Sunday, October 26, 2014

The three things that make a "good foreigner"

Someone I know went off recently about Westerners (mostly missionaries) who come to Indonesia, saying that he wishes many of them would just go home, with a caveat that there are a few who do good and who should indeed be here. He speaks from a unique perspective. His parents were missionaries, so he is technically from the West, but his heart is here, and he moved back to Indonesia, became an Indonesian citizen, and married an Indonesian woman. He has feet in both worlds. I often seek his advice because of his unique perspective.

I messaged him and asked him what, from his perspective, made the difference between those that he wished would go home and the "good ones". He said three things that I will summarize as I remember them.

1. Genuine relationships and involvement in the local community
2. Generosity
3. Morality/Integrity

This came up in my language school a couple of weeks back as well. We had completed an assignment that involved asking our Indonesian friends what the general perceptions of the community were towards various types of Westerners and their lifestyles. It unearthed some surprising resentments towards particular countries, but beyond that I was surprised to find that my friends responded to questions about the lifestyle of Westerners by saying that they really didn't care if the Westerners lived in nice houses or were wealthy. What mattered was what KIND of wealthy person they were. Were they building relationships locally? Were they generously giving to the neighborhood needs, above and beyond what the average citizen gives? Were they friendly?

When I reported these conversations in class my instructor became very serious and put aside his "Indonesian teacher" hat for a moment to give advice. He said that he wouldn't advise us to try to live in relative "poverty" in order to be like those around us. Like it or not, we will be seen as wealthy, no matter what type of house/car/motorcycle we choose to drive. Our heart and attitude matters much more. He gave an example from within the culture of two types of wealthy Indonesians. One who would drive through the neighborhood in his car and roll down the window and stop to talk to neighbors, and would give above and beyond at weddings/funerals and to those he employed. He would still shop from local shops instead of only at the big grocery store downtown, and would still eat at the roadside food stands instead of just at night restaurants. On the other hand, a man who came into wealth and so perceived himself as better than everyone else, putting a fence around his house to separate him from his neighbors and guard his stuff, and only eating and shopping far from his neighborhood - he is stuck up and unappreciated.

I told my instructor about the three points given to me above and he emphatically agreed and asked me to write them out and send them to him so that future students could benefit. I thought I'd post here as well. It's ironic to me that in the US before coming there was so much said about your vision and effectiveness, when it seems that perhaps the most core things are very simple things that (in my opinion) flow naturally out of the core principles of the life of a Christian. Love God, love others.

It does take reevaluating my life weekly to see if I am living this way, because as simple as it is, sheltering oneself, hiding away... that is actually all too easy. But learning to love and live deeply in a community - that is my goal.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Ridiculousness in the Discipline/Spanking Debate

A couple years back I posted about disciplining kids and really struggling to figure out what we should do, what I was okay with, and all that stuff. Well, Judah is now three and a half, smack in the middle of testing boundaries constantly, and.... have I moved ahead at all?

So here's the thing. I would still love to not spank my children. There's enough research on the topic that is negative and I have personal reservations about how negative spanking can be when it's linked with anger. But then in the middle of struggling to discipline in the face of direct defiance, I have felt like... I just don't know what else to do! Kids have to learn to obey and behave. And yeah, I know that they need to run around and be crazy and that they get tired and hungry and struggle to keep themselves in check. I know to get down at eye level and speak to him lovingly and firmly. This, however, doesn't take care of disobedience, at least not for us, at least not right now. So, I have spanked, though not often, because sometimes I just don't know what else to do.

I am nearly finished with Shepherding a Child's Heart, the book that so many people in my circles love and recommend. I mostly hate it. There is some good stuff in there about communication and about the ultimate goal of parenting being to point a child to glorify God and enjoy Him. However, the thing that sets the book apart from other parenting books is that it specifically endorses spanking, and I decidedly hate the way they come to this decision. Essentially, they quote the Proverbs about “the rod” and discipline, and say that all other methods of discipline are insufficient, inconsistent, or punitive, and children must be spanked because the Bible says so. They also say that children should be spanked every time they do not obey quickly and directly.

