McDonald’s, You’re like Framily

May 23, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Growing up on a farm, we didn’t eat out much, but I seem to remember enjoying a few Quarter Pounders with fries during my high-school days.

Then, during my time as a student at the University of Missouri-Columbia, my go-to lunch was a salad with a side of fries at the basement McDonald’s on Lowery Mall, across from the library. When I took my daughter for a campus visit to MU a few weeks ago, our student tour guide (who did an excellent job, I might add) pointed out where the McDonald’s used to be. He said at one time it was the highest-grossing McDonald’s location in the US. In the 80s, when I was there, we heard it was the busiest McDonald’s in the world. I think both statements are part of a Columbia urban legend—though I’d love someone to prove me wrong with some documentation.

When my family lived in Taiwan, we found McDonald’s in every city. That was especially welcome when we first arrived and couldn’t speak Chinese. It’s a lot easier to ask for a “Number 5″ than to learn the vocabulary for ordering à la carte.

655846832_58ee159407_zMcDonald’s was popular with the locals, too, especially high school kids. It was common to see them gather there to study or work on class projects. It was a new experience for us to see young people in that group-centered culture pour all their french fries into a pile and share them together.

McDonald’s certainly is a global juggernaut. According to the company website, their more than 33,000 restaurants in over 100 countries serve over 69 million people each day. But there’s more to McDonald’s than just huge numbers. In honor of the chain’s 75th anniversary this year, Reader’s Digest ran a list of “75 Mind-blowing Facts.” Here are my favorites:

#2. The first McDonald’s drive-thru—in Sierra Vista, Arizona—didn’t open until 1975.

#22-22. French fries, McDonald’s best-selling item, were added to the menu in 1949. Before that, it was potato chips.

#50. As the result of a 1973 lawsuit, McDonald’s paid Sid and Marty Kroftt $1 million because the brothers claimed that McDonaldland had stolen the “concept and feel” of their Saturday-morning TV show H.R. Pufnstuf. (Remember that one?)

#58. Giving away (selling?) 1.5 billion toys each year in its Happy Meals makes McDonalds’ the largest distributer of toys in the world. (OK, that’s one of those “huge numbers.”)

#60. One out of every eight workers in the U.S. has at some time had a job at McDonald’s.

#66. Have you heard of the “Big Mac Index”? It was developed by The Economist in 1986 to use the local cost of a Big Mac to compare economies around the world.

I used to tell my Asian college-age friends that I don’t actually like McDonald’s, that most people in the US don’t actually like McDonald’s. But here’s what happens: You’re in a van with a bunch of young people on a trip and you ask them where they want to stop and eat and they say “Anywhere but McDonald’s” and they name other possibilities but when you exit the highway you don’t see any of the places they suggested and you’re running out of time and you decide to eat at the next place you see and—guess what?—it’s a McDonald’s. There’s always a McDonald’s close by, so that’s where you stop. It’s just too convenient.

This guy notwithstanding, McDonald’s burgers don’t garner much praise. In fact, when readers of Consumer Reports rated the hamburgers of 21 fast-food chains, they put the ones from McDonald’s dead last. The magazine called them a “Mc-disappointment.” When our local McDonald’s in Taipei ran out of hamburgers one day (I kid you not), maybe it wasn’t such a bad thing after all.

But there are those “world-famous fries.” McDonald’s calls them “golden on the outside, soft and fluffy on the inside.” I don’t disagree. And a whole lot of other people seem to be on board, as well.

Mark Eichenlaub, a graduate student in physics, decided to figure out just how many french fries McDonald’s has sold. He used the formula

equation

and came up with the figure “4 trillion, give or take a few.” I have a hard time following his detailed explanation (he lost me when I saw that squiggly S-thing before the numbers), but I’m pretty sure his estimate doesn’t even count fries sold outside the US.

Of course, McDonald’s gets knocked for a lot of things besides what’s on their menu. For instance, right now they’re the target of protests over low wages. Sometimes their negatives are symptomatic of the ills of American culture, but they’re magnified with McDonald’s because of the franchise’s large scale. And abroad, their ubiquity and visibility often make them a symbol of Western encroachment.

McDonald’s does give us plenty of reasons not to be “Lovin’ it.”

But again . . . there are those fries.

My second oldest son graduated from university last week. He drove about seven hours round trip to pick up my mother so she could attend the ceremony. The next day I took her back home, with an extra hour added on each way. After I dropped her off, she was worried that I’d fall asleep on the way back, but I told her I’d pull over and rest if I got tired.

