Getting Religion in Cross-Cultural News

September 22, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Have you every been to GetReligion? Edited by columnist Terry Mattingly, it’s a site that covers news coverage of religious issues. The authors, journalists themselves, point out areas where media personnel ignore or play down the spiritual aspects of news, fail to pursue spiritual leads when they are uncovered or hinted at (they call those “holy ghosts”), or demonstrate an ignorance of things religious. On the other hand, they also draw attention to journalists who show a keen understanding of religion and its impact.

The title of the site comes from a former senior political analyst at CNN, William Schneider, who once said, “On the national level, the press is one of the most secular institutions in American society. It just doesn’t get religion or any idea that flows from religious conviction.”

GetReligion wasn’t set up to target today’s much-referenced idea of “fake news,” as the blog’s origin in 2004 easily predates Donald Trump’s accusations. Its authors are also too broad and nuanced in their viewpoints to simply parrot political (or presidential) perspectives. And the stories they comment on reach well beyond the boundaries, and national concerns, of the US.

Every so often, GetReligion writers delve into their “guilt files,” where they keep stories  that they’ve wanted to write about but haven’t gotten to yet. I have my own guilt file for GetReligion, as over time, I’ve collected bookmarks from their site for posts that I’d like to comment on, all of which deal with cross-cultural issues.

Here are a few of them. If you’ve not been over there before, may these serve as entry points into the territory of GetReligion.

“Should Amazon Tribes Be Allowed to Kill Their Young? Foreign Policy Editors Aren’t Sure” (June 6, 2018)

Julia Duin’s subject is a Foreign Policy article that discusses a bill currently under debate in Brazil. If passed, the law will aim to stop indigenous tribes from committing infanticide and killing certain older children. That’s because, writes Cleuci de Oliveira, some Amazon tribes in Brazil see disabled children, the children of single mothers, twins, and children who identify as transgender as “bad omens” and believe they should not be allowed to live.

Not only is this practice controversial, but so is the law opposing it. On one side are those who agree with YWAM missionaries Marcia and Edson Suzuki. The couple helped formulate the bill and have founded a nonprofit to save endangered children from death. On the other side are those who see child-killing as a part of the tribes’ cultures and, as such, something that should be protected. The Brazilian Association of Anthropology says that the law would continue a history of colonization and violence toward indigenous peoples, “the most repressive and lethal actions ever perpetrated against the indigenous peoples of the Americas, which were unfailingly justified through appeals to noble causes, humanitarian values and universal principles.”

Duin wonders, what with today’s atmosphere of advocacy journalism, why Foreign Policy seems to play it down the middle rather than taking the side of the disabled children. She asks, “Isn’t infanticide one of those issues that doesn’t require debate?”

“Reporting on the Unthinkable: Ancient, Multicultural Roots of Female Genital Mutilation” (June 9, 2018)

In this post, Terry Mattingly highlights an essay in The Media Project on the violent and oppressive practice of Female Genital Mutilation (FGM), writing, “Reporters and editors will want to file the information, and the sources, for future reporting projects on this issue.” Mattingly cites several “stunning facts” from the article, written by Jenny Taylor, which include the following:

  • FGM predates both Christianity and Islam, with Egyptian mummies showing clear signs of the practice.
  • In areas of Sudan without access to antibiotics, up to one-third of girls who are subjected to FGM will die.
  • UNICEF reports that 200 million women and girls living today have undergone FGM, with more than half living in Egypt, Ethiopia, and Indonesia.
  • In Tanzania, more Christians than Muslims practice “female circumcision.”
  • Even though FGM has been outlawed in the UK since 1985, no prosecution against it has succeeded. Tayor writes that this is because “the West is slow to tackle it for fear of being accused of racism.”

And chief among the article’s sources is Ann-Marie Wilson, founder of 28 Too Many, a British nonprofit with the goal of eliminating FGM in the 28 countries that allowed it at the time the charity was formed. (Since then, six have made it illegal.)

“The root of the problem is beyond just the physical,” says Wilson, “the root is spiritual and religious and that can only be approached in love.”

“Jehovah’s Witnesses: Why Some Persecuted Faiths Grab Consistent Headlines and Others Don’t” (August 7, 2018)

“The world is inundated with sad examples of persecuted religious, ethnic and racial minorities,” writes Ira Rifkin for GetReligion. So he asks, “Why do some persecuted minorities trigger persistent journalistic attention while others do not?”

