Tuesday, July 21, 2015

A Visit to Singapore

Singapore.... Singapore is crazy, particularly coming from semi-rural central Java.

For one thing, I think it's the most diverse city I've ever been in. It's a Commonwealth country, so you have the British influence, and it's a global city so you have tons of tourists and immigrants and expats. It's one of the top Asian cities, so you have massive populations from Korea, Japan, China, etc. Singapore historically has been the meeting place of Indian, Indo-Malay, and Chinese culture, and all of them are strongly represented. It's disorienting to have things that are familiar to me but in such separate places, suddenly grouped together here. To see little India with Chinese, all of the Chinese things labeled in Indonesian, and the general language of communication being English even in the most authentic of enclaves? Very bizarre.

It's also hot. It's hot like most of Indonesia, but we happened to live on a mountainside this past year and it was beautifully cool for the last six months during rainy season. I count my blessings and am now having to adjust to the heat we'll be living with all the time. It's generally somewhere near 90 degrees all the time. ALL the time. Even before the sun comes up. But when the sun is up, or you're moving (at all), it feels like it's over 100 degrees. So basically, as soon as you leave air conditioning, you are sweating. Even in the shade. Even without moving. So. I am adjusting.

It's wealthy. Man. Talk about the rise of Asia. America, look out, you got one coming. I swear the most common car I see is a BMW. We gripe about how much Americans are addicted to their phones, but America's got nothing on Singapore. It's like sci-fi movie sometimes, with everyone around all looking at their own screen.  I asked about the equivalent of an American Target and people shrug - luxury goods are where it's at here. There is mall after mall after mall, all filled with high-end goods. Mall culture is definitely not out of style here - shopping is like what Singapore is for, apparently.

I'm not complaining. It is overwhelming and for the most part we aren't shopping sort of people, but given how isolated we are from Western goods in our small towns in Indonesia, it's a huge treat to drop by Ikea and H&M. And it's sort of mind blowing when the mall location maps are touch screen and proceed to give you directions like google maps. The city is kind of over the top.

But what we REALLY love is the food. We love Indonesian food, but we miss variety from all over the world, and Singapore has exactly that. We have eaten at a few Western-style spots, mostly Chilis!

What we've had almost every day, though, is Indian food. See, eating at Western-style spots means eating at American prices, which is not how our budget is made. So, to save money we eat at our guesthouse sometimes and we have found that Singapore serves affordable food at hawker centers and food courts. In the US food courts in malls are generally lukewarm, unappetizing spots. Not so in Singapore! I've discovered that every single mall has a food court that represents food from all over the world.

So, we've loved having more naan and biriyani and chicken tandoori and daal and chai. We've also enjoyed the Singaporean Indian murtabak and prata/paratha.

We are loving teh tarik, which is supposed to be a Malay special of "pulled" milk tea, made frothy by being poured between glasses. Let's be honest, it's hardly ever actually pulled these days, and it's essentially the same the same thing as Hong Kong milk tea or sweetened British milky tea. Regardless, it's good. I also have tried teh halia (ginger milk tea, just like central java), and bandung, which is rose water drink that I wouldn't recommend but comes in a thrilling shade of pink. Singapore also make amazing coffee. They make it dark and strong and add sweetened condensed milk so that it's creamy. I never had a bad cup. So, so good.

I got a traditional Singaporean breakfast of kaya toast and soft boiled eggs and soy sauce. Well, I LOVE the kaya spread they make here, which is like a coconut pandan butter/jam. So good. The soft boiled eggs are a mystery to me. They're just one step away from raw, and it's basically egg soup that you dip your bread into. Weird by my tastes.

I also love love just basic chicken rice, sometimes called Hainanese chicken rice. It's roasted or broiled chicken on coconut rice, but done so flavorfully and topped with chili sauce, ginger sauce, and soy sauce. I wasn't expecting much given the simplicity of the dish but dang, it was SO good.

The major fail for me was laksa. Could have a been a bad bowl, but ... it was a pretty bad bowl. Not my favorite mix of flavors. Too.... fishy. And I like fish. So, not sure what to say about that.

All in all, if you are an adventure traveler, Singapore is probably not for you because it's too much about shopping and glitz and glam. However, glitz and glam is not all there is to Singapore. It has amazing food, great international neighborhood, and some absolutely stunning attractions, my favorite of which was the Gardens by the Bay. You can get in free, but if you're just doing it one time you need to pay for entry to the Domes, and maybe for the shuttle to beat the heat. We were blown away. It's like a botanical garden/children's garden/park all rolled into one. 

And now here we are in the middle of nowhere, where there is no cheese available and local pizza is made with kraft singles and ketchup. Yikes.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

A Look Back at Where I've Been

There has been a lot of looking back this year. We look back and mark 10 years of marriage. As I arrive in Indonesia I look back at my childhood here and life as a tck. I have also been looking back at the story arc of my faith. Funny, when I look back I know what made my childhood so wonderful and how profound that childhood faith was. I also understand my post-college resentment, my questions, the way I pushed back against so much. 

I recently read a book called The Post-Church Christian, by the Nyquists, father and son. It's a dialogue between generations, reflecting the dialogue that has gone on between father and son in real life. Carson is trying to explain his generation's (and his own) disillusionment with the Church, Dr. Nyquist is responding. I, like Carson, am of the post-church generation, and much of what Carson describes is a part of my story as well. I grew up a part of a conservative evangelical community. My faith was deeply rooted, for a kid, practiced in daily disciplines and celebrated in relationship with others who were on the same journey. God was close, real, and deeply satisfying. Life was filled with joy. I was given a beautiful childhood.

