Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Back in Dallas

When we moved to Dallas I was not super enthused about being in Texas. I'd lived here for a year when I was in third grade and had neutral memories, and I was pretty afraid of Dallas Theological Seminary turning my husband into a scary fundamentalist. 

I quickly lost my fear and gained lots of respect for DTS, but I struggled with Dallas. It's not a city like Chicago, it had a pretty tame downtown and I viewed it as endless suburbs with a stereotypical American culture that I couldn't relate to. I struggled to adjust my city self to Dallas life, where I couldn't get around using the train and half the streets didn't even have sidewalks to walk on. I was super negative for a long time about Dallas. I didn't love my job. I was wrestling with my faith and pretty shocked by the Christian culture in the evangelical world around here (in contrast to Chicago, where there was quite a bit of diversity in political opinion within the church). I was lonely but at the same time held relationships at an arms length. It was only with time and walking through life with people here that I came to be rooted, deeply in relationship, and thriving in Dallas. By the time we left I loved my job, we were strongly connected to our community group, and I had discovered that Dallas had a ton of cultural and ethnic diversity (even in north Dallas!) that is usually hiding in strip malls and unassuming neighborhoods. 

And now. It's 11 years since we moved here. We came back on furlough and didn't know where to go. Where is our American home? I had thought that since I didn't super love Dallas, we'd probably make our furlough homes near family. However, almost every member of our family has moved recently or is moving soon. There's no roots put down for us to join in on! Plus we needed to be near our church in Dallas for fundraising purposes. We struggled to find short-term housing, though, so we ended up traipsing across the country for months and just staying here in Dallas for about two months, since that's all we could book and afford with what we found. 

By the time we were finally headed to Dallas, we were longing for it. We know our way around here. We have friends here. Being familiar, knowing what to expect, having our own place to land in, being able to be normal for a while... 

Would we be normal? That was sort of the question. Would it be super weird to hang out in our old lives for two months as if we still belonged when in reality everyone else's lives had moved on and we didn't fit anymore? Would it feel like we were these people hanging out in a megachurch trying to make connections and actually feeling lost? If that's how it felt, we would probably have given up on Dallas except as a short stop to visit friends and supporters. 

Ironically for me, the person that so resisted Dallas, being here has felt like being home. Even if Dallas isn't the coolest city, I know it. I drive around automatically. The familiarity is HUGE for us. People are surprised that we're here when we don't have family here, but oh the friendships are sweet. Old work friends, church friends, friends from wherever. The kind of friends you get together with and just have a good time and do a lot of laughing? Yeah. 

And our church? Yeah, it is huge. But as I've always said, it's like a network of house churches in the midst of a big Sunday gathering? This time around we have the great blessing of having our small group exist almost the same as when we left 4.5 years ago. So we hopped into those small group meetings just the same as before. It was kind of surreal, driving the same roads to the same houses with the same people asking the same questions as if all those years hadn't passed. It was just a place to belong, to be known. And community groups at our church are pretty counter-cultural in the way they work. We ask each other questions like, "Tell us about your last conflict with your spouse?" It would be scary except that it's not anymore, it's SO SO good to talk through hard things about marriage and parenting and finances and everything in the setting of a loving community whose goal it to point towards Jesus and redemption in everything. Saves on counseling, you know, to navigate things with community! Ah, I'm so grateful for it. 

And because of the way our church works, the friendships we have here from before, and even the new people we connect with, there's this common ground that has been built in all of us. Common values, common vision for life and purpose and meaning. It's unlike most of my experiences in trying to build new relationships and support-raising, in this community (despite it being enormous), there is such great commonality and connection and mutual understanding. It's downright enjoyable to sit down and get to know new people and talk about why we moved overseas and what our vision is for it. 

I really like the community of our church. It's not a perfect church by any stretch of the imagination, but oh I am so grateful for it. 

And because of that, yeah, being in Dallas has been unexpectedly like being at home. It has been a place of rest, a place to process, a place to sort through things. I think we'll keep coming back to Dallas as our home base, even though we don't have family here. 

AND this little apartment God brought to us. It's one-bedroom and the kids sleep in the living room but it's such a gift. It's stable. It's furnished. The back door opens to open space and a little playground. I'll treasure the memories of afternoons playing outside. Of going on nature walks and park dates with the kids. Of seeing summer turn to autumn. Of celebrating halloween and autumn and Christmas all at once because soon we'll be back where it's tropical and doesn't feel like holiday weather anyways. 

