Friday, February 24, 2012

Fun for Your Friday -


"Once upon a time there was a race between a rabbit and an eggplant. Now the eggplant, as you know, is a member of the vegetable kingdom, and a rabbit is a very fast animal.

"Everybody bet lots of money on the eggplant, thinking that if a vegetable challenges a live animal with four legs to a race, then it must be that the vegetable knows something. People expected the eggplant to win the race by some clever trick of philosophy.

"The race started and there was lots of cheering. The rabbit streaked out of sight. The eggplant just sat there at the starting line. Everybody knew that in some surprising way the eggplant would end up winning the race.

"Nothing of the sort happened. Eventually, the rabbit crossed the finish line, and the eggplant hadn’t moved an inch.

"The spectators ate the eggplant.

"Moral: Never bet on an eggplant."

-- Daniel Pinkwater, Borgel

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Who should be invited?

Trying to make a list of relatives to whom we'll send wedding invitations. First draft (on my side) comes to ~50 people meaningfully connected to me through my four parents, but no more than 25 I'd expect might show up. I sent them (the parents) my list and we'll see how it fleshes out.

Brings to mind an experience from about a decade ago, when I led a team to conduct sociological research in a conservative, tight-knit part of Central Asia. One day most of the team went another rite of passage / social event, a circumcision party. Half of them got sick from eating food that may have been prepared days in advance or perhaps had just been sitting out in the sun too long. Oops.

Well, a party big enough to allow 4-5 foreign gatecrashers without batting an eyelash is probably a good sized party. I don't remember how many people were there but one of the things they reported, after the event was over, was that the father of the boy for whom the event was being held said  he had about 1000 relatives, "maybe 200 close ones."

How would you like to try caring for and feeding that many people?

In many of the places where we've done these research projects, weddings are a huge deal and can really break a family, financially. That's why a typical wedding gift is a generous gift of cash to help cover the wedding expenses. No, we won't be taking an offering. I am pretty sure we can cover this. (Thanks to some help coming from the bride's big collection of parents, it's true.)

In Kyrgyzstan families may get around the cost by eloping. The problem is that the decision is made on the groom's side without consulting the bride. A girl may have no idea what is going on until a coworker, classmate - maybe her crush or boyfriend, but just as likely a perfect stranger - pulls to the side of the road when she's walking alone some day, grabs her, and carries her off.

Kyrgyz bride and groom (source)
Bride-napping is one of those deeply "cultural" practices which open-minded Westerners have trouble assessing. What do you do when a widespread tradition happens to be a huge affront to human rights, involving violence, coercion, and usually rape?

"It was good enough for me, it's good enough for you," the mother-in-law instructs her new household servant. This has been going on for generations.

Well, on a lighter note: Yesterday I bought my wedding dress. A relief to have made that step, though finishing the outfit is of course a little more difficult than the daily task of deciding if my socks should match my shirt. The shop will get it professionally cleaned and I'll have to arrange to have it altered. I'll probably buy some new shoes, fancy undergarments, jewelry, and more.

Looks like I'll have my mom weave a silk sash to go with the dress. Oh, and I think I'm going to wear a hat. It's Chris's sister's, and looks great with the new dress. By the way, if I were dressing like one of those Central Asian brides, I'd probably also wear a hat. I'm afraid that for me, their hats a little too ... smurfy (see right). What do you think? Do a Google Images search on Kyrgyz hats for many more of the sort!

I'm glad that our cultural traditions do not forbid the bride from smiling, as is the case in many of the traditional cultures which I've visited.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Bike alternatives

Elliptical bike from ElliptiGo
What with Eugene's bents toward creativity, exercise, and alternative transportation I should not be surprised to see, on these roads, a fantastic variety of bicycles. The city claims to be the home of all kinds of biking and bike-gear innovations.

Yesterday a pair of bikers passed me on the trail today. Neither bike had a seat; both "riders" were standing up. How do you bike standing up? If you have $1800 to $3500 to spare, you can get an elliptical bike of your own and give it a try.

Ought to cut back on saddle sores. Not sure it can provide an elliptical machine's additional upper-body workout, however.

One explanation for the bike-eating tree



In other news of bikes and culture, I see a pictures of Vashon Island's famous bike-eating tree has been circulating... this time as "a haunting reminder of the sacrifices soldiers make and the love that follows them even after they are gone." 

