Monday, February 19, 2018

Quality in Christian Higher Education: What it is and How to Maintain it

The 10th Anniversary of St. John’s University of Tanzania
Quality in Christian Higher Education: What it is and How to Maintain it
Shelley A. Chapman, PhD
November 27, 2017
Members of the Board of Trustees and the Governing Council
Chancellor Rt. Rev. Donald Mtetemela
Vice Chancellor Professor Emmanuel Mbennah
Deputy Vice Chancellor, Academic Officials, Faculty, Friends, and most importantly…Students…
I greet you in the wonderful name of Jesus Christ. And I bring special greetings from my family members from the United States of America.
On behalf of World Gospel Mission and the Association of Christian Theological Education of Africa (ACTEA), I congratulate you today on this very significant milestone.
In the most important sermon ever preached, Jesus said that those who teach others about the Kingdom of God will be called “great” in the Kingdom of God. It is an exciting moment to pause and see what God has done here through you. We thank God for your accomplishments and for your faith in Christ that has made this ten-year anniversary of your prestigious Christian university a reality today.
I would like to begin with two short stories, both of which are true. The first took place in rural Uganda not too long ago. A local pastor called one of the men in his church to see him for a very important matter. We will call him Mukisa. Once Mukisa arrived, the pastor informed him that in a dream the night before, God spoke to him and gave him an urgent commandment for Mukisa to obey. “God said that you must leave your wife immediately.” “What???” Mukisa questioned? “I don’t understand. I love my wife, and she loves me! Why would I ever leave her?” The pastor replied that he could not discern the whys of God’s commands and that all he knew was that Mukisa should obey and end this marriage at once. Because the pastor is considered the “man of God” and is the authority to be obeyed in this rural village, Mukisa sadly went home and put his wife out, ending their good marriage. Shortly thereafter, the pastor went to the ousted wife and took her to be his own.
The second story took place in a small village in Congo. There, a church was planted and three women began to come. They all professed faith in Jesus Christ. However, they were the wives of one man, whom we will call Omodo. While all were welcomed in the church, only the first wife was allowed to take communion, and Omodo never came. A missionary visited Omodo to invite him to come to church. “Oh, they do not want me, the man said. They tell me to get a divorce. Jesus tells me not to get a divorce. So, I can’t go to the church.” The missionary followed up, “Do you want to be a Christian?” Omodo answered, “Oh, I AM a Christian. I just can’t go to church.”
At first hearing, these stories may sound humorous or entertaining. However, with further reflection, we can see a common theme—and that is the need for critical thinking, the need to be able to critique assumptions, values, and beliefs—the need to critique elements of our cultures and contexts, the need for a willingness to discard some of our tendencies or practices so that we would not hinder advancement of the Kingdom of God, and the need to search our hearts for selfish ambition.
 These are two very short stories of many that could be told where there is confusion about how to live out a life of excellence in the church and in the world in a way that would show love for God and love for people in our everyday lives. Truth be told, it is not always easy to know what to say or what to do in complex situations or in different contexts. Learning how to approach complex circumstances for which there are often no quick and easy answers requires intellectual depth, critical thinking, and spiritual discernment. In short, for our educational institutions to prepare students for the difficult challenges ahead, it requires academic excellence.
I think we would all agree here today that it is important for our educational institutions to focus on excellence in its academic endeavors. The days of valuing a certificate or a diploma just for the sake of having a certificate or diploma are long gone. We need to know that students have learned, and that they have learned in significant ways so that they can address the complex challenges facing Africa today.
While we would no doubt all agree that we should strive for academic excellence in Christian Higher Education today, I dare say that if we were to take a poll among those of us who are here today on what academic excellence is, we might find many different definitions and descriptions among us.
            It is important to have shared values around the concept of academic excellence. This is the main reason why the Association for Christian Theological Education in Africa (or ACTEA) exists—so that we can “standardize” what excellence is, or come up with a set of agreements, or what we call “standards,” around what academic excellence looks like.
