Thursday, July 26, 2007

culture shock!

When I was in the U.S. in the beginning of this year, people were surprised to hear that I seem to experience the worst culture shock when new to the U.S. More things surprise me, frustrate me, and confuse me in the U.S. than in most of the other countries where I travel. Maybe this is because I look and sound American and so somehow I'm supposed to belong, but it just doesn't work that way.

In the spring, people would ask me what shocked me so much, and I couldn't remember, so when I arrived on Monday, I tried to really notice so I could record the uniquely American things that culture-shock me...

- Choices. Definitely the biggest thing is choices. My luggage was lost on my arrival here, so I had to go to the store the next morning to buy some 'incidentals'. You know: toothbrush, soap, deodorant, clean under-clothing... This was a harrowing experience to someone who had just arrived Stateside. It took an hour to choose five items. There are so many combinations of so many varieties of so many things! Just as one example, I made a list of the different scents I could choose from for my deodorant. This is not a list of all deodorant scents; this is a list of the scents available in one type of one brand. (That brand had half a dozen types, and there were several brands to choose from.) Here's the list:
Tropical Tango
Arctic Apple
Eastern Lily
Vanilla Chai (do you really want your armpits to smell like a luxury beverage?)
French Lavender
Southern Peach (or a fruit?)
Jasmine Orient (or a bush? actually, I can't resist jasmine)
Asian Pear
Spanish Rose
Afrikan Violet
Kuku Cocoa Butter (kind of smells like coconut sunscreen/sun lotion!)

Then, in my state of choices-overwhelmed-ness, I heard a commercial on the radio for Applebees, bragging about how you can choose from more than 60 combinations of soups and sandwiches for their soup&sandwich option on their menu (the menu of course offers more choices as well). That was a big point against Applebees for me at that moment!

- Little conservation. I just feel like I'm being a responsible person when I compost my vegetable scraps/fruit rinds/other biodegradables. That doesn't really happen here that I've seen. And if I buy something in a store here, even one easy-to-carry item, it's automatically bagged. And that just makes me feel guilty for producing extra plastic. Now I'm not a scientist, but I'm told such things as composting, bringing-your-own-bag, etc. don't actually make that big a difference, but doing those things remind me that the world is our responsibility to care for, and keep me humble about my place in the world. It's a little scary to contemplate living without those reminders.

- Enthusiasm. This is one thing I really like about the U.S. and its people. You turn on the radio and everyone is hyper and excited. People are friendly, salespeople ask you how you are. It's like everyone's happy. I know it's somewhat fake joy, but I'm enjoying being surrounded by extroverted, enthusiastic people, as opposed to subdued Brits, demure Arabs, proud French, etc.

- Big and Wide. Yesterday I was following my aunt and uncle to my cousin's wedding rehearsal dinner. I was driving a big and wide station wagon (a loaner for which I am very appreciative). It's so big and wide that I'm scared to accelerate too fast or to brake too fast. So I was definitely keeping a safe distance behind my uncle's car. But over and over a car would jump in the hole! What was irksome to me about this was not that cars took advantage of a space (I'd do the same thing in a smaller car, for sure!) - it was that they were all enormous cars! SUV's, pick-up trucks, vans... This country is just full of big and wide cars!

But it's not just the cars. The 24 hours before I left England I rented a car there. The speed limit was 50 or 60 miles an hour on one-lane country roads with lots of bends. It was loads of fun. Here, on wide avenues with multiple lands, straight as an arrow, the speed limit is usually less. I figure if they want low speed limits they should make the roads narrow and spend less money for upkeep. Why have big and wide roads if you can't use them to full advantage? (Actually, my theory is that this dumbs down American drivers who then stop concentrating on driving and become more accident-prone, but I'm not sure how one could prove that...)

And the houses are bigger and wider. Mansions, all of them, it sometimes seems. And serving sizes are bigger and wider. Someone took me out to lunch on Monday and we ordered from the lunch menu, which is billed as having "smaller servings." I've never seen such a big salad, and it was intended for just one person! Everything is big and wide... use your imagination to think of something, and odds are that in the U.S. it's bigger and wider.

Well, those are my observations for now. Maybe I'll add more if I think of them. The reactions are there, but sometimes I forget why quickly, so I have to keep notes. Then maybe it won't surprise me as much the next time.

