Eavesdropping on Someone’s Dream – God’s Story and our Narrative in 2017

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Dreams & Flashbacks

Dreams and Flashbacks are interesting narrative techniques…they are used in literature and film to provide insight into a character’s past, to open a window into their psychology and sometimes even to foreshadow events in their future.  When a book or a movie utilize these techniques, I am all in…bonus points if they come right at the beginning of the story.

A couple of my favorite examples in film and literature are the following:

  1. G.G Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude (Flashback Ch 1):                                              “MANY YEARS LATER as he faced the firing squad, Colonel Aureliano Buendía was to remember that distant afternoon when his father took him to discover ice. At that time Macondo was a village of twenty adobe houses, built on the bank of a river of clear water that ran along a bed of polished stones, which were white and enormous, like prehistoric eggs. The world was so recent that many things lacked names, and in order to indicate them it was necessary to point.”
  2. D. DuMaurier’s Rebecca (Dream Ch 1):                                                                                      “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderley again. It seemed to me that I was passing through the iron gates that led to the driveway. The drive was just a narrow track now, its stony surface covered with grass and weeds. Sometimes, when I thought I had lost it, it would appear again, beneath a fallen tree or beyond a muddy pool formed by the winter rains. The trees had thrown out new low branches which stretched across my way. I came to the house suddenly, and stood there with my heart beating fast and tears filling my eyes.”
  3. F. W. Murnau’s Der Letzte Mann (Dream/Flashback Sequence) – also called a “psychological dream” – a mix between a dream and a flashback…where we see the main character reminiscing and idealizing his past abilities and role as a hotel portier (Credit to Ted Sakowsky’s youtube channel).

Personally, I always like to listen to dreams…they are fun, creative, symbolic, and meaningful.

Recently the business insider published the excerpt of a book that detailed common themes in people’s dreams; among the most frequent dreams reported by people are 1. flying, 2.trying to find a bathroom, 3. having teeth fall of, and 4. being late, or unprepared for an exam.

In the bible, there are several occasions in which God uses dreams to speak to people.

1. In the book of Genesis we see how God uses dreams to show Joseph, the son of Jacob a glimpse of his future role as the leader of his family.  Later this gifting propels him to becoming one of the most powerful men in Egypt and through his leadership God saved the nation of Egypt, the nation of Israel, and Joseph’s brothers and father from famine.

2. During the period of Babylonian occupation of Israel, God gave Daniel – a young man who had been brought to serve in the Babylonian court – the ability to tell the king what he dreamed about and the interpretation of that dream.  This made the Babylonian king take notice of Daniel’s wisdom and understand that God was with Daniel in a special way.

3. In the New Testament God speaks to Joseph through a dream to let him know that Mary’s baby was truly conceived through the Holy Spirit..and later after Jesus was born God uses a dream to warn the three wise men about Herod’s intentions to towards Jesus (not to worship but to harm him).

I could go on an on about how God uses dreams in the lives of his children; Jacob, Paul, Solomon…

Common themes of how God uses dreams in the Bible

Just like authors have identified common themes in people’s dreams in everyday life, in the bible, we also see common themes in how God uses dreams: he uses dreams to warn people about future events, encourage and reassure people in times of uncertainty, and he also uses them to help his people understand and pursue the calling that he has for them.

An interesting example is shown in Gideon’s story  (Judges 7:12-14)

Now the Midianites and Amalekites, all the people of the East, were lying in the valley as numerous as locusts; and their camels were without number, as the sand by the seashore in multitude.
And when Gideon had come, there was a man telling a dream to his companion. He said, “I have had a dream: To my surprise, a loaf of barley bread tumbled into the camp of Midian; it came to a tent and struck it so that it fell and overturned, and the tent collapsed.”
Then his companion answered and said, “This is nothing else but the sword of Gideon the son of Joash, a man of Israel! Into his hand God has delivered Midian and the whole camp.”

