Monday, November 21, 2011

Green gecko

Here's a different "story in the middle" for you...a green gecko.

Actually, a dead green gecko.

I told this story to a dear friend who was describing the battle she was having with geckos in her house (she lives in Tanzania). So far the score was Gecko 2, Friend 0, Tie 1. Growing up in Okinawa meant growing up with geckos and cockroaches. In my mind geckos were good while cockroaches were gross. Geckos were good to keep around for eating mosquitoes and spiders. It only got gross if I accidentally shut the door on them and their tails dropped off, wiggling at my feet. (Geckos would then escape and grow their tails back.)

So here's my story:

When I was in elementary school, I was invited to a birthday party for a boy from my class. Unfortunately, I had procrastinated in getting to the store to buy a gift. So on the day of the party, I frantically looked around the house for a suitable treasure to wrap and take to the party. As I looked in my bedroom, I was delighted to find sitting on the window sill a perfectly preserved skeleton of a large green gecko. Of course, it was no longer green. Apparently it had been caught in the middle between the screen and the glass window and probably died of starvation. I picked it up carefully, found an appropriate sized box and wrapped it. As my father drove me to the party, I couldn't help but grin, expecting my gift to be the hit of the party. And indeed, the boy loved it! But I don't think it was a hit with the other kids.

After the party, my father picked me up to take me home. Either remembering he had not driven me to the store to buy a gift or realizing he had not seen a gift on the way there (I had tucked the small box in my pocket), he asked me what I had given my friend. So I told him. Boy, was my dad furious! And probably embarrassed that I had given such a grisly gift. He didn't believe me when I told him the boy liked the gecko skeleton and was not insulted.

He promptly drove me to the store, made me purchase a leather wallet (I secretly wished for a gecko-skinned wallet out of spite), and drove me back to the boy's house so I could hand him this proper, but boring gift. Deep down I still believed my gecko was the better find.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


"Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel..."

The story of Jacob in Genesis 32 has always been one that I identified with during much of my spiritual journey. My normal MO was to figure out life on my own until I ran out of ideas or resources and then turn to God if I have to. Sometimes God would interfere with my plans and suggest another one. My first response was to resist and wrestle. Like Jacob, I ended up losing - God is definitely GOD.

However, over the years, I have noticed a slow but definite change taking place in my normal pattern. I find myself going to God sooner and resisting less. Instead of wrestling, embracing. Rather than pushing against Him, resting into Him.

Last weekend while on a retreat with a group of women, I came to the end of my wrestling career. I decided that from now on I want my pursuit of God to be characterized by a pursuit of rest, stillness and contentment in Christ. Admittedly I expect that there will still be times of wrestling in my future, but no longer will I describe my spiritual life predominantly in terms of wrestling as I have for most of my life. In fact, last week I came to embrace my new name.

What new name you ask? While I was in China, my translator had given me a new name. This is a common practice there, at least in the context I was in as a foreign Christian speaker and teacher. I could not choose my Chinese name; someone else had to give it to me after observing me and getting to know me.

After hearing most of my talks which varied in topics, FangFang chose one: An Ran (安然). It means one who is at rest, safely, peacefully. I loved the name she chose, though I struggled to pronounce it accurately. But I didn't understand the significance of my new name until last weekend. Before I could embrace that name, I had to leave behind my old one: one who fights God.

Then this morning at church, Pastor Rick preached on Jacob's renaming and I realized that I needed to leave behind another old name - Harriet.

Don't worry. I'm still expecting to be called "Harriet." But I'll confess that I have always disliked my name. During my childhood I hated it when some jerk called me "Harry It" (from the TV series, The Munsters). Lamenting my given name, I asked my father why he chose such an old fashioned one. He said it was the closest English name he could think of to my mother's, Haruko. (He also used the same logic for my middle name, Nori, which was the closest Japanese equivalent to my grandmother's name, Nora. Unfortunately, Nori means either glue or seaweed. Lovely.)

Trying to reconcile with my name got even more difficult after I became a Christian. Constantly confronted with descriptions of the ideal Christian woman and wife (quiet and submissive), I felt like a failure in trying to live up to those qualities since I was raised to be independent and self sufficient on top of having the personality of a fighter. I felt more hopeless when I found out what "Harriet" meant: ruler of the home. I was doomed!

Until this morning.

My spiritual journey has brought me to this place of renaming. Living with Jon for the past 32 years has taught me to co-rule our home in mutual love, respect and submission. But living with Christ for even longer has taught me I am no longer ruler of my heart. Christ is. My new name is An Ran.

"Your name will no longer be Ruling, but Resting..."

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Lend me your ear

“I don’t want it to go in one ear and out the other.”

There was a time when idioms were dangerous territory for me. Whenever I shot off my mouth and used an idiom, I would regret it as soon as I saw looks of puzzlement on the face of the unfortunate listener. To avoid anyone thinking I was not playing with a full deck, I’d feign an intelligent expression on my own face. That way they might question whether it was their own fault for not listening better or for not understanding my complex thinking.

From the time I arrived in the United States for college after graduating from high school in Japan, I’d listen for American idioms, analyze their usage and then insert them into my own conversations. More often than not my attempts at sounding like an “American” with slang and idioms went down like a lead balloon. It drove me up a wall.

Why do we use idioms? I decided to ask Google and found this answer at one site: “We use idioms to express something that other words do not express as clearly or as cleverly. We often use an image or symbol to describe something as clearly as possible and thus make our point as effectively as possible.”

Today was the kind of day I should have had the book, 101 American English Idioms. I spent three and one half hours discussing a long letter I had written presenting some important concerns and arguing for a certain viewpoint. I worked hard to communicate my passion without making the reader feel like I had an axe to grind. The person with whom I was conversing was sympathetic to my concerns and wanted to discuss how I could make my letter more “effective” for the group of people I was addressing.

He recognized that I had poured my heart out in this letter. But I also had to make it clear that I was not demanding that we all be on the same page, though I certainly hoped for it. I just didn’t want my concerns to go in one ear and out the other. Interesting idiom.

In the context of an attempt to be persuasive about anything, how does one avoid your words “going in one ear and out the other”? Put another way, if you are trying to explain or even convince another of your viewpoint, how do you make it settle “between the ears”?

Aristotle identifies three modes of speech that must be used in order to persuade well: logos (appeal to reason), ethos (appeal to a way of being), and pathos (appeal to the affections). In my situation, I was shooting for pathos while desiring but not demanding agreement in my use of logos and ethos. In my letter, I chose to tell my story as an invitation to enter into my world, to feel something of my struggle and to empathize with me.

Of course, I also included logical and theological reasons, but my definition of effectiveness included more than just understanding those reasons. I would reckon my letter to be effective if the recipients understood and felt the reasons why I wrote it. Because of the highly charged issue I was addressing, it would require them to discipline their own feelings and resist knee jerk reactions of possible defensiveness, intimidation or outright rejection in order to leave their own world of understanding and enter into my world. I know this is not easy to do. And it leaves me open to the accusation that I have a chip on my shoulder.

So, in the terms of this particular idiom, my definition of “effective” communication is the successful transfer of my story between my own two ears to the space between my listener’s ears. Then perhaps my words won’t go in one ear and out the other. I have no idea if I will be successful, but all I can do right now is ask,

“Please, lend me your ear.”