The Glass Darkly

Monday, February 26, 2007


Can it be that American pets are as much human as we are? Though I still laugh at how much attention cats and dogs get in this culture, I couldn't resist these funny pictures my brother sent me.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Uncertainties of Life

Songwriter, Brian Doerksen, expresses my Psalm for this week:

I don't know what this day will bring
Will it be disappointing or filled with longed-for things?

I don't know what tomorrow holds
Still I know I can trust Your faithfulness.

I don't know if those clouds mean rain
If they do, will they pour down blessing or pain?

I don't know what the future holds
Still I know I can trust Your faithfulness.

I don't know how or when I'll die
Will it be a thief or will I have a chance to say good-bye?

I don't know how much time is left
But in the end I will know Your faithfulness.

When darkness overwhelms my soul
When thoughts are storms of doubt
Still I trust You are always faithful -- always faithful.

Certain as the rivers reach the sea
Certain as the sunrise in the east
I can rest in Your faithfulness.

Surer than a mother's tender love
Surer than the stars still shine above
I can rest in Your faithfulness.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Valentine's Day?

Is Valentine's Day really an important holiday in America? I heard on the news it is the second busiest holiday to Mother's Day for florists. While I love flowers, I don't expect flowers and I suppose I don't really think about Valentines Day being a serious holiday. But my children's teacher said all students had to make Valentines for all their classmates. So I guess it's mandatory for elementary students and the card companies are happy about that.

I also heard on the news tonight how police were trying to crack down on PDA's in Bangkok today... and somehow I can believe it ... made me chuckle as I remembered once a Cambodian teacher in our English program in Phnom Penh asking if we would be having off for Valentine's Day. His impression was that it was one of the biggest holidays in the US. I was shocked and amused. I hadn't even thought about it being Valentines Day let alone considered cancelling classes for the day!!!

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fresh as the Morning . . .

Fresh as the morning, sure as the sunrise,
God always faithful, You do not change.

God of the Bible, God in the Gospel
hope seen in Jesus, hope yet to come
you are our center, daylight or darkness
freedom or prison you are our home.

God in our struggles, God in our hunger
suffering with us, taking our part
still you empower us, mothering Spirit
feeding sustaining from your own heart.

Those without status, those who are nothing,
you have made royal gifted with rights
chosen as partners, midwives of justice
birthing new systems lighting new lights.

Not by your finger, not by your anger
will our world order change in a day
but by your people, fearless and faithful
small paper lanterns lighting the way.

Hope we must carry, shining and certain
through all our turmoil, terror and loss,
bonding us gladly, one to the other,
till our world changes facing the Cross.

by Shirley Erena Murray

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Christ's Healing Touch

Ok, what would you do?

A woman tells me she is trying to lose weight (she weighs about 280 lbs.) as she downs a protein shake. She continues to explain how difficult it is to do . . . afterall "it's not fair that her family ended up with the bad genes that makes them heavy-set." She can see it in her son and her brothers . . .

". . . and people can be so cruel, so cruel and nasty;" she has been hurt so badly; she ends it with "I don't like to be hurt; I've been so hurt!" "It's not how much I eat, but I'm trying to change what I eat." This woman tells me this over and over again as if she wants me to respond. I listen in silence because I am terrified to speak.

If I say "that's great that you are trying to lose weight" or "that's sounds difficult" I'm afraid she will take it I am agreeing with her that she is fat and her whole family is.

Can I agree that her family has bad genes? And what about people, like myself, who don't know what to say when she blames her health problems on her weight? They end up hurting her when they agree with her because, in her mind, they are affirming that she, indeed, has a reason for self-consciousness and shame? It takes a unique relationship with someone to talk about weight difficulties in this culture.

Not only with her, I never know how to respond to people who are talking about their desire/efforts to lose weight because I get the sense that they want people to know they are doing something about it, but really don't want those people to acknowledge that it is a problem. Maybe I am wrong, but I am uncomfortable all the same. And my experience is that most people are uncomfortable talking about their weight problems. The closest people get is when they share their excitment over a new gym membership or diet.

I would love to lose 15-20 lbs right now, but I put the blame on my gluttonous eating habits. And quite frankly, my shame is not that I am overweight for my size/height, but that am gluttonous when many in the world don't even get full meals a day.

What a culture to live in! I would love to know what is polite to say in such situations. Instead I just listen as a reminder of my own weakness, all the while praying and praying and praying for a heart of compassion. As I hear the Lord say, "if you really love the least of these, you will eat only what you need" . . . I confess my own sin of gluttony. Never mind that I am living in a culture that consumes astronomical amounts of food, fast food, diet food, international food, etc. How can I live in a separate Kingdom where I see my actions impacting my brother and sister in Sudan or Indonesia? How can I develop and articulate healthy practices which demonstrate more than just self-control, but also a concern with excessive consumer spending and exploitive market practices? I need healing from these cultural traps because I believe they are sicknesses that keep us in bondage.

So in the end I'm trusting for Christ's healing -- a healing that can minister to the hungry in this world, but also a healing that extends mercy and forgiveness to the gluttons like me.

