Friday, July 27, 2012

Cultural Notes on the World of Firefighters (or at least one)

Several people, Hubs included, have asked if I was going to blog more about the fire department. My playful posts on this topic on Facebook have piqued some interest. So here goes. 

Driving Miss Daisy by Day, Hero Work by Night

Am continuing to learn about the unusual world my husband lives in as a leading member of our local volunteer fire department. It's a very significant part of his life, and by extension, mine. One day last week he got off early from his regular job (non-emergency medical transport) to say that for the rest of the day he'd be focused on his "real" job, as if what he does 40 hours a week is not that. The fire department pays him but a small stipend for the privilege of calling him into sometimes dire situations any time of night, but that is of no barrier: it means the world to him.

Why Does He Do It?

1. The Truck. In some contexts he'll claim his motivation is the adrenaline; where else can you drive a big red truck down the wrong side of the road at high speeds and people have to get of your way?

Indeed, I thought of this when we took the antique engine out for a parade function recently. Because I wonder if having access to such machines is the difference between having a boat and having a friend with a boat. (The latter having some obvious advantages.) The privileges of his position may be what preserves our budget. Driving those rigs keeps him content with the aging but fuel-efficient Honda Civic that gets him around on milder occasions.

2. The Uniform. Other times he'll take the "joke" a different direction, asking, what other job allows you to break into people's houses, rummage through their stuff, violate their bodies, suspend their civil rights, and get a thank-you on the way out? I think the bit about violating bodies crosses the line and ought to be rephrased, but he's made this statement so many times he's got it down pat. Tucked in there is a motivation close to his heart: the thank you. Firemen are usually seen as good guys; people don't treat them the same as the policemen who also answer those 911 calls.

While my husband gets to see some darker sides of life and sometimes has to throw his weight around to take control of a chaotic situation, he's honored for it. And he doesn't have to look at the world through the jaded eyes of a cop. So, the identity matters. He wears his uniform and carries a badge with confidence, glad to be recognized as someone who's there to help.

3. The Chance to Serve. Deeper motivation? My husband feels shaped and called by God to come alongside people at their times of greatest need, to save lives. That sounds a bit lofty to throw around in a casual conversation, but that's how it is. I'm not sure how much that would describe other firefighters. But there's something that gets hold of them, gets under their skin and into their blood. Those who stick with it give more of their life to it and take more of their identity from it than I might expect.

I think many of them may find it hard to resist, knowing that when the pager goes off, someone needs them, urgently, needs them more than they need sleep. If they don't go, who will? The district is only a few miles long and a few miles wide, so the people they serve and save are our neighbors.

Hubs may not be a doctor or a counselor but he's a trained medical professional and crisis chaplain, and he's good at it. He knows he can make a difference for the people of our town. So the pager goes off and he's out the door. 

4. It's a Family. I wondered, at first, if my husband's taste for this kind of work grew out of several frustrating relationships in which he felt powerless and unappreciated. It fills an emotional gap for him. I also wondered if our marriage might be positive enough to lessen this effect. It might.

But his commitment to the people of the fire department has gone deep. They may not know each other all that well, in the conventional sense, or have all that much in common. But what they do have in common is pretty unusual. They've each made a commitment to each other and to serving their community, wherever and however needed, and they have to trust each other completely. "These guys have got my back," he explains. And by guys he means women too.

So there's a significant bond there. If he doesn't show up he'll be letting them down; if he's there, his presence helps others be more effective.

As his partner I want to understand and be supportive of the things that are most important to him. The fire department and the fire department people, they are high on that list.

My Place in His World

For me, fitting into this world comes with some different challenges, and I feel awkward about it. The fire department folks tend to be wired in ways I'm not, gifted in my areas of weakness. My husband trusts them with his life (and certainly with his wife). But, overly aware of our differences, I'm stiff and self-conscious and I clam up. I find myself dreading the social events. What can I say when it's so clear that they are handy where I am clumsy and unskilled, practical where I am theoretical, physical where I am cerebral? I don't feel comfortable enough in my own skin to join the conversation and expose the ways that I fear that am less.

