Friday, March 18, 2011

When Questions Become Weapons

Have you ever been attacked with questions?

Assaulted with interrogatory intent?

Badgered into changing your mind, brow-beaten into accepting a new paradigm, or railroaded into a new direction that you instinctively mistrusted?
Have you experienced When Questions Become Weapons? (Yes, I see that hand.)
I remember the first time, many years ago, when Wendy & I were accosted in our own kitchen by a multi-level marketing stormtrooper. I don't know if all MLM shock troops use the same methodology, but this guy knew how to use questions -- an escalating series of them that you felt compelled to answer in the affirmative on pains of looking sub-human -- in order to manipulate his beleaguered prey into signing on the dotted line.

Fortunately, Wendy & I were able to escape with our skins that evening. But make no mistake, this guy used Questions as Weapons. It was manipulation masquerading as sales; greed behind a smiling façade of "wanting to help you achieve your goals".

We also once knew a pastoral leader who used questions -- deliberately vague, but incendiary enough to sow doubt in the minds of other leaders -- to undermine people whom he had decided were in his God's way. When another leader, from time to time, would object to the thinly-disguised slander, the pastoral leader would counter with "I never accused (insert name here) of anything -- I only said I had some questions..."

And it worked. Every time. After all, it was only a question. No harm, no foul. Except that the intended damage had been done, and holding the pastoral leader accountable for the deliberate spreading of innuendo was impossible. Again, the Question had become a Weapon.

And, of course, perhaps the earliest recorded situation where a Question was used as a Weapon -- with devastating consequences -- would be in an idyllic setting in ancient Mesopotamia, where the following drama was enacted:
Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1)
Questions are the tools by which we learn; we investigate; we evaluate; we sift. We grow by asking questions -- indeed, discernment demands that we question -- but not all questions are created equal:
  • some questions seek understanding
  • other questions seek ammunition
  • and sometimes Questions can be used -- by snake-oil salesmen of all persuasions -- as manipulative Weapons

Thursday, March 17, 2011

What's Really In There?

Every now and then, I just sit down and start writing. If I stopped to think, "hey, what should I write about?", I would go completely blank, fingers frozen in mid-air, unable to continue. I would become instantly mired in a condition a friend of mine calls "thinking it to death".

Which, being translated, means I'd be indefinitely immobilized in the mental gridlock referred to as "writer's block".

Sometimes I start typing away, and all of a sudden -- seemingly completely out of nowhere -- I find my fingers flying furiously over the keyboard, as things that were in my heart and mind start to pour out. And within mere minutes, I've got another article or blog post in front of me.
And the funny thing is, it feels like "I have no idea where that came from".
And then, naturally, comes the refining, the polishing, and the rewarding task of selecting different words, adjectives, and/or parenthetical phrases to make it more interesting and enjoyable to read.

But if I didn't just "start typing", I would still be sitting frozen in my chair, fingers clenched into bird-like claws hovering over my laptop, "thinking it to death". When I could have been watching hockey.

Prayer can be like that. If I try to decide beforehand, "what should I pray about?", I can likewise run the danger of thinking it to death. And then prayer becomes forced and difficult -- which is still better than not praying at all, but really, is this the kind of prayer life I want?

Sometimes the best way to find out what's really in my heart and mind, what's really concerning me, and what's really burning in my soul -- is to simply begin to pour out my heart to God. And sometimes, I'll find myself talking to Jesus about things that I didn't even know were on my heart.

And, just like writing, I'll be surprised by the thought: "I have no idea where that came from". But it was there, all along.

Sure beats thinking it to death.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

A Canadian Cross-Cultural Experience

I anticipated cross-cultural experiences when I lived in Mexico. I was looking forward to immersing myself in a different culture, learning the language, becoming friends with Mexican brothers and sisters.

And I knew that there would be some inevitable awkward moments of cross-cultural faux pas.

I fully expected and was prepared for the same when I was in the Dominican Republic, the Philippines, and even Baton Rouge Louisiana (which, although in the USA, is not very American).

I'm also not completely unfamiliar with guns. And shooting things.

For example, after returning from four months in the remote northern Canadian bush as a re-forestation specialist (tree-planter), I stayed with a good friend who lived in a gutted school-bus parked behind the rural gas station/general store/post office where he worked. On first night of my stay, he informed me that the evening's sustenance would look something like this:

And Wendy -- my brilliant, talented, and beautiful wife -- is also from a northern Canadian culture, and therefore has certain... skills... peculiar to her background. Such as shooting those pesky avian vermin known as "prairie chickens", which took place in three stages:

Part 1

point at which Wendy
fires at doomed fowl
Part 2

point of feather
explosion
Part 3

point of Wendy's butt impact after rifle kickback

All that to say, I'm not completely unfamiliar with firearms. I even went hunting with a friend and his father in the hills of Tennessee when I was 10. We went looking for bear, but the only thing I shot that day was a very large and clearly lethal garden spider.

But today I had a truly cross-cultural experience, in my own town, and in my own culture.
I went to a "men's breakfast" at the church we now attend in Kelowna.
Okay, enough with the snickers. Yes, men's breakfasts -- like church women's groups -- do tend to be somewhat cross-cultural, but that's not what I'm talking about.

I didn't know anyone at the group, so I just tagged into a table-full of guys, and as a newcomer, tried to blend in. Which, as I quickly discovered, was not about to happen.

Why, you ask?

Because everyone at the table is a big game hunter. Grizzlies. Black bear. Mountain sheep. And each one of them owns guns. Lots of guns.

And speak of these guns in reverential and tender terms usually reserved for more deserving and common-sense items such as Fender guitars.

And of course, there was the inevitable and awkward moment when one of them turned to me and enthusiastically asked, "What kind of guns do you have, Rob?"

I made some weak joke about guns being illegal in Mexico unless you are (a) a cop, (b) a Mexican marina, or (c) part of a drug cartel. Talk about a conversational gear-grinder. So much for "blending in".

So, today I discovered that you don't have to leave your country to experience cross-cultural awkwardness and inability to connect. You don't even need to leave your province, your town, or in my case, even travel more than 2 kilometres from your house.

What made me laugh -- quietly, to myself, as I drove home -- was the question of "what would Jesus do?" to reach out and be culturally relevant to big game hunters. Because He would have. And it was a funny revelation to me to realize that -- somehow -- I need to, as well.

Proof yet again that God has a very quirky sense of humour, methinks.