Thursday, February 01, 2007

Cultural Cancers

My first lessons in analyzing culture were in a class I took in college. Unfortunately I could not afford the cross-cultural trips. (I wanted to go to Costa Rica where my room mate was from.)Instead I ended up reading books on cultural issues. I remember reading a couple fascinating stories which emphasized that it is very difficult to analyze one's own culture from within.

One reason we can't analyze our culture completely from within is because we are blinded by our own traditions and need to remain acculturated. There are limits to what we dare do in fear of being ostracized or seen as a rebel. This is the way culture protects us and ensures we have a cultural "family" to "come home to," in a certain sense. However, this "fear of being different" can also be a type of cultural cancer for Christians, a disease which can prevent us from having the ability to speak out on issues that should be issues of the Church. We are so sick from our blindness and weak immune system that we never exert the energy needed to critique and speak truth.

One thing that was so refreshing when living overseas was that I was freed from that. For the most part I was free to be able to critique my cultural background and the behavior exhibited by my culture and homeland. It was like blinders were lifted and suddenly I could see the United States and Western culture with new eyes. Daily I sat with people from around the globe who were practicing this same exercise but with different lenses. It was as if, because we were far from our homelands, we could speak freely and honestly without feeling like our co-citizens were going to judge us, impose a false sense of political correctness, or try to make us re-conform to the patterns of thinking and believing that were acceptable or expected back home.

Furthermore, through the dialogue which ensued, we could all much more easily identify those issues which affected our Christian faith. We would speak candidly about the tragedies of genocide, militarism, anarchy, materialism, consumerism, human trafficking, dictatorships, environmental decay, etc. which happen all around the world in the countries from where we all came or worked. We were not afraid to ask pointed questions and debate the issues. But more importantly, our faith was more real as we applied it to these real-life situations which we were seeing and dealing with daily.

I think in America we are blinded by many things. First of all we have a very strong culture, one that is fast consuming the weaker cultures of the world. A strong culture keeps a strong hold on us here too, demanding our allegience, respect and trust. We are blinded by our isolation from the rest of the world, ironically the same world on which we have the strongest influence of any nation. We have never had to deal, first-hand, with the tragedies I listed above. Finally, we are blinded by the American version of Christianity which short-lists for us the issues the Church should be addressing and which ones are "non-issues." In fact, we accept our blindness without even realizing our disability.

I believe when Jesus said, "I have come to give sight to the blind," he was not only talking about the blindness of non-Christians, but also those with religious fervancy, those who think they speak God's word and have a strong grasp on the Scriptures. Basically, I believe we, as Christians, can be very blind and need Christ's healing, healing not only to see what Christ sees, but healing which enables us to speak as Christ would speak. We need healing from the cultural infestations and cancers which prevent us from seeing and speaking Truth which our culture tells us to ignore or avoid because it would be seen as disrespectful or non-conformity or divisive, etc.

On that note, I offer a word of Truth to ponder from a dear man of God from Australia, Pastor Graham Chipps the pastor at the International Church of Phnom Penh. I have stood in awe of this man for the last 10 years as I worked with him and learned from him. Graham's cultural lens has been adjusted to a much broader scope than my own and his age has brought him much more wisdom than I could ever hope to attain in my lifetime. He speaks pointedly but with gentleness and grace.

Graham wrote a letter in the most recent ePistle online PRISM magazine responding to an article where someone called George Bush to repentance but also referred to Bush as a "man of God." I cannot help but affirm Graham's critique, which, I submit, calls into question our American blinders. I do not want to make this a blog about politics, but rather about how I believe our culture too strongly blinds our Christian faith.

Bush - a man of God?

This is the letter I refer to in my "Cultural Cancers" post - please read that post to understand this letter:

Johann Christoph Arnold writes with considerable grace and graciousness. For this he is to be commended. His call to Bush is rightly focused on repentance.

However, the “man of God” claim is mere words. There is only evidence of anything but. A man of God does not routinely deceive, break the law in so many ways, mismanage the environment/creation, disregard the poor, favour the rich, engage in over-the-top militarism, go to war on false claims whilst arrogantly ignoring all the well-informed warnings that it would set off exactly what has turned out to be the case. A man of God is quick to repent and humble of opinion; willing to take seriously the perspectives of others and not insult them with for-or-against extremist rhetoric. A man of God stands for justice rather than supporting the oppressor; whether Zionist or otherwise. A man of God is characterised by the wisdom of peacefulness.

If he was the leader of a country out of favour with the USA, the USA would be rightly calling for him to be tried for war crimes and crimes against humanity. Thanks to his blind and ignorant arrogance, hundreds of thousands have died, a whole country has been trashed, thousands have been given cause to join the ranks of those who think violence and terror are perfectly legitimate (because the USA is so at home with violence and terror in its own practice), and virtually nothing at all has been done to address the actual causes of terrorism, or poverty, or injustice, or ……

This is no man of God.
- Graham Chipps (Phnom Penh, Cambodia)