Thursday, August 28, 2014
The popular Christian hymn, Amazing Grace, is noted for being the most recorded hymn with Wikipedia stating about 7,000 recordings. In hearing the song do we think over the concept of grace and the impact it can have on one’s life? The song dovetails in my mind to one of my favorite passages of the Apostle Paul’s letters to the early churches. Ephesians 2:8-10 reads: “8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Grace is a major concept in the Christian belief system. It uniquely separates Christianity from other religions. Where other religious systems are focused on man bettering themselves to reach out to God for favor; grace is God looking down towards the brokenness of mankind in love and presenting the work of Jesus on the cross and the power of His resurrection as the way to be in right relationship to God.
Is the initial work of grace in repairing our relationship to God where Amazing Grace ends? That thought is answered in a book, Resisting Grace, (click on book title to purchase the book) by Jon Ido Warden. (click on Jon's name to read his blog) He paints a more elaborate picture of the Amazing Grace of God and how Grace engages with the Christian believer’s complete life journey. I must say one initial reason I was interested in this book as I know the author from my days in Chicago in my undergraduate work at Moody Bible Institute. We lived on the same dorm floor, the famous “9th Floor” of Culbertson Hall. I remember him as a reflective thinker back then so it does not surprise me that he became a Counselor and a writer of a reflective book such as this.
Another reason I found the book an interesting read comes from my Christian Worldview so I was intrigued by his in-depth look at the Grace of God. In his words he describes the book. “This book is about the process of grace. Grace changes us, freeing us from our fears and self-protective mechanisms and develops in us the ability to live freely, fully, and gladly. God does all the work to bring about the change” (page 9). This connects with the scripture I shared at the beginning from Ephesians chapter 2. Salvation from the Christian point of view is a gift from God. God reaches down to human kind in our brokenness to heal and repair. Jon points to the analogies in the Old Testament that describe the sin nature we all carry as being like our being a broken cistern or clay pots that were made for a purpose of holding water but due to the cracks do not serve their purpose. I remember in the beginning of my Counseling program we had to describe our view of human nature. I wrote about the same analogy that Jon speaks of that we are “cracked pots”. I thought of it as it relates to the concept of someone being a crackpot as defined as an eccentric or foolish person with problems. I felt at that time and still do that part of the process of Counseling is moving broken people from being “Cracked pots” to “Masterpieces of pottery” appreciating the beauty and purpose of their lives.
As a Christian, I believe in line with the book, Resisting Grace, that the healing best works with God as the Master Potter, recreating the “Cracked pots” to being “Masterpieces”. I see that process being described in Jon’s book. I appreciate how he follows through how grace relates to all aspects and stages of our life. Just as verse 10 of Ephesians 2 brings out that the work of grace in our lives is God’s handiwork in each believer who is open to the gift of grace. The purpose of God’s grace in the life is to empower the Christ follower to do good works. The good works is not the instrument of salvation but instead it is the result and response of what God has done in our lives. Sad to say many non-Christians point to the lack of good works in the lives of Christians.
Jon ends each chapter with reflective thoughts and questions so it is a book to work through slowly and savor the information he is presenting about grace. One favorite part of the book is from a Counseling perspective, as I noticed many of the reflections and information connects to aspects of psychology and Jon sharing stories of his Counseling practice. One example is his mention of the Johari Window (page 101). The Johari window is a helpful self-understanding concept tool. In the one box is the Known self or also known as the Public self. It is how we are seen by others. It may be a true picture or many wears masks in public. Another box is the Hidden or Private self which is where we keep our secrets from others. This is the person we are in private. The Blind self are the blind spots which are positive or negative traits others may see in us but we often do not see. Then the last box is the Unknown self which Jon describes as the “Only God knows” box. This is the area of our lives where we and others may not understand why we feel or do things. Jon shows how God interacts in all the quadrants of our lives as we are open to His act of grace to fully allow God to be in charge of our lives. That as he states is truly freeing. Some think that Christians are not free but true freedom is resting with an open spirit to what God has in store for our lives.
Of course our human nature of resisting God comes to play in the dance with grace. Even as I wrote the previous paragraph and read Jon’s book I understood why he titled the book, Resisting Grace, as the inner tension of the sin nature wants to go my own way instead of God’s way. That is the root of the problem -- the broken pot is saying, “Why doesn’t someone use me to hold water?”, as it is blind to the open cracks where the water would be wasted by pouring out on the ground. We need that humble surrender to the Creator who can with our openness to the gift of grace refashion our lives to the Masterpieces He wants us to be.
