Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hope and Change

This is not meant at a snipe at our president.  However,

Hope is based on the truth that God never changes. 

Don't know if it's original, but it is sustaining me today.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Psalms of Ascent, 120-134

Sunday Bible Study Lesson for June 26. 

Background Reading:  Three times a year, according to the tradition and the book of Deuteronomy, the faithful Jewish people (I don’t know if they all did this) went to worship at Jerusalem.  It was a long trip in some ways, but fortunately Israel is not a really large place.  When they went on these pilgrimages, they would sing these psalms as the “ascending” up to Jerusalem and the temple.  Those three times a year were Pesach (Passover, April), Shavuot (Weeks, late May or early June), and Sukkot (Tents or Booths, late September or early October).  “They were well suited for being sung, by their poetic form and the sentiments they express. ‘They are characterized by brevity, by a key-word, by epanaphora [i.e., repetition], and by their epigrammatic style.... More than half of them are cheerful, and all of them hopeful.’" (quoted from Wikipedia, but original citation not given.)

One website explains the songs of ascent this way:

We can divide these fifteen psalms into five "stages" of three psalms each. We are not looking at these psalms from a scholarly point of view. Rather, we will treat them in a simple way according to our experience.
  • Psalms 120-122 are the first stage, the stage of "vision."
  • The second stage, Psalms 123-125, focuses on our consecration. Out of our vision we come to a consecration.
  • The third stage, Psalms 126-128, is the stage of enjoyment. Our consecration leads to a rich enjoyment of the Lord.
  • The fourth stage, Psalms 129-131, we will call the stage of enlargement. Our enjoyment of the Lord eventually causes us to become an enlarged person.
  • Then from our experience of enlargement we enter the final stage, the stage of maturity (Psalms 132-134).
(from  This is sort of a spiritualization (rather than taking the psalms literally and historically), but it’s kind of interesting.  We often do this with the psalms, and I think that as long as we do not ignore the context and the original meaning, that it is all right to make the psalms personal because they are about the human experience of God.

The King James calls these Psalms of degrees (like levels), because of the steps. 
Think of them as a journey.  Man on youtube video, each step.  I thought it was funny that people seemed to think it was a contest to see who could get to the top first.  I was struck with the thought that I probably would have done the same thing.  We put a huge amount of emphasis in our culture on getting it done, being fast, moving on to the next thing, which is what?  I feel myself pushing myself on to the next thing, and I’m not sure why it is so hard to live in the moment, to enjoy the moment I am in. 
Dr. Derek H. W. Thomas, a Presbyterian pastor in Jackson, MS, writes, “And here is a journey of a psalmist who finds himself initially in the wilderness, longs for the fellowship of God’s people, longs for the fellowship of God Himself.”
Longs for.  We definitely see that in these psalms.  This life is a life of longing for God or self-satisfaction. 
One of the great things about being in God’s people is the bond and communion we have with people thousands of years ago.  We sing these (usually as choruses) and they were sung by Jewish pilgrims 3000 years ago.  We sing A Mighty Fortress is Our God in communion with Christians breaking away from the Catholic church almost 500 years ago. 
There is a progression of thought in the psalms in how they are arranged, but the first one is downbeat.  Why?  Because that’s where we often start.  I don’t start the day happy.  I start it tired.  I start it sore.  I start it stumbling around in my bedroom hoping I don’t hit my toe on something and then I go turn the blasters on the bathroom and immediately my eyes hurt.  Then I take a shower, and things are getting better (maybe that means I should spiritually start the day with repentance!)  I’m awake now.  I’m starting to look like someone who should go out in public, but I still have some work to do on that.  When I’m dressed and made up, I go down the hall to the living room and let the dogs out of their kennels.  They make me happy because they are happy to see me, or at least act so in their doggy way.  I might take Nala for a walk.  I get my coffee.  I eat something. I read.  I thank God for the food.  On days when I oversleep and have to rush out to face a class of 25 people without the preparation, I am all out of sorts.  I think this is true of everyone, in their own way. 
I am a generally upbeat person, but not at 6:00 a.m., not immediately.  Psalm 120 is about someone who is discouraged—more than that, he is distressed, living with deceivers, . Maybe we would do well to read these psalms continuously rather than separately. 

