Archive for March, 2012

Top 3 on Tuesday: Rage Against the Minivan

You might not have

             definitely did not

probably didn’t notice this, but for the last four weeks, my blog has had weekly themes.  First, it was suffering.  Then it was the Spirit-filled life (or something like that).  Next, it was “Our Small World.”  This week, it’s a literary theme.  Yesterday’s post featured In the Lake of the Woods and Lord of the Flies.  I also have a post coming about The Berenstain Bears (yes, really).   Plus, there’s one where I gush about how The Hunger Games challenged me in the area of time management.  (Hmm…just trust me that these will be more riveting than they sound.)

In the meantime, I realized that I did not have a suitable Top 3 on Tuesday entry, as none of the blogs I read are literary-minded, and you know how I love thematic unity.  Well, then Kristen Howerton, over at Rage Against the Minivan, blogged about The Hunger Games, and I took that as my sign.   I decided that blogging about The Hunger Games qualified her as “literary minded” (ahem), and decided to feature her for this week’s Top 3 on Tuesday.

Plus, I love her blog, and was kind surprised to realize that I hadn’t featured her yet.

But really, her blog isn’t about literature, so much as it is about adoption, motherhood, and social issues.  She has adopted two children, one from foster care and one from Haiti.  She also has her graduate degree in psychology, and you know how I love psychology.  Plus, she is sarcastic and funny and deep and smart and in short, I like her.  And I’m tired, so that’s all you are going to get from me right now.

So let’s just jump right to my top 3 posts:

1.  here, let me ruin Halloween for you…

This is the one that got me interested in fair trade chocolate.  So yeah…you have her to thank for my current obsession.

2.  the lengths I will go to in order to avoid making a phone call

This is an example of one of her funny ones.  I loved it because I, too, hate making phone calls.  If you don’t hate making phone calls, maybe it won’t be so funny.  But the humor worked for me.

3.  faking it

This is a very sad one about how hard adoption is.  One thing that this blog has done is open my eyes to the emotional difficulty of adoption.  I guess that sounds pretty negative, but it has really helped me to have empathy for people who have adopted and to be a little more aware of some of their typical struggles.  Her descriptions of adoption have really been enlightening for me.

Okay, well, those are my offerings to you this week.

If you want to share anything interesting that you have read, I’m all ears!

My Participation in the My Lai Massacre

“Please,”  Sorcerer said again.  He felt very stupid.  Thirty meters up the trail he came across Conti and Meadlo and Rusty Calley.  Meadlo and the lieutenant were spraying gunfire into a crowd of villagers.  They stood side by side, taking turns.  Meadlo was crying.  Conti was watching.  The lieutenant shouted something and shot down a dozen women and kids and then reloaded and shot down more and then reloaded and shot down more and then reloaded again…Sorcerer was already sprinting away.  He ran past a smoking bamboo schoolhouse.  Behind him and in front of him, a brisk machine-gun wind pressed through Thuan Yen.  The wind stirred up a powdery red dust that sparkled in the morning sunshine, and the little village had now gone mostly violet.  He found someone stabbing people with a big silver knife.  Hutto was shooting corpses.  T’Souvas was shooting children.  Doherty and Terry were finishing off the wounded.  This was not madness, Sorcerer understood.  This was sin.

–from Tim O’Brien’s In the Lake of the Woods

How could someone do such a thing?

I used to ask that question a lot.

I still ask it sometimes.

But now, the question is really rhetorical.  Because I know how someone could do such a thing.

A lot of Christians view mankind as “depraved.”  That’s the word they use.  Depraved basically means, “bad to the bone.”  “Capable of no good.”  They say they learned this from the Bible.  But that’s not where I got my negative view of man.  I got it from the news.

And it wasn’t the Bible that helped me crystallize my theory of our potential for badness.  It was the book, Lord of the Flies.  I have only read that book one time, in high school.  But William Golding’s tale of a group of British school boys who descend into anarchy and violence when they are wrecked on a deserted island has stayed with me ever since.  Golding told me that civilization is a conch shell, fragile and easily broken.  Golding told me that when that conch shell shatters, all hell breaks loose.  Law and order fades away, and chaos reigns.  And when I finished reading his book, I cried.

I cried because I knew it was true.

I still know that it is true, and again, not just because of the news.  I know it is true because I know myself, and I know the potential that lies within.  I am painfully reminded of my predilection for depravity whenever my mask-that-is-n0t-a-mask, my Christianity, slides off as if it were a mask.  I know it when I pursue God with all my heart and try to live fully by His Spirit within me…and then the right combination of mild irritants comes along and causes my selfishness to roar forward with relish and gusto.  I get irritable and I snap at those around me, even if those around me are my own precious, little children.  And if I am having a moment of clarity, I draw back in horror, reeling from the quickness of my descent into sin.  And I think, “Wow.  If I can switch back that fast, if I can become selfish and hateful, even in the civilized culture in which I live, even with my loving and sheltered background, even with my earnest desire to serve Christ, then just imagine….”  Just imagine what I could be like without my Christian background.  Imagine what I could be like if I did not have the desire to do good.  And if mild irritants like a headache or the house being too hot can set me off on my own children, then what might I be capable of in an environment of heavy, sustained stress and fatigue?  What might I do in an environment where civilization has fallen away and barbarism reigns?