Do you have any fun culture shock stories? It's fun to hear them if you care to share...

Saturday, July 14, 2007


I recently watched The Last King of Scotland, which tells a partly-fictionalised story about Idi Amin, the president of Uganda throughout the 1970's. He was a totalitarian dictator who killed a horrific number of his own people during his rule and is still remembered as a symbol of cruelty and brutality. The film did a good job of exploring the character of such a figure – the actor who portrayed him got an Oscar for his efforts – and gave me some interesting impressions.

First, that he was absolutely paranoid that everyone was a threat to his position; he considered the things he had to contribute to Uganda to be very worthy indeed, and anyone who got in the way of him doing those things was an enemy. As the film went on, his fear of betrayal came to overpower his desire to good. That seemed to be the main reason he killed so many of his fellow countrymen. Second, the film showed a character who was extremely jovial, fun-loving, and just great to be around – half of the time; the other half, he shouted at people, hit them, accused them, and was just awful to be around.

Based on these impressions, I concluded he was a sick man, with some serious mental diseases that may be easily treated medically (the other main character was his personal doctor, so I wondered why he didn't give him that kind of treatment). Well, in discussing this with friends, I've realised that not everyone thinks that that was a good idea. Why? One possibly obvious reason would be that it might be unethical because it could involve sneaking such drugs into his regular medications. Another reason is that it might not have made much of a difference.

But when it really came down to it, I think it was a question of motivations. Would drugs have kept him from doing what he wanted to do – murder, pillage and abuse? Or would drugs have kept him from doing what he did not want to do – helping him to be the reasonable person he wanted to be?

So I've been pondering this the last few days, and I think that I'd rather expect good motivations of people and be disappointed, than expect the worst and be surprised. I'd rather assume that Idi Amin didn't want to be the awful person that he was: that he lost control of himself, rather than that he was just out to do evil. From the perspective of my beliefs about God, I have to admit that everyone does evil and has evil in his heart – but I've concluded that this doesn't mean that I need to expect that everyone wants to do evil. After all, I don't think my own motivations are evil!

The same way of thinking can apply to any political leader. Saddam Hussein did many awful things – why? Many people in the world see George Bush as doing some evil through his foreign policy – why? What about when a close friend of mine does something that's just plain bad?

I wonder whether it actually makes a difference to have a stance on this issue. I think it does because it informs our response. Just like with Idi Amin the question became whether to try to work with him or just kill him... If I think George Bush is doing something awful, what should I do? Should I try to convince him to change his mind (ok, I'd probably have to be buddies with him to do that, but ignoring that for a moment...)? Or should I just get him out of office as quickly as possible? Or, in the case of a leader who is not democratically elected, should I get him killed?

These questions work with people we know on a more personal level, too, of course. If I see my friend do something bad rather than trying to force him/her to be unable to do this bad thing, I will try to convince and persuade him/her that it is in fact wrong. That's actually in the Bible: first try to convince him/her, then get help trying to convince him/her, and only if none of that works try doing something punitive.

I just think there's a real danger in assuming people are just plain evil. There is great evil and many people do many evil things. But if we start thinking that's what they're out to do, we'll probably just plain give up on them, and they're probably the people who most need a good friend! I also worry because I really strongly believe that the people I know best and love the most have good motivations – the bad things they do are more mistakes. So if I think others are motivated by evil, then it becomes an us and them thing: we are motivated by good and they are motivated by evil. And that's what puts up illogical barriers that are impossible to cross: racism, wars, and fear of people just because they're a bit different.

Friday, July 6, 2007


So I've been asked what I think about recent events in Palestine, specifically the clashes between Hamas and Fatah. Well, I was fortunate enough to be in the Middle East when the worst clashes were happening, so it was just a little blur that I saw when I took a few minutes to check the Western media outlets.

