Qualified to Care: Qualifications, Training, Skills and Education

If you’re old enough, you’ll remember them: Rectangular sheets of rectangular stamps in the fold of magazines, accompanying adverts for correspondence schools. Printed on each stamp was the name of a course available.

For years I ignored them. I had a job. I had other opportunities to learn. I had no time for extra study.

But this time, I was stuck at home in a country that said that if I worked, my family would be deported. Courses for adults weren’t available – or affordable. And no child-care was available anyway.

So I tore off a rectangular stamp, licked the back of it and stuck it onto a piece of cardboard – and posted it in the post-box on our front porch.

Over the following weeks, I paid a fee, and collected my course books from the post-box.

After some time, I had an exam. I was provided with the questions and I could take as long as I needed to find the answers from the books. When I was ready, I picked up the phone, punched in the numbers for the answers to the multiple-choice questions, and earned my Diploma of Dressmaking for getting the exam 100% correct. I never stitched a stitch.

Several years later, in our own country, I enquired about becoming a Family Day-Care provider.
I’ve looked after children since I can remember. I was a qualified Registered Nurse – at the Children’s Hospital. I had my own four children who’d thus far survived childhood. But I lacked a piece of paper that I could obtain – for a fee and six weeks of study – that would tell the world that I was qualified to care for children.

I guess my stubbornness got in the way of me ever becoming qualified to care for children. My Nurse’s Registration dissolved when I had to make the choice between looking after my own children, or someone else’s: Part-time employment for nurses was not an option at that stage, and to keep your registration, you had to work the equivalent of one full-time year every five years. Living in the USA for three and a half years was the end of that.

So, when my youngest began school, I went to University. I had to begin a degree from scratch. I couldn’t even do a ‘Refresher’ course in nursing, because, apparently, anatomy and physiology change if you don’t keep up your Nurses Registration.

In the past few weeks, a local Nursing Home has been in the news for its abysmal quality of care of its patients. I wonder about the qualifications of those who worked there. I think of all of the former-nurses who, like me, are sitting on the side-lines watching on, experienced and caring yet unqualified, horrified that those being employed in caring roles may have earned their qualifications by paying for a piece of paper and ticking the right boxes.

If people were able to learn skills through training on white-boards or computers or by watching dvds, we’d all be MasterChefs and accomplished builders. But it doesn’t work that way, does it? Chefs and bakers do not master their skills by watching dvds. They need to cut and chop and measure and taste and mix and practice and fail and try again. Builders need to build. They can’t learn to hit a nail on the head with a hammer, by watching a dvd. Nor can carers learn to care by copying words from a white-board.

In our attempt to become a clever country, have we provided ‘Training’ without teaching skills? Ultimately, have we confused ‘Education’ with ‘Qualifications’ – some of which are not worth any more than a rectangular stamp on a piece of cardboard.

What did you do today, Jules?

The day began great

I was up before eight

Had a walk, a coffee and shower

 

Then I went to my room

Felt a shadow of gloom

Alas! We’d run out of power

 

‘Tis no matter, thought I

‘Tis as easy as pie

My PC is charged to capacity

But what I’d forgot

–So easy ‘twas not—

The NBN needs electricity

 

Though my homework was done

I’d bet three to one

My excuses would not be allowed

So with paper and pen

I began it again

Coz my homework was stuck in the cloud

 

So tonight when you say

What did you do today

Forgive when my temper ignites

Though it started out great

I’m blamin’ the state

Coz my homework went out with the lights

How (Not) To Choose Books Your Children Will Love

I went into a book-shop this morning to gather some inspiration for this blog.

BAD MOVE.

I love books. I love writing. I love reading.

But my all-time favourite thing to do is to read with children.

This morning, inspired by recently baby-sitting a very sweet 2 1/2 year old, I went to the local bookshop – the only book-shop in the entire council region.

I would have had a lovely time

except that

as soon as I found the children’s section (my favourite section) I heard

‘The Manager’ instructing his juniors on how to run a book shop.

 

I did not try to listen.

But I heard him. Everyone inside the shop–and probably outside the shop–heard him.

 

When a writer goes into a book-shop, she should almost be in heaven.

Not this morning.

 

When I venture into a book-shop I usually pick up a book, caress the texture of its cover and marvel at the book design; check out the title and author; and  re-experience that great excitement of opening up a book that’s new to me, or a new version of an old, loved book.

And if I’m really, really lucky, I feel that delicious crisp, slidy-crackle as the page edges peel apart for the very first time.

Not this morning.

 

I love to pick up old-favourites and reread the pace and rhythm of great writers. I rarely leave a bookshop without reading at least one of Mem Fox’s stories, and I hear her in my memories of the audio-tapes my children listened to every day when they were small.

But not this morning.

 

The Manager’s voice had no rhythm.

He didn’t teach about books or words or rhymes or rhythms. He didn’t take a book and stroke it, and demonstrate how to love it.

He spoke only of shelves and sales and stock-take.

 

My heart sank.

