Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Cooking Contest

This is the second installment of our semi-regular guest posts.  Stephanie (name changed to protect her privacy) shares this post about a recent cooking contest. 

I recently took 3rd place in a cooking contest.  The contest was at a local school between mothers who made a national dish of the country I had recently moved to.  The dish is source of great pride and I had made it under a friend’s supervision once before.  One of the teachers asked, actually nagged, me into representing my daughter’s class in the competition.  Again, I had made the dish once before and had forgotten salt.  Yeah, any recipe where you forget salt is a problem.  Obviously I was not confident of my chances. 

I showed up with my version of the completed dish.  The judges (four teachers at the school) went through tasting all the various versions of the same dish.  After much deliberation the 1st prize went to a lovely grandmother who's wizened features demanded respect.  Another lady was selected for 2nd and to my surprise (and horror) I was awarded 3rd.  Horror because I had no idea why I was chosen.  I had made this dish once before with dubious results.  Later I tasted the competition and could discern no great advantage of my attempt compared with the “losers”.  And this was a national dish.  Something these ladies had made for special occasions or guests since they were young.  Why me?

The country my family is living in as guests is shaped by an honor and shame mindset.  I am from a western world view which is often shaped by guilt and innocence.  In the western world ideas like justice, meritocracy, and fairness are highly valued.  From this world view the contest seemed ludicrous or a sham.  In my host culture ideas of honor, respect, and place in community are of supreme importance.  From this vantage point the winners were obvious.  The grandmother is the oldest woman demanding the utmost respect (1st place), the woman who made the best dish (2nd place), and the honored guest – the visitor to our country must be honored (3rd place).  It was obvious.

As part of my award I received a small gift and a certificate (stamped with an official looking stamp by the principle).  I showed my certificate later to some local friends.  They congratulated me on my accomplishment and then asked when I would be hosting a party to celebrate my success.  A party?  For a school cooking contest? Seriously?  They smiled but were somewhat serious.  In a culture shaped by honor, it is your responsibility to display your achievements and showcase these through a feast inviting relatives, friends, and neighbors. If you don’t, then you are considered very stingy and unwilling to share your honor with your wider circle.  All who participate get a share of the honor.  This can seem like a huge waste of resources and downright arrogant in western eyes. 

So now you have my advice on winning a cooking contest.  Remember that the placing you receive might be a responsibility, not an acknowledgment of merit.  That greatness is not being placed above another person.  That merit and community are often intertwined in human society.  That being publicly honored is not a source of embarrassment but can be an opportunity to lift others with you.  That truly is a picture of gracious behavior.

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

Fierce Hope

In this world of
pain and suffering,
injustice and cruelty,
indifference and ignorance—
remember to hope,
and fill your joy tank,
so you have gas for the journey of
justice and mercy,
reconciliation and restoration.
It’s a long trek
and you’ll need to resupply
with poetry and purring cats,
quiet trees and crashing oceans,
and fireflies.

The One who weeps and died for us,
welcomed children and their laughter,
and told jokes
disarming the authorities.

We lament from our depths
the wicked wrongs of the world,
because we know Hope.
So we follow in the footsteps
of our big Brother,
bleeding love,
and disarming the Powers
with our fierce hope and joy.

Monday, December 18, 2017

On Being a Foreigner

Today is the first of hopefully several guest posts.  Stephanie (name changed to protect her privacy) shares this post about her experiences living abroad. 


Foreigner is a word we Americans don’t particularly like to use, it seems to to be excluding and derogatory. However, now that I am living abroad in a host culture, I use the word regularly and freely in reference to myself. I find it very helpful.  For instance, when I go to the market to buy yogurt and don’t bring my own container to fill out of a large barrel, I can blame the fact that I am a foreigner.  Or, if I see a woman smack her child across the face because they tripped and fell in a puddle, I can recoil in horror because I am a foreigner.  Likewise, when my neighbors visibly flinch that my children go outside without hats on a balmy October day I can say I am a foreigner.  It means that I am not from here: I don’t know how things work.  I need grace, guidance, space, and time to understand.

Another aspect of being a foreigner is that I cannot control how I am seen.  In my home culture I know how to dress or act to be acceptable in many groups or unacceptable, if that is what I desire.  As a foreigner I cannot blend in: I stick out, I am seen by everyone.  I am the subject of curiosity, young children want to pet my skin or touch my hair.  Every small habit is watched with great interest such as, people here apparently do not hum in public.  I can also attract unwanted attention.  Natural clothing choices can be misinterpreted as lewd.  For instance, the American neckline is at least 2 inches lower than every woman’s neckline here.