Rifkin looks at an article in The Los Angeles Times about Jehovah’s Witnesses who have fled Russia and are seeking asylum in Finland. This is the result of a 2017 decision by the Russian Supreme Court to outlaw the religion, saying that its adherents are members of an extremist group. This has resulted in persecution and the threat of imprisonment for Russian’s approximately 175,000 Jehovah’s Witnesses. Geraldine Fagan, author of Believing in Russia: Religious Policy after Communism, calls this “easily the worst attack on religious freedom in post-Soviet Russia.”

But while there has been sporadic coverage of the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ plight in the news, journalists in the west have given more attention to groups such as the Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar, European Jews, and Tibetan Buddhists. Why is that? The “short answer,” writes Rifkin, is

Groups that are relatively small and politically insignificant or are oppressed by powerful governments—Russia in the case of Jehovah’s Witnesses—get far less ongoing coverage than groups connected to globally significant constituencies. Think Christians in North Korea and China, for example.

Take a look at the rest of Rifkin’s post for the long answer.

And take a look at GetReligion for a religion-informed take on the news.

(Terry Mattingly, “The Mainstream Press ‘Just Doesn’t Get Religion,'” GetReligion, March 7, 2004; Cleuci de Oliveira, “The Right to Kill: Should Brazil Keep Its Amazon Tribes from Taking the Lives of Their Children?Foreign Policy, April 9, 2018; Jenny Taylor, “Fighting FGM Is a Spiritual War,” The Media Project, May 2018; Sabra Ayres, “Facing Religious Persecution in Russia, Jehovah’s Witnesses Find Refuge in Finland,” The Los Angeles Times, August 3, 2018)

[photo: “Newsstand,” by Thomas Hawk, used under a Creative Commons license]

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Unmasking What’s Inside for Others to See

September 9, 2018 § 1 Comment

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In the past, I’ve written about “the need for safe confidants in the lives of cross-cultural workers,” using parallel anecdotes from the world of athletics to illustrate my point. In that vein, here’s some insight from UK professional bicyclist Molly Weaver into how, in the area of mental health, the need for outward perfection conflicts with the inner need for honesty.

Actually, my introduction of Weaver is somewhat misleading. Technically she’s not a professional bike racer, at least not right now. On her website, she labels herself “Former Cyclist. Future Cyclist? Current Media Type.”

Early last year, during a training ride, Weaver was hit head on by a car and suffered 13 broken bones, including fractures in her back and neck. And yet, less than six months later, she was competing again . . . until she wasn’t. In May, she wrote a blog post announcing that she was stepping away from racing.

She makes her announcement and then continues:

I originally wrote this blog without the next part. I simply stated that I was taking a break from professional cycling, and then moved straight onto the ‘what’s next’ part of the story. I wanted to keep things private. But I’ve decided now is the time for an honest reflection.

Her physical injuries weren’t the issue, she writes. Those healed over time. It was the “mental scars”—the depression—that had stolen her passion.

My biggest mistake was doing nothing to stamp it out at the first signs of trouble. But at the time, in the grips of the demon, I couldn’t see this. I didn’t want to admit I was struggling. That isn’t who I am. I’m stronger than that.

Turns out strength has nothing to do with it. Depression can find anyone, and most of the time you don’t even see it coming.

But finding help, at least within bike racing, wasn’t easy. She tells BBC Sport that only one of her former teams had a sports psychologist. She calls this a “fundamental problem with the industry.”

Victoria Garrick is another high-level athlete who deals with depression. She’s a senior starter on the University of Southern California volleyball team, and last year she gave an in-depth TED talk in which she covers her experience as a D1 athlete, the stigma of depression and anxiety in sports, and the cultural environment athletes live in:

The culture of athletics preaches, “Where there’s a will there’s a way,” “The best don’t rest,” “Unless you puke, faint, or die, keep going.” Mental illness is associated with weakness. To appear weak is the last thing an athlete wants.

Not showing weakness is something that Weaver speaks about as well. Cycling, she writes in her blog, “is as much about your image as anything else.”

The social media lie is all too present in the world of cycling. Riders outwardly presenting the picture of the perfect life. The dream of being a professional athlete documented for all to see. For some this is probably the truth: for a lot of people it’s not.