 

I left the children’s section, went to the bargain table, picked out some trustworthy classics, took them to the counter and handed them to The Manager.

‘I’m writing a blog about children’s books,’ I said. ‘Which is your favourite children’s book?’

‘I don’t have one.’

I wanted to give him another prompt, but my astonishment rendered me mute. He continued without prompt.

‘I left children’s books in my childhood. I don’t have children. Children and children’s books are of no interest to me.’

By this time, I’d managed to pick up my jaw from off the floor.

‘So, if a parent asked you for a recommendation, what would you say?’

I’d ask them about the child’s interests.’

‘And how about a grandparent asking for their two-year-old grand-child?’

‘Then I’d find out more about the desires of the purchaser.’

The pay-wave machine beeped.

The Manager handed me my bag of books–which was much smaller than usual.

And I left–no longer wondering why children are losing their love of books.

 

Let’s not leave the blog there:

Which are your favourite children’s books?

Which books have your kids worn out?

What do you love about them?

What are you currently reading?

What do your kids love about them?

Please let us know your recommendations.

 

 

 

Changing Shoes

As I passed a sports shop in my local shopping mall this morning, my favourite shoes were on display. My current shoes show that they’ve been much loved. Thread by thread, they threaten to reveal my big toe. Their replacements are long overdue.

I picked up a shoe and turned it over.

My current shoes became my favourites when our extended family was caught in a rain-storm in Brisbane. While I walked along the wooden esplanade through the down-pour, family members who were with me slid and skidded, performing balancing acts that should only be seen on ice, after practice—not by my mum in her 70’s.

My feet stayed secure. The little round ‘lugs’ molded into the base of my shoe created mini-suction cups. So I stuck to the walkway like a gecko on a wall.

So, prompted by the display this morning, I picked up a shoe, tipped it over to press on the little molded lugs on the bottom, with the same delight as popping bubble wrap,

but…

the little molded lugs had gone: Replaced by inserted plugs of what can only be described as aerobic exercise mat.

‘Spongy,’ the shop assistant said to me.

‘Disappointing,’ I responded. ‘Those others stopped slipping. I don’t think these will do the same.’

I didn’t tell her that with my vast experience of sporting equipment (I can hear those who know me, laughing!) those little plugs are intended to fall out.

Change

‘Change.’ she said. ‘Change doesn’t have to be so scary. I think that manufacturers don’t change things to make them worse, but to improve them.’

My mouth (surprisingly) didn’t speak the ‘Yeah, right!’ that my face obviously did.

I saw her discomfort and said ‘It’s the little changes that are the most annoying.’

She laughed, then sidled up next to me.

‘See those track pants along there?’ She pointed at a clothes rack on the other side of the store. ‘Standard stock for years. This year they have elasticised ankles.

People hate them.’

‘Especially those who are 5’ 2” I reckon,’ said me, looking up at the shop assistant who had much longer legs than me. Her eyes looked puzzled and she shook her head. I tried another tack.

‘It’s like computer programs,’ I said.

She grabbed her hair at her temples,

‘Technology! AARGH!’

I smiled. ‘Yeah. It’s those little changes: Some bright spark decides a widget would look better in a different place, might work better a little differently, or should be removed because it doesn’t appeal to his personal taste. And we, the consumers, don’t get to choose what we want.

Big changes you are forced to accept. You have to adjust your mindset. Allow yourself to grieve. Get on with life.

It’s all the tiny changes that drive you nuts.’

We both paused. I put the shoe back on the bench and said, ‘I’ll go home and think about it’.

She didn’t make a sale. But I realized I have more in common with Gen Y than I had thought.

And I went home to discover another thread had pinged on the toe of my favourite shoe.

P.S. After I came home to write this story, one of my family asked me to pick them up from a different shopping centre. And there, on sale, was a new ‘old’ pair of my favourite shoes complete with molded lugs that stick like a gecko on a wall.

 

Practice Makes Better: Julie Hahn

Some people have told me how talented they think I am, and inside I laugh. The most important lesson I’ve learnt in the process of writing is that practice makes better.

Very occasionally, writing these articles happens easily. I wake up very early in the morning with a thought in my mind, get dressed, grab my glasses and my car keys and head to a coffee shop, and voila, 40 minutes later an article is born.  But more often, they are a slog—an enjoyable slog.

I became a writer quite accidentally … well, so I thought, until I took a look back at how it happened.

Our little family moved to Memphis, Tennessee, when our children were four, two and not quite one. Even before we were married we’d planned to move overseas for Chris to do post-doctorate research. We figured that I would be stuck at home with little kids during this time, so it didn’t really matter where we were.

But we had no idea how homesick I would be, being so far away from everybody we knew. It was before the age of computers in homes. These days I can communicate with my sister in the UK using Skype or Facebook.

In Memphis, I wrote letters. Ten pages of letters per day, every day. And in the process of writing letters,
I learnt to write.

My mother kept all the letters I wrote to her and presented them to me in a large folder only last year. The letters stopped after about 18 months, by which time we’d settled into the Memphis community and I was no longer so homesick.