This bible passage narrates how two men  Gideon and his servant Purah had sneaked into the camp of the enemy army that they were at war with.. the night before the big battle…and when they arrived at the encampment of the enemy army, they overheard a conversation between two other men..soldiers in the enemy army.  Of the soldiers told another one a weird dream that he had.  He said that in his dream…he saw a loaf of barley bread come downhill into the camp…and overturned a tent…and it collapsed.

In this story…even though Gideon was not the one who had the dream, nor was he the one who interpreted the dream, God used this dream to affirm Gideon in his calling to lead the army of Israel into victory against the Midianites…because it so happened that the dream came true; the next day Gideon and 300 Israelites came against the army of Midian and defeated them.

But before we move from this point to the future, I would like to go back in time and look at the initial information that the bible provides about Gideon’s background, because that will help us see the significance of the dream in full context…and the bible provides this information in Judges 6:2-6:
 

Flashback on Gideon’s life

Gideon was born during a time in which the people of Israel were experiencing opposition from other tribes in the region, namely the Midianites, and their allies the Amalekites.  
The Amalekites were more numerous and their strategy was to sabotage and block every activity that the Israelites did in order to sustain themselves. The insidious tactics of the midianites brought Israel to a state of poverty and despair in which they felt that they had been collectively rejected by God…(see Judges 6)

Not only was Gideon part of this group that felt rejected…he was a reject among the them…And in the midst of this, he experiences God’s calling…which is not compatible at all with how Gideon identifies as an individual, in his family, in his community and in the larger context.  Nowadays the feeling of rejection both at the societal and individual level is as prevalent as it was for Guideon and Israel during the time of Midianite occupation. This rejection is covertly or overtly exercised by denying access to a sense of adequacy and/or belonging to an individual or a group.

Gideon is a person who has experienced rejection at multiple levels and in multiple stages of his life, and many of us are no strangers to this feeling.

From the passage, it is clear that as Gideon was brought up, there was a message that was communicated to him by his family that he was the least among them…
By his community, that his family/clan was the least in the community
and the bible states clearly that the Amalekites and Midianites were bullying Israel…

So when Gideon is confronted with God’s calling, there is a conflict between what he has heard about himself all his life and who he and who God is calling him to be…and this gap/chasm is expressed in feelings of inadequacy and hesitation to believe what God says about him.

People deal with rejection differently, however we can a common threads in how rejection operates in our lives: Rejection occurs in two dimensions: externally and internally and it shapes our narrative of who we are…however, when we hear God’s calling, there is an underlying narrative of acceptance, love and support that empowers us to live our life differently.

The Process of overcoming rejection and accepting God’s narrative for our life seems to highlight key stages;

1. The Sign of the Fleece (Judges 7:36-40)

36 Then Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said, 37 behold, I am laying a fleece of wool on the threshing floor. If there is dew on the fleece alone, and it is dry on all the ground, then I shall know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you have said.” 38 And it was so. When he rose early next morning and squeezed the fleece, he wrung enough dew from the fleece to fill a bowl with water. 39 Then Gideon said to God, “Let not your anger burn against me; let me speak just once more. Please let me test just once more with the fleece. Please let it be dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground let there be dew.” 40 And God did so that night; and it was dry on the fleece only, and on all the ground there was dew.

The sign of the fleece represents an initial ‘awakening’ into a new understanding of ourselves and our circumstances.  It has three characteristics:
1. Private
2. Gradual
3. Involving a Lamb (Jesus in the bible is referred as the Lamb of God)


2. The sign of the right inner circle – Gideon’s Three Hundred Men (Judges 8)

Then Jerubbaal (that is, Gideon) and all the people who were with him rose early and encamped beside the spring of Harod. And the camp of Midian was north of them, by the hill of Moreh, in the valley.

