Sunday, December 17, 2006

How People Communicate - What's Normal, Anyway?

Who would have thought a few years ago that we’d live in an age when you could just pull information out of the air? I stop and think about it and am amazed that we do this, and that we take it for granted. The entertainment at our office Christmas party Friday night was either compromised or enriched – depends on your point of view – when several participants sought answers to a party game by using various electronic devices. Yesterday I sat in my office and had a long talk with my sister while she was walking home through the streets of Seattle, in what could be an everyday occurrence with the popularity of mobile phones. Lately I’ve been spending time talking with a friend 12 time zones away (which at least is easy to calculate) for just $0.02/minute.

When I went to Turkmenistan a dozen years ago my father was sure we’d find a way to communicate. He’d been reading articles even back then about computers tucked away in the back of shops all across Asia. Not so in Turkmenistan. I have not been back to Ashgabat since then but I doubt it has changed as much as some parts of the world. The ever-despotic president who ordered the closing of all hospitals outside of the capital and who keeps dumbing down the educational system would not want his people to have that much contact with the outside world.

Do you suppose it’s still true, what we used to say, that half of the world’s people have never made a telephone call? (If you’ve read my blog entry on telephones, you know I sometimes wish I were one of them). Others adopt modern technologies but limit their use to reinforcing very traditional ways of life.

Every time I take a group of people overseas I notice their reactions to what seem to be, to us, leapfrogging technologies: people who have mud floors, but satellite television; no potable water but great mobile phone coverage. We send home prayer letters with descriptions of late model trucks sharing the road with donkey carts, both playing their part to bring in the harvest. Maybe we’re technologically ethnocentric, expecting that our ‘material progress’ is normal and someone else’s path a deviation.

My family of course has always lived with a foot in both worlds: Dad boasted of living off the land, the freezer and pantry well stocked with the fruit of garden and orchard. He could heat the whole house with his wood stove. But in the summer when we didn’t use that wood stove you might find his oscilloscope sitting on top of it. He loved his $900 calculator and built the first computer network for the K2 ski company which was just down the road. We raised sheep on our little farm: We usually hired a bona fide Australian guy to come do the shearing, but other than that we could manage the whole process that people in weaving circles call “from sheep to shawl.” Meg and I 'picked' fleece and tied knots; dad carded and spun; mom knitted or wove. I still have a couple of handspun, handwoven afghans made from the wool of our own sheep. Half a fleece in a bag under the house awaits the day I actually learn how to use Dad’s old spinning wheel which now sits in my living room (don't you think every spinster should have one?). Is it ridiculous, with our global economy and the availability of goods and services, to romanticize or cultivate such skills?

I’m very interested in how technology changes – or reflects – older values in a culture. Have to do some writing about that this afternoon as we revise training sessions for a January ethnography training. So consider this a warm-up.

Fun, interesting stuff, but I might rather stay far away from my cubicle on a Sunday afternoon and get outside some more before the snow we’re expecting, the same kind of snow that might fall on the simple cement house in Eastern Turkmenistan this time of year. Picture a young wife peeling potatoes and looking forward to the day, after she produces a son, when she can speak directly to her in laws rather than respectfully closing and even covering her lips when they approach (which you can see would do much to preserve the peace in the household, for all its injustice).

I wish I could send her an email.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Mystery of Mercy – Andrew Peterson

I love this song from Andrew Peterson, "Mystery of Mercy," about the prodigal son and others. How little I think we realize how amazing it is that God does not reject and turn away from us even though we are turned away from him most of the time. The amazing thing is that he continues to pursue and treasure us! What a miracle it is to be the treasured sons and daughters of the holy, creator God:

My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?
You took my sin and wrapped me in your robe and your ring
My God, my God, why hast thou accepted me?
It’s a mystery of mercy and a song, a song I sing

Monday, December 11, 2006

Money - update

Another $15,000 has been given or promised to our ministry to help support my roommate Deb, this month, which brings us within $1000 of full support for her for 2006. I'm so glad to see her, step by step, set free! She's completely out of debt now, too.

I'm amazed this day has come. I can't believe that battle is almost over. It's been quite a strange one for me to lead, and I need to journal some more and figure out how I feel about it and how this has affected my relationship with the dear friend on whose behalf I have been fighting. Seeing her really provided for, financially, in the long-term, is something that's going to take a lot more work. We plan to file her disabilty claim in January.

Friday, December 08, 2006


Man, why is it that the most insidious fears that I hate to admit I have are so tied up with my most secret, precious hopes? No, don't ask me what they are here; this is deep stuff. But definitely a pattern.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke says it best: "Our deepest fears are like dragons guarding our deepest treasures."

See also: Telling Secrets, below.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The Best Pathways

Psalm 32 (New Living Translation)

1 Oh, what joy for those
whose disobedience is forgiven,
whose sin is put out of sight!
2 Yes, what joy for those
whose record the Lord has cleared of guilt,
whose lives are lived in complete honesty!
3 When I refused to confess my sin,
my body wasted away,
and I groaned all day long.
4 Day and night your hand of discipline was heavy on me.
My strength evaporated like water in the summer heat.

5 Finally, I confessed all my sins to you
and stopped trying to hide my guilt.
I said to myself, “I will confess my rebellion to the Lord.”
And you forgave me! All my guilt is gone.

6 Therefore, let all the godly pray to you while there is still time,
that they may not drown in the floodwaters of judgment.
7 For you are my hiding place;
you protect me from trouble.
You surround me with songs of victory.

8 The Lord says, “I will guide you along the best pathway for your life.
I will advise you and watch over you.
9 Do not be like a senseless horse or mule
that needs a bit and bridle to keep it under control.”

10 Many sorrows come to the wicked,
but unfailing love surrounds those who trust the Lord.
11 So rejoice in the Lord and be glad, all you who obey him!
Shout for joy, all you whose hearts are pure!

Bringing It Home

In the last few weeks I have heard from a lot of people in Central Asia. Some are from the country I was in this summer, writing with questions about our research project or the new prayer guide, due back from press any day now. Old teammates wrote asking if I'd consider coming back to Central Asia for a season again, to help workers write up case studies. I've been getting newsletters from friends I knew in 'Sofarawayistan,' now scattered all over the world by the diaspora of workers from that now-troubled country. I even got a message about my Central Asian sister; she's back together with her husband and caring for a second baby. Hudoga shukur - thanks be to God!

When I first came back from my sabbatical in Sofarawayistan I continued in the ways I'd picked up overseas; maybe I was afraid of losing them. I was still working on the book and was reading interview transcripts over and over, so I had the voices of all these women I'd profiled running through my head. I wore my Central Asian clothes a lot of the time (though not the outfit above, which cannot fit into American fashion by any reckoning; it just comes out for show and tell!) And I continued to relate to God in the ways I had while overseas.

But it's been a long time.

With all the contact with people from Central Asia in recent weeks I have been wondering, how much is all that still part of who I am now? Quite a bit, I think. More, not less.

The transitions between America and everywhere else are much less jarring. Who I am overseas and who I am at home seem to be becoming more integrated. And - Hudoga shukur for this as well - He has delivered me from some of my American 'disease,' the things that had been making my life too busy. Now once again I find I can lead more the contemplative life I so enjoyed in Sofarawayistan. Even if it seems - as it did there - sometimes boring or unproductive. That's the price you pay.

Earlier this year, when I was overcommitted and out of balance, there were times I wondered if the only way I was going to be able to walk with God was to quit my job. Ironic. But now giving out in ministry and finding refreshment seem to be fitting together quite well. Thanks be to God!