One way of looking at these fifteen psalms is that they are in five sets of three.  Each set of three starts with a psalm of despair, then a psalm of faith, then a psalm of victory. 
Or another way to put it is the psalm of complaint (120, 123, 126, 129, 132 – words such as affliction, distress, trouble, depths, war, contempt, scorn—much like the imprecatory psalms), a psalm of recognition of God’s working and power (121, 124, 127, 130, 133—words such as I, choice, will, help, who made heaven and earth, shall, hope words, preserve), and a psalm of rejoicing and renewed vision (122, 125, 128, 131, 134, words such as peace, royalty and power words, Zion, Jerusalem, bless).  God’s covenant name is used throughout. 

John Calvin said so many hundred years ago, when he wrote commentary on the Book of Psalms, it provides for us an anatomy of the entire soul of man, of all the parts of man.  People think of John Calvin as just preaching about predestination but he was about so much more than that.  He was a great Bible teacher.  But the point is, all the songs we sing in church are upbeat, happy, joyful, etc.  Why don’t we sometimes corporately sing about repentance? About how our sin has hurt us?  How we feel far from God?  We’ve all sung songs in church and thought, “I don’t really feel this way, sowhy am I singing this?”  Of course, sometimes the singing changes our hearts, but sometimes it’s just fake and false.  While I doubt we will ever start singing songs about repentance and loneliness, maybe we can start being brutally honest with God in our own lives and within our fellowship with others.  It would also be nice if we had much more corporate prayer in church worship services.

I have been tired lately, just not the energy I have had.  I’m not depressed, except I’m frustrated that I can’t do everything I would like.  It may be physical, it may be just age, but it’s getting me down.  My flesh and Satan tell me I can’t keep up, I can’t look forward to a fruitful and active life, I’m just going to get older and more tired and more decrepit.  But that is not close to what this psalmist is going through, which is apparently enemies who want to destroy him with lies or even physical danger.  However, God doesn’t say to us, “I don’t care about your distress because it’s less severe than someone else’s distress.”  I am glad of that.  I often say, “God cares about me but other people have more problems so mine don’t matter.”  That’s saying, “God doesn’t have enough power to deal with me and the rest of the world.” 

I’d like to just read these and you all jump in when you have a thought or a blessing.

120:  Meshech and Kedar:  not near Jerusalem.  He is far away from the center of worship.  He is not connected to God’s people.  WE can let that happen very insidiously.  What does he do about it?  Honesty, and prayer. 

121:  Hills—those on which Jerusalem sits.  Here is the big difference between us and the psalmist.  He thinks in terms of Israel as a place and God living in that place, or God’s presence being in a place.  However, they also knew God “made heaven and earth” and inhabited all of space and time.  Presence wasn’t literal but signified special relationship with Israel.  God is everywhere and here.   God is within us to empower and convict and teach, but He’s elsewhere, too.

Friday, June 24, 2011

The Many Faces of Buddy

We now have two dogs.  The personality of the older dog has changed with the introduction of the mixed (read, at-least-part-pit-bull) puppy, a female.  It's amazing.  They are inseparable, although Buddy, the older one, occasionally wants a reprieve from Nala, the puppy, and will come in my room where I am working.  Nala wants to play all the time, and she can get pretty rough.  Interestingly, Buddy has become more muscular due to the rough play--he's bulking up (or hulking out).  Nala has not learned the potty training drill totally yet, although she will bark when she wants out.  I call her Princess Poops-a-lot; I am Princess Scoops-a-lot.  Because she's a puppy we are not sure of her personality yet; she has two modes, all-out enthusiastic crazy, and asleep.  

Buddy, on the other hand, came to us with, and has developed, a larger range of facial expressions and personal traits.  Here are his many faces (I wish I had photos, but I am not one to walk around with a camera).

The denial face.  This is accompanied with his back turned to us.

The aren’t  people weird face, accompanied by the characteristic dog head tilt.

The begging strip face.  Oddly, the pit bull sits quietly and lets me give her a treat.  Buddy makes a noise like Orca at Sea World, and usually nips my hand while he jumps to get it (his original name was Jumpy.)

The unconscious face.  Sleeping, of course.

