Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11

I've been seeing and hearing some commercials that...disturb me.  They are about the upcoming 10th anniversary of the 9/11/2001 terrorist attacks.  They have happened with both secular and Christian media.  They all have the same idea.

Let's do something to remember and honor the victims of 9/11by:  planting a tree; doing something nice for a friend or family member (yes, I've actually heard that one).  The list goes on - from helping animals to helping people to helping the environment.

Now let me get something straight right off the bat.  What happened on 9/11 was horrible.  I have not forgotten, nor will I ever.  I remember exactly what I was doing, how I felt, what I thought.  And all of the people who died that day both victims and heroes need to be honored and remembered for their sacrifice, whether it was deliberate or unwitting.  Their friends and family especially, and the nation as a whole, still feel the effects of what happened, and nothing can change that.  I have no problem with the concept of memorializing them.

What bothers me is that it seems like people have taken their own causes (animal rescue, environmentalism, doing something nice) and are trying to give them more significance and power, trying to emotionally manipulate people into joining them, by saying that they're doing it in honor of the victims of 9/11.  I have two words to say about that:  horse hockey.

Let me also say that I don't have anything against animal rescue, environmentalism, doing something nice, or any of the number of other causes I've seen this done with.  They all have their own importance and their place in the world.  It is important that people be passionate about them, and donate their time and resources to facilitate them.

But when they try combining the two, trying to lend weight to their own cause by linking it to 9/11 in peoples' minds, they diminish and dishonor both the victims of 9/11 and their own mission.  And that pisses me off.

What really upsets me, as a Christian, is hearing Christian radio hosts talk about doing something nice for others as a way of redeeming the events of 9/11, of turning something Satan meant for evil into something good.  That, it seems to me, is a complete misunderstanding of the concept, and just ends up watering down the scripture and the power of God to heal and redeem.

The concept comes from Genesis 50: 19-21 which is part of the story of Joseph.  His brothers have come seeking food and aid in time of drought.  You know, the ones who stripped him and sold him into slavery out of jealousy.  Although they don't recognize him at first, he is finally revealed to them and they are afraid for their lives.  He says to them, "Don't be afraid.  Am I in the place of God?  You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.  So then, don't be afraid.  I will provide for you and your children." (TNIV)

My problem with the above current application of this verse is that redeeming an evil event, to turn it into something good 1) isn't even possible and 2) isn't something we do.  That god-like power belongs to one person and one person only.  You guessed it:  God.

Nothing can make what happened on 9/11/01 good.  It was unimaginably horrible.  It was indescribably evil.  Nothing can change that.  And anybody who tries is just an idiot.

Did God, who controls all things and allows all things, intend it to accomplish something good?  Perhaps.  I don't pretend to understand how that works, or even how God works all the time.  I hope so, though, and believe so.  In my mind, that would be the greatest way to honor the victims and heroes of 9/11, by ensuring that their sacrifice was not senseless or worthless, but that it had the highest purpose and meaning of all:  to further the kingdom of God on earth.  I realize that's a whole involved theological discussion, and not one I'm prepared to get into right now.  Let me just end by saying:

I honor the victims and heroes of 9/11/01 in my mind and heart.  You are not forgotten.  Your sacrifice is not forgotten.  I hope and pray that God does bring about something good out of that sacrifice.  And to those who lost loved ones at that time, my thoughts and prayers are with you.  May the God of the Universe bring you peace and healing.


Wednesday, November 12, 2008


I'm intrigued and a little dismayed by a concept that runs rampant through our culture and even through the church. I understand that the secular culture in general might find it a useful idea since they are reduced to depending on human nature and nothing else, but what dismays me is that the church, who should be the receptacle and shining example of true love, also espouses it as the way to go.