            And “excellence” is no stranger to St. John’s University. Your vision calls you to “Be a center of excellence for developing humankind holistically to learn and to serve.” Developing people holistically includes helping them to develop the capacity for engagement and inquiry. One of the goals for your students that is stated on your website targets “independent thinking.” In other words, you know it is important to go beyond telling students what to think and help them to learn how to think.
There are three domains of academic excellence that I would like to invite you to consider today as you celebrate your 10th anniversary:
First, “Academic excellence” requires us to articulate important goals we want to see our students achieve.  For example, part of being able to think critically includes the capacity for students in professional programs to learn how to “profess” something particular within their discipline.  After all, “professionals” are people called to “profess” something for the public good. Nurses and pharmacists ought to profess health. Business people ought to profess accountability; teachers profess learning. Theologians profess faith. All professionals leaving St. John’s should profess integrity and a strong stand against the ubiquitous and pervasive corruption that plagues this continent and beyond. Hopefully, all the students who pass through these halls into the professions within society will profess the name of Christ as their Lord and King.
Second, “academic excellence” requires us to design and provide learning environments and experiences to help our students achieve the targeted goals. This means we need qualified teachers who not only possess deep understandings and explicit skills in thinking, writing, and research, but who also understand how students learn and how to design experiences that include interactive lectures, engaging conversations, group work, and other classroom activities that allow students to construct understandings and critique their deeply held (and often hidden) assumptions.
Third, “academic excellence” requires us to collect authentic evidence of student achievement, such as in the case of St. John’s, demonstrating to the world that your graduates have indeed developed holistically to learn and to serve. If we all agree that helping our students learn how to think for themselves in robust ways is important, we would want them to be able to write well. After all, writing is thinking on paper. Written papers demonstrate the richness of thinking that our students are doing. It is also very important for faculty and students alike to understand that writing is always a process. The most important thing faculty can do to help students to become better thinkers and writers is to give feedback to the students and allow them to revise their papers. This is what assessment people call “closing the loop.” We give an assignment, we give feedback on student work, but then, we allow them to learn from that feedback and improve their work. Student learning and student performance will lurch forward by leaps and bounds as we give important feedback and allow for revisions, and we will have artifacts to demonstrate the good work they are doing.
A hallmark of academic excellence is peer review. When professors and administrators of peer institutions visit and see the good work you are doing, they say “We believe in you.” That is what accreditation is all about. The word “accredit” comes from the Latin word “cred” or “to believe.” When your national ministry of education accredited your institution, it was saying “we believe in you.” When an organization such as ACTEA reviews your work and accredits you, your peers are saying, “We believe in you.” Then you enter into a network of likeminded institutions and you can perhaps collaborate or partner in new ways that matter to you.
            St. John’s University has an amazing track record in its relatively short history. As you look forward to the next ten years and beyond, I invite you to consider another important challenge—the rapidly growing church. According to the Pew Research Foundation, the fastest growth in the number of Christians over the past century has been in sub-Saharan Africa (a roughly 60-fold increase, from fewer than 9 million in 1910 to more than 516 million in 2010). The church has grown faster than we have been able to prepare pastors, theology teachers, and Christians to fill the professions. As a result, we have confusion, as we saw in the two short stories of Makisa and Omodo. St. John’s is making a significant contribution to the growth of the kingdom of God in Africa through theological education and in helping students to develop holistically to learn and serve the world. I wish Makisa, his pastor, Omodo and his would-be pastor could enroll.

