Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Sitting in Between Secularism and Animism

One of the weirdest things about moving here has been moving from an entirely secular, materialistic culture to a culture where spirits, demons, and ghosts are seemingly connected to everything.

In the US anything spiritual, supernatural, or not ascertainable by the scientific method is weird and suspect. Except essential oils, which most certainly work because all my friends on facebook say so and anecdotal evidence is irrefutable (sorry, sorry, I went to hallowed ground there. Essential oils must not be questioned). To say one hears God is absolutely bizarre and to believe the stories of scripture is a bit quaint. Contrary to popular belief about America being a "Christian" country, being in the US as a Christian leaves you feeling like a distinct, counter-cultural minority who practices and believes things that are considered strange by the majority.

 On the other hand here certainly one might expect to find people in the villages that believe in spirits, but it's super bizarre as a Westerner to realize that in the world of educated professionals nearly everyone believes in and has personal experiences with some aspect of the supernatural spirit world. Last week I read an article about a mass indwelling/ trance state at a school, and was told this happened in a number of in schools, offices, and neighborhoods over the last two years. You ask people if they've ever seen a ghost and most have a story to tell you. So much of the fabric of regular life is built around appeasing or avoiding the spirits. Some things are very personal and hidden, prayers and offerings and beliefs that one doesn't just talk about. Other things are very open but formal, so as a Westerner I don't even realize what's going on at a neighborhood ceremony until later, when someone explains that it was an appeasement of the spirits so that harm is not brought on the family. There are spirits over the city, the mountain, the area, the family, the house. Because this is all so strange to me, again, I am in the minority.

I have discussed this a lot with our language school instructors recently. I told them that I don't want to just bring Western skepticism, though it is true that when someone first tells me a story about the spirit world here my first instinct is disbelief. The thing is, I do believe in the existence of the spirit world and the supernatural. One instructor asked me if I'd ever seen a ghost or a spirit or seen someone attacked or indwelt by a spirit. No, I answered. Despite living here many years and hearing many stories, I've never seen anything of the sort personally.

What would you do if you saw something, he asked?

Well, I don't know, do I? I think that my first instinct, as a Westerner steeped in secularism, would indeed be skepticism. I would look for a natural answer. What natural explanation could explain what I just saw or experienced? Even though I do believe that the supernatural and spirit world do exist, I am not easily afraid (in fact, I am generally stupidly fearless in many aspects of life). It makes sense that I haven't experienced such things when they wouldn't be inclined to affect me. Beyond that, although I DO believe in that the Spirit world is real, I believe that my God is the God over all, and that those who believe and follow Him have nothing to fear. I need not be afraid.

Scripture says that Satan is the father of lies. He is a deceiver. It is quite striking to see the fear in the local culture towards spirits, so it's clearly an area that can be used to influence people to be afraid, to not believe in a God that can be absolutely trusted and who rules over all things. The ties to spirits are deep, even within the local church. Fear is deep.

On the other hand, why don't we see these crazy things in the Western world? When we are inclined towards disbelief, towards skepticism of all things related to God, why would evil want to change that inclination? Better to have us passive and proud, disbelieving not only in evil but also in God and the traditions of the church. Much better to deceive the West into thinking that we are secure in our knowledge and need not think about such things.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Chasing Sunsets

I am a sunset hunter. If I see the sky turning shades of pink or orange I nearly have to get out, to go as fast as I can to a place where I can watch the sky transform moment by moment. It fascinates me, the way one cloud will be afire one moment and the next a shadow of grey.

I have always thought that everyone likes sunsets, and mostly that's true. I'm always amazed, though, how much regular life just goes on with perhaps a passing appreciative glance towards the sunset. I'm learning that I am perhaps a bit obsessive. I would pull to the side of the highway in Dallas, or be found on the roof of the work parking garage, or in the cargo elevator room in the hotel we stayed at last week, because it was that window that showed the sunset. It's been true of me since I was a newly mobile 17 year old with a motorcycle.

C.S. Lewis said, "We do not want merely to see beauty, though, God knows, that is bounty enough. We want something else which can hardly be put into words - to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become a part of it." I think perhaps what sunsets symbolize for me is that no matter the mundane or darkness of the world of man, still, unfailingly, there are these moments of transcendent beauty painted on the sky. It says to me that God is beautiful and that He present here. I hear the call, "Behold, I make all things new."