4011734182_dc8d2f9bde_zA couple hours from home, in Lebanon, MO, I decided to stop and get something to eat. I parked at a McDonald’s, to go inside and stretch my legs and to use the free wifi. That and I got an order of fries.

The lady at the counter greeted me with “Welcome back.” How many businesses can say that to every customer and rarely, if ever, be wrong?

Sounds like framily. And when I say “framily,” I’m thinking of the Sprint commercials with their odd collection of characters—Ronald McDonald, Grimace, Hamburglar, Mayor McCheese, Captain Crook and the rest of the citizens of McDonaldland. It’s an imperfect, dysfunctional framily at times, but it’s still framily.

In the Lebanon McDonald’s, the fries were good, as they nearly always are.

There’s something to be said about consistency. And there’s something to be said about always being close by.

Framily.

(Daryl Chen and Brooke Wanser, “75 Mind-Blowing Facts about McDonald’s to Celebrate Its 75th Anniversary,” Reader’s Digest; “Best and Worst Fast-Food Restaurants in America,” Consumer Reports, July 2014; Mark Eichenlaub, “How Many Fries Has McDonald’s Served?Quora)

[photos: “McDonald’s,” by Mike Mozart, used under a Creative Commons license; “4 Combos Fries Mix,” by Shippou, used under a Creative Commons license; “plexi • burger.dude,” by Don Shall, used under a Creative Commons license]

When Grandma’s Lap is Far Away

May 17, 2015 § 2 Comments

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Diane Stortz knows a thing or two about being separated from family. She’s the co-author of Parents of Missionaries: How to Thrive and Stay Connected when Your Children and Grandchildren Serve Cross-Culturally.

She also knows a thing or two about children’s books, having written Words to Dream OnThe Sweetest Story Bible, and a couple for Roman Downey’s Little Angels series, among others.

By my reckoning, that means that she knows two things or four about finding books to send to grandchildren overseas.

If you’d like some good advice, go to her blog and read her five points on what to look for when choosing the right storybook for children.

And at Christian Children’s Authors, she puts in a plug for recordable children’s books. Maybe it’s because I don’t have grandchildren yet, but I never knew there was such a thing. What a great idea for staying in touch with faraway granddaughters and grandsons, nieces and nephews.

In this post, Stortz mentions three publishers that produce recordable books: Hallmark, DaySpring, and Publications International. Using that as my starting point, here’s a sampling of what I found (it includes lots of grandmas and lots of bears)—

Conversations to Keep: Grandma and Me
That’s What Grandmas Do
My Grandpa and Me
Guess How Much I Miss You
Guess How Much I Love You
Under the Same Moon
What Aunts Do Best/What Uncles Do Best
I Love You So Much
I Love You Head to Toe
Wherever You Are: My Love Will Find You
Bright and Beautiful
All Day Long with Jesus
Bedtime Prayers and Promises
Sesame Street, Together at Heart
If . . . 

And here are a couple for sending back the other way—

I Love You Grandma
My Grandma Is Special

Susan Adcox, “Grandparents Expert” at About.com, writes that Hallmark recordable books are “pure magic.” “What child wouldn’t be entranced to open a storybook and hear it read in a grandparent’s voice?” she asks.

She goes on to compliment the recording process, calling it “practically foolproof.”

The Top Baby Names of 2014: There’s Poetry in the Meanings

May 9, 2015 § Leave a comment

5317791293_7fc9b47ff6_zIn some languages, most names carry an understood meaning. For instance, the name of the president of Taiwan is Ma Ying-jeou, which literally means Horse Brave-nine.

While some given names in English have recognizable meanings (e.g., Hope, Pearl, Colt), for most, the definitions come from non-English origins and are long forgotten.

So when we look at the list of top-ten baby names for 2014, announced yesterday by the Social Security Administration, we don’t think much about the meanings behind them. We’re more inclined to think about their sounds or the feelings they evoke or maybe people we know of with the same names.

But the meanings are meaningful, so here’s the list from the SSA . . . with a twist. Instead of showing the names themselves, I’ve lined up those meanings.

The Boys’ names are first, then the girls’.

It’s rather poetic.

(If this reverese-look-up-style list leaves you in the dark, I’ve got the actual names and their languages of origin, too. Just use your cursor to highlight the list, and they’ll magically appear.)