Thank you and God bless you. 

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Readings to Return: I'm Soon Departing for my Second Term in Africa

I was searching for resources on leadership development that resonate with the studies I have done throughout the past 13 years or so. This is not easy to do. Most Christian authors seem to write with a particular paradigm that does not seem very compelling to me, let alone Christian. Then, one day, I happened upon a new book published in May of 2016, Transforming Pastoral Leadership: Reimagining Congregational Relationships for Changing Contexts by Quentin Kinnison. I was stunned and captivated. I could not stop reading. I think I found what I would call a truly excellent theology of leadership. The first part of the book shows where the other main paradigm fails miserably. The rest of the book shows another way. I was so grateful to finally find a book I could wholeheartedly endorse for leadership from a Christian perspective. Curious, I wondered, who is this author? Upon further investigation, I discovered he is an Associate Professor at Fresno Pacific University. This was astonishing because I was sitting in Fresno at the time! I was at Link Care for rest and Link Care is in Fresno, California! So, I emailed Quentin and he was gracious enough to host me on his campus for a lunch and visit. We share so many common passions around this topic, and I implored him to consider how this book might be adapted for the African context. To be continued...

I Forgive You...I Think...
When someone hurts you, what do you do? What is the Christian response? There are many great resources on forgiveness. This is one that spoke to me recently: The Book of Forgiveness by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu. They outline a fourfold path that I found to be useful: Tell the story, name the hurt, grant forgiveness, renew or release the relationship. This book is embellished with many riveting personal stories the authors tell about how they forgave even in the face of extreme injustice or trauma.

Product Details
Intellectual Honesty
Having spent over 25 years in higher education now, I am always interested in the intersection of faith and academics.
This book, Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert: An English Professor's Journey into Christian Faith by Rosaira Butterfield, fascinated me on that level. It is written by a woman who was a tenured Associate Professor of English and Women's Studies at Syracuse University and who was also in a lesbian relationship. She served as the faculty adviser for four gay student groups. She was intrigued by why Christians seemed to hate gays, so she decided to do her own research. I won't spoil the story for you, but I will say that the book includes a speech she gave to incoming freshman during which she "came out" as a Christian. The speech is thought-provoking, intelligent, and compelling. The speech itself is worth the cost of the book. 

Book Club Time!
My daughters and I all own this book now (25 Books Every Christian Should Read: A Guide to the Essential Spiritual Classics, edited by Julia L. Roller. We intend on reading some of these books (or at least excerpts from them) and discussing them even while I am in Africa. I can't wait. 

In fact, we read the last one first, or at least I was the first one done. It is The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen. This is a spiritual look at the story of the prodigal son, with layers of insight. I loved it.

Culture Shift
The last two I'll mention in this post are books I read to understand the change in culture. Peter Enns, in The Sin of Certainty, calls us back to the mystery of God. We do not have to have all the correct knowledge to be vibrant followers of Christ. I am afraid the modern era, with all its enlightenment and scientific method, led Christians to think they had to prove everything. This book calls me back to the mystery of God, and it is freeing. 

Church Refugees: Sociologists reveal why people are DONE with church but not their faith by Josh Packard with Ashliegh Hope

Perhaps an unintended response to the book called the Rise of the Nones (referring to people who select "none" for religion in a survey), this book explores the growing phenomenon of the increasing numbers of people who are just "done" with church, but who still follow Jesus. This is a must read for anyone in the US. 

That's it for my reading summary. I promise to write about something other than books next time...
Thanks for reading.

Monday, August 22, 2016

Reading for Renewal

I love to read!

For Homeland Ministry Assignment (HMA), I decided to embark on an intentional reading journey. In case you are just casually curious or intellectually intrigued, here is what I am reading, in no particular order:

1. Making and Unmaking Nations: War, Leadership, and Genocide in Modern Africa by Scott Straus (2015).
This book has been extremely helpful in the light of our doctoral student residency to Rwanda to study post-genocide rebuilding. Much is said about other countries, as well, including Nigeria. It will become required reading our our doctoral students.

2. From Crisis to Calling: Finding your Moral Center in the Toughest Decisions by Sasha Chanoff and David Chanoff (2016).
The context is the Congo Rescue Mission that grew out of the aftermath of the Rwandan Genocide. The story is riveting and real. It is sort of an African version of Joseph Badaracco's book, Defining Moments: When Managers Must Choose Between Right and Right.

3. The Challenge for Africa by Wangari Maathai (2009). Written by a Kenyan who won the Nobel Peace Prize for Sustainable Development, Democracy, and Peace, this book is incredibly insightful about all parts of the continent. I have some reservations about some of her presuppositions and conclusions, but I find her perspective to be particularly helpful. She certainly challenges my notion of how to help people, communities, and nations in Africa. Unfortunately, she passed away much too soon (in 2011 at the age of 61). 

