Friday, December 19, 2014

What I've been into - Java Edition

 We just finished another unit of language school - three left for me! It's all flying by. We are now off from school for Christmas break and I have a moment to think and breathe! We are far from family and it's awefully warm for Christmas, but you know what? Because I love it here, I am totally content this season.

Listening to: 
I've been listening to the amazon music player, which has currently taken the place of other sources because they offered a ton of free Christmas music through our Prime account. I love the American Boychoir album Carol. With music playing and our Christmas tree all lit up, it feels Christmasy despite the tropical rainstorm outside! 

We can only get a few things here on VCD when we go into the big city, so I just watched Lone Survivor and the Butler

Since coming to Indonesia we found a way to link up to Netflix if the Internet is working pretty well, and I discovered some new British shows that I've loved. The Fall is totally suspenseful, loved it. Bletchly Circle is a great mystery series. I look forward to more of both of those! 

Well, lots of Indonesian texts about culture and government here, does that count? Aside from that, I'm reading a long book called The Black Banners about Al Qaida by an FBI guy. It's a good complement to a book I previously read on the Taliban, and it's interesting to see the different perspective of the FBI as opposed to the CIA. It is also very detailed, so unless you just love foreign policy you won't be interested.

We are also doing daily advent devotionals from a Jesse Tree in Ann Hibbard's book Family Celebrations. This is the tree handed down from my own childhood, but it's been fantastic. 

A few articles have caught my eye recently. First off, when people here think America is a Christian nation I wish I could have them read this, because I would say we are Moralistic Therapeutic Deists.

Also, Christian parents, please read this article. It's written to missionaries about their kids and parenting, but I think it applies to all Christian parents (although it is magnified in the children of missionaries). Our personal faith and love for our children is the biggest driving force in the faith of our children.

Ladies, as someone that has just moved overseas where a lot less... um... stuff is available, this is my new best friend. 

There's a lot of stuff I realize now I didn't need to bring with me to Indonesia, but there are some things I'm super glad I brought. A fun container of Wilton's Christmas cookie sprinkles, gel food coloring (it's a lot more potent than the regular stuff!), and decorating pens is included. It's already been used on a Cars-themed birthday cake and Judah and I had a blast decorating Christmas cookies today. 

Prayer Mate - I usually like to create a schedule so that I'm regularly praying for the people in my life. However, I always lose my lists. Last month I found Prayer Mate, which is fantastic. I create my category (family, friends, churches, supporters, etc.), add my list, and then decide how many off the list I want to appear each day. Then each time you open your app you get a list for that day set up for you to pray for. Loving it. 

I am also learning how to clean and kill mold. Because.. it's rainy season in the tropics. So... there is mold that grows in our clothes in the closet, in spots on the wall, on our suitcases, the baby carrier, behind furniture.... it's amazing. 

Oatmeal is my go-to breakfast food but the only oatmeal I can get here is the quick-cooking kind. It's always mush when I actually cook it. So instead I created myself an instant oatmeal mix. It's essentially a mix of the quick cooking oats, milk powder (which is what we often use here to make milk anyways), cinnamon, raisins, salt, brown sugar, and shredded coconut. In the morning I just head up hot water for coffee and our oatmeal. The kids have been loving it. 

The other breakfast I make is black rice porridge with coconut milk. It's divine. You probably wouldn't be able to find the ingredients in America, which makes me feel a little superior and slightly makes up for my lack of ability to make Mexican food here. :(

I also made Christmas cookies. Same as I normally do. Except now it was done in hiiiiigh humidity with a non-temperature controlled metal box that sits on top of a range to create an oven of sorts. The cookies taste good, but it was on the brink of disaster multiple times and they definitely aren't pinterest worthy! 

Also random - this guy lives in our yard and this was taken on my front porch. he's pretty cool, huh? 