And that’s why, when I read about a crusading idealist masturbating in public and vandalizing cars, I am startled…but not really surprised.

That’s also why, when I read about a “solid soldier” snapping and massacring innocent civilians–women and children–I am startled…but not surprised.

When I hear about such things, they ring true to me.  They sound like something humans might do in that situation.  Something I might do in that situation.

And that realization does not ameliorate the horror of what happened.  On the contrary, it makes it all the more horrible.  It doesn’t make me want to let anyone off the hook; in fact, it reminds me just how important the “hook” is.  We have to have ways of limiting our own depravity, after all–of fighting back as a society against the worst impulses of the individual.

And yet, there is hope.

I said earlier that I do not get my view of human depravity from the Bible.  Instead, I get my hope from the Bible.  The news tells me that humanity is depraved.  My heart tells me that I am depraved.  But the Bible tells me something different:  it tells me that I was created in the very image of the almighty God.  It tells me that I was created to do good, not evil (Eph. 2:10).  And it tells me that even though I am capable of great evil, I am also capable of more good than I ever imagine.  That I can do all things through Christ (Phil. 4:13).  That God has given me everything I need for life and godliness (2 Pet. 1:3).  I even think that most Christians sell themselves short, compared to the Bible’s view of their potential.  We worship a Savior who set an example of love and self-sacrifice that He appeared to think we could follow.  We worship a Savior who told us to stop sinning and to be perfect.  We participate in a religion that teaches us that we are guided by the very Spirit of God, which works in us and uses us to accomplish God’s will.  That is amazing.  And I believe that it is true.  Sometimes I picture myself getting to heaven, all used up from a life trying to serve God, and God telling me, “You just scratched the very surface of what you could have done.  There was so much power in my Spirit that was available to you…but you were too scared to use it.”  I don’t picture Him punishing me for that or throwing me into hell or anything; I just picture Him shaking His head sadly.

My point is, sometimes I think that, as children of God, we are capable of more good than we can even dream (or ask or imagine).

And maybe that is a weird view, given my deep conviction of our potential for depravity.

As usual, C.S. Lewis helps my thoughts make sense in this regard (seriously, when I’m not rolling my eyes at him, I find him to be a great guy).  In Mere Christianity, he explains my seemingly contradictory thoughts this way:

When we have understood about free will, we shall see how silly it is to ask, as someone once asked me, ‘Why did God make a creature of such rotten stuff that it went wrong?’  The better stuff a creature is made of–the cleverer and stronger and freer it is–then the better it will be if it goes right, but also the worse it will be if it goes wrong.  A cow cannot be very good or very bad; a dog can be both better and worse; a child better and worse still; an ordinary man, still more so; a man of genius, still more so; a superhuman spirit best–or worst–of all” (49).

Drawing from the idea that Satan is a fallen angel, Lewis postulates that it is because we are created with such potential for good that we have such a potential for evil.  He reasons that the law of free will dictates that we can be as bad as we can be good, and vice versa.  Thus, one could argue that the more guttural the depths of depravity we see, the greater the heights of righteousness we know are possible.

It’s a scary theory.  But also a hopeful one.

It’s a theory that suggests that I am the type of person who could have participated in the My Lai massacre.

It’s also a theory that suggests that I am the type of person who can stop Kony.

The question is, how will I use my potential?

How will you use yours?

Teaching Our Children About Our Small World

Greg and I both see teaching our children as one of our most important jobs.  We think about what we want them to learn from us, what lessons we want them to come away with from their childhood.  One of the biggest questions we ask ourselves is, “How do we get this whole ‘love-God-go-to-church thing’ to be more than a routine or, at worst, a resentment?  How do we portray it in a way that is real and life-giving?”  With a husband in the ministry, I sometimes worry that my children will grow up surrounded by church, but will somehow miss the heart of what God wants for them.  Thus, we try our best to teach our kids about God, even apart from the “routines” of church.  Part of that teaching consists of our own examples and words, as well as the spiritual practices we try to incorporate into our family’s lives.  And part of that teaching comes in the form of educating them about the rest of the world that God loves so much.

I would love to get your ideas and suggestions of how to teach kids about the world, and how to show them to live outside themselves.  In return, I will show you what we have done so far that has worked for us.

Perhaps my favorite “teaching” experience so far has been our Compassion kids.  Greg and I first sponsored a Compassion child in 2003, when we first got married.  We have tried to get our kids interested in him, but with limited success.  It seems that, to them, Duvens is like a distant cousin they have never seen and will never meet.  And there is a very good chance that they will never meet him.  Duvens is from Haiti, and we really have no connections to that country besides him.  Thus, my children seemed pretty indifferent.