The almost unconscious face.  My son and I take them walking at night at a local high school (there are fewer distractions and dogs than in our neighborhood) and they are tired coming back.  I sit in the back with Nala who cuddles.  Buddy sits in the front (after Paul moves him from the driver's seat, where he always goes first and balks at moving from) and puts his head on the console in a sleepy but "I want to be in the backseat with you guys" way.  My son drives. 

The pitiful face.  Downcast, whites of his eyes visible, head hung low.  Perhaps he has committed a doggy crime; perhaps he wants sympathy.

The you may think I should go out but I’m just going to stand here.  Speaks for itself.  It is very similar to the "Humm, I can come to you when you call or I can go chase that cat or go bark at the dog in the other yard.  Which shall it be?"

The "I love to watch people make fools of themselves" face.

The "No, I am not a dachshund face."  

The "I am looking for something vertical to squirt on" face.  Very determined, that one is.

The "I am going to put Nala's toy a foot out of her reach (we have to keep her tethered) and bug her" look.

God made three really incredible, amazing animals in my book:  Horses, dogs, and elephants.  They rate highest because they get along best with humans. 

Fruit of the Spirit

Let’s remember it’s the fruit of the Holy Spirit, the third person of what we call the Trinity (only in linguistic formulas, not in reality, because there is no “order” or “hierarchy” in the Godhead). It’s not the fruit of our spirit, or spiritual expression.  So the whole basis of it is holiness, not power or personality.

Second, it’s fruit, not fruits.  Not pears, apples, grapes, peaches,etc.  One fruit.  I interpret this as a package deal.  We want to separate them out and say, “I have one and not another,” but if the source is the Holy Spirit, then they all come together.  I would say this is true about a lot of spiritual truths—what we want to separate out, take “cafeteria style” for our own convenience—is meant to be all or nothing.

Third, they aren’t about us and our personalities or our reputations.  A choleric person can have patience through the Holy Spirit.  A person who is naturally reticent or introverted or calm may seem to have the fruit of the Spirit called “peace,” but I know from experience that those folks can be as torn up spiritually as anyone. 

Fourth, the purpose of the fruit of the Spirit is glorification of God and sanctification of our lives, not happy-ization of our everyday walks—or self-fulfillment.

What the Hell . . .

(This may be a repeat.)I know that got your attention.  Why is she of all people using that expression?  Well, for one thing, it reminds me of the first time my son, at three years old, cussed.  I laughed, but told him we didn’t talk that way (he had heard it on, of all things, Back to the Future). 

The topic of this blog is “what the hell is…”  or more correctly, what is hell?  Or Is hell?

Nobody wants to talk about hell until someone famous denies there is one. 

And recently it seems that Rob Bell, pastor of Mars Hill Church and a great, but intense, communicator, is denying eternal punishment.  Actually, it seems that his publisher is trying to drum up business for his next book by implying he is a universalist, a person who believes everyone will eventually go to heaven no matter what his/her beliefs are.

At the risk of being defamed, I will go on record.  I believe in Hell. 

The first argument against that position is, “Why would a loving God send someone to eternal punishment.”  Here is my response:

We cannot, nor do we want to, imagine God to be perfectly loving, perfectly wise, perfectly just, perfectly holy, all at the same time.  So his attributes must be in conflict for us, or in abeyance at certain times, in flux.  God is love, John says.  But God is also holy, holy, holy, Isaiah is told by the angels.  He didn’t get less holy in the New Testament when Jesus died.  He didn’t grow more loving either.  And his intelligence, wisdom, and omniscience don’t fluctuate. Since none of this is true of any human beings, who are constantly changing persons, we just don’t get that God can be loving and just and wise and righteous and gracious all at the same time, absolutely, and that there is no hierarchy or priority to these attributes.

Secondly, how could God be just without a place of punishment for those who hate his guts, hate his people, destroy his creation, and especially if they do so willingly?  And how could God be just if the same fate awaited a humble servant who tried to bring goodness to the world and a tyrant, a villain?  In other words, how could God be just if Hitler gets the same eternity as Mother Teresa (to speak in absolutes here) or Kim Jong Il gets the same reward as Dr. Martin Luther King? 

