It Can Rain on My Parade

March 18, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Is rain a good or bad thing? It depends, you’d probably say, on what you’re doing at the time.

But when we hear “The rain falls on the just and the unjust,” we usually interpret it as “Bad things happen to good and bad people.”

I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when he said, in the Sermon on the Mount,

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. (Matthew 5:43-45 NIV)

In context, Jesus is talking about how we should give something good (love) to bad people, in the same way God gives the sunshine and rain to them. There certainly are places in the Bible that talk about bad things happening to good people, but I don’t think this is one of them.

E. Randolph Richards and Brandon J. O’Brien, in Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes, point out that we often miss the meaning of Bible passages when we don’t see from the point of view of the authors and audiences of Bible times. (I’ve written about that here.) This seems to be one of those passages.

In our modern American culture, we often pray for nice, sunny days. We want good weather for an outdoor wedding, for a trip to the lake, or for a long drive. And by good weather, we usually mean the absence of rain—and warm, but not too warm, temperatures are great, too.

If all of our prayers were answered, we’d probably have the longest drought in history. Of course, then our attitude would change and we’d think of rain as a blessing. That’s the way farmers most often see it. Of course, an ill-timed rain can keep them out of the fields, and over saturation and flooding can ruin a harvest. But it’s the lack of rain that causes the most problems.

Last year, the UN reported that the majority of the world’s population, 54%, now live in urban areas. According to the World Health Organization, 55 years ago, the urban population accounted for just 34% of the total. Two thousand years ago, that percentage was much less.

In Jesus day, the people had a direct tie to the land and the goods that it produced. Think of all the agricultural metaphors Jesus used to get his message across. But today, living and working in air-conditioned buildings with drinkable water only a faucet handle away, much of my thinking about rain centers around my walk to and from the car.

I try to pray less about the weather than I used to. Rather, I want to pray that I will be able to make the best of my day regardless of whether it rains or not. I realize that God is not going to tailor every weather pattern to my scheduled activities, in part because my wishes for that day may be just the opposite of what others want or need. As C. S. Lewis puts it, my down hill could be someone else’s up hill:

Yet again, if the fixed nature of matter prevents it from being always, and in all it’s dispositions, equally agreeable even to a single soul, much less is it possible for the matter of the universe at any moment to be distributed so that it is equally convenient and pleasurable to each member of a society. If a man travelling in one direction is having a journey down hill, a man going in the opposite direction must be going up hill. If even a pebble lies where I want it to lie, it cannot, except by a coincidence, be where you want it to lie. And this is very far from being an evil: on the contrary, it furnishes occasion for all those acts of courtesy, respect, and unselfishness by which love and good humour and modesty express themselves.

Yes, I pray fervently when tornados touch down nearby or typhoons threaten or droughts bring about famine. But I pray less for weather variations simply to enhance my day. Actually, let me restate that. I pray fervently when severe weather threatens me, but my sporadic prayers are less than fervent when it comes to famines or flooding half a world away.

We all need to pray less for our corners of the world and more for the huge swaths of people who face disastrous weather each day. We need to pray that those of us with much will help those with little who are at the mercy of the elements. We need to pray that our down-hill walk does not cause someone else a more difficult journey. We need to pray less for our will and more for God’s will to be done, “on earth as it is in heaven.”

(“World’s Population Increasingly Urban with More than Half Living in Urban Areas,” United Nations, July 10, 2014; “Global Health Observatory (GHO) Data: Urban Population Growth,” World Health Organization; C. S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, Centenary Press, 1940)

[photo: “Face à Face,” by D. Julien, used under a Creative Commons license]

Three Ads: Pretentious Pronunciations, a Never-Before-Seen Oz, and a Lying Dad (get a Kleenex for the last one)

March 14, 2015 § 1 Comment

6088059547_f927b9db32_zI don’t have much of an intro for this—just that I saw these three commercials on Adweek, and I like them.

The first one gives us the “correct” pronunciations of some brand names—many are foreign, and expensive. I sometimes pronounce Adidas as “Ah-dee-dahs” just as a joke, because it rhymes with la dee das and sounds so highfalutin. Didn’t know how cultured I am. After hearing several of the “right” pronunciations, my eight year old said, “Yeah, I think people are going to stick with the old ones.”