That all changed when we sponsored two more children this Christmas.  We had been wanting to try this for awhile, and the Advent season seemed like a good time to finally do it.  This time, I selected a country that we might actually visit one day, as we have missionary friends there.  I also explained the idea of sponsoring children to my kids and then let them each pick a child who was their same age and gender.  (By the way, Compassion’s website is wonderful.  You can go through the whole process of sponsoring a child online now, and it is so easy!)  The kids were really excited to get to pick “their” children.  Luke pored over the pictures of little boys his age before finally picking a boy named Andi.  In contrast, Anna marched up to the computer, gave the girls a quick glance, and then authoritatively chose Massiel.

I printed out information on our new kids, and that very afternoon, we got to work on some Christmas cards for them.  Unlike some of my less successful attempts to make my kids more “others-minded,” this one went over incredibly well, and the kids did not need any convincing to make their cards.

I let the kids write what they wanted in their cards, and I think that including pictures really helped.  I know it helped my kids, and I hope it helped Massiel and Andi, too.

Our cool experience with Compassion didn’t stop there, however.  The organization has honed their communication skills a lot since 2003, and soon, we received detailed information packets about Andi and Massiel, along with lots of well-presented information about their home country.  A few weeks later, we also received informational letters from both of them, detailing the makeup of their families, some facts about their lives, and even some of their favorite things.  We found out, for example, that Andi’s favorite food was “gallo pinto with cheese.”  We didn’t know what that was, so we looked it up online.  Turns out, it is rice and beans.  It occurred to me that Luke and Anna might also like gallo pinto with cheese, and that it would be good for them to see what their Compassion friend ate.  So I looked up how to make it, even finding a recipe from the kids’ country.  We had it for dinner one night:

Luke loved it.  His exact words were, “Andi is not crazy at all for liking this!”

The information sheets gave us fodder for things to write back to Andi and Massiel.  And with Compassion’s website, we found that writing back was super easy.  We do it online, and the kids can pick out their own stationery and easily include pictures.  Then Compassion prints out the letters and mails them.  We try to write them at least once a month and to always include pictures.  In Andi’s last letter, we shared pictures of Luke eating gallo pinto with cheese, as well as his positive review.  The whole process of writing both kids takes about 15-20 minutes.  It’s great.

An added bonus to sponsoring through Compassion is that they have a free, quarterly magazine just for kids.  It is called Compassion Explorer, and it is a wonderful resource for kids.  You can sign up for it online, and it comes with your regular Compassion magazine for adults.  The magazine is full of great photos and stories about the lives of kids around the world, and it also has stories of kids helping others.  Plus, there are craft ideas, recipes, and science experiments.  Both the kids and I were big fans of Compassion Explorer.

So far, we have loved having Andi and Massiel as part of our lives.  We have learned about their lives and their country, and it has given my kids a chance to think beyond themselves and their own world.  We also pray for Andi and Massiel each night, which brings me to our second teaching strategy.

We have always said nightly prayers with our children.  Their prayers go in phases.  For a long time, they prayed long prayers, thanking God for everything in their lines of vision:  ceiling fans, stuffed animals, furniture, and so forth.  Their most latest phase, however, has been to rattle off a quick, “Thank you, God, for this day.  In Jesus name, Amen.”  Usually, I just wait until the phase passes, but this one lasted so long that I decided to intervene.  I started by taking prayer requests before we prayed and then divvying the requests up among the three of us.  That worked okay, but the enthusiasm was still lacking.  I also realized that most of our requests are the same each night.  That’s when I hit on the idea of making prayer cards so that we could remember what we were supposed to pray for.  I made cards for the usual suspects:  our family, our sponsored children, and sick people.  Then I got the idea to make a card for “the world.”  It’s funny because at the end of last year, had the strong desire to learn how to pray for the whole world everyday.  I’m pretty sure I wasn’t picturing an index card with a globe on it at the time, but you have to start somewhere!  I also threw in some “question mark” cards where you could put in your own requests.

Amazingly, these cards have been a huge hit with the kids.  We have used them for almost two months now, and they love them.  We have talked about each card and what to pray for with each one (mainly because Anna’s prayer about sick people started out, “Thank you for sick people!”).  The kids love taking turns picking their cards, and it is kind of like a game to us at this point.  They have their favorites and sometimes even trade for certain ones they really want.  We are still miles away from anything resembling a serious prayer time, but their enthusiasm is definitely an improvement.  And I was very gratified last week when Luke hopped into the car after school and announced, “We need to add Mrs. ______ to our prayers.  She has missed two days of school!”  And he didn’t forget that night, either.  Small steps.