4. Made to Flourish: Beyond Quick Fixes to a Thriving Organization by Shelley G. Trebesch (2015). This book piqued my interest because long ago, my good friend from my Johns Hopkins University days, Dr. Lindsay Thompson, introduced me to the notion (and field of ethics) of "flourishing." This author earned her PhD from Fuller Theological Seminary and presents an excellent overview of the concept from a Christian perspective. It is the kind of book, I think, that is best read in community with lots of discussion. I believe it will make the reading list for our doctoral students.

5. The Shepherd Trilogy by Philip Keller (originally 1970).
This is a collection of three books in one: A Shepherd Looks at the 23d Psalm, A Shepherd Looks at the good Shepherd, and A Shepherd Looks at the Lamb of God. I had heard about the first of these books since I became a follower of Christ in the early 1970s. But, for some reason, I never read any of Philip Keller's writings. Now, they have even more meaning for me knowing he, himself, was a shepherd in the rural hills of Kenya, where I have had the privilege of visiting. This book is very encouraging and inspirational. I am glad I am reading it.

6. Searching for and Maintaining Peace: A Small Treatise on Peace of Heart by Father Jacques Philippe (2002).
A little over a hundred pages, this devotional is perfect for focusing on peace for one's own heart. Based on Colossians 3:15, "May the peace of Christ rule in your hearts," the author explores what that looks like in everyday life and how to achieve and sustain that peace that only Christ can give.

7Boundaries: When to Say Yes, How to Say No to Take Control of your Life by Henry Cloud and John Townsend (1992).
Written a long time ago, somehow I missed this book. I found it in a bookstore in Lawrence, Kansas and it is proving to be helpful as I think about managing competing demands.

In the Queue

8. Thinking in Systems: A Primer by Donella H. Meadows (2008).

9. Systems Thinking for Social Change: A Practical Guide to Solving Complex Problems, Avoiding Unintended Consequences, and Achieving Lasting Results by David Peter Stroh (2015).

10. Teaching for Critical Thinking: Tools and Techniques to Help Students Question Their Assumptions by Stephen Brookfield (2012).

Have you read any of these? What do you think? I'd love to hear from you.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Becoming Wise about Wisdom


The year is coming to an end, and it is time to pick a word for 2016...But, before revealing my new word, I will briefly share some highlights of my discovery related to my word for this past year: "wisdom".

Highlight 1
Wisdom, or special discernment, is needed for every domain of our lives. Here is how we might depict such a thought with a Venn Diagram:
You might wish to change around the portions allocated to a particular domain, but this is how I see it working. Some people might be very wise in their profession, but lack wisdom for their personal lives. Some might be very wise in practical matters, but lack wisdom for their spiritual lives, etc. 
This diagram does not necessarily depict the way it IS, but rather, the way I think it SHOULD be.
Highlight 2
While the "Wisdom Literature" of the Bible can be found in the center of the Scriptures (open a Bible in the middle and you'll likely turn to Psalms), including Job, Psalms, Proverbs, Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes, I found a compelling lesson about wisdom by comparing narratives of the first and last books, Genesis and Revelation.

  Genesis 3:6
  "When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was...desirable for gaining WISDOM, she took some..."
  Adam and Eve grasped WISDOM and received DEATH.

Revelation 5:2
Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain to receive...WISDOM.
   Jesus (the "second Adam") grasped DEATH and received WISDOM. 

  Highlight 3
   "Progressive revelation," or the idea that a concept is progressively developed throughout the Bible, seems to apply to "wisdom."
  Psalms 111:10 (and elsewhere): "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom."
  Proverbs 14:16: "The wise fear the Lord and shun evil." (see also Job 28:28)
  James 3:13: Fear the Lord, shun evil, and "do good." 
  I Corinthians 1: Christ is wisdom to us. We must be crucified with Christ, or die to self.
  Ultimately, the path to true wisdom is the path of genuine humility.   
 As John the Baptist said, "He must increase, but I must decrease."  Therefore, the progression to wisdom is to
  fear God...shun good...and die to self. 