The concept? Colorblindness. I suspect that it comes from our culture's tendency to try to create equality by making everything the "same". We've tried to do it with gender as well. The problem is I don't think it works very well. Equality isn't intrinsically the same as sameness - you can be equals and still be very, very different. In regards to colorblindness, the idea as I understand it is that all races and skin colors and ultimately cultures are the same, that we shouldn't see somebody's skin being darker and treat them any differently (i.e. worse or better) than somebody who's skin is lighter, or the same as our own. It's a nice idea, and certainly true as far as it goes. I think, however, that this is only a stopgap measure, and in the end is just as disrespectful as prejudice, if not more so. It denies the uniqueness that rightfully belongs to each one of us, and which is comprised of our culture and gender and the color of our skin and eyes and hair, every little component that goes into making us who we are. In the end, when taken to its logical conclusion, it denies the intrinsic worth of each person just as much as racism does.

So what is the alternative? Love. Stay with me here. You see, love isn't colorblind. Far from it. Love sees everything about you more clearly than anything else. The color of your skin, your cultural heritage, your gender, your accent, the way you walk, your body type, everything. It sees everything that goes together to make you you, and it celebrates it. And it does that for each individual, ascribing to them the worth that is uniquely theirs. It sees each person for who they are and judges them only against themselves. Love also finds ways for people who are very different from each other to come together, to respect each other, to live in peace with each other. In fact, it also celebrates those differences between people, celebrates the fact that not everybody is the same, and that this is in fact a good thing.

In biology or medicine to have eyes that are colorblind is considered a defect; it means that your eyes are not working properly and you are not able to distinguish between colors. I would suggest that similarly, in human relationships and culture, colorblindness is also a defect, not something to strive for. It denies the uniquness and worth that each human has, reduces us to an indistinguishable sameness, and keeps us from seeing and enjoying the differences that make us who we are. Rather we should be clearly seeing all of the different colors and cultures, the differences between genders, and appreciating them for the richness they bring into our lives.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Opening Doors

I've the heard the concept of God "opening" or "closing" doors to let you know which direction he wants you to head in many times over the years, but I've never felt like I really understood it. I've never had an experience that really demonstrated that for me. Until now.

I've been in the Chicago area now for about 16 years. There have been many times over the years when I've just wanted to get out, get away, move somewhere new, be somebody else. I've even made plans and started acting on them from time to time. But every time something has stopped me. It's never been something concrete. There's never been a voice that I could hear. Nothing like that. But every time, I've just had the sense that God wants me to stay here. And over time I've developed quite the community, become really rooted in my church and the ministries I've been involved in, become a respected part of the theatre and music community in the area, developed a circle of friends with deep and abiding relationships. And of course, perhaps most importantly, I met my wife and got married here, started a family. Ultimately I am glad that God led me here and has kept me here as long as he has.

And now, just as I've settled in and felt truly content to remain indefinitely in this area, all of that is changing. As you can see from some of my previous posts I have been having job problems for some time now. Mostly, recently, its been the lack of one. I have been looking, sometimes more than others, for about 2 years now, and pretty much nothing has come along. I had a stint with Aflac, which was a great company to work for, but it didn't bear any fruit (i.e. income). All of that time I've pretty much been looking only in the Chicago area - after all God kept telling me to stay here, right?

Well, as we were talking about this with my brother-in-law, who lives in Sioux Falls, SD, he mentioned (very off handedly - I'm not even sure he was entirely serious at the time) that I should look for something in Sioux Falls since the job market isn't as tight there. Ding, ding, ding, ding! My Beautiful Beloved and I hadn't even really considered the possibility of looking anywhere else, but why not? Certainly nothing is coming along in this area. So we arrange a time for us to come up and visit for a week and I start sending out resumes like mad to try and get some interviews set up for while we're there. Ultimately, in the space of about 2 weeks, I got 4 interviews set up - more interest than has been shown in 2 years down in Chicagoland.

Then, as if to tease or confuse - or perhaps in retrospect it was merely to clarify, I all of a sudden get a promise of interviews with 2 different Christian organizations in the Chicago area - one a church whose priest promises he will not move forward until he meets with me, the other a Christian-owned business whose owner promises me an interview. Then the week or so before we were supposed to go to Sioux Falls the church calls (before they've even scheduled an interview with me) to say that they've already hired somebody else the elder board liked, and the business emails to inform me (again before I've had the chance to interview) that they are hiring from within. I remember suggesting that it felt as if the doors were slamming shut down here, while they seemed to be opening up in Sioux Falls.