After we came back to Australia, moved houses, had another baby and settled all the kids into school, I went to university and learnt more about writing … and word limits. Writing essay after essay helped me to learn to be more concise, and reading article after article, book after book, I learnt to be more discerning about styles and word choices.

‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’

Being surrounded by toddlers in my work reminds me of their persistence. Toddlers are determined to get to where they want to go. They get up and fall down, and get up … and fall down. They keep getting up, over, and over and over again. I’m sure that whoever it was who said ‘Success means getting up once oftener than you fall down’ had been watching a bunch of babies.

Younger children just want to learn and keep doing, over and over and over again. They don’t seem to care how well they do anything. They just keep at it

But as children get to school age, that determined endeavour seems to disappear in some of them.

Children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something

Chris and I attended an excellent ‘Family Wellness’ course a number of years ago. The kids were dragged along for a couple of sessions, too. A key idea of the course was that children aged between five and twelve years of age need to become good at something.

With a new perspective from the course, I looked at the people I knew who were confident and accomplished in what they did. Whether they were artists, engineers, architects, cooks, farmers or athletes, every one of them had worked hard to be where they are now.  Talent had very little to do with their success.

Skyscrapers, bridges, planes and ships are not designed by people who suddenly decide to build them. Great buildings begin with wooden blocks, Lego, meccano and piles of sand being moved from one spot to another. Great artworks begin with painting dots and squiggles, and experimentations with shade and light, correction and starting from scratch, over and over again.

Admittedly, some people are born to be more athletic or musical or artistic than others. But without determined, intentional, frequent practice, people do not become great at something.

Attempting to get good at something
Attempting to get good at something

Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes

I recently heard an interview on the ABC with Dame Kiri Te Kanawa, the world-famous singer. She said,

‘You never stop learning … The moment you think you can’t learn anymore, I think you’re dead. Life is about learning; making mistakes, correcting mistakes … If I did two hours a day on vocalese, seven days a week, it would never be enough. Think of the tennis player. How many times has he hit that little ball? It’s a lifestyle, not a job.’

So, armed with our new perspective on parenting 5–12-year-olds, Chris and I looked at our parenting. We were familiar with our kids beginning new ventures: joining a basketball team, learning a musical instrument, playing a game.

They were eager starters.

Everything was new and interesting.

For a while the practice was a novelty, but soon it became a drag with its repetition. Being part of a team was fun, but it also became tiresome when it required early morning starts or missing out on parties or fishing trips.

With our new perspective we began to help them to ‘hang in there!’ We explained the plateau that happens when you learn something new: You learn eagerly and quickly for a while, but then you don’t seem to get any better; the kids in the team won’t throw to you because you keep dropping the ball; the clarinet refuses to give you that particular note and it squeaks precisely when you are trying your hardest; you keep coming ‘second’ every time you play chess.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit.

It’s at the plateau that most people quit. That’s the time that we as parents, coaches and encouragers need to get in there and be the cheer squad.

Forget about ‘constructive criticism’! Research by the Gottman Institute demonstrates that, particularly in children, criticism is not constructive.

Instead, stress the positive:

‘What a great catch! Now, do that again!’

‘See what happens when you do that: It’s strong!’

Describe what you see. Describe how you feel.

Give your children the words to express what they’ve done.

Encourage positive steps and celebrate small successes as well as big ones.

Every positive effort is a success, regardless of its outcome.

A few years ago I was part of a school chaplains’ meeting. One of the chaplains shared a story about a teenager who was constantly in trouble with the police. He kept breaking into cars and stealing them.

When the teenager was asked by the chaplain, ‘Why do you do it?’, his reply was,

‘I just want to be good at something, and that’s all I know’.

Everybody needs to get good at something.

Everybody needs to get good at something. Natural talent and ability play only a small part in a person’s success. For each of us, in everything we do, practice makes better.

 

First published in ‘The Lutheran’ 2012. 

 

For more stories about people who practiced to achieve, read Malcolm Gladwell’s ‘Outliers’.

 

Year 12 Survival Hints for Families

It was past 10.30 pm in the middle of the week. Our daughter was in Term 3 of Year 12. She probably should have been sleeping, but there was a meltdown.

The cause? An essay that needed to be handed in the next day, and an empty page in front of her.  

How many marks do you need to pass?’ I asked her.

‘Well, this is the third part of a three-part assignment. I finished the others weeks ago.’

When we averaged out how much she had already received for the other two sections, we worked out that in order to pass this assignment, she needed to achieve only about 20 per cent: two out of ten.

‘It seems to me that if you put your name and about three sentences on this assignment, you could achieve 2 out of 10. So, anything more than that is a bonus. Do you think you could do that?’

She looked at me, stunned. ‘Are you serious? Would that really be okay with you?’

‘Would that be okay with you is the more important question. If getting fantastic marks is keeping you from finishing, perhaps you need to relax a little and just do it. I reckon you can get 20 per cent. I’m going to bed. Goodnight.’

