crucifixion was shameful. It destroyed His  reputation, silenced Him, exposd His obvious weaknesses, lead to His abandonment, and diminished Him (Hebrews 6:6).

In the midst of my shame at losing my job, it would be easy to go after some people. However, it is clear to me that this is not God’s way. It is better to entrust myself to His care.

Furthermore, my natural inclination would be to be shamed and beat myself up over today’s developments. This is fruitlless. What is fruit-full is to continue to live in the land of oranges as I have been training myself to do.

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King Jotham became powerful because he was careful to live in obedience to the LORD his God (II Chronicles 27:6)”.

Papillon, aka as Henri Charriere, is a genius at escape. He is the subject of a best selling autobiography and popular film starring Steve McQueen about a prisoner on Devil’s Island in French Guyana during the 1930s.

Papillon has been sentenced to prison after being convicted of murdering a pimp. He consistently denies the charge throughout the film.

In the movie, Papillon conducts numerous escape attempts. Each time he manages to get out of jail, only to be apprehended again and put in brutal solitary confinement for months and years. Some of the captures he endures are due to being cheated by people he trusts, people to whom he has given large sums of money to aid his escape, including some nuns.

In solitary, Papillon perseveres even when he has sunlight taken away from him and is put on half rations. He eats bugs to survive. Even when he is told to stick his head in a hole outside his cell and has a baton stuck under his neck, he refuses to give in to the torment by revealing the source of coconuts smuggled into his diet.

Papillon eventually is placed on a small tropical island in the penal colony. He is there with a fellow prisoner of long acquaintance, Luis Dega, the rich prisoner whose life he had once saved and who had sent him the coconuts..

Because of the beauty of the sea and the tropical climate, the island seems almost like a paradise despite being a prison. Dega tells Papillon,”This is nice, huh?”.

Papillon replies,”You’ve made it nice, Luis.” To Papillon, the tropical isle is still a jail.

As always, Papillon begins scheming to get off the island, despite years of physical, mental and emotional abuse that have worn him down . He tells Dega that he thinks he has a way and involves his friend in the escape plan.

The idea is to toss a bag full of coconuts from a high cliff into an inlet and then jump in after, riding the bag to freedom as it is washed out to sea.  Papillon jumps, but Dega demurs. Dega decides that staying in his confinement is better than risking death.

As the movie ends, Papillon is seen floating out to sea. A narrator states that he made it to the mainland and lived  the rest of his life in freedom.

I wish I had the wit for escape of a Papillon. The prisons I would escape from are just as insufferable as Devil’s Island.

Sometimes I make my own jails due to bad choices and character flaws. Other times, the God who governs this universe places me in the penal states I find myself in.

The kings of Israel and Judah in ancient times found themselves in tough, inescapable situations as I sometimes do. They ended up there for the same reasons I do as well.

Some of the kings sincerely followed God. At times the Lord put them into a place where the only way out was to trust in Him.

One such monarch was Jehosophat of Judah. He was faced with a huge enemy force which was ready to crush his own army.

Jehosophat pleaded with God for help, and God came through. He told the king that the battle was His own, not Jehosophat’s and that He would see the defeat of the enemy. The forces opposed to Judah were thwarted (II Chronicles 20:1-26).

Other kings started off well, but then for whatever reason they began to believe their own press clippings and turned against God. One such ruler was Uzziah.

The Scriptures say of him that he did what was right as his father King Amaziah (II Chronicles 26:4). It was “like father like son”.

However, very much like his father, who rejected God later on for some foreign gods, Uzziah got proud and took on duties God had specifically assigned to Levitical priests. The king was struck down with leprosy as he stood in the Temple (II Chronicles 26:16-21).

Uzziah was succeeded by his son Jotham. Here is the biblical preface to this young man’s reign:

Jotham was twenty-five years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. His mother’s name was Jerusha daughter of Zadok.  He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father Uzziah had done, but unlike him he did not enter the temple of the LORD (II Chronicles 27:1,2a).

If I were king Uzziah, I would hate to have my name documented in the Holy Scriptures for eternity in this way. How would you like to have something of this kind written about you?

* John was a godly man just like his Dad, but unlike him he didn’t cheat on his taxes.

* Casey was a follower of Jesus Christ as his father was, but unlike his Dad he didn’t watch drink to excess.

* Barry was a committed believer in the same ilk as his mother, but unlike her he didn’t fly into fits of rage.

 I have figured that God puts us in “jail” on some things until we “get” it, just as the French wardens did with Papillon. Sometimes we make a run for it and, like him, feel like we have escaped the pain of our prison, only to be captured by the One whom poet Francis Thompson called The Hound of Heaven. Says one commentator about the use of this title for God:

 The meaning is understood. As the hound follows the hare, never ceasing in its running, ever drawing nearer in the chase, with unhurrying and imperturbed pace, so does God follow the fleeing soul by His Divine grace. And though in sin or in human love, away from God it seeks to hide itself, Divine grace follows after, unwearyingly follows ever after, till the soul feels its pressure forcing it to turn to Him alone in that never ending pursuit.

The Neumann Press Book of Verse, 1988 (quoted from Wikipedia)

I have learned that the only way off my personal Devil’s Island is to make an end of the running from God. Instead,I have noted that only fleeing TO Him, my Heavenly Father, and obeying Him as His child is my only means of escape from my individual imprisonments. 


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