Two-degrees and roundabouts

One of my favorite quirks about living in Italy was the roundabout (la rotonda). Just between my house and the nearest real city, there were seventeen. The reasoning of the Italiani, why use stop signs when you can create a circle everybody can use at once? I loved the dance that happened in urban roundabouts when there were four lanes circling a statue dedicated to The Fallen … and five entry points. Ahh, the adventure and the danger!

When we left northern Italy to return to America, we felt the weight of a complete life turn-around – it was like a roundabout we chose to enter and knew it would spill out back toward America and, specifically, my hometown of Myrtle Beach. And it did.

After a conversation with a good friend, I realized that, with the return, much of my library is still in Italy, in the hands of fellow missional’s. One of the books was a John Trent title – The Two-degree Difference. This was one of many “only read the first two chapters” books; the premise is simple. Make two-degree adjustments in your actions, posture, life direction, habits, etc., and before long, you’re heading the right way.

While I agree that we need to make right choices and move toward health – spiritually, emotionally, relationally, and otherwise – it may take a greater act. Adjusting actions by small degrees is the way we are told to replace bad habits, but how boring is that!

I like what Jesus said, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” Not two-degrees. More like 180-degrees.

There is incredible power in the simple act of turning around. An about-face unleashes God’s power to change. The get the presence of God’s Kingdom face-to-face with the act of turning.

What about the two-degree principle? It may be that in our act of repenting God reveals the next thing to change, or it may be that we have gotten “out of habit” with the practices that make life richer, and by all means are worth restoring. But if it’s sin, it deserves more than 2-degrees. It deserves the full 180!

I like what Jesus said to Peter even though he knew there was a major fail in his future: “I have prayed for your Simon, that your faith will not fail, and when you have turned back (read: repent), strengthen your brothers.”

Turn from sin. Yearn for God. Return to the things that matter.

From the Rotonda,


An Argument for Higher Education

College is the place you go to learn to pronounce things. Flaubert (Flo-bear), Post-modernity (post-moe-dear-nit-tea), etc. It’s important to sound important; and academic to be in academia (Akku-dame-yah).

That’s why I didn’t do well with Italian. I never sounded like I was intelligent, academic, or important. Most of my Italian pulled smiles and nods from Italians, at least until I turned around. Then it was guffaws.

Example: When I hear “bagna cauda” (a culturally-rich, hot dipping sauce rich in garlic), I hear “hot bathroom” (bagno=bathroom; caldo=hot). An Italian friend asked me: “tu piace la bagna cauda?”  I had a ten minutes conversation in Italian about how I love a warm bathroom and a hot bath.  He smiled and nodded. From across the room, I heard guffaws from several Italians.

Learning to hear and repeat (pronounce) is important. This is why we think the news reports from Stephen Colbert (C0e-bare) is incredibly funny. And G.W. Bush. And Al Gore. All educated savants (Saw-vaws). Our vocabulary (and lexicon) are richer and more expansive.

So, I say: Keep the halls of high education open. And keep attending college. We need more people who look smart. And here’s to hot bathrooms!


Telling the Greatest Story Through Art

Can the Arts take a significant place in global missions through OM? Field and area leaders from Europe invested a day discovering how professional artists are effectively declaring the Gospel through the Arts on the mission field.

Leaders from Finland, Germany, Great Britain, Ireland, Italy, Central Europe and the Ships took part in the OM Arts Forum in Mosbach, Germany on November 23, 2009. The participants explores how the Arts can be integral to the mission of reaching the world for Christ and how artists can be effective colleagues and team members at the OM field level.

OM Arts Director Bill Drake led the forum and defined the vision and growth plans for the newly formed OM Arts International.

Drake addressed how an OM field can embrace Arts Ministry as a part of the field’s direction, how to best communicate Arts in the field’s vision, and how the field can lead, care for, and release the professional artist to fulfill their missions calling.

Consultant and Arts in mission catalyst Colin Harbinson led the forum participants through a Bible study of Bezalel, the artist chosen and called to work with Moses to create the tent and elements of worship commissioned by God on Mount Sinai.