I went off to bed, but not before I’d received a big hug and saw her contentedly sitting on her bed, typing away on my laptop. Next morning she told me that she had finished in about 40 minutes. And several weeks later, she said, ‘I got my essay back, Mum. I got 86 per cent.’

Somebody has said, ‘When a child does Year 12, the whole family does Year 12.’ We agree!

We’ve now survived four of our kids doing Year 12. Anybody else who’s had a Year 12 in their house probably understands what I mean by ‘survived’. We thought that third time round it should be a breeze. We were wrong. Thankfully, by the fourth child, we’d relaxed somewhat. 

Unfortunately, it’s really easy to get caught up in the storm when our kids are struggling with deadlines and the pressure of Year 12. But what can we do to keep the whole family sane?

Here are some things we’ve learnt.

Try to keep Year 12 in perspective.

Year 12 is one year out of a life-expectancy of 80-plus years. Yes, a great score enables our kids to get into their first choice of university courses. But there are all sorts of detours that they can take to eventually achieve the same goal.

What makes people ultimately employable is not their Year 12 score.  Developing people skills, playing in a sports team or participating in a group, as well as working on stickability, perseverance, creativity and using initiative are attributes every person can achieve, regardless of academic ability.

Keep our own lives balanced.

Only then can we help our teens balance their lives. Help them to see the value of maintaining a balance between the mental, physical, spiritual and social aspects of our lives.

Get to know the teachers at the beginning of the year

and keep in touch with them. Teachers work better with parents who encourage and are interested, and want to work with them.

Let the teachers know your tricks for motivating your child. For example, kids often respond better if you speak their love language: Are words of encouragement their best aid to learning? Do they prefer spending quality time with others in order to get their work done or might they benefit by time alone in the library? Does physical touch such as big bear hugs or rigorous activity help them? Do they learn through doing things for others or really appreciate others doing things for them? Do they respond to rewards and gifts as simple as stickers? (Don’t ask me how I know this!)

Use incentives

Make handing in assignments and essays worthwhile in the student’s eyes—for example: ‘Once you’ve finished that assignment, why don’t we go to that movie you wanted to see’.

Give them the opportunity to see where a good score might take them. Encourage them to speak to other adults in different occupations and explore opportunities for work experience.  University open days can also be inspirational for students who are struggling to see the point of studying. They demonstrate careers that our kids (and we) may never have dreamed of.

Let your young person know you’re interested.

Know their schedule. Get them to post their weekly school schedules and assignment due-dates on a family calendar, or print out a copy of their diary – so that you don’t plan a camping trip the day before an assignment is due. (Don’t ask me how I know this one, either).

Remember that you are the adult

You might need to monitor their time management. Plan rest days or weekends in which nothing is happening. Practise a weekly ‘Sabbath’ with them – that means to consciously have a day of rest – with no homework and a complete break from school-life.

Encourage part-time jobs, but not too much!

Part-time jobs help them to see the bigger picture, learn responsibility and accountability. The teachers at our local school have learnt that those who do well work part-time jobs six hours a week or less.

Be on the same page.

If your child wants to achieve, watch for ways to help.

If your child is hoping just to finish, encourage them to hand in all their assignments.

If your child has no intention of studying, it’s no use nagging—although it may help to give them a reality check if you encourage them to get a job and let them manage their own finances. That way they can find out how tough it is to pay for things on a low wage.

Some things you might try: Keep them supplied with healthy snacks and a walking partner. Sit with them while they study and help underline passages, or copy out charts that they need to learn by rote and post them all over the house (especially in the loo). Be a sounding-board – but remember that any expression of frustration is not a personal attack.

In our home, Year 12’s were exempt from doing the dishes. That was a small way that the rest of the family could let the Year 12 know that we supported them.

Be aware of different learning styles.

Recognise your student’s need for suitable study conditions. Some people need bright light and open areas in order to study, while others need dim light. Some need to have noise around them. One of our children found it useful to go babysitting for friends so that she could study there undisturbed. Mozart has been known to enhance concentration. Other music could be left for relaxation time.

 

Life may be tough during Year 12. The less pressure we apply and the more available we are as parents, the better it will be for the students in our lives. By encouraging our students to keep at it, balancing school life with a healthy lifestyle and maintaining friendships, and not too much computer/screen time, we can create positive memories of Year 12—hopefully for the whole family.

 

Originally published as ‘Year 12 Survival Guide for Parents’ in The Lutheran, 2012 August edition. http://www.thelutheran.com.au

 

A scientist – and he’s a Christian: Can science and Christianity work together?

One of our kids had a teacher who thought that all Christians are ignorant and just lack common sense because ‘they don’t believe in science’. My daughter evidently put up her hand in his class and said, ‘My dad’s a scientist — and he’s a Christian’.

A couple weeks later I met that teacher at a parent-teacher interview. He explained that the class was expected to look scientifically at the biology course, regardless of their, as he emphasised, ‘religious convictions’.