Well, I just got back from our trip to Sioux Falls - and I have a job! Not only do I have a job, but they called me the day before the interview to let me know that the original position I had been considered for was no longer available but they wanted to consider me for a new position, which as they described it seemed to fit me even better. Plus, it was the highest paying job of any of the ones I interviewed with. And they offered me the job immediately following my interview, so I knew about it right away. Which felt very much as if God were closing doors in Illinois and opening them wide in South Dakota - I've never had that sense quite so clearly as now.

I don't know if this is everybody's experience, or even if it is most people's experience, but my experience has been that I don't often recognize all of what God is doing until after it's done, and then I can see exactly how he's brought me to this point. For instance, looking back now, I can see how God has kind of been loosening us from our community a little bit, so that when the time came it would be a lot easier to leave. Perhaps wiser people than I am recognize those sorts of things earlier, I don't know. Then again, maybe that's why faith is so important. Even when we can't see what's ahead, and what all of this is leading up to, God can. He knows exactly where he's leading me, and what he's leading me towards, and he is preparing me every step of the way. Even if I can't recognize it at the time, I still need to trust that that is the case, and remember all of the times in the past that he has done that for me.

So, finally, after a long, long hallway with a lot of closed doors we are finally stepping through an open door into a whole new place and what seems like a whole new life. I don't know what all God has in store for me, but if it's as good as what he's done for me in the past, then I am looking forward to it!

Saturday, June 28, 2008

Growing Up

It's never easy growing up. I don't know why that it is. Maybe, like the butterfly, the struggle is what gives us the strength to fly.

My parents are Bible translators with Wycliffe in Papua New Guinea (I grew up on the beach in the South Pacific - hence the name of my blog). Last year they completed what they call the first of a series of 100%'s. They finished the rough draft translations of the entire New Testament. It's taken them 35 years to do that. Now it has to go through an entire slew of tests, back translations, revisions, etc. until it's in final publishable form. This takes a while, so they're planning on having the dedication of the New Testament in Sursurunga in 2010.

Here's the rub. I grew up until my early teen years as part of the Sursurunga. I first went out to the village when I was 5 months old. They immediately adopted me (and my parents) and I've been one of them ever since. I spoke their language without an accent. Lived their culture. Grew up with many of their values. Almost all of my best and truest friends were Sursurunga. Almost all of my favourite people were Sursurunga. Then, due to circumstances beyond my control, I was unable to go back to the village or the people after about 7th grade. I've now lived more than half of my life outside of PNG, and even more than that away from the people of my heart. To them I still belong to them - they ask my parents about me, send greetings through them, keep track of my life.

The truth is, I'm terrified of going back. Because I don't feel like I fully belong to them anymore.
I haven't spoken Sursurunga (except for the occasional spurt here and there) for probably 20 or more years and have lost most of it. I've been through so much since I last saw them and I'm no longer the person I was, the person they remember. I have grown in very different directions, and while they are still a part of me, they are a much smaller part of me than they used to be. What will they think? Will they recognize me? Will they even believe that I'm the one who used to be their friend/son/nephew/brother?

I haven't been back to PNG since I left in 1991, and I've always told people that it was because I couldn't afford it. Granted, it's very expensive. But the truth of the matter is that if I had really wanted to, I could have made it happen at some point. But I realized recently, faced with the reality that I will be going back in 2010 for the dedication, that not only am I scared of going back now, but I've lived for so long scared of going back at all.

Why? Not because I'm different - but because I'm afraid they'll reject me because I'm different. I've faced so much rejection in my life - and internalized too much of it. But these are my family - a truer extended family in many ways than my biological one. They have always loved me and accepted me no matter what. And I am afraid that they won't anymore. I'm not the person they once knew, the one they remember. I have faced struggles and challenges that on one level they couldn't ever imagine. I have seen things and experienced things that they've never heard of. I am no longer one of them. And I am afraid that they will turn me out because of that.