This book is primarily for a Christian who is wanting to understand the process of Amazing Grace in his or her life. Yet I can see where it would be helpful to a truth-seeker who is exploring and wanting to understand what Christianity is all about. Jon aptly and fully paints a word picture of the importance of the unique aspect of grace that sets Christianity apart.
Reflection: What were your thoughts of the scripture passage, Ephesians 2:8-10 listed at the beginning? Look at the picture of the Johari Window – what do you learn about yourself by thinking and reflecting on the four quadrants of your life? Do you see God’s interaction in your life?
Thursday, August 14, 2014
From Barnes and Noble website
My wife, daughter and I went last weekend to see the movie, The Hundred Foot Journey. We thoroughly enjoyed it and from the laughter in the theater most everyone did. The cinematography alone inspired us to want to visit small country towns in France. The story opened up a view of the initial clash of two cultures, Indian and French then the unfolding of how although different they learned from each other. The characters were full of a wide range of emotions from of course humor as was noted but also jealousy, prejudice, appreciation, and happiness.
The movie is based on the book by the same name written by Richard C. Morais. The story looks at a family who had a successful Indian restaurant in their homeland that was burned down during political upheaval. The mother of the family tragically dies in the fire. The father leads the family to Europe to settle. By happenstance of car problems they wind up in a small town in France. Then further happenstance and what the father feels is the mother’s spirit guidance, he purchases an old beaten down restaurant for sale with the desire to turn it into an Indian Restaurant with his son as the main chef. The problem is the location is right across from a well-respected French restaurant in the village.
The movie focuses in on the humorous tension between the father and the owner of the French restaurant, whose husband died so she is a widow who pours all her energies into the French restaurant. The Indian son who learned all he knew of Indian cooking from his mother becomes intrigued by French cooking and desires to expand his talent and knowledge by working at the French Restaurant under the culinary tutelage of the French owner. That increases the tension between his father and the owner of the restaurant.
That is all I will say of the story as this is not a review and my daughter says I always say too much about movies ruining them for others. Kind of like the Geico Maxwell the pig clip, (if you have not seen it click on the link - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=64cBC3IgcCw ), that appears in movie theaters during the ads and spoils the movie endings for those standing before him.
The angle I want to view the movie from is from the career angle. Probably since much of my work over the years has been helping college students on career issues this stood out to me. We see in the movie Hassan who is the Father’s son and chief cook at the Indian restaurant has a natural talent for cooking that was cultivated by his mother in the original restaurant. In considering careers we need to consider and understand the natural talents that we have. Explore your skills and how they relate to the work you do. Some people are stuck in jobs where there is a talent and skill mismatch. Explore on the internet jobs that relate to your skills you are strong in. There are many free skill assessments on the internet.
Hassan’s attitude about his culinary work captured my attention. He carried a humility about his skills. This allowed for his curiosity and desire to improve to flourish. He could have settled on making his father’s Indian restaurant become more popular in the small town and vicinity. That would have given him a good life most likely. Yet his inner desire to learn and grow as a chef allows him to take the risk to join the team at the French restaurant. In doing so he helps that restaurant improve as well as continues the growth of his culinary skills. In our careers we need that same curiosity to keep growing and learning. This attitude aids in helping conquer boredom in the workplace as well as opening up new opportunities. Our attitude shapes the passion in our work also and you definitely see career passion alive in this movie.
The movie as mentioned earlier brings out happenstance events or as I mentioned last week, life chaos, that affected how Hassan’s opportunities in the town advanced. If the brakes had not failed they would have not found themselves living in that town. If the racial prejudice event had not occurred a major turning point in the French restaurant owner’s life may not have happened. Granted this movie is fiction but the chaotic events are very true to life and fit well with what Dr. Jim Bright brings out in his chaos theory of careers. How do we make the most of the chaos events that come into our lives?
Then one final thought from the movie comes from the final segment of the movie. In keeping with my promise not to spoil the movie I will only mention that a change occurs for Hassan that allows him to reflect over his life values. In the end you see him connecting his career and other aspects of his life to his personal values. In our career journeys to have the most fulfillment in our work time we need to explore our values and see how they connect with the work we are doing. How do those values balance the various aspects of our lives such as work, family. and leisure? For most of us our career journey is longer than 100 feet. It is well worth exploring how well our career journey has gone and how work adds to our life experience.
Reflection: If you have not seen it yet, go see The Hundred Foot Journey as well as read the book. Reflect over your natural talents and skills – how do you use them in your workplace? How curious are you about your career area? Are there areas where you can grow and continue to learn? How do your personal values relate to how you do your work?