The next one is an extended commercial that gives the back story for Comcast’s XFINITY, a system that lets blind people select their own movies. Watching this is a step beyond seeing the world through other’s eyes—especially since that world is Oz.

And this last one is from MetLife Hong Kong. Made me cry . . . each of the four times I’ve watched it so far.

[photo: “Old Philips TV,” by King-of-Herrings, used under a Creative Commons license]

TCKs as Prototypical Citizens and Culture Shock as Exaggerated Poop: Ted Ward’s Views on Growing Up Abroad

March 6, 2015 § 4 Comments

16241388115_fec39f427a_zQuotation tracing. It’s almost as exhilarating as tracing a river.

According to the Taipei Times, the sport of river tracing may have have been birthed in Taiwan in 1982. That year, a Japanese expedition team representing the Osaka Grassshoes Society traced the Nantsi River to the top of Taiwan’s Jade Mountain. (How’s that for an epic-sounding adventure?) Years ago I got to chaperone a group of junior-high-school students in a much less demanding trek, hiking in and up a fast-moving mountain river in northern Taiwan. We had a great time wading, swimming, crawling, and climbing. Not only did we find the spring that was the river’s source, but we also enjoyed—and discovered a lot during—the getting there.

So it is with quotation tracing, finding the origin and context of well-known, though often misquoted and misattributed, quotations. There’s much to be learned from tracking down quotations, and now that I’m older, I find that quotation tracing is more suited to a more sedentary lifestyle, as well.

My target quotation this time is one that we read often in literature about Third Culture Kids. And just like river tracing in Taiwan, it comes from the 80s. It’s Ted Ward’s

TCKs are the prototype citizens of the future.

I used this form of the quotation a few years ago in a blog post that I wrote. Sadly, at the time, I hadn’t checked the source. Had I done so, I would have seen that the original comes from page 57 of “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” in Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family. The chapter from Ward is an abridged version of a presentation he made in Quito, Ecuador, at the International Conference on Missionary Kids, held in 1987. (David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken, in Third Culture Kids: Growing Up among Worlds, are two who point to this source.) I would have also seen that the quotation has been paraphrased over time.

Speaking about the qualities that define Missionary Kids (MKs) as world Christians, Ward says,

Another characteristic is the loyalty to Christian values, even above the social pragmatics that we deal with in any society. There are characteristics of the internationalizing community of Christ that may very well, in this increasingly shrunken world, become characteristic of the church in general in the twenty-first century. One of my propositions is that the missionary kid of the nineties will be the prototype of the Christian of the twenty-first century [emphasis mine].

Because Missionary Kids are a subset of Third Culture Kids, it’s not a stretch to apply what Ward said to the larger group as a whole, but it’s interesting that his comments in this context refer not to general global citizens but to citizens of the community of Christians. This is understandable, though, as Ward’s audience was missionary families, and if he were talking to expat families in general, I would think it logical that he would apply the same principle to the broader category of all TCKs.

But looking at Ward’s presentation as a whole, I find something even more interesting. It’s his strong pronouncements of how MKs should embrace the advantages of their lives abroad and should not focus on the perceived negatives. “I view the MK growing up experience,” he says, “as very positive and very valuable, in comparison with the experiences available to their cousins who are stuck back home.”

To combat negative stereotypes applied to MKs, Ward uses somewhat blunt language, language that grates against my way of thinking. But one of his goals seems to be to shake up our assumptions, and my discomfort shows that he has been successful in that with me.

At the time that he spoke at the Quito conference, Ward was serving as dean of International Studies, Mission, and Education at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Before that, he spent 30 years at Michigan State University, teaching in the areas of education and curriculum research, and taking a leading role in the field of theological education.

While at Michigan State, Ward was a colleague of Ruth Hill Useem, the sociologist and anthropologist who coined the term Third Culture Kid. Ward describes Hill Useem’s technical usage of TCK as the

cultural variables that are not definable in terms of ours and theirs. She was talking about the dynamic of that which is different because people from outside settings residing in an inside setting do not take their primary identities ultimately from either, but they take it from the commonness that they have with others who are doing the same thing.

Ward believes that the later, popularized usage of TCK is a misuse of the term. According to Ward, Hill Useem applied it to particular new cultures—new communities in a distinct time and place—that expats form inside their host country. This is different from how we currently use TCK (or MK) to describe a broad group of people raised overseas. Instead, Ward says, the term has become “static,” with “standard values” and “generalizations about it which lead us to the wrong questions.”