Yes, that's right. Because I was in the Middle East, I was sheltered from following the gory details of what was happening elsewhere in the Middle East. I find that to be true often, actually. If I'm in a country involved, there's a huge furor and excitement, but rarely do I catch the details of the situation. If the event is in a different country, I may or may not hear about it. This is probably for a couple of different reasons:

1. I don't watch the news in Arabic. I should, but I don't. So when I'm in the Middle East I am just that much more likely to avoid the news.
2. My friends don't care. Maybe it's being a girl, maybe it's my choice of sweet-natured friends. But the fact is that my friends, even those who do follow the news, do not find it all that important. (I was in the UK when Tony Blair got appointed to be a Middle East envoy, but I was a bit busy and missed that announcement - but more than one person mentioned it to me within a few days so I caught up quickly. That doesn't happen to me in the Middle East.) If I miss that Hamas and Fatah are fighting, I continue to miss out blissfully.
3. Internet is not as readily accessible there than it is here.
4. I think there might be a personal emotional element involved. When it's close to home it's hard to talk about. Unless it's so close to home it's hard to avoid (or so globally noteworthy you can't avoid it - like the start of the Iraq war). My Arab friends feel very passionately about supporting the Palestinians, so either they go all out and demonstrate on the streets, or it's hard to talk about. (I'm not sure about this, it's just a hunch)
5. Shame - this is terribly generalised and therefore not entirely true, but in general: Arabs never talk about disagreements with other Arabs, especially in the presence of a non-Arab.

That last point probably is most significant. I'm not going to resolve the Palestinian question here - I'll leave that for a future post - but I'll try to quickly describe the lens through which I have come to see Palestine, maybe it will give you some new ways to consider events -

A. I know history is important but in this situation figuring out, or discussing, what really happened, in my opinion does more harm than good. The two biggest examples are the Holocaust and the actions of other Arab nations in 1948. I would never dispute the significance or evils of the Holocaust, but bringing it up when discussing contemporary Middle Eastern affairs seems to me to have confused the discussion and justified evil, not helped bring peace. In 1948, the year of the Palestinian "disaster" (when most Palestinians became refugees and when Israel was founded as a nation), the neighbouring Arab nations made some very bad decisions, but bringing those bad decisions up today again leads to confusion and justification of evil, not peace.

B. Collective memory, on the other hand, is significant. Everyone born within, say, 300 miles of Jerusalem has very pained memories of things that have happened in the past century, and that pain feeds their actions today. Whether historically justifiable or not, that pain is very real and plays more of a role in events than anyone in government circles ever seems to acknowledge.

C. The Palestinian people have suffered many things, but perhaps more than anything else, SHAME. And for them, that shame is unbearable. For many Palestinians, having to flee their house was not as awful as seeing others treating that house like it's their own, for example. I don't know enough about Israeli culture to speak for it, but my impression is that both sides are working very hard to shame the other side, in hopes of restoring a bit of their own dignity.

(The above three points look more at Palestinian-Israeli conflict as opposed to inter-Palestinian conflict. What's happening within Palestinian circles today is very much influenced by Israeli politics and treatment of Palestine, though, in many ways.)

D. Because of A-C, RELIGION, has become a driving factor. In cultures and periods of time throughout history, we see that when life gets tough God becomes much more important in people's lives. When all else is lost, the thread of hope that religion provides to many becomes a life support. Specifically, it should not be surprising that Palestinians are not only religious, but increasingly so, and supportive of a religious extremist group (Hamas). And the worse things get, and the more support non Islamists (like Fatah) get, the more Palestinians will grasp onto religion. And not just any religion, but a very extreme version of their religion.

E. I just read a very good book about Christians in Palestine and Israel (Light Force, by Brother Andrew). It ended with a story that led me to really ponder the following question: What would happen if instead of defending what is their own, people started to empathise with others and do things to help others?

Thursday, July 5, 2007

Running log of the wait to enter Syria... 17/06/07

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Running log of the wait to enter Syria...

So today I am going to Syria from Turkey. Insha'allah, as we say in this part of the world. So far God has blessed me with good Arabic and friendly (but not too friendly) Syrian men. I've been at the border a little over an hour now, and they're saying that I should plan on about a five-hour wait.

Why do we put up with this kind of thing, you may ask? Well, there a few ways of looking at it:

1. The amount of time I spent trying to get my paperwork done in order to apply for the visa through the UK consulate, the money for postage, the phone calls to the consulate (not only me but my parents have spent time on this since I left for Turkey, too!) - well, five hours is probably a lot less.

