Sep 28, 2012

Learning to Fail

Over the last year there seems to be more of a buzz on learning to fail. Two articles on this subject in the Globe and Mail caught my interest. One was back in April, written by a Business Correspondent and the other in August, highlighting Canadian writer, Paul Tough’s new book. 

Amanda Lang`s article in April titled, “Why we need to teach our kids how to fail” refers to Sports Canada`s decision to coordinate the efforts of 56 national sports bodies in a long term athlete development program to promote fun over winning. She summarizes from this material that the originators of this program say this is a necessary step since losing “makes kids feel bad.” The columnist is very critical of this program and argues how this philosophy plays out in Canadian culture. But for our purposes, she claims that “failure is a natural process of elimination that clears the path to success.”

Most of us have heard of Edison’s numerous attempts to make a light bulb. It is said that he was once interviewed by a reporter who asked if he felt like a failure after attempting 9,000 times. His response: “Now I know positively 9,000 ways that the light bulb will not work.’

Edison seemed to have subscribed to the same philosophy as Lang, as does Paul Tough. In the Globe and Mail interview which features Tough’s new book, How Children Succeed, he claims that what really matters is not IQ nor affluence, but the ability to fall down and get back up again.  He calls this grit: “resistance, persistence, perseverance, stick-to-it-iveness and passion.” By his description, grit could be called character. Wente, who summarizes Tough’s book, says that what Tough has learned “is that two kids of equal abilities can have wildly different outcomes.” The grit scale determines people`s capacity to stick with something despite setbacks.

A couple of thousand years ago, Paul said something similar. I love the way the NLT says it: “We can rejoice, too when we run into problems and trials, for we know that they help us develop endurance. And endurance develops strength of character….” It shouldn’t surprise us when we hear God’s eternal principles being echoed as new revelation to a new generation. It should remind us of God’s timeless relevance. Grit as Tough calls it, or character as Paul calls it, strengthens not just our effectiveness and success in life, but for those of us counting on God`s faithful love, “our confident hope…that will not lead to disappointment.”

Sep 4, 2012

When Helping Hurts

A book review by John Vlainic
Even though I remember thinking of myself as from a “poor” family when I was a child, I know that I, even then, was part of the “rich” of the earth.
  I am realizing that my formation to this point in life has rather poorly equipped me for serious obedience to the concern throughout scripture that God’s people share themselves and their resources with the poor. Sometimes, I have tried to be gracious about it, and said, “That’s something another part of Christ’s body does well.”  
As well, I have seen attempts at helping, which seemed, even to me, to likely be counterproductive in the long haul.
How good, then, to learn of a wonderful introduction to the matter which strikes me as:
  • biblical (with a special focus on Christ as King and Christ’s Kingdom, and on the over-arching grand Story of the Bible)
  • humble (the authors admits many of their own errors, and are gracious throughout); there is tremendous humility here!
  • in touch with “systems” thinking  
  • aware of how “culture” works in human life
  • clearly “both/and” in tone
  • nuanced (i.e. they do not pretend that issues are simpler than they are)
It is: Steve Corbett & Brian Fikkert, When Helping Hurts: How To Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor (Moody Publishers, 2009).
They blew many of my assumptions about ministry to the poor, the nature of poverty, and so much more right out of the water. The more I listened, the more I realized how little I know about this. I learned much about a host of kinds of paternalism well-meaning Christians like me engage in.
One of the ways in which the authors are most helpful is in unpacking the real dangers (and potentials) of the short term missions trip that is so popular these days. If you want to do short term missions without doing long-term harm, pick up this book. It will raise a host of new (and good) questions. This book is revolutionary in my thinking. I hope that time will tell that changes will have taken place in my living and serving.