Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Really Freaking Hot
We went to Celebrate Freedom on Saturday. It's the largest free concert in the U.S., and it's Christian music. We went to meet Linda and Bill, but we decided not to go until the afternoon, because that day (and the rest of this whole freaking week) the high was 103 degrees. SWELTERING. We came prepared for heat exhaustion - water bottles of ice water, tank tops, umbrellas, the works. I put ice chips down my back, we ate lemon ices, huddled under umbrellas and tried to soak up the sweat, and pretty much hardly heard any of the music until the sun went down. Even then it was in the 90's still, but that felt cool compared to 103 in the sun!
The Culture of Christian Music
In any case, considering my childhood was immersed in the Christian pop scene, it was funny to be at a Christian concert today and not know any of the new bands at all. The big shots were still the old school folks that were big when I was a kid, and they were the last ones to sing and the only ones people really got into. Isaac and I chatted on the way home about our reactions. As kids, events like that were super cool. Midway through college as we analyzed our faith and discovered how much the churches we were raised in were entertwined with American culture - we looked at things like the contemporary Christian music scene with a deep cynicism and were angered by the shallowness, the attempt to evoke emotion (which we saw as manipulation), the way everything is marketed, etc.. etc. This time around, with the cynicism mostly behind us, we could appreciate that it's okay that Christianity looks American within America. Faith is meant to be expressed within a culture.
I mean, in high school in Papua my school went to a village. We hung out with the villagers. We hunted pigs (sorta). At night we had a feast complete with (no joke) potatoes, pig, and jungle rat cooked in hamburger helper. Then they danced - and we joined them - and it was hours of jumping and chanting and swaying. I might not have understood it all, but I could appreciate and love their culture. If a Christian music concert with all of its trappings is an expression of faith mixed with local culture, I can appreciate it and even participate in it, as long as I still also analyze and let myself be guided by scripture rather than the culture.
I guess it's easiest for me to accept the culture of everyone around me, and hardest to look at the culture of my parents, the culture of suburban white USA. That's why even in the depth of my cynicism I began to discover gospel music and LOVED it. I was okay with their passion, emotion, the dancing, the themes of freedom and suffering and blessing. Mostly I could appreciate the truth in it and how the culture and faith had mixed to form this genre of music. It's much harder for me to do that with my own background, because, well, it just seems so uncool. We are at the point now, though, where we can participate and enjoy it if we want to, or step back and just watch without feeling guilty, because we understand that this culture doesn't define our faith.
This is long enough already, so tomorrow I'll post my thoughts about the individual bands. For now, enjoy this youtube video of the fantastic gospel song "I am Healed", and allow yourself to be shocked that I (admittedly very white and unable to dance) was actually in a gospel choir and thoroughly enjoyed belting out that song.
Friday, June 26, 2009
I had a gynecologist appointment this week. I've been looking for advice about birth-control, particularly looking for non-hormonal options. I'm weighing my options and would love the perspective of other women that have made their own decisions.
Hormonal Birth Control:
- The Pill
- The Patch
- The Ring
- All hormone shots...
- Natural Family Planning (NFP)
- Barrier Methods (condoms, etc)
See - over the past year my assumptions about birth control were challenged . Isaac and I looked pretty deeply into it all during the elections, mostly because the fierce debate around Obama in Christian circles often came down to abortion, and engaging honestly in that debate took us back around to the question of where life begins.
We'd been pretty at peace with that question before. I took a class in college (a Bible college) called Developmental Psychology. The section on pregnancy, the beginning of life, and birth control was fascinating, and although the Proff attempted to present a variety of views without telling us which he followed, I came out pretty convinced that life begins at implantation, when the embryo attaches to the uterus. Then when Isaac and I got engaged and I started looking at birth control options, the pill and the patch didn't bother me because while they can prevent implantation, there is no abortificant quality after implantation.
The debates we got into last Fall brought up a lot of arguments of people talking about life beginning at conception, and I intensely asked WHY. What resulted after asking doctors, theologians, pastors, parents, professors, scripture, church history and friends what their opinions were and why, I've come to think that......
.... the whole thing is so unclear and I'm more unsure than ever. Without knowing for sure what we think, we wonder if maybe for now we should air on the safe side (then again, what IS the safe side anyways?). Hormonal birth control of all kinds can prevent implantation, and IF life begins at conception, then that prevention is causing abortions in the many women (including me) that use them.
Let me just say that again, because I am sort of aghast that the evangelical church states so strongly that life begins at conception and condemns abortion, but then rarely is consistent because hardly anyone speaks out against hormonal birth control. IF life begins at conception, the pill, the patch, and the ring all cause abortions. Beyond that, over time I grow more and more uncomfortable with pumping my body full of hormones that can affect weight, mood, libido, etc.. Yeah, I think I do fine on the birth control I've been on for the past four years, but I'm at the point where I'd really like to switch.
What are my other options?
The obvious answer is barrier methods - condoms, etc. Okay maybe, but I hate them, so I'm looking at other options.
Well, the gynecologist was no help, really. Her biggest non-hormonal suggestion is the IUD, which prevents conception. However, the IUD can be difficult and painful to insert if you've never had a baby before, and there's other side-effects I guess I'm not comfortable right now. It seems like a decent option for women that have already given birth, but not for me.
Diaphragms are another option, but don't come highly recommended by the gyno and don't have the highest percentage of effectiveness (read - some friends were using this when they got pregnant).
That leaves the only other option as Natural Family Planning (NFP). I've been reading up on it, and it's more than just counting days and trying to estimate when you're fertile. Women who follow NFP carefully will take their body temperature every morning and measure a few other signs to track when they are fertile, and during those times either use barrier methods or abstain. In fact, you can even buy fertility detectors... not sure how effective they are though. In my understanding, NFP gets a bad rap mostly because people misunderstand it or just don't actually follow it and say they are.
That's about it. The gynecologist basically said she doesn't know many women using NFP, and subtly sent the message that most people go with the pill and the patch and everybody's doing it, what's the problem? I KNOW that's not true, but it may seem that way to her because everyone coming to her is trying to get a refilled prescription. I know a LOT of women who have gone off of hormonal birth control (mostly for moods and libido reasons), but of course she doesn't see these women because they just stop coming and decide to take care of themselves.
