Thursday, May 29, 2008

Reprinted with Permission

At the WMF office, we have a quote board. One of my favorites comes from Jara and Emily:

Jara: "What would you give me if I swallowed this Jolly Rancher whole?"

After a pause:
Emily: "The Heimlich Maneuver"

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

A Couple Memories Far, Far Away

When I was in another part of the country, two memories left a lasting impression:

1) One time while I was driving (around 45MPH), I glanced over to the van next to me and saw that the driver of the van was whittling a piece of wood WHILE he was driving. He had a HUGE Bowie knife and a large stick between himself and the steering wheel. Since he has only two hands and three items, my guess is that he was holding both the steering wheel and the stick with one hand and the knife in the be able to move the knife against the stick. Alternatively, he could have been driving with his knees.

Any one want to put a bet on whether this man is still alive?

2) When I was visiting a small town, and was stopped at a stoplight, I heard a guy (in another car) call out to a girl walking nearby: Hey, girl, you sure have grown up. You're looking fine. To which the girl replied: You know we're cousins and we can't do anything. To which he replied: That don't matter.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Freakonomics Calendar, May 21

"In countries like China, India, and Pakistan, there are millions more men than women. What is to blame: selective abortion, infanticide, bride-burning, and other forms of misogyny? The economist Emily Oster argues that, while all these factors are in part responsible, the problem is also due to a virus: when a pregnant woman has Hepatitis B, she is far more likely to have a baby boy than a baby girl."

Monday, May 19, 2008

Gas Prices

I know that gas prices are hurting average Americans. But I wanted to provide some perspective by comparing our gas prices to other countries and also raise the question of US income levels compared to our gasoline price.

Out of 155 countries surveyed, the US ranks 108th in gasoline prices. That means that only 47 countries provide gas cheaper than the US. (From CNN.Money, May 6, 2008)

Most expensive places to buy gas
Rank Country Price/gal
1. Eritrea $9.58
2. Norway $8.73
3. United Kingdom $8.38
4. Netherlands $8.37
5. Monaco $8.31
6. Iceland $8.28
7. Belgium $8.22
8. France $8.07
9. Germany $7.86
10. Portugal $7.84
108. United States $3.45

The US ranks between the 5th and 8th richest country based on GDP per capita and purchasing power comparisons. From Wikipedia. This means that gas prices take up a smaller percentage of our income than in other countries.

I'm hoping that these high gas prices will drive innovation and help make everything more efficient...utilizing trains, light rail, home efficiencies, etc. As a recent Economist article stated, in terms of energy savings and investment, conservation provides the best return on our investment; it represents the 'low-hanging fruit' that can be reached with the least effort.

Also, thanks to Mayor Fahey of Omaha for working on getting a streetcar line in Omaha. This recent news item is especially encouraging.

Thursday, May 15, 2008

May Be Inappropriate and Offensive to Some Readers

When I was listening to sports talk radio last week, a major league baseball player was being interviewed.

The interviewer was asking about the player's recent bout with testicular cancer, his diagnosis and prognosis for recovery. Thankfully, the player mentioned that this was caught early, in a routine physical given to all baseball players in spring training. He mentioned that the outcome looked good, despite this awful news.

When asked how he felt when the doctor gave him the news of his testicular cancer, he said: "in a nutshell, i felt....". No one laughed. I don't think he meant to be funny.

Monday, May 12, 2008


Last night, I was asked to share for five minutes before John O'Keefe, a theology professor at Creighton University, came to share about "simplicity" as it relates to theology and the environment. His time of sharing was fantastic...weaving beautifully the strands that have contributed to misconceptions surrounding the environment in Christian circles.

I wanted to repost my small contribution to the evening below:

When we talk about simplicity, my feeling is that there seems to be both a healthy need to emphasize the spiritual aspect of simplicity and not let it tread down the path towards legalism, but also feeling that the charge of “legalism” is leveled quickly against the concept of simplicity as soon as the conversation starts. There is also the quick and unfair charge against social justice, asking why we would want to better living conditions for our friends overseas when we want to simplify our own. Shouldn’t we want simplicity for everyone? So to help clarify, simplicity is broken into two categories: voluntary simplicity and involuntary simplicity.

When we in WMF talk about simplicity it references voluntary simplicity and can be likened in one sense to a decluttering of our life. By throwing off some material things, we believe we can remove some hindrances to hearing from God, receiving His love and care and obeying Him. Many spiritual giants of the past have advocated this kind of lifestyle. It becomes part of a package of spiritual disciplines in order to be steered in life by God and not by the world.

What is being added to the idea of ‘simplicity for personal spiritual growth’, is the idea that our ‘simplicity’ has connections to the rest of humanity just as our overconsumption has a connection to the rest of humanity. Simplicity is recognizing the injustice of the world and our small choices towards simplicity help us identify a little bit with the vulnerabilities faced in the rest of the world.