The constant distortion of reality can be more destructive than we recognise. It looks like everyone else has it better than you. Everyone else is happier than you. But you don’t ever know what’s happening behind the filter.

I hid away my depression and put on a smile through it all. I said the right things. Some of which were true, and some of which I just wished were true. This felt like the only option. I thought I needed to paint myself in a certain light if I wanted to be successful. Mould reality around what people wanted to hear.

Then I would get home and take off the mask.

Now, by taking off their masks publicly, Weaver and Garrick are encouraging others to do the same, to be honest about mental-health issues, to be vulnerable in our humanity, regardless of our profession.

(Molly Weaver, “Behind the Mask,” May 22, 2018; Katie Falkingham, “Cyclist Molly Weaver on the Crash That Led to Depression and the Unhealthy Drive for Perfection,” BBC Sport, June 10, 2018)

[photo: “Venetian Mask,” by Rawle C. Jackman, used under a Creative Commons license]

Moving Abroad Can Sure Mess with Your Autocomplete [—at A Life Overseas]

August 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

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We can tell a lot about each other by looking at our autocompletes. For instance, start typing “I can’t find my” into a text message and see what it thinks will come next. For me, it’s “keys,” “wallet,” and “phone.” That’s pretty insightful: I have a car, I’m a guy, and I’m absent-minded enough to have my phone in my hand and wonder where it is. But I’m not all that unique. You’re autocomplete may very well say the same thing (even if you’re not a guy). We, and our autocompletes, are products of the cultures that produced us.

So what happens when you relocate to someplace new and different? Your old autocomplete is now out of whack and needs to be retrained to match your new surroundings. Sure, some of it is dealing with single-word typing discrepancies like theatre vs theater or fighting spell-check battles over your friends’ names (Yes, I really do mean Mrak!). But it also goes deeper than that. It’s a change in how you live and act and think. It’s transitioning from normal to strange to new normal.

I just texted “I can’t find my llama” to my wife. On my third try my phone gave in and swapped out “wallet” for “llama” as one of my choices. It may take a while, but as you transition, your autocomplete will catch up—maybe just in time for a trip back home, far away, that place where the foreigners come from.

So what are your autocomplete settings right now? Where do you fit in with the sentences below?

It all depends on where you are, and where you are in your getting there.

From normal to strange to new normal.

Wow, you can speak two languages? You
. . . must be a genius!
. . . must be average.
. . . must be ready to move to another assignment where you’ll need to learn two more.

Read the rest here. . . .

[photo: “Qwerty,” by Xosé Castro Roig, used under a Creative Commons license]

Beetles, 2, 3, 4

August 23, 2018 § Leave a comment


“Loveland Woman Creates Insect Farms to Feed African Orphans”

Loveland resident Amy Franklin found a solution for the hunger and malnutrition besetting Congolese orphanages in a delicacy that thrives in the wild in the African country—the palm weevil.

With no land for traditional farming, she has created small “farms” inside plastic containers to raise larvae, which are a protein-rich food source that can be farmed inside small rooms within the orphanages themselves.

“These orphanages are blocked in on every side by concrete and buildings,” said Franklin, who established Farms for Orphans, a nonprofit, with her husband, Alan. “They don’t have any land. They can’t even grow a small garden or any type of livestock production.”

. . . . .

The palm weevil is a beetle native to the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The larvae, which thrive within readily available sugar cane, are packed with protein as well as other nutrients, said Franklin.

. . . . .

They taste like breakfast sausages, Franklin said, and 10-12 grubs can meet a child’s daily recommended nutritional needs.

Pamela Johnson, Loveland News, Reporter-Herald, July 29, 2018

Culture Stress, Home, and Space, the Final Frontier

August 13, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Traveling to far-away places and coping with new surroundings brings about lots of adjustments—adjustments in thought patterns and in ways of doing even mundane tasks. Few know this as dramatically as those who have lived aboard the International Space Station. But you don’t need to venture into outer space to be able to relate to their stories of exploration and adaptation.

National Geographic’s One Strange Rock looks at our planet through the eyes of eight astronauts. The final episode of this, the first season, is titled “Home.” (Watch it here.)

In it, host Will Smith asks,

Where is home?  Is it where you were born, where you were raised, or where you are now? Is it somewhere you lived, somewhere you left, somewhere that shaped you? If you really want to know you need to leave them all behind.