Rest     Hebrew: Noah
Will and protection    Irish, Germanic: Liam
Stoneworker     French: Mason
Deceiver     Hebrew: Jacob
Desire and helmet     Germanic: William
Enduring     Hebrew: Ethan
Who is like God?     Hebrew: Michael
Defender of man     Greek: Alexander
Supplanter    Hebrew:  James
God’s judgment     Hebrew: Daniel

Universal     Germanic: Emma
Olive     Latin: Olivia
Wisdom     Greek: Sophia
God is her oath     Hebrew: Isabella
Giver of life     Hebrew: Ava
Rebellious     Hebrew: Mia
Rival     Latin: Emily
Father’s joy     Hebrew:Abigail
Child of God’s gift     English: Madison
Man     Germanic: Charlotte

(Doug Walker, “Two New Arrivals: Our New Blog and Top Ten Baby Names for 2014,” Social Security Matters, May 8, 2015)

[photo: “Baby N – 5 Days New,” by RebeccaVC1, used under a Creative Commons license]

Let’s Hear It for Mundaneness!

May 2, 2015 § 2 Comments

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You’ve seen those images of all the fish swimming in one direction with one fish swimming agains the flow. The message: That one fish is the only one going the right way, despite the crowd.

It’s not always a lot of fun being that fish, especially when it seems as if you’re the one going in the wrong direction.

During what would become our last State-side service, I and my wife had decided that our time as missionaries would come to an end. But before making that public, I attended a missionary convention held by our fellowship of churches. I remember sitting with several thousand others in Lexington’s Rupp Arena, listening to a plenary speaker give a passionate call to the audience of potential missionaries. “Let someone else build the houses,” he said. “You follow Christ, go into ministry.”

Let someone else be a doctor or an attorney and argue cases in court. You go follow Christ. Let someone else teach in the public schools. You follow Christ. Listen, there will always be people who will go into all those other occupations. But there are a rare few who will say, “I’ll follow my Christ wherever he leads me.”

I’d said similar things, at least to myself. I should be on the front lines. Others would fill in behind. I’d told myself I could never settle for regular work. How could I ever be satisfied living a commonplace life in the US?

And yet, here I was traveling in the opposite direction, burned up and burned out. I was leaving the mission field, not heading to it. I was stepping away, hoping someone might hire me to build that house or teach that class. . . and in time, hoping just to get hired, for just about any job.

Five years ago, David Platt, mega-church pastor and now president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board, wrote Radical: Taking Back Your Faith from the American Dream. I have a copy on my bookshelf, but I’ve never read it. I’ve heard good things about Platt’s book, and I’m sure it’s challenging. But it’s not the kind of challenge I’m looking for right now. The book I chose to read instead has a different kind of title. It’s The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People.

Pastor Matt B. Redmond wrote The God of the Mundane as a response to what he had heard himself preach many times:

Change your world. Change the world of someone. Anyone. Sell everything. Sell anything. Give it away. Do something crazy. Be radical. Make people stand up and notice. Take a risk. Jesus moved from heaven to earth and gave up his life and yet you—you just go about your daily life.

But in time, his ponderings, expressed in his blog, Echoes and Stars, led him to ask if there is a God for the bulk of people who live out their lives performing mundane tasks. “Is there a God, for instance, for those who are not changing anything but diapers?”

In his book, Redmond answers the question with a “Yes,” writing to and about stay-at-home moms, dental hygienists, plumbers, children taking care of elderly parents, and bankers. In a blog post, he addresses the youth of a church where he once ministered:

Don’t be afraid of being small. Too often I probably made it sound like if you were really serious about your faith, you should think about ministry. Being a teacher or doctor or farmer was not worthy of your time. Well, that’s just stupid. Don’t be afraid to be in a “small” part of the kingdom. Be ordinary and unknown and be content. That’s more radical than anything else you will hear in the church today.

When he wrote The God of the Mundane, one of the images in Redmond’s mind was of a banker, frustrated and stuck in a job he doesn’t love. After writing his book, he left his career in ministry and became that frustrated banker.

Before reading his book, I had left my position as a missionary and had become frustrated, too. So often in Christian circles, the missionary life is considered the opposite of mundaneness. Redmond refers to it that way, too. But he doesn’t believe that a mundane life, lived in devotion to God, is unimportant.