So... I probably come across as stuck up, like life on the playground all over again. You may remember that my least favorite parts of school were lunch and recess; youth group was problematic, too. Only in college and ministry did I come into my own. Even in our marriage, I sometimes feel sulky and embarrassed about my weaknesses and areas of inexperience, the ways he and I are not the same - as if I must be the one who is flawed and broken. (Though of course we both are.)

With the fire department? Every now and again, when I'm struggling with my place among them, I remember the morals of all those books and movies I soaked up as a kid, the ones that say "just be yourself." (The Bible has a few things to say about walking in the ways of grace that may be relevant here, too, as well...)

My secret weapons? Well, one, I'm already "in" simply for being their chaplain's wife. I haven't yet learned to think of myself in the spouse category and cash in on that, but I could.

Also, I notice things and ask questions. I know all about how to inquire and learn about their world, their lives, their stories, even if it's not my world, my life, my story. There my work and education serve me well. It's a coping strategy, sure, but it's also how I approach and enjoy life. Knowing how to talk to strangers makes the world so much more fun and helps us find the points of connection that tell us we are not alone.

So little by little I'm able to relax and am making friends among the fire folk. The next big test/opportunity comes up in a few weeks. It's the fire department's annual chicken barbecue, a tradition of more than 50 years. But maybe I'll save my observations about that interesting institution for a later post.

See also:
Part 2: Just A Guy Thing?
Part 3: What Do Firemen Do, Anyway?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Churches for People Who Don't Go to Church

From "Stuff Christians Like."
Read the whole text here.

All are welcome!

"I wish every church said what this church says in their bulletin," says Jon Acuff, referring to the "awesome welcome message" at a church a friend of his had visited. What do you think? How many churches really want to put out the welcome mat for everyone? Should they?

Here's something I think may be related.

Churches for those who don't go to church

I continue to think about a class I took at the beginning of this year, a course on church-planting issues. My teacher, a church planter and trainer in Germany, advocated planting churches deliberately and openly designed for their non-members, and yes, for people who don't yet know Jesus (but are interested).

Although it may not often occur to most evangelicals, missionaries and missiologists would suggest that the people who most "need" new churches are those who don't have any. It's pretty obvious if you think about it. So, if you're going to try to plant a church, you should consider starting a church for people who don't go to church.

So, what are the implications of that?

1. Watch out for those who DO go to church (at least some of them)

Planting a church to reach those outside the church can mean disappointing a lot of people, including the people who have rejected and/or been rejected by other churches and are pinning their hopes on your fresh, new, and as yet invisible thing. If it doesn't materialize they way they hoped, these are the kind of folks who could become hypercritical and really hurt you and the church.

So I guess there's a group you want to hold at arm's length. At least when all you have is a fragile, new church plant that could so easily be destroyed. People hurt by other churches and overly excited about your new, different church could be the death of it. So try not to court them.

2. What will the church be like? Whose "style" will prevail?

If you are trying to start a new church for people who don't go to church, stuff like the location, logo, name, music style, and the like should not be chosen based on looking within your own heart and asking yourself what you prefer. Nor even by looking around at your team of church-planting allies and asking them what they think would be good. Nope.

OK, disclaimers first: Study up on what the Bible has to say about what the church is and does and is all about, and make sure you know what your mission is, what your calling and best contribution and values and convictions are. For such things, yes, look within and study scripture, history, how other people do things. And be very clear on all that before you start. Communicate what you're about and what you're trying to do, repeatedly and consistently. Stay focused.

But... the Bible doesn't tell you what you should call your church or present it or where you "put it," do they? And how to draw people into prayer and worship, how to teach them in ways that reach them where they are, well, you have to know the people, don't you?

In all those areas, you should ask the kind of people you want to reach. Focus groups, man-on-the-street interviews, talking to community leaders, and a nearly endless series of "let me take you out to lunch and pick your brains," meetings with people you encounter, those will illuminate your path.

3. Finding a name

So, with all that said, you don't choose the name; you let your city choose the name.

My instructor gave the example of a process by which he got the folks he'd gathered for a church plant in inner-city Toronto to submit possible names, and told them, "we'll take these recommendations and see what the city says." He made a list of all the names they turned in and had the people vote, promising to take the top four names to the streets to see what people would say.