Monday, December 15, 2014

On Suddenly Being "Rich" And What Scripture Says About It

We are six months into life a world away from America. One of the craziest adjustments that I constantly hear mentioned by my classmates in language school is going from having a very simple, lowish income family in the US to being considered wealthy by most people here. It's a huge identity shift and lots of questions come along with it. There's all sorts of advice I hear from people about how to live and use your money, particularly in the realm of how to give when people ask for money. It seems to me that often this advice comes out of personal experience or economic beliefs rather than scripture.

Since I found myself adrift and not sure of what I should be doing, I have been studying everything I can find in the scripture in the way of perspectives on wealth, charges to the rich, instructions for charitable giving, etc. It's been good! I came about with a series of points about wealth, money, and giving that I printed out to help guide my actions and choices here, that I might reflect the character of God in this.

If you're in this situation, here's some of the passages that I'd advise praying through and thinking about how they apply to you. Some are the chapter, some are the specific verse and you should find the context. I would give you my conclusions but I don't want to be prescriptive. I think each should read and see what God says for themselves.

Mark 7:14
Mark 10:17 and on
Luke 3:8-14
Luke 6
Luke 12
Luke 16
2 Corinthians 8-9
1 Tim 6:17
2 Thessalonians 3
James 2:14
James 5:1

Here's just a few of those that stuck out most to me: 

1 Tim 6:17 As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.

James 2:14
What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can that faith save him? If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, “Go in peace, be warmed and filled,” without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that? So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.

2 Corinthians 8:13-14
For I do not mean that others should be eased and you burdened, but that as a matter of fairness your abundance at the present time should supply their need, so that their abundance may supply your need, that there may be fairness.

James 5
Come now, you rich, weep and howl for the miseries that are coming upon you...You have lived on the earth in luxury and in self-indulgence....

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

Javanese Syncretism

Right now our neighborhood is celebrating the anniversary of the area. Actually it's not the anniversary, it's just sort of a celebration of the area, with some religious significance. It's sort of like a thanksgiving, or perhaps also an effort to ward off ill-favor by celebrating blessings?

The events began in the morning with a mass Muslim prayer ceremony. Throughout the day there were rides, kids events, food stands, singing, etc. Late at night, after dark was the last event, called "kuda lumping". It's a traditional Javanese dance accompanied by traditional music. The dancers are all decked out in crazy costumes. What makes it unique and such a draw is that the dance group calls for spirits to enter the dancers, and as the dance goes on they can go into a trance state and do things like eat glass. I'm told that at the end of the evening dancers were rolling on the floor, ripping coconuts open with their teeth, and eating flowers. People say that occasionally the dancers will run to local cemeteries, and sometimes will touch a spectator who will also go into a trance-like state. Sometimes kuda lumping is just a ceremonial dance with no intentional spiritual involvement, but most of the time the crowds seem drawn to see and wonder just how crazy it will get.

I saw a part of the beginning of the event and it was so odd to watch, the hypnotic music and jerky spastic dancing, the massive crowd of spectators, and the contradiction of having that sort of demonic ritual contrasted with traditional Muslim prayers that morning. I asked a neighbor if she, as a Muslim, was okay with "kuda lumping". "Oh yes!" she enthusiastically affirmed, "it's just tradition." 

That is one of the strangest things about living here. This culture is Muslim. The vast majority of people around me are Muslims who participate in Ramadan and Idul Fitri. Prayers are broadcast at ear-splitting decibels around our house from multiple mosques. 

And yet - this place is nothing like the Middle East. It feels a bit like waves of Buddhist, Hindu, and now Islamic cultures have come in and influenced Java, but underneath it all there is a core that has remained, deeply, at its core, Javanese.

We went to see a Catholic site nearby where there have been visions of Mary and so a shrine was built with the stages of the cross and also various depicted scenes from the life of Jesus in a beautiful park. The shrine section is visited by Christians of all types and even Muslims. When I asked what people are thinking I was told that it just fits with Javanese traditional belief - the offerings of flowers and burning of candles in front of spiritual statues, so it just feels right to them.