 Here is the conundrum: It requires wisdom to pursue wisdom! 
 God help me to do so. May God give me the courage to fear God, shun evil, do good, and die to myself every day of my life! 

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

"When everything was nothing"--Remembering and Rebuilding

Rwanda is "The Land of a Thousand Hills"
One of the most memorable moments for me of the past few months occurred when I was in Kigali, Rwanda. 

I met a young woman named Egidia. She was the picture of vibrancy and life to me--young, educated, articulate, and passionate about her work at the Kigali Memorial. Being curious, I decided to ask-

"How old are you?"

Egidia told me she was born in 1989. That struck a chord with me because I gave birth to a baby girl in 1989 (Lynn). 

"Did you grow up in Kigali?"

Oh no, she explained. Her parents, Tutsis, fled to Uganda during the attack on the Tutsis by the Hutus in 1959. 

"Oh, I see. So, when did you move to Rwanda?"

I have to admit that I was not prepared for her answer. She said "We came to Rwanda in July of 1994."

I had just viewed the film "Hotel Rwanda" again and finished reading literature on the Rwandan Genocide. I knew one of the world's worst atrocities took place between April and July of 1994 and that by the end of July, more than 800,000 people lay slaughtered across this small country (the size of Vermont). Bodies were left to decompose in fields, houses, churches, in the streets, and in latrines. 

I knew Egidia would have been five years old, so I asked her...Do you remember what it was like then? 

Then she said it. She said the phrase I will always remember...
Loading"Do you mean when everything was nothing?"

Yes. That is what I meant. You see, Rwanda lay in ruins. There was no government, no streets, schools, hospitals, electricity, running water. No currency of any value. Many Hutus had fled to Congo (then Zaire). What was left was unconscionable devastation and death everywhere. 

"Yes" she said. She had some memory of it. But mostly, she has decided to focus on the healing process. 

Egidia is the personification of the healing and growth of this small country that has taken place in just 21 years. It is nothing short of remarkable to visit Kigali today and to see a clean, developed city with Hutus and Tutsis working together. The economy is doing well. It is indeed, a different world from the one that existed when Egidia and her parents made the journey back to their homeland at the end of the genocide of their people. 

Today, the people of this small country generally do not refer to themselves as Hutu or Tutsi. They are Rwandans. Perpetrators of the genocide and survivors live and work alongside each other. Thousands of people have sought and received forgiveness. Kwibuka! The Kinyarwandan word for "remember" is a watchword throughout the countryside. Memorials are there to help all to never forget what happened here, and the story of remembering and rebuilding is as compelling as it is instructive.
A picture of Kigall that I took in July of this year, 21 years later

The question for our WATS Doctor of Ministry (DMin) students who are studying Transformational Leadership for Peace and Reconciliation, is how did Rwanda transform from a failed state and probably the poorest country in the world in July of 1994 to being as vibrant and beautiful as Egidia herself? 

How will the northeastern part of Nigeria arise from the decimation and destruction it has experienced at the hands of Boko Haram? Once this terrorist group is defeated, many of our students will go back to their northern states and find "everything turned into nothing." Houses, schools, churches, and farms have been burned and destroyed. Millions have been displaced. More have been killed than we know. Our graduates, leaders for Nigeria, will need to be as resilient, strong, loving, forgiving, and wise as the Rwandans who have rebuilt their country.

What did the Rwandans do? How did they do it? What can we learn from them? 

Stay tuned. We plan to spend our two-week immersion residency (in January 2016) in Rwanda with all 22 students of Cohort 1 of the DMin program. Egidia is helping us now to plan our activities, and she will be there to welcome us when we arrive. We will meet with key leaders from different sectors of society--especially and most importantly, the church where the Gospel and message of forgiveness offers the best and most powerful way forward. We will also meet with leaders of schools and officials in government and nonprofit organizations dedicated to the peace process. I believe we will return to Nigeria with many new deep understandings to help us as we march into Nigeria's future.    