Friday, August 8, 2014
As the Summer comes to a close I see activity at the local elementary schools as teachers return to prepare their rooms for the new school year. My belief is that education is important in developing minds to face the challenges of life with critical and creative thinking. Education provides the foundation to prepare young people to explore possibilities for their futures and create new possibilities that are not apparent at present time. I am thankful I had a mother although not well educated herself, due to the time period she grew up in, emphasized education to me. Also I am thankful for the many fine teachers I had who inspired a love for learning. In the past and in my book, I have mentioned my third grade teacher, Mrs. Verna Clifford, who believed in her students and focused on the basics of reading, writing and math to set a foundation for future learning.
Thinking of education, caused me to have interest in a new Glenn Beck book written with Kyle Olson. The title is Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education. No matter what side of the argument one is on it is an important book to think through the problems with education. I went through public schools in Barberton, Ohio and appreciated the education I received. Did I have perfect teachers all the time? – no. I would have, if they could have used cloning technology to create more Verna Cliffords. But the majority of teachers were passionate about teaching. That is one problem I have with those who bash public education (which Glenn is not doing). People pick out the bad examples of teachers and paint all public school teachers with the same brush. It would be like going to a grocery store and finding one apple with a bruise on it and asking the grocer to throw away all the apples.
In Conform the beginning starts out with the well documented problem that American students fall behind similar students in many other countries. They point out that studies show that American students “rank 31st in math, 24th in science and 21st in reading globally” (page 7). If we want to continue to be a global leader our education of our youth obviously needs to improve. It is problems like this that Common Core is trying to address. Glenn and Kyle go through the book making sounds arguments that maybe Common Core is not the best solution.
I am going to discuss just a couple of concerns that I felt strong about in the book. Again I suggest if you are concerned about education in our country to pick up a copy to read and think through the issue yourself. One problem I have strong feelings about is that the Common Core system encourages “cookie cutter” education and teaching to the test. An example of this can be found on page 87, “If the English portion of a Common Core related test asks one question about Shakespeare but four questions about the Environmental Protection Agency document, it won’t be long before schools tailor their curriculum to include the EPA document. As McClusky puts it “Year after year, questions become curricula”. I have spoken with teachers who lament the teaching to the test dampens their love for teaching. More importantly, many College students have told me that it is all the required testing that turned them off to education. How can we create a love for learning to build creative and critical thinkers in such an environment?
Speaking of the tests, when I was working on my Masters in Counseling many classmates were school teachers. You could hear the anxiety in their voices when they mentioned that the TAKS or TASS tests were coming. You would think it was an invading army with the anxious voices. They would mention how anxious the students were. I would think in my mind “Of course! If the teachers and counselors are this scared of the tests that is going to rub off on the students”. In my discussion with college students many have shared how schools would focus for a couple of weeks in all the classes on the TAKS English for example before the test. How ridiculous! I am not against comparative tests. I think back to my elementary and junior high days. We had national tests but they were never hyped up like they do today. You just took the test and received the results. The emphasis on teaching was not particular national test questions. Instead of looking for new ideas for teaching someone should look back at what worked right in the past before test scores started to slip across the country.
Then a point that raised my blood pressure was on page 112 and 113 where they discuss all the data that is being collected on students to predict possible failure in college and to force career directions on students. I have seen this in action. One institution I worked at used an assessment tool for all incoming freshmen. In our college success course we would go over the results. One day one student came to my office and said the computer report said he would drop out. I asked him if he wanted to finish his Associate in Air Conditioning & Heating. He said yes. So I told him, “who is right – the computer report or you?” He went on to finish his degree. Another student, a girl, was doing poorly in her classes. She told me she did not like the health care program she was in. She actually wanted graphic design but a school counselor in high school told her that her career test showed she should do nursing, (which she did not like but did as the counselor told her to). Glenn is so right on this point. I am a believer in that career tests can be a useful tool but they are not exact predictors as the talking head experts like to make them out to be. Most of these “Experts” who say that students need to know at age 17 what they will do for the rest of their lives, did not know themselves at that age where they would be at age 50. That is one reason I promote to my college students to explore thinking about Dr. Jim Bright’s concepts of the Chaos Theory of Careers. We should be building up students critical thinking abilities so they can shape their own futures instead of following cookie cutter sameness in what computer programs tell them what to do.
These are just a couple of points that tapped into my thinking on education. Glenn and Kyle were very good at presenting arguments about the problems with Common Core. I do wish they would have spent more time presenting solutions. That is weak point in the book. Parents need to be more involved in promoting the importance of education in the lives of their children. If we keep saying they are the future of the country what are we doing for them to help them prepare for progressing in that future?
Reflection: What was your education experience like growing up? Who were your favorite teachers and what made them your favorite? What did you learn from them?