I also symbolize something that I cannot control.  In my host nation I have met many wonderful people who have shown great hospitality.  However, I still walk down the street and attract stares of fear or mistrust and sometimes hate.  I have not met or offended these people personally.  I try to smile and meet their gaze with openness, but what I symbolize is too powerful for them to just see me.  I cannot hope to know how that prejudice was born in their heart from a personal encounter, some rhetoric, or just rumors.  I am not sure if they think I am a spy or will take their job or blow them up.  It’s something I have to live with because I am a foreigner.

The beautiful thing about being a foreigner is that it opens your eyes to the world as being vast. It makes your home very dear.  It causes you to see yourself as you truly are: naked, blind, poor.  It also has given me great empathy for foreigner people in my homeland.  If I may, I want to share as a foreigner what has made me feel at home.  It was not buying the local hats that each family member wears to denote status (although we did that and it was fun).  It was not adopting local customs in how we eat, sleep, and do life (although we are doing that as well). It was when my language tutor let me cry because I missed my family.  It was the shopkeeper that I frequent who described me as “My friend” to another customer.  It was the lady who left her stall and led my husband all around the market to find a shirt for my son’s school performance the next day.  It was the neighbor who came over and patiently let me try my language.  Or the other neighbor who wanted to get to know me, so we chatted with google translate punctuated with lots of hand gestures, animated faces, and laughing.  These things make me feel less foreign and let me enjoy being a foreigner.  I do not belong to this land, but it is opening its arms to welcome me in all of my foreignness.


Our guest blogger suggested these two organizations as ways you can take action to welcome foreigners.

The Pamoja House

"Pamoja" is the Swahili word for "together."  Located in Lake Oswego, Oregon, Pamoja House was established to see immigrants in SW Portland becoming successful and contributing members of the community.

The Salem Alliance Church - Salem for Refugees

Based in Salem, Oregon, the Holcomb family work to see refugees, churches, and the community engage in mutually transformative relationships that draw people to Jesus.

What ways have you felt foreign?  What ways have you welcomed foreigners?  Let us know in the comments. 

Sunday, June 18, 2017

I Am Wonder Woman

I remember the first time I read something where the author used inclusive pronouns. Reading right along, "he this", "he that", "she this". Stopped me in my tracks. 

Now, I'd taken Latin in high school. I understood the grammatical convention behind using masculine pronouns as the default. I'd never felt excluded by the generic masculine pronouns. But seeing a generic feminine pronoun I felt included. The author intentionally meant for me to be included. It's the difference between:

not intentionally excluding
intentionally including.
That said, the new Wonder Woman movie is transformative. I didn't have to imagine myself fighting with the superheroes. I was the superhero. The movie stopped me in my tracks like the first time I read an inclusive pronoun. I was intentionally included. 

This sounds dry and academic. However the effect was anything but. I insisted on sitting through all the credits, processing. I cried as something indefinable inside broke open and started healing. My jaw was set with determination for a solid hour after I left the movie. I resolved to get that "nevertheless she persisted" t-shirt I'd been meaning to buy.

As a wonderful bonus, in addition to being a women superhero, Diana reflected me also in her temperament and outlook. This is right, that is wrong, I'm going to do what's right. I cried as she leapt out of the trenches to cross no man's land (ha!) to save the village. It's impossible, but it is right and honorable, so we do it. 

I'm appreciative that the movie was set in World War One. Nazis are too easily evil, and overdone. WWI let Diana see that things aren't cut and dry, right and wrong, good and evil. Realizing that sucks. It's a pit in our stomach. We collapse and can't stand up. Our world reels. But! But. Even though things are messy, Diana fights for truth. It's more complicated and difficult than before, but it's even more important now. 

Wonder Woman is a postmodern superhero movie that still holds on to truth and goodness. And Wonder Woman includes us women in the fight for that truth. RAWR!!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2016

Who Executes Justice for the Oppressed

When I’m not sure what to read in the Bible, I sometimes go with the daily lectionary.  It’s a three year cycle of daily readings used by some parts of the Church.  So, I meant to read Psalm 145.  But, due to sleepy brain, I read Psalm 146.  All that to say, I found some cool nuggets to share.  Thanks for letting me share them with you!