I am writing this in broad terms.  I am not addressing what hell is like, how long it is, where it is, and who actually goes there. I am only arguing against the concept that it doesn’t exist.  The other questions are up to much debate, and although a lot of Chrisians would like to act like the matter is settled doctrinally, it just isn’t.  I am speaking especially on the subject of annihilationism, whether after a period of suffering one’s soul is just destroyed, and thus consciousness.  Another argument over two millennia is whether hell is fire, torment, darkness, smoke or just separation from God.  I personally “prefer” the latter, except that it lends itself to too much metaphorical interpretation (as in “hell on earth” kind of talk).  And as to who goes there, that’s really none of my business, although if you’re too open-minded about it you have probably denied any reason for missions.

If someone is going to deny the existence of Hell, though, they might as well deny the deity of Christ, the cross, and the resurrection.  The Bible is what it is; take it or leave it, reject it or believe it, but don’t edit it for your own purposes.

Worship Wars Revisited: What are we creating

Great article:

Interpersonal Communication, Self-Esteem, Criticism: Part 2

Continuation from last post.
My purpose in discussing this subject is to focus on how poor self-esteem affects your communication.  In fact, it underlies most of how you deal with other people.
        1.  First, you will perceive others more negatively if you have a low self-esteem. 
        2.  Secondly, you will be more critical of other people and their motives.
        3.  You will be less trusting.
        4.  You will have trouble accepting criticism.
        5.  Your communication will be characterized as defensive rather than supportive.
Of course, this class is about business communication, so I am mostly interested in the last two, because they can inhibit your career and your company’s progress.  A person with a realistic self-concept and good self-esteem can accept criticism for what it is and not be knocked off course by it.  We use the terms thin-skinned and thick-skinned to describe people who are either too bothered by criticism or who ignore it; neither extreme is productive. 
How should we accept criticism?
Slowly and neutrally.  The first thing to do when criticized is to have a strategy that “gatekeeps” your acceptance of it.  Most of us hear criticism and it goes straight to our emotions.  Our bodies react to the threat we perceive from criticism the same way we do to a physical threat—heart rate increases, skin may turn red due to increased blood flow, etc.  So the other person will be able to detect nonverbal reactions immediately.  Criticism often comes unexpectedly, too, putting you in an even weaker position.  If you can learn to automatically slow down and have a set reaction to it, such as “Why do you believe that’s true?” “Can you give me an example?” you can keep from reacting emotionally and instead respond rationally.
Don’t argue.  Period.  It may be what the other person wants.  However, I have found useful something I read years ago in Suzette Elgin’s The Gentle Art of Verbal Self-Defense, “In order to communicate, you must assume, for at least the moment, that what the person says is true.”  I would restate that, “is true for them.”  That doesn’t mean it’s true, but in order to understand the person’s viewpoint, the first response is to accept that they are presenting their view of reality honestly. 
Realistically – Who is offering it?  Why?  What is the timing of the criticism?  What exactly is the person criticizing?  Is the person phrasing it incorrectly (probably)?  It is foolish to assume that a person’s criticism is automatically valid, or that he/she is in a position to offer criticism, yet somehow we do.  It is highly possible that first, the person is only criticizing you because he/she is having a bad day or stress of his/her own; that second, the person has incomplete or faulty perceptions or information about the situation; that third, the person has a hidden agenda which may be constructive or destructive to you and the environment; or that fourth, they have a point but aren’t doing it at the right time or in the right manner.  Timing is everything with criticism. 
With a goal.  What does this person who has chosen to criticize you really want or expect?  That’s what you ultimately want to know, because the criticism is linked to some problem situation and solving problems is what business communication is all about. 
Focus.  Listen closely.  Mainly, stay on point. Criticism often escalates and grows into other areas.  If you respond defensively by bringing up a failure on the critic’s part in the past, or even worse, blaming others, the encounter is going nowhere.
Ask for feedback.  The person who is criticizing must be expected to be specific.  If your supervisor says your work is unorganized, it is reasonable to ask for a specific project or time when this was so; otherwise, you have no reference point for improvement.
Watch the nonverbals.  You can say all the right words but if your tone is hasty or sarcastic, or you totally lack eye contact, that’s what will be heard.   