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Nigeria Today: Politics, Will, and Love

Nigeria is in the news almost every day now. Some of you have asked me what I think about what is going on. Here are my thoughts today.

On February 2, Punxustawney Phil predicted six more weeks of winter for the U.S. and Canada. 

On February 7, for good or for bad, the Nigerian Electoral Commission assured the nation of six more weeks of pre-election debate and tension.

The purpose of this blog post is not to take sides in the election or to comment on whether the postponement of the election was good or bad. I really don't understand all the variables involved. 

What I do know is that this is a great country with many resources, and yet it struggles as a developing nation with extreme poverty, wide-spread corruption, and Islamic terrorism. 

What I do know is that people are dying, especially in the northeast. Women and children are being kidnapped. Boko Haram has captured a large amount of territory throughout the past six years. Thousands have been killed. Millions of people (really...millions) are displaced, eking out an existence in refugee camps in Cameroon or elsewhere. Family members are separated from one another.

What I do know is that we have students at WATS who are intricately connected to the northeast states and cities. One such student, Joshua Ada, started a school for children in the north. Two weeks ago, we received the news that he was killed after his car broke down in the middle of a northeastern town. Grief gripped our campus.

What I do know is that there are no easy answers to the huge challenges that the people of this nation face every day. I have written about these problems in this blog and in my quarterly newsletter. For the purpose of this post, I will distill them down to two main streams: corruption and greed which in turn exacerbates extreme poverty and jihadist terrorism which has led to unfettered brutality, oppression, and factionalism.

It is through brute power that Boko Haram does what it does and gets away with it day after day, week after week, month after month, year after year. It is the power of greed that fuels corruption and perpetuates a crippling, halting effect upon a nation that could be great.

To try to understand this kind of power, our doctoral students (in the Doctor of Ministry program) read and discussed Nietzsche's The Will to Power. Nietzsche considered Christianity to be the enemy of humanity because (according to him) it created hindrances to a human being's right to pursue whatever he or she wanted (through envy, lust, greed, etc.). If Christianity were removed, then through the sheer will to power, people could have what they wanted and therefore, feel fulfilled. The main driving force in being human, according to Nietzsche, is to get what one wants, whether position, achievement, materialism, or pleasure. 

Viktor Frankl, though, believed that the main driving force in humanity is to find and make meaning in life. He calls this drive the "will to meaning."

Our students wrestled with questions about what drives Boko Haram? Was it the will to power, the will to meaning or something else?

Surely, the will to power is what drives forces for corruption and greed. 

What force can combat the will to power?

A book written by a social philosopher, bell hooks, was brought to bear on the sociological situation. Here is part of a description of the book from the New York Times:

Her best points are simple ones. Community -- extended family, creative or political collaboration, friendship -- is as important as the couple or the nuclear family; love is an art that involves work, not just the thrill of attraction; desire may depend on illusion, but love comes only through painful truth-telling; work and money have replaced the values of love and community, and this must be reversed.
How do we get there? 

As the students read Forgiveness and Power in an Age of Atrocity: Servant Leadership as a Way of Life by Shann Ray Ferch, we all began to gain new perspectives. This book provides us with a new "will" or a new human drive for fulfillment...the will to forgive, the will to serve, the will to lead in forgiveness and servant-hood.

Where do we get the will to forgive and the will to serve and lead in forgiveness and servant-hood? Where does that come from? It does not seem to come automatically, welling up inside of us all by itself, even after reading such compelling works as these books. 

I propose we receive the will to forgive from the Divine Forgiver. I propose we seek first to be forgiven and then seek the power to forgive as we have been forgiven. 

What is the connection to servant-hood? Once we are truly forgiven, we are satisfied to be a servant. We do not need position, power, or prestige. We are forgiven. We are loved for who we are, not for some status society gives to us. We are free to let go of ourselves and to embrace a selfless approach to forgiving, loving, and leading. It is here I hope we can begin to approach the monumental challenges that face us in Nigeria.