There are different things that bring people to a transcendent experience, one of worship. For my husband it is so often in the mind, intellectual that he is. For me, it is outside. It is here that I am brought to my knees. I wonder if I will remember these sunsets, the ones that marked the return to the beauty of Indonesia that brought me so much joy?

Will I remember this place I found on my first motorcycle ride out exploring our little Javanese city? Where the sun set over the village below? Where two weeks ago, the cloudy sky of rainy season covered the sunset and all was gray until after the sun had passed the horizon. Then, suddenly, the entire sky turned pink and mist covered the valley as the call to prayer echoed?

Will I remember the days I took Elly to the soccer field and she ran around in the grass oblivious to the glory around us?

Will I remember last week, when we were all sick in our hotel room room and I saw the city of Solo turning gold, so I searched up and down our floor until I found a window next to the cargo elevator in the supply room that had a view to the West. And although the next two days were gray, that day the city was afire?

Will I remember when I went looking for a view and found a path paved in the rice fields where the sun reflected in the paddy and I walked and sang for the joy of being here, alive? There was a rock in the paddy and I thought, if I were in high school this would be the rock I'd come to to watch the sun set. And then I thought, who am I kidding? I am here, right now, apparently still at the high school level of obsession with beautiful things. And, despite my husband's teasing, I will keep going. Because for me there is something incredibly profound and soul-stirring in the great beauty of light moving into night without a sound.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Fears of Being a Stay-at-Home Mom

I continue to wrestle with identity and role as a woman and mother. I am surrounded, while here in language school, by women who are homemakers and parenting small children. I am looking forwards and I see the next few years where I will be full-time at home, home schooling, cooking, cleaning, being June Cleaver (okay, not at all, but you get my drift).

I'm still pretty freaked out about that because I have no idea how homeschooling will go, I have no idea how fun or hard it will be for me to be at home full-time, and I don't know how I will come out on the other end of it. Or how my kids will come out, for that matter. But, since Isaac was an at-home Dad for three years, I figure the next three years are my turn and other possible arrangements can be considered after I take my turn. For now there is no nanny, awesome day care, grandma, or excellent school option around where we will be, so I am it. And I love them, deeply. I watch them follow each other around the house and marvel at their little souls that God has made me responsible for. 

And so... I'm going to own it. I'm going to learn to cook for this family from scratch in the third-world like a champ. I'm going to organize a homeschooling schedule and grow my kids through it. We're going to learn, we're going to have fun, and I'm going to pour out love on these precious kids because I'M THEIR PERSON. I'm going to make our house a home, both for us and for others to enter into. I'm going to do this thing.

What I'm afraid of is that as I fully throw myself into this at-home-mom thing, I will forget or lose anything outside of it. I believe, strongly, that the church and the world need women who are identifying their gifts and using them. In their families, yes, but also outside of their families (just like men). If we don't encourage that, the church and the world lose out. And in fact I want my own kids to see that lived out. So, I know for this season I'm the person on point at home and I recognize that with tiny people that is pretty all-consuming. Still I'm afraid that as I pour myself into that role I will lose the other things, the vision, passion, and gifting outside of parenting. And perhaps most of all I still absolutely resist the idea that women are meant to be and are always most fulfilled when they are at home with their kids.

I know that when we put things on hold, when there are blank years on the resume, it's much harder to grow again as we were before. I watch work friends continue to be promoted and I am SO PROUD. I wonder, as the kids get a little older and I peek around the curtain again, will it all be unfamiliar?

I read some on Lynn Hybels and her absorption at home in the shadow of her husband (Bill Hybels) and his huge ministry. Both Lynn and their daughter have now written about Lynn's process of finding her own gifting and passions and absolutely coming alive with it, and how beneficial that was for her own kids to watch. I don't want to have to go through the “finding myself” stage after the kids get older. I want to have continued to invest in whatever ways I can in those gifting and passions all along. But... when the kids are tiny and I live in a remote corner of the world, what in the world will that look like?

And that is where I have to step back and ask what I'm worried about. Am I worried about defending my rights, of not being meaningful or successful enough? Because those things shouldn't be the point. And so I am in the process of putting all of this in the hands of my God and saying, again, that I want to obey. I will obey within the walls of the home I raise my kids in, and I will strive to obey in the other contexts He brings out, and I will trust that His plan and path for me is greater than what I would claw out tooth and nail in all my self-absorption.

I'm working all of this. Masih dalam proses.  

