Monday, June 30, 2014

Aggregate football (soccer)

When you follow a blog,you tend to hear what is mulling around in the brain of the writer.  So typically for me it is issues relating to the work in Kenya (development and church growth), family or faith.  Of late, it has been wedding and health.  And every now and then the economics classes that I am taking make an appearance.

The last couple of weeks have found much of the world focused on Brazil as the FIFA World Cup is in progress.  To my surprise, even the US seems to be paying a bit more attention to this series as well.  My living room had been the source of competing allegiances especially during the Ghana/USA game (you guessed it - my children and I rooted for Ghana!).  In my weekly staff meeting this past week with Kitale, Jeff Bloem pointed me to an article on how development economists have ascertained how to determine who to cheer for based on aggregate happiness.  The article at first made me smile as I thought, really?  Economists even have something to say about who to cheer for in FIFA?  But the answer makes sense.

The idea is taken from a utilitarian principle (making decisions based on usefulness), that we would choose a team (assuming our own country is not in or has been eliminated) that would bring the most amount of happiness. They did this by studying three variables:  population, passion for football (soccer), and poverty.  Population makes sense - the higher the population, the more happiness simply due to the sheer volume of people.  The passion for football also makes sense - the more passionate, the greater the amount of happiness as well.  In much of the world, football is the most important sport; in each country in Africa where we have lived, people (men in particular) following football leagues year round.  But why poverty?  Why include that variable?  The economist explains by saying, "First, happiness and wealth are correlated, and all else being equal, a utilitarian would prefer to help the person who is worst off. Second, the wealthy have more outlets for dealing with sports disappointments — such as going out to a nice meal — and can bounce back faster." (

I finished a paper this past week on the book Modern Economic Issues where the author concluded by reflecting on whether or not changing economic policies to allow for greater distribution of wealth can actually have a positive impact on people - will it make people happier.  Which then begs the question, what causes happiness?  Certainly the happiness in winning a FIFA title is temporary- so what brings long term happiness?  We know that money can't buy happiness, so raising income levels too will bring temporary happiness, until people settle into their new income range.   I love the fact that research (from both scientists and people of faith) tell us that true happiness is found when we find meaning in our lives outside of ourselves.  In fact the Dalai Lama says, “We are visitors on this planet. We are here for ninety or one hundred years at the very most. During that period, we must try to do something good, something useful, with our lives. If you contribute to other people’s happiness, you will find the true goal, the true meaning of life.”  Finding happiness outside of ourselves - not the popular themes of finding happiness by "looking inside yourself" or navel gazing...but finding it outside of yourself by contributing.  For most of us, that happens in our place of work and this confirms the work that we do with Marketplace Ministry - helping people find their sense of calling within their work.  True joy and contentment comes when we discover what we were created to do, as sons and daughters made in the image of God, serving as He has designed.

Unfortunately, both Kenya and Nigeria, two countries who have high levels of poverty and high levels of passion for football, were told not to watch the football games in public places due to threats from Islamist militant groups performing terrorist acts in group settings.   In Kenya, groups watching the game were actually attacked and killed.  In most African countries where I live, people don't watch these games independently in their own living rooms; they watch in large groups settings, often with a very small TV.  The social aspect of this is so very important, which makes this all the more sad.

Unfortunately, Ghana is out but Nigeria, Mexico and Brazil are still in, so if you haven't picked a team yet, consider one of these!

And now a few more random wedding pictures...because...well, that's still where my brain is.  :)  This week's pictures are of family; next week, pictures of friends.

My daughter, Hannah, the maid of honor.
My son, Noah, walked me down the aisle...then negotiated the bride price. :)
The groomsmen...a little jump of joy! L to R, Noah, Michel, Michael, Benjamin, Jonathan

Noah...always loving his suit and ties!  Oh yeah...and his mom!
L to R, my Mom, Hannah, me, Michael's mom, Michael's sister Mary Ellen
The Kranenburg clan (L to R):  Janette and Dale VanderVeen, Liz and Rob Bronsveld, Mom, Renita and Michael, Brian and Yvonne Schenk, Henry and Marnie Kranenburg, Karin Kranenburg
 Oh, and by the way, in case you weren't at the reception: from the last picture, my one and only brother Henry, during the toast at the reception, gave the bride price that Noah had negotiated back to Michael, stating, "I know my sister well....let me give this back to you."  This, of course, brought a round of laughter from everyone.  Michael didn't miss a beat, said he knew the value of his bride, and gave the money back to Noah and this time added his credit cards and debit cards.  Noah then, didn't miss a beat, and turned right around to head out the door to do some shopping!  A bit of humor that added to the fun of the day.

Monday, June 16, 2014

Pictures from the Wedding

We just returned to Grand Rapids and have received a few pictures from our photographer that we thought we would share with you.  We are so thankful for all the family and friends who showed their support to us during our courtship and wedding!  We were amazed and humbled at how many people traveled great distances to celebrate with us - from Ghana, West Africa; from California, Boston, Iowa, Indiana, and Illinois; and from many places in Canada, such as Thunder Bay, Toronto, Niagara, Chatham, Hamilton, and Georgetown. [Some people said this was a Canadian wedding because there were so many Canadians present!]

Lighting the unity candle
The Happy Couple :)
(L to R) Noah, Hannah, Michael, Renita, Jonathan, Benjamin, Mary Ellen (Michael's sister), Michel (Michael's brother-in-law)

Our cake also had two chocolate computers on the top, one reading "Dear Michael" and the other reading "Dear Renita."

Ah yes.  Live long and prosper.  This is what you do when your new spouse and your children and the photographer are all Trekkies!