As he said that, he looked at me as though he was expecting a reaction. But I smiled and said, ‘That’s fair enough. We don’t have an issue with that. My husband is a scientist. He has done demonstrations in science classes in previous years. Perhaps he can help in your class.’

We wondered at the teacher’s view that Christians can’t agree with science, but then recalled several radio interviews, seminars, some books, articles and letters to editors where Christians had given themselves and others a bad name. To be honest, as a Christian who likes to learn ‘stuff’ and who enjoys debating, investigating and challenging the thoughts and beliefs of others, I do sometimes cringe at what I hear people say in the name of Christianity, when I believe they’d be hard-pressed to find any biblical support for what they are saying.

Being married to a scientist who is also a Christian, I am becoming more and more aware of his colleagues and also world-renowned researchers who are also both scientists and Christians.

I find it interesting that when they are asked ‘creation versus science’ questions in particular, their answers are often guarded and vague — not because they want to avoid the debate, but because they are more aware of the complexity of the issue than most of us. I do know that the more my husband studies and researches, the more he is fascinated and awe-struck by the wonders of God’s creation. Often, that is the answer he gives to those ‘creation versus science’ questions.

Science is about understanding the world in which we live. It is about finding out reasons and evidence for things happening, and answering questions, using reproducible, repeatable experiments that are measured against appropriate ‘controls’ or ‘constants’.

Science needs to be totally consistent: So we find that ‘good’ science always backs up other ‘good’ science. As such, Chris and I have never found any ‘good’ science that has disproved what is written in the Bible. Good science looks at data objectively — regardless of our world view.

Scientists know that science doesn’t ‘prove’ anything conclusively — though it can disprove conclusively. So, there are questions worth keeping at the back of our mind whenever we hear of any new ‘scientific proof’.

  • There is usually more than one way to interpret results and statistical data. Is this the only way in which these results could be interpreted? How reliable is the interpretation? How recent is the paper in which it was written? Has it been peer-reviewed — that is, assessed by other experts in the same field who have a ‘neutral’ interest?
  • Who is putting forward the evidence? Has the evidence been produced by somebody with a ‘vested interest’, such as a company that sells a particular product? For example: diet products and herbal remedies are often promoted by companies who will benefit from sales of their particular recommended therapies – in the same way that Coca-Cola is not likely to promote Pepsi.
  • If the article is from the internet, which type of website does it come from?  Very generally,  .com represents a commercial enterprise, .org is a not-for-profit organisation, .edu is an educational institution and .gov is a government website.

All those questions could be summed up by ‘How biased is the scientific viewpoint?’

Sometimes there needs to be a debate. In every culture there are commonly held beliefs that affect the way we look at life and interpret the things that happen around us. This is what we call a paradigm.

During the Black Plague in the fourteenth century, people believed that cats were associates of Satan. So a law was passed that people were obliged to destroy cats. Eventually, somebody noticed that those people who defied the law and kept cats domestically were surviving the plague. Some rudimentary research was undertaken and it was discovered that cats protected people from the plague because the cats killed the rats which were spreading the disease. The law was repealed, and that was the end of the plague. (Julie’s simplified version!) It was also the end of that ‘paradigm’ — what we call a paradigm shift.

Without Galileo or Columbus challenging the paradigm in which they lived, we may very well still be thinking that the world is flat. Without Pasteur challenging others with his Germ Theory of Disease, we may never have learned about bacteria or viruses. At the moment, Western science is caught up in an evolutionary paradigm. Belief often lies behind a hypothesis. We need to be aware of that and, like Galileo, Columbus and the cat breeders during the Black Plague, we need to follow our convictions with an open mind, willing to learn and investigate, until truth wins through.

Christians recognise our Creator’s work in the beginning of the universe. But it’s probably wiser to leave the details to God, than to argue using our own limited logic or understanding.

If it’s not written in the Bible, let’s not pretend it is. Let’s become so familiar with what God’s word does say, that we don’t get caught up arguing about issues that may not matter in the long run, which cause wars between evolutionists and creationists – who might end up with more in common than they think.

Let’s not get caught up arguing about stuff that takes our focus off what God does want us to know. And let’s remember that it is up to us as Christians to love our neighbour as ourselves — regardless of each other’s beliefs.

 

Originally published in The Lutheran, 2011, March edition as

‘Where’s The Proof? in the ‘Heart and Home’ column, by Julie Hahn

http://www.thelutheran.com.au/

 

Book review of  ‘In the beginning’ by Patricia White

By Jeckyl (Julie Hahn) on February 28, 2016

Verified Purchase

Confused about evolution vs creation? Patricia White’s explanation in ‘In The Beginning’ is simple but also eloquent. This small but informative book clarifies the similarities and nullifies the mythical chasm between creationists and evolutionists. It is concise but, through its use of scientific and biblical references, expands opportunity for intelligent discussion instead of misinformed debate . Highly recommended for children, their parents, and anyone interested in learning how science and faith can and do work together.

http://www.amazon.com/In-Beginning-Patricia-White/dp/0990611612

 

Holy Handbags: Christian as a brand-name

 

It was BIG! It was fancy and it was very, very expensive.

