The Glass Darkly

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Pillars vs. Nomads

I've always had tremendous admiration and respect for pillars in communities . . . those people who dependably provide support, strength and continuity in a world of flux and uncertainties; those people who always seem to be there, permanent fixtures, if you will, in neighborhoods where babies are born, children grow up and parents share wisdom and memories. Part of me desires this place in life.

And though, my yearnings for travel have never been as strong as my husband's, I found myself retouching the thrill of it in the wee hours of the morning. I made a brief stop at the Baltimore Airport and immediately felt the surge of adrenaline and excitement I had experienced many times before when I prepared to travel. Just hearing the announcements in Spanish and seeing the people gather their baggage and enter reminded me of the wonder I always felt at the chance to touch a world bigger than here.

During my drive back home, the sun began to rise and I experienced the breathtaking and joyful transformation of the morning sky. I wondered why I don't tear myself out of bed more often to watch, for it wells up such hope and anticipation in me for the potential of a new day, new beginnings, new experiences.

New beginnings, the dawning of a new day, embarking on a new journey. Strangely it all flows together in my mind and purpose. Perhaps I am too addicted to that feeling to be a pillar. My mother always told us to "bloom where you're planted." Though that could be interpreted as planting yourself somewhere, I have endeavored to do that even though my life has turned out to be more like a nomad. I suppose the hope in flowers are in their seeds and seeds have a miraculous way of flying in the wind to bigger worlds . . . kind of like nomads.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I just love these pictures!

I discovered a CD with some of our pictures we had scanned in from Cambodia. Had to post a few.

The family bicycle.

Heading south by taxi.

And finally, ducks to market!

Mis-Contextualization and the Power of Community

Last Friday I listened to a friend, Andy, who we had worked with in Cambodia, share his insights on Khmer community and how it impacts Westerners' contextualizations of technology in Cambodia. He briefly summarized his research which looked at economic and social developments in communities where new technologies had been introduced. Andy also analyzed how the technologies were contextualized by the technology promotor in light of the spirituality, social setting and economics of the recipient culture. He illustrated how viewing the actions of Cambodian households through a Western worldview leads to the misidentification of how and why Khmer households choose or don't choose to adopt new technologies.

Andy had worked in MCC's rural agricultural program in a very poor province where rice yields were well below average compared to the rest of the country and region. Families were only able to grow enough rice to support their families for half a year. One might assume poor families would jump at the chance to use better technology and crop-growing practices to improve their living standards. MCC taught them how to grow vegetables during their dry months, how to irrigate, how to fertilize, etc. It was facinating to see that when the foreigner support was withdrawn, assuming the farmers could continue on their own, the new practices stopped. Why? Was it because they weren't receiving incentives anymore from the foreigners?

I have heard many foreigners who have worked with Cambodians for short time-periods make snide remarks about Cambodians' lack of motivation or laziness. Andy directly addressed that point in his analysis and I so appreciated his comments. He pointed out how those of us in the West have no idea the strength and the power of Cambodian community. To be part of Cambodian community, one needs to show loyalty and respect to the others and their status within the community; one needs to conform to what is trusted and understood; one needs to contribute to the others in the community and those traditions included within religion and culture. Cambodians are well-cared for by the community as long as they follow these social guidelines. Relationships are paramount and anyone who decides to leave the community are not seen as loyal or caring. (What does that say about us foreigners!)

When a member of the community decides to befriend a foreigner and take on foreign ideas and practices, it is a tremendous risk, for if a crop fails for someone who adopts a new type of technology, the community will believe it is because the person rebelled against the culture/community and some spirit will be named as the culprit. The key is whether or not new practices/technology are fully accepted and adopted by the entire community. If only by a few, the new ideas will forever be considered foreign and those who adopt them will be at risk. Those Cambodians who adopt them will not be fully accepted in the community because the community assumes he is choosing to disconnect himself. The spirituality that comes into play and the intense community power are key foundations to understand if contextualization of anything, be it technology, the Gospel or ways of thinking are really possible in Cambodia. I'm sure there are similar difficulties in other cultures. Unfortunately, it takes so long to figure that stuff out. It's no wonder it has taken decades for development to get going and centuries for the Gospel to take root. Again I consider, how prideful we are to think we can save the world by starting with our great ideas rather than learn and study with respect first.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Our Images of Jesus

My husband has been reading the book, The Church Enslaved: A Spirituality of Racial Reconciliation by Michael Battle and Tony Campolo. Some of the short quotes/selections he has shared with me from the book address a couple issues we have been tossing around in the last year about culture and worship. What is amazing is how God decides to drive home points, as the two of us have often found that when we have been struggling with a certain issue, a book, article, sermon or conversation clutches right at the heart of the issue and affirms our struggle.

We had another one of those experiences this evening. Just the other night my husband shared with me the following quote from the book:

“Quakers and Mennonites have long understood that all portrayals of Jesus end up as idolized images of people’s perceptions of themselves. Their houses of worship historically were devoid of any paintings of Christ because they knew that the Christian God transcends the gods of the culture.”