What are some of the wrong questions? They are nonsense questions. “Is it OK to be an MK?” “What are the problems of being an MK?” They’re dumb questions, but they’re the questions that a static view of culture leads you to.

Then you get preoccupied by rootlessness. Oh, come on. Millions of people in the world are rootless. Don’t get paranoid about thirty thousand kids when ten percent of them are rootless.

It is this kind of negative thinking, especially by parents of MKs, that Ward opposes. For instance, in the area of culture shock:

Words like culture shock—good grief! Talk about popularization of some bad research! Culture shock—for the most part largely exaggerated poop! Incompetency, yes, but incompetency comes in all kinds of forms.

And about American expat parents who are concerned about their children’s lack of understanding of US culture, he responds,

I find more MKs understanding the nature of American society than people who are raised wholly within it. Would that we could get that message across to parents. Paranoid parents have got to be helped.

Ward also laments missionary parents’ worries about reverse culture shock. Years ago, it wasn’t so easy for missionaries or their children to return “home,” so they weren’t so apt to influence their children towards the inevitability of going back. One qualification of MKs as prototypical world Christians, says Ward, is their ability to serve God anywhere, without being tied down to a particular country or culture, especially the one from which they came.

Ward believes that the long-term work of missionaries has changed. “A career missionary today does not get buried in China at age forty-seven under great mounds of Chinese soil,” he states. “He gets buried at age forty-seven at a North American mission offie desk under mounds of paper.” Ward doesn’t want this sort of mindset to be passed on to Missionary Kids.

Ward has given me, a former missionary and current parent of several MKs, a lot to think about, and I wonder how I would have responded if I had been in his audience 27 years ago.

While tracing Ward’s quotation to its source, I’ve been challenged, affirmed, and stretched. I’ve learned a few things and I’ve read some things that I’ll be pondering for a while. I’m grateful for the work that Ted Ward has done for and with cross-cultural workers and their families. And while I’m not on board with everything he’s said (for instance, I don’t think that culture shock is “largely exaggerated poop”), I do understand that there can be a tendency toward paranoia and excessive navel gazing.

We need balance. It’s good to look inward, with caution. But it’s also good to look up and out and aim for some mountaintops, to hike some rivers, to look with optimism at the path ahead, and to see the landscape from a different perspective.

(Ian Bartholomew, “Taiwan’s Rivers Offer Vast Potential for Adventure,” Taipei Times, August 19, 2001; Ted Ward, “The MK’s Advantage: Three Cultural Contexts,” Understanding and Nurturing the Missionary Family: Compendium of the International Conference on Missionary Kids, Quito, Ecuador, January 4-8, 1987, Volume I, Pam Echerd and Alice Arathoon, eds., William Carey, 1989.)

[photo: “Consumer Confidence!” by Chris & Karen Highland, used under a Creative Commons license]

Empty Videos: Where Have All the People Gone?

February 27, 2015 § 2 Comments

Imagine the busiest, most crowded place you know . . . in the middle of the day . . . but without a single person.

It’s hard to form that mental image, because some places are what they are because of all the people.

429575638_4d0c1b16da_zWhile we were living among the 6 million people of Taipei, all we had to do was stand at the corner of a major intersection to get a feel for how dense the city is with people—on foot, in cars, in buses, on bicycles, and on scooters . . . so, so many scooters. That’s what made it so shocking when once a year, a seemingly random (at least to a foreigner) military drill chased everyone off the streets. In fact, during the half-hour Wan-an drill (萬安演習), all vehicles need to pull over, and it’s illegal for pedestrians to be outside, except for the officers stationed at nearly every corner telling everyone to vacate the streets.

In 2004, Hong Kong pop star Jacky Cheung saw this in person when he was in Taipei to film an MTV show. When the streets cleared, Cheung and his record-company crew thought they’d found the perfect backdrop for a photo shoot, so they snapped a photo of Cheung standing out in the street all alone. When the photo hit the Internet, the National Police Agency was not amused, and they promised a fine (though I’m not sure if they followed through).

There’s something about seeing places that are normally teeming with people when they somehow become un-teeming. It’s oddly alluring. Or maybe its just odd. Or eerie. Think ghost town, the Apocalypse, The Day After, or The Day after Tomorrow.

