Saturday, May 9, 2015

What I've Been Into - May 2015

I haven't done one of these since December! Lots to catch up on. 

We are about to say goodbye to good internet connection, so I don't imagine I will be able to enjoy anymore Netflix streamed via VPN. While we had it I finished up the show Parenthood (so good), and got addicted to a new one that I highly recommend – Rectify. It's a guy that gets off of a life sentence for murder and is sent home after 20 years in prison. It's so fantastically and profoundly made that you can't tell if the guy's dysfunctional tendencies are because he's a murderer or because prison life dehumanizes, degrades, and strips people of their innocence. There's an episode (I think episode 2?) that was too much for me, too distasteful, but the rest has been really good. It's a psychological show, but it's also legal and a mystery.

I HAVE to recommend an amazing documentary that just hit Netflix titled Little Hope Was Arson. 10 churches were burned in East Texas over the course of a year. The documentary explores the story and for me it was so fascinating because is thick into Texas culture, the cultural Christianity of Texas, and the social struggles of rural Texas. It's brilliantly made... by someone I know, an mk. I'm so impressed, and it's been winning awards all over the place. I am still thinking about it, about what forgiveness really is, about what grace actually looks like. 

Back in February I watched through The Honorable Woman, which I also highly recommend though it is also at times brutal. It's also also a dramatic mystery, but this time combined with political thriller. It's set in the tension between Israel and Palestine, and Maggie Gyllenhal is really good.  

Tried but rejected were Grand Hotel, Reign, and Peaky Blinders. The first two had great filming and ideas, but it quickly became obvious they had the depth of a soap opera, and I quit. Peaky Blinders is a bit more on the action and a little lighter on the drama, more my husband's style than my own. 

I watched two movies that impressed me. One was The Immigrant. A sterling cast of Marion Cotillard, Joaquin Phoenix, and Jeremy Renner play out an Ellis Island theme that actually targets the problem of human trafficking. 

Short Term 12 is a simple film set in a home for troubled kids. It's beautiful and redemptive and real. 

I have been reading some now that language school is over. I read Sacred Parenting by Gary Thomas, which was very timely as a parenting book, but it's mostly about being a parent rather than how to parent. I liked it and would recommend it. I really appreciated all of the challenge on the vocation of parenting rather than specifically about the role of a mother. And, honestly, I'm still looking for a how-to book that satisfies me on the discipline front. I also finished Chicago Blues, which is a collection of Chicago crime short-stories which the theme “the Blues”. Fun reads for this Chi-town girl.

I also started reading Through Dust and Darkness by Jeremy Kroeker, which sounded like my sort of book. A spiritual journey from some raised-Mennonite Canadian on his motorcycle through the Middle East. Well, I gave up, which I don't normally do. It wasn't enough story or culture to keep me interested.

I did enjoy Prodigal God by Keller. It's been on my shelf for a while and it's good. It draws out the story of the prodigal son in beautiful ways that I'd never heard before, and was quite convicting. I love Keller because he is never bogged down in the cultural debates of our time but rather intelligently teaches scripture with all sorts of fantastic literary references. He'd make CS Lewis (his hero) proud. His writing deepens my love for Jesus.

Also reading Colossians. I'm terrible at listening to sermons, absolutely terrible. But I heard one this year that I will probably always remember, and it was from Colossians. It spurred me to study the book, and I have been deeply dwelling in the beauty of the centrality of Jesus. So encouraged.

Josh Garrel's new CD, which is good but pretty mellow, and I miss his upbeat years. Mumford and Son's new release is entirely disappointing and I'm not a fan of Joy Williams post-Civil Wars. Sad day.  

Cooking: My post-language school goal was to put together a packet of recipes I know I can make in country and weren't heavy on imported ingredients. I also wanted to start trying to make some Indonesian dishes from scratch rather than from mixes. So, I have a beginning! I will have the packet printed off and ready to begin the massive challenge of being the cook for the four of us in a place where pretty much nothing is instant or frozen or in a can, and I'm making everything from scratch.

Currently I regularly make our own yogurt from milk powder (post on that coming), homemade peanut butter, and my own mix that becomes instant oatmeal for the kids breakfast. For myself I make either black rice porridge with coconut milk or cocoa sesame granola. My next challenges will be breads. I need to get a handle on making our own bread and tortillas. God help us all. 