2. It would be a very stupid Syrian who tried to show up unannounced at a U.S. border and expected to be treated half as well as I have been. The guy wrote out a page-long explanation of who I was and why I wanted to enter Syria and for how long, including details of how I used to live in Syria and have friend there, etc. Then faxed it to Damascus while I sat in a plush comfy chair. Now I'm sitting in a restaurant across the way (admittedly a place shameful for a woman to be alone, but these are extenuating circumstances) waiting to be served chips/fries and a cold cola. If it were a Syrian woman crossing into the U.S. from Mexico without a visa, prison time is not an impossible scenario.

3. How long does it take for the Syrian government to decide to give me a visa?! Through the UK consulate they've been "considering" my request for two weeks and a half already. Through the border it's going to take five hours. What are they doing for those five hours?! I doubt they'll call every Syrian I've ever known (it hasn't happened yet), so seems much more likely that they're passing it around from official to official to get a signature. I wonder if the pres himself will need to sign it! OK, more likely, they're reading it to each other and laughing about how they are stressing the American girl out, isn't that fun...

4. I understand their complaints against my government and can understand that this is one of the small ways in which they can get back. But if only they knew how little my own government cares about my getting in to Syria! At that point they'd take me in a limousine to meet their pres just to make my pres mad!

Well, these are my thoughts for now. Still got a positive attitude and glad I know people are praying for me. Will check in later...

... It's now two and a half hours into my wait. And three hours since I arrived at the border. Haven't moved an inch but ate between one and two fried potatoes, between two and three tomatoes (yummy!), a small cucumber, and two small peppers (the first one was sweet so I took a huge bite out of the second one but it turned out to be hot). I have enjoyed my i-pod and caught up on my trip journal. The guys working here seem to think it's weird to have me here, but they didn't seem surprised at my arrival. They said, yeah, visas are a problem here in Syria (a surprisingly critical comment!). Then I told him my passport is American, and he said I'll be here till 10 or 11 easily. Yay.

He kept bringing me snacks from the customs officers dinner happening in the adjoining room. They had quite a nice spread, so he snuck me out two little cheese pastries and a yummy kibe (finger food made out of meat and bulgur wheat). Oh, he just came by to offer me a cigarette! How thoughtful (it is my second offer since I arrived at the border). Anyway, I wondered if I shouldn't go in there and somehow provacatively befriend a customs officer - would that have helped me get a visa? Actually, the process seems rather straightforward, if ridiculously slow. I just hope they don't forget about me...

... Almost four hours down! About half an hour ago I asked the friendly server here at the border restaurant (a young guy who seems fine running the place in rubber sandals and an undershirt) if I should go over to the offices to get news and he offered to call for me. No word yet, but they'll call over here as soon as they hear. He offered me a room to rest in if I need it, but hey, I am happily typing away and fortunately so far the time is passing quickly. I might go back to the office soon anyway, just to make sure they don't forget me.

It's actually a tad surreal. I'm writing about Syrian women, and right now describing a young Syrian woman making Arabic coffee and pouring it out for a guest, when he walks up and offers me some Arabic coffee which I try to refuse but that doesn't work. He's switched over to English with me for some reason, though he doesn't really know enough to formulate a sentence. So now I have a nice small ceramic cup of very bitter Arabic coffee, just like the girl I'm writing about!

As we approached the border, we passed 1-2 kilometres worth of trucks loaded with goods to take in between Turkey and Syria. I think most of the delay is on the Turkey side, as they're checking every truck carefully. Either way, I felt this immense privilege to be zipping along past all those trucks to the front of the queue! I just looked out the window and realised that there aren't as many trucks waiting to pass through. I don't know whether they cut it off at some point in the day (It's 7:00 p.m.) or not, but either way, I realise that my wait is now fully rivalling theirs!...

...Going on 4 1/2 hours and I had my first bit of movement. Some guy - NO IDEA who he is - just came in and tried to ask me in English if my visa had come through yet. I didn't understand his English so he switched to Arabic and said that this really was taking too long. So I just wrote my name down for him on a sheet of paper and he went to check. Wonder who he is and if he'll make any difference at all...