The gyno encouraged me to look into the NuvaRing, which lasts for a month and is inserted, which means the hormones aren't entering your bloodstream or digestive system, and it's about 50% less hormones overall. That helps with my unease about the hormone levels, but it doesn't help at all with the moral quandary of when life begins.
All in all... I have no idea what to do. :)
Thursday, June 25, 2009
We had a few movies that my family watched over and over and over again, and outside of them I pretty much hardly watched anything. Some family favorites: Singing in the Rain, The Parent Trap (the Disney Version with Lindsey Lohan pre-druggie days), Newsies, The Sound of Music, Anne of Green Gables.
As a result of my childhood, I love old musicals. The West Side Story, My Fair Lady, Oklahoma, The Sound of Music, Singing in the Rain.... good stuff.
So... here's some classic Singing in the Rain scenes
Lina Lamott attempting diction classes. She was SUCH an annoying character, but so quotable.
The multi-talented Donald O'Conner doing his "Make 'Em Laugh" routine. Last night we marveled at how much the old actors had to do. Dance, comedy, act, sing...
I still sing this one some mornings, such a cheerful song... Good Mornin'
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
A month ago we moved in with a couple from our community group.
We were seeking community and cheaper rent.
We saw upsides and downsides and decided to go for it and were excited.
Most people are intensely curious about how this would all shake out.
So.... how's it been going?
Well, you should all know that Asher and Steph follow my blog (hi guys!), so it's not like you're getting an inside scoop that they're not getting. We've committed to being pretty open with each other, and we have a roomie dinner once a week in which we chat about how things are going and things we need to work on or address. It's great (today I was the chef and made Thai coconut soup).
Someone asked me today if there's anything unexpected that's come up or that has surprised us, and I can honestly say that at least so far the answer is no. We knew that we'd have less time for just Isaac and I and so we'd have to be intentional about getting away to spend time together or shutting the door to the bedroom if we needed to talk something out. We knew it'd we'd have to work out the details of cleaning and the responsibility for house stuff.... and we have....
So yeah, I really don't think there's been anything unexpected. It's been mostly great! I'm the busiest at the moment, since I have the most full-time job, but the other three have spent a lot of time swimming together in our pool, which has provided fun and excercize and tans (sorta - we're all really light skinned!). Isaac LOVES having people to swim with, since when I go I prefer sitting half in the water and reading a magazine to playing pool games.
I guess the biggest thing for me is just having people around. It sort of provides an extension on college life when you have people around you that are hanging out all the time. I don't know if this will last when the school semester starts, but it's fun to play games or watch movies together in the evening, to chat about the latest news or talk about what's going on in our lives. I have always had a tendency to become a recluse without intervention, even though I LOVE people. I'm just naturally reserved, so having Asher and Steph here means that I am spending time with people and getting to know them - sort of by force even though I love it. It means I'm given a chance to get over my awkwardness because for once I finally have a lot of TIME with people instead of being rushed during a once or twice a week hang out time.
Things start to get super authentic - to the point where Isaac and I are singing operatically while watching the dishes as the roomies laugh from the other room, or Asher and Steph have a hilarious discussion while we laugh at them. It's just FUN to get a chance to be with friends more often. That's community. That's what we're gaining.
There's plenty more to come, I think, as friendships deepen and we walk through life together for a while. We're also talking about how to reach out to our apartment community, which I'm excited about.
Sunday, June 21, 2009
I grew up in missions and now I watch the trends and patterns of Christian missions with interest.
One thing I see these days that worries me is the push for short-cycle church planting. Essentially it's a reaction against sending people overseas and ending up with people that are doing nothing but puttering around enjoying the honor that comes in the evangelical community with being on the front-lines as a missionary. You see some places that have had a rather large missions presence for generations but see virtually no church or spiritual growth. Everyone is just stuck.
So - the winds of change are blowing through, and now to avoid the aforementioned extreme, missions and churches are pushing a missions model that sends individuals or teams (of nationals or foreign missionaries) into an area to preach and start new small churches of new believers. These new believers are immediately encouraged to go out into their circle of influence and tell the story of their hope. The idea is that instead of just forming a church that will remain a church for forever, a movement is started as each new believer goes OUT with the intent to grow.
With the evangelistic fervor of new believers constantly reproduced, you end up with a church that multiples into more churches, each of which multiply into more churches. If the Spirit leads and the harvest is ready, soon you have a church planting movement.
The ideas are good, in that they encourage individual responsibility of new believers, evangelism, and church growth.
China is a STUNNING example of church growth that makes all short-cycle folks turn green with envy. There's a Chicago Trib article about it here. When the communists took over China there had been decades of missions work in the country but the Christian church made up less than one percent of the population. The Communists kicked out all of the missionaries and for a good number of years the outside world thought that Christianity had disappeared from China. Despite government bans, persecution, and a total lack of foreign missions presence, when the country began to open up to the outside world again we discovered that somehow Christianity had exploded and spread through half the country in hidden house churches, and now numbers somewhere around 70 MILLION members (larger than the Communist party itself).
That's fantastic, and what I love most about it is that it's so inexplicable that most of us can only throw up our hands in amazement and conclude that when the Holy Spirit moves, He moves, and apparently no missionaries or great theories or sums of money are needed.
So - if China is a great example of how a church planting movement works, I think we can also follow their example to see the other side of the coin. As stories have begun to emerge from China about the days of explosive growth, we hear repeated tales of entire churches without a Bible or an experienced Christian. God's faithfulness despite this difficulty is awesome, but because of the extreme lack of training in Bible, theology, and church history and access to discipleship and guidance from older believers, a number of house church denominations have ventured into heresy. Even now, when the church is large and the network of underground churches is less hidden and has developed its own underground seminaries and routes to gain print resources from the outside world, the percentage of trained leaders is still super low. Cults have swept in since there are so few trained leaders that can identify falsehood. The church may be huge, but it is deeply vulnerable. They are desperate for training.
I think what happened in China shows the good and the bad of short-cycle church growth. The awesome thing is that the fast growth reaches a lot of people with a beautifully simple gospel. The down side is the lack of training and discipleship that ultimately leaves the church weak and vulnerable to cults and heresy.
