Tuesday, June 30, 2009

The Wisdom of Lao Tzu

When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.
Lao Tzu

Mastering others is strength. Mastering yourself is true power.

Lao Tzu

Great acts are made up of small deeds.

Lao Tzu

Be Content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.
Lao Tzu

Monday, June 29, 2009

Mutual Submission And One's Wardrobe

After reading His Needs, Her Needs, Jobina and I have been quite a bit more honest about what we like and don't like about each other's wardrobes. The idea is that why wear things that the other person really doesn't like (or doesn't find you at all attractive in)? A bit scary at first, but I like the honesty now and wouldn't trade it. The first few times of honest talk were challenging, but now it's really not too difficult at all.

Today at the dinner table I proposed this as an idea: Ask a couple to agree to the following: each person gets to go through their spouse's wardrobe and get rid of three things. Isn't that a great idea? Imagine all the fun! I don't think it would be too traumatic for Jobina and I as we have explored this touchy subject, but I think for some couples (especially those not familiar with The Policy Of Joint Agreement) it could be quite exciting. The reasons you might agree to try this little experiment would be:

a. You like to live dangerously!
b. You really want to please your spouse (and them to please you).
c. You really, really hate at least one article of your spouse's clothing and would do anything to get rid of it, even sacrifice your own clothes!
d. You want to explore new levels of honesty with your spouse and you need something to get you started.

Anyway, if anyone out there is daring enough to try this please let me know the results. Where do I get all these amazing ideas from? It's like magic . . .

Friday, June 26, 2009

Church Blesses Fathers With Beer

At our church on Mother's Day, the church gives the mom's little gifts to mark the occasion. But this church appears to be taking things to the next level:

Church Blesses Fathers With Beer

Apparently Concerned with the lack of men attending services, the Church of England is now offering new incentives: free beer, bacon rolls and chocolate bars!

Men at St Stephen’s church in Barbourne, Worcester, will be handed bottles of beer by children during the service. A prayer will be said for the fathers before the gifts are distributed.

The Ven Roger Morris, archdeacon of Worcester, who will be leading the service at St Stephen’s today, said that it was a practical way of sending a message to fathers.

“I don’t see any other time that we can stop and remember fathers, and this is a gesture saying ‘Here’s something that will bless you,’” he said.

“Posies of flowers are given to mums on Mothering Sunday and we wanted to give a laddish, blokeish gift to the men. A bottle of beer hits the mark. The whole of life is to be celebrated in church.”

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Book Review: Night Trilogy

Book Review: Night Trilogy by Elie Wiesel

"Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, which has turned my life into one long night, seven times cursed and seven times sealed....Never shall I forget those moments which murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to dust. Never shall I forget these things, even if I am condemned to live as long as God Himself. Never."

I was reading this book I thought to myself that I was experiencing a nightmare via the written word. Seriously, I don't think I have ever read anything as depressing and faith challenging. When Elie Wiesel was 15 years old, he and his Jewish family were snatched from his town and deported to Auschwitz. The horrors that he both endured and observed are things no human should ever see, never mind a 15 year old. I have read accounts of the Nazi concentration camps before but this one is told in such a personal and haunting way that I was visibly moved. The day after finishing reading the book I found myself in church, ignoring the sermon and asking God questions about suffering and existence. Why? How? These are questions the author considers as well as he speaks of his person hell (literally) of having his family, humanity, and faith ripped away from him by the genocidal Nazi war machine. I felt shaken thinking about the evil, true evil that resulted in a third of the world's Jewish population being exterminated while the rest of the world stood by . . . and did nothing.

This book is important. It is a personal record, written by a Nobel Peace Prize winner, of the terrible possibilities that racism and xenophobia can result in. I felt shaken, angry, and a little despondent as I read it.

The other two books are works of semi-fiction. Based on his life experiences and with himself as the main character Wiesel explores some dark themes. "Dawn" is the short story of a concentration camp survivor who becomes a terrorist in Palestine and how he ends up being faced with the choice of becoming what he hates - an executioner. "The Accident" is story about how to move on after suffering and explores themes of despair, suicide, and hope.