One of those who’s left it all behind is Peggy Whitson, who, over three missions, spent a total of 665 days in space—a record for NASA astronauts and more than any other woman in the world. She’s come a long way from where she she lived as a child, a farm near Beaconsfield, Iowa, current population “elevenish.”

Whitson says,

As I’ve grown up and gone to college and gone to graduate school, home has expanded from Iowa to Texas to the United States, and since being in space, home is actually planet earth.

Astronaut Chris Hadfield:

One of the biggest changes I noticed within myself as the result of  flying in space was that the difference between us and them disappeared. Somehow going around the world in 92 minutes, not just once, but over and over and over again, turned the entire world into one shared place. I think it’s a perspective that seeps into astronauts. I think it’s a perspective that’s kind of good for everybody.

Astronaut Leland Melvin adds,

I truly believe that if more people could have the opportunity to see the planet from space, looking at the rich colors, looking at the fact that there are no borders separating us, we could see that we are truly all connected as human beings

Back to Smith, on reentry:

Ever been on a trip and seen something new, something incredibly beautiful, or something that changed the way you think about things? Now imagine that trip was to space. You’ve seen something that only a very few people have ever seen.

Astronauts need to tell someone, anyone, everyone. Soon they’re ready to go back down, but it’s actually bittersweet. They’re going back to the place that made them, but leaving the place that shaped them.

About her return, Whitson shares, “It was hard to leave because I knew I wouldn’t be coming back.” She starts to choke up and then blurts out, “Jeepers!” and laughs. “But I was all excited about being back home and  being back on earth, having, you know, wind, and smelling the air and just being on earth.”

“But coming home isn’t easy,” says Smith. “Mother earth doesn’t exactly welcome you back with open arms.”

Repatriation from space, returning through the earth’s atmosphere, is actually the hardest part of the trip, and setting down on the solid ground of Kazakstan isn’t the softest of landings.

Whitson says, “Most people compare it to a car crash. I would compare it to maybe two car crashes.”

And then there’s the transition from weightlessness to . . . weight. “Wow, space was good,” Whitson says and adds with a smile, “Gravity sucks.”

Though he’s not part of the One Strange Rock crew, Scott Kelly has this to say about the reverse culture stress brought about by gravity:

Back to Melvin, in the National Geographic production:

When I got home from space after getting out of my suit, then to have a meal without the food floating away from you, and being able to pet your dog and talk to your parents fact to face, it made me feel so much more connected to the planet.

Another astronaut, Nicole Scott:

I couldn’t wait to feel what a breeze would be like again, you know, what the smell of grass was going to, you know, smell like again.

Hadfield:

It’s the smells of earth, the smell of home, the smells of the natural world, it’s overpowering. It’s kind of overwhelming.

Melvin again:

Just because you physically leave the surface of the earth does not mean you leave the earth, because the earth is part of you.

And Whitson:

I’m not sure whether I feel more like an earthling or a space woman. I think being a space woman’s a lot more fun.

Blast off . . . G forces . . . wonder . . . homesickness . . . rootlessness . . . reentry . . . landing . . . longing—sounds like crossing cultures.

So what is day-to-day life really like in the culture of space? Here are a few glimpses into how the ordinary becomes anything but:

There’s learning to cook without the comforts of your kitchen or a microwave . . . or plates.

What happens when the food doesn’t want to stay down?

You thought squatty potties were a challenge.

Then you have no-shower showering.

And, oh yeah, when you look out the window, there’s the view.

Don’t forget the view.

(“Home,” One Strange Rock, National Geographic, May 28, 2018)

[photo: “GPN-2000-001056,” by NASA Remix Man, used under a Creative Commons license]

“Wherever You Go, There You Are” and Other Such Words of Wisdom

August 6, 2018 § Leave a comment

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Somewhere, in one of the back rooms of the internet, sits a frazzle-haired, bespectacled gentleman thumbing through a box of yellowed index cards. On each card is typed out a well-known saying, often in multiple versions, and it’s the man’s job to assign to each one a source. He doesn’t track down the actual origin, but rather he writes down who it sounds as if might have come from. To do this, he refers to a wall chart over his desk that shows a spectrum of names, ranging from the profound—Confucius—to the nonsensical— Yogi Berra—with prominent figures filling in the space in between. His assignments go out to the many and sundry quotation sites around the world wide web. After he’s worked his way through all the cards, he refills the box and starts again. His is the Office of Misattribution.