Is that fear grounded? Probably not. Does that make it go away? I'm sure you can guess the answer to that one. I realized, though, today that I've been thinking this experience is unique to me, that nobody else has ever experienced it and won't be able to sympathize. I just have to laugh at myself sometimes. I suppose it's something that we all have to go through at some point or another. None of us are the person we were when we were in 6th or 7th grade (except those of us who are there right now :). We (almost) all take paths that are different than our parents, our friends, our hometown - we pull away, we change, we grow - and then we come back unrecognizable. Just because I happened to move 10,000 miles away doesn't make it any worse or harder for me than anybody else. On the other hand, it doesn't make it any better or easier for me, either.

And, from my parents descriptions, I think it works the other way, too. When I go back I probably won't recognize much that has changed and is new. I mean they have schools and flushing toilets and electricity now! Go figure.

So, yes, growing up is hard. But some day, sooner rather than later, I need to face my fears and trust that my people, my family will love and accept me no matter what. That love isn't based on differences or similarities, agreements, or growth. They love me simply because I am who I am. I am Andam and I am theirs. Now and forever. No matter how much I change.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

The Good News

My wife and I belong to an email listserve that is specifically for MK's and TCK's, but deals with all sorts of issues. In any case, I was reading an email from one of the other members today about the difficulty he has with the exclusivity of Christianity - that the only way to forgiveness and eternal life is through Jesus Christ and his death and resurrection, and the fact that you have to believe that in order to reap the benefits. His argument was that normally "good news" doesn't require belief. It simply tells about reality as it is. He gave the example of a death row inmate who is given a last minute pardon by the governor. He may not believe the pardon is real, but that doesn't keep it from being real, or the guards from unstrapping him and releasing him from prison. His unbelief doesn't affect the reality of his good news. The emailer then went on to claim that either Christ's sacrifice was effective for all regardless of their belief, or it wasn't. And if it wasn't, then all the belief in the world isn't going to achieve forgiveness or salvation for you.

My wife responded that the difference is that the prison warden from the above example doesn't REQUIRE belief or compliance. Regardless of how the inmate feels about it, he's going to be unstrapped and put out of the prison, and that will be that. Christ essentially offers us an open door and we are free to choose whether we will step through into freedom, or continue in our bondage. This is true, but I think it is somewhat incomplete. Our friend's original problem was with the exclusivity of the Christian faith, but the answer to this also deals with the necessity of "belief".

To me, the Christian faith is not so much about what you believe or how hard you believe, though neither of these is unimportant, but about your relationship with Jesus Christ. Before Christ's death on the cross we were stuck in bondage because of our sin. We had no freedom to leave our sins behind us and come to Christ. Through his death and resurrection he has won for us the freedom to leave our sins, to "put on a robe of righteousness", and to come to him. But in my opinion, this is only the beginning. He has, essentially, given us the ability to introduce ourselves to him, but the Christian life is (or should be) about everything that comes after that. It is about growing daily in our knowledge of and love for Christ, just as we do with our spouse or best friend. And the thing is, he's the only one who can tell us how to do it. It is like this...

Imagine two men who are imprisoned in a dungeon, ransomed for a price that neither they nor their families can pay in a lifetime (or several). They believe in God, but have never met him face to face, and so have some confused ideas about who he is and how he operates. Now, imprisoned with them are others who claim to be gods - Buddha, Krishna, and a whole host of others. These others tell them many things that sound good at the time. Perhaps Krishna tells them that this is not the only life, that perhaps they are paying for an evil deed in a previous life, so they must suffer in this one, but if they will only be on their best behaviour, then after they die they will be reincarnated as something better, and hopefully freer. Buddha tells them that if they will only deny their bodies and achieve the proper level of enlightenment then their spirits will shed their bodies and ascend into a higher place where they will be free forever. Everything they hear sounds good and they decide between the two of them that probably all of them have a grain of truth, that perhaps God is to be found through any of these paths - after all they all offer freedom of some sort at some point, if you're good enough.