Lastly, Greg and I just try to highlight the diversity that is already around them.  To be honest, it’s really not that hard in our current environment.  Luke is one of two white kids in his class, after all, and his classmates hail from several different countries.  Luke’s teacher recently arranged a meeting with the principal, the counselor, the school psychologist, and me, to brainstorm how the school can continue to challenge Luke (because he is ‘wicked smaht,” but I digress).  Since Luke was not around to kill me, I concurred with the principal’s idea of special enrichment projects for him to complete.  I then suggested that he do projects on each of the countries represented by his class.  Inspired by our gallo pinto with cheese experiment, I thought I could even bring a dish for each country when I come volunteer.  We are currently working on a project about Burma, and at our super cool downtown library, I even found a Burmese fairy tale:

I’m doing all this in order to make the most of our current environment.  Even if you don’t live near a refugee population, like we do, I’m sure there are other ways to acknowledge the diversity of your environment and turn it into an opportunity to teach your kids about others.  In fact, I’m interested in hearing your ideas.

Okay, now it’s your turn.  I would love to hear how you teach your children to be more small-world-, missions-, others-minded.  Do you have any tips or experiences to share?

Kony 2012, Clicktivism, and the Question of ‘We’

Okay, let’s get a few things out of the way first.  I don’t know much about Invisible Children.  Or Uganda.  And before the “Kony 2012” video, I also did not know a ton about Kony besides what I gleaned from the book Outcasts United, reviews of Machine Gun Preacher, and misinformation from Rush Limbaugh.  So, admittedly, my exposure has been limited.  Furthermore, I’ve never even been to Africa, and most of my recent knowledge of the current situation in Uganda comes from a book called Kisses from Katie.  In other words, I don’t know what is best for Uganda, I haven’t done a thing to stop Kony, and I pretty much don’t know what I’m talking about.  You probably shouldn’t even be reading this.

That said, let’s begin.

Last week, the internet world was rocked by a thirty minute video about child abductor, mass murderer, and all around bad guy, Joseph Kony.  For decades, Kony has been kidnapping children in Uganda and beyond, and forcing them to fight for him in what he calls the “Lord’s Resistance Army.”  He is responsible for lots and lots of horrible things.  The video was made by a non-profit group called Invisible Children, which apparently was founded in 2003 with the express purpose of stopping this madman.  They appear in their video to connect their advocacy to President Obama’s decision to send…advisory military people?…into Uganda to serve as aid to the Ugandan government, who are trying to catch Kony and deliver him to the International Criminal Court.  Kony is the ICC’s #1 most wanted bad guy, and…well…they want him.  Invisible Children is worried, though, that without continued public support, the U.S. government will cancel the mission, and Kony will continue to wreak havoc.  Thus, their goal is to get enough Americans fired up about Kony so that we will continue pressuring our government to intervene, and that they will continue to help the Ugandan government, who in turn will catch Kony.  This plan was all laid out in the video in a nifty series of photographic dominoes.

To be honest, it doesn’t exactly seem like a fool-proof plan to me, but again, I’m not an expert.  We’ll get to all that later, though.  First, here is the video:

Frankly, I’m just impressed that teens watched all thirty minutes.  That’s a long time for the younger generation!  Also, I have to say that it was really cool to see kids excited about something beyond their own, immediate world.  I’ll take awareness of greater human suffering over status updates about the burrito they had at Moe’s any day of the the week!  So yeah…my first reaction to this whole phenomenon was that I was pumped!

And I guess that’s why the groundswell of invalid criticism rubbed me the wrong way.

Now, don’t get me wrong:  I do believe that there is some very valid criticism–or at least valid questions–about the efforts of Invisible Children here.  But in the midst of those good conversation starters came a lot of cynicism and snark.  Here are two examples of what I believe is completely invalid criticism:

Invalid Critique #1:  “Liking” a Facebook status is “not enough,” and the kids who participate on this level are shallow.

This is a two-parter.  The first critique to the movement comes in the form of a not-so-gentle reminder that it takes more than internet activism to make actual change.  To the people who pose such an objection, I have a few things to say.  First, at the risk of sounding obvious, didn’t you watch the video?  “Liking” the Facebook status is part of the first step:  Spreading awareness.  That leads to government pressure, which leads to American intervention, which leads to Ugandan military success, which leads to capturing Kony.  Remember the dominoes, people!