I'm thankful. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Like the Nations

When in the midst of discouragement in Indonesia I recognized that many who were born and raised in America and struggling with discouragement overseas would wish to go home and long for the easier/better life back in the USA. Since I was raised overseas and have been quite disillusioned with America, I did not feel that pull. I do not think that America is the answer, and I think the subtle message of, "Maybe you just need to go home and rest for a while" is that the wealth and comforts of America are where our healing and hope lie, which is .... totally not a Christian answer.

But.
I have been in Dallas nearly two months now. It has been a balm for the soul, having our own space, our own schedule, a place to be for a while without traipsing all over everywhere. Stability. We know the city, so we have familiarity. We have friends here, really great friends who make being here just fun and encouraging because it's so great to be with them. I'm so glad that God is opening Dallas as an American home for our family (ironically. After all my years of complaining about Dallas when we first moved here!). However after two months my husband is ready to go back to teaching overseas, which he loves. And my kids are eager to go home "and never leave again" says Judah, and I am so glad he feels that his home is Papua.

But me? The truth is that though I deeply love Papua, when I think about returning my stomach knots, and it's purely because of how comfortable it is here. Shopping and cooking is indescribably easier here than it is in Papua. I like not sweating over the oven. I marvel every Sunday at the taken-for-granted air conditioning and comfortable seats and cups of coffee everyone is holding. We have had a cold or two in the 5 months we've been in the USA, but nothing more. I like being healthy. It is utterly remarkable that I can think of just about anything I need/want and order it on amazon for a decent price and get it in two days. Even what's in the Dollar Tree for a buck is... shocking. The library. The parks. Grabbing a warm coffee out on a cold Fall night feels like a scintillating pleasure. Guilt tripping is not really helpful but I'm still in the stage where I am looking at life in middle class America and am astounded at how lavish it is, how taken for granted. It looks good right now, ya'll. It looks so nice and easy.

Giving it up this time around to go back overseas is not at easy as it was the first time.  As I have evaluated how I'm feeling, I recognize that it is pretty much entirely the comfortableness that I am clinging to, that I am loathe to give up.

I'm going through a Bible study on 1 Samuel that The Village Church women's ministry made available online. I was struck by the Israelite's demand for Samuel to appoint a king over them, so that they would be like the nations around them. It's not an irrational request. From the perspective of history, tribal governance developed into kingdoms as civilizations evolved. The king is what provided order, power, and greatness to the powers around Israel (also oppression and taxation and great risk if the king happened to be bad, but nevermind). If they wished to be great for God, they needed a king.

Except that the point of Israel was not to succeed or find stability in the scale of the world. They were specifically called to holiness, to be set apart, to be a people for God. In submission to His leadership they provide a witness to the nations of something different, of a greatness that is defined by His glory, not by the measurement of military might or the sovereign's fame. But Israel found their own inability to actually follow God lead to a lack of stability and so they wanted a king to provide stability, which of course did not work out for them. They patched the external issue, the lack of governmental stability, instead of the core issue, the human inability to obediently submit to God's best. The internal rot of man remained.

I am the same. An idol, or perhaps THE core idol of my culture is comfort. Some part of me does believe that in comfort and convenience I find my rest. There's what I'm loathe to give up as we head back overseas.

In truth it is, like a king, a false promise. Comfort and convenience are nice. But they are not what provides peace (as is evidenced by our entirely comfortable society that is absolutely chock full of anxiety, depression, and meaninglessness). Comfort and convenience are only good for me when they provide space from overwhelming daily burdens and stress and in order to turn to God and deal with the pain. Generally, though, the human soul uses comfort and convenience to distract from pain and suffering and fill the soul. It is not enough so we look for more, distract more. In reality is that all good is mysteriously found deep in the heart of God, a path that is iscrutable by the values and logic of the world. Once changed by Jesus it is generally in self-denial and service and suffering that we find the glorious beauty of knowing God. It makes no sense.

It seems so silly, but I am in the stage where I am in a stage where I am declaring to myself that my hope is not found in a fulfilling career. Peace is not found in having a good doctor and medication readily accessible.  Love does not come from regular date nights or goodness from carefully curated shopping and meal lists that I can successfully execute to keep my family going. Being like the nations is not the goal, and so I can return to our life in Papua secure that whatever the external difficulties or instabilities, the promises of God for love, joy, peace, and hope are found in the path of walking with Jesus no matter where He leads.

The Spirit whispers this to my heart and I pray for the faith to walk in obedience.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Enneagram Type 2 or Type 9

I have been looking into the Enneagram for the first time over the past weeks. I don't know what I am!

I've heard people say that when you find your type you just know, it fits like a glove. I don't feel that way about any of the types. I've also heard people say that when you find your type you know because it makes you angry or embarrassed because it reveals the soul a bit too uncomfortably. I don't feel that way either.