On the night before Jesus was betrayed, He knew his disciples would soon be facing the brutality of both the Romans and the Jews who were about to crucify Him. He knew greed had gripped one of the 12 and that some of his inner circle secretly wished to hold high positions in the Kingdom of God. He knew they would soon be scattered. What did He do? 

"...He got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin, and began to wash his disciples' feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him..." and he said..."I have set  you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master." John 13:4-5, 15-16

No matter who wins the election, it will be as we pray for God's power of love and forgiveness to come to this nation, working through none other than our very own lives, that we will be able to begin to approach the daunting challenges of Nigeria.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

New Year...New Word...New Focus

What is your word for the new year?

Each year I join many others in selecting a word to think about and reflect upon throughout the upcoming year. 

The reason I choose a word for the new year is to provide a new focus. The word is not arbitrarily or serendipitously selected. Rather, this exercise requires reflection over the past year, a self-check on one's personal mission in life, a gauge on what the new year may hold, and self examination of one's resolve. determination, and passion.

As many others do, I spend several weeks thinking and praying about this word. After all, it will become my watchword for the next 12 months or so. It will help to prioritize my intellectual explorations. It will provide new directions for my study and meditations. Hopefully, focusing on this word will manifest itself in some betterment of me as a person, as a Christian, as a missionary. 

Another way to think about this activity is to think about naming a folder for the documents of your computer. When you put a simple label on that folder, it represents so much more than just that word. It stands for all the files in that folder. You create documents, save photos, store information, and organize thoughts all within that folder. It is saved and you are able to go back to it anytime, as long as it has been backed up and there is no computer failure. 

Selecting a word for the year for me is like telling myself what folder I am choosing to work on. It gives me direction and rules for my navigation through the upcoming year.

Here it is: my word, my mental file folder name, my new focus for the new year: WISDOM.
It is a direction, not a destination (read: goal) which I will once and for all achieve. Goals are often thought of as behavioral in nature. While acting wisely is certainly behavioral, I see this pursuit as something much more holistic. I want to create habits of being that reflect wisdom. 

If you are like me, after choosing a word, you begin to notice it everywhere. It seems to appear in places you have looked before, but now you really see it. That is what is happening to me now. 

Wisdom and Practice
My first sighting of this word shortly after the strike of midnight signaling the new year was in a very familiar passage--the analogy Jesus chose to use to end the greatest sermon ever preached. Who is wise according to Jesus? Those who put his words into practice

"Practice" is an interesting word because of its variance of meanings. Obviously, Jesus meant that when we DO what he said we should do, that is wise.

This word "practice" gives me encouragement, though. I used to play the flute seriously (friends from my childhood and teenage years will remember, I am sure). My private flute teacher would give me coaching and I would go and practice. I would hardly ever, or maybe never, play a piece well the first time I saw it. It took practice. It took hearing what my teacher said and trying it out. Even after performing a solo in a concert or competition, I never saw myself finished with a given piece. It could always be better. 

The noun "practice" can also indicate a profession such as law, medicine, education, counseling, and the like. Doctors and lawyers refer to their "practice" where they exercise their professional judgment to perform a public good. Lawyers "profess" justice or mercy. Medical professionals "profess" health. Teachers "profess" learning, Counselors "profess" mental health and wholeness. 

Wisdom and Professing
So, what do Christians "profess"?  I found these three things all from the book of Hebrews:
1. FAITH:  "Let us hold firmly to the faith we profess"   Hebrews 4:14
2. HOPE:  "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess" Hebrews 10:23
3. The name of JESUS: Let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise--the fruit of lips that openly profess his name." Hebrews 13:15

So, I am off and running toward WISDOM.  I will focus more on putting the words of Jesus into practice. I won't  get discouraged when I fail. I'll keep practicing! I'll openly and boldly profess FAITH, HOPE, and the wonderful NAME OF JESUS. These are my first steps in my journey toward new understandings about wisdom. 

Feel free to check in with me next year this time and ask me about the results of this effort. I welcome accountability! 
What about you? What is your word? I'd love to hear about it and about your journey into a new focus for the new year.