But really, this criticism is not about the dominoes, but about disdain for “clicktivism” as a whole.  “Clicktivism” is online activism.  It includes such “surface” actions as tweeting a few lines or “liking” a status about some social cause.  The objection to clicktivism is that such actions are pretty lame, ultimately meaningless, and that they give a false sense of satisfaction to their participants. I understand these objections because I used to feel the same way.  My mind was enlightened, however, by these wise words from a friend, Ryan Dement.  I read them in a note he wrote on Facebook in October, 2010.  The whole note was great, but in the following paragraph, Ryan addressed the criticism that clicktivism is too easy.  Here is what he had to say:

 The biggest critique of clicktivism is that it’s way too easy to ‘like’ a facebook page and do nothing else. That real activism is strangled by the useless gesture of a click that assuages guilty consciences just enough to prevent them from enacting real change. This argument always sounds great when I hear it. but the more I think about it, the less it makes sense. 1.) The person who does this, the person who clicks and walks away, is not the person who would drive to D.C. for a modern day march on Washington. People do however much they feel that they should. Or can. The person who cares enough to retweet one link or news story cares exactly that much…There are good arguments for whether or not they should or can do more. But despite that: they decide to click, to tweet, and stop. The clicking didn’t keep them from greater activism. in fact, the ease of social media probably incited them to do that little bit, more than they would have otherwise. 2.) This least amount of effort isn’t useless. The internet works in trends and memes, and adding that one tweet-drop of exposure to a social issue has a positive effect.  Even if someone glances over it, makes a programmed decision not to read, care, or think about it, and moves on, that decision to dismiss occurred, where it would not have otherwise. Thus increasing the frequency in which people are consciously thinking about the issue. Certainly not glamorous, but not useless either.

I completely agree.  What gets me is that the people who criticize the “small” actions of “liking” a Facebook status are probably not tweeting their objections while on their plane ride to Uganda.  In fact, there is a good chance that the objectors to the smallness of Facebook “likes” are doing even less.  I’m not hatin’, and I definitely think there is a call for circumspection here.  But why must our first reaction to do-gooder idealism be to try to cynically stamp it out?  There are so many better reactions to have.

This is the second part of Invalid Critique #1, and to me, it is even more ridiculous.  Yeah, maybe most of the people with Kony 2012 pictures all over their Facebook page didn’t care about Ugandan kids yesterday.  That’s probably true.  But…that’s because they didn’t know about Ugandan kids yesterday.  That’s how information works.  You don’t know something, and then you learn about it, and then you know it.  It’s called a starting point.  I wasn’t born caring about poor kids in Nashville.  But when I got to Youth Encouragement Services in college, I learned about them and started caring about them.  I can’t imagine what my response would have been if, while I was all fired up about Y.E.S. kids, someone came up to me and said, ‘Tell me more about how you’ve always cared about poor kids in Nashville?”  As if my new-found compassion didn’t count because it was new.  Seriously?  That makes no sense.  Yes, the cynic in me would acknowledge that most of these “activists” are going to move on from this cause in a couple of weeks.  But who cares?  Isn’t it good that they are being introduced to issues beyond their own little worlds?  And even if 5% or less actually continue to fight for the poor and oppressed, that’s 5% who might not be doing so otherwise.  Everyone has to start somewhere.

The Nashville example brings me the second invalid criticism of this movement.

Invalid Critique #2:  “We” should not worry about Africa because “we” have too many problems here.

Ah, yes, the question of “we.”  In Lee Camp’s brilliantly frustrating book, Mere Discipleship, he gives a little litmus test in order to determine the American Christian’s ultimate loyalty.  The test is simply a question of “we”:  when you speak generally of “we,” who are you talking about?  Is “we” the church, the kingdom of God?  Or is “we” America?  Whichever “we” is, that’s the group with which you most identify.  It’s the group that claims your ultimate loyalty.  I’m not sure that the test is entirely fair, but it definitely made me think.

The “we” in this second critique is America.  I know that because the kingdom of God is in Africa, too.  So “we,” the kingdom of God, have some problems in Africa, and over there, “our” people are suffering.  And thus, “we” should do something about it.  See, you can use the Bible to justify putting the weak and oppressed first, and you can use it to justify putting Christians first, but you cannot use it to justify putting a particular nation first.  That last one is not a Biblical argument.

Now, perhaps it is valid to point out that loving your neighbor should not be an either/or scenario.  Perhaps we should remember that we are also called to love our next-door neighbor, as well as our African neighbor.  Perhaps we need the reminder that it is often easier to love the people whom you can’t see than it is to love the people who are actually a part of your life.  And perhaps we could use the pragmatic counsel that God might want us to work where we could do the most good, and that there is a greater chance that we could do good in our own surroundings.  I agree with all of those points.  But I certainly don’t think that we have to choose one or the other, local or foreign, as worthy of our time.  And I certainly don’t believe that everything in America has to be perfect before we care about anyone outside of America.

In the midst of the cynicism and invalid objections, however, I think that some really good questions have been raised. I have a few myself:

  • Who, exactly, are the group, Invisible Children, and are they the best people to handle this Kony thing?
  • If for me, “we” is the church, then why should I want “we” the American government to handle this?
  • Is military intervention the best solution?
  • Is the Ugandan government as corrupt as I’ve been hearing?
  • What important information about this situation do I not know?
  • Could Invisible Children’s plan do more harm than good?
  • What does God want me to do in this situation?