He had to swallow his pride when the name that he liked, the one that would link them to the church of his pastor-hero in New York, that was the name that nobody liked. Everyone liked the name with the word "grace" in it. They offered all kinds of reasons. Somebody said it's a very "Canadian" word. Also, there are "Grace" hospitals all across Canada and they have a very good reputation. Grace Toronto Church was born.

It's not about trying to be cool or something, but about trying to accomplish your mission. If the mission is about connecting with and influencing people, you need some cultural savvy to do it.

4. Flexibility

Grace Toronto Church and other churches my instructor helped plant used similar processes to come with a byline, logo, promotional materials, meeting times and locations, and more.

They got local people to help them understand things like the direction of traffic, the atmosphere of certain neighborhoods, the tacit assumptions and lifestyle patterns people might bring with them that could influence  how the church might connect and take shape.

In their early, experimental worship services - and even these delayed until the "listening" and networking process had gone on as long as they could afford - they tried out all kinds of things to see what would work, what would stick. They changed things up.

They didn't commit themselves in advance and try to present some kind of done deal. I like that.

What do you think? 

Some of what we studied doesn't jive so well with the simple church, cell-based, contextualized church-planting movement theories that form the bedrock of assumptions about church planting that I get from my work in the world missions community. Stuff like where to put your signs and fliers and how to design your church lobby or website seem a little silly when you're talking about house churches in a restricted-access country.

On the other hand, these conversations helped me see things a little more through the eyes of the US church-planters who use the same words as we do and yet don't seem to mean the same things by them. I think I see how American church planters and church-planting missionaries can be such separate camps.

I'm not sure how to harmonize all this or if that's even possible, but I'll keep chewing on these things and would be glad to talk to anyone who can help me with that.

See also: Aubrey Malphurs' book, Planting Growing Churches for the 21st Century.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Making Connections

It's been about a year and a half since I flew to the Midwest and met up with N. She and I traversed the Pacific and all of Europe to land in a city on the western edge of Asia. It was a grueling and costly trip, but a necessary one I think. We made connections and explored local dynamics in a way that just couldn't happen without that face-to-face contact.

Recently N. also connected me with P. He is interest in building relationships with another people group, a group of people from South Asia who have relocated in large numbers to a couple of big cities in Europe. It just so happens I've been to one or two of those cities and spent some time among them. It was a few years back, but I was on the ground for about a month setting up and encouraging a cultural research effort.

It turns out that P. is currently living in the same Atlantic Seaboard town as some of my contacts from that research project, now home on what's basically a furlough.

Meanwhile, back in the Midwest, N. is getting ready to take some people back to the area we visited in Asia. Joining up with her team there will be an ethnomusicologist who lives thousands of miles away from that region but has a keen interest in the people they will make contact with there, as he studies and works among people who speak the same language and have a related history and culture. I'd almost forgotten about him, but we had a couple of phone calls two years ago; I think I found him through a guy I "happened" to meet at an unrelated event in Colorado Springs. Looks like the folks in the Midwest have stayed in touch with him.

The face-to-face meetings? Those are golden. If P. meets up with my friends in his town they'll build a much stronger bridge than I can sitting behind my computer in Oregon. And N. will soon know the ethnomusicologist better than I do (if she doesn't already).

I'm grateful for my trips to Asia, Europe, and Africa, and I expect there will be some more of those in the future. But I also love this: that from the small town where I live I can be part of ministry efforts worldwide with just an internet connection, a broad web of like-minded contacts, and a knack for networking.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Marriage as Partnership, not Possession

Marriage is hard work, but I don't know how we'd manage if we didn't believe marriage was God's gift to us and that both we and our spouses are worthy of being treated with dignity and honor. Sometimes I'm just amazed how many cultures come up with similar ways to justify trampling on people, especially women. Robert and Linda were my housemates in the months leading up to my marriage in May, and it just so happens they have an international ministry strengthening marriages. Good people to connect with, eh?

Ever since I first read this report from a seminar they did in Uganda earlier this year, I've been wishing I had a way to share it with other people. So proud of them. What a great way to serve the African church. Now they've put the story online, so perhaps that's reason enough - especially if I obscure the names a bit. This report came out from the Uganda ministry that hosted them.