I lived on Vashon for a big chunk of my childhood. Had to go poking around to see if there might be anything to it. 

The sweet story didn't ring true, and not just because I'd never heard it before. Building a patriotic memorial? That doesn't sound like the way a Vashon Islander would behave, not to me. Leaving old junk lying around in the woods and forgetting about it, now that sounds like the Vashon way! 

If this story from the local paper, the Beachcomer, can be trusted, that's just what happened.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

February Newsletter

Ah, back in the old days when I was wiser - or, at least, more constrained by policy - I sent my newsletters out nearly every month and always had them checked over by a couple people before they went out. (I also had to go to a print shop to have half-tones of my photos created, and relied heavily on the ancient folding machine on the first floor of our office building!)

Nowadays I spend a couple hours creating a letter and mail-merge it to go out through email. Sometimes the results are less worth reading. Usually I find at least a few odd mistakes within hours of pushing "send." Such was the case with this one. Here's the amended text of a newsletter I sent to 419 addresses just yesterday.

LIVING THE LIFE OF A NEARLYWED
Dear friends,

Hey, it’s been quite a while since I’ve sent a regular newsletter! I’ve been to South Carolina, Washington, Florida (twice) and… yeah, I’m even starting to feel more at home in my new digs in Eugene, Oregon. No snow here, but plenty of rain. Sun even comes out from time to time. I love living amid trees and rivers and lakes, and, of course, being near my love.

The big news of course is that right before Thanksgiving (as anticipated) Chris officially asked me to marry him. Guess what? I said yes!

May 26 – the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend – is the big day. Want to come? I’m working on a guest list and hope to set up a website to help coordinate things and include folks who will have to cheer us on from afar.

We’ll have a ceremony and reception that afternoon in Eugene. It will be at the Bethesda Lutheran, the church where Chris grew up (outside, if weather permits!) Other details are falling into place.

In the next month or so I hope to settle the question of The Dress. Somehow, without noticing it, I crossed a threshold and started going to more funerals than weddings. So I didn’t notice that since the days when my friends got married, all brides started wearing strapless ball gowns that would look waaay better on my old Barbie than on me! For myself, I hope to find something with sleeves. That may be a vain hope (in more ways than one). I may still go with some fabulous colorful outfit from overseas. That might suit me better, but it would certainly bewilder others!

At any rate, who ever thought that this day would come? I am grateful and happy to be marrying Chris and starting a new life with him and the kids (who are, by the way, doing just fine with all this).

Current Challenges:

Travel. I’ll be making four more trips to the Southeast or Midwest before we get married. This helps the time pass more quickly, but being one time zone further West (and 2+ hours from the major airport) is taking more out of me than I had anticipated. And yes, I’ll stay put as much as I can after we tie the knot!

Wedding planning. I’m not an event planner, but a bride – unless she’s young, rich, and/or surrounded by hyper-involved family members – cannot get out of planning “her” big day. Stressful. Pray for peace and for things to come together at the right time.

Overcoming Oregon’s version of the Seattle Freeze. I’ve really felt it at church. Finally got up my courage to ask a nice Christian lady to have coffee with me; she got a deer-in-the-headlights look and scurried away. Sigh.

Time management. Never my strong suit, but now… How can I get a full-day’s work done, be there for Chris and the family, keep up with school, and still pursue other interests and relationships or just get some rest? I’m still trying to find what would feel like a healthy balance with these things!

– Preparing to become a wife. Many of you either have a wife or you are one. If that is the case – or even if it isn’t – perhaps you could pray for us as we lay the tracks for our new life together.

Much appreciated! 

GRADUATE SCHOOL

Since I last wrote, I’ve finished my second Old Testament class – it was awesome! – and flown to South Carolina for two weeks of intensive courses there. I’m still finishing the coursework for classes on urban church planting and issues in contemporary Islam. This weekend I will try to knock out a 12-page paper: “In the war for the hearts and minds of Muslims around the world, what would it take to empower the moderates and open-minded and marginalize the fanatics?” When I solve that little problem and finish these two classes, I’ll be 25% done with my M.A.

--> Interested in what can we learn from the New Testament that might shape our perspective on Holy Land theology? See Gary Burge’s book slender but powerful book, Jesus and the Land.


