Friday, April 15, 2016

Notes from a Changing Culture

Note: this was written a month ago. We are now in America, walking through culture shock and the dramatic difference between our two cultures!

I love relaxed Sunday afternoons, especially ones like today where it's rainy and cool and we all managed to nap together, snuggled and close in the AC room. I feel this baby kick and roll and I marvel at Elly's tousled curls and Judah's steady even sleeping breath and am so thankful for all of this, for the beauty of family, and Sabbath, and worship.

It has been a fun weekend, full of surprises as life here usually is, but it is nice to feel like we roll with the punches without feeling quite as overwhelmed as we once did. We came home today to find a bird flying around the house. We don't know where it got in, but however it got in is probably where the mice get in, so... that would be good to know. Also found in our house this week – three or four little frogs, an enormous centipede (in contrast to the regular sized ones, of which we may see six a day), a crab, and a few other creepy crawlies.

Judah and I got invited to a wedding of a family we know from his school so I took him on a date, all dressed up, to the reception at a local hotel. Since weddings in this culture these days are largely in imitation of Western-style ceremonies, much was familiar. But then there are random twists, like the five foot tall 7 tiered fake wedding cake which was on top of a table on the stage, making it basically a 10 foot tall cake. There was a fake cutting of the fake cake with a fake samurai sword. Judah thought it was the best part of the whole thing.

Then there's church. I have said I love our church, and that's not because it's comfortable. It's often not comfortable as a foreigner, but truly, it is a highlight of life here. I know so many people living overseas say they miss worship and sermons in English, but I don't. I love this, my soul is nourished in this body and joining in worship is a great privilege. This week they sang this song that is set to some American jazz/rock tune that I can't place for the life of me but that we recognize. Luckily the pianist at our church is a blind Papuan man with an afro and dark glasses who also plays with the skill of Ray Charles and dude, the congregation was rocking out because Indonesians love to sing at the top of their lungs. And the words, the words are truth, and I wish you could have been there and sung it with us.

The speaker opened by saying he'd been informed the day before that he was on the schedule to preach today, which was a prequel to us finding out in the announcements that this week an all-church meeting will be at our house. No, it's not really okay here either to find out such things at the last minute, but it happens at the time, a symptom of a culture in which things are trying to be organized but it doesn't always completely happen?

It's so interesting to watch the cultural change happening. We have talked a lot about the timing of things, and how nothing ever starts on time. Except that that doesn't show that in actuality most people want to start on time, and they keenly feel that they need to adjust to the practices of the developed world and so they are really working to implement timeliness. That's not our influence, we see the "rubber time" thing as a cultural difference that we have to adjust to, but they are embarrassed by it and are trying to change. So, for instance, our assistant pastor preached shockingly directly to the church congregation about timeliness being respectful and lateness/laziness (he equated the two) not being okay, directly calling out the ladies Bible study (which started an hour late the first week I was there) and asking for a verbal agreement for timeliness. And since then it has taken me three weeks to realize that it was serious and they actually start on time now, even if only a couple of people are there.

The guest pastor this week, having had the preaching schedule failed to be communicated to him, came to church just 10 minutes before the listed start time thinking he probably had 30 minutes, and was shocked to find the leaders all present and all having prayed, and worship starting a couple of minutes before start time. Unheard of!

Or then we had a baptism service off site on Easter and the leadership exhorted the congregation to arrive 30 minutes before the buses were to depart. "Not Papuan time, ON TIME." Mostly people did arrive on time, but then one bus arrived at the departure time, one bus arrived 30 minutes later, and one bus never showed up. You can work to change one thing, but the rest of the culture may not be ready to adjust with you! So.... things are changing, but it's not always consistent or easy.

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Things going on right now

This week is a big one. Lots of stuff going on, enough that I don't have enough emotional energy for a full post, but lots of little thoughts.

- A high school friend died this week. He's the first of my generation to pass away, and it was a fast, unexpected death from an infection. He also happens to be our boss's son and co-worker's brother, so although I haven't seen him since high school, I have gotten all caught up on his life over the last year of being here. I grieve for our co-workers at the loss of a son and brother far too young. I also just grieve for my friend. There have been plenty of tears.  It's an odd thing, being from a "small town" overseas expatriate community. We scatter across the world and sometimes don't stay in touch, but oh, those people are like family, and when you lose one it hurts. How can you express to people you haven't seen or talked to in years how much they matter to you, no matter how much you've all changed and how much time has passed?

- We leave for the USA this week. We're having this baby and going to a wedding, but in between we'll be mostly with family and doing lots of medical stuff. Oh how I long, long for good family time and connection. I currently kind of hate skype. I am thankful for the chance to see faces, but when skyping with bad sound and crowds of people including demanding children, it's basically useless in terms of actual connection. To simply sit with and BE together? That is what I am most excited about. My kids, being totally unpredictable with being shy and reserved sometimes and other times not at all, may or may not connect with family. I reeeeeally hope they open up, but don't want to pressure them.

