Sunday, January 29, 2012

Culture Shock

Roses and Dahlias - Difference Beautifying Unity

One thing which has followed me through life as a "missionary kid" and, according to some less happy individuals, a "mut" is culture shock. Not only am I the result of two cultures joining in marriage, but also that interesting mix of habits spun together by living abroad. Since I can remember, the reality that people are different, that there are various ways to approach a topic, that not everyone goes to bed at the same time or speaks the same language or looks the same, has been an obvious part of life. Born in frosty and free Canada, nurtured in the sunny and soulful Dominican Republic, and finally settled in the good, old U. S. of A., I can truly say I am the product of nowhere and everywhere! It is a gift, to be sure. But how does one deal with the clashes, oddities, and miscommunications so common in situations like mine? Does this only happen to people like me, and how does it all fall under Christianity? How can I be a Fair Lady when people have different notions of "Fair"?

Let me show you a bit of the dilemma. When I first stepped foot on United States-ian soil, people acted and spoke in peculiar ways. Their habits contrasted what I had seen both in the D.R. and Canada. I could not say one way was better than another, just...different. Or maybe I was different? Whatever the case, something had to change somewhere before true communication and understanding could take place.

Mine is a mild case. Some people marry into a whole new world. For example, my father's term for washing the dishes is my mother's term for bothering someone. Obviously, "Honey, I can wash the dishes tonight" did not hail the sweet smiles it would in other homes. That is, until my parents came to an understanding, a common ground. This, too, though, is just a funny illustration. Sometimes livelihoods are ruined and friendship dashed due to dissimilar cultures colliding.

I am asked which culture suited me best, or which culture I think is right. A lot of people spend mountains of time trying to figure that last one out. Or they just see the world as shifting sands where no one is right. Here is what I think.

First, praise God for differences! I love going to Canada to smell the smoky air of winter, or pick the luscious strawberries of summer. It is a comfort to know there is a schedule which will be kept and nothing much rocks the boat. And the food. Then again, I enjoy the liveliness of the Dominican culture, the surprise and openness skipping through the sea breeze. And the food. But here is home now, and I delight in home. And the food. Would not the world be boring without this variety?

But, there are jolts to be weathered, too. Stark contrasts, just plain mean circumstances, or dismal happenings which would be funny if it were in a melodrama rear their frightening heads. And a lot of times these divisions are wrong. What can be done about it? For something must be done.

Now is where we stumble upon the whole Fair Lady theme again. Remember my first post, where I introduced the idea of constantly pressing towards the goal of becoming like Christ? How everything in life happens to conform us in to His image? This comes in to play here. All of us, every single child of God, from wherever they hail, all have the one ambition to be Christ's Bride on That Day, to reflect Him in all things. Another way of saying that is we all are running towards one heart, one culture: a Christian culture. No matter whether Dominicans go to bed late and Canadians are early risers (generally) or United Sates-ians crave independence and Peruvians do not mind beholding to someone (generally), there is only one right way of doing things. That is Christianity.

What does this look like? It looks like putting aside all preconceived notions as to right and wrong and opening your life to His Word, subordinating every aspect of it - from the brushing of your hair to the words you choose to say - to Christ. It means a wife cannot tell her husband, "My way is better than your way," unless she has a Scriptural reason for what she does. A Christian cannot do things sheerly for tradition's sake, even if many traditions do conform to Christ, because our desire is for every thing we do to be rooted in His Word, following the path He laid down for us.

Sometimes, adopting a Christian culture will make you behave differently in different circumstances. If you live in Canada, the kind and Godly thing to do, many a time, may be adjusting your clock to wake up early and give people their evenings for refreshment. In the D.R., we early risers will have to learn how to keep our eyelids pasted open and sleep past the sunrise. Why? Because Christianity is about glorifying God and loving your brothers in Christ. That is the bottom line for Christian action, and whenever one's culture does not build from there, it must be abandoned.

So, you wake up in a friend's house a million miles away and you have no idea how to behave. Learn what you can of the way things are done, and when they are Godly, do them. If they do not fall under the banner of Scripture, do not follow, no matter the exhortations to "fit in." Should your habits hurt or hinder your friend or the people with whom your friend is working, change the habits. We want to expand His Kingdom, after all.

It is not too hard. Just be open. Be willing. Give up the control. Let your life reflect Christ's life. Become His Fair Lady.

And will it not One Day be beautiful to see the Dahlias and Roses make one bouquet?

*Image Source:

Monday, January 16, 2012

Anorexia: Body or Soul?

And this is beautiful?

To be honest, I have been at a loss as to what to write next. I cannot discern whether the focus should shift to more nutrition and cooking posts, or if I ought to continue on the Becoming a Fair Lady side of things. Then a friend emailed me and it sparked these thoughts on Anorexia - is it depravity or a disease? Recently, so many ills have been attributed to a complaint of the body. Just like we have naturalized history, philosophy, and ethics, we are now naturalizing morality. Before I push any more buttons, however, let me clarify what I mean by "naturalization".