Sorry folks, I just disagree. The scripture speaks about discipline, with “the rod” being a method of discipline of the day. The message is that parents must shepherd and discipline their children, not that children must be spanked. The book also has little in it of grace and there is a lot of talk of children being out of the “circle of blessing” as soon as they disobey in any way. There's no understanding of the constant “twilight' of our souls in which we are being made new but always still also dealing with our flesh. We are either in sin or in holiness and apparently we must discipline our children out of sin and into holiness. 

So. Frustrating. I ranted and raved about the book to Isaac nearly every day. 

In the midst of that frustration I engaged a community of women on a Facebook group I'm involved in. They are believers and fellow Moody alumni, and I know a lot of they (us?) follow attachment parenting methods. When that was being discussed, I threw in my questions about discipline. For those who don't spank, help me understand what else you do? What are the other options? I put in a specific example, but most responses coming from the attachment parenting crowd seem to be about overall theory. That doesn't do me much good. I need to know what you specifically do in response to direct defiance from a child.

I've since been pointed repeatedly to Laura Markham's website, and have read article after article on there and you know what? I am at a loss. According to her, time outs are no good. Spanking is no good. Parent-instituted consequences are no good. So, as I said, what do you actually DO when a child is disobedient and there isn't a natural consequence?? One page gave a play by play response and this is what I come away with. Essentially you do everything you can to avoid coming to that point of direct defiance (yes atmosphere, offer the child win-win options, redirect, etc.) , but if you happen to get to it, remove the child from the situation and talk it through.

Which.... you know.... I quite frankly do not believe that is a sufficient way to address inappropriate behavior and defiance. That is the first thing I do with my kiddo, and on occasion he is then able to resolve the situation. Often, though, nothing changes in his actions or attitude after being removed and speaking seriously together about that situation.

Secondly and more importantly, Markham's ultimate goal in discipline seems to be maintaining a positive relationship with the child at all costs. Creating a strong relationship means the kiddo will respond to gentle guidance instead of needing ultimatums. Evaluate all responses based on whether they strengthen or weaken your relationship. “Defiance is always a relationship problem.” Gosh. There is no sense that the child might sometimes have a heart problem and might make their own negative choices and firmly stand in them. 

In the end, I am equally frustrated by Laura Markham and what I have seen so far of the attachment parenting ideology about discipline of toddlers/preschoolers. On the Shepherding a Child's Heart side, the child is viewed as bad and in need of redemption via spankings. On the other side the child is viewed as good and simply in need of everything being nice and that will be enough to “gently guide.”

I think there's a theological problem in the realm of anthropology and hamartiology here, and it drives some bad ideology about parenting and discipline. There's a song I loved in college by Shaun Groves called “Twilight” that played off the image of the “dawning day and dying night” in the soul, “saint and sinner mingled in my veins.” You, me, my kids, we are stunningly beautiful, precious beings that reflect a God of grace, beauty, creativity, and love. And yet I know my own soul is also “prone to wander” and that without discipline, whether it be from the church, community, the scripture, or discipline that I myself implement on my own heart …. I do damage.

And so, I believe my children need love and relationship and discipline. As their parents, we are responsible for that. What that specifically looks like, I still am not sure. I just know I'm disappointed by the extremes on both sides, and the way the evangelical world sometimes buys into them. Anyone have any other favorite resources/books about parenting? I'm in the middle of struggling with it, and I find that reading keeps my thinking and being intentional in how I respond to Judah in this stage.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Seeing Ferguson Unfold from across the World

I watched the Ferguson situation unfold from across the world, in another culture. I don't know the nuances, I don't know how is at fault, but I know one thing. We all see situations through the lens of our own experience. Here is mine.

I went to college in downtown Chicago. It was an area with a reputation for both street violence and police brutality. One day Isaac and I were coming home from having watched a movie and stopped at the McDonalds down the street from our school to grab a quick burger. We were sitting discussing the movie when a black man in a wheelchair with a cast or bandage on his foot started wheeling around the restaurant and asking for change. This was common - there was a homeless shelter around the corner and although panhandling in the restaurant wasn't allowed, it happened often.

