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.