...Now I'm finishing the story on the next day. At about five hours I was tired of my restaurant perch and decided to go for a walk, stopping by to see if there was any news first. I got in there and waited for an hour while they called Damascus to see what was taking so long, at which point it became known that someone had let the ball slip and my request was just sitting on someone's desk (surprise!), so they'd get back to us in half an hour. So I knew then that I'd have an answer by 9:30, and sure enough by the time I'd made a few phone calls and used the facilities, I'd gotten my permission! It took another hour and a half to process my visa and for me to find a ride into Aleppo, but here I am happy at my friend's house.

A few closing thoughts:

1. As I was sitting during that last hour of waiting, I thought of refugee women. Who sit at borders sometimes for days and months, or even years on end, waiting for someone to help them, to let them in. These women are treated extremely poorly by the border officials, who really seem to think of them as a nuisance to get rid of or ignore. After all, they are poor and unimportant. I felt like I was in danger because I was alone (I've heard stories of terrible things happening to single refugee women), but at least I didn't have children under my care with me. There are women all around the world sitting, with no food, no shelter, and with children who are hungry and scared. Even as I considered my options for spending the night at the border or what awful things could happen to me, I felt immensely grateful that I am so privileged and that the border officials and restaurant employees were really looking out for me in a protective way.

2. They really did look out for me. They thought it was awful that I had to wait so long and this random guy took pity on me and had his son arrange a van to take me into Aleppo. This kind of hospitality you find in few other places. Yes, it comes at a cost of conservative communities and strict rules, but Syrians really are incredibly generous and kind and helpful. I felt shamed at my failings in that area.

Well, it's been fun sharing my adventures in a virtual way!

Then a comment from Tony:

Hope everything is going well with your research! I can't imagine waiting through customs that long. Guess I'm too used to Taiwan and US Customs that are relative short for US Citizens. I hope you're doing well. Also if you've got any insight on what's happening in Israel between Hamas and Fatah I would love your insight on it. Hope all is well. God be with you.

a symbol of my faith 05/06/07

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

a symbol of my faith

A couple of weeks ago, toward the end of our time in Spain, my mother showed me a silver cross. She said it used to be my grandmother's; on my mom's last visit, her mother had given it to her but she had plenty of jewelry; did I want it? I accepted.

I've worn the beautiful silver cross almost every day since, although I don't know the story behind it. It reminds me to pray for Babci (my grandmother), who is struggling with her health. It's also reminding me of little bits of Babci's amazing life. A few days later, as we were leaving Spain, someone asked about the cross, and my mother said she really didn't know where Babci got it and Babci couldn't remember. Babci is a Lutheran from Poland, but she married a Polish Catholic in the U.S. so it's more likely she got it from her in-laws than that she brought it over from Poland.

Today I read in a (yet another) sociology of religion book that when Protestantism came to England, crosses were one of the first things to go. They were seen as a symbol of the established Catholic Church, and were too often used for magically-oriented rituals. So Reformation churches like the Presbyterian church took crosses out of their official directives. They don't seem to have banned crosses (the Presbyterian church I was born in has crosses!), just discouraged them as a reaction against Catholicism. Specifically, crosses were used as an amulet for more "magical" purposes. So I guess a Polish Lutheran is more likely to have received a silver cross from her Catholic in-laws than from her Lutheran family. (On an aside, one of my most precious keyrings is a crucifix given to me by a Lebanese Catholic friend; I imagine some Protestants would shudder to read that I now wear a cross and carry my keys on a crucifix - and that they do hold spiritual meaning to me!)

Well, Christianity seems to be coming full-circle on these symbol things. Today I learned that newer, more alternative-style, churches in Europe are often choosing to form partnerships and affiliate with traditional churches, as opposed to mainline Protestant churches. For many young Christians today, it seems it's better to embrace the symbols than to reject them. And many mainline churches also use the symbols now that the initial reaction against amulets and magic has worn off!

But what do crosses mean for people who don't believe in Jesus' ultimate sacrifice? Muslims believe that Christians are deceived to think that our religion's founder was killed on a cross - so it's a symbol of our flawed faith, as well as a reminder of the Crusades where the Catholic Church went to war against Islam.