All three stories are well written and poignant, but "Night" is the most moving. I'm glad I read all three together though as just reading "Night" would have been way too depressing. Everyone should read this book. Although it is violent and has some mild language and sexual references, it paints a picture of the evil of human nature and what is capable of. It also helps one to know and have empathy with the Jewish race and what they experienced in the Holocaust. I rate this book 4.7 ninja stars out of 5.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Hating One's Job

I'm always curious to hear about how many people hate their jobs. Hating your job can add lots of psychological stress to your life and definitely affects your health, relationships, and even your spiritual life. I have a theory that a lot of the reason why people hate their jobs is because they feel trapped in them. They forget/ignore that they have a choice in the matter (quitting, taking a leave of absence, approaching their boss for changes, job shopping, etc). Feeling trapped and that you have no options is a sick feeling. Yet it is always just an illusion, one that can play havoc with your life.

Of course, loving your job can also have negative repercussions on one's life. I have seen many people burn out from spending too much time at work (even doing something they love). And people abandoning their spouse/family for their job is also more common then you might think. Passion for one's work is good, but it can be taken too far. I have observed families breaking up because of inability to prioritize family over love of job; passionate workers in ministry, stay at home mom's (yes, it's definitely a job), and well-meaning entrepreneurs have all shipwrecked their families and been left holding the broken remains. Very sad.

So I'm curious, how much do you hate/love your job? And here's another question, are you honest with yourself and the important people in your life about it?

Monday, June 22, 2009

Risking Life and Limb

"If we listened to our intellect, we'd never have a love affair. We'd never have a friendship. We'd never go into business, because we'd be too cynical. Well, that's nonsense. You've got to jump off cliffs all the time and build your wings on the way down." - Annie Dillard

After church some guys and I were talking about going mountain biking this coming Thursday. One said something like "if you can't get hurt, it's not worth riding." Someone else wisely commented back "Yeah, but now we have families so we can't risk too much." Without thinking I joked back, "That's the thing, because you have a family you have to live dangerously sometimes - its our responsibility to model and reinforce that taking risks is vital and important." I said it off the cuff, but as I reflected later upon it, I stand by it. Safety is an illusion in this world and God continually coaxes us to get out of our comfort zones. Living dangerously, isn't that what faith is all about? Not that we should court certain disaster of course but there is something in risking life and limb that makes us feel alive, courageous, and connected to true selves. Safety scares me.

I dedicate this video to my friend Keith. Hopefully this won't be us on Thursday! But I'm willing to risk it . . .

Friday, June 19, 2009

Resisting Temptation - Bad?

A few thoughts on temptation from the book, The Purpose Driven life, by Rick Warren:

Refocus your attention on something else. It may surprise you to know that nowhere in the Bible are we told to "resist temptation." We are told to "resist the devil," but that is very different, as I'll explain later. Instead, we are advised to refocus our attention because resisting a thought doesn't work. It only intensifies focus on the wrong thing and strengthens its allure.

Every time you block a thought out of your mind, you drive it deeper into your memory. By resisting it, you actually reinforce it. This is especially true with temptation. You don't defeat temptation by fighting the feeling of it. The more you fight a feeling, the more it consumes and controls you. You strengthen it every time you think about it.

Since temptation always begins with a thought, the quickest way to neutralize its allure is to turn your attention to something else. Don't fight the thought, just change the channel of your mind and get interested in another idea. This is the first step in defeating temptation. . .
. . .that is why repeating "I must stop eating too much . . . or stop smoking . . . or stop lusting" is a self defeating strategy. It keeps you focused on what you don't want. It's like announcing, "I'm never going to do what my mom did." You are setting yourself up to repeat it.

Most diets don't work because they keep you thinking about food all the time, guaranteeing that you'll be hungry. in the same way, a speaker who keeps repeating to herself, "Don't be nervous!" sets herself up to be nervous! Instead she should focus on anything except her feelings - on God, on the importance of her speech, or on the needs of those listening.