I don't like it when missiologists or Westerners tout short-cycle church planting as the best way to do church growth and missions. It seems to me that SOME of the principles are good, but that too often churches are planted and then basically abandoned. To me, this can be "planting a church", but isn't really "making disciples". The model we see in Acts is small house churches planted, but then set up with leaders and discipleship and an intent educate the Church about truth, not just convert people.
I cut China slack because the church there grew so explosively despite extreme persecution and a government ban on all things Christian. There was no possible way to do more training and discipleship than they did, and they had little access to Bibles and resources from the church worldwide. What I find inconceivable is when implement short-cycle church planting movements in countries that DO allow for open training, discipleship, theological education... etc, without also pushing for discipleship and trained leaders. Trained leaders ARE necessarily. Disparaging long-term theological education is a very bad idea because it will ultimately harm the sustainability of Christianity within the culture.
Now we see a similar sort of growth to what happened in China happening in India. Christianity is multiplying - house churches are multiplying - and it is just mind-blowing for Western Christians to watch. In India, though, missionaries are involved and the short-cycle missions theory is being put intentionally into practice, whereas in China it just happened. I think this is where we need to take a look at China and learn from them. India seems to be the quintessential "field ripe for harvest", and the stories I've heard from Indian evangelists are stunning. For whatever part the Western church is playing in this movement, I think we need to take care not to forget the need to help care for these young believers, to raise up leaders and teach them orthodoxy and theology, and to provide a backbone of truth that can stand when falsehood comes calling.
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Last weekend with my sisters was truly fantastic.
- Eating ice cream during tornado sirens and then dancing around the car begging Isaac to have mercy and let us girls in out of the storm.
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
- Late nights playing games, talking, and hearing all of Joy's stories from overseas.
- Staying in a hotel room with two double beds after a 5 hour road trip. That never fails to feel like childhood furloughs all over again.
|From Trip to JBU|
- Treating the college orientation like a big adventure, in which we manage to get a few items of business done, quietly mock overprotective parents, self-tour the college, and totally avoid all of the awkward social interactions most parents and students were having.
|From Trip to JBU|
- Playing Settlers of Catan in the parent's housing late into the night, during which we get lots of weird looks from parents who think we are students (which annoys Isaac, who is offended that anyone can attribute his beard to an 18 year old).
|From Trip to JBU|
- Road tripping home while talking theology, singing, and in general enjoying the sun and the road.
- Meeting up with Isaac's grandparents and watching my sisters interact with Isaac's extended family. SO FUNNY.
- Swimming in the Texas heat and bringing along bubble/boba tea! YUMM...
|From Trip to JBU|
- Gathering together in the airport as sisters and praying for each other.
Mostly, we just soaked up time TOGETHER.
As SISTERS. And FRIENDS.
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
|From Trip to JBU|
Don't worry though, we are not perfectly nice, cheesy people. There was plenty of sibling mockery going on, and it was wonderful:
|From Trip to JBU|
Yeah. I'm the oldest of six kids. They're mostly all grown up now (just two left at home), but I still feel like part of my charge is to show them that they are all LOVED an accepted by their family, both parents and siblings. And that time together as a family is special. It was great to host both Jana and Joy in our little apartment, to be the ride to college and be able to help guide through the college orientation process without taking it nearly as seriously as parents do. I love understanding the transition process Joy is going through, and so being able to provide a refuge for her to just rest and grieve without the pressure of needing to be okay. And... to pray for each other. That's when I cried. And so did the other two. We're not a crying family, except when we're together and talking about family.
I love us.
Friday, June 12, 2009
I actually saw this extended quote from CS Lewis on a blog this week that is pretty awesome and rather pertinent . It's from his essay "On the Reading of Old Books" (that is, by the way, a fantastic essay title).
'I myself was first led into reading the Christian classics, almost accidentally, as a result of my English studies. Some, such as Hooker, Herbert, Traherne, Taylor, and Bunyan, I read because they are themselves great English writers; others, such as Boethius, St Augustine, Thomas Aquinas and Dante, because they were influences. George MacDonald I had found for myself at the age of sixteen and never wavered in my allegiance, though I tried for a long time to ignore his Christianity.
'They are, you will note, a mixed bag, representatives of many Churches, climates and ages. And that brings me to yet another reason for reading them. The divisions of Christendom are undeniable and are by some of these writers most fiercely expressed. But if any man is tempted to think – as one might be tempted who read only contemporaries – that 'Christianity' is a word of so many meanings that it means nothing at all, he can learn beyond all doubt, by stepping out of his own century, that this is not so.
'Measured against the ages, 'mere Christianity' turns out to be no insipid interdenominational transparency, but something positive and self-consistent, and inexhaustible. I know it, indeed, to my cost. In the days when I still hated Christianity, I learned to recognise, like some all too familiar smell, that almost unvarying something which met me, now in Puritan Bunyan, now in Anglican Hooker, now in Thomist Dante. It was there (honeyed and floral) in François de Sales; it was there (grave and homely) in Spenser and Walton; it was there (grim but manful) in Pascal and Johnson; there again, with a mild, frightening, Paradisial flavour, in Vaughan and Boehme and Traherne.
'In the urban sobriety of the eighteenth century one was not safe – Law and Butler were two lions in the path. The supposed 'Paganism' of the Elizabethans could not keep it out; it lay in wait where a man might have supposed himself safest, in the very centre of The Faerie Queen and the Arcadia. It was, of course, varied; and yet – after all – so unmistakably the same; recognisable, not to be evaded, the odour which is death to us until we allow it to become life: 'an air that kills / From yon far country blows'.
'We are all rightly distressed, and ashamed, also, at the divisions of Christendom. But those who have always lived within the Christian fold may be too easily dispirited by them. They are bad, but such people do not know what it looks like from without. Seen from there, what is left intact despite all the divisions, still appears (as it truly is) an immensely formidable unity. I know, for I saw it; and well our enemies know it. That unity any of us can find by going out of his own age. It is not enough, but it is more than you had thought till then.
'Once you are well soaked in it, if you then venture to speak, you will have an amusing experience. You will be thought a Papist when you are actually reproducing Bunyan, a Pantheist when you are quoting Aquinas, and so forth. For you have now got on to the great level viaduct which crosses the ages and which looks so high from the valleys, so low from the mountains, so narrow compared with the swamps, and so broad compared with the sheep-tracks.