Amazingly, upon opening his newest issue of “The Mennonite,” my husband found the exact same quote on the first page in the article, “Racism is anti-Christian,” by Karl McKinney.

Perhaps I am more sensitive to portrayals of a white Jesus than most since I spent seven years trying to convince Cambodian Christians that Jesus was not American, but most likely looked more like them, Asian/Middle Eastern. And though, I confess, that, as a child, I found comfort in my little picture of a gentle-Jesus in a glow-in-the-dark frame, I have grown to really struggle with the idea we have created Jesus in our own image rather than rest in the fact that we are created in God’s image. I believe God’s image transcends culture and skin color. I hate the idea that our graven images perpetuate any kind of racial oppression or cultural exclusion. Yet, if I return to my mono- vs. multicultural argument I could argue that since God transcends cultures, can’t each culture/race can adopt its own image of Jesus???? I’m not sure I really feel comfortable with that argument. I wonder what others think about pictures of Jesus in our sanctuaries of worship.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Visuals of Diversity

People . . . the Earth is full of people. This picture of a NYC street is one visual for me today.

My son keeps singing the chorus to a song we've learned in the last year, "We will break dividing walls . . . in the Name of Your Son . . ." I've had a nasty cold the last week and have felt too sick to sing with my children, yet he keeps asking me to sing that song with him. Now, I can't get the concept or the song out of my head.

Though I feel too tired to write, I wanted to remember this morning. I drove through the center of the city as I usually do. There were lots more kids out as the city schools had off today. I also saw the usual business people, blue collar workers, a bag man pushing his cart of rubbish treasures across the street, moms walking their children along, a teenage girl sitting on her elderly grandmother's lap on the front steps of their apartment . . . faces of every color, age and aspect of society. The whole while, my son is belting out that song, "we will break dividing walls . . ." And I wondered to myself, "What am I doing to make that happen?"

People . . . God has made so many people and this Easter we celebrate God's incredible love for all these people. What am I doing to show that love?

Friday, April 07, 2006

Annual Youth Leaders' Camp

Great to hear that the 11th Annual Youth Leaders' Camp is going well (finishing today). This camp is organized every year by the Youth Commission of the Evangelical Fellowship of Cambodia. Over 300 Christian youth from all over Cambodia head to the beach for the week where most of them not only see the ocean for the first time but also see so many Christians gathered together for the first time.

The worship time and speakers are inspiring and the workshops touch on key issues of discipleship and leadership. In addition to the EFC Youth Commission staff, dozens of pastors and other church leaders, both Cambodian and expatriate, work together to lead the camp and teach the sessions. It is exciting to see how God is using this event to strengthen the next generation of the Church in Cambodia.

Over the years my husband and I volunteered at the camp, it was interesting to observe the funny cultural clashes when you not only mix Cambodian with expats to organized something of this size, but also the funny episodes when Cambodian rural meets Cambodian urban. For example, teaching provincial youth how to use a Western toilet found at the hotel where the youth stayed (it's NOT a washing machine or a squat toilet!) Also, the never ending debates between Cambodian and expat leaders over terminology . . . is this a "youth conference" or a "youth camp?" Only pastors go to conferences . . . kids go to camps . . . why, then do the youth stay in a hotel if it is a camp??? . . . "you foreigners don't understand!" . . . you like to GO camping to a place that is more primitive . . . we Cambodians LIVE camping every day of our lives . . . when we go to a conference or camp, we want to rest comfortably for once so we can focus on what we are learning!" How our cultural lenses cloud our understanding. But thank the Lord unity is possible despite our human differences and limitations! May God receive glory for the lives that are changed through this annual event and may His church continue to grow in the Kingdom of Cambodia.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Lessons from Life

Perhaps we all could name certain people in our lives who make such an impact, encourage tremendous growth and live as examples to many. There are several like that who I used to work with in Cambodia and miss very much.

Our friends, Brian and Debbi, are two them. I worked a lot with Brian at the Youth Commission and my husband worked quite a bit with Debbi in the International Church. They and their three children are in California for a few more months before heading back to Cambodia. We receive their periodic "Gecko Tales" newsletter in which both Brian and Debbi so skillfully find humor even in life's pressing difficulties.

Brian likes to write. I wish I was as good at describing life as he does. He has a unique ability to depict the earthy reality of human condition and draw out lessons and humor. I finally persuaded him to start compiling his stories on a blog to share with others. There are things about living cross-culturally I have sometimes been afraid to share because I fear people may not understand or misinterpret my intentions. Brian is not usually afraid of this. Perhaps that is why I like reading his stories; he is not afraid to explain things just as he (and many others) perceive them and then let the interpretation up to the reader.

His first post compares Cambodia "Geckoville" with America, "The Home of the Brave." If you can tolerate (or enjoy) a tinge of political satire mixed with cultural anecdotes, check out Brian's Gecko Tales.