When I started blogging just after college I was entering the journey of so many in my generation and pulling away from the childhood community. Most of the West is a post-Christian society, and my generation of those who grew up in a devoted Christian community are in turmoil, some leaving altogether, some becoming "religious" but pushing against the church, some finding satisfaction in a change of denomination, and some staying. I was angry with American Christians, cynical about missions, and frustrated with my evangelical alma mater. I pushed away from everything I had known and I blogged through my frustrations and my search into the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church. Some of you started reading me then.

On the other hand, some of what Carson says my generation is angry about, I simply didn't experience. 
My generation wants brutal honesty and reality, that is true. I was given that gift growing up and didn't feel like I had to hide flaws and be perfect. I saw that being true in Dallas, but it wasn't my story. I do not feel that the church hurt me, or that the Christians in my life were hypocritical. There were some, sure, who were hiding addiction and sin, but most of the Christians I grew up with loved deeply, powerfully, sacrificially. If anything, that kept me and my friends closer to the church, loathe to hurt those that we loved and respected that had loved us. Most Christians I was around were not Sunday Christians, whose faith meant nothing to the rest of their lives. On the contrary, their faith informed their entire lives.

There were other complaints, mostly having to do with the culture of Christians in America in particular. In any case, I was wrestling, and so were many, many people around me. When I stepped foot back in Indonesia for the first time since highschool graduation, it was 8 years ago. I remember sitting at the watertower watching the sun set with Rachel and Isaac and saying that I felt like I had dug down and down, throwing out so much of what I previously thought was Christian and now saw as cultural. I said that I just didn't really know where to go from there, now that I was at the bottom of that well.

I suppose less has changed from those days than you might think. I couldn't care less about evangelicalism. Am I an evangelical, am I not? Don't care. Conservative Christian American politics? Still make me angry most of the time. I still get all angsty and ranty when the internet explodes over Baltimore or the legalization of gay marriage, usually because I don't like the way Christians are publicly responding. I still am okay with a well-placed "damn" and would be happy to have a beer with you – or more likely, a caipirinha. I still react with reservation to stories of emotional spiritual experiences,  I still roll my eyes at cheesy memes, and I often feel like the odd one out culturally and doctrinally amidst the various religious communities I am a part of.

Actually, my struggle with the wonderful communities I grew up with is that they were perhaps too faith-filled. Please understand. As I moved into a secular society the separation between the Christians and the world was so stark. It seemed Christians, if anything, were so heavenly-minded that they were of no earthly good. They were unrelateable to the average person who was uninterested in the Bible or church. They were so involved in Christian activities, schools, programs, camps, and media, that they had no point of intersection or relationship with the rest of the world. That's a part of evangelicalism that I still dislike. In reaction to an increasingly secular society, they built a safe Christian counterpart. I didn't like it, or rather, I might have liked the Christian counterpart but I hated the division and separation it created.  The world doesn't need separated saints, they need love in their midst. They need Jesus. It seemed to me that Jesus wouldn't be in the separated subculture but ... in the world.

I have, however, also been dissatisfied with the post-church community. I see blame, anger, rants, and a re-creation of God and the words of the Bible to whatever fit their own personal preferences. I don't want a God made in my own image, I want to know God, in all of His holiness and love and power, no matter how inconvenient and unsettling He is. And, over time, what I believe became more important than what I disagree with. That need to separate myself, to make sure I proved all the ways I was different from what I didn't like about some Christians or churches, well, I'd say some of that was a sort of adolescence. As I moved into adulthood I could understand that of course I am different and there are disagreements, there's no need to be defined by it. For every Mark Driscoll or Franklin Graham that makes me cringe there's a Tim Keller or an N.T. Wright or Jen Hatmaker who gives me hope. 

I echo Sarah Bessey. My life is "sacred and beautiful, sure, I'll say that, but also slow and daily and sometimes monotonous, too. But even in that ordinary work, I keep trying to give shape to the new world, to the dangerous possibilities of living our lives right now as if God saved everything, as if it is all redeemed or being redeemed."

 8 years later and I am still a part of it all. A defining moment for me was listening to Christians sing the Nicene Creed. Thanks to a husband getting his graduate degree in early church history and my own research into the development of the Church, I knew that the creed had been held to by Christians since it was set up as a public definition of what the church believed in 381 AD. It wasn't just this small corner of emotional folks standing around me who knew little about history or philosophy or theology - this has been the creed of the church for over 1600 years. I listened and then joined in singing in tears, realizing that for all the peripheral issues that were so divisive to me at the time, this I believed, this WE believed, and this we always have believed. There was peace there, and joy. Because, for one thing, after discovering that underneath all that resentment of the culture, I believe and follow this Jesus, well, then anyone else who follows this man Jesus and the core of Christian orthodoxy is my brother and sister. And, it so happens, the communities I was in do claim Christian orthodoxy.

And then, eventually, there was a humbling and a clearer view of my own heart, my own flaws. I saw how judgmental I was, how scornful of other people, how narcissistic, how unsubmissive in my heart. Now as I am amazed by the fact that through Jesus' death I am saved and made holy and pure and a child of God, and I am increasingly aware that all followers of Jesus will still be flawed humans. I am more amazed now that Jesus actually loves me and this mess of a church than that Christians are not, in fact, Jesus.

8 years from that last visit to Indonesia there hasn't been a big epiphany, but because of God's quiet patient discipline of my heart, there has been a return to the disciplines of faith that move me beyond me and the concern about myself and towards the centrality of Christ. I wake up now before my kids and open the scriptures, because although proof texting still drives me nuts, these are the words of God and I want to know Him, not what I think He should be. I pray because I believe that God is a God who communicates with us. I sit in church services because this is the family of God and we come together to worship God even in the moments when there is no spiritual buzz, it's boring, or I feel like a misfit.

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.