Let’s look at it a different way:
You were born to your parents who were given to you by God, into a particular country, with specific giftings and aptitudes, in a particular time period in history which bears no correlation to your own merit. You had no hand in the circumstances surrounding your birth or even in setting the stage for your own accomplishments in life.

For some, this “the lottery of the womb” means that life should be lived in a way that “does no harm”. For a non-Christian, this lottery means that you could have just as easily been born a medieval maidservant, a soldier in ancient Eqypt, a Mongol tribemember or in modern times a Bangladeshi child who works in a factory 12 hours a day. In a philosophical sense, its like making all your decisions as if you had no idea about your own place in the world. That you would make your all decisions not knowing if you were a middle class American, a Bangladeshi child laborer, a Sierra Leonean child soldier, a woman kidnapped and being forced to prostitute in Italy, or a Chinese farmer. Its another way of saying that we should place ourselves in someone else’s shoes and make decisions accordingly. We might make a different decision about the clothes we buy if we placed ourselves in another context-even placing ourselves into an unknown context, because the repercussions of our decisions can be seen more clearly.

For Christians we usually believe there is a specific purpose in who we were created to be and in the circumstances surrounding our life. But this can quickly/easily morph into a type of religious determinism -- the belief that we deserve all the riches and entrapments of being born in the most economically, politically, and militarily dominant country of our time in a time period when social mobility is possible and where hard work is rewarded. That we deserve having been born healthy with many giftings and aptitudes and being born to loving parents that nurtured us.

What if we see the opportunities that we’ve been given, not for us to use for ourselves but for us to be openhanded? We might, instead, consider that many things that have been given to us are really designed for others…that they were never really ours in the first place. After all, everything we have is God’s.

In WMF, we receive salaries that are needs based so that we are not accruing wealth but receiving what we need to live a healthy and vibrant life. We also allow and encourage participation in a retirement plan. As a community, we even wrestled whether saving for retirement was consistent with a life of simplicity. We finally agreed that staff members could decide this based on their own convictions. However, before staff members are allowed to set aside money, they have to agree to the some of the following affirmations:

As Kingdom citizens, we realize that we own nothing, that everything is God's, and that everything in our possession is to serve as material means for eternal ends (Psalm 24:1; 2 Corinthians 4:18).

As Kingdom citizens, we are committed to ministering in community among the poor, but we realize that we live in a culture emerged in gross individualism and materialism. Our culture tells us to save for our future in order to maintain our standard of living even after we are no longer "economically viable." This projected individualism may taint our choice to invest in a retirement plan. We, however, are committed to being an interdependent community, not surviving as isolated individuals. This means that any retirement plan that we invest in should foster community and continual care for one another into the future (Acts 2:44-45).

We do not minister out of what we have but out of who we are (Acts 3:6).
As a community, we celebrate a lifestyle of simplicity. By investing in a retirement plan, we seek to maintain simple living into the future (Luke 9:3; Matthew 10:9; Luke 18:22). We recognize the difference between taking a vow of poverty and committing to a life of simplicity. While a retirement package is incompatible with a vow of poverty, we desire to make room in our community to include and celebrate those who are called to this commitment.

Though we renounce hoarding wealth for selfish gain and storing up treasures on earth, we recognize the responsibility of good stewardship of what God has given us (Matthew 6:20-21; Matthew 25).

Though we make plans for the future, we recognize that the future is uncertain. Our faith is not in our plans but in that which is certain: the unshakable Kingdom of God (Hebrews 12:28-29).

Each of the paragraphs in this statement refer back to Scripture verses so that we remain grounded in the Word of God.

What we try to continually remind ourselves is that everything is God’s. Everything is God’s, not just in WMF as a Christian organization, but in our personal lives and in your personal lives. We don’t want to get rid of the tension that comes from living in a society that bears little resemblance to the Kingdom of God. We keep the tension because this helps us make better choices.

Simplicity, after all, is a way of connecting us with God and connecting us with humanity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Word Made Flesh

One of the fun things about working in a mission with a long name, is the possibility for misspellings and mispronunciations.

The origin of our name comes from the Bible: John 1:14, referring to Jesus:
The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.

In WMF, our focus is to emulate Jesus and to honor Him in our lives.

Some of the frequent misspellings are:

World Made Flesh: Several people have asked if we are a tattoo parlor, which is awesome because lots of WMF people love to get tattoos.
Word Made Fresh:
World Made Fresh: Could have theological implications in terms of sustainability/conservation.
Wood Made Flesh: A new one we saw today; could reference a puppet shop. Amanda Knihal pointed out it could reference Pinocchio coming to life.
Would Made Flesh:

Thursday, May 1, 2008

I Like To Think I'm Sensitive

I've been to lots of parties where there is an option to drink cranberry juice. But it seems like only the ladies were drinking the cranberry juice.

I have purposely had cranberry juice at the last couple of parties to make sure that no one feels alone.