Homeschooling, because I will be starting that as well. Actually Judah will just be starting his pre-K year in the Fall, so he doesn't really need anything formal. But, God help me if we have no structure to our days at home. I nearly have a mental breakdown after a single afternoon hands on with my kids and no plan, and my anxiety level about being a stay at home mother for a couple of years is, oh, sky high. So, momma must have structure. Looks like we'll go with Sonlight pre-K curriculum for two reasons. First of all, when I order their curriculum they send me all the recommended kids reading books rather than assuming that we will find them at our local library (not possible), and secondly because the My Father's World website won't load for me no matter what I do. Oh, and thirdly, they offer a good discount to those of us doing work like we do overseas.

Kebayas. After 9 months here I've finally figured out some of the in-style clothes and the system of dress. In Papua I will be able to wear my shorter-sleeved shirts again, thus expanding my wardrobe, but I did go out and buy a couple of kebaya tops now that I know where to shop for them, what styles and colors I like, and what might be able to transition between here and the US. On the right, an example of what would not transition. :) 

 Fighting sickness (we've all been sick for the past four days. Fun.), doing visa paperwork, and packing. The packing has been fairly easy. We don't have that much stuff, and it will all go in a crate on Monday. Then we'll be left with two suitcases for the next weeks until we meet our baggage again in Manokwari.

About myself, and being a mother, and purpose. I'm still wrestling through this. It's a daily battle right now. One conclusion that has deeply resonated with me is that this is good. Although I am finding parenting very hard, I know that it is good, not just for my kids but as a necessary thing for me to learn also. There will be so much more to see on the other side of it, but for now... moment by moment.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Beautiful Salatiga

Place is a funny thing. We can be happy in a place but not love the place. We can love the place we're in but still not be happy overall. There are places that we love but they aren't necessarily “our” place, there isn't an element of home, just of enjoyment. Place doesn't determine anything, but it is still something significant, something special. There are certain places that fit with certain people, like puzzle pieces to souls. I loved Chicago in a way I haven't loved any other place in America. It feels like home. I love Colorado, but not as my own. England feels like de ja vu, like the generations of my past that lived there feels something familiar when I'm there, as if there is something of that old earth that still recognizes me.

How do I describe this place to you, the things I see and feel each day? The 20 boys at the soccer fields flying their little homemade kites. The woman in her sarong, laboriously hauling her woven basket up the hill to make her sales. The way, at dusk, the villages up the mountain emerge like pockets of twinkle lights off in the distance. The city at night, smelling of satay and exhaust and the smoke of burning leaves. The sound of cicadas filling the evening. The feel of the afternoon rain sweeping in and the warming burn of the hot ginger drinks they serve on those cool rainy afternoons. The way the mountains look, layered in the mist, on rainy afternoons.

Life here has not been perfect and there has been plenty of stress with transition and language learning and parenting, but I have felt at peace with this place in a way I have not felt since I left this country nearly 15 years ago. A friend here commented about our house that it, “doesn't get much worse” than our place. And it's true, in way. The kitchen and bathroom layout and the critters that have come with it are distinctly uncomfortable by Western standards.... and yet this the home I have loved more than any of our homes before, simply because I love being here.

I wrote a whole post about how this place could be home. I said that if if I was here looking for a place to live that was comfortable-enough-for-a-Westerner in the midst of Javanese beauty, I would go no further. I said that when I drive around here I feel the potential to make this place my own. That would be “my” rock to watch the sunset. Merbabu would be “my” mountain the way Cyclops of my childhood was. I would claim ownership of my neighborhood, my RT, my vegetable seller, my satay vendor, I would find my stalls at the market. I already know my favorite Javanese desserts and our chicken soup restaurant and our favorite spot to stop for family dinner.

I said in that post that it's not mine, that this whole time I've known it's just a stopover. But that's a bit of a lie too. It is mine, at least for this little while. This town, neighborhood, and house have been my homecoming, in a way. I go to where we are called, to where we will work and build roots and a home. We will pack our bags and say our goodbyes and leave in a week and a half, on to Papua, finally settling in Manokwari. 

But... Salatiga? I am so thankful for these beautiful ten months.   

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Discussion of White Privilege at Moody Bible Institute

My alma mater, Moody Bible Institute, has been in an intense and rather public discussion over the past few months over the term "white privilege". It's hit the news, it's been all over social media with the hashtag #mbiprivilege. The discussion arises, I think, because Moody is a unique place that has been intentionally trying to recruit students from the city around them, from downtown Chicago, which means a growing population of minority students with an urban background. Their background is entirely different than the majority of students who are Caucasian and grew up in pretty homogeneous and conservative communities in the burbs or rural areas.