I don’t know the answers to these questions, but I do think that they are the right questions.  I think Kony is a madman, and I can’t imagine that Africa would be anything but better without his presence.  But I also don’t want to ignorantly forge ahead, riding a wave of self-righteous idealism and make the situation worse.  So for now, I’m educating myself and praying.  I did a fair amount of googling, until I found Rachel Held Evans’ very helpful post, “Some Resources on the Invisible Children Controversy.”  It has tons of links to different perspectives and thoughts from people way more informed on the matter than I.  I would definitely recommend perusing through the links in this post if you are interested in learning more about the situation with Joseph Kony.

I’ve thought a lot, though, about what I would tell my kids, if they were teenagers who were caught up in this surge of internet righteousness.  How would I direct their passion without stamping it out?

I think I would start by rejoicing over their concern for others.  Then I would assure them that their compassion was pleasing to God and confirm that all children are equally precious in His sight, no matter what nation they are from.  Next, I would show them how to educate themselves in order to be equipped to do the greatest good.  And then we would talk about it.  And pray about it.

And then we would do something about it. _____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________So what is your opinion of Kony 2012?

Top 3 on Tuesday: Missionary Edition

In keeping with this week’s “small world” theme, I wanted to share with you the blogs of some of my missionary friends.  I love reading missionaries’ blogs because the differences between our worlds virtually guarantees that their blogs will be interesting.  Also, they (obviously) tend to be strong Christians, and so I enjoy reading about their thoughts on God.

The first blog I want to share is that of my friends, Tommy and Becky Brown.  We met them back at our church in South Carolina, and they now form part of a three-family team that is serving in Nicaragua for five years.  They just went over there this past fall, and by all accounts from Facebook and their blog, they are doing well.  Their blog is simply called, “Brown Blog.”  And it is brown.  Here is a post to give you a feel for the blog.  I particularly love this line from Tommy:  “It feels like God has taken the fabric of my life and unwoven it back down to the individual fibers so that He can craft it again into something new.”

Another good missionary blog is “Aliens and Strangers,” written by Brett Harrison.  I met Brett at Lipscomb, although we didn’t know each other very well.  I did know him well enough, however, to recognize him out in the internet world when I stumbled onto his blog from another missionary blog.  I would search through his blog to find a good sample, but I actually think his most recent post is pretty riveting.  I don’t know about you, but I find that a story about a drunk and heavily armed cop looking for a bribe is something that holds my attention well.  And now that I’m thinking about it, I also found this post, in which he shares openly about the stresses of the missionary life, to be quite enlightening, also.

Lastly, I will officially share with you a blog to which I have alluded in a couple of other posts:  Jamie the Very Worst Missionary.   I feel like I need to warn you that her language is rough, and sometimes that can be offensive to people.  Also, her blog seems to be slowing down some, but she has a unique and original voice that–to me–is worth reading.  I found her series on the (dubious) value of short-term mission trips to be thought provoking.  And posts such “You’d Be Surprised” or “I Have a Heart for You” are really moving.  And for Becky, here is a bonus one about Nicaragua.

Okay, those are all the missionary blogs I have.  Luckily, there are three of them, so I am keeping up some semblance of “Top 3 on Tuesday.”

Do you know of any other good missionary blogs?

It’s a Small World at Aldi and Citgo

One of the highlights of living in Nashville is our local Aldi.  For one thing, I have long heard the legend of Aldi from my fellow couponers and couponing websites.  I knew from them that Aldi was a super-cheap grocery store that kept prices low in a variety of creative ways:  their aisles are formed by the food products themselves, not shelves; the use of a cart cost $.25 (but you get it back when you return it); they don’t take credit cards; and they don’t have bags.  It’s definitely a unique grocery store, and the prices are very low.

That’s not the only reason I love it, however.  I love our local Aldi because it is an absolute melting pot of so many cultures of the world.  Nashville has a large refugee population, and apparently the one thing that all these unique and diverse cultures have in common is that they all love them some Aldi.  Thus, on any given trip to Aldi, I find myself absolutely surrounded by the rainbow of God’s creation.  I love walking through and observing all the different people.  And as someone who loves words, I especially love hearing all of the various languages.  I only know English, but I know enough of other languages to know that most of the languages spoken in Aldi are not European.  Yet, for all the obvious differences in the clientele, it’s funny how we often have more in common than we think.  On my first trip to Aldi, a young Indian woman started a conversation with me about motherhood while our two children eyed each other from our carts.  Her little boy was named Arjun, he was sixteen months old, and she was struggling with being a stay-at-home mom.  She had her college degree in business administration and thought of herself as a career woman.  We talked about the struggles of motherhood for awhile, and I tried to encourage her.  What struck me most about the conversation, though, was how similar it was to so many conversations I’ve had with my friends.  In fact, were I still apart of my old Mommy and Me group in South Carolina, I would have totally invited her to join us.  The commute is a little far, though.