The Lord said to Gideon, “The people with you are too many for me to give the Midianites into their hand, lest Israel boast over me, saying, ‘My own hand has saved me.’ Now therefore proclaim in the ears of the people, saying, ‘Whoever is fearful and trembling, let him return home and hurry away from Mount Gilead.’” Then 22,000 of the people returned, and 10,000 remained.
And the Lord said to Gideon, “The people are still too many. Take them down to the water, and I will test them for you there, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall go with you,’ shall go with you, and anyone of whom I say to you, ‘This one shall not go with you,’ shall not go.” So he brought the people down to the water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “Every one who laps the water with his tongue, as a dog laps, you shall set by himself. Likewise, every one who kneels down to drink.” And the number of those who lapped, putting their hands to their mouths, was 300 men, but all the rest of the people knelt down to drink water. And the Lord said to Gideon, “With the 300 men who lapped I will save you and give the Midianites into your hand, and let all the others go every man to his home.” So the people took provisions in their hands, and their trumpets. And he sent all the rest of Israel every man to his tent, but retained the 300 men. And the camp of Midian was below him in the valley.

The sign of the inner circle represents an initial evidence of who we are by those who are around us and have known us through our previous circumstances.  It has three characteristics:
1. Small Scale
2. Grass Roots
3. Involving a new confidence – not a false self-confidence but genuine confidence the calling that we have and God’s faithfulness to see us through

3. The sign of those who are outside of our ‘inner circle’ – Gideon defeats Midian (Judges 8:15)

15 As soon as Gideon heard the telling of the dream and its interpretation, he worshiped. And he returned to the camp of Israel and said, “Arise, for the Lord has given the host of Midian into your hand.” 16 And he divided the 300 men into three companies and put trumpets into the hands of all of them and empty jars, with torches inside the jars. 17 And he said to them, “Look at me, and do likewise. When I come to the outskirts of the camp, do as I do. 18 When I blow the trumpet, I and all who are with me, then blow the trumpets also on every side of all the camp and shout, ‘For the Lord and for Gideon.’”

19 So Gideon and the hundred men who were with him came to the outskirts of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, when they had just set the watch. And they blew the trumpets and smashed the jars that were in their hands. 20 Then the three companies blew the trumpets and broke the jars. They held in their left hands the torches, and in their right hands the trumpets to blow. And they cried out, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” 21 Every man stood in his place around the camp, and all the army ran. They cried out and fled. 22 When they blew the 300 trumpets, the Lord set every man’s sword against his comrade and against all the army.

The sign of those outside our inner circle represents an external confirmation of how our life has moved from the past rejection to living out the narrative of God’s love in our life.  It has three characteristics:
1. Likely occurs in a new context for us
2. Moves past the grass roots to a less immediate circle
3. Affirms our new identity and removes us from our past experience of rejection

 

As we flashback to 2016, may we tune our ears to listen to God’s dreams for our lives, and start 2017 moving past those experiences that hold us back and continuously reaching out for God’s narrative of love and acceptance in this new year.



What the heck???? A reference to Psalms and Headlines

One thing I love about the Bible is how God can speak to you over and over again using the same passage and yet showing you how it applies to your life in a new way.  Psalm 37 is a favorite psalm of mine…..I find myself coming to it whenever I seek encouragement because it speaks of the things we see on a daily basis that make us wonder; What the heck?????

It seems to me that lately, there’s a lot going on that merits that question…to make a point, let’s sample the headlines for today’s NYTimes;

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/28/nytnow/your-thursday-briefing-donald-trump-ted-cruz-facebook.html?hp&action=click&pgtype=Homepage&clickSource=story-heading&module=second-column-region&region=top-news&WT.nav=top-news&_r=0

I see 3 back-to-back WTH headlines…and there’s a lot of reason for hopelessness and frustration. 

My initial thought when I see the absurdity of some things that take place in this planet is to try to do whatever I can to make this existence a little bit better for myself and for anyone I encounter…I feel this is my calling, as a Christian and frankly, as a thinking and feeling human being.  I feel a sense of urgency about this…and there’s a tendency to accompany that sense of urgency with action.