Neither does he believe that we should stop asking people if they are “willing to give it all and go overseas as a missionary.” “It’s not a bad question to ask,” he says. “There is no question in my mind that this question needs to be out there.” But he also wants other questions asked:

[A]re you willing to be numbered among the nameless believers in history who lived in obscurity? Do you have the courage to be forgotten by everyone but God and the heavenly host? Are you willing to be found only by God as faithful right where you are? Are you willing to have no one write a book about you and what you did in the name of Christ?

When someone studying for a non-missionary career asked him his advice on selecting a missionary biography, Redmond suggested she begin by reading one about a Christian banker.

By that I meant she needed to read a book about a Christian living a mundane life. She told me she could not find one. Figures.

I would characterize Redmond as someone who is trying to be content in his present occupation, but who is not satisfied. He struggles with wanting to do something that better fits who he is, but he doesn’t want to turn his back on those like him who are not doing the BIG THING. He admits that it’s often hard for him to accept his own advice with confidence.

I find myself in the same place. I miss so much of being a missionary and still want to be a part of that work and community. And yet I don’t believe that God loved me more, valued me more then than he does now.

I still have my copy of Radical. I plan to read it someday. Someday, but not today. Today I’m reading and rereading Redmond’s book.

Maybe he’s written the closest thing you’ll find to a biography about a “Christian banker.” But rather than writing about something he’d lived, he wrote it first and now he’s living it. And as he’s been writing in his blog, it’s the living of it that has given him a real understanding of his own words.

Life often works out that way. Figures.

(Barry Cameron, closing session, National Missionary Convention, Lexington, KY, November 21, 2010; Matt B. Redmond, The God of the Mundane: Reflections on Ordinary Life for Ordinary People, Kalos, 2012; Matt B. Redmond, “Tuesday’s 10: What I’d Like to Tell My Former Youth,” Echoes and Stars, August 13, 2012)

[photo: “Fish Vane,” by Mike Gifford, used under a Creative Commons license]

What Is a Bridge but a Paradox?*

April 18, 2015 § 6 Comments

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What do you see when you see a dock?

A place to study the horizon?
To dip a toe in the water?
To dive in?

Or is it a place find a port in a storm?
To lower your sails?
To step onto dry land?

Is it a place for casting off or coming home? Much depends on the compass of your heart.

If for you, the dock is too short, out of desire or necessity, you build it forward, step by step, plank by plank, as you go—through the spray and the mist and the fog. And when you’ve built till you’re more coming than going, you see another shore—build, step, build, step. You are there.

This is crossing cultures. This is creating a bridge. This is going from home to home.

Then, at some point, out of desire or necessity, you step back onto the bridge. You must have been gone a long time, because what was once a complete span now has sections missing. You need to build again to close the gaps. And at times you’re simply on a dock again, building to a shore you cannot yet see. Strange. It was a bridge before.

This time while you’re crossing, you find that in the mist, there are others with you, and when they talk, you understand them, because they are speaking your language.

“Where are you from?” you hear someone ask, and the answer, “That’s an interesting question.” “You, too?” one says. “Me, too,” another replies. You understand them, not because you use the same words, but because when you speak you agree on the impreciseness of their meanings: near, far, hot, cold, friends, enemies, rich, poor, family, strangershere, there, hello, goodbye. Their meanings are slippery, like the damp boards beneath your feet. And the slipperiness is smooth and comfortable.

In time, you cross the bridge again and again, sharing familiar greetings with those in the misty middle. But never do you set out without having to repair what was built before. You continue . . . build, step, build, step.

What is a bridge, but a paradox, leading from from home to home, from not-home to not-home? Your heart’s compass spins. The shores, they push and pull, they give hugs at arms length, they don’t plan on changing, but they do. The same can be said of you.

And then, out of desire or necessity, you settle down farther inland. You put down roots in loose soil. There’s a dock over the next, next hill. You go to visit from time to time and walk it’s length. You listen to the slap of the waves. You breath in the smell of the ocean. You taste the salt in the air . . . and you remember the sounds and the smells and the bitter-sweet flavors of where you used to be.

What do you see when you see a dock?

You put down roots in loose soil, but you still speak the language of the bridge.


*These thoughts are inspired by Mission Training International‘s “Pair of Ducks.” MTI uses two rubber ducks—a “yay duck” and a “yuck duck”—to show cross-cultural workers and Third-Culture Kids that all the places they’ve lived in have their good and bad parts.

