Technology - some love it, some hate it, few are left indifferent by it as it occupies a growing place in our daily lives.
For me, applications that allow group conferencing, face-to-face conversations across great distances, and free worldwide text messaging have radically changed - and I would say, improved - my ability to work with colleagues and acquaintances in much better ways. It is not unusual on a given day for me to speak with three colleagues in three completely different locations, some on the other side of the planet.
Sure, the technology is not always seemless - and that can lead to frustration. But the opportunity to see and speak with people spread across the globe at a moment's notice certainly is useful as we minister with a team spread thinly in many different places. It essentially allows me to rove around, without boarding a plane, train or automobile.
I will be the first to admit it is not perfect. In fact, I sometimes want to throw the laptop or table device out the window. But, at least at this juncture, the benefits far outweigh the inconveniences.
My most recent adventure was on the Isle of Iona. For years, I have wanted to visit this island - which has played such a key role in the spread of faith on the islands of Ireland and Great Britain, and well beyond. Iona has been inhabited for millenia, but in more recent history, the Irish monk St Columba settled the island around the 6th century A.D. From there, the Picts were reached with the message of the Gospel.
Using the word "adventure" is quite accurate, because the journey there is a bit tricky and weather-dependent. I had to take two trains, two ferries, and a 35-mile coach ride across the Isle of Mull which took more than 90 minutes. I had no certainty of reaching Iona as scheduled. The return journey had to be advanced by 24 hours, because a storm was brewing off the coast of Scotland - and everyone was fairly sure the Iona ferry would not be running. They were right!
I spent the week on Iona with two goals in mind. The first was to understand more about this misunderstood and under-appreciated period of Christian history. I discovered much and grew in my appreciation, but there was so much I didn't have time to see and visit. The other goal was to finish the first draft of a big writing project - part of which touches on the role of "foreigners" who come to a new area and bring significant transformation. That was certainly the case for St Columba and his band of Irish monks.
I don't know if I will ever get to the island again. The journey is unpredictable and somewhat daunting. But my hope is that some of the spirit of that island and its history will go with me wherever I am. Their desire to live the reality of life deeply transformed by God may seem to be "foreign," but it is something that many are searching for without even knowing it.
Just a few days ago, MaryAnn and I celebrated our 30th wedding anniversary. Beyond the routine expressions of amazement (Wow, that's great!), wonder (How did you do it?), congratulations (Way to go, guys!), and a few other typical phrases we heard from friends and loved ones, we feel very fortunate to have made it to this benchmark. Especially since so many things have changed in the past three decades - not least of which are the very notions of family, marriage, whether it is right to stick it out, etc.
This became all the more clear as we recently attended Sam and Rachel's wedding. What a day - filled with joy, anticipation, a bit of nervousness, loads of friends and family, and many emotions. They are just beginning, having made a strong commitment to one another and to their family.
Still, there are no guarantees. One of my good friends - who was married the same year as we were - posted some wedding photos just yesterday. It was great to see the photos, even if a bit embarassing at how we looked back then. But knowing that their couple was no longer together was a sober reminder that some marriages don't last. We reflect on that as we are at the stage of seeing our own children date and get married.
What is the key? There probably isn't just one thing - and as already said, nothing is guaranteed. But we know we would never have made it to this point without a few things: God's help, a strong commitment at the beginning, a decision to never talk about divorce, and an effort to never go to bed angry. That's what has helped us . . .
The past few months have featured work with many new structures - a new organisational structure at Encompass, church constitutions and leadership structures for Shirley and Frankley Grace, network re-organisation for Charis partners in Europe, and a physical garage structure I've been building (see Photo page). These projects share a lot of common elements.
For instance, they all seem rather daunting at the outset - and at various junctures along the way. I had no idea how to do most of the things necessary to build the garage, but I learned one thing at a time from "Ron the project manager." I come away from that experience with a whole new skill set.
But like the garage, if I just focus on the next step in the process - rather than looking at the whole - I can gather the necessary tools and materials to take one step forward.
Time pressure is the one element that can confuse any big project. When I felt like I had to get the roof on the garage - to prevent any water damage - then I was tempted to take "shortcuts" which could risk the solidity of the whole structure. The same applies in developing a constitution or a functioning network. Some parts of the project just take more time, and the wait is worth it.
The sense of satisfaction when the project is finished or when others have been empowered to go further is a great sense of reward. As I write and face the big change at Encompass, I am trying to remember that aspect: when we get through all the transitions to a place where the new structure is in place, there will be a sense of accomplishment. That end goal keeps me going.
Building is a good thing, something we were made to do. A very wise man said once, "Be careful how you build, with quality materials that will last." That is the kind of building I want to do.