How great is that, though? Different groups and experiences meeting in college, opening each others' eyes and diversifying their perspectives, building relationships and resulting in conversations between devoted Christian brothers and sisters. It's a strength of Moody's, but also their challenge. Opposite backgrounds and differing perspectives that are only just being challenged will result in frustration, anger, and sometimes inappropriate words and actions.

Recently professor Brian Litfin wrote an an article in the Moody Student newspaper against the use of the term "white privilege". I will caveat here and say that Dr. Litfin is a gifted teacher whose church history teaching was very influential for both my husband and I. I have been frustrated by his words in this discussion, but I believe the best way to respond is seek truth through healthy and honest discussion. There is no use simply condemning or mocking a view that he is now attempting to respectfully express, and which clearly represents the perspective of many. We have an opportunity to talk here, amongst brothers and sisters. Let us do so with gentleness and respect, as was modeled by Moody's president in his letter here.

Professor Litfin argues several points, the first being that the term "white privilege" implies collective responsibility for individual sin, but that under the New Covenant each individual is held responsible for his own sin. Indeed, that is true in terms of sin held responsible before God. However, that's not what we are discussing in the discussion of white privilege. We live in a society where we consider the citizens responsible for their country, their society. And so, if there is unfair privilege for one group and disadvantage for another, then all members of society are responsible to fix that brokenness.

It is not so much about fault or blame as is it is about responsibility.  Another Moody professor, Jamie Janosz wrote an article in Christianity Today titled "White Privileged Like Me" that described how most of Caucasian Americans are raised to think of our lives as morally neutral, and I think this is on point. If our lives are morally neutral and we haven't individually chosen privilege or hatred or discrimination, why are we being held guilty? No, not guilty, friends, but responsible. If systematic poverty is tied to race in this country, who is responsible? The citizens of the country. Particularly those with the majority of the vote, since we are run by majority vote.

This is crucial both in our faith and in the way our country works. We must be willing to take responsibility for each other. All of us. Throughout scripture we see that we are, indeed, our brothers' keeper, held responsible for the state of being of those around us. Particularly those with power are seen as responsible before God for the state of those who are powerless in that society.  It is clear in the New Testament too, that we are to, "Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others" (Phil 2;4).  The example of Christ is striking.

There is indeed privilege that is good and beautiful, reached through hard work and righteous living. However, those who have worked hard are not exempt from considering their brothers, considering the problems around them. If Caucasians act as though what they have is what they deserve because of hard work, it implies that those who do not have must not have worked as hard. Do you see the arrogance there? That is exactly why this discussion is important. We assume that the path others are on is the same as ours, and cannot see through others' eyes until we are willing to listen and without defensiveness to what others are saying.

It is absolutely true that there is still much struggle and disadvantage for many Caucasians, the primary one cited usually being deep economic struggle for many. However, this is changing the subject. Each area of privilege and disadvantage must be dealt with individually. Think of the founding fathers. This country was founded because of the unfair disadvantage in place in the governing system of England at the time. The founding fathers fought for their rights. The disadvantage they fought does not negate the fact that at the same time the founding fathers had a terribly unfair privilege over the slaves that worked for them. Both situations needed to be addressed. Claiming our own disadvantage as a reason not to be called privileged sounds distinctly whiny - let's be willing to put aside our own struggles and come alongside others in theirs.

And so it is that I absolutely think we need to discuss white privilege. This year the USA has been rocked, again and again, with angry conversations about race and justice. When Ferguson hit the news I was struck that nearly every African American I knew expressed grief and anger at the system (regardless of their thoughts about the individual case) because of their own life experience here. That came from rich, poor, urban, rural, educated and uneducated, believers and unbelievers, people that are famous and just your everyday Joe. There was resounding consensus, and it was pretty obvious from the silence and quiet conversations of most of my Christian Caucasian peers that many of us didn't understand, couldn't relate.

The other experience this year was moving back to this country, where there are also deep discussions about race and privilege going on, or perhaps not going on but held under the surface with deep resentment. I am so struck at the responsibility to step out of our own situation and attempt to see through others' eyes, to advocate for others. It is the way set out for us by God. The first to do so should be believers.

 Another Moody student newspaper article talks about the academic origins of the term "white privilege" and says, "Self flagellating apologies from a particular white person... are silly and profoundly unproductive. More productive is prayerful consideration of the unjust power systems in our society and how they affect our lives."