A white cop came in to usher the man in the wheelchair out of the restaurant (also common). He told him to move along and the man grumbled and avoided obeying. The cop requested again that he move towards the door, and the man again sort of avoided and grumbled and complained, with his voice rising and people turning to watch. The cop reached down and took hold of the back of the wheelchair to move it forward towards the exit. The man in the wheelchair resisted, reached down and pulled the footrest off of the wheelchair and brandished it at the cop, yelling at him. Totally inappropriate behavior towards an officer of the law.

At that point the cop also lost it. He grabbed the footrest from the guy, pushed him against the wall, and began beating the man's leg (with the bandage on it) with the footrest. They pushed each other back and forth from wall to wall and there was blood from somewhere and as a woman screamed and said, "CALL THE COPS!", they pushed each other out the door and down the street. That was the end of what I witnessed.

When things happen like Trayvon Martin or the situation in Ferguson, I always think back to that situation. Sometimes people attack cops and often they are incredibly disrespectful. I also know that sometimes cops lose it and do things they should never do.  I tend to think that the burden of responsibility lies heavily on the police. They are officers of the law. They are, by definition, guarding against lawlessness. So it should come as no surprise when those that they deal with are unlawful, disrespectful, or violent. They are trained to respond appropriately. It is NEVER acceptable for a cop to lose his temper and explode in anger, even when they are being treated unfairly. How sad is it that in that situation we were in desperate need of an officer of the law, but the screams of the witness went unheeded because the law was already there and was escalating and beating rather than averting a crisis? I also know that most likely that situation was never publicized because, you know what, who is to know? If it's a homeless black man with no advocate in a ghetto McDonalds, the cop subconsciously probably thinks, "No one is going to report this."

There's another experience that provides me a lens through which I view these situations, and it's being refined right now, across the world from Ferguson. I mostly grew up among a minority people group in this country. They are black and they are of a different culture, race, religion, and just about everything than the rest of this country. I grew up surrounded by a very tense political situation as rebels fought the national government, often in very inappropriate ways. I heard the frustration of the local people as they felt different, unheard, unempowered, voiceless, systematically disenfranchised, scorned, and sometimes persecuted. They were sometimes afraid.

And now here I am, doing language school in the center of the majority people group. I have been having conversations about the diversity of this country. I am astounded by the entirely different perspective they have. These are good people here. They are proud of the diversity of their country. They see the minority as a part of the this beautiful nation... different but part of it. Where the Papuans would say that the money, power, and cultural superiority flows from here, the people around me do not see themselves as privileged. They know there has been a political struggle across the country but it is seen as separate. They would never view themselves as a part of the problem. Why? They respect the minority. There may be a certain stereotype of the minority as ignorant, lazy, and uncouth, but they aren't going to judge people by that stereotype.

It's been a bit shocking to realize just how different the two sides see the same situation. Because I am seeing this as the situation in Ferguson unfolds, I realize that I am seeing us in the mirror. This majority group is like us in the US. We struggle to understand that situation because, well, it is possible that some guy attached a police officer and the police officer shot him in self-protection. We DO NOT see the systematic struggle because we don't personally feel prejudiced and we live entirely separate from the reality that is everyday life for the minority.

I think that's the crux of what I'm realizing. We are clueless. See, here's the thing. Systematic struggles stay the way they are despite individuals being personally blameless and unprejudiced, because the system perpetuates itself. This is a great blog on that topic. Read it. We also don't realize just how much powerlessness feeds the abuse of power. We look and see poverty, crime, and educational problems, and don't realize how much that exact problem allows a cop to do something that he would never do across town in our neighborhood. We see a problem that is not OUR problem, that we aren't personally contributing too, and forget that in a society, every member of the society contributes to the system. If the system is unjust, then as a part of this society, we are a part of injustice. And we are, indeed, our brothers' keeper.