But thanks to some video wizardry, we don’t have to survive Armageddon to see what the world would look like without people. Take, for instance, Ross Ching’s vision of Los Angeles in Running on Empty (Revisited). At Vimeo, he even offers this step-by-step process for how to remove all the cars from the highways of LA:

1. Record for 20-30 mins.
2. Go frame by frame and grab pieces of the road that aren’t obstructed by a car. Eventually, you will have every piece of the road.
3. Put the static image of the road in with the moving background.

And then there’s the Empty America series from Thrash Labs, including New York, usually a pretty busy place in its own right, and Washington, D.C., Seattle, and San Francisco.

The music in these videos takes away some of the eerie feeling that can come with the visuals. That’s not the case with para l l el, a short film from the globetrotting French couple Claire & Max. Their music choice is “Dark Places.”

“What if parallel worlds existed?” they ask at Vimeo. “What if in one of these worlds mankind disappeared? What if the Eiffel Tower and the Statue of Liberty had never existed?” (Their vision of London is pretty creepy, too.)

In case Ching’s step-by-step instructions for creating an empty world seem a bit simplistic, Claire & Max provide their own how-to video tutorial. It’s step-by-step-by-step-by step. In their list of needed items, the last one is patience. Indeed.

Or you can pretend that You Are Legend, and you’ll have all the time in the world.

(Jimmy Chuang, “Pop Star’s Photo Op During Air-Raid Drill Could Net Big Fine,” Taipei Times, September 26, 2004)

[photo: “On Your Mark,” by h4rrydog, used under a Creative Commons license]

#9 Map: “The Age of Man”

February 21, 2015 § Leave a comment

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Frederick De Wit’s Double Hemisphere Polar Map, c 1668

According to one of my favorite sources, the Online Etymology Dictionary, the word world comes from the Proto-Germanic wer, meaning “man” (as in werewolf), and ald, meaning “age.” Thus, world can be translated into “The Age of Man.”

And that’s exactly what German cartographers Stephan Hormes and Silke Pest call the world in their “Atlas of True Names.”

By “true names,” the pair are referring to the original, literal meanings of place names in English. The atlas, published by the pair’s company, Kalimedia, consists of five maps—Europe, British Isles, Canada, USA, and the World—and includes such places as Boar’s Head Lake (Lake Huron), Children of the Sun (Spokane), Navel of the Moon (Mexico), and Land of the Strong Ones and Land of the Really Strong Ones (Turkey and Turkmenistan).

Others have written about the maps, and most mention the mapmakers’ reference of Middle Earth in Kalimedia’s description:

Once the names have been taken back to their roots and translated into English, it is immediately apparent that our world has an extraordinary affinity with Middle Earth, the mythical continent where the events of Tolkien’s ‘The Lord of the Rings’ are played out.

Middle Earth’s evocative “Midgewater”, “Dead Marshes” and “Mount Doom” are strikingly similar in nature to Europe’s “Swirlwater”, “Darkford” or “Smoky Bay”, as revealed by the Atlas of True Names.

I don’t think that begins to do justice to the wonderfully foreboding literal names of the British Isles. I can easily imagine a group of Hobbits setting out from their shire near Raven Breach in search of Mount Malicious in the Land of Darkness.

The maps can be purchased at Omnimap.com, starting at $9. There’s also a 39″ x 27″ wall poster of the world map available (for $24 at Mapsonline4u).

The map’s authors admit that their translations are not definitive, and they often lean toward more interesting or fanciful options. But each map includes a list of all names with their etymology—so argue away.

All of this makes “The Atlas of True Names” a great conversation starter. And that’s why this set is my newest addition to “8 Maps and Globs That Will Change Your Perspective of the World.”

 

[photo: “Old Map,” by Enrique Flouret, used under a Creative Commons license]

For Such a Time as This: The Need for Talking

February 21, 2015 § 2 Comments

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There’s an interesting discussion going on at Christianity Today’s her·meneutics blog. It begins with a post by Patricia Raybon, co-author of the soon-to-be-released Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace.

In “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” Raybon writes about her husband’s suspicion upon seeing an unfamiliar car parked in front of their house. She writes that following 9/11, “We’ve become not just a nation of strangers, but strangers who suspect each other on principle.” And then she shares another family story.