I'm going to the Middle East next week. Do I wear the cross and advertise to the world that I'm a Christian, or do I hide it away? Wearing a cross will definitely transmit a message; some Muslims will likely really respect that I am a person faithful to my religion and see me as a kindred spirit because we share our worship of God, even if mine is a religion inferior to theirs. Other Muslims could be offended - after all, they perceive that Christians are causing lots of problems in the world these days! I've never worn a big cross around my neck in the Middle East before, maybe it would start some interesting interreligious dialogue! If I can manage to represent well what the cross stands for...

Values 21/05/07

Monday, May 21, 2007


Recently a friend wrote me asking about something a friend said to her, asking my opinion. It was a very challenging question to me, so I took advantage of the fact that I'm on a family vacation/holiday to discuss it as a question. I thought I'd share some of our thoughts here.

In essence, the question is whether it is valid to say that because of the Judeo-Christian values/moral foundations of the United States - which is lacking in most other countries of the world - U.S. involvement in other nations always results in improvements in those nations (an overall improvement in the world).

First, why is this such a hard question for me? Well, it is a gratifying thought that my faith (I am a dedicated Christian) spreads good things in a straightforward manner. It makes it much easier for me to believe that what I think I believe is really true. To question the inherent benefits in spreading my values is in some ways to question my own faith.

But I've been doing field research in the Arab world for several years now, and the data simply does not support such a statement, at least not not in the direct manner I would like to see. Politically, increased U.S. involvement in Arab countries has correlated closely with factions, totalitarianism and religious hatred. Spiritually, even Arab Christians can go on for hours telling of stories of how American missionaries and representatives of U.S. churches messed up and made a fragile religious atmosphere even more tense.

So my family's immediate response to this question was that what is suggested simply does not happen. It's a fallacy to assume that the presence of Americans somewhere means American values are spreading. U.S. presence on the moon has done nothing for the moral fibre of the moon, and there are many reasons the U.S. gets involved in other nations on earth other than spreading moral values.

But I think we would be avoiding the real issues underlying this question to stop there. When I was in Washington interning with a human rights office of the U.S. government, there was definitely a sense that we have morality figured out, and if we could just get other governments to share our morality, the world would benefit. In other words, I am questioning that even when we intend to spread American (Judeo-Christian) values that we are doing so.

In our family conversation about this, we tried to question any assumptions: We asked, what are values? What does the phrase Judeo-Christian mean in the first place? We don't agree about much when embroiled in a deep discussion like this one, but I think we agreed that Judeo-Christian values/morality probably refers more to Englightenment values, or perhaps to the Protestant Work Ethic, than to something straight out of the Bible.

(As such, I personally suggest that the prefix "Judeo" does a great disservice to these discussions because when we look at Jewish traditions and doctrine and how those inform communal values, we often find close parallels with Muslim traditions, doctrine and communal values. Many Muslims put me to shame with their strong sense of morality. Because right now most U.S. foreign policy interacts somehow with Muslim countries, we need to distinguish between Muslim morality and non- (or anti-) religious morality. In our family we disagreed on how exactly to elaborate this point, so I will just here issue a warning: Islam is a monotheistic religion that sees itself as sharing a tradition with Judaism and Christianity, so don't simply discount Muslim morality while praising "Judeo-Christian" morality).

So is it fair to say we are spreading Englightenment values and as much as we can do so, that's a good thing? I just finished reading a book ("Infidel" by Ayaan Hirsi Ali, see below) that would say that is our goal. As a Christian, though, I deeply disagree with her because her conclusion was that there is no God. That's a natural though progression, since the same movement that developed ideas like "human rights" and "basic freedoms" also produced famous phrases like "God is Dead" and "Religion is the opiate of the people." So as a Christian, I think I would be doing my own faith a disservice to say that what the world needs is those values spread. Not only for the sake of my faith, but because I believe Enlightenment thinking is somewhat flawed and culturally insensitive, but more on that later.

Of course, Christianity DID survive the Enlightenment intact and, arguably, improved, embodied in the Protestant Reformation and the accompanying Protestant Work Ethic. And Western societies built around the Protestant Work Ethic, including much of Northern Europe as well as the United States and a few other countries, have done well in terms of economics and autonomy, as well as showing respect for their individual citizens.

But this value system is all about the individual: individual freedoms, individual rights, individual expression. Who is to say that this is the "way of Jesus"? Jesus's teachings valued individuals, especially the poor, women and crippled. But he also spoke of forming a community and of blessing whole regions of the world. If the U.S. goal is to spread Enlightenment values, or Protestant morality, I can see that as a noble goal, but far from the definition of what is right.

