Category Archives: Literature

A Theory and a Theology

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

At the subway in Kuala Lumpur, my daily commute to the YMCA for language classes

Greetings, friends.  I have been away from this blog for awhile – family visitors to Malaysia, intensive language study in Kuala Lumpur, getting life back on track with the start of the Western school year.  Also, the heat has wiped me out – somehow it took a year for it to affect me?  Who knows.

The good news is that I am finding more time now for writing, research, reflection, and conversation about the idea I’ve had for 3 years now for a book.

The premise of the book is the different ways we use the words “but” and “and.”  We treat them as interchangeable, but (ha – but! Watch how you use it!) if we look at the meaning behind the words, we learn about behaviour, attitude, and communication.

When Caedmon was about a year old, he hated to be put to bed.  He would cry for hours.  I read every book, asked every mom, tried things for weeks at a time.  One book on discipline talked about “and” and “but” and this got me thinking.  One night, as I put Cade down after our bedtime routine, I began to say my usual – “I love you, but it’s time for sleep.”  I stopped myself just in time, and instead I said, “I love you, and that’s why I’m helping get you to your bed and your sleep.  Good night” – and, for the first time, his fists let go of my shirt, he went calmly into his crib, and off to dreamland.

I’ve learned that there is a field of psychology called “NLP” – neuro-linguistic programming – that looks at how the words we use (linguistic) actually program how the neurons in our brain will handle information.  For many people, “But” triggers the neurons for “problem! separation! get defensive!”  “And” on the other hand is a word that links things together.  NLP is a really intriguing field for me, in large part because of how it has helped me in my own attitude, relationships, and life.

So I am studying the theory of NLP – though the leaders in this field will tell you that the theories – the patterns that they have named and shared – are not enough, that it is a practical field.  I agree!  And as a Christian woman,  a mom, a missionary, when I take in information, I don’t stop at theory.  I often don’t stop at practice.  I want also to look for theology – for what this tells us about God.

Where does God use “but” and “and”?  How do we hear messages from God – with our Neurons (mental chemistry & structures for thinking), or with our Language (remembering that Christ is “the Word of God”), or with the ways we Program our life according to patterns?  I have been having a great time exploring how NLP can relate to the Christian faith, to our understanding and devotion to God, and to how we actually live our daily life.

So – from theories to theology – I will share some of my reflections on this blog and invite your contributions as well!

Could Laura Ingalls Wilder have imagined this?

I am sure that you will be hearing many stories from Eric’s 17-day trip to Yogjakarta, Indonesia, for intensive language training. But the story for today is the gift he brought home for Caedmon. For Easter, Eric got the boys the full set of Little House on the Prairie, one of my favourite things to read as a young person. I must have read the entire series 10 times. I once made the mistake, after my mom joked about her being old, of asking (innocently!) whether she rode in covered wagons as a little girl. “Not that old,” was her reply.

So you might imagine my shock and delight – and shock – at seeing Eric’s gift for Caedmon:

Yes! It’s a chapter from Little House on the Prairie, in both English and Bahasa Malaysia. The back cover says, “Laura mengalami banyak kejutan sepanjang hari ketika keluarga Ingalls menghabiskan waktu pergi ke kota.” Laura is in for a day filled with surprises when the Ingalls family spends the day in town.

It’s such an amazing contrast, of Laura writing when her memories of going to town were grand adventures. And here we are, where we live in a “Kota” – Kota Kinabalu – and her work is being translated into languages that she didn’t even know existed. And there is such a strong connection between me as a young girl, dreaming of exploring and adventure “on the frontier” and me today in this developing nation, with just our immediate family that had boarded a plane with 8 pieces of luggage and a lot of excitement/anticipation/anxiety/hope. The title of this book is “Pergi ke Kota” – going to town – and that’s what we’ve done, too. Gone to town, figuratively, as we made a pretty extreme move from New Jersey to Borneo, and gone to this town, with its culture and language and currency and even some dirt roads. Laura journaled and I blog, and across the years and the miles, our paths still cross. It’s amazing, this huge, small world.

Keeping the candles inside the cathedrals?

missionary training's prayer candles

Light and the Word –      gifts from God

With the power outages on the East Coast, a lot of people have been using candlelight for everything from walking around their house to doing late-night Sudoku.  Candles are such a symbol of faith.  They cannot light themselves – they must receive light from someone else.  Once lit they can be generous with their light – sharing flame without losing anything, casting light over a whole room, giving warmth and a unique glow that is both calming and energizing.  Flames burn and wicker and dance, and are so mysterious.   Jesus Christ is the Light of the World – and he said to the crowds,”You are the light of the world. A city built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house. 16In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”  (Matthew 5:14-16)

But candles are also frail.  Have you ever tried to carry a candle outside?  Wind can whip it out at any moment.  Even walking with a candle can be a challenge – that little bit of movement takes all our focus and gracefulness.

Most people have had the occasion to see candles at Church.  They are a sign of -1- God’s presence, of -2- the holiness of a place, of -3- the Spirit working in mysterious ways.  Yet aren’t each of these three alive and life-giving in every place and time?  I am reminded of the lyrics of the song “April Showers”:

(Oh) Like April Showers on the slick cement

When I consider how our light is spent

Keeping the candles inside the cathedrals

Hold on tight, Don’t go into the night So full of evil

So often as Christians we focus our energy of worship, fellowship, and giving within the walls of cathedrals, in part because the beauty of Church buildings is inspiring, but also because outside of the cathedrals our candles are open to all kinds of winds and chaos.  Candles won’t stay lit; our spirits are frail; we cannot prove our beliefs; we may feel alone when away from the gathered saints, so our witness is silenced.  Yet it is the world outside of the cathedral that needs the warmth of faithful friendships.  This world needs the beauty and mystery of God in a world where to value something we first have to measure it.  This world needs to see candles get blown out and miraculously re-lit by the Light of the World, over and over again.  It is the darkest places that need light the most.  And, you may not know how much your light matters to people around you.  “Remember to be kind to everyone, for each one is fighting a battle that you cannot see.”  Carry your candle, O lights of the world – feel God’s presence in the carpool and the holiness of your kitchen and the Spirit sending you to a world in need.