Temptation begins by capturing your attention. What gets your attention arouses your emotions. Then your emotions activate your behavior, and you act on what you felt. The more you focus on "I don't want to do this," the stronger it draws you into its web.

Ignoring a temptation is far more effective than fighting it. Once your mind is on something else, the temptation loses its power. So when temptation calls you on the phone, don't argue with it, just hang up!
Sometimes this means physically leaving a tempting situation. This is one time it is OK to run away. get up and turn of the television set. Walk away from a group that is gossiping. Leave the theater in the middle of the movie. To avoid being stung, stay away from the bees. Do whatever is necessary to turn your attention to something else.

This is of course not all Warren has to say on temptation, but I thought his basic idea that we should stop trying to resist temptation is kind of radical. I wouldn't say this is the only thing we need to do to defeat temptation, and Warren wouldn't either, but I think that sometimes we (and when I say we I mean "I") forget it. What do you think, do you agree with Warren that we should stop wasting our time fighting temptation and instead just ignore it, changing our thoughts to other things? Or is too simplistic? I like to think of it as a major weapon in our arsenal, but there are other weapons as well.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Duck

I've always liked this story . . .

There once was a little boy visiting his grandparents on their farm. He was given a slingshot to play with out in the woods. He practiced in the woods, but he could never hit the target. Getting a little discouraged, he headed back for dinner. As he was walking back he saw Grandma's pet duck.

Just out of impulse, he let the slingshot fly, hit the duck square in the head, and killed it.

He was shocked and grieved.
In a panic, he hid the dead duck in the wood pile, only to see his sister watching! Sally had seen it all, but she said nothing.

After lunch the next day Grandma said, "Sally, let's wash the dishes." But Sally said, "Grandma, Johnny told me he wanted to help in the kitchen.Then she whispered to him, "Remember the duck?" So Johnny did the dishes.

Later that day, Grandpa asked if the children wanted to go fishing and Grandma said, "I'm sorry but I need Sally to help make supper." Sally just smiled and said," Well that's all right because Johnny told me he wanted to help." She whispered again, "Remember the duck?" So Sally went fishing and Johnny stayed to help!

After several days of Johnny doing both his chores and Sally's... he finally couldn't stand it any longer.
He came to Grandma and confessed that he had killed the duck.

Grandma knelt down, gave him a hug, and said, "Sweetheart, I know.
You see, I was standing at the window and I saw the whole thing, but because I love you, I forgave you. I was just wondering how long you would let Sally make a slave of you."

Whatever is in your past, whatever you have done... and the devil (or your conscience) keeps throwing it up in your face (lying, cheating, debt, fear, bad habits, hatred, anger, bitterness, etc.) ...whatever it is...You need to know that God was standing at the window and He saw the whole thing.... He has seen your whole life; He wants you to know that He loves you and that you are forgiven. He's just wondering how long you will let the devil make a slave of you.

God is at the window.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Perils & Blessings of Marrying Younger Partners: Sorry Girls

A new study from Germany's Max Planck Institute reports that men who marry older women are 11% more likely to die early. In contrast, older men who marry women that are younger than them by between 15 to 17 years are 20% less likely to die early. Men who marry women seven to nine years their junior are 11% likely to live longer, as well.

Sadly the news is not so positive for women! Women who have an age difference of between seven to nine years with their husbands (whether older or younger) were 20% more likely to die early, and where the age difference is between 15 to 17 years, the likelihood increases to 30%.

One of the explanations (which I'm not sure I believe) as to why men live longer in May-December relationship is because of natural selection; i.e., older men who are able to attract a younger woman are in general more virile or successful. Another explanation is that these men live longer because younger women are better able to care for them. The study does not pose any theories as to why women are doomed if they date older or date younger, but one woman has suggested that if women are dating older men, they’re run ragged by attending to grumpy old men, and if they’re dating younger, they’re worn out by trying to keep up with their mates. Anybody have any other theories?

