News That Illustrates for Sunday, June 2nd—June 9th
D.C. Trash Can Debacle, the Irish Pub Goes Global, and 2,000 Wrong-sized Trains
D.C.'s Trouble Taking Out the Trash (Cans)
Washington D.C.'s recent effort to replace the district's decrepit, decade-old trash bins doesn't sound too complicated—have the city take away the old bins, and leave new ones to replace them. Simple, right? As it turns out, not so much. Poor planning, worse execution, and a badly timed rainstorm left the process (ahem) in the dumps, and the city in a bind. A bind that apparently turned from mismanagement to a major breach of civic integrity. It had been promised that the 53 tons of old plastic bins would be recycled, but a sharp-eyed D.C. resident noticed that the city was dumping them instead. Once cornered, city officials admitted that about a third of the heavy plastic cans (132 truckloads) had already been taken to Virginia to be burned. The polluting debacle is a reminder that the true test of integrity is whether our actions are right not only when they're easy and visible, but when we just might be able to get away with an easy—if unethical—out.
PREACHING ANGLES: Ethics; Honesty; Integrity; Morality
Anthropologist Spends a Year as Migrant Worker
Sometimes, academic study has the reputation of cloistering people away in the "ivory tower," disconnected from the realities of the world outside. But when academic rigor comes together with real-world knowing of its subject, the result can be powerful. A decade ago, UC Berkeley anthropologist Seth Holmes spent a year and a half living and working alongside indigenous Mexican migrant workers working in Washington State's Skagit valley. Picking blueberries and strawberries, living in uninsulated plywood shacks, and working to meet the same quotas as the other workers, Holmes worked 1-2 days per week in the fields, and used the rest of his time to interview farm owners, migrants, and others. Detailed in a recent book, Holmes shares insights into the migrant's world that he would never have truly understood if he had not been so personally invested in his research. It's a reminder of the power of incarnation, and that there's no knowledge like earned knowledge. How much more does Christ understand our human plight from taking on our humanity?
PREACHING ANGLES: Kenosis; Incarnation; Humility
On the All-Conquering Irish (Pub)
Not all of us might like to admit our level of familiarity with the inside of our local Irish pub, but for those who notice such things, the proliferation of such institutions is a fascinating worldwide phenomenon. Over the last 20 years or so, the classic Irish pub—complete with shamrocks, dark wood bars, and chilled Guinness beer—has ventured far from the Auld Country, making it difficult to find a metropolitan center that doesn't have one—Nigeria, China, Thailand, Argentina. Even Ulan Bator (yes, the capital of Mongolia) has an Irish pub. But why did this august Irish institution conquer the globe? The answer boils down (like a Scotch egg) to a savvy business partnership between a forward thinking pub owner and the Guinness brewery, who saw an opportunity to capitalize on Ireland's growing wave of tourism by serving up a template for stout, pub food, and distinctive, women-friendly Irish bar culture. To date, the company founded by Mel McNally has designed over 1,000 pubs around the world. It's a formula that worked, even in many contexts that seem, at first glance, absurd. Absurd like the Great Commission does, at first glance. Really Jesus? You want us to take this message and this community around the world? But what of cultures that we don't understand? What about languages we don't yet speak? Don't you know that an Irish pub could never flourish in the land of Genghis Khan? Let's not speak too soon. If Guinness can peaceably conquer the world, surely the gospel can.
PREACHING ANGLES: Culture; Great Commission; Mission; Missions
2000 Brand New, Shiny, Wrong-sized Trains
Note to self: When ordering an entire nation's worth of new trains, make sure they're the right size. That message came too late for the country of France, who recently placed an order for 2000 new trains … that are too wide for their platforms. The faux pas has cost the nation over 64 million dollars so far—a number that is expected to climb as more platforms are found that need to be altered. It was a small mistake to begin with—an oversight that measured the width of modern platforms, but not those of the many rural stations that were built over 50 years ago, and to different dimensions. A small mistake on paper, but uncaught has become an extremely expensive (not to mention embarrassing) blunder. What small mistake in your life, or our life as a church, if ignored or unchecked, can lead to difficult problems down the line? Introspect now. Look at your life carefully. That's (hopefully) the ticket for a smooth journey later.