Thursday, June 11, 2009
Katherine gathered interviews from tcks and overlayed sound snippets of those interviews in parts of the dance.
Wednesday, June 10, 2009
It also intrigues me because she converted into the Catholic church and is one of the many windows I currently have into the renewed spirituality of the American Catholic church. It's cool to see and I have so much respect for thinking, serious Catholics like Jennifer and several other people I know.
In any case, Jennifer interviewed a family on her blog this week, and a section of it caught my attention. The interview is really regarding the families' seriously disabled child, and how her birth moved from from being passionately pro-choice to being passionately pro-life, and at the same time moving from the Lutheran church into the Catholic church.
Regarding that move, the father says:
"My wife and I both ended up converting to Catholicism. We could no longer
stay in the Lutheran church, because they did not stand out against abortion.
When you make the decision to leave the mainline Protestant churches behind, you
are left with the two major, pro-life groups: Roman Catholic and Protestant
Evangelical. I had been part of an Evangelical church (Assembly of God) in my
youth, with the laying of hands, speaking of tongues, gifts of the Spirit, etc.
It has become clear to us that the "born again" churches can offer no guarantee
that they will not drift in the same direction as the mainline Protestants. I honestly don't know what they will believe in another 20-30 years.
There is no authority or hierarchy that is empowered to conserve the
truth.Another thing that attracted me to the Catholic Church was the rigor of
G.K. Chesterton and Fr. John
Neuhaus really helped me along the road. Catholics aren't simply submitting
themselves to an all powerful, out of touch Pope with a list of antiquated
rules. There are not only highly developed reasons for everything they believe,
but they fit together into this seamless garment. I'll have to admit that my
view of Catholics wasn't very high to begin with."
This fascinates me, because it really digs into some of the problems I have on all sides of the equation. I too was raised with a general distrust of the Catholic church - it was a dead church that had lost sight of the real message of grace and the true gospel. God had been lost in tradition.
I no longer believe that at all and I have come to agree with the comments of the man above about the scholarship and intellectual spirituality of the Catholic church (past and present). I LOVE that, but I do still have things about the Catholic church that keep me from joining it myself. I do still question the authority given to the Pope and his ability to speak ex cathedra. It's not the individual Popes that I struggle with, it is the authority given to them that I question. I question the way the doctrine of justification is taught, or perhaps not taught well enough. Mostly those are just small quibbles, but since the Catholic church views itself as THE church, my quibbles are enough that they would say that if I can't agree and submit, then I am not a part of THE church... and so I remain outside, respectfully.
On the other hand, I have been fascinated in the past few years to come to a greater understanding of how the Catholic church views the Protestant church. I found this man's comments about evangelicalism to reflect the biggest objection that I hear from Catholics towards Protestants. They look at us and they see division and disunity, and the constantly marching away from orthodoxy towards heresy. It's interesting that this guy's childhood experience was with a Charismatic church, and he equates all evangelical churches with these tendencies. I would disagree with that lumping.
He (and they) are right in some ways. Like I wrote in the last post, I do think that the natural tendency of the Church is to slip away from orthodoxy over time. However, I would say that that is true of the Church broadly, including the Catholic Church. Only by the grace of God are we brought back and reminded of the truth through various movements of revitalization, reformation, and revival (and good solid teaching!). The structure of the Catholic church does slow the process of change. If you compare them to political governments, they are more like a monarchy, with the authority beginning at the top and trickling down. Major changes must be approved at the top in order to spread throughout the church. So ... things happen slowly. This is good in that they avoid the tendency of congregational (democratic) churches to be blown by whatever fad is coming, whether it is the guidance of the Spirit or just a cultural trend.
On the other hand, it takes the Catholic church a long time to change for the better. The extreme excesses of the Middle Ages were pretty much left unaddressed until they were forced to be addressed by the challenge that was the Protestant Reformation. The benefit of this for the Protestants is that they can correct the wrongs and move forward much faster. In the Catholic Church you have the benefits and the drawbacks of being so strongly tied to tradition (I am hearing Tevye from Fiddler on Roof bellow out "traditionnnn!" in my mind right now). In the Protestant church you have the benefits of innovation and and flexibility, but the loss of tradition in some ways.
When I studied the models of church government I was most drawn to the Presbyterian model, which sort of compares to a Republic (like the U.S. - contrary to popular opinion, we are not a Democracy). In this setting there is a hierarchy that is able to help steer the church and hold in the excesses. Each church sends a representative to the local conference, and each local conference sends a representative to the regional conference, and so on and so on. The representatives are sometimes elected and sometimes selected, but there's a mixture of authority. In this way, a single pastor who goes the wrong direction is able to be countered the the broader authority, but at the same time (as in my grandparent's denomination right now) if you have an issue come up like the ordination of homosexuals, neither one top authority nor an individual church can decide a policy for everyone. There has to be discussion and debate and voting.
In the end though, whether you're in a mainline denomination, a congregational church, or the Catholic church, flawed human beings still have power and make errors, and so the church will always have errors, no matter how your church government works. That's why it does come back around to the grace of God course correcting and renewing at points when we really don't deserve it.
I haven't seen them in AGES, because the last few times we tried to get together I got sick or other things got in the way. I finally stopped by last night, and as always things were unexpected, cross-cultural, and hilarious. This family is from Myanmar but they spent 7 years in Displacement camps in Malaysia, and I speak Malay (or at least the Indonesian variant). So - we have some common language, but there is still definite communication breakdown!
In any case, I thought I'd understood when we spoke on the phone that they had family that would be arriving soon. However, when I arrived at their new apartment I was greeted by Chan and Tum and little 4 year old Boi Hnem, AND Tum's brother, sister, brother-in-law and niece. They apparently arrived a week ago and still have to fill out all their paperwork and go through the red tape to get jobs and housing and all of that. It's so much fun to see Chan and Tum able to welcome family and be their cultural guides. I'm sure the extended family is still going through culture shock, but it must help to have family around.
The other thing that really cracked me up was our inevitable discussion of finances. They struggle financially, there is no doubt about it, and most people I know wouldn't even consider living in the apartment complex that they live in amidst tons of other refugees. The constant outflow of bills is so discouraging them (legitimately), and they also scrimp along so that they can send significant cash back home to their family in Myanmar. I love the family value. However, despite the struggle to pay rent they also were proudly displaying a massive flatscreen, wide screen TV that is about three times the size of our tv!