Now, the question might come up, How should we give criticism? Refer to pages 266-269 in text.
In a timely manner.  Don’t wait.  Nobody likes confrontation and we put it off, but that never solve the problem, and failure to address a problem can be interpreted as the absence of a problem.
Carefully.  Basically, only give criticism if it is asked for or if it is understood that giving appraisals and evaluations is your function.  Unasked for criticism is sort of a dead-end street. If the other person is a co-worker “on your level” you might make a suggestion but again, it’s best if the person is open for it. Furthermore, plan it; give some thought to it, because you have a desired outcome and you’re going to have to be specific about how the recipient can improve.
Purposefully.  Why are you giving the criticism?  It should be to get correct behavior in the future because the incorrect behavior of the past caused problems.
Proportionally.  You only have a right to criticize if you can also praise.  This however, does not mean that the criticism sandwich is a good idea in most cases.  People are aware of it and tend to think the shoe is going to drop when they hear a compliment or praise.  Give sincere, well-timed, appropriate, and specific praise ten times without criticism before you feel comfortable to give criticism.  And in terms of proportionality, don’t try to criticize too much at once.  One or two points at a time are enough.
Privately.  Nothing will destroy your credibility and cause your criticism to be unheard like doing it in front of others. 
With an eye to the future.  There should be agreement on what the person receiving the criticism is going to do about it, and definitely some documentation if it’s an employment issue.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Interpersonal Communication, Self-Esteem, and Criticism

I will be posting lectures on this subject that I wrote for a business communication class.  I think they will be helpful.

3.1. Self-esteem and criticism
3.1.1What is self-esteem
Self-concept – is usually defined as what you think about yourself.  If you were asked to give 20 answers to the following question, “I am ____,” you would answer with either progressive tense verbs (thinking, learning) indicating focus on behaviors, adjectives (attractive, intelligent) indicating description, or a noun (student, parent),indicating roles.  A self-concept is how you define yourself.  An adult should strive to have a realistic self-concept.  You will often be called upon to describe your strengths and weaknesses in terms of your position; you should have enough self-awareness to be able to do so.  You should also have a plan for improving upon your weaknesses.  Of course, weaknesses and strengths are relative.  You probably can’t play basketball well enough be an NBA star, but that is hardly a weakness.  Self-perception and self-image are terms similar to self-concept.
Self-evaluation If I asked you to put a plus or minus by each one of the 20 answers to the statement, “I am ____,” that would be getting at your self-evaluation.  Another term for it would be self-appraisal. 
Self-esteem – Did you have a lot more plusses in #2 than minuses?  Then you have positive self-esteem, because you have chosen the better parts of your personality and character and you evaluate them well.  Self esteem is defined as “the feeling an individual has about his or her self-concept, that is, how well the individual likes and values himself or herself” (Pearson, Nelson, Titsworth, Harter, Human Communication, 2nd edition, McGraw Hill, 2005).
3.1.2Where does self-esteem come from?
First of all, from communication experiences.  What have you been told about yourself as a human being?  As a student?  As a worker?  A parent?  About yourself as a communicator?  I find that one reason my students have such fear in a basic speech course is that they received criticism for an oral performance of some sort in the past. 
Failure and successes.  One of the best ways to overcome communication anxiety is to remember times when you communicated successfully, even if it wasn’t the same kind of communication as the present instance.  
Self-talk.  We play tapes to ourselves that reinforce poor self-esteem. 
Choices - The great thing is we can choose to change the tapes we play to ourselves.

3.1.3  How can it be improved?
Acknowledge that it is a problem.
New experiences, specifically ones where you are successful.  Take every opportunity to improve on your speaking.  Meet new people; if you are in a class with someone new, make it a point to get to know that person.  It’s much like stretching muscles in your body through new exercises.
Changing the self-tapes.  But not with nonsense.  Use realistic messages focusing on specific behaviors.  Stop telling yourself you can’t do what you clearly are capable of doing, whether personally or professionally. 
Changing the messages from others.  Avoid negative people, especially those who are negative towards you for no reason.  They have poor self esteem themselves and are trying to bring you down to feel better.
Focus on what’s holding you back.  What specific beliefs, experiences, or criticisms from the past are making you feel incapable and incompetent?  Is it possible that you are currently not strong in those areas, but you could improve?

Text of my presentation at Southern States Communication Conference on Open Educational Resources

On April 8 I spoke at SSCA on the subject of Open Educational Resources.  Here is the text of my remarks. The University System of Geo...