I have a busy day and was not planning to start my day with Psalm 37…but I’m glad I took the time to meditate before my day got started.  For some reason the saying “too busy not to pray” came to mind when I thought of my long to do list and the looming deadlines…and I took the time to read the bible and pray.

I came across Psalm 37 and as I was reading through it for the nth time…the following bible verses stood out to me:

Psalm 37:18 which says; “The blameless spend their days under the Lord’s care,
                                           and their inheritance will endure forever”.

and

Psalm 37:23-24 which say;  The Lord makes firm the steps
                                              of the one who delights in him; though he may stumble, he will not fall,
                                               for the Lord upholds him with his hand.

For some reason, the image of the “hand of God” stood out to me…I did some research and saw that the word for hand in this passage in the original Hebrew is a noun used to describe direction, authority, and power.  This brought a new light into the verse because it moved the meaning of the sentence from an abstract figure of speech to a concrete directive of how God intervenes for his children..to think that God will uphold us by providing us his direction, with his power and authority…I would liken it to the ultimate TED talk; inspiring, enlightening, encouraging and empowering…inspiring us to continue to try to make a difference, to take risks, to be bold. 

The image of “inheritance” also stood out to me…that is the subject of dreams and novels; the long lost relative who leaves behind a sizable estate that propels the heir into new heights of wealth and status (and puts them on equal footing with their former nemesis who can no longer take advantage of them)….but I digress.  What does inheritance mean in this context?  There are two very powerful applications for this noun in Hebrew; the first one denotes the promised land…the second one denotes God Himself -as He called himself the inheritance for the priests in Israel.  This idea of inheritance being access to God and his promises brought to mind Paul’s words about Jesus and the setbacks that we encounter in life in Romans 8:

37 …in all these things [in previous passages Paul refers to opposition encountered and the pains of this world] we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God has given himself as an inheritance and we have the promise of his enduring love through Jesus Christ.  

Sometimes, even with our best efforts…things can still devolve into chaos..and then again we go to the good ole question: WTH????  However,  the love, acceptance, empowering guidance from God makes all the difference when WTH happens.

I am amazed at how new aspects of God’s word come to light, and how their application is hope-inducing, energizing and faith-building.

My faith in humanity might not be restored…but my faith in the calling of God empowering people to make a difference for good is.

Where did 2014 go?- Moving forward in 2015 using "Validated Learning"

 

It seems that for most people I’ve encountered lately, 2014 flew by in a flash.
Lo and behold in the blink of an eye it’s 2015 and we find ourselves reading goal-setting blogs, buying gym memberships, and feeling a mix of remorse for what was left unaccomplished in the past 12 months, and hope for what we might accomplish in the year to come.

Forbes reports that among the 40% Americans who make new year’s resolutions only 8% will be able to achieve their intended goals.
In the last 2 years, I have learned to be a bit more forgiving about my unaccomplished new years’ resolutions.  This doesn’t mean that I have been slacking off…however, perhaps through age and experience, I have come to understand two things:
1. More often than not, projects take longer than anticipated – which means that what I seek to accomplish in one year might take longer than that.
2.  There is quite a bit of pre-work involved in developing a new habit or skill which is often ignored in the goal setting process…and as the saying goes…if we fail to plan…we plan to fail.
In the bible, Jesus describes it in the following way:
If one of you is planning to build a tower, you sit down first and figure out what it will cost, to see if you have enough money to finish the job.” – Luke 14:28
  
Recently, I came across Eric Ries’ “Lean Startup”.  In it, the author highlights a process for managing innovation in organizations.  One of Ries’ main contributions is the insight that due to the fact that innovative ventures are qualitative different that traditional manufacturing ventures, innovation-related activities should be evaluated and managed differently.  The “Lean Startup” is a coherent framework to approach innovation in organizations and I suggest it might have valuable insights for our goal setting process for 2015.
  