It cracked me up, because it's so typical. In Indonesia we always marveled that you could drive through a shanty town built of plywood and cardboard and tin roofs, and still you'd see satellite dishes spread throughout the area. In the developing world, TV is a priority even for the poorest of the poor. I was actually told by the refugee coordinator that trained me that she'd been in to refugee's homes and found them with three tv's stacked on top of each other! So funny. It also just takes time to learn the value of certain items and realize what is cheap and what is expensive.
Still... how hilarious is it that when I noted their new TV, Chan said that little Boi Hnem (four years old) told him that their tv was too small and she wanted a big tv like her friends had, and so they went and got one? Hah - the indulging of small children is so Asian as well.
I hope to see them again soon. It's a balancing act - I want to bring them into my world, but my world is also uncomfortable for them, so most of the time I just enter their turf and sit and chat a while. I love to bring gifts but I don't want to set myself up as a wealthy white person - their patron. No. I want to be a friend and resource to them. We've taken them to the mall, which was fun but backfired a little because then they are tempted to buy expensive things that Isaac and I wouldn't even consider getting! We took them to the fireworks at Fair Park last summer and they seemed to sort of wonder why we thought it was fun to sit in the grass and eat food like hot dogs and nachos. Hah! Asians generally dislike cheese (that's a huge generalization, but that's just the cultural past) and they say they always remain hungry until they've had rice. On that trip I took a bunch of pictures and they LOVED that and have them framed in their home, and sent them home to Myanmar for family to see.
So ... hilarious. I want to find another fun outing to take the whole family to so they can see more of American life.
Tuesday, June 9, 2009
|From spring 2009|
to a not-at-all-unpacked apartment that we ate dinner in like this:
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
That's all part of the fun, though. The actual moving was total craziness and we would have been lost without the help of our incredible community group, who helped us move TWO apartments and down and up multiple flights of stairs, in Texas summer heat. They're pretty much amazing, and I have to say that what has been on my mind since then is such a sense of gratitude that after long periods of loneliness after moving down here, we are surrounded by this amazing community group of friends.
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
The boys had quite a time figuring out angles and ways to transport the larger furniture up and down and around. My favorite is the last one, which was a moment when all movement stopped and they looked at each other like... what in the world are we going to do about this one? It all worked in the end with only minor bruising, soreness, and sunburn.
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
So - we're moved! We're still working on selling some things and unpacking some things and trying to decide how to work out whose stuff goes where and what gets packed away in the living room and kitchen. It's happening, though, and we've managed to cook a few meals, play an apartment game of scattegories, and enjoy getting to know the two cats that our new roomates brought with them - Fatty and Stank. We think they like us better than Asher and Steph ;).
Many more adventures to come....
Sunday, June 7, 2009
First let me make it perfectly clear that RetroChristianity is not fundamentalism redivivus, a retreat back to Papal Rome, a pilgrimage to Eastern Orthodoxy, or a veiled attempt to promote a flaccid ecumenical faith. Rather it’s an honest attempt to more carefully navigate our received orthodox faith and practice through the precarious channel between metrodoxy and petridoxy, both of which can shipwreck the faith. Therefore, RetroChristianity wants to bridge the gap between the ancient and contemporary church without going to two extremes: 1) idealizing the ancient and condemning the modern, or 2) eschewing the ancient and seizing the contemporary.Sviegel acknowledges that this idea has much in common with a lot of the "ancient-future" movements, and that it can become just another cool fad for metrodox churches or can become a clinging petrodixical insistence. I don't think that Sviegel thinks he's coming up with anything new, he's just trying to put the appropriate balance of tradition and innovation into fresh, understandable terms.
RetroChristianity tries to address the real practical questions of “how” we can intentionally and clearly teach orthodoxy everywhere, at all times, and to all. It also draws much of its inspiration from the ... foundational work of the patristic period. But it also seeks to move, in concrete practical steps, from that pre-modern, pre-Christian cultural context to our post-modern, post-Christian context.The reason this stuck with me so much is that this is really what Isaac is passionate about, and it's a very difficult thing to explain to people in our church culture that feel very little connection to the broader church history or really have much of a concept of "orthodoxy". Because we live in a society filled with fractured pieces of churches that emphasize their differences, I think few of us were raised to recognize a shared Orthodox faith. As a student of history, Isaac has loved studying the path of the church through the movements of history, and seeing the continuity of it has really been incredibly encouraging to both of us. It has opened our eyes to the broader community of faith outside of evangelicalism and given us a huge appreciation for the early church fathers, the creeds that first succinctly stated the core beliefs of Christianity, and the traditions that were passed down from those early years.
At the same time Isaac (and I through him) have become more aware that (as Sviegel says) without firm teaching of the core doctrine of the church, the church goes off track. It's really cool to see how each path away from orthodoxy is followed by a movement of right teaching and correction that returns to true faith. Right teaching doesn't guarantee faith, but because faith involves the mind, it is impossible to have faith without at least some degree of teaching.
So - it is Isaac's passion to teach orthodoxy everywhere, always, and to all. He wants to work with pastors to teach them these fundamental, historical and scriptural TRUTHS, so that they don't forget and get distracted and manage to mislead their people. He wants to teach lay people, so that in the times when emotion is gone, their firm beliefs carry them through, and so that they can teach their children. Many see basic orthodoxy as being boring, so we jazz it up and try to repackage and market and all that. Fine. Do what you will. So long as you don't lose the fundamental characteristics of what makes us true believers of Christ.