- Other reasons we are excited? Food, lets be honest. American fruits and veges, fully stocked grocery stores, cheese, multi-grain bread, restaurants from around the world... yep. And probably mostly not cooking everything from scratch myself. Isaac is also extremely, unreasonably excited about going to see movies and downloading TV shows. Especially the new Star Wars we haven't seen yet. I am ambivalent, except that going to see movies while being around family means we're going on a DATE! Sans kids!!! That has happened once in the last year. So. Excited.

- On the other hand, it's not at all like we're going home. That whole TCK thing, you know. We are going to see family, we are going to the comforts of the US, but it doesn't feel like we're going home. We're also a bit sad to leave at this point, to disrupt the continuing adjustment process for our kids, our language learning, our finding our place in the community. Returning will be worlds better than starting new for the first time, but it is a bit of a shame to leave at this point. I'm so glad it's just for a few months, part of which is summer break at our school here anyways.

- Sarah Bessey wrote a post titled "Rice Krispies" that I love.
All of a sudden, I was flooded with conviction under the kitchen table. It’s true: I believed I was good or too whatever to live my own ordinary life. I thought God was only “out there” – in the important work of the Kingdom which I had somehow come to believe was only visible or important or famous or set-apart. I had divided us into a system of castes – the full-time vocational ministry people who pastored or wrote books or preached or taught with eponymous organizations called “My Own Name Ministries” and missionaries and countercultural ones in tropical climates were at the tippity-top. The rest of us simply were pew-fodder, financiers for the “real” work of the ministry.
Which of us when presented with “ordinary” vs. “radical” wouldn’t choose the latter? Wouldn’t choose wanting to be special and different?

Why would I link to that, given the heavy criticism of the field I am actually in? Because I agree with it. Go read it. I agree with all she says. I believe, as she says, that God loves the world. And sometimes everyday discipleship results in work around the world, as we are doing. I believe it is good for the church in one part of the world to support work in other parts of the world. So, here
we are. However, I wish to do away with the over-glorification and adventurism and emphasis on changing the world. It is something I battle regularly. What does it mean to be bold and visionary as well as simply be faithful and obedient in the big and small?

Thursday, March 31, 2016

Already But Not Yet - Part II

"To live a life of defiant joy, remain suspicious—in the midst of your circumstances—that God is up to something good."- Margaret Feinberg

A few weeks back I posted about living with the grief and suffering in the world. It was titled "Already But Not Yet, Part 1". This is Part 2.

As I have read and thought, it strikes me that we Christians should be the most mournful and joyful people, all at once, that is one of the things that makes us unique in the world. We, more than anyone else, recognize what was lost with the Fall, we see what we were made for and how tragic this broken life and world is in contrast. We recognize evil as evil, we see the depths of it in ourselves and around us more clearly with eyes enlightened and we rage against it, grieve because of it. We who believe in a final judgement and who simultaneously love those around us should be, more than anyone else, filled with sadness. We see how bad it all is. We should be people who mourn.

And we should be people of the greatest of joy and hope, too. We know that this is not all that there is. We know the redemption offered, we know He is doing something here, we see beauty and we rejoice, we see love and we sing, we well up with joy at the knowledge of a God who has pursued this broken bride, in a Jesus who is alive and holds his arms out to all who come. We sing because we see things being redeemed, we see new life, and most of all we see what's coming, the hair-raising end to all of this. We are a people of joyful hope. In the midst of the mourning.

It's a contrast I don't really understand, but I suppose that is exactly our challenge – to figure out how to live that out, day by day, through the Spirit in us. The New Testament is filled with what that life looks life, filled with goodness and love for each other.

I want to learn not to simply expect all the beauty and redemption right here, but discover what joyful hope means. That's what struck me in Romans 8. The current things are recognized as being tough. There is glory in the hope, the promise.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.”

So, that is my theme this year. Joyful hope.

In a greater way I understand more than ever before the longing and expectation of the early Church that Jesus returns. So much of the New Testament talks of waiting for His return. He has come, but when He comes again is when all will be made new, when justice will truly be done, when we will truly know Him. For that, now, I do groan inwardly, and I believe, He is coming, He is coming, and hallelujah, all will be made right!