SCHEDULE / TRAVEL

February 20 – Next online class starts
February 27-28 – Perspectives, Indiana
March 5-6 – Perspectives, Louisiana
March 18-23 – Meetings in Florida

<-- Here we are all dressed up for the volunteer fire department’s annual awards banquet. Chris, an EMT and chaplain, was honored for being one of the department’s top responders. 

CHURCH PARTNERSHIP NEWS

Remember that big research project I conducted to help Pioneers understand how our supporting churches see and do global outreach? If you’d like a copy of the summary report, send me an email and I’ll share it with you.

My next project for the Church Partnerships Team is a revision of the Missions Assessment Profile. This tool was first developed in the 1980s to help church leaders describe how they were doing in their mission programs. The world and the church have changed so much since then! Turning this into something that feels contemporary is pretty challenging – especially for someone like me who tends to be skeptical of multiple-choice or true/false evaluations of anything that seems very complex. I’d appreciate it if you’d join me in asking God for guidance on how to handle this project well. Thanks!

I’ll also be joining the Church Partnerships Team in Orlando for a week of meetings March 18-23, including a Church Partner Forum on the topic “Unleashing the Global Impact of Your Church.”

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

We're All Having Fun Now

So, yes, I went on a cruise. As noted in yesterday's post. Here are some positives and negatives about the experience. 

Three things I didn't like about being on a cruise:

1. The noise. It was hard to find any public spot on the boat where one could hang out and relax and run into a few friends without loud, unpleasant music filling the air almost constantly.

2. The hype. The food was fancy, but not actually tasty. The shows and live music were enthusiastic without being excellent, the service was was more attentive than responsive.

3. The waste. Tons of food thrown away; towels, plates, or cups changed after every use; no recycling or conservation that I could discern.

Imagine the scene in the dining room, the first night, as nearly a hundred wait staff were introduced by name, position, and country of origin, with applause demanded, and then required to belt out a poor version of mmmm, something Italian (it was "Italian night."). They were from dozens of countries but confessed there was not a single Italian among them. Yeah, not very authentic. If I'm going to travel I think I'd rather have the experience be genuine and local and possibly scary or uncomfortable rather than some populist thing designed to please "everybody." Does that make any sense?

Well, OK, I am not a party girl, and this cruise was one big non-stop party. I don't drink, dance, gamble, or care for loud pop music and all-you-can eat buffets. Maybe it's that "everybody is supposed to like this" ethos that troubles me. What if we are not all alike? I had a hard time getting past that. It was a relief to leave and feel more like myself.

And yet, I'm fascinated by some of the social dynamics wrapped up in this. Like this idea of happiness being something you can engineer, cajole, produce, or mandate. The crew, for example, had to be nonstop chipper. Their job, right? Being able to fold the towels into fancy shapes is not enough, you have to do it with a smile or you might get reassigned to work in the engine room or something. And for the passengers, we were always being told how happy we were, too. At the shows and things, the emcee types told us again and again that this was the "cruise vacation of a lifetime" ("...every time" the promotional brochures added, glossing over the logical fallacy).

The funny thing is how often it works, especially with crowds. Event announcers and emcees get everyone fired up. The "color" reporters on TV report that an event is so so exciting and everyone is having a fabulous time, and the program producers tell us all about the hype surrounding their stars, or brand-new episodes, or season closers. Advertisers tell us how happy we are because of a product or service. Birthdays and holidays require us to tell each other how happy we are about our relationships with one another and we join in, instructing each other to be happy.

And with such encouragement, happy we are, more often than I might expect. People smile and laugh and clap, express appreciation or gratitude, and they feel better. I mean, there is something about just choosing to be happy, isn't there, and if the social pressure moves us to make that choice, well, it does seem to work much of the time. You have to be pretty determined - or traumatized, or carrying a very heavy load like depression - to stay consistently Scroogy.

And, shoot, I may be ornery but I'm too lazy to fight the tide. It gets me. 

Three things I liked about being on a cruise:

1. The convenience. The chance to experience a variety of things without the bother of traveling between destinations was nice. It was kind of cool to wake up and be in a different place. Physically, this was a very pleasant way to travel. And even if you didn't get off the boat, you could read or lounge around or hear live music or learn something or eat (of course) or get some exercise.

2. No unpacking and packing! A corollary of #1. Love it. Didn't have to carry stuff around and get all tired and hot and sweaty.