I don't have answers. I know it's complex. I just also really believe that we have to open our eyes and realize that we ARE a part of this, and it IS our problem.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Privilege and Responsibility as an American Overseas


I am privileged. I grew up with it, and then I simply took it for granted. I knew my family had more money than our neighbors in their wood slat houses, more money than the ladies with small piles of fruit stacked in front of them at the pasar, more influence than those around me at church who could do nothing but pay the bribe, bow to the will of the police and military, and just live with injustice. For the most part our lives were the same. Eat. School. Sleep. Parents. Romance. Marriage. Kids. Sickness. But in so many ways that I simply took for granted because I was a child, I had privilege simply because of the family/nationality that I was born into.

Then I spent my adult years in the US, enriched by the fact that I knew what life was around the world. So, I was entirely okay with at times being "poor" compared to those around me. I picked up dropped coins in college, thankful for a little more to pay for a train ticket. I paid my way through college. We paid for seminary, lived in small apartments, drove old cars, and struggled to pay our medical bills. We shopped at Walmart and Aldis and Payless shoes and Goodwill. It wasn't always like that, but it was at times.

And now here I am across the world again, and instead of being poor, I not only know I am rich compared to the majority, the people around me know it too. There is no denying it. Based on where I come from (the USA), pretty much no matter what sector of society I come from in the US, I am wealthy here.  It might take a good amount of money and effort to get here, but once here, I am wealthy even when I live on a very small US stipend. I have people who work for me to watch my kids and help keep the house. I could eat at the nicest restaurant in town without batting an eye. My "oh, I just got them at Payless" shoes are worth a week's wages for a laborer.

How do I live with that?? It weighs heavily on me and I find myself wanting to hide it. I am SO so thankful for the ladies that work for us that allow me to go to language school, but I feel guilty that someone else scrubs my bathroom floor. I can get most things at the local open air market but it is much easier and more comfortable to shop at SuperIndo where there is AC and carts and everything in packages. It's more expensive.... but we can easily afford it because it's still way cheaper than US prices. Do you do what you can afford? We have been living in a house without a shower, oven, or dryer, so we are living differently than most of the Westerners. But you know what, my friend lives with six people in a house with a dirt floor and a mat on the floor for living room furniture. Oh right. Perspective.

I sit in school and I recognize that my instructors are young women my age, with kids my age, and I see us as equals. They worked hard, they have a profession, they are doing well at their jobs and are blessing others. And yet when we talk about where to eat, shop, and relax, I realize that they are giving tips for the wealthy Westerners, and they live a different life. I am wealthy.What?

It's hard. Hah, did you hear that? It's hard? Ridiculous. Poor wealthy American girl, has a hard time knowing what to do with her privilege.

As I struggle to know what to do, I can't take a queue from the Westerners around me. They may be wrong. The wealthy measure themselves by the standard of other wealthy folks, and it's too easy to simply continue on as you were. I also sometimes want to hide my wealth, to pretend that I don't have this privilege, because I am not comfortable with it.

Instead I am going to open my Bible this year and read it differently. I'm going to read the many, many passages about money, wealth, and possessions and realize that I am the one that those passages are written for, and that I better sit up and listen and obey. Jen Hatmaker wrote something recently on her blog that was helpful.
Two things I want you to get rid of as soon as you can: first, that guilt. Really. You were born into privilege. You didn’t pick that, earn it, or deserve it – this is simply your lot in God’s sovereignty. The sooner you can quit lamenting your advantages and your distribution of them, the better. God is not engineering a Guilt Trip. Just go ahead and knock that off. He is giving you eyes to see a little better and ears to hear a little clearer, and you wringing your hands and mourning lost years is not helping. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now God is just giving you more to know, so off you go. Don’t be guilty; be grateful, be generous, be brave.  
That's what I want to remember. Guilt doesn't help anyone. Instead, now that I realize what I have been given, what do I do with it? How do I use what I have been given for good and for God's glory? It's not about me and what people think of me and how I feel.... it should be about obedience and love.

And so... I am reading and praying with new eyes.