I don't have answers and often can feel helpless, but I'm so glad we're having this discussion and hope we don't grow weary, because if we listen we can start to seek answers together. I am frustrated when things are endlessly discussed and never acted on, so I've resolved to start by reading this and this to try to push myself forwards. I only wish I could join in for the upcoming lecture by Dr. MacDuffee on the topic at Moody!

Monday, April 20, 2015

Thoughts on Grief as an ATCK

I wrote last week about the good and hard parts of growing up overseas. Grief. That was the the most painful part (for me) of growing up overseas. I neither want to say that my experience is true for all third-culture kids (it's not) nor do I want to sugar coat it and say it was just one small part of a wonderful life. I simply want to tell the honest story.

Every kid will be different. They all struggle with different things. For me, grief was the most painful legacy of my unique life. The parade of goodbyes to homes, friends, family, cultures, things I loved... it wore on me. I see parents now preparing their young kids for transitions and goodbyes and that is good, but it is the teen years that are most powerful. The most crucial developmental things happen then. The wounds are deeper, the joy is stronger, everything is exacerbated and the ripples spill out into life and years down the line. And so, with me, by the time I was a Junior in high school the rending of the world I loved had cut deep. I knew the pain already, and I knew there was more coming. The goodbyes of my last few years and the final goodbye at the end of high school in which I left the life and culture I loved and moved a world away.... was the grief of a family member dying.

You can read old posts about it here and here.  It's nigh impossible to explain grief to people, you can only really walk through it. No one else can carry loss for you, or really enter into it with you. How can I tell you what it feels like to lose your world? This was our song back then about what we were all going through.

It wasn't stuffed. I did process it. I grieved when others were unwilling to grieve, or perhaps didn't need to. I am so thankful for that, that though the process was long, I was able to be at the reentry seminars, snow camps, and Ruth Van Reken's presentations. I'm thankful for the scrapbooks, journals, and eventually blog posts where I poured out memories and pain. The length of it took me off guard. I still found myself, a pretty practical and non-emotional adult, weeping over Papua and loss into my mid-20's. It was my raw place, where the scent of rain or a photo of my mountain or the longing for the friendships left behind brought me to my knees again and again until I felt pathetic.

But there was healing, eventually. I had a counseling professor in college ask me if I had a picture of what healing would look like. I didn't. I only knew sadness over my loss, and I didn't know how to find the other side of it, because for me the grief was intertwined with love. I fiercely loved the place, the people, those years of my life overseas. As long as I loved, how would the grief lessen? And yet, there was healing. There was a journey to knowing God, a journey of identifying most strongly with a home and identity in God. There was building a life in America.

It was long in coming because the grief was big, and it took some growing up to get to the other side. The past four years have been different, a look from the other side, where I have loved my past and Indonesia without aching for it. There has been peace rather than pain as I think through loss. My past is the same but the wound isn't raw anymore. There has been healing. It seems like, timing wise, some of the change came with entering motherhood 

I don't know that there was any way to make my experience better. In my senior year my school brought Ruth Van Reken (the best!) in to give a talk on tcks, identity, grief, and transition. My parents held me and cried with me so many times over the years, I never felt alone in my grief. Goodbyes were said properly, acknowledged the way they should be. I went to a reentry seminar that helped the transition. I guess what I'm saying is that those who are raising TCKs can help a TCK walk through it, but they probably can't take away that particular pain. It's a part of the life, one of the toughest parts of the life. 

Here's the thing about suffering. You can't protect your kids from it. But you can walk with them through it. And you can pray for them. Through the suffering, they will learn about life, love, and God. Pray that they will meet a God who knows suffering in the midst of their own pain, and that they find a greater love by far. That was it for me. The transiency of life and the loss of much that I have loved gives me a picture of heaven where things are made new and all that was good is renewed and unpassing. And, more than that, it forced me to ask if truly, I loved the things God had given me, more than I loved Him?  Did I trust that He was good, when the life He was walking me through was so filled with pain? This has been the refining of my faith, in which platitudes are not enough and I am raw before a God who is not safe but who, yes, proves good. And Who is in the business of healing and filling and renewing what is broken in and around us. 

That's the legacy, in the end, for me. And if grief was the price of those beautiful years growing up overseas with wonderful people that I still love, it was a price worth paying.

Frederick Buechner said God speaks over our lives:  "Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen. Don't be afraid. I am with you."