Marriage Seminar Stuns Pastors

An estimated 40% of the men at our marriage and parenting seminar in January had a history of wife battering and child neglect. These are our own pastors! We focused on marriage relationships, including understanding one another, communication, conflict, physical intimacy, family finance, and parenting.

We found that most men here, even some of our own pastors, weigh women and family in terms of cost/benefit against their wealth; in other words, women are but a mere form of property, giving less contribution to the family than the man – not only a drudge, but a drag as well! This explains the battering, denial of rights, failure to educate children and much more. “I realized that all this while I had never loved my wife the right way, or looked at her as my equal,” says George K., Pastor of ____ Church. “I have learned for the first time the position of my wife in my life as the Bible states and I am going to change from this day on.”

Pastor and Mrs. K. are among the 120 pastors and wives present at the conference whose eyes lit up as they realized that it is both partners’ responsibility to raise and discipline children, and to encourage, respect and show love in their homes. Mrs. K., like the other women, was glad to be able to openly express issues such as not being loved and appreciated, and experiencing sexual harassment. In short skits the women expressed their frustration with not being involved in critical matters such as finances and land. In one of the skits most of the women said their husbands had never bought them even a simple gift as a sign of appreciation. It was eye (and heart) opening for the men to see their treatment of their wives played out in front of them.

However, Mrs. K. also says she too has learnt that she had a part to play in stirring conflict in the home. Like many, she had not grasped the notion of respect in the home, especially towards her husband, contributing to conflict in the house. Mrs. K. was grateful for the lessons learned on looking after her husband, supporting him especially in ministry, disciplining her children and respecting him as the head of the home.

The pastors thought the seminar was awesome. They really loved it, and so did their wives. We get text messages from pastors we never hear from normally about what a blessing it was and they hope we do more. Pastor K. and his wife were able to hold a similar seminar in their own church after this conference, to pass on the same knowledge and lessons to their congregations.

Pray with us that many more churches will follow and that these churches will help their entire communities to change.

Friday, July 13, 2012

Scenery, Machinery, and People

Real People

I was doing research for a writing project and came across notes on a study conducted many years ago by Polish anthropologist Alicja Iwanska. Iwanska spent time in a US farming community and concluded that the average Americans who lived there basically divided the world into three spheres: scenery, machinery, and people.

And the funny thing is that many if not most human beings didn't make the cut to be considered "people." They were actually put in the first two spheres: just part of the landscape, or there to do something for us. In Iwanska's study, the Native Americans were scenery. The migrant farm workers were machinery.

In our day, that kind of approach puts a grocery clerk on the same level as her cash register and sees a bus driver as an extension of his bus. Only friends and relatives, people we might talk to in church or who we'd welcome to drop by for a cup of coffee are "real people."

Who Is My Neighbor?

While I've been in cultures where the term "neighbor" suggested some level of sympathy or identification, this is not so widespread and common as once it was. Worldwide, people are on the move. They don't stay in the communities where they grew up. They may not know their neighbors. They probably won't go to school with the same kids from kindergarten until graduation like their parents or grandparents did.

I have to admit I've fantasized about that kind of existence most of the world has left behind:  life on the prairie or something: where everybody knows your name, where the whole town pulls together to put up a barn or help the family that lost its crop in a hailstorm.

Country music and Christian fiction often play on that theme. That place you couldn't wait to get out of, they'll still be there to welcome you back when you "come home." Did you know country music started to take off as a genre at exactly the same time the population of America became more urban than rural? Only then could it pull on the heartstrings and strike that nostalgic tone.

The Need for Connection

Even as we grow apart we need to feel connected with someone, even if it's just a dog or cat. It's just how we're made. So we break the connections we have or had but look for new ones. Some start treating those they will never meet and who may not even exist as "real people," giving a piece of their heart to a character on TV or someone famous, someone they can "know" without going outside their front door. We may have considerably less interest in the stories and struggles of the person who happens to live across the street, but we really care about what happens to an actor, athlete, TV personality, or musician. I don't know how many Facebook posts I've seen entreating me to pray or send good thoughts toward a celebrity facing an illness or calamity - maybe the same cancer as that guy across the street, if we only knew him, and he's someone we could actually help. I think such celebrity prayer requests now outnumber the "pray for my husband's aunt's neighbor" pleas I get from the church prayer chain. 