               5Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
                              whose hope is in the LORD his God,
               6who made heaven and earth,
                              the sea, and all that is in them,
               who keeps faith forever;
                              7who executes justice for the oppressed,
                              who gives food to the hungry.
Psalm 146:5-7 (ESV)

Check out the contrast of this passage between verse six and seven.  First, the Lord God made everything—heaven, earth, the sea, and all of us in them. All the birds, plants, animals, and people.  At the pivot in between, the psalmist reminds us that this Creator God keeps faith forever, always, non-stop, without ceasing.  Then, this grand, majestic God concerns Himself with the least of us. He executes justice for the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.  We humans don’t give much attention to the oppressed.  It seems the less we know, we don’t have to feel uncomfortable and the oppressors can keep and grow their power.  And the hungry we help out around Thanksgiving and Christmas, maybe drop a coin or two in the red kettles and let those organization help those people. 

But.  But!  The creator of all—pause right there.  How much attention do we give to the creator of Apple or Microsoft?  How much attention do they give us?  But God, the Creator, keeps faith, and executes justice for the oppressed.  He notices them, He notices their oppression, and makes justice happen for them.  The oppressed aren’t a statistic or an infographic in a newsfeed to God.  He is with them, Immanuel.  He is the God who sees, El Roi.  He recognizes that they are oppressed, and He does something about it.  He keeps faith forever.

And another amazing thing?  This Creator, faithful, seeing, with us God, invites us to create, be faithful, really see people, and be with them.  He invites us to recognize the oppressed—in our community and around the world.  To recognize our human sister or brother and their experience.  To name and call out their oppression.  And to work for their justice. 

Too often, though, I find myself like this: 
Ostrich with its head in the ground
If I don't see it, it doesn't exist, right?
My heart hurts when I start seeing the oppressed and I feel too tiny, powerless.  I can bury my head in the endless sand of silly cell phone games and entertainment, letting my heart atrophy to avoid the pain.  But then, I’m denying who I was made to be.  With my head and heart deadened by entertainment, my silence and my dollars inadvertently prop up the oppressors. 

If my heart breaks when I see the oppressed, I must remember that the creator of all is faithful forever.  And that includes being faithful to me, too.  This Advent, we remember that God came, that He is the God with us.  We are not forgotten.  So neither should we forget.  The most often repeated command in the Bible is, “Fear not!”  Don’t fear when your heart hurts.  Don’t fear when you feel too small.  Don’t fear to see and be with people, to really love.  God keeps faith forever. 

Here are verses seven through nine reworded to encourage us—me and you—to put feet to our reflections on this psalm.                              

The Lord, who executes justice for the oppressed.
How can I concretely work for justice for the oppressed today? 

Who gives food to the hungry.
Who can I feed today, who would have otherwise gone hungry?

The Lord sets the prisoners free.
In a literal sense, how can I work for prison reform today?  In a figurative and very real sense, who do I know, including myself, that is in mental, emotional, or spiritual bondage that I can touch with kindness today? 

The Lord opens the eyes of the blind.
How can I help to open the eyes of the blind today?  How do my own eyes need to be opened today?

The Lord lifts up those who are bowed down.
What burdens can I lighten or remove from people today, to allow my sisters and brothers to stand upright in their dignity as a daughter or son of God?

The Lord loves the righteous.
How can I love those quietly working to put things right—the righteous—today?  And, how can I tangibly love the self-righteous?

The Lord watches over the sojourners.
How can I protect the vulnerable today, those fleeing everything they’ve ever known, seeking safety and stability?

He upholds the widow and the fatherless,
How can I provide help to those experiencing the crushing grief and financial burden of losing a husband, wife, father, or mother?

But the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
How can I bring ruin to the way and systems of wickedness today, while loving those perpetuating those systems—unknowingly and knowingly? 
That’s a tall order of actions to take.  But—I’m preaching to myself here—don’t be an ostrich.  Don’t be afraid to let your heart hurt.  God came, He is with us!  There is hope!  Small acts of kindness and justice add up.  Do what you know and are called to today—however small, huge, or scary.  God will mend our hearts and be with us. 

               The LORD will reign forever,
                              your God, O Zion, to all generations.
               Praise the LORD!
Psalm 146:10 (ESV)

May I suggest one act to take today?  My friend Danielle is participating in Dressember, where she wears a dress every day in December to raise awareness about the grievous oppression of sex trafficking.  You can watch this TEDx talk to learn more: “How a Dress Can Change the World”

You can also donate to her fundraising page, supporting International Justice Mission.  And bonus!  Every donation will be matched by an anonymous supporter of Feet for Freedom, up to the first $1,000 donated. Thank you for your generosity!