“He now he has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to do away with sin by the sacrifice of himself. Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” - Hebrews 9: 26-28

 As I grow older and I understand a little more the amount of suffering we wrestle with, this is a deeper, harder, but still more meaningful tension. The darkness increases. Childhood cancer, rape, depression, death, and sometimes the slog of daily life is real. In the face of that, do I believe that God is, as the quote at the top of the page references, up to something that is genuinely good? When I did some reading in the early Church fathers, one of the things that struck me most is the way they perceived suffering as honor, because in it they identified with Christ. And God is most glorified and the plans of Satan thwarted not when Job was a successful man but when Job continued to believe ins spite of all the suffering that seemed to reveal the absence of the goodness of God. There is much mystery here, much I cannot grasp and that philosophers continue to wrestle with. 

Here is what I see. If I believe that there is evil at work but that God is good and working out a great plan of redemption, then my life will be one of defiant joy.

1 Peter 1: 3-9
He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable.... kept in heaven for you, who by God's power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith... may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Though you have not seen him, you love him. Though you do not now see him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.
And so, on Good Friday I was brought to tears when we read Revelation and the Lamb says, "Behold, I am making all things new.... It is done."

Friday, March 11, 2016

A Few Political Musings

This election cycle in the USA is crazy. I follow politics, I have opinions, but I am at a loss of what to write, what to think. I thought Donald Trump was a joke, I thought the polls were simply because of name recognition, and I have been absolutely floored by the amount of support and actual votes going for a man who is utterly ridiculous and whose opinions are racist, sexist, xenophobic, anti-Christian, etc. I do not believe he will be either the Republican nominee or the eventual next president of America, but I still am dismayed.

  1. In college I was in many conversations about racism in America. The general consensus among the white educated Americans in my circles was that racism should be fought and still existed, but in extreme cases or in systemic ways. I believe that people like myself have been slapped in the face by blatant racism and xenophobia by a surprising percentage of the American populace this year, and our African American fellow citizens have simply nodded and said, yes, this is what we have always known, you really didn't see it until now?
  2. I know there's a lot of discussion of evangelicals voting for Trump, but what it has exposed for me is a real split in what is publicly known as evangelicalism. I am steeped in the American evangelical world and I have yet to be exposed to someone that in any way supports Trump. My world – which includes pieces of life in Colorado, Kansas, Texas, Iowa, and Chicago.... is entirely mystified. If my research is correct, what we're talking about is the self-identifying “evangelical” of the South (which I have little connection to or understanding of), who is generally not actually church going and has no college education. Sounds to me like this is the perfect description of the American “cultural Christian”, and this has only strengthened my feeling that this version of American cultural Christianity bears little to no connection to the Jesus that I know and the Church that follows Him. It also emphasizes for me the great need for actual practicing Christians to see their "Christian culture" as in need of being reached and discipled.
  3. I read that 60% of Trump supporters believe Obama is a Muslim, and I flash back to idiotic email forwards I received during Obama's first campaign and I think, “oooooh... so that is who these people are.” There are just more of them than I expected. I have thought back to my days in public school in America and think, ah yes, that makes sense so many of those kids who were doing drugs and making out in the halls in middle school are now adults and these are the kind of choices they are making. It makes me more concerned about the future of America and the state of education in America.
  4. I have always struggled to have any sense of loyalty, patriotism, or personal connection with me being an American, as a part of my own identity. This does not help. However, I will say that because I have for years now followed the news, participated in the discussion of the public square... I care. I feel even more alienated in some ways from this American identity, but I care about the future of this country, for the sake of Americans and the world.
  5. I wondered 8 years ago if I was engaging in a rebel swing to voting for a Democratic candidate, if I would one day look back with shame on my “liberal” choice. Honestly, I still have no idea. When I look at the Republican circus, I have actively spoken in support of the candidates that I see as more moderate and less utterly ridiculous. But then, when I think of the full platform of even the rational Republican candidates, I completely disagree with them on several major issues. I really have trouble with the Republican party platform as a whole.
  6. However, when I look with frustration at the platform of the party I feel like I am supposed to support, I turn and look at the Democrats and I am equally frustrated. I find some of their most passionate points to be morally reprehensible. Does this just make me a moderate, a swing voter? I don't know. I am still completely undecided, following closely, and rather sobered by the whole thing.
  7. Very much an echo to the Foreign Affairs article "The Obama Way" that I praised last month, this week The Atlantic published an extensive feature called "The Obama Doctrine" (this time no subscription required), an in-depth and insider look at Obama's foreign policy. Considering my two votes for Obama were cast largely because of his foreign policy vision and the way he thinks about the world and America's role in it, I obviously am biased. I will say, though, that after 8 years I am very supportive of most of the foreign policy decisions Obama has made, even those that the establishment or the general public disagrees with. At points in the article I cheer aloud. I also love the shout-outs to Indonesia. So tell me, friends, which of the current Presidential candidates will carry us further down the road that Obama has turned us onto in our foreign policies?