I suppose some might say the whole world of religion is invented to help us feel we're not alone. Others would say religion is just evidence of our gut feeling or conviction that we're not.

A Change of Perspective

Anyway, back to "scenery, machinery, and people." Many of the things I'm involved with as a mission mobilizer have to do with helping people stop seeing and treating other human beings as scenery or machinery. Even those who salute different flags, speak other languages, and live different ways of life - they are actually people.

Mission trips are great for that. Unlike the tourist, the short-term missionary is put into positions where he or she is challenged to identify with, serve, and learn from the local person. Maybe even talk to them or drink tea with them.

Sometimes they come home and treat the grocery clerk or bus driver differently as a result.

See also: In Defense of Talking to Other People (and other posts tagged "listening.")

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Moving Beyond Translation

I'm writing an article, at least in my head I am. It's about how and why to be a language and culture learning, even if you're not planning to stay someplace but only passing through. And one of the ideas I want to get across in a compelling but succinct way is how helpful it is to ask for use, not meaning.

Here's how it works. Say you're going to be in another culture and want to know what to do when you want to say goodbye. Instead of finding out the literal translation or simplest term for goodbye - something you might be able to get from the internet, or a book - you'd do well to ask a real person who lives there what you should say or do when you're with somebody and you need to leave. Then you learn to say what they say in a given situation, rather than saying a translation of what you would say, back home, in such circumstances.

I want to recommend people ask "what do you say when..." instead of "how do you say..."

A subtle difference, perhaps, but it helps.

Does the same thing apply to culture learning? You adjust better if you try to learn about the contours of life for local people rather than trying to figure out how to live your own life your old way, with just a surface translation like a change of clothes or bit different diet. You let it be more than a matter of translation, you let go of the partial truth that "underneath, we're all just the same." You receive the new activities or ways of doing things as an experiment or adventure rather than an inconvenience, mistake, or threat.

Letting go of your right to manage your own life and judge what "normal" means is painful, though, isn't it?

As I've mentioned here before and probably too many times, I still feeling the culture stress of both my move from Highlands Ranch to Eugene and my move from singleness to married-with-family. The hubs and kiddos get to feel it too as they hear me whine about the scarcity of coffee shops and libraries near here, etc.

At the household level, we've also discovered that I have different assumptions about technology. I don't like carrying a cell phone and won't answer it if I'm driving, or busy; I don't like phones and don't believe I need to be that reachable. I recoil from having the TV on "too much." I think ice cream can be scooped with a plain ol' spoon and that we don't need a rice maker to make rice; I prefer and default to doing things by hand instead of using a tool. Much of the time when C. and/or the kids introduce me to their "newfangled" tool or technique I balk a bit, even if I later come to appreciate it.

I'm trying to flex. I'm trying to stop whining, snapping, and getting defensive. I'm a little horrified at my failures. I'm trying to both give grace to this environment and its inhabitants, and to my freaked-out, culture-shock-y self.

What's the principle to hold onto? Maybe it all just goes back to "it's not wrong, it's just different."

When I made my first trip outside the U.S. at age 17, someone told me that the three most helpful character traits to cultivate were flexibility, tolerance for ambiguity, and sense of humor.

Yesterday brought a pleasant cultural adventure. I took a field trip, my second visit to The Fifth Street Beanery. That's a downtown coffee shop that's easy to get to, has its own parking, free wifi with plenty of seating and electricity, and keeps long hours. All the things I would put on my "why aren't there places like that in Eugene?!" list. Because, of course, I've been judging my new town on the basis of how well it measures up against my old one: I'm trying to translate my life, rather than discovering a new one with its own categories. Well there are some of the coffee shops in this city that are something like the ones I left behind and just as pleasing. Just not in the outlying neighborhoods.