Ultimately RetroChristianity means carrying on a constant dialogue with the past, but it also requires an actual practical connection with the present and an orientation toward the future. Therefore, it asks how we can and ought to teach and practice orthodoxy everywhere (that is, in every kind of church and ministry around the world), always (in every ministry opportunity, outreach, or service), and to all (young and old, rich and poor, educated and uneducated, men and women). RetroChristianity demands that the past first be reckoned with on its own terms. It can not settle for picking over the past for relevant bits and pieces that will make us feel more “connected” to our roots. It can’t stand for politely consulting the ancient Christians to make us look sophisticated. And it can’t naively transplant the past into the present as if the preceding centuries of development never happened. As such, the dialogue is a complex, time-consuming, strenuous work that requires the input of many. This includes patristic, medieval, and reformation scholars; pastors, teachers, and laypeople; denominational and free churches, and numerous others interested in genuinely engaging in either real transformation . . . or unashamed preservation.
|From spring 2009|
It is never a dull moment with these girls, and even a nice meal is invariably filled with laughter and craziness
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
They surprised us with beautiful silver bracelets and big bouquets of flowers, and we surprised them with personalized photo albums (finally my scrapbook materials went to a good use!) and photos from the last three years that they've been meeting together. They've really changed!
|From spring 2009|
I've only been in on the last year's worth of their lives, but I am SO thankful for the chance to be a part of their lives. I just thrive on those relationships, and they are really precious girls.
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
Yay for small group!
Thursday, June 4, 2009
For right now - something I'm excited about: Obama's speech in Cairo.
For those of you who followed me during the election, you know I'm passionate about foreign affairs, and that I have really appreciated Obama's philosophy of foreign relations. I do not think that Bush was all bad, but so often I cringed when I heard his rhetoric. Obama's speech of course is going to be filled with platitudes because that is what political speeches are supposed to be full of. To be fair, big ceremonies and speeches and all of the decorum that goes with them are probably more valued overseas than they are here. We like impromptu and personal, but where I grew up people relished formal ceremonies that lasted for hours. So in any case, there are some key points underneath the political correctness.
To quote the Wall Street Journal's live blog on the speech:
If you’re looking for a summary of the Obama speech, it comes in these two
lines near the top: “America and Islam are not exclusive and need not be in
competition…instead they overlap..I am convinced that in order to move forward
we must say openly to each other the things that are in our hearts.” Those are
his themes: We aren’t destined to be in eternal conflict, and we’ll get beyond
conflict only by being hones and open with each other.
I have friends that fundamentally disagree with this statement - they think that democracy and Islam are fundamentally in opposition to each other. I disagree. I appreciate that Obama went on to speak of the high points of Islamic history, something that few in the U.S. know much about. In the Dark Ages of Western civilization, it was the Islamic world that carried out scholarship, kept record of the classics, and furthered study in math and philosophy, etc. Then he requests that what the moderate Islamic world asks of the U.S. be reciprocated:
I consider it part of my responsibility as president of the United States to fight against negative stereotypes of Islam wherever they appear. But that same principle must apply to Muslim perceptions of America. Just as Muslims do not fit a crude stereotype, America is not the crude stereotype of a self-interested empire.
Obama condemned the Al-Quaeda and called for the Muslim world to fight them as well. He recalled 9-11, and insisted on the need for the continued war in Afghanistan. He defended Israel and the Jews and then calls for both sides to work towards a two-state solution, and condemns Israeli settlements in Palestinian territories. He upheld the need for democracy and women's rights, and pushed against Iran's aggression.
All in all, sounds good to me. It was typically sappy at times. I was surprised how clearly he defended and advocated democracy. I was glad that he was so clear and uncompromising on some issues, and glad that he was respectful and intentional about meeting them in their land, quoting the Koran, and honoring their history. It creates room for hope, without abandoning the hard things that he knows most of his audience will disagree with. Most of them do not want to compromise with Israel, but Obama's words were great:
Palestinians must abandon violence. Resistance through violence and killing
is wrong and does not succeed. For centuries, black people in America suffered
the lash of the whip as slaves and the humiliation of segregation. But it was
not violence that won full and equal rights. It was a peaceful and determined
insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding. It is a sign of
neither courage nor power to shoot rockets at sleeping children, or to blow up
old women on a bus. That is not how moral authority is claimed; that is how it
Most of all, I know the Islamic world is has been watching and waiting for this moment to see what Obama will say to them. Of course the fundamentalists will reject him, but who cares? What is important is that he has reached out to the moderates and paved the way for a partnership against aggressive fundamentalism.
The media response so far is predictably positive.
My friend Jonathan and his roomates have a blog called Parkside Stories about their intentional community. It's a few single guys living in an apartment complex in Wheaton. It seems to be a lot like the Wildflower apartment complex here in Dallas, because it's filled with refugees and immigrants. That is WHY they chose to live there. They are passionate about "welcoming the stranger", in fact, one of the guys wrote a book that I've been hearing a lot of buzz about and was reviewed in Christianity Today this month, Welcoming the Stranger: Justice, Compassion & Truth in the Immigration Debate. This is their description of where they live:
Parkside, where we live, is a low-income apartment complex in the midst of a very affluent suburb of Chicago. About 40% of its residents are refugees who have been resettled here from all over the world. Another, say, 40% are Mexican immigrants and the other 20% are African-American and Caucasian. There are a host of issues that people face here: lack of legal immigration status, lack of English language skills, alcoholism, drug use, and prostitution. At the same time, the community posses many strengths: Neighbors know each other, kids play together in the courtyard, family is highly valued and celebrated, and for many God is their daily bread by which they live.
I love the stories on their blog because it is evident that they are so intentional about using their space and community to worship the Lord, and that they are so intentional about living WITH people. Reading their writing gets me excited. It gives me hope. It also makes me want to move into the Wildflower complex. :)
For instance this post, which talks about the importance of reciprocity - of not just giving to their neighbors, but also receiving.
We have plenty of opportunities to help our neighbors here. It’s not uncommon for people to be at one of our apartments for a meal, or for English learners to request help understanding their mail, or for a friend who has been detained for driving without a license (because, without a Social Security number, they are ineligible for a license, but they still need to drive to work) to ask us to pick them up at the police station. We’re happy to help. But for those of us with a North American cultural orientation, it’s often much more difficult, and uncomfortable, to receive the assistance and help of others than it is to give.Or this post, which talks about celebrating the Eucharist together.
That sort of one-sided relationship, though, can be very unhealthy for us and unloving toward our neighbors. It can subtly lead to an unhealthy power dynamic, a desire, as Indian theologian Jayakumar Christian writes, to “play God in the lives of the poor.” The hand that gives, an African proverb notes, is always the hand on top.