Then one day the door is opened and a man walks in. He is fairly plain looking, dressed in sturdy, everyday kind of clothes and with a kind but unremarkable face. He introduces himself as Jesus Christ and announces that he has paid the ransom for these two men and they are free to follow him. He warns them ,though, that there are lots of pitfalls and deceptive turns in the castle on the way out, so they must be sure to follow him exactly in order to get outside and past the moat and enter with him an eternal life of freedom. If they stray there are guards waiting to bring them back to the dungeon. This is such good news that both men leap to their feet holding out their manacles to be unlocked and unhesitatingly follow Jesus out the door. They discover he was not kidding - he takes them up stairs, down winding hallways, through empty rooms, back and forth and around in dizzying patterns. He never stumbles or looks confused but confidently strides forward towards where he knows the exit to be. But as warned they face many temptations to leave the path he is taking them on. They see rooms on either side of them filled with wonderful things that they have only dreamed about during their incarceration. Tables laden with delicious looking food and clear water and wine. Mountains of gold and jewels and untold wealth. Well dressed, good-looking people who beckon them to join in revelry and merry-making. Finally, they pass a door that looks as if it leads outside into a beautiful garden where water plays over a fountain and the birds sing merrily in the trees. One of the men stops the other.

"Doesn't this look like the outside he has promised us? Surely this winding way he is taking us on isn't the only way out - you can see it there just through this door."

"I know what it looks like," is the reply, "but he said that we would easily be deceived. Since he is the only one who was able to pay our ransom, I think we should trust him."

"But remember what we learned in the dungeon, that there are many ways to God. Look, his way is taking too long - I don't see any guards, but I can see the outside right there and I can't wait any longer!"

With that he plunged through the door and into the waiting hands of the guards who were standing on either side of the door and who took him back to the dungeon.

The other turned back to find Jesus had stopped to wait for them. He stood there with tears streaming down his face knowing the bondage the other had just returned himself to.

"Will you still follow me?" Jesus asks.

"Yes my Lord! You have given me freedom and I will follow you into death if I must!"

Jesus smiles and turns to continue on his way. After what seems like hours, they come to a huge set of iron doors, which Jesus opens with ease and leads his new friend out into sunshine and clean air. Soon they are across the drawbridge and into the open land that surrounds them. The man turns to look at the castle they just came from and is shocked to discover that even from the outside it looks dark and grimy and dingy, a forboding and sinister place. Jesus places his hands on the man's shoulders and gently turns him around, pointing off into the distance towards the foothills of the mountains.

"There is where I am taking you. I have already prepared a room for you, and in my castle you will never want for anything. You will always be free."

The man smiles to see a golden castle, shining in the sun. Even from a distance it seems a cleaner, more joyful place than that which is behind them. With a renewed hope he sets off after Jesus towards his new home.

Now the other man is back in the dungeon. They have not put his manacles back on, but having no idea how to get out on his own he is just as effectively stuck as he ever was. Jesus returns and offers again to lead him to safety, but the man decides that he is not to be trusted since he did not have the power to keep him from being imprisoned again when he left the path, and so chooses to stay where he is, hoping that Buddha or Krishna or one of the other gods will finally help him to escape.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

Football, Marriage & Transformation

Marriage changes you! Yes, I know, to those of you who are married (even to those of you who aren't but have close married friends) that doesn't come as a surprise. I even expected it when I got married. You know, the whole idea of the 'sacred marriage' - the tumbler in which God smooths away those rough edges and shapes you more and more into the person He wants you to be. That incredibly intimate relationship in which the other person knows all of your deep dark secrets and weaknesses and failures and shortcomings and yet somehow accepts you as you are and helps you to overcome them and become better than you were. That lofty, spiritual ideal.

Yeah! That's it. So I'm sure you can understand why it came as such a shock to me today when I realized that I'm actually enjoying football! That's one change I never expected to happen - even for the love of my life.