The other night, Greg had a similar “small world” experience at Aldi.  He found himself in line behind a large African man who had just let a Middle Eastern guy go in front of him.  While Greg waited for his turn, he set his two gallons of milk on a shelf beside the conveyor. Once room was made on the conveyor belt, the African man turned and transferred the milk onto the belt for Greg.  Greg thanked him, and a few minutes later, the man gave an unsolicited explanation for his actions.  In a very thick accent, he told Greg, “We have to take care of each other.  That’s what God wants.  He wants us to love each other.  If we did, we wouldn’t have so much war and violence and hatred.”  Greg agreed, of course, and thanked him again.  Then Greg paid for his groceries and went out.  As he got into his car, he noticed that the people in the car next to him were having some trouble getting it started.  He looked over, and saw a Hispanic man and a white woman trying to get the engine to turn over.  With the African man’s words still ringing in his ears, Greg made eye contact with the people and asked if they needed any help.  They said they thought they were out of gas and asked Greg if they had a gas can they could borrow.  He said he didn’t, but that he would run and get them some gas since he needed some himself.  They gratefully accepted the offer, and he drove off to the nearby Citgo.

This particular Citgo is quite dear to me because this summer, I had my own “small world” experience there.  I had just gotten into town after spending a few days at my parents’ house.  I was in Nashville to meet the mission team from my church, who were currently en route from Oklahoma.  They were still a few hours away, and while I waited for them to arrive, I was going to meet an old friend for dinner.  But first, I had to gas up.  I pulled into the Citgo and up to a pump.  Immediately, the gas station attendant came out to help me, as I had apparently chosen a full service pump.  I explained to him that I had made a mistake and moved to a self-service pump instead.  I got the gas pumping and then went to the back of the van to get out some makeup to freshen up before dinner.  It was locked.  Oops.  I went around to the front of the van to hit the unlock button…but it was locked, too.  Everything was inside my car:  my wallet, my cell phone, and most dismayingly, my keys.

So there I was, alone in a city with no one’s contact numbers, no money, and no transportation.  Even my AAA card was in the car!  Sheepishly, I walked into the gas station and explained my plight to the middle Eastern man behind the counter, the same man who had come out earlier to pump my gas.  I asked if I could use a phone book and his telephone to call AAA.  He was very sympathetic and let me make the call.  I had another problem, though:  I was supposed to meet my friend for dinner in ten minutes, and I had no way to contact her to let her know I would be late.  I knew I was near the restaurant, but I couldn’t remember how far down the road it was.  I asked the gas station worker and briefly explained my plight.  I was absolutely shocked when he volunteered to let me take his car.

A few minutes later, I was driving down Nolensville Road listening to the strange, Eastern melodies floating from this stranger’s radio.  I had learned in my brief interaction with the man that he was from the nation of Jordan, and I had to marvel at the cultural situation I was in:  I was driving a Jordanian man’s car to meet a Mexican woman at a Chinese restaurant.  It occurred to me that nothing in my behavior so far should have indicated to this man that I was even qualified to operate a vehicle, and I also knew that some middle Easterners don’t even think that women should drive cars (there is a law against it in Saudi Arabia, right?).  And yet here I was, having just interacted with one of the first Muslims I had ever met, and I was driving his car.  Weird.

I left a message at the restaurant for my friend, and then headed back to the gas station to wait for AAA.  During my wait, I had very little else to do besides chat with the Jordanian, and he had little else to do in the empty store besides chat with me.  So we talked.  Turns out, the man was in this country temporarily.  He came over here to go to college, but he had trouble affording it and didn’t really seem to know what he wanted to do.  Thus, instead of getting his degree, he had moved down from New York to Nashville, married a Native American woman, and was now working in this gas station.  We talked about his impressions of America, his life in the middle East, and our religions.  I asked him about Al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden (yes, yes I did), and I listened as he passionately explained the differences in the interpretation of Islam and how he was glad bin Laden was dead.  He told me about how there are 27 (or something like that) countries in the middle East and how they are all different, and how Jordan is not crazy like some of the others.  He told me about his views of Islam, and his wife’s thoughts on the matter.  He told me that we both pray to God, and it is God who will judge between us.  And I told him about my beliefs, as well.  In short, we both tried to be good witnesses to each other.  We talked back and forth in that empty gas station, surrounded by Twinkies and beef jerky and the smell of oil, until the very nice AAA guy came to help me back into my car.  Then I thanked him, and I left, and I never saw him again.

But that conversation stayed with me for awhile.  It reminded me that it really is small world these days.  And where my family lives, we can meet Arabs and Indians and Africans on a normal trip to the grocery store or gas station.  I love that.  I love getting to talk to people who are different from me, people who look different, who think differently, who live differently.  And I love that my children are going to grow up in this environment.  This week on the blog, I’m going to explore that idea, that concept of our small world.  I’m going to share some cool missionary blogs, as well as some ways Greg and I have learned to teach our kids about our small world.  I’m also going to weigh in on the Kony 2012 phenomenon.  Paul’s words in Acts 17:27 tell me that God has put us all here, in 2012, for a reason.  And here, in 2012, we live in a small world that is more globally connected than ever before.  How are we to live in such a world?  Who is our neighbor in this world?  