As I sat at my laptop sipping my coffee and munching my whole-wheat marionberry coffee cake (what a Northwest thing!) I also savored the signs of authentic (not contrived) character. A great menu. People who seemed sincerely interested in their companions. I also like the windows into independent "green" hardware store next door, sharing the building which looks rather like a converted mill or workshop. Chances are good it wasn't just built or remodeled to "look like" that, but preserved as it was.

Ah, Lord, help me appreciate, honor, and protect my new town, family, and way of life, rather than fighting them, judging them, or trying to remake them into something more comfortable and familiar to myself!

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Party and Parade

"What are we going to do for the Fourth?" we asked each other. Both of us had the day off and the kids were with their mom. My ideal Fourth of July would include picnicking with good friends and good food, a concert, a parade, and fireworks. Even though we didn't have any solid plans when we went to bed late Tuesday night, we still got most all of those things.
"Take me to Cresswell to see the parade?" I asked him when he woke up. Cresswell is a small town south of us, and it turns out they have the best parade ever - complete with marching bands, old cars, tractors, candy, and relatively little of the commercial sponsorship that's the only thing that made holiday parades happen back in my old town. Near the front of the parade were a couple of little old ladies pushed in wheelchairs decked in red, white, and blue, and waving at the children. It was touching. 

On the way there and back we listened to a couple of CD compilations a friend had given us as a bonus wedding present. Well, 20 seconds or so of each song... most of the music was country-western and C. is not a fan. But somehow that sort of music seems as American and patriotic to me as Sousa and John Williams! So that was our impromptu concert.

After we got home, Hubs sent a text to some old friends of his and asked if they'd like to get together for hamburgers and maybe take their kids for a ride on the old firetruck. We ended up crashing their large family party, but they didn't mind; I added to their feast an apple pie I'd just made and some burgers from the freezer.

Fireworks? Not this year. I don't think my fireman is much of a fan.

Monday, July 09, 2012

The Heart & The Bank Balance

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.  (Matthew 6:21)

Do you find issues related to money poking or yanking at your core sense of fear, pride, and identity? No wonder the Bible talks about money - or about wealth and poverty - so much. How we respond to them can be such a gauge of how we were doing. 

Consider the recent "promotion" from managing small things to being trusted with big ones, a change that came with my marriage. Among other things I'm charge of the finances. I don't know a better way to keep costs down than to write down every expense and track them against my budget like a calorie counter trying to lose weight. But it takes so much time now, and when I do, my old-maid heart (unaccustomed to caring for a family) recoils in shame and fear at how much it seems to cost! I tell myself we're going to be OK. And when I take my number crunching far enough I see that we're still on track. But before I get to that point, I'm prone to panic.

Last week Hubs and I went to see an eye doctor and ordered new contacts for me and new glasses for both of us. A pricy but "necessary" move - especially for C., who has been having great trouble with blurry vision and headaches. I have to stop and thank the Lord that we can see and that the technologies exist and are within our reach to keep us reading and driving and all the other things we'd have so much trouble doing if we hadn't been born in this day and age. I also have to repent of my pride at thinking I'm so responsible and so generous, that I know how to manage resources - to allow myself to admit I feel overwhelmed by the sudden increase of my options and my responsibilities. Oh, Father, loosen my grip and give me open hands with these things you tell me are only temporary and may only be stolen, destroyed, or lost.   

Similarly, I find myself worrying about my salary. Last week I got my financial statement from work and it revealed that after a couple of "low" giving months, the cushion in my ministry account is no longer in the thousands, but in the hundreds. C. was quite startled when I told him. In many areas he shows great faith, but his experiences with raising support were not so good, and so this time he was the one who panicked. And maybe I did, too...

It's not unusual to scape the bottom of the barrel this time of year, right? And after all, I did just lose a $500/month supporter. So of course my account is low. But have I done my part, have I been responsible, have I made my needs known and given people gracious and attractive opportunities to be part of my work? I felt, guiltily, that I had not. So I wrote and sent an email letter to 400+ people that was pretty clear about soliciting support. I knew it was only one step, but I figured it was a start - would lay a foundation for taking the scarier steps that must follow.