An instructor of mine asked with concern about something she'd heard about an American friend doing - having a birthday cake for Jesus at Christmas. To her, living here, seemed like this, like offering a candle as a sort of syncretistic idolatry thing.

The culture is deeply, deeply sensitive to the spiritual world and it feels like everything has some connection to spirits in some way. Nearly everyone will tell you stories of seeing ghosts, kuda lumping is popular, a spiritual calendar is used to determine nearly everything, offerings are made to local deities, and there are spiritual explanations for everything. In that way it is much like the animistic village religions of Papua. 

At the same time I find this culture to hold to quite a universalist perspective on religion.They look at most differences in religion and culture and shrug. Yeah, it's different. Let's all just get along. We just won't point out of the differences and heaven help us if anyone were to actually get mad about the differences. In the end we're all the same.

That's the attitude I get from most people. It's different in other areas of the nation, but this is what I see here. Things that might be terrible in other Muslim lands are just sort of ignored here. Tolerance is highly valued. It's as if humanistic Buddhism actually lays the foundation underneath this worldview, below the Islam and Christianity and Hinduism. 

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Thanksgiving thoughts from across the world

It's Thanksgiving evening here in Indonesia. I'm sticky from sweat, my least favorite part about the holidays over here. I firmly believe Christmas and Thanksgiving should be cold, snowy if possible. It should also be spent with family or friends.

In the absence of family, we celebrated with friends. Four of us American families in language school gathered. My mashed potatoes were sticky because of a different type of potatoes. The chicken was baked in an oven that had to be propped closed with a chair and water bucket. The green bean casserole was stove-top, anything with cream of mushroom soup had to be recreated from scratch, and the the sweet potato casserole was white.

But we sat and laughed and chatted with children running around our feet, and I loved it. We came home and sat under the twinkling lights of our tree and .... I am thankful.

I wouldn't trade this for the world.

I have been pondering my joy at being here, and a lot of it has to do with beauty. For me, I am brought to overflowing jubilation when I am surrounded by beauty. On our honeymoon road trip Isaac started making fun of me for squealing, "PREEEEEETY" as we drove past beautiful things. The joke has lasted because I'm so consistent! I am a beauty seeker - I am drive outside to walk, to take pictures, to look for beauty. And then, when I see beauty, I rejoice. I pray. I sing. Beauty turns me to my Creator in a way nothing else does. It is the language of my soul, the way I connect to God. I have heard some say that for my generation of postmoderns, beauty is the strongest apologetic for God. If I am representative of my generation, that is true. 

I am not sure if it's just that this place is so beautiful or if it's just so beautiful to me, but.... I feel like I am surrounded by beauty in a way I can't describe. I often think I want to write to describe it all but it's so constant that I never do. It's the big things, the little things. The sunset over the mountains. The sound of a tropical rainstorm. The way the earth smells in the jungle. The sight of a toothless wrinkled woman in her sarong carrying her basket to market. The pattern of papaya leaves. The brilliant green of the banana leaves outside of our classroom windows when the sun shines through them. The wind on my face driving home in the evening. The smile of Ibu Ning as I drive home. The little kids walking home from school in their uniforms holding hands.


When I get my homework done early and can spare an hour, I fill my driving urge to explore. I drive to the lake, to the rice paddies, up the mountain. I take pictures because if I can just show one tiny bit of it, of the beauty, maybe others will understand.

So - I rejoice. On a daily level. My heart sings. Psalm 16 has been my song since coming here because it is an outflow of thankfulness. "The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance."

That is how I feel, but what I love about the Psalm is that in the midst of that great acknowledgement of the good things God has given, the point is not the good things, but the Giver. "The Lord is my chosen portion."

Let me never be so taken with the gifts of God that I forget the Giver. I don't want my joy to be dependent on the place I am. I have experienced living in a place I did not enjoy. Now I live in a place I deeply love. Who knows what tomorrow holds. My joy should not be less in the first situation, nor should it be caused by the second. My "chosen portion" is the beautiful Creator. "I have set the Lord always before me.... therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices.... In your presence there is fullness of joy."