We wandered around with our mouths gaping wide at the opulence of the Opryland Hotel. The ceilings were so high we almost couldn’t see them. Birds flew around us and then flew upwards into the canopy of tropical rainforest palms. While private rooms and suites formed the perimeter of the hotel, inside, under the main roof, were streets and arcades. There were conference rooms among ballrooms, ice-cream parlours next to saloons, beauty boutiques among fashion shops, florists and toyshops.

As we passed by a conference room, we noticed the paraphernalia displayed by sales representatives in the lobby outside. We looked with interest, surprised by the variety of ‘Christian’ items available on the market: stickers, birthday cards, wall plaques and children’s Bibles complete with colouring pencils.

But as we continued to look, we recognised ‘normal’ things that were labelled with ‘Christian’ symbols or texts, with prices to rival any Nike or Billabong product. My imagination ran away with all sorts of other advertising gimmicks: ‘Holy Handbags’, ‘Heaven Scent!’, ’Perfume of Paradise’, ‘Jesus Jeans’.

My eyes opened a little further that day – and unfortunately I think I became quite cynical.

What is a ‘Christian handbag’ anyway?

Does it make me holier if I use a ruler with a cross printed on it, rather than one I bought from the local newsagency?

At which stage does a pencil become a ‘Christian’ pencil? Is it born again when it goes through the printing press?

Obviously, ‘Christian’ sells. We only have to remember Christmas sales and the consumption of chocolate in Australia at Easter.

But where is the boundary between ‘Christian’ as we followers of Christ would call ourselves and ‘Christian’ as a brand-name? Should we trust everything that is called ‘Christian’? Should we distrust everything that is not marketed as ‘Christian’? Should we trust that everything sold in a ‘Christian’ bookshop is good, and reject other products on that basis?

How do we figure out what is good and what is not? It’s called discernment. And where do we get it? Good question.

I was once told about the people whose job it is to identify fake American dollar notes from real notes. What are their instructions? Instead of knowing every type of fake note available, they are to become so familiar with the real notes that any slight variation from the truth is very obvious.

As Christians we have the truth available to us in the Bible. If we become so familiar with truth by knowing the Word and have the guidance of the Holy Spirit, we too can learn to spot a phoney a mile off. That is discernment.

As Lutherans, we have the legacy of Luther’s Small Catechism which Luther wrote for parents to teach their children. An added bonus of the catechism is that it teaches us to ask continually: ‘What does this mean?’ It encourages us to keep asking, keep searching, keep knocking until we have answers. Searching for answers helps us to find discernment.

We have a banquet of books and other resources available to us. Some are classics, some are fun. Some are religious, some are Christian… Some are rubbish.

Reading, to some of us, is an absolute joy. To some of us, writing, too, is a joy and a privilege. But nothing compares to the word of God in teaching truth.

No books – not even Christian books or bible concordances – should ever take the place of our study of the word of God.

Max Lucado points out that Christians too often rely on somebody else’s interpretation of Scripture instead of reading it themselves; and that makes as much sense as eating what somebody else has already half-digested. In the same way, we miss out on discernment if we rely on others to pre-digest our knowledge.

Discernment cannot be passed on: we must grow it ourselves.

Don’t stop reading other books – but remember that God’s word is truth. How does the Christian book you are reading stand up against God’s word? Is it consistent with the Bible’s teachings, and does God’s love and grace shine through? Are the Scriptures that are quoted used ‘in context’?

John MacArthur from Grace Community Church once gave a sermon titled, ‘Mary had a little lamb’. MacArthur strung a collection of Bible verses together, completely out of context. It was the funniest sermon I have ever heard – but he made the point very effectively that words and verses from the Bible can easily be made to say what anybody wants them to say.

Discernment looks at any verse in the light of the whole of God’s truth.

There are plenty of things on the market and even in our churches these days that appeal to ‘good, Christian folk’, and being a Christian does not protect us from sales-pitches. Some marketers actually take advantage of the trusting nature of Christians!

There are some valid questions that may help us learn to be more discerning; before we read a book, get involved in a program, sign up for a new course, a new roof, a diet plan, sponsorship, cosmetics… anything that is sold in Jesus’ name:

  • Does it glorify God or itself?
  • Does it edify (build up) God’s church?
  • What does it cost, and who will benefit from the cost?
  • Where will the money go?
  • Is there any level of secrecy  i.e. do you have to be a member or make a purchase or commitment in order to find out what it’s about, and are you allowed to share or discuss it with others?
  • What kind of language is being used: Is it ‘sales’ talk; does it use big words that you may have heard of but don’t really understand?
  • What are the claims: Is this the ‘only’ way, the ‘best’, ‘God’s way’, the ‘newest’?
  • What is the response if you say, ‘I will need to go home and pray about it’?