I think if I had a busy household, the chance to lay down cooking, cleaning, etc. would be nice. Not the case for me, really. I rather like cooking, don't want to eat out that much, and find tidying up rather therapeutic. But again, if I was more of a family person and had more house and kitchen work than I do, it might be different - I might love to have someone else cook and clean rather than wishing I could do it myself.

3. The guidance. I did not really know what to expect in advance - there was just so much information out there and it was hard to wade through it to find what I might really care about. I like to have a lot of information about something I'm experiencing but prefer to get it on a just-in-time basis. Well, that worked out fairly well. A daily activity guide was placed in each room, organized "excursions" of various sorts were offered even to those without previous reservations, and once I could figure out what I wanted the ship community made it easy to find.

That's how I got to go snorkeling for the first time. The half-day excursion was $65, but that included all equipment, transportation to the other side of the island and back, and being taken by a snorkeler-friendly boat - with a friend, two dozen other tourists, and a couple of guides - to some rather nice places to swim with the fishes. Including, on the last stop (and with some extra security measures in place), sharks.

I joked with friends that I wasn't going snorkeling for pleasure but that it was a research project. I wanted to see if I could give my fiance the green light to book the snorkel expedition he's so enthusiastic about for our honeymoon trip to Maui this summer. I knew I might gag on the snorkel or be too blind without my contacts - which I removed - or might simply not enjoy it. But none of those things proved to be the case. I had a good time. Maui here we come.

Chris instructs me that I am NOT to blog about our honeymoon. :-)

Monday, February 13, 2012

Ambiguous Adventure

It sounds funny to say it, but my mission agency just took a good chunk of the staff on a four-day cruise to the Bahamas. Yes, that's right. What do you think of that?

I don't think anyone's going to ask me to take this blog post down - guess we'll find out - but I'm not going to share it on my Twitter feed or put a link on Facebook. I doubt my colleagues will trip over themselves to put cruise pictures in their newsletters. In fact, we were given strongly suggested text for out-of-office messages and instructed to keep the news of the exact nature of this event out of social media.

This was ostensibly due to concerns that bad guys would try to break into our homes and offices in our absence, not fears (unspoken) that people will think that poor missionary beggar-types should not have (or spend supporters' money on) nice things like Caribbean cruises. The latter may be a concern as well. Now we're all safely back home, though, I'll take my chances and write a little bit about it.

If you are hung up on the idea of a mission agency bringing their staff into the lap of luxury (as I was) - I was embarrassed that we were doing this - consider the following. Some 90% of the participants live within an hour or so of the cruise-ship launch spot, so travel was not an expense for most. And this actually seemed the cheapest way to accomplish the goals of the event. Finding a spot that could host, house, and feed nearly 200 people for a four-day retreat anywhere near Orlando, FL is apparently a very expensive endeavor.  Accommodations like the stateroom I shared with S. ran just over $300 apiece, including all shipboard expenses and 12 meals (or 24, or even more if you had the hankering. Food was virtually unlimited). Starts to make a cruise look like a reasonable option. Our organization did something like this before but it was five years ago. Someone decided it was time to do it again.

Apparently Caribbean cruises are no more "weird" for an average Floridian than the occasional trip to ski or snowboard at Vail and Aspen would be to a Coloradoan (I'm sure that such a thing would sound like quite the jet-set activity to a Floridian.) Several people told me a cruise was the cheapest way for Floridians to take a vacation (unless you compare it with loading everyone up in the minivan and driving to Grandma's). 

Well, I wasn't sure whether I would like being on a cruise. I had a hunch it would not be my cup of tea, and it wasn't. But it wasn't bad. More about that in another post, I think.

Really my only goal for going was to get to know more of my colleagues, and that was a little difficult in this enormous and overstimulating environment, even if we were all in the same boat. I know some by sight but not all of them, and it was hard to find even those among 1500 "cruisers" and 800 crew members. We couldn't use our cell phones, not outside US waters. While some colleagues shared my networking goals - a stated purpose of the retreat - many others considered themselves primarily on vacation. This was a company "retreat." Many brought family members. It was really both a vacation and a work thing. The ambiguity of that and the fact that I had never been on a cruise ship before made it hard to know what questions to ask in advance or how to chart a course through these mysterious waters. Should I just chill out, or try set things up (and if so, how?) 

One thing that took me by surprise was the amount of paperwork. Why did it all have to be so complicated? The endless waves of emails with instructions about things that had to be read and/or decided months in advance put a serious damper on any pleasurable anticipation I might have had for this event. It really seemed excessive. Have I mentioned how much I loathe admin and logistics work? But now I know what to expect, so I think that would not bother me as much if I went through this again.

