Monday, May 18, 2015

The Wonder of a Pencil

I love this quote:  G. K. Chesterton observed, "We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders." 

Since starting my MBA in Sustainable Development two years ago, I have run across the essay called, "I, Pencil" a number of times and have grown to appreciate it more and more.  It is the story of the family tree of a Pencil and points to the creativity and complexity of a simple pencil.  Have you ever wondered about a pencil?  Have you ever seen it as a complex thing?  If you are like me, probably not.  Yet, this pencil claims that not a single person on this earth is able to make it.  If you are lacking wonder today, I encourage you to watch the brief video or read the essay, both of which can be found below.  What is exciting to me is that it points to God - and the essayist, Leonard Read (who wrote this in 1958) also saw that.  He says, "Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me (referring to the pencil). Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree." 

This is one of the reasons that I love doing what I do.  I get to see the creativity of man across nations using the resources that God has give to create goods and services that allow individuals and communities to flourish! And it is an amazing thing. 

I, Pencil
My Family Tree as told to Leonard E. Read

I am a lead pencil—the ordinary wooden pencil familiar to all boys and girls and adults who can read and write.  Writing is both my vocation and my avocation; that's all I do. You may wonder why I should write a genealogy.  Well, to begin with, my story is interesting.  And, next, I am a mystery - more so that a tree or a sunset or even a flash of lightning.  But, sadly, I am taken for granted by those who use me, as if I were a mere incident and without background.  This supercilious attitude relegates me to the level of the commonplace.  This is a species of the grievous error in which mankind cannot too long persist without peril.  For the wise G.K. Chesterton observed, "We are perishing for want of wonder, not for want of wonders."  I, Pencil, simple though I appear to be, merit your wonder and awe, a claim I shall attempt to prove.  In fact, if you can understand me - no, that's too much to ask of anyone - if you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing.  I have a profound lesson to teach.  And I can teach this lesson better than can an automobile or an airplane or a mechanical dishwasher because - well, because I am seemingly so simple.

Simple?  Yet, not a single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me.  This sounds fantastic, doesn't it?  Especially when it is realized that there are about one and one-half billion of my kind produced in the USA each year.

Pick me up and look me over.  What do you see?  Not much meets the eye - there's some wood, lacquer, the printed labeling, graphite lead, a bit of metal, and an eraser.

Innumerable Antecedents
Just as you cannot trace your family tree back very far, so is it impossible for me to name and explain all my antecedents. But I would like to suggest enough of them to impress upon you the richness and complexity of my background.  My family tree begins with what in fact is a tree, a cedar of straight grain that grows in Northern California and Oregon. Now contemplate all the saws and trucks and rope and the countless other gear used in harvesting and carting the cedar logs to the railroad siding. Think of all the persons and the numberless skills that went into their fabrication: the mining of ore, the making of steel and its refinement into saws, axes, motors; the growing of hemp and bringing it through all the stages to heavy and strong rope; the logging camps with their beds and mess halls, the cookery and the raising of all the foods. Why, untold thousands of persons had a hand in every cup of coffee the loggers drink! The logs are shipped to a mill in San Leandro, California. Can you imagine the individuals who make flat cars and rails and railroad engines and who construct and install the communication systems incidental thereto? These legions are among my antecedents. 

Consider the millwork in San Leandro. The cedar logs are cut into small, pencil-length slats less than one-fourth of an inch in thickness. These are kiln dried and then tinted for the same reason women put rouge on their faces. People prefer that I look pretty, not a pallid white. The slats are waxed and kiln dried again. How many skills went into the making of the tint and the kilns, into supplying the heat, the light and power, the belts, motors, and all the other things a mill requires? Sweepers in the mill among my ancestors? Yes, and included are the men who poured the concrete for the dam of a Pacific Gas & Electric Company hydroplant which supplies the mill's power! Don't overlook the ancestors present and distant who have a hand in transporting sixty carloads of slats across the nation.

Once in the pencil factory—$4,000,000 in machinery and building, all capital accumulated by thrifty and saving parents of mine—each slat is given eight grooves by a complex machine, after which another machine lays leads in every other slat, applies glue, and places another slat atop—a lead sandwich, so to speak. Seven brothers and I are mechanically carved from this "wood-clinched" sandwich.

My "lead" itself—it contains no lead at all—is complex. The graphite is mined in Ceylon. Consider these miners and those who make their many tools and the makers of the paper sacks in which the graphite is shipped and those who make the string that ties the sacks and those who put them aboard ships and those who make the ships. Even the lighthouse keepers along the way assisted in my birth—and the harbor pilots. The graphite is mixed with clay from Mississippi in which ammonium hydroxide is used in the refining process. Then wetting agents are added such as sulfonated tallow—animal fats chemically reacted with sulfuric acid. After passing through numerous machines, the mixture finally appears as endless extrusions—as from a sausage grinder-cut to size, dried, and baked for several hours at 1,850 degrees Fahrenheit. To increase their strength and smoothness the leads are then treated with a hot mixture which includes candelilla wax from Mexico, paraffin wax, and hydrogenated natural fats.

My cedar receives six coats of lacquer. Do you know all the ingredients of lacquer? Who would think that the growers of castor beans and the refiners of castor oil are a part of it? They are. Why, even the processes by which the lacquer is made a beautiful yellow involve the skills of more persons than one can enumerate.  Observe the labeling. That's a film formed by applying heat to carbon black mixed with resins. How do you make resins and what, pray, is carbon black?

My bit of metal—the ferrule—is brass. Think of all the persons who mine zinc and copper and those who have the skills to make shiny sheet brass from these products of nature. Those black rings on my ferrule are black nickel. What is black nickel and how is it applied? The complete story of why the center of my ferrule has no black nickel on it would take pages to explain.

Then there's my crowning glory, inelegantly referred to in the trade as "the plug," the part man uses to erase the errors he makes with me. An ingredient called "factice" is what does the erasing. It is a rubber-like product made by reacting rape-seed oil from the Dutch East Indies with sulfur chloride. Rubber, contrary to the common notion, is only for binding purposes. Then, too, there are numerous vulcanizing and accelerating agents. The pumice comes from Italy; and the pigment which gives "the plug" its color is cadmium sulfide.

No-One Knows
Does anyone wish to challenge my earlier assertion that no single person on the face of this earth knows how to make me?

Actually, millions of human beings have had a hand in my creation, no one of whom even knows more than a very few of the others. Now, you may say that I go too far in relating the picker of a coffee berry in far off Brazil and food growers elsewhere to my creation; that this is an extreme position. I shall stand by my claim. There isn't a single person in all these millions, including the president of the pencil company, who contributes more than a tiny, infinitesimal bit of know-how. From the standpoint of know-how the only difference between the miner of graphite in Ceylon and the logger in Oregon is in the type of know-how. Neither the miner nor the logger can be dispensed with, any more than can the chemist at the factory or the worker in the oil field—paraffin being a by-product of petroleum.

Here is an astounding fact: Neither the worker in the oil field nor the chemist nor the digger of graphite or clay nor any who mans or makes the ships or trains or trucks nor the one who runs the machine that does the knurling on my bit of metal nor the president of the company performs his singular task because he wants me. Each one wants me less, perhaps, than does a child in the first grade. Indeed, there are some among this vast multitude who never saw a pencil nor would they know how to use one. Their motivation is other than me. Perhaps it is something like this: Each of these millions sees that he can thus exchange his tiny know-how for the goods and services he needs or wants. I may or may not be among these items. 

No Master Mind
There is a fact still more astounding: the absence of a master mind, of anyone dictating or forcibly directing these countless actions which bring me into being. No trace of such a person can be found. Instead, we find the Invisible Hand at work. This is the mystery to which I earlier referred. It has been said that "only God can make a tree." Why do we agree with this? Isn't it because we realize that we ourselves could not make one? Indeed, can we even describe a tree? We cannot, except in superficial terms. We can say, for instance, that a certain molecular configuration manifests itself as a tree. But what mind is there among men that could even record, let alone direct, the constant changes in molecules that transpire in the life span of a tree? Such a feat is utterly unthinkable!

I, Pencil, am a complex combination of miracles: a tree, zinc, copper, graphite, and so on. But to these miracles which manifest themselves in Nature an even more extraordinary miracle has been added: the configuration of creative human energies—millions of tiny know-hows configurating naturally and spontaneously in response to human necessity and desire and in the absence of any human master-minding! Since only God can make a tree, I insist that only God could make me. Man can no more direct these millions of know-hows to bring me into being than he can put molecules together to create a tree.

The above is what I meant when writing, "If you can become aware of the miraculousness which I symbolize, you can help save the freedom mankind is so unhappily losing." For, if one is aware that these know-hows will naturally, yes, automatically, arrange themselves into creative and productive patterns in response to human necessity and demand—that is, in the absence of governmental or any other coercive masterminding—then one will possess an absolutely essential ingredient for freedom: a faith in free people. Freedom is impossible without this faith.

Once government has had a monopoly of a creative activity such, for instance, as the delivery of the mails, most individuals will believe that the mails could not be efficiently delivered by men acting freely. And here is the reason: Each one acknowledges that he himself doesn't know how to do all the things incident to mail delivery. He also recognizes that no other individual could do it. These assumptions are correct. No individual possesses enough know-how to perform a nation's mail delivery any more than any individual possesses enough know-how to make a pencil. Now, in the absence of faith in free people—in the unawareness that millions of tiny know-hows would naturally and miraculously form and cooperate to satisfy this necessity—the individual cannot help but reach the erroneous conclusion that mail can be delivered only by governmental "master-minding."

Testimony Galore
If I, Pencil, were the only item that could offer testimony on what men and women can accomplish when free to try, then those with little faith would have a fair case. However, there is testimony galore; it's all about us and on every hand. Mail delivery is exceedingly simple when compared, for instance, to the making of an automobile or a calculating machine or a grain combine or a milling machine or to tens of thousands of other things. Delivery? Why, in this area where men have been left free to try, they deliver the human voice around the world in less than one second; they deliver an event visually and in motion to any person's home when it is happening; they deliver 150 passengers from Seattle to Baltimore in less than four hours; they deliver gas from Texas to one's range or furnace in New York at unbelievably low rates and without subsidy; they deliver each four pounds of oil from the Persian Gulf to our Eastern Seaboard—halfway around the world—for less money than the government charges for delivering a one-ounce letter across the street!

The lesson I have to teach is this: Leave all creative energies uninhibited. Merely organize society to act in harmony with this lesson. Let society's legal apparatus remove all obstacles the best it can. Permit these creative know-hows freely to flow. Have faith that free men and women will respond to the Invisible Hand. This faith will be confirmed. I, Pencil, seemingly simple though I am, offer the miracle of my creation as testimony that this is a practical faith, as practical as the sun, the rain, a cedar tree, the good earth.

Leonard E. Read (1898-1983) founded FEE in 1946 and served as its president until his death.

"I, Pencil," his most famous essay, was first published in the December 1958 issue of The Freeman. Although a few of the manufacturing details and place names have changed over the past forty years, the principles are unchanged.

[I have two more classes left in my MBA in Sustainable Development, then my thesis.  I won't be done by June as I had hoped but I continue to make progress!]

Monday, May 11, 2015

An ICM Announcement

Friday, May 8, 2015

Dear Family and Friends,

I am writing to you from Bakersfield, CA where the office of the International Christian Ministries (ICM) USA is located.  This is my third time in this city since joining ICM two years ago.  I'm writing to let you know that I was asked to take the position of Executive Director of ICM, and after a period of prayer and consideration with wise brothers and sisters in Christ, I have decided to accept that appointment.

So what does that mean?  Good question.

But let me first share about what it does NOT mean:

For those with whom I've shared with information, the first response has been, "So that means you won't be working in Africa as much."  No, it does NOT mean that.  This position does not affect anything in terms of my current work.  I will continue the work of Discipling Marketplace Leaders (DML) as I ave been doing.  It does not affect the launching of DML in Egypt and in Ghana in June.  It does not affect the work on the book that I am doing.  I will still be traveling as much as I have been and probably more, both domestically and internationally.

The second response that I have received is, "So this means you don't need to raise your own support." No, it does NOT mean that either.  It does not change anything regarding my funding needs.  All staff of ICM USA have to raise 100% of their support, including executive staff.  So I do not need less funding with this appointment - I actually will need more, as I now need to fly to Bakersfield CA on a quarterly basis to spend time in the office, with the Board of Directors,the staff, and to meet with people in this area of the US.

That is what it does not mean.  Here is a bit of what it DOES mean:

The negative way to look at it would be to say, "Hmmmm...This sounds like there will be more work and responsibility, when your plate is already full.  Additionally there is no more money or increase in salary - you actually have to raise more when you are already, what is the point?  Glad you asked.

First, I will be able to use the gifts and talents that God has given me to work with this organization at a critical time.  ICM USA is thirty years old and is undergoing some transitions. They seem to think I can assist in this.  I happen to be a firm believer not only in the work of ICM, but also the way in which it is done.  I have become the Executive Director of ICM USA.  I am not the Executive Director of all the countries where ICM works  .  That is because ICM is independently run in each country.  ICM is composed of an International Council, of which ICM USA holds only two seats, just like every other ICM participant country (Members of the International Council are Ghana, Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Burundi, DR Congo, and Canada; strategic partners include Egypt, Liberia, and South Africa).  That is crucial for true development to occur with partner countries, partnering shoulder to shoulder.  I love that about ICM!  ICM is also about building the Global Church.  ICM looks at this work holistically, which includes Discipling Marketplace Leaders.  I believe two years ago that God called me to help building His Church by renewing its mission to the marketplace.  If I can contribute to that through this position, than I am honored and humbled.

Second, once the book and my masters are completed, which will hopefully be this year, I will have more time freed up Stateside to do this work.  The job of Executive Director can be done remotely, from Grand Rapids or Kenya or Egypt or Ghana.  Fortunately the central office is quite efficient and supportive, which makes this possible.  Dr. Phil Walker is a visionary leader, and he remains President of ICM giving me the opportunity to work closely alongside him.

Third, and most importantly, the callings of God on my life have NEVER made mathematical sense from a human perspective.  They have never been logical from a "this is good for me and my financial future" perspective.  Moving to the inner city, Bob losing his job at Calvin so Hannah and Noah could go to the neighborhood school instead of a Christian school, moving to Africa, leaving Partners Worldwide, and so on - almost every life or calling related decision has been questioned by people asking "how sane is it?"  In fact, such questioning has almost become the standard for me to know that I am on the right track.  [Just kidding.]  One of Bob's and my favorite verses comes from 1 Corinthians 15:19 which reads: "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."  We are to be pitied because we made decisions that were contrary to what the world would say is good or wise or prudent because we believe in Christ and his resurrection.  I remember Bob preaching a message on whether or not we are living pitiable lives.  I believe, and have seen, that God will provide for His children when they seek to do His will and serve Him with their lives.  So I am going forward with confidence in that thought.

Will you join me in prayer for these new responsibilities?  I am naturally nervous about this - both in terms of my being up for the task, as well as having the time and energy necessary to rise to the challenge.

I continue to value and appreciate the body of Christ as it works together to fulfill the calling of the Church.  Thank you for joining me.


Monday, May 4, 2015

The Walking Dead and my silent retreat

Michael and my son, Noah, like the series called The Walking Dead.  If you haven't heard of it or watched it, it's about a disease that causes everyone who dies to come back from death, within minutes, as a zombie.  These zombies have only one thing on their minds:  to eat other living things. The only thing that can kill a zombie is an injury to the head; if you shoot them in the heart, they won't die; if you chop off a leg, they won't die.  Only an injury to the head will finally kill a zombie.  Michael says he likes the show because it reveals the struggle of morality in man, when government and the rule of law are removed; when survival of the fittest becomes the order of the day; and when people have to decide for themselves between right and wrong.  He introduced me to my first show about a month ago and we have had several discussions about how we would have behaved if we were in the same circumstances.

I just returned from a silent retreat, where I focused on Colossians 3, especially verse three which says, "For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ, in God."  As I reflected on this verse, I understood at a deep level what it meant for me.  Renita died in 1995 when Christ came alive to me.  My life changed course dramatically at that time, and it has not been at all what I anticipated, planned, or could have worked out on my own.  In fact, my life was no longer my own.  It was hidden in God, with Christ, as I sought to do His will and His work.  The Heidelberg Catechism says, "I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death to my faithful savior, Jesus Christ."  As I look back on the last twenty years, I can see how that transpired in many ways.

But unfortunately, just as in The Walking Dead, I don't remain dead.  The earlier verse in Colossians 3 says, "Set your mind on things above, not on earthly things" (verse 2).  In this verse, I realized that sometimes, I (Renita) come back to life, and as much as I hate to admit it, I can behave like a zombie.  When I take my mind off things above, I begin to behave like a savage, devouring what is in my path:  impatient, self-sufficient, driven, self-important.

Verse 5-8 tells us what we need to do about that:  "Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry...rid yourselves of all such things as these:  anger, rage, malice slander, and filthy language from your lips."  Most of these things that need to be put to death take place in our heads - at least, that is where they start.  Usually before we actually sin, there are probably twenty or thirty or forty steps that we mentally take to make it to that point; at any of those steps we could change course.  So, for example,  I could cut off my hand if it causes me to sin through stealing - but the real problem of stealing starts in my head, through coveting or greed.  Same with a zombie.  It's in the head.

Getting our minds set on things above is not a one-time thing.  This is not something you do at the point of conversion and not have to worry about again.  We have to continually choose to do it.  We have to be on guard.  We have to be alert.  We have to be prepared.  We have to be willing to fight.  The verse says, "put to death."  Those are fighting words.

I certainly don't want to think that I resemble those gory, disgusting zombies.  (And by the way, I am not in any way recommending this show - just using it in the analogy to Colossians 3:3.)  But the truth is that sometimes I do.  I don't employ my mind.  I let myself drift.  Renita comes back to life for periods of time before I even realize it. 

Thankfully we are given the tools to do this, through the Holy Spirit.  Thankfully, there is forgiveness when we do lose our way.  But I can't rest in that.  Paul says that being forgiven is not license to sin.  I need to be intentional. And we need each other.  So, if you see me acting as a zombie, feel free to do something about it to help me out!