Those are two questions worth asking, in my opinion.  Perhaps this week, you can help me answer them.

The Amazing Thing

I first wrote this post a little over two years ago, in February 2010.  I remember so clearly the experience of writing it, and the depths to which I believed it.  As my posts from this week demonstrate, these ideas are still very present in my thinking, and they probably always will be.  For me, one of the great mysteries of the Christian life has been figuring out how to obey verses like Colossians 3:17, which tell us to do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God.  Such verses find their way into my soul and ignite my imagination.  And every once in awhile, I get a little glimpse at how they are possible.  This article from 2010 records one of those glimpses:

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“My eyes are small, but they have seen
The beauty of enormous things.”

Today, I was walking across the church parking lot to mop the bathrooms in the gym. I was wearing jeans with big holes in the knees, a solid gray t-shirt, and a navy blue hoodie. My hair was pulled back into a ponytail, and I had very little make-up on. I had just come from my weekly grocery trip, which involved a lot of clipping coupons and pre-planning. And after I mopped, I was going to return home to feed my daughter lunch, pick up my son from preschool, and spend the afternoon working on potty training Anna, getting some cleaning and laundry done, and preparing to teach my Wednesday night lesson at church.

As I crossed the parking lot, I was listening to the David Crowder Band on my ipod, and a song came on that said,

“You make everything glorious.
You make everything glorious.
You make everything glorious.
And I am yours…
So what does that make me?’

This song put into words perfectly what I was feeling already. As I walked to mop floors in my holey jeans and little makeup, I felt glorious. Glorious in my “average life.” Glorious in my menial labor. Glorious without having had a shower that day. Glorious in the knowledge that the rest of the day would center largely around cleaning up pee-pee from carpets and hardwood floors as I tried to coerce a toddler into using the potty.

I see all these people around me who are looking for what I call the Amazing Thing. The longing for it is present in all walks of life, but it is especially evident in adolescents and college students. People just have this nagging feeling that life is supposed to be amazing, and that something is going to come along to make it so. Perhaps that something is a great work that they are going to do. Perhaps that something is a person. Perhaps it is a family. Or a place. Or a job. Or something. And as they are waiting for the Amazing Thing that is going to bring them ultimate fulfillment, they pass their time by living an ordinary life. They do schoolwork. They hang out with friends. They have relationships. They get married and have kids. They find jobs. They go on vacations. And many of them slowly become disillusioned b/c the Amazing Thing never comes. Of, if they don’t become disillusioned, they decide that the Amazing Thing was a fantasy, a dream, and they give up the quest for ultimate fulfillment.

The truly sad part is that many of these people are Christians, are members of churches, and as such, are surrounded by the Amazing Thing the whole time but don’t recognize it. The Amazing Thing has been tamed, has been domesticated, has been relegated to certain hours of the week. The Amazing Thing has been reduced to a list of rules. It has been reduced to practical irrelevance. And so these Christians long for something Amazing that will make their life Amazing. In their mind, if they aren’t doing something truly mind-blowing, if they aren’t preaching the Gospel to 1,000’s of people or writing best-selling books or starting churches on the African savanna, then their lives are not Amazing.

And all of those things are good things. But they aren’t, in and of themselves, the Amazing Thing. The Amazing Thing is God, and He is everywhere, not just in mega-church pulpits, or top 10 bestseller lists, or on the African savanna. The Amazing Thing is that we can commune with our All-Powerful Creator every second of every day. The Amazing Thing is that we can be both priests of the Most High (1 Pet. 2:9) and the sacrifice on the altar simultaneously (Rom. 12:1-2). And when that starts to sink in, just a little bit, it makes our lives amazing. It makes them glorious.

I wish I could share with everyone what this life is like. I wish I could help them see how mopping the floor can be a mountain-top experience, how changing a diaper or covering a small face with kisses could be a sacred offering to Yahweh, how folding laundry and making meals for people can be full of meaning, and joy, and profound love. I feel like if people truly understood that planting the kingdom of God in the heart of a child is, in and of itself, more miraculous than preaching a sermon before 1,000’s, that truly dying to yourself in your perfectly ordinary day is a miraculous work of God, that deeply loving the person who gets on your last nerve is the powerful work of God’s Holy Spirit in you…I think if people realized those things, then they would understand that the Amazing Thing could permeate every part of their life right now. They would realize that truly miraculous things like that happen everyday to those who believe and who serve God.

Like I said, I wish I could make people see what that life is like. But ultimately, words won’t do it. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of words, but there are some places that only God can take a person. And so I pray for the teens at our church, for the college students, for myself, and for all my brothers and sisters, that we would all continue to seek God’s face, and that He would teach us all more and more how to die to ourselves and how to trulylive amazing lives, finding our fulfillment in the Amazing Thing that has been all around us the whole time.

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