I test as a 2 most of the time. There's a lot to this. I tend to be very focused on relationships, I am a caring person. However while I am very afraid of disproval, I'm not afraid of being unloved or unwanted? That's a subtle but important difference, I think. I do not feel a drive to make sure that people around me love me, though I deeply value fostering good relationships. It seems like 2s can resort to clinginess and manipulation if they are insecure, and that is not my tendency. I have read that mothers of young children can test as 2s because of their stage of life being such a giving and caring stage.

I then read that if you read the types and identify with many of them, you might be a 9. I have never tested as a 9 but much about it fits. I am a peacemaker by nature, always creating peace and harmony in relationships, in structures. I love being a part of groups and my presence usually fosters conversation and good communication and connection, while at the same time I don't like attention fully on me. I thrive in stability, familiarity, connection. I love discussion and debate but only if I can take a middle road, listening to all sides and coming to a peaceful conclusion of my own. This type has a tendency to an emotional spirituality or mysticism, which I certainly do.

However, there's a lot written about how this type moves away from pain and can disconnect and become slothful in order to avoid conflict and lack of harmony or being affected by experiences. I do avoid conflict but I am not low energy at all, I don't avoid pain (sometimes I tend to dwell in it too much), and I kind of push into experiences. However I suppose the sloth might be interpreted as avoiding paths that push me to take a stand  or take the lead?

So I keep swinging between those two and wondering. Which type has the hardest time making decisions, because that's me. Hah.  I guess that the reason I am leaning to the 9 is that I think it is more convicting to think of needing to be a person that makes decisions and can be myself without wilting under the watching eye of others, rather than being someone that can be myself without needing to be needed and paid attention to by others. I think that reflects more the struggle of the 9 than the struggle of the 2.

Monday, October 1, 2018

Sorting out a Theology of Women

I said at the beginning of the year that I would work towards sorting out what I actually believe about the role of women. I have been avoiding it for a long time because the discussion quickly would make me angry or emotional. But now I am actually needing to make life decisions that are influenced by what a god-ordained role is for women in the family, in marriage, in church, and in society.

So I started asking for recommendations. I started out just trying to figure out what the categories were. I knew that in evangelicalism there are the complementation and egalitarian camps, but is that just about church leadership, or is it comprehensive? I assumed there were people on the extremes and more towards the middle. I went looking for good resources, not so much on peoples' journeys to what they believe, but on exegesis of scripture and an overall theology of women.

I started with the resources I already had, which was Tim and Kathy Keller's book on marriage and then Kathy Keller's book on the complementation position about church leadership. The Kellers are a softer complementarianism. Those were brief and not in-depth works meant for popular consumption. The next book I'm nearly done with is Paul and Gender by Westfall, which is a comprehensive scholarly work with lots of exegesis and is egalitarian. That has been paired with watching Pearce's lectures about gender and theology at Biola. To compare this in-depth egalitarian interpretation with an in-depth complementation perspective, I will next read the Kostenberger's book God's Design for Man and Women.

I've also tried to listen to the teaching of my home church. I don't feel that I have to land in agreement with their position, but I respect and love my church and its leaders and I want to take their teaching very seriously. So I have listened to Todd Wagner's sermons on women and JP's recent talk with Jennie Allen at the Porch. My church is rather conservative in their position.

It was fascinating to arrive back in the USA deeply wrestling and thinking through this personally, as the nation is right in the middle of the #metoo movement and the evangelical world is responding to scandals with Paige Patterson and Bill Hybels and has voices like Beth Moore pushing for the church's attitude towards women to be dealt with. I have found that many women are right with me in wrestling and rethinking this issue, or facing it for the first time. Within my own family, in my sending organization, among my old friends from college and my old co-workers, so many have provided opportunities to sit down and really talk over this. What a gift! I started off this journey feeling very alone, and I do not feel that way at all any more.

I feel at peace with needing time. The core passages here are complicated and require careful exegesis and reading up on the context in that day as well as the linguistic structure of the passages. The reading is pretty scholarly and intense so I move through it slowly. I'm lucky that my husband reads Greek and Hebrew and has all kinds of resources so that when I am stuck in a discussion about a particular word he whips out all these different things comparing word usage across scripture, across all literature of the time period, and various scholarly definitions. I just recognize that it's more than just figuring out if that passage in 1 Timothy says women can't be pastors. A systematic approach to teaching on gender and marriage and sexuality in creation and across scripture, struggling to see how Paul applies the creation narrative to his context and determine how to appropriately apply it to ours... it takes time.

I also feel quite at peace with the process right now. It is better to be engaging instead of avoiding and feeling angry. There's still clarity how to act and think because the instructions for believers in the New Testament are the fruits of the spirit and mutual respect and love. Those things I can implement even as I look for solid framework about women in scripture.