With that in mind, we do our best to receive as much as we give amongst our neighbors. And as it turns out, there are many opportunities to receive, if we’re open to them. For example, I don’t own a car, so I can ask my neighbors for a ride or to borrow their car when I need to be somewhere. We eat food—Mexican food, Sudanese food, soul food—prepared by our neighbors on a regular basis. A few days ago, our neighbor Frank stopped us as we were heading up the stairs to our apartment. “You guys are always fixin’ things for other people,” he said. “So I thought you might be able to use this food.” He had a whole box full of groceries for us, which we’ve very gratefully been consuming all week.
We do church in our living room. It’s a lot of fun and it’s really messy. We have two apartments side by side: in one are the kids and the other are the adults. The kids usually outnumber the adults which brings us a lot of joy. Some Sundays after everything is said and done, we find that our apartment is littered with popcorn or our carpet has green play dough smeared into it or our walls have crayon scars all over it. Song and liturgy sheets are constantly appearing in the oddest places. This last week after moving one of our couches, we found underneath it several wadded sheets of liturgy along with a moldy uneaten half cookie....
For the last month at Parkside, during our services, both the kids and the adults have been preparing for our launch as an official altar (church plant) of Church of the Resurrection and with it this privilege of celebrating together the Eucharist. Our “services” thus far every Sunday night have consisted of, in two adjacent apartments, having some of our neighbors over, sharing a meal, and then doing a simple bi-lengual (English/Spanish) liturgy. This Sunday we will all--kids, youth, adults, whites, African-Americans, Hispanics, refugees, immigrants, rich and poor-- join together and feast at the Lord’s table.
Wednesday, June 3, 2009
Well. I'll let you in on a little secret.
I still have no idea how to REALLY make most of the fun international dishes that I make. I really learned very little Indonesian cooking in my growing up years except how to enjoy it.
See, other than a few recipes that I've made my own, for the most part my ethnic cooking sprees consist of finding fun packets of spices or pastes or cans of sauces and following the directions to produce a fun meal of thai curry or chicken tikka masala or good Indonesian nasi goreng (fried rice). Best of all, these are some of the easiest things I make because they usually just take simmering or stir frying the packet with whatever meat and veges I have on hand, and then serving with rice or noodles.
I took this photo two weeks ago of the spice packets and pastes that I had on hand:
So. Last week when I hit up a local Vietnamese grocery store (Saigon Mall, for those of you in Dallas) to get myself some rice and sambal (chili sauce). While I was there, I picked up some spice packets and sauces, and I am going to do my very first GIVEAWAY!
The Rules: Leave a comment. I don't care if you're a real-life friend, a blog friend, or a stranger, feel free to leave a comment. You can comment anonymously if you don't have a blog, just leave your email address in this form john(dot)doe(at)gmail(dot)com. This weekend I will use the random number generator to come up a with a winner, and then I will contact you to get your address.
One caveat - I'll only mail within the US.
Oh - another caveat - I have medium spice tolerance and some of these are pretty hot for me. If you have low spice tolerance, I'd recommend you stick to bland Western food! :)
Here's what you'll get if you win:
One can of Maesri yellow curry paste. I'm told that Maesri is authentic Thai curry paste and I've been using it for years now to make curry for Isaac. Directions are on the can but I often use less of the paste than the directions call for to cut down on the spice a little.
One packet of Asian Home Gourmet Mee Goreng: Mee Goreng is just fried noodles, and just like a good American corner deli will serve burgers and b.l.t's, every self-respecting Indonesian restaurant always has fried rice (nasi goreng) and fried noodles (mie goreng) on hand. I tried this brand a couple of weeks ago and really enjoyed it.
One packet of Indofood Nasi Goreng: Indofood is a real Indonesian brand, and my mom used these packets to cook fried rice all through my growing up years, so it just tastes like home to me. It cooks up well with leftover rice and any veges you have on hand. Too bad you probably won't have shrimp chips to go along with it, but you could try to be authentic and fry an egg to top the dish with!
One jar of Tandoori Paste: Okay, I gotta admit I haven't actually used this one, mostly because I have it in a different brand and it lasts forever, so I've never needed a new one. For those looking for Indian recommendations, you can find Patak's in most grocery stores in the ethnic food section (I buy mine in Kroger). I follow the directions to make tikka masala, rogan josh, and all sorts of other Indian food. Delicious.
Monday, June 1, 2009
In any case, Dr. Sviegel is a sci-fi fanatic and a dedicated fan of Bob Dylan and good coffee. It also just so happens that his specialty is Isaac's as well (early-church history), and he is a great teacher. He also has a blog called Sviegland. A month ago he put up a post that I LOVED and have been wanting to write about since then because it sums up Isaac's passion and his vision for his life. It's called "The Case for RetroChristianity." I find it so important and so well-written that I have to do a multi-post discussion of Sviegel's thoughts. I will quote him extensively, in fact you could just go read Sviegel's post and come back in a couple of days to read my second post in response to Sviegel's thoughts.
To start off, he defines his terms, which in this case is crucial. Isaac and I had a forever-long discussion a while ago in which we struggled to define when it was okay to confront someone within the church on a doctrinal point and tell them quite bluntly that they are WRONG, period, no ifs, ands, or buts. Not that you shut out discussion, but on some issues there can be no compromise because it is a fundamental truth to the Christian faith. I am not black and white. I am right-brained (that's the artsy side, right?) I like concepts and emotions and discussion - not categories and numbers and black and white logic. Telling someone they are just WRONG doesn't sit right with me, but I do understand that there are some basic tenants of the Church that if you don't agree with, you simply are not within the boundaries of what is a Christian.
Isaac and I went back and forth trying to define that and figure out a way to explain or describe what that is. The term Isaac and Dr. Sviegel use is 'orthodoxy' and it is just not understood by most people. We tend to think of the broader Christian church as this vast sprawling diverse body (which it is), with a huge variety of beliefs, and of course we all think that our little corner of it happens to be the one that is completely right. Sometimes we forget that there has always been a core belief that defines our faith, and that without that core, a church can no longer be counted as Christian.
Let me quote Sviegel's definitions here, which set up the parameters for his thoughts.