Enjoy the song “April Showers” by the Christian band Caedmon’s Call:

Find the lyrics here:

PS – and the song goes on:  “Rain rain don’t go away, we need you this dry and dusty day…  Rain rain don’t go away, though some may say please go away.”  You may remember the child’s song “rain rain go away, come again some other day.”  The song April Showers plays on that, saying that the rain is like the waters of baptism, the flood of God’s presence washing through our lives.  Rain is powerful stuff – as these storms have proved.  We might want the rain to go away so that we will feel safe, so that our lives won’t be risked and changed.  But if we’re talking about the rain as God’s presence, then we do need God to come into our dry and dusty souls, refresh us, give us life abundant – even as we try to deny that we need God in order to live.  Ah – what a song, and what images of our need and God’s love!

I Must Have Changed Several Times Since Then…

Strange caterpillar in a new (to us) land

Strange caterpillar in a new (to us) land

The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence: at last the Caterpillar took the hookah out of its mouth, and addressed her in a languid, sleepy voice.

`Who are you?’ said the Caterpillar.

This was not an encouraging opening for a conversation. Alice replied, rather shyly, `I–I hardly know, sir, just at present– at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have been changed several times since then.’

`What do you mean by that?’ said the Caterpillar sternly. `Explain yourself!’

`I can’t explain myself, I’m afraid, sir’ said Alice, `because I’m not myself, you see.’

`I don’t see,’ said the Caterpillar.

`I’m afraid I can’t put it more clearly,’ Alice replied very politely, `for I can’t understand it myself to begin with; and being so many different sizes in a day is very confusing.’

`It isn’t,’ said the Caterpillar.

`Well, perhaps you haven’t found it so yet,’ said Alice; `but when you have to turn into a chrysalis–you will some day, you know–and then after that into a butterfly, I should think you’ll feel it a little queer, won’t you?’

`Not a bit,’ said the Caterpillar.

`Well, perhaps your feelings may be different,’ said Alice; `all I know is, it would feel very queer to me.’

`You!’ said the Caterpillar contemptuously. `Who are you?’

Which brought them back again to the beginning of the conversation.

–          From Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, chapter 5, “Advice from a Caterpillar.”

I seem to always come back to this passage from Alice whenever I am in a time of transition.  I had the interesting experience this week of visiting three of my four alma maters.  Sunday evening I was in Cumberland, MD and took a walk around Fort Hill High School the night before the start of the school year.  Then on Tuesday I was in Madison, NJ visiting Drew University.  I was a bit surreal to be there to say goodbyes on the first day of classes.  Finally, last night I went to Baltimore to see a college friend who still lives near the Loyola University campus, and so I drove past my old dorms on my way home.  I have always enjoyed my occasional trips back to these sites.  Being there allows me to remember who I was in that space and draw on the ideals and energies that were core to me in those times and places with those communities.  After all, who we are shifts and changes as we become part of different groups of people and enter different stages of life.  New experiences and expectations continually shape us anew.  For me, the opportunity to return to physical spaces often served as a reminder not only of the gift of my varied experiences but also as a guard against complacency.  I could look at the person I was at any given moment and the choices and activities I was making each day, and compare that to who I was at other times and see what was different.  Sometimes the changes were for the better, sometimes not.  No matter what, though, the visits gave me a boost of reflective energy to help shape what I was doing.

That boost didn’t happen this time, though; at least not in the same way.  To be sure, I enjoyed visiting with the people I saw, but my reaction to the places was a feeling of distance and disconnect.  I don’t belong there anymore.  Obviously I am not a high school or college student anymore, nor am I a grad student any longer.  More than that, though, my feeling was that as much as those places are gifts to who I am now, what is essential to my new transition is not looking to my past for inspiration but rather to what I do not yet know.  I told Wendolyn earlier this week that now that we are near the end of list of details that have to be taken care of before we can fly out on Monday I am beginning to have moments of feeling a bit nervous.  It is not doubt about what we are doing, though.  I have been called, well prepared, and given the necessary gifts to take on the role that is before me.  Rather than doubt, the nerves comes from a realization that in order to be who God is calling me to be as a professor at Sabah Theological Seminary and do what God is calling me to do, I need to grow beyond who I currently am.  One level of this is simply being able to see myself in the role of seminary professor.  I’ve known so many wonderful seminary professors; to see myself as one is a bit of a challenge.  Even more, though, is the need to grow through getting to know the people of Malaysia and particularly the church communities that I will be a part of there.  Who are these brothers and sisters in Christ, and who will I be in their midst?  I am sure answering those questions will be a slow and ongoing process of living together, and that there will be times of confusion and not quite knowing who I am, just like Alice going through her many sizes.  I look forward to it, but at the same time realize it won’t be easy.  I trust, though, that through the experience I will be in a way I have not been before.  A new me will be brought forth.

“Who are you?” the caterpillar asks.  I can’t wait to find out anew!