[photo: “Harbour Bridge,” by D.Reichardt, used under a Creative Commons license]

Global Statistics: You Probably Don’t Know What You Don’t Know, You Know?

April 10, 2015 § Leave a comment

7658298768_e4c2c2635e_zFinals. In just a few short weeks comes that time of the school year when students sit down to tests that have the sole purpose of showing how much they know. Or as some would put it, the purpose of the tests is to show how much they don’t know. Gapminder’s “Ignorance Survey” fits into this second way of thinking.

Gapminder is a foundation that promotes a better understanding of statistics to aid in global development. It’s cofounder, and most visible spokesperson, is Hans Rosling, a Swedish medical doctor, statistician, and professor of global health. (To see Rosling and his statistics very much in action, go to “5 Stat Sites That Eat Pie Charts for Lunch.”)

If you’re not worried about finding out what you don’t know, click over to The Guardian‘s “Population Quiz: How Well Do You Know the World?” It’s an interactive collection of 9 questions from Gapminder’s “Ignorance Project,” covering such topics as life expectancy, education, and income.

After you’re done, come back and watch Hans Rosling and his son, Ola, explain in a TED Talk how our intuition has been hijacked—to the point where most people, including educators and the media, score worse on Rosling’s tests than if they’d picked the answers at random. Or as the Roslings put it, they do worse than chimps grabbing at bananas. “Only preconceived ideas can make us perform worse than random,” says the elder Rosling, at the “Ignorance Project” page.

At the end of their talk, they give four “practical tricks” for overcoming those preconceived ideas. But before you jump ahead, if you haven’t done it already, you really should try the “Population Quiz.” If you don’t know what you don’t know, you won’t know what you need to know.

(The “Population Quiz” will calculate your score, and if you don’t get 100% right, click on “Show Answers” at the bottom of the results page.)

(Hans Rosling, “Population Quiz: How Well Do You Know the World?” The Guardian, November 7, 2013)

[photo: “Confused,” by CollegeDegrees360, used under a Creative Commons license]

Food for the Soul, Just around the Corner

April 4, 2015 § 2 Comments

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I may have to stop reading Dave Lewis’s blog at Paracletos.org. Sure, it’s an amazing resource for gleaning insights from around the Web on member care and cross-cultural life, but it’s starting to get in the way of my originality. I’m particularly frustrated with his “Casual Friday Resources.” Lately, it seems as if when I come up with a new idea to write about, the same idea pops up on Casual Friday, and I see that others have thought my thoughts before me . . . often in more complete and coherent ways.

Take for instance, my last post on missionary expectations. Since I was focusing on Sue Eenigenburg and Robynn Bliss’s Expectations and Burnout: Women Surviving the Great Commission, I knew that what I had to say would more or less be a reworking of their research and observations. But I wanted to bring attention to the topic and their book, because, you know, not enough people are getting the word out.

As I was putting my thoughts together, Dave linked to a post by Bliss on the blog Velvet Ashes, “an online community of women serving overseas.” In “Burnout: A Retrospect,” Bliss writes, “Looking back on it now, I can honestly say that burnout is the best thing that ever happened to me.” That link inspired me. The folks at Velvet Ashes and I are thinking in the same direction.

But then, just yesterday, Dave linked to Velvet Ashes again, this time to an interview with Eenigenburg, the other author of Expectations and Burnout. Come to find out, Velvet Ashes is doing a two-month series on the book as they read through it one or two chapters at a time. Come on, guys! What am I going to do?

All joking aside, here is what I’m going to do.

Many times I’ve heard variations on the well-known words of D. T. Niles, a Methodist evangelist from Ceylon, who wrote,

Evangelism is witness. It is one beggar telling another beggar where to get food. The Christian does not offer out of his bounty. He has no bounty. He is simply a guest at his Master’s table, and, as evangelist, he calls others, too.

I figure it’s much the same with promoting member care. I’m just a beggar letting other beggars know that food is out there for hungry souls. So head on over to Paracletos.org and Velvet Ashes. There’s some great feasting going on at each of these. And as I find more resources, I’ll continue to let you know about them, joining others who are doing the same.

And as far as originality goes, there can be all sorts of room for creativity in how we point others in the right direction.

 

(Robynn Bliss, “Burnout: A Retrospect,” Velvet Ashes, March 8, 2015; D. T. Niles, That They May Have Life, Harper, 1951)

[photo: “EAT,” by mst7022, used under a Creative Commons license]

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