I'm glad to report the networking was moderately successful. It was a rare opportunity to meet new people and have unstructured time with others I already know, and with whom I have some rare patches of common ground. I enjoy and admire these kind of people. Most are open-hearted, grace-oriented, intelligent, and often very, very capable. And they have the same kind of experiences that sometimes make me feel like a freak around the people I may meet in daily life.

I think my favorite moment was when the survivor of a seriously traumatic season in Indonesia gave a high five to a fellow worker who had gone through hell in North Africa before she was willing to admit she was suffering from severe depression. Both now find themselves in the home office, the former after a longer journey through PTSD, depression, alcoholism, recovery, counseling, restoration, serious family issues, and years later finding a place in (you guessed it) member care - and the latter after reporting with great transparency how she always thought working in the home office was only for sniveling wimps who couldn't hack it on the field, though her nervous breakdown gave her a new perspective.

Anyone who has been in our line of work very long has heard the horror stories and probably has a few of their own.

Here, we knew we could be real with each other.

We could even be real about how weird it felt for some of us to be on a cruise ship, fawned over by all these (probably poorly paid) foreign crew members who were separated from all their family members for months on end, forcibly cheerful, and working like dogs to pamper us.

My stateroom attendant seemed mystified and fascinated that so many of us could exchange greetings with him and thank him in his heart language.

I guess we are a strange bunch.

Friday, February 03, 2012

A Place for Newcomers

Eugene Newcomers Club

I think it was my ex-wife-in-law's idea. OK, my future ex-wife-in-law. That is, the mother of my step-children-to-be. Or would it be simpler to say she's Chris's ex? Anyway, Michelle and I haven't talked much but I want to have a civil relationship with her and am optimistic that it might be possible. And she did give me some good ideas about how to get connected with people in Eugene.

Yesterday I went to visit the Eugene Newcomer's Club. They meet the first Thursday of every month at the Presbyterian church. Anyone is welcome to drop in, though after a couple of visits you are expected to join up and pay dues. I actually met a few Oregon natives and a number who had been in town for quite some time, though others were the transplants or frequent movers I expected to find in such a setting. Jobs, family, and the like had brought them from California, or Colorado, or Virginia - they were people who knew what it was to be from somewhere else.

Since the meetings are during the daytime I realized they'd probably attract people who didn't have jobs, but I was a little surprised that it was a women's club; nary a man there. Also, I was the youngest one there by a couple of decades. Yes, mostly retired women. I don't think I heard anyone mention a husband in the present tense, though references to daughters and grandchildren were frequent.

They seemed to be outgoing, social women, comfortable with themselves and with strangers. Several were still working, while others seemed very active in community groups, etc. One of the other first-timers there - I think there were five of us - explained that she was 80 years old and had come to Eugene because she's just not able to take care of herself anymore; she's got a mother-in-law apartment at her daughter's place. She felt bad that she couldn't join a committee or something - but what a smile: she was so glad to be with us.

Everyone seemed to have a story and be interested in other people's stories. Nobody treated me like a freak or outsider in any way, though  the two women in their 60's who were the first to get to me with a lunch invitation said it was because they wanted to rescue me from the old ladies.

Well, I like old ladies and middle-aged ones too. I may not be able to spend a half day with them every month. I am working full-time, and family relationships are going to add some pressure to make sure I get my work done during that traditional 9-5, M-F period. But I think I'll go to another meeting when I can, and maybe their luncheons, and see what else shows up in the newsletter. One of the ladies told me about her writer's group and gave me tips about restaurants and outings; I bet she could help me find a good book club, too.

Food for Lane County

The Eugene Newcomers Club frequently hosts representatives from other community groups and local charities, and this month there was a presentation from a group called Food for Lane County. I was so encouraged to hear about all the good things they're doing - many of which would be very easy to plug into through a really broad range of  volunteer opportunities.

So that could be another way to  make some friends and be part of the community. While I'm disappointed that the church I'm attending is so weak in providing ways to connect or contribute, there are some real plusses to going outside the church for those things; could be that that's what I need to do, for this season. And maybe (if we stay at this church) that will help me find or create some pathways for others who are interested in local or global outreach.

I'll write a separate post about Food for Lane County.