This framework can provide a useful tool in the preparation and execution stages of our goals; if we conceptualize our new years’ resolutions (or any goal in our life) as an innovative activity, we can apply concepts such as “validated learning” and “minimum viable product” to our initial execution process.  This will give us a robust method to self-evaluate, giving us a more positive outlook and hopefully bringing up the resolution’ success ratio for this year’s Forbes report 🙂  
Below, you can find my summary of the book.  God bless!
Lean Startup – Key Concepts/Takeaways
Scientific Management 2.0
Ries proposes a scientific approach to innovation management akin to Taylor’s contribution to general management through his scientific (productivity) management theory, which emerged at the turn of XX century.
Just like the absence of a framework supporting managerial practices created an opportunity for wasted human resources and curtailed productivity in the industrial sector of Taylor’s time, Ries’ postulates that due to the absence of “a coherent paradigm for new innovative ventures, we are throwing our excess capacity with abandon” (pg. 18).
Ries’ highlights the qualitative difference of innovative ventures vis-à-vis traditional productive ventures in organization:
Traditional productive ventures:
·       Focus on manufacturing and marketing an existing product (measured by production)
·       Create sales revenue by controlling production and marketing costs (measured by inventory)
·       Seek to maximize sales and profit margin (measured by revenue)
Innovative Ventures:
·       Focus on moving from vision of a product or service to a concrete concept
·       Establish the boundaries of the initial investment/infrastructure required
·       Develop a new product/service
·       Engage in traditional productive ventures for the new product/service (outlined above)
Ries defines entrepreneurship as management; those who manage and engage in innovation activities are “intrapreneurs (those working inside an established organization) /entrepreneurs” operating in the context of a “human institution designed to create a new product or service under the conditions of extreme uncertainty” (a start-up/ pg.27).
Traditional Manufacturing vs. Innovation Ventures:
Ries’ Framework
Since innovative ventures are qualitative distinct from traditional product manufacturing ventures, there should be different accounting currency to manage these ventures, namely; innovation accounting.  The Lean Startup provides a framework for accounting in the early stages of innovation management.
Innovation Accounting
In order to move from vision to concept formulation and to minimize the risk in moving towards an investment in infrastructure we need:
1.     A minimum viable product (MVP) that provides baseline metrics on which we test our assumptions
(Assumptions consist of a value hypothesis and a growth hypothesis)
2.     A mechanism to integrate feedback learnt through user experience
3.     A strategy to pivot or persevere towards a final product
The milestones in these three stages are measured using validated learning.
 The concept of validated learning and its application is illustrated through IMVU’s case study.  The original idea of IMVU’s product development was to create a 3D IM environment that would enable users to integrate across platforms with existing IM applications/contacts. 
The assumptions were that users would find value in interacting using 3D avatars and that viral growth would occur through the individual’s social network (calculated using Metcalfe’s law).  The MVP version of IMVU was released to users and optimized based on their feedback.  However, after the initial round of optimization there were no improvements in the diffusion of the product across users.  The feedback-optimization process occurred a couple of times before the production team realized that the underlying assumptions were inaccurate and thus, the optimizations were ineffective.
1.     Users did not want to integrate IMVU with existing contacts (growth hypothesis was inaccurate)
2.     Users were not ready to pay for IM service that was analogous to other IM services (value hypothesis was inaccurate)
The case study illustrates the difference between optimization and validated learning.  Unlike optimization (utilizing consumer feedback to building existing assumptions), validated learning uses customer feedback in a grounded approach, to test the underlying assumptions in terms of growth and value hypotheses that yield “evidence that a sustainable business can be built around its products or services” (pg. 126).
The outcome of the validated learning is therefore measurable by being actionable, accessible and auditable.  Furthermore, it relies on actionable metrics that explain steps ahead and use more precise methodology such as cohort analysis vs. vanity metrics that rationalize failure and use totals.
Recommendations
Small Batches – Ries recommends to release MVPs in small batches targeting early adopters for feedback; this creates a quick turnaround for the feedback loop to iterate.
Stagewise Progression for feedback validation using split-test methods – Ries recommends to integrate consumer feedback systematically from backlog to validation.  Feedback items in the progression should be limited to a maximum of three in each stage, and they should not be considered complete until they had been validated through split-testing.  This provides a systematic way of integrating customer feedback for validated learning.