It is simply this: we have removed all possibility of a spiritual realm from the mind, soul, and body. As a culture, we have denied the fact that there is more to what goes on in our life than mere chemical reactions. When scientists and philosophers claimed "there is no God," they took the Creator away from His creation, stripped the reason from the rhyme. Now all with which we are left are chemicals and reflexes, guided by nothing and going nowhere. This is what I am edging towards when I say we have naturalized morality. It can all be blamed on the neurotransmitters.

Do I deny the biology? No, of course not. We know there are chemical reactions in our bodies which trigger such and such behaviour or movement. I am not out to bash the hard labour of many scientists because I am afraid of the science. But I do not worship science, I worship God. And I embrace the beauty which God shows of Himself through science.

So, where does that leave us? Well, it clears the way for me to answer the question of this post. Is Anorexia a disease of the body or a disease of the mind? Could my outrageous behaviour have been explained solely by chemistry gone wrong? And, whatever the answer is, what are the implications for my life and yours?

Considering everything I said about anorexia before, it is probably obvious I think it is a deceit, a blinding, a sin. There, I said it. After living through it, I can honestly say it is a decision, determined one even if unconscious, to grasp for control of your body and bow down to Man's wishes for your life. Did that throw you off a bit? Well, now I will throw the other camp off a bit. I think there are real physiological issues going on in an anorexic. I can just see everybody shaking their heads. How does this work? Well, my belief is that God designed the human body to house the human soul, amazingly fashioning it to provide a way for us to serve its Creator. How then can we separate the soul from the body? To deny either is to fall into dangerous ditches on both sides of the road.

Now, to marry these two seemingly opposing thoughts, and to bring both under Christ's authority, let us dissect this a little more closely. Take Girl, bombarded with lies, lusting after the idols of her heart, and rejecting the truth of Scripture in favor of worldly demands. She decids to sin. Her heart enticed her to sin. The heart is, as someone wise said, deceitful above all things. Then what happens? She is ensnared in the path of Thin and cannot turn back. A pig likes its mire (it is a harsh analogy, but true). No matter how waif-like she becomes, she will never see herself as anything other than fat because she will never be satisfied with the amount of control she has in her grip. An idol never satisfies, right? Once she achieves some of her wicked goals, the body, not just the mind, starts to break down. Biologically speaking, Girl's homeostasis is ditched and all her feedback functions are fried. The dynamic equilibrium of the body is not so dynamic nor is it so equal. She could not fight back even if she wanted to! Her hormones withered, her sensory abilities flew to Hawaii, and her once coordinated systems are now either warring each other or too weak to put up a fight - against good or bad. God designed the body beautifully to protect itself from a whole host of things, but sin, sin infects all. Creation does groan under the weight of this horrific load. Thus Girl's body. It started with a choice.

There are those who do not admit this choice. Both the "healers" and the "doers" in the world of Anorexia do not want to admit that this is sin. To do that would bring along with the concession ramifications they feel best left alone. What sinner wants to face perfection, and what darkness does not flee light? Not too long ago, I watched a documentary called Dying to Be Thin. Droll name, no? I appreciated much of what it said. I was happy someone was talking about it at all. But it left me feeling empty. Why? Well, its only solution the anorexic problem was therapy and a new method of boosting neurotransmitters so patients once more have a realistic perception of what they look like. Hmmm. I could tell I was painfully thin when I was there, but I never admitted it because I would have to give up control and since I was never satisfied, I reasoned a few more pounds shed would not be too bad. This is not a problem of neurotransmitters, but a deceptive heart. What hope does biological therapy hold for someone caught in Anorexia's web? At best, a life of counting calories to eat the bare minimum to lead a relatively normal life with a few trips to therapy centers when you cannot cope any longer. That is not living, that is surviving. And it certainly is not being a Fair Lady for your Prince.

My point is a purely biological answer has no hope whatsoever for a brighter future.

Thank God for being God, rather than us! There is an answer, and it does not come in a pill or self image classrooms. It comes through a shock to your soul, a piercing of your heart, and an awakening of your mind. It is radical, and it is lasting. It is a divine healing to a spiritual problem. It is called salvation. And predestination, and justification, and sanctification, and, well, you get the idea. It is the life of God in the soul of man as never seen apart from Him. We need a spiritual Conqueror to fight this spiritual battle. And that conqueror is Christ, who now acts in you through His Spirit. He must wrap your heart in His hands and break it from all those horrid desires which has encircled it. He must tear the blinders from our eyes, so long accustomed to trapping us in a path to living hell. Remember Girl? There was no way she could have fought herself out of trouble. Neither could I. That is why only He is the answer to the problem of Anorexia. It is exchanging a lie for a truth, an idol for the God. Once Christ is fighting for us, who can be against? What neurotransmitters can get in the way of their Creator? In Him we can overcome the biological hurdles and leap into a new life. It is not so much an issue of mind over matter as it is Master over matter.
And that gives me hope. Real, true hope. Hope that I do not have to struggle with Anorexia forever, like all those people out there say I will. It means this evil root will be plucked from my heart, never to bother me again, unlike psychologists' assertions that I must be placed in wards and under supervision for the rest of my life for fear I may spiral back to the pit. It means that all those girls who grovel in this situation do not have to grovel anymore. You do not have to fight forever. You are not anorexic, you are a sinner who can be SAVED! One of the things Papa always told me through this was that I was not wedded to this label. I did not have to be marked anorexic like a jar is marked pickles for the rest of my life. I could and should be free. But that only comes through a spiritual transformation. It comes through smashing the jar and forming a chalice instead.