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bike To Work Day

Hey everyone, just a reminder that this Friday is the official Bike To Work Day here in Winnipeg. Personally I love biking but I know that not everyone spends alot of time on their bicycle. But hey, maybe it would be fun to try it again? Why not dust off that old 10 speed, mountain bike, or 80's BMX and do some pedaling?

I'm going to ride to work on my old 94 Specialized Hard Rock - effective and stylish. It's definitely slower then a road bike, but I'm not sure I'm ready to become a roadie at this point (though I have flirted with the notion as it makes sense living in the city). My overall commute will be about 30km (both ways) so if your commute is shorter . . . feel the shame! Seriously though, what better day to try a different way of getting to work. If you would commute to work how far would it be? Would you be willing to try biking it? Just curious . . .

Monday, June 15, 2009

Policy of Joint Agreement Challenge: Are You In?

This weekend we attended the wedding of Nolan and Sophia, both of who were former staff when I was director at Beaver Creek Bible Camp. Nolan was also one of the students in my youth group and we really enjoyed seeing them tie the knot, as well as hang out with friends from Mennville and the Interlake. Good times.

Anyway, of the many cool things about their wedding one stood out to me. On every tables was a little card with a looping on it" was to be filled out. The MC explained that this was for giving the couple "advice," "encouragement," "well wishes," "or techniques" (yes, he really said that last one). Anyway, I wrote on my mine that if they wished to avoid about 80% of their fights that they should agree to follow the Policy of Joint Agreement. I've blogged about it here and you can get more info from the source here. Essentially this is what it is:

The Policy of Joint Agreement: Never do anything without an enthusiastic agreement between you and your spouse

I use this alot with couples in my counseling as it teaches (forces?) them to learn how to negotiate, avoid bad feelings towards another, stamps out bad habits, reduce power struggles, and best of all helps increase the feeling of love. I mentioned my advice to another of my former students that evening and challenged him and wife to try it for 30 days. I was surprised when they immediately accepted! This gave me an idea, why not find a group of couples willing to try it and then get them to report back to me on how it went for them? So yes, I'm looking for some couples who are both enthusiastically willing to try following the Policy for 30 days. You can be newly married or married for 40 years - it doesn't matter. All that matters is that you try the policy for 30 days and fill out a short questionnaire afterwards. The results will benefit me and especially my future clients in marital therapy. If you are willing to do try this, please leave a comment here (make sure you OK it with your spouse first!) or email me directly at markwestman at gmail.com. Also, if you have any questions, concerns, or outright critiques, feel free to post them in the comments section. Have a great day!

Friday, June 12, 2009

Mixing Up Our Messages

"Share the Gospel at all times, if necessary use words." - St. Francis of Assisi

St. Francis' observation still rings true today - there are two ways to get a message across. One is with words and the second is with actions. Both are powerful but I would argue that actions do indeed speak louder then words. Working with couples I am often amazed at how one partner is not aware of the "real" message that they are giving their spouse. For instance a woman is upset with her husband because he works zillions of hours at work. He tells her that this is because he wants to provide for her and give her access to the luxuries that will make her happy. The message she receives from all those dinners and evenings alone might be something else entirely. It could be:

"You don't care enough about me to spend time with me."
"I'm not as exciting as your job."
"You refusal to grant my requests to spend more time together means you don't love me anymore."

When working with couples, I will sometimes ask the wounded spouse, "What message do you get when he/she does that?" Often the other person is surprised or incredulous at the response. Why? Because most people assume that others will pick up on their motives for their behavior and agree (or that they ought to agree!). But if your spouse doesn't see it how you want or expect them to . . . look out!