BibleBeans Readings for March 24th, 2014

In this post, we look at Jesus’ commandment to love our enemies…which is not an easy task.
We look at the biblical example of Joseph’s life, who managed to love his brothers who sold him to slavery.
Joseph provides us with key insights into how we can overcome our initial impulse to engage in a ‘zero sum game’ against other people by trusting God.

BibleBeans Vlog Video for March 11, 2014

The Vlog for March 11th looks at the story of Pilate’s first encounter with Jesus. 
Jesus stayed silent in light of the outrageous accusations leveled against him by members of the Sanhedrin.  Pilate probably expected him to react by vocally defending himself, however Jesus did the opposite…and this was powerful.  God’s word is powerful, however, so is his silence.
Link to watch:

Hey there 2014….A brief post welcoming the new year

This week I made a crazy realization… I did not write a single blog-post during 2013.  Is it just me or was last year a super-short year????

It seems like it was just yesterday that I was celebrating New Year’s Eve 2012-13 with one of my closest childhood friends who had just shared the news of her engagement.

When she told us that her plans were to get married beginning of 2014,  I remember thinking it would take forever for that day to come…and now the day came and went.  I just returned to from her AMAZING wedding.

The happy couple at the amazing wedding 🙂

Personally, I found 2013 to be underwhelming, and perhaps therein lies the reason for its perceived brevity. When I look back, I will think of 2013 as a “gap year”…

2013 in Retrospect

Just like almost every year in my adulthood, I began 2013 with a bunch of goals, well-crafted, SMART goals…however, this year was exceptional; I did not realize most my goals, and the ones I realized -albeit major (finally got my PhD)- turned out to be underwhelming.

Since 2013 went by so fast, I did not have time to prepare any goals for 2014, but to my surprise the year has been unexpectedly great…and to my dismay neither my planning nor goal-setting skills (or lack thereof) have played a role in it.

2014, what next?

So far, 2014 has been great mainly because of 3 things;
1. I welcomed the year in El Salvador, my home country, spending time with my sister, childhood friends and family (whom I hadn’t seen in over 10 years).
2. I saw my friend get married to the love of her life.
3. I spent the first Sunday of the year listening to an encouraging sermon at the largest church in Latin America.

Normal people would be thrilled about this, right?  They would think of it as “starting the year on a good note”… But it turns out, I’m not the most normal case (no surprise here), and instead of feeling hopeful about all the excitement ushered in by 2014, I get this sense of dread…”What if this is the highlight of my year? What if I do not experience anything better for the rest of the year?”

The combined experiences of 2013 and 2014 (so far) left me with some valuable realizations:  

1. Most of the plans we make (including new years’ resolutions) will take longer than expected…regardless of how S.M.A.R.T. our goals and resolutions are. 
 2.. It is not just bad things,  good things also happen unexpectedly and all we can do is be mentally prepared to make the best of any situation.
3. New years resolutions and goal setting at the beginning of a year will NOT ALWAYS bring us closer to our life-goals, but surrounding ourselves with the right people might WILL ALWAYS make the process a lot smoother (shout-out to my friends).
4. A sense of humor makes good situations better and bad situations less painful.

In the end, I can say that the fact that 2014 has taught me such valuable lessons in such a short time is a good sign…regardless of what the rest of the year may bring…no need to dread.

May both the goal-setters, and the laissez -faire inclined among us have a great 2014.

God bless.

I have seen something else under the sun:
The race is not to the swift
    or the battle to the strong,
nor does food come to the wise
    or wealth to the brilliant
    or favor to the learned;
but time and chance happen to them all.”  

Ecclesiastes 9:11 (NIV)