Perhaps if something is advertised as ‘Christian’, it may be worthwhile to bring out your cynical stick. But better still…

‘Keep sound wisdom and discretion: so they will be life to your soul, and grace for your neck. Then you shall walk in your way securely. Your foot won’t stumble. When you lie down, you will not be afraid. Yes, you will lie down, and your sleep will be sweet.‘ (Proverbs 3:21–24 WEB).

 

 

Originally published as ‘Holy Handbags’ in the Heart and Home column in The Lutheran, 2008, September Issue.  

www.thelutheran.com.au

The Should Depot

All I wanted was toothpaste!

Something to clean my family’s teeth and freshen our breath.

It should have been simple.

But at the local supermarket I was overwhelmed by the different sizes, shapes, colours and flavours; of the many varieties of toothpastes.
73! Yes! I counted them–much to the bemusement of the woman who was stacking the shelves.

Seventy- three different toothpastes to choose from, each with a perfectly valid reason why I should purchase that particular variety:

‘a whiteness you can see’,‘ice sensation’, ‘extra bright’, ‘stages for children’, ‘herbal’, ‘no added sugar’.
I am sure that advertising agencies play on the minds of shoppers by creating a special compartment in our heads: the ‘should’ depot.

Should I worry about too much fluoride, or too much artificial sweetener? Was it accidental that the denture tablets were at eye level, reminding me why I should buy certain brands of toothpaste?

Whether or not I was worried before I made my purchase, the ‘shoulds’ certainly got to me by the time I nervously passed my chosen variety to the checkout operator:

Would she notice my smile?

Did my breath smell like last night’s lasagne?

Should I have gone for the herbal blend?

 

Quite frankly, I’d like to ban the word ‘should’. 

If I listen to my head on days when I am particularly overwhelmed by life, there are a multitude of ‘shoulds’ that flood in and swamp me:

I should get up this morning and go for a walk. I should not eat that last piece of chocolate cake, but I shouldn’t let it go to waste. I should get outside and do the weeding. I should be more diligent with composting and recycling. I should use a timer for the shower. I should be a better parent.
 I should …
I’m not sure when it crept into our vocabulary so prolifically, but I think ‘should’ has become one of Satan’s sneaky but effective ways of creating false guilt and unnecessary anxiety in us.

After all, what am I really saying when I say ‘I should …’?

Am I saying, I feel guilty because there is so much to be done?

Or am I imposing guilt on others, because, even if I didn’t do something, if I thought I should have, I have gone one better than someone who had not even thought they should have?

If I take on the guilt for what I should have done, does that absolve me?

There almost seems to be a hierarchy of holinesses associated with ‘shoulds’. If Monty Python were to perform a skit about ‘should’, I imagine it would go something like:

Guilty Person (GP) 1: ‘I should have taken a meal around to the family who was struggling.’
Guilty Person (GP) 2: ‘You think that’s bad! I should have spent time with the person with cancer and I should have given to the charity, whose blind representative was at the door of the supermarket.’
GP 1: ‘Luxury! I should have offered to babysit for the family with 23 children, served at the local soup kitchen eight days a week, mown the lawn for all the elderly folk down the street, assisted the frail woman across the road, hemmed all the trousers in the local Goodwill …’
GP 2: ‘And if we told the younger generation of today what we should have done, they’d never believe us!’

‘Should’ does not motivate us, encourage us or equip us. It confuses us, tempts us and lessens our effectiveness.

‘Should’ uses energy we don’t have in order to worry about things we probably won’t do anyway.

We spend more time worrying about what we think we ‘should’ be doing than on doing what really needs to be done, what we are capable of, or what there is actually to be done after all.
What would happen if we used the energy we waste on ‘shoulds’, for the ‘Coulds’ and ‘Let’s’ and ‘Why don’t we?’

Just thinking about the possibilities makes me smile.

It opens up a rainbow of opportunities: our minds to the creativity that freedom brings; our hearts to the warmth of really understanding what we were created to do; our hands to the doing; and our voices to singing God’s praises so that everything we do or think about actually glorifies God.

Imagine a world in which we replace worry about what we ‘should’ do with a prayer to the creator of our days, followed by a desire to do his will.

Imagine a world in which we leave the ‘shoulds’ of today’s society behind us and take up ‘We can!’ as our catch-cry.

The late missionary and author Elisabeth Elliot once included the following words in her radio program Gateway to Joy: ‘I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and he will enable me to do it!’

Life might look less depressing and more achievable if, instead of being ‘burdened again by the yoke of slavery’ (Gal 5:1) of the ‘shoulds’, we replaced ‘should’ with ‘can’.

If we are parents, we ‘can’ get on with cleaning up after the 19th spill for the day, and play with our kids once it’s done.

Or we ‘can’ sit and listen to our teens as they tell us about their horrible day.

If we are students, we ‘can’ study diligently to equip ourselves with the knowledge we will need to apply later.

If we are employees, we ‘can’ work conscientiously for our employer.

If we are employers, we ‘can’ assign tasks fairly and reward appropriately for effort.

If we are leaders, we ‘can’ serve those we lead.