Harbinson reminded forum participants that Bezalel was called and filled with the Spirit for the work of creating art for God’s glory.

Artists who are called to missions can be released to create art with excellence in the context of the OM field. Harbinson encouraged the need for professional artists in missions and warned that “art done poorly communicates poorly.”

Quoting writer A.W. Tozer, Harbinson affirmed that, “Christians are obligated to excellence because God is supremely excellent.”

OM Arts will work with field leaders to identify artists who are ready to serve in missions and help the fields and the artists to prepare to establish unique arts teams.

A leadership training seminar for artists preparing for missions will take place in Rome, Italy in conjunction with Transform 2010 in July. For more information about the training seminar or about OM Arts, contact

Round-Abouts and Obeying God

From the autostrada to my house, there is one stoplight and there are eleven round-abouts. Most people are familiar with the round-about way of negotiating intersections, but unless you face them each day, the negotiating can be tricky. Some are simply the “glance left and go” types of round-abouts. Others have three roads and six points of traffic entering, and looking front, left, beyond left and back to your right (to make sure a car behind you isn’t “cutting you off”) is a must.

There is a round-about in Torino that I hit occasionally with eight points of entrance and exit and three lanes around a central statue (most likely a version of Garibaldi.) Traffic is entering and exiting at each point in two or three lanes. It does not look safe to go there. From the air, it must look like Daytona Speedway, or worse, the Watermelon 500 (if you ain’t from Atlanta, that’s the big round-about around the city.)

To navigate this one, you don’t look. You point your car, go, and hope for the best. Its a lot like Luke Skywalker learning to fight the light saber training droid – you cover your eyes and feel your way through it. Really, the first time I negotiated it without getting a horn, finger, or fig (for another post), I think I said outloud: “I did it, I felt the force!”

But, for mosts round-abouts, just a glance ’round and a quick tap of the breaks before going is sufficient. When it goes right, its like a dance. Each partner taking the next step, no hesitation, just move with the rhythm. (And, assume you are next, unless someone else beats you to it.)

Oswald Chambers talks about obedience on March 25 in My Utmost (if you don’t have a devo alongside your Bible, this is the one, hands down, to get.) He says, “Sometimes there is nothing to obey, the only thing to do is to maintain a vital connection with Jesus Christ, to see that nothing interferes with that.” Our main obedience is to choose to stay connected. Stay plugged in. Don’t disconnect from His love and ways in order to connect to something less.

Some days, it may be a little chaotic with a lot of decisions and noise coming in and out of the intersection. You may be navigating a lot of traffic – options and choices relating to work, family, health, relationships, all relating to your calling before God, and all intersecting at once. You may, perhaps, need to pull over for a moment. But, you may need to pause at the round-about for a brief prayer, then move forward trusting the God will direct, give wisdom, and take you through it all.

Most days, its the simple process of staying connected and moving forward. Spend that all-important quality time seeking His face in worship and His heart for strength and wisdom. Then, head out for a day of life with Him. Each round-about just requires a quick tap of the breaks, a short prayer for his wisdom, and taking the next step in the dance. Two great theologs, Henri Nouwen and Garth Brooks, remind us that life is a dance we are invited to join. And who wants to sit out when the dance is on?

The Message, a lively Bible translation by Petersen, suggests that each day is a gift for us to enjoy in a spirited interaction with God and His Word. Its not a dirge-like drudgery based on “have-to’s,” but an intoxicating, sometimes risky, dance filled with “get-to’s.” The Apostle urges the Thessalonians, “We ask you—urge is more like it—that you keep on doing what we told you to do to please God, not in a dogged religious plod, but in a living, spirited dance.”

So, today, stay connected and enter the round-abouts in your day boldly, confident that God is leading and will give you the timing, the wisdom, and the strength of heart to go through. But what if I miss a cue, or take a wrong step? Here’s something we’ve learned in Italy… there’s always another round-about to help us get back on track.

Enjoying the Dance – Rick