You see, I used to hate (American) football. I thought it was stupid, boring, disgusting, and certainly not worth the fanatical dedication it seemed to inspire in its fans. It had no finesse. It was just a bunch of over-muscled macho freaks bluntly running into each other. "Yaaaawn" at best. "Idiots!" at worst.

Now true football: futbol. Don't even get me started on the glories of futbol! The skill, the finesse, the grace! After all football is only a provincial pasttime, a product of the thuggish imaginings of those gauche Americans. But futbol - that crosses borders - it is a beloved pasttime of the rest of the world and surely six continents cannot be wrong, can they? But I digress...

Now imagine my distress when I discovered that I had married cross-culturally without knowing it. I love futbol - she's immersed in the culture of football. Yikes! Well, okay, I can accept her as she is, I guess. Sunday afternoons will just be an excuse for a little alone time. I can get some reading done, recharge for the week ahead. We can make this work.

Now we have a daughter and my wife wants to indoctrinate that poor, innocent soul. And our friends - the ones we usually have lunch with on Sundays after church? - want to get together for football potlucks on Sunday afternoon. So I find myself thrown unwittingly into situations where I can't avoid it without looking un-Christian for avoiding our Christian community (I am joking, of course). My wife and friends are trying to teach my daughter how to say "Go Bears!", and I at my subversive best twist it into "Goobers!"

The truth of the matter is, though, that it's difficult to avoid for too long something that is so important to someone who is so important to you. Out of sheer confusion I began asking questions, and now I find myself actually understanding what's going on on the field and some of the, yes, finesse that is occurring. And today I didn't even realize until afterwards that I spontaneously cheered when the Bears won in overtime and genuinely felt excited that they had done so! Hold on. Wait a minute. What?! Does this mean I like football? Yikes! How did that happen?

Marriage changes you! And, yes, I know that doesn't come as a surprise. But every now and then a change occurs in me, under the radar, without me even realizing it until after the fact, that takes me entirely by surprise. In some small or large way I come closer to my wife, become more one with her. Sometimes it's a matter of faith. And sometimes it's a matter of football. Now if I can just get her to start watching the World Cup.

Saturday, November 04, 2006


Okay - what is up with all the mud-slinging political ads? Here I thought that 2 year olds and junior highers weren't allowed to run for political office. Silly me! But seriously, if you have to tear down your opponents in order to strengthen your own position then maybe you shouldn't be running for political office.
The thing that really bugs me though, is that these aren't logical, thoughtful rebuttals of the agenda and values of their opponents. They're raw emotional attacks, designed to bypass the mind and incite negative emotions such as fear, worry, hate, condescension and anger. And they expect people to vote well after being worked into such a state?
And why do people vote on the issues anyway? Why are special interest groups such a strong - and revered - force? In my mind, you should be voting for someone you trust to do a good job, and make good, sound decisions - and by that I DO NOT mean that they will make only decisions that you agree with. Nobody is going to make decisions that everyone agrees with all of the time! One of the lessons of growing up and becoming a mature adult is that you're not always going to get your own way, and people do not always have to agree with you. And even in the political/governmental arena - that's okay. The country's not going to fall apart. Really.
The problem with current political ads, even the 'positive' ones, is that they don't really deal with how the person makes decisions, or how the decisions they've made in the past have turned out. They don't give you any idea whether they're capable of making good, strong, well-reasoned decisions. Or, just as importantly, if they're capable of standing by decisions, even under pressure. This seems to me to be a better political skill than fighting for the issue of whatever special interest group will give you the most money.
Next year I'd like to see a new generation of political ads. 1) I'd like to see a complete lack of negative, mud-slinging, junior-highish ads. 2) I'd like to see ads that use logic and reason, rather than raw emotion. 3) I'd like to see ads that deal not only with WHAT decisions have been made in the past by a candidate, but WHY they made those decisions, and HOW those decisions turned out. Then I might actually have a reason to vote!
(Republican elephant and Democratic Donkey above from their respective Committe websites. Does not imply endorsement of the Republican or Democratic party in any way, shape or form.)