If we are senior citizens, we ‘can’ share our lives with those who don’t yet have our experience.

Let’s spend our energy on what we ‘can’ do.

No ‘shoulds’ about it!

 

Originally published as:

‘Canning the Shoulds’, in The Lutheran, October edition, 2008.

God don’t do math

Some of us love numbers!
More than one of us in our home love to play with numbers, whether it be in a Sudoku or more recently, working out equations about the force of water. Unfortunately, in our house, none love to balance the books or pay the bills, reconcile accounts or collect info for the tax man.

But, in more than 20 years of paying bills, feeding a growing family and surviving on grant funding (and very generous family) there has only been one time when we almost went hungry – at the same time that we didn’t trust God enough to give Him a tenth of what we had.

This was only one instance that has helped me come to the conclusion that

“God don’t do maths”.

Please pardon the grammar – but I can hear my African-American friends singing this in chorus! Certainly, God’s method of mathematics is not taught in any conventional business or accounting course.
Let’s look at some examples:

Many parents expecting their second child have told me of their fear of not being able to love their next child as much as they’ve loved their first. Every time, God has shown them that He is the God of multiplication – not division.

Ask any parent of multiple children and you discover an incredible capacity to love more – not less, with each child.

Love grows the more you give it away!

It’s a bit like Elijah and the widow who was about to make the last meal for her son and herself, from the tiny bit of flour and oil that she had. She gave to Elijah, and her flour and oil never ran out. It’s like Jesus feeding the 5000 (plus women and children) from 5 loaves and 2 fish – and collecting 12 baskets of left-overs. God don’t do maths!

What about time? Yesterday was one of those days when I had more things to do than minutes in the day. I had no choice but to stop and take a breath prayer.
I breathed, and God-incidentally, I remembered Elisabeth Elliot’s words,
“I have only one thing to do today. That is God’s will, and He will enable me to do it.”
“OK God!” I breathed and my heart remembered,
“Be still and know that I am God!”
“What’s going to happen about the catering tonight? I’m handing that one over to You, Lord.”
I settled into what I was doing, taking a quick break for lunch when a couple of youth leaders arrived to do some pre-event planning.
“We’re going shopping for supplies for tonight. Would you like us to pick up something?”

The next morning, Jan from my favourite coffee shop, where I’ve been going for four years, offered her un-sold muffins for our youth group on Friday nights. I’d not asked – and she’d never offered before. It wasn’t until then that I realised that God had answered my prayer – twice – without me even acknowledging Him. I’d been so caught up with how much time I didn’t have, that I forgot to notice that God had taken over what I’d asked Him to.

We get so caught up following two little sticks chasing each other around a dial we carry on our wrists that we forget that our best friend is the creator of the universe. God is not bound by the rules of our human-measured concept of time. If our universe was limited to our meagre understanding of how it works, what a small universe we would inhabit.

We live in a very weird period of time in that “If we don’t understand it – we can’t believe it!” There goes the theory of relativity, space, gravity, healing, my lap-top computer, the egg I just ate for breakfast…the children I bore.

We argue about periods of time, about budgets, about our capacity to do things. In our determination to work things out mathematically- logically, we diminish the world’s capacity to see God because we diminish Him.

We limit God’s work to our own imagination.

As Elisabeth Elliot once said, “The God who is small enough to be understood is too small to be worshiped”.

Whether or not it fits into a mathematical equation or our understanding, God’s will, will be done. Our capacity to love Him and achieve great things in His name can only grow as we take the opportunities He gives us to learn to rely on Him, rather than on our budgets and imagination.

I guess it works in reverse too. Look at the lives of the rich and famous who hoard up stuff for themselves and end up having to cocoon themselves away for peace and quiet. Those who gather everything for themselves tend to diminish in what they really have. Life seemingly implodes.

Look at a church that limits itself to the same budget it’s had for years. It makes as much sense as a flower keeping its petals in its bud to conserve energy, or a chrysalis deciding to stay where it is safe and dark, rather that breaking out to become a butterfly.

Mathematically, a butterfly cannot fit into a chrysalis.

Mathematically, a flower cannot fit into a flower-bud.

Mathematically, faith as big as a mustard seed cannot move a mountain.

Mathematically, forgiveness doesn’t add up.

Mathematically, we cannot love and keep giving it away.

What would happen in our homes, in our congregations, in our communities if before we set out to do something, we stopped to take notice of God’s economy?

As I heard in a sermon a couple of weeks ago, “God’s economy is different. It’s upside-down.”

Love grows the more you give it away.

God gives.

God gives everything.

God is glorified in His generosity.

God loves everybody – and His love of everybody enables Him to be generous with His love.

What would happen if we stopped counting the wrongs anybody had done against us, and loved and forgave them anyway? What would happen if we chose to love because God first loved us?

This week, this month, this year, let us together consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and trust God – Rely on Him – and not on our own mathematical equations.

 

Originally published as:

“God don’t do maths” in The Lutheran, May 2010 Vol44 No4 P154-155