Later, I had trouble sleeping, fretting over whether I'd crossed - or appeared to cross - the line. Conventional support-raising wisdom is clear; letters are a good way to stay in touch but no way to raise funds, not for situations like mine. Impersonal direct solicitation for ongoing personal support is likely to come across as offensive and manipulative - and, moreover, it doesn't work. I couldn't sleep until I prayed, again, over those letters, told God I knew they might have been a mistake and asking him in his mercy to use them to build a bridge and not a barrier for those who received them. I reminded myself that God is the one who provides and that he can use whatever sources he wants; it's not my job to decide or know where they money's coming from. It's my job to ask, and to trust, and to say thank you.

Do you find the state of your bank balance does weird things to your heart? What have you found that helps?

>> Read the rest of Matthew 6.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Ocean Nearby

Have I mentioned how nice it is to live less than a thousand miles from the beach? C. and I are able to make relatively impromptu visits to the Pacific. I rode along on a recent run he made to drop off a patient in Bandon, to the south. Two weeks ago we drove from Florence (straight west from us) up the coast through Cape Perpetua to Newport. A beautiful day. 

I see God's fingerprints all over this coastline, in spite some of the names crediting other spiritual powers... we have a Devil's Churn, a Devil's Punchbowl, and even a Devil's Elbow! 

Some of these beaches are sandy and sometimes sunny, but they are seldom warm. Better bring a jacket and a good pair of walking shoes.

Lingering by some rocky tide pools, Chris couldn't resist picking up a purple sea urchin and placing him (?) in my hands for a photo op. I forgot how active the little creatures can be; the spines tickled my palms as he squirmed. When I tossed him back in a deeper section of the large tidepool, Chris chided me with a laugh for throwing him so far. How long must it have taken him to get himself a perfect spot? Now he'd have to start all over! 

Monday, July 02, 2012

Top Ten Taxonomy

I wrote this for my last newsletter and got some great responses... so I thought I'd repost it here. 

Sometimes when I’m working with an ethnographic research team I ask them to brainstorm a list. What are the top ten things they are learning about their host culture? Or, better yet, what are the top mental categories in the minds of ordinary people in that culture? What do their lives revolve around, and what do they focus on and talk about? We build a taxonomy of what seem to be the most important things, maybe the things we most need to understand to “get” how the people think and how the community works.

What kinds of things do you think would make the cut if the list was about you? What do you treasure most, and how does that play out in your day-to-day priorities? In what ways are the people around you the same as you? How are they different? It’s hard to even think in such terms if we have never known anything else. We may just take it for granted that the way we see and navigate the world is the way everybody else does (or ought to).

As a single person living more than 1000 miles from my nearest relation – and with a call on my life closely tied up with the kind of work I do – I have to confess that in many seasons “family” barely made the top 10 on my priority list. Oh, I loved my parents and my sister, but our lives were really not all that intertwined. Work, church, and friendships generally came first. Quests for personal fulfillment, inner peace, and the chance to read just one more chapter of my latest book may have rated even higher. And, to be honest, some simple pleasures like hot showers, coffee, sunshine, exercise, and a good night’s sleep also made the list. Walking with God was priority, if not always at the top; it’s what made all the other pieces work and gave them significance.

Looking at ordinary people in my own culture as well as Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and all kinds of people around the world, I realize how unusual my life has been.

Now I’m married. Now I have a family. Amazing. Who ever thought? The blessings catch me by surprise. Yet so do the responsibilities. Things from Chris’s priority list, or Daniel’s, have to find a place on mine. All I need to do is compromise a bit; it shouldn’t be that hard. But I seem to be out of practice! I never understood how questions like who does the dishes or which way we fold the towels could be such flashpoints in a new marriage, but now I think I get it. Sometimes it feels like my whole way of life is in danger and hangs on things like what kind of light bulbs we use and who decides. One more way I have to change or adjust feels like it will be the final straw. 

I feel pretty ridiculous for responding that way. Guess it’s like the difference between visiting another culture and buying a one-way ticket. I wonder how long it will take for me to get used to this. What would it look like to put family first? How will this play out in the years to come?

If you can remember what it was like to adjust to marriage, I’d love to hear your story. Thanks for praying for us, too. We really appreciate it!

>> See this helpful article: Marriage: The First Year.