So, is this re-defined intention in foreign policy working? Is U.S. involvement in the rest of the world leading to a closer approximation to U.S. values (based on a marriage of Protestantism and the Enlightenment) in the rest of the world? And is that a good thing? That's a discussion that our family didn't really cover, since we didn't really get past definitions and categories.

But here's my personal take: yes, I do see those values spreading, for sure. And in some places in some ways the world really is getting better. But in other places in other ways, these values are being mixed in with other cultural frameworks and creating something worse than what existed before. (For example, democratic elections and tribal loyalties do not always lead to a strong government of and by the people - sometimes they lead to increased financial support for certain tribal leaders, at least so far.) Missionaries have done loads and loads of good (economic, material and spiritual) in many countries, but they have also managed to set off rivalries and tensions that weren't necessarily recognised or acted upon before, inadvertently leading to greater bloodshed and bitterness. Anyone who thinks the connections are straightforward is simplifying the complex world our Lord created. God is not that simple, nor is my faith. It doesn't mean I deny my faith, but it means I need to trust more deeply while still asking hard questions.

(I'm going to ask my parents, brother and sister-in-law to add comments if they want...)

Then first comment from Tony:

Hey Katie,

How are you doing in England? But I'm with you on this one, being a student of US foreign relations. I recently had a conversation with a friend who said the US actually is winning in Iraq and we won a victory in Vietnam and we merely failed to follow up our victory. Sufficed to say I was shocked at this. Circular logic and denial of US wrongs abroad because we bring "peace" and "democracy" is a bit pre-mature and in my opinion naieve. Still what are we to do as Americans except to try our best to understand the world?

There’s a line in the movie Amistad where Anthony Hopkins as John Q. Adams says,

“We've long resisted asking you for guidance. Perhaps we have feared in doing so we might acknowledge that our individuality which we so, so revere is not entirely our own. Perhaps we've feared an appeal to you might be taken for weakness. But, we've come to understand, finally, that this is not so. We understand now, we've been made to understand, and to embrace the understanding that who we are is who we were. We desperately need your strength and wisdom to triumph over our fears, our prejudices, ourselves. Give us the courage to do what is right. And if it means civil war, then let it come. And when it does, may it be, finally, the last battle of the American Revolution.”

The individuality that we revere, cherish and laud in our society is adrift without context or place. The freedom of thought and of conscience the Enlightenment produced was not meant to be explored without context or place. It was breaking away from autocratic rule so that one could follow their conscience rightly formed by God. Yet, we forget to invoke the spirit of Christ and thus end up lost. It is always right and proper to ask God to lead us and guide us. We should question and practice our faith. But we must not forget even in our strong individuality that as Christians, we are to be solely centered upon the Lord. And this is not a simple faith, for it is a faith that requires the most of us. We must in the end be humble and invoke God.

Then second comment from Stephanie:

im Wallis, in his book "God's Politics- Why the Right Gets it Wrong and the Left Doesn't Get It" reminds us that, both in terms of individual spirituality and collective responsibility, Jesus admonishes us to remove our own ocular masses before digging after the other's mite. We need always to be asking the Lord and ourselves "Is my help really being helpful?" "Lord, is there something You'd rather I be doing, or in some other way?" Missions, foreign policy, even the way we love each other in families, all need to be accompanied by constant, humble evaluation, linked to a genuine willingness to change, should He direct.

No, Western missions have't always gotten it right. Nor have governments. Nor have we. Lord, please forgive us. Have mercy on us, and help us to do it a bit better tomorrow, and tomorrow.

Love you!

Wednesday, July 4, 2007

my first post on a new site

Hello! For the last year I've been having fun blogging things that I'm learning and that I think others might benefit from learning along with me. I've been doing that on myspace, and I've enjoyed how it works. Unfortunately, it's got a lot of technical errors so I decided to move to this site. If I can ever access my myspace blog again, I'll copy some of the posts over here. Or you can see if it lets you visit:

Anyway, from now on, watch this space. I really like discussion, i.e. hearing your input on my thoughts so if you have time or inclination, I'd love to see/hear your comments on whatever I write, too!