When someone in a relationship is sincerely trying to change their behavior and is make at least some progress that sends a positive message to the other. Do you want to know how your behaviors are being interpreted by someone else? Just ask them. Try something like this, "Um, when I do _________ what message are you getting from that?" It's a great way to try something different when discussing a difficult issue, trying to understand the other persons opinion, or learning to have empathy. Or maybe you are trying to "get through" to your spouse about something? Phrasing it in "this is the message I'm hearing" way may help you to feel more heard. It can't hurt to try, right?

It's hard to argue (though many try) with a person's interpretation of the message someone is sending them through their behaviors. Trying to change your spouse's "incorrect" message by telling them what the message "should be" won't work. Instead some sort of behavior change must be made. In my overworking husband example, the husband may not work less (the most effective way), but he will have to do something different (ex, spend more quality time with her on weekends, call her from work, hang out with her in the mornings, invite her to stop by work, etc) with his wife if wants to change the message. There is no other way.

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Social Media & Disorders

This is so true . . .

You can buy it on a T-shirt here.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Book Review: Faith And Doubt

Book Review: Faith And Doubt by John Ortberg

Every so often there is a book that comes out that handles topics in such an authentic and daring way that I can't help but be amazed as I am going through it (Blue Like Jazz and The Shack come to mind). Faith and Doubt is just such a book. In some ways it is an instant classic.

John Ortberg is a teaching pastor who became well known during his stint at Willow Creek (perhaps you've heard of it)? Quite simply, John Ortberg is a master communicator. He tackles the thorny topics of materialism in When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box, courage and fear in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat, and intimacy with God in God Is Closer Than You Think.

Faith and Doubt feels daring because Ortberg lays it all out on the line - we all doubt so what do we do with it? He carefully but honestly explores how doubt is not only something that we deal with as we grow in in Christ but a normal (and I daresay) necessary part of having real authentic faith. Ortberg says that our honest seeking of truth is so important to God that the more we in faith seek truth, the more doubt will also naturally come along for the ride. There is always a tension between faith and doubt and our natural inclination is to go one way or the other; either we ignore doubt and treat it like cancer for our faith or we embrace doubt and let our faith evaporate. Either extreme is unhelpful. Ortberg manages to take a very deep subject that is usually kept in the closet and make it accessible to most Christian readers with an average reading ability. Stories (many of them personal) connect and illustrate his ideas quite well.

Most of the book tackles the doubt side of things while the final part tackles faith. Ortberg presents some of what he thinks are the best reasons to "bet the farm" on the existence and goodness of God. I had heard most of them before but the final one he presented was so new and powerful to me that I got pretty emotional. It's an excellent point that he takes from G.K. Chesterton and since I couldn't do it justice, I won't attempt to share it. But I've been thinking about it almost every day since I finished the book and I'd say reading the book is probably worth it just for those couple of pages.

I wholeheartedly reccomend this book to anyone who has faith but:
1. Wrestles with doubt ("I'm a bad Christian because I have doubts.)"
2. Struggles with understanding and empathizing with others' doubts ("just pray for more faith!")

I think this would be a great book to tackle with a small group or Bible study group who feels like they need something fresh, challenging, and maybe a bit dangerous to shake them up. It's easy to read, easy to discuss, and exceedingly honest. I borrowed it from my local library but I intend to purchase my own the next time I make an order from Amazon. My rating 4.8 ninja stars out of five.

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Killer Biscuits

Monday, June 8, 2009

Non Current Movie Review: Fireproof

At church on Sunday I noticed that Jobina had picked up the movie Fireproof from the church library. Now to be honest I wasn't thrilled. I have had many clients share with me that they have watched this movie and I'd say half of them thought it was great and half of them hated it. The fact that it had Kirk Cameron was not a plus. I still struggle with judgmental thoughts about his acting in Left Behind and often have to ask for God's forgiveness because I've slagged that movie to others. But I digress.

So Jobina and I watched it tonight. Was it "cheezy?" Yes, in a few ways. It's a Christian movie (thus some unnatural sounding dialogue), it has a small budget, and most of the actors are not professionals. But did I like it? You know, I did.