Even with such an imprecise methodology, it seems odd that a single quotation could be assigned to both ends of the authorial range: Confucius and Yogi Berra. But at least one phrase has that distinction:

Wherever you go, there you are.

(also with the versions “No matter where you go . . .” and “Wheresoever you go . . .”)

First off, I’ll say that I’ve seen no real evidence for its origin. (As I’ve written before, it’s the kind of thing my father would attribute to Shakespeare, but he was just kidding.) Google searches most often show it belonging to Confucius, or, more specifically, coming from the The Analects of Confucius. But when I go to The Analects, I don’t find it, nor anything close. I’m thinking that those who claim Confucius as the source would lean toward explaining the meaning of the phrase as “You can’t escape yourself. No matter your new location, you will bring your past, your faults, your regrets with you.”

Those who would claim the saying belongs to Yogi Berra would probably think it’s simply stating the obvious: “You are where you are.” But I’m pretty sure Berra, who subtitled a book “I Really Didn’t Say Everything I Said!” didn’t create it either. He was, though, in the same ballpark, so to speak, when he came up with

If you don’t know where you’re going, you might not get there.

In another perspective on the theme, the popular spiritual teacher and author Eckhart Tolle talks about intentionally being present in the moment, when in his book The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, he says:

Ordinary unconsciousness is always linked in some way with denial of the Now. The Now, of course, also implies the here. Are you resisting your here and now? Some people would always rather be somewhere else. Their “here” is never good enough. Through self-observation, find out if that is the case in your life. Wherever you are, be there totally.

The Christian missionary and martyr Jim Elliot wrote something similar 47 years earlier in his journal:

Wherever you are, be all there.

To this, he added, “Live to the hilt every situation you believe to be the will of God.”

The idea behind these last two selections reminds me of the phrase

Bloom where you are planted.

Who originally said that? According to the internet, it might be Mary Engelbreit, Paul Harvey, Mother Teresa, Cory Booker (with blossom instead of bloom), Nardi Reeder Campion’s Aunt Grace, Nancy Reader Campion’s Aunt Grace, St. Francis of Sales, an Afghan proverbist, or someone in the Bible. The Office of Misattribution certainly has been busy on that one.


(Yogi Berra, When You Come to a Fork in the Road, Take It!: Inspiration and Wisdom from One of Baseball’s Greatest Heroes, 2001; Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment, Namaste, 1997; Elisabeth Elliot, ed., The Journals of Jim Elliot, Revell, 1978)

[photo: “Compass,” by Walt Stoneburner, used under a Creative Commons license]

Beating the Drum for Missionary Care: An Interview with Neal Pirolo [at A Life Overseas]

July 31, 2018 § Leave a comment

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In her post “Closer to the Truth about Current Missionary Attrition: An Initial Analysis of Results,” Katie Rowe looks at the findings of a recent survey of missionaries, showing that respondents rated “lack of missionary care” as one of the most common reasons for leaving the field. One of those who commented on the post was Neal Pirolo, author of Serving as Senders—Today: How to Care for Your Missionaries as They Prepare to Go, Are on the Field and Return Home, and The Reentry Team: Caring for Your Returning Missionaries. The current edition of Serving as Senders—Today is a revision of the original, first published in 1991. Since then, it has been translated into 20 languages and has nearly a half million copies in print.

In reference to missionary/member care, Neal writes, “I have been ‘beating this drum’ since 1976!” I contacted Neal to get his long-term perspective, and he graciously agreed to answer my questions (and along the way, with his wife’s help, remembered that the year was actually 1978).

Why was 1978 a starting point for you to begin your drumbeat for missionary care? 

Oftentimes, telling a story communicates better than “just the facts.” Let me tell a story:

I went to Brazil to administer the five schools Wycliffe/SIL was using at the time for missionary children. My wife was given the responsibility of overseeing the Group House in Cuiaba. We had a choice: move our family of six in with all the singles or move from house to house every three months as translators went to their villages and back. We moved in. We looked in the refrigerator. Every item had someone’s initials on it. We looked at each other. “This will not work,” our eyes said to each other. But how do you change a group of people so entrenched?

Read the rest at A Life Overseas. . . .

[photo: “Drum,” by André Prata, used under a Creative Commons license]

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