I like that a lot better. What do you want?

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Becoming a Fair Lady in Deed

   This is the last post in our Becoming a Fair Lady series, but it is certainly not the last post about becoming a Fair Lady! I am trying to decide on the next series' topic. Would you like to read more about something already mentioned, or do you have an itching desire for another subject? Drop me a comment and let me know!

   Ah, "Becoming a Fair Lady in Deed". This could turn out to be a pretty dull post, do you not think? We have all sat through books and speakers full of helpful advice on acting with kindness, keeping a pleasant tongue in your head, and cleaning up the spilled milk even when your dog can do a better job as mopper. How many of us have heard about going the extra mile for our brother and being a good Samaritan? Exactly. So I shall attempt not to dwell on the acts of service themselves, but more on the heart attitude prompting the service. You may notice a theme nesting in this blog, that the "heart of the matter is the matter of the heart" as a pastor friend would say. Yes, one cannot step in any good direction if the heart is pulling one back, so here the spotlight shall fall, or at least that is my hope.

   A good introductory question, then, is, "What is a heart of service?" As with all verbose writers, I have to start by describing what it is not. There are two traps awaiting prisoners when it comes to the realm of service. One is the outlook of a sniveling servant, the other of pompous self-deprecation.

   Let's examine the first pseudo-servant. Here we meet Ella*, a girl surpassingly meek, excruciatingly mousy, and furiously busy. She rarely graces the world with a smile because a look of agitation has long since settled on her face. She never complains but neither does she contribute any positive thought to her acquaintances. "Happily useful" is how she describes herself but others would more likely call her wretched. Yet she can get things done, and done well. So she acts like a victim, but she cleaned the church floor without being asked and without leaving a speck! Well, now. What does Scripture say about someone with this kind of servility? For one, Romans 7:6 explains we serve with joy, in the Spirit:

"But now we are released from the law, having died to that which held us captive, so that we may serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the way of the written code."

No moping around this verse! But the next one, 2 Corinthians 9:12 and, is even more direct about the correct attitude of service.

"For the ministry of this service is not only supplying the needs of the saints but is also overflowing in many thanksgivings to God."

So we really ought to be happy when we serve, and thankful, because we serve the Lord's people in the name of our Father. It puts scrubbing dishes in a different light, do you not think? Ella's grimacing heart makes Christian service impossible because Christians serve with joy.

   Then let's saunter over to the other pseudo-servant. Enter Emma*, a pretty, engaging, comfortable young woman who flits about doing this and that to serve others. Everyone likes her, and she likes everyone else. Perfectly polished, she does not find it beneath her to dirty her prim hands in a crowd. She serves well and enjoys it to boot - that is, when there are enough eyes in the room. You guessed it, Emma is our "look at how well I washed the pot-providence dishes" servant. We all know this kind; oh, please, we have all been this kind! Emma finds it a joy to serve and share when people are watching, but look out if she feels slighted by not receiving praise! A public "thank you" is all she wants because that is what she deserves, right? Where would all these people be without her? In her head runs a frenzied list of the messy kitchens, crying babies, undecorated sanctuaries, etc., had it not been for her. The list is frenzied because she remembers every little thing she ever did for anyone else, and stores in her heart the names of those who did not give Emma her due. This is not a happy heart, either, is it? At least with Ella we knew her agony, but Emma is the volcano waiting to explode! Scripture speaks of pompous service rather harshly, while upholding humility as the gift most to be sought. Ephesians 6:5-7 and Matthew 23:12 deal the death blow to Emma's way of thinking:

"Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, with a sincere heart, as you would Christ, not by the way of eye-service, as people-pleasers, but as servants of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart, rendering service with a good will as to the Lord and not to man, knowing that whatever good anyone does, this he will receive back from the Lord, whether he is a slave or free."

"Whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted."

   And then we have that perfect example of Jesus, humbling Himself through becoming a man, leading a life of poverty, washing the feet of those who would betray Him, and finally dying the ignominious death of crucifixion. This is to what we should aspire. This is a heart of service.

   So, what is the true heart of service? It is one of joyful captivity, contented slavery, worshipful homage. Joyful captivity takes away all distaste from service, no matter how distasteful it may be. It rejoices in the position of servitude, it wants for no other. Contented slavery excludes grumbling and complaining, leaving in their place a quiet, peaceful longing to be