There were a few reasons. First it was a movie about marriages - and I am passionately interested in helping marriages. Including my own! So in spite of myself I started to get drawn into the movie. The relational aspects of the movie; uncaring spouses, anger, distance, porn addictions, potential affairs, etc - this is stuff I work with every day. As I am always on the look out for anything that I think could be helpful for my clients (and myself) I was mentally taking notes and identifying stuff ("yup, there she is ignoring his first attempts at changing, right on schedule"). Also, Kirk Cameron was the most "unKirk Cameron" I have ever seen - and it was good. Gone was the whiny kid from Growing Pains - I have to say he put in a decent performance.

If you watch this movie you have to appreciate the genre - this is a propaganda film and the two messages are "You need God" and "You need to love your spouse, even if they don't respond." If you can not be offended by the way these messages are portrayed, and the production values don't turn you off too much, I think you could be inspired. I was. I would watch it again - it's a good reminder about what it takes to have a good marriage. I think that almost all marriages go through at least one time when one or both people seriously consider throwing in the towel. The pain/annoyance/betrayal - it all seems unbearable and everything within you screams to end the pain - by getting out. But it doesn't have to be the end. If everything you are doing isn't working and you keep on doing it, hoping for better results (isn't that the definition of insanity?), you need something different. This movie was a good reminder of that . . . and the power of God.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Parkour Master In Action

All I can say is "wow."

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Mixed Metaphors

Monday, June 1, 2009

Shocked Doggies, Learned Helplessness, And Churches

In early 1965, Martin E. P. Seligman and his collegues, while studying the relationship between fear and learning, accidentally discovered an unexpected phenomenon while doing experiments on dogs. Many years earlier Pavlov discovered that if a ringing bell or tone is repeatedly paired with the presentation of food to a dog, the dog salivates. Later, all you have to do is ring the bell and the dog salivates.

In Seligman's experiment, instead of pairing the tone with food, he paired it with a harmless shock, restraining the dog in a hammock during the learning phase. The idea, then, was that after the dog learned this, the dog would feel fear on the presentation of a tone, and would then run away or do some other behavior.

Next, they put the conditioned dog into a shuttlebox, which consists of a low fence dividing the box into two compartments. The dog can easily see over the fence, and jump over if it wishes. So they rang the bell. Surprisingly, nothing happened! (They were expecting the dog to jump over the fence.) Then, they decided to shock the conditioned dog, and again nothing happened. The dog just pathetically laid there! When they put a normal dog into the shuttlebox, who never experienced inescapable shock, the dog, as expected, immediately jumped over the fence to the other side. Apparently, what the conditioned dog learned in the hammock, was that trying to escape from the shocks is futile. This dog learned to be helpless! These observations started a scientific revolution resulting in the displacement of behaviorism by cognitive psychology. What you are thinking, determines your behavior (not only the visible rewards or punishments).

The theory of learned helplessness was then extended to human behavior, providing a new model for explaining depression, anxiety, people staying in abusive situations, etc. It was also applied to systems. I was thinking about this yesterday as I was reflecting on my church. I have a theory that some churches (like mine) have learned (or been taught) that if you don't have a pastor to lead the church then the church is essentially helpless. You can't function without a senior pastor! A pastorless church is like a ship without a rudder. Now I agree that it is nice to have a senior pastor, but is it a necessary condition for a healthy, growing church? I think it is - but only if that is your perception. My personal perception is that team leadership works just as well and since every church has some leadership team, pastorless churches are far from helpless. In fact, I think it's good for a church to be without a senior pastor for awhile - a lot of growth and maturing can happen during those times. Church leadership teams need that kind of a shakeup every so often so that they don't get too lazy and keep on thinking for themselves. The whole idea of a senior pastor who wields ultimate power and authority in a church isn't really Biblical anyway.

Learned helplessness is an acquired sense that you can no longer control your environment—so you quit trying to. Do you believe that you helpless about any areas in your life? How did you learn it? The good news is that you can teach people to "unlearn" their helplessness. We do it in counselling every day.