Ten years ago, Raybon’s daughter, Alana, left the church and became a Muslim. Recently, while mother and daughter were together, a man saw Alana, with her head covered, and yelled to her, “Go home!”

That man wasn’t interested in a conversation, but Raybon is. In the comments following her post, several readers have responded. Some are supportive. Some are not.

Dagney Reardon writes, “I’m sorry—I’ve having a hard time wrapping my head around the fact that I’m suppose to feel sorry for a Muslim-convert American woman for being subjected to a verbal insult . . .” He compares her situation to that of women in Islamic countries and then refers to the recent beheadings of Coptic Christians by the Islamic State in Lybia. “God has not even begun to give me the wisdom or insight to relate to a person who would deliberately choose to align themselves with a religion that condones such unspeakable horror.”

I don’t usually read comment sections on the internet. There’s just too much vitriol. But Christianity Today‘s policy of allowing only subscribers or registered users ups the level of  engagedness and civility. And what I appreciate the most is the willingness of CT authors to answer back. I’m not sure what I would have said in response to the above comment, but Raybon was obviously prepared. “Thank you, Dagney, for your comments,” she writes. “Your argument is interesting. You are right, in fact, about one key thing. No reasonable person would deliberately choose to align with a religion that condones unspeakable horror.” And she ends her response with this:

I’m reaching different conclusions than you. But at least you and I are talking. For such a time as this, talking is a seriously good place to start. Thank you, indeed, for sharing your thoughts. Measured conversations need to happen on these matters. Thank you for taking part in this one. Kind regards, Patricia.

As I’m writing this, Reardon and Raybon have responded again to each other. And to another commenter who disagrees with her, Raybon writes, “Thanks, meantime, for sharing your thoughts. Another view always stretches my thinking.”

I appreciate the “measured conversation” that Raybon has begun. I hope it continues, at her·meneutics and beyond.

(Patricia Raybon, “A Nation of ‘Suspect Thy Neighbor,'” her·meneutics, February 20, 2015)

[photo: “Brighton Beach,” by Mark Belokopytov, used under a Creative Commons license]

Reverse Culture Shock: What It Looks Like from Between

February 14, 2015 § Leave a comment

If you were to draw a picture of reverse culture shock, what would it look like? What images would you show? What colors would you use?

If you were to make a video, what kind of video would it be?

30a781c45c859eecc26383ae27dc0c2aPhotographer and visual artist Jenna Rutanen was born in Finland, attended university in London, and now is continuing her studies and working in the Netherlands. She has turned her experience in crossing cultures into an art installation, consisting of two videos projected on opposite walls of a room. She calls it “Waiting to Belong,” and here’s how she describes what she is representing:

I am experiencing reverse culture shock during each visit to my home country, Finland. In the past, all the winters that I had spent in some sort of hibernation, would now start to suffocate me because of the darkness. As a child, I spent my time playing in the forests, making tree houses and snow castles but now I can hardly venture going into the forest on my own after being away from it for such a long time. It seems as if I have lost the ability to adapt to the surroundings that I used to belong in and as of yet, I haven’t been able to adapt to my current surroundings either, which has kind of left me stuck between two different worlds. All I can do is wait to belong.

Installation art often seems pretentious to me, and this may strike you that way. You may say, “I could have done that.” You may wonder why Rutanen in her “portrait” is so glum. You may wonder what the big deal is.

But watching the two videos of “Waiting to Belong” is very thought provoking to me, and I think it would be even more interesting if I could stand between them, turning from one to the other.

It’s the anticipation—and tedium—for waiting for something to happen, and (spoiler alert, if you haven’t watched the videos yet) nothing does. That’s one of the things that makes reverse culture shock difficult. It’s the nomad gazing at the horizon, waiting for herself to adapt or for her surroundings to become more accommodating, or waiting for both to re-become what they used to be. And it’s the pale landscape waiting itself, staring back at a daughter who has returned a stranger. It seems to say, “I am what I am. It’s up to you.”

These are frustrating feelings to have. And if you become impatient watching the videos, maybe that’s part of the point.

(Jenna Rutanen, “Artist Statement: Waiting to Belong,” jennarutanen.com)

[illustration from Bechance, at bechance.net, used under a Creative Commons license]

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