By “Orthodoxy” I signify the correct view on the central truths of the Christian faith and a proper practice of Christian works. As a rule of thumb, orthodoxy is that which has been believed and practiced everywhere, always, and by all. The “all” includes those who people who intend to be counted among orthodox Christians and who have generally been regarded as such by other orthodox Christians. Orthodoxy means holding the right opinion about crucial Christian truths and acts in keeping with what Christianity has always believed about these things. These are the kind of central, crucial doctrines that mark one as “orthodox.”
Heterodox teachings tend toward the margins of the received doctrines of the faith. And they sometimes teeter at the very edge. They still want to be part of the Christian tradition and still acknowledge the central Christian truths, but they also want to be unique, innovative, and clever in their theology and practice. They feel
comfortable recasting traditional truths in nontraditional language. They sometimes want to rearrange, reinvent, reinvigorate, and reformulate the things that had been handed down to them.
Doctrine that challenges and destroys the central core of orthodoxy. As such, heresy
alone is damnable doctrine. It often finds its origins as a radical heterodoxy, but not all heterodoxy ends up in denying basic fundamentals of the Christian faith. Heresy differs from heterodoxy in that the heretic knowingly (not ignorantly), willfully (not accidentally), and persistently (not momentarily) denies a key tenet of historic orthodox Christianity. He or she rejects certain truths that have been believed everywhere, always, and by all.
Sviegel goes into a little more detail than I quote here, but I found those categories to be helpful. Sviegel then throws in two more terms that he's made up that made both Isaac and I laugh because they deal with specific trends in our church setting here in the U.S.
Metrodoxy:Fantastic stuff, eh? More thoughts tomorrow or maybe in a couple of days.
Metrodoxy” is a term I coined to describe trendy, faddish, and “cool” doctrines and practices that tend to take over contemporary churches, especially “megachurches” and megachurch wannabes. If you want your church to have greater cultural “impact,” to draw media attention, and to place itself on the map of evangelical Christianity, you must accept and live by metrodox values... But amidst the excitement, metrodox churches tend to be in a constant state of identity crisis, needing to reinvent or re-brand themselves every few years. After a few phoenix-like rebirths, these churches eventually find themselves adrift, unsure of what they’re supposed to be doing or why... The result of this constant identity crisis is often a failure to identify and pass on what has been believed and practiced everywhere, always, and by all. So, extreme metrodoxy can be treated by intentionally and clearly teaching orthodoxy everywhere, at all times, and to all.
On the other extreme we find what I call “Petridoxy.” If the metrodox are too
progressive and trendy, the petridox are frozen in time, unable and unwilling to
change. They have been petrified. They tend to fear change as a great evil, not
realizing that their own practices were themselves once quite new (and likely
controversial). They often have a very myopic perspective on their own history,
believing their way has stood the test of time. They have no desire to critically examine their narrow perception of so-called “orthodoxy” or to evaluate whether what they’re doing actually does help to preserve and promote central orthodox beliefs and practices. Petridox churches would just as soon die a slow and painful death than make major adjustments. Having lost sight of the fundamental goal of receiving, preserving, and passing on the faith once for all entrusted to the saints,
petridoxy settles on one method of receiving, one manner of preserving, and one means of passing on the faith . . . and then it congeals in that particular form. Petridoxy therefore tends to be primitivistic, reactionary, ultra-conservative, and idealistically nostalgic. However, petridoxy can be softened by refocusing attention on the purpose of the church’s forms and structures: to intentionally and clearly teach orthodoxy everywhere, at all times, and to all.
I mean, having a little church band of friends standing on an old wooden stage with candles is rather different than this concert-like band with all the special lighting.
There's huge screens, concert seating, and approximately 5,000 people that attend this church on any given Sunday. These are not things I'm particularly proud of. I value things like community, family, intimacy, and accessibility in a church. Mega-churches don't exemplify those values to me. Isaac and I looked intentionally for a small church here in Dallas, but found that since this place is in the middle of the Bible belt, if a church is good it grows exponentially.
Actually, we visited this church on their very first day in this new building, and one of the things that really struck us was Pastor Todd's attitude towards their size and the new space. It was great.
Besides, there are SOME similarities to our church in Chicago! The pastor still wears blue jeans, the music is still contemporary, and the congregation tends to be younger.
How do we survive in a big church? Three reasons.
1. Community. When we first visited Watermark it became obvious that it would actually be easier for us to get to know people intimately at this huge church than at most of the other churches we visited. If you want to be a member, the church requires you to be involved in a community group and serving in some way within the body. The program for organizing community groups is excellent, and they REALLY emphasize that community groups are the life of the church. Community groups keep each other accountable, are there for each other in the hard times, visit during hospital stays, talk each other through life. Having our community group has been a really amazing and really challenging thing for us - I'm so thankful for it.
2. Service Opportunities. Also on our first visit we asked how we we could get involved if we choice Watermark as our church. They immediately handed us a list of a service opportunities two pages long. I really love that this church doesn't want people to just come to church - you're meant to be IN the community, actively a part of the mission. Isaac's been able to teach church history (his passion) and help edit church materials, I've been able to work with infants, jr. high girls, and handicapped kids.
3. This place is alive. This is most remarkable to me. It have been consistently amazed over the past two years to see people come to this church and be changed. My friends have had their marriage brought back from the brink of disaster, and they meet with a good number of others with the same stories. I've met a number of people who have come to faith after a random visit to this church that led to to much more, and that includes a man I met on the bus and mentioned my church to. I really believe that knowing God and worshipping him together changes people and should create a truly different, dynamic community that is characterized by love. I see that here, and if the thousands of people and fancy lights and theater seating go with it, I'll put up with it.
|From spring 2009|
|From spring 2009|
Community groups gathered around their members that were being baptized.
What was most emotional for me (I was snapping photos and then wiping away tears) was watching the jr. high kids that were baptized. I had a front row seat to see these jr. high small groups gather around their members and just rejoice with them as they were baptized. I know their leaders, and I've begun to know these kids and their stories. These girls are another group the same age as my jr. high girls.
She was in tears as she turned to her dad as soon as she came up out of the water.
And how awesome is this girl's expression as she comes out of the water?
This is a video one of our guys put together last year on baptism Sunday. The guy that raises his fist in victory as he comes out of the water has an amazing story - at this point he'd only been a Christian a short while.
So... that's why I go to my church here. Because I see God in the people there, and in how they love each other and the strangers around them.