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.