PREACHING ANGLES: Failure; Folly; Self-examination; Sin; Wisdom
The Incredible Story of an Unimpressive Pen
The next time you're signing your name at the DMV or another U.S. Government office, you probably won't notice the black pen in your hand. It, after all, is exactly like the dozens of other black pens you've used in post offices, courthouses, and other buildings throughout your adult life. You certainly won't think there's much of a story behind the unobtrusive implement that, likely as not, is chained to the well-worn desk you've been waiting to stand at. But like everything, those pens have a story. For over 40 years, those Skilcraft pens have been assembled by (blind) factory workers in Wisconsin and North Carolina. They must meet rigorous government specifications: to write continuously for a mile, and within temperature swings from 40 below zero to 160 degrees Fahrenheit. The standard length of the pen has helped lost Navy pilots navigate by map. Stories say that the pen can be used as a two-inch bomb fuse, or for emergency tracheotomies. It can write upside down. It costs less than 60 cents. The pen has a rich, fascinating history, woven together with war, peace, postage, bureaucrats, spies, work, and play. And you'd never know it to look at it. Much like many of us. In every room, every single person has a story, a rich, fascinating history that few of us ever think to ask about. If we did, we'd be floored, astounded. We'd see each other differently, and with more respect. Just like you'll see that pen differently the next time you pick it up.
PREACHING ANGLES: Dignity; Human worth; Testimony
The Three Hardest Words in the English language
Can you guess what the three hardest words in the English language are? Maybe "I love you?" What about, "I trust you." Well, in their new book Think Like a Freak, the guys at Freakonomics share their findings. The three hardest words: I don't know. Author Steve Levitt says, "I could count on one hand the number of occasions in which someone in a company, in front of their boss, on a question that they might possibly have ever been expected to know the answer, has said 'I don't know.' Within the business world, there's a general view that your job is to be an expert. And no matter how much you have to fake or how much you are making it up that you just should give an answer and hope for the best afterwards." James daSilva picks up on this theme as well on Smart Blog on Leadership. James was attending the Milken Institute Global Conference and for the first time he heard a high ranking CEO say "I don't know" in a panel discussion. Mickey Drexler, CEO of J. Crew, twice in the discussion said "I don't know" when talking about the future. James concludes, " … saying 'I don't know' doesn't have to be so scary … More of us should acknowledge that we cannot reliably predict the future. Other times, 'I don't know' is a welcome acknowledgement of the complexity and contextual problems in life." What questions have you answered that you didn't really know the answer to? Being more honest with each other when we don't have the answer can lead to healthier relationships and living. Sometimes those three hardest words are the best ones we can say.
PREACHING ANGLES: Honesty; Humility; Pride
The United States of Metrics
A recent New York Times article observes that Americans measure everything. It says, "In the last few years, there has been a revolution so profound that it's sometimes hard to miss its significance. We are awash in numbers. Data is everywhere. Old-fashioned things like words are in retreat; numbers are on the rise. … We've become the United States of Metrics." We are so overwhelmed with data that in some ways we have become our own worst enemies. "Big Brother isn't our big enemy anymore. It's Big Self. That hovering eye in the sky watching every move you make: It's you." Anne Lamott warns that this personal obsession with data takes away " … everything great and exciting that someone like me would dare to call grace. … What this stuff steals is our aliveness." What do you measure? Your sleep, your steps, your good works, your spirituality? What would happen if you stopped keeping track and lived a life unencumbered by numbers (a life under the Law), and instead lived under the radical grace of Jesus?
PREACHING ANGLES: Humanity; Life; Numbers; Wisdom
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