Sunday, January 25, 2015

All-Day Church Field Trip In Java

A few weeks before Christmas we heard that our Indonesian church was going to go picnicking together to the beach several hours away from us one Sunday. We decided to join, though with some fear and trembling! Going away all-day with two small children and no way to retreat if they fall apart can be risky business. The trip was full of fun, misadventures, and cultural learning at its best.

We gathered at 5:30 AM at our church. It seems like everything starts early here – it's one of the hardest things to get used to as Westerners who like to sleep in. We all parked our motorcycles inside the sanctuary of the church, right where the pews normally are. We boarded two big tour buses and started on our journey.

Four hours aboard a big bus is a long time for little ones, but our kiddos did great and fell fast asleep just like pretty much everyone else on the bus. First, though, the pastor stood up front and gave a sermon and we all sang some Christmas songs together. It's incredibly meaningful to worship Jesus with the minority church here while driving through beautiful Java. We were also all given little cups of water and packets of snacks – lumpia and banana bread and sticky rice with savory meat filling.

When we got to the beach it was midday and warm and the beach was absolutely packed with people. The Western individualist mentality tends to avoid places that are packed, but most Indonesians seem to enjoy the togetherness. Since we stick out like sore thumb we ducked down and headed straight for a patch of empty sand so that we could figure out what to do next. However we were immediately swarmed by people asking to take pictures with our kids, and as the minutes went by we got sweatier, less genuinely smiley, and Elly continued to eat sand. We were rescued by a church member who found us and guided us to the far corner of the beach where the rest of the church had taken refuge in the shade under some cliffs.

Here we realized our first major mistake – we hadn't brought swim clothes! I know, I know, why would we come to a beach without swim clothes? In my defense, I had heard reports of these beaches being very dangerous and since most Indonesians don't swim, I was told few people get in the water. There are also legends of a spirit queen that everyone fears who lives in the water – another reason that people don't swim. I just assumed that we'd wade in the water but there wouldn't be swimming. Most of the ladies did indeed camp out on mats on the sand while a few men and kids played in the water. I figured we'd join them and stay mostly dry. We quickly realized the reason why our nice shady spot was free. The first big wave completely swamped all of the ladies and baggage. As the tide continued to rise we all continued to compact more and more tightly in the higher ground.

In the end most of us gave in and played in the water, which then sent us all to the souvenir shacks in search of a dry change of clothes. With dry clothes in hand we paid for use of the shacks with dipper baths where you could – very gingerly – wash off and change. We also all packed lunches, which my children would drop in the sand and munch on anyways, to the great amusement and horror of all the Indonesian tourists around us.

We settled next to the bus at a little restaurant to get fruit juice and wait until the attempted meeting time back at the bus, as everyone had scattered to shop and change. Unfortunately while Asians have the reputation for never being on time, “rubber time” seems to go both ways here, and I never know if things will be late or – as in this case – early. A half hour before meet time a church friend found us and told us the bus was loaded and waiting for us!

We headed for a second beach, where Isaac and Judah joined everyone in the long walk from the parking lots to the crowded beach. I stayed behind with Elly thinking I could let her sleep on the bus, but when they shut down the AC I ventured out. This brings me to one of those moments in life where you can only shake your head in disbelief. I was walking as the only Westerner amidst thousands of Indonesians pouring to and from the beach. It was brutally hot and I was carrying a sweating sleeping baby and walking barefoot because my flip flops had been washed away or stolen at the first beach. And – just to make it perfect – I realized my newly purchased cheap tourist pants had ripped pretty extensively.

Amazing. I could just shake my head and laugh, and stop immediately to spend the last of my cash to buy a second pair of cheap tourist pants and change at another bathing shack. I'm sure I was a spectacle to behold.

After the second beach we watched as our friends all bought souvenirs (I see souvenirs as kitschy things you avoid buying, but it seems nearly mandatory here to buy souvenirs if you take a trip anywhere out of town, although they usually bring their own food rather than eat out like Westerners do) and waited sweating in the sun as the bus AC was repaired. Our ride home was long because the bus drivers tried to take side roads and got lost. No one bothered much since nearly everyone just slept away. We finally made it home at 9:30 pm.

It was indeed a rich cultural experience and a really good opportunity to get to know our church friends better, and our kids did a great job. Usually we find that if we go into situations like this with the attitude of, “anything could happen, we'll just roll with it and enjoy ourselves” it generally turns out okay (though not necessarily restful!).