Monday, June 2, 2014

Proof texting

This week Saturday, June 7, I will marry Michael Thomson.  Family and friends will begin arriving on Wednesday.  Lots of busy plans.  Lots of activity.

Today, Monday June 2, Michael will go to the hospital for a heart catheterization test due to chest pains that have not gone away, have actually increased, and seem to be responding to nitroglycerin which may indicate a heart problem.  Not a fun thing to go through at any time, let alone five days before your wedding.  We are asking for your prayers that nothing major will be found and that the doctors may begin to look elsewhere for the root of his chest pain. 

In many, many ways, my world is changing.  In many, many ways, that is scary.  I was pretty down last week and have to admit that I spent a few days in self-pity mode, feeling overwhelmed.  Thanks to the prayers of some dear friends, I was able to snap out of it and find joy again despite the challenges and stresses.  There is great joy in our upcoming marriage, despite the stresses of the wedding, changing roles, and the health issues.  Keeping my eyes focused on the big picture as opposed to the little ways my world is changing is important. 

One specific way that my world has changed is that I am entering the world of publishing with a theological press.  As Michael is an acquisitions editor for Eerdmans, I am discovering a whole new language relating to biblical studies and theology.  Some of our social time is spent with authors.  Sometimes Michael and a given author will speak a language that is somewhat foreign to me. I recently accompanied Michael to a conference that focused Patristics (early Christian history and thought that pertain to early Christian writers often referred to as the "Church Fathers."  I also accompanied him to a conference in Medieval studies.  Some of the debates that take place among academics on these topics are interesting to me.  However, I have to admit that not all of them are.

One term that has come up in some of these conversations that especially caught my attention recently is "prooftexting."

Theopedia defines proof texting as follows:
Proof texting is the method by which a person appeals to a biblical text to prove or justify a theological position without regard for the context of the passage they are citing. At its worst, for example, "theologian A claims to have a more 'biblical' theology than theologian B, based upon counting up verse in parentheses (on a random page from each work) and claiming to have three times as many."
If you think about it, pretty much any position that you want to take on any issue can be supported by Biblical texts.  You find your "proof" and therefore you believe you have an answer.  You must be right because it is in the Bible.  The challenge comes in, of course, when people with opposing views are quoting Scripture to each other without any attempt to learn, meet, understand, grow, or discern from the Holy Spirit.  People who rely on proof texting their point of view often feel a need to live in a world that is black and white - where right and wrong are obvious.  Unfortunately, most of the world is not black and white. While it may feel more secure to believe in an absolute right and wrong on every issue, it quickly becomes more apparent that it is more comfortable to the person applying the text than to the person to whom the text is being applied.

I recently was on the receiving end of someone's proof texting, which is what piqued my curiosity into the concept.  Trying to explore the meaning of a Biblical passage with those who proof text seems to cause them to dig their heels in a bit deeper. It's as if my attempt to take a closer look at the meaning and context of a passage was perceived as an attempt to sweep the "plain meaning" aside, making me doubly guilty.  Not only was I sweeping the plain meaning of the Bible under the carpet, I was seen as rationalizing, using the Bible to "justify" my position.  They claimed the moral high ground by simply stating that "that is what the Bible says."

After facing this confrontation, I had the opportunity to listen to a sermon preached by Michael's brother-in-law, Michel Belzile at his church in Oakville, Ontario.  His church is going through a book called Prodigal Christianity (by David E. Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw) and he was preaching that Sunday on Prodigal relationships, focusing on 1 Corinthians 5.  I have heard Christians use this verse as a reason to shun other Christians whom they have judged to be immoral.  Verse 9-10 says, "I have written you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people-- not at all meaning the people of this world who are immoral, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters. In that case you would have to leave this world."  Hmmm...there is the proof in that text that we are to shun those who are sexually immoral - not those who aren't brothers and sisters but those who are.  But wait...the text goes on... 11 But now I am writing you that you must not associate with anyone who calls himself a brother but is sexually immoral or greedy, an idolater or a slanderer, a drunkard or a swindler.  Don't even eat with such people.

Well, now.  That is a little more difficult.  I shouldn't associate with anyone who is greedy?  an idolater?  a slanderer?  Suddenly my world could get pretty small.  There would be few left in the Church that I might yet associate with (or truly, who might be able to associate with me).  How do I decided who is greedy?  Is owning two cars greedy?  Two TVs?  A winter home and a summer home?  And what is idolatry - the idolatry of comfort?  of self-righteousness?  of pride?  Suddenly what looked so black and white was no longer black and white.  Michel did a great job of looking at the cultural times of this text, who wrote it and to whom it was written, and how does this text line up with other texts written by the same author (Paul in this case) which apparently contradict this very text (like 2 Corinthians 2:5-8 where the offender must be forgiven and the love must be reaffirmed again) or the words of Jesus in Matthew 7 which tell us not to judge, lest we be judged. 

His message was a great example of how to wrestle with a text, how to struggle with it; how to not to rush to a conclusion to ease our own minds or hearts or less charitably to stand over others in judgement.  It was refreshing to hear a pastor struggle and wrestle with this, at a time when I was wrestling as well in terms of being a recipient of proof texting.  [Here is the link to his message if you wish to hear it, used with his permission:]

And so part of my new world is acquiring a new language relating to theology, debating issues relating to Scripture, and recognizing how little I know.  New worlds are not always comfortable.  They don't always feel safe.  But when you believe that God has called you to them, there is no safer place to be.  And He promises to be there.

This week begins a number of new worlds for me.  I can't wait to marry Michael and to enter these new worlds, even if there is some fear and trembling.  I can't wait to see what God has for both of us as we learn from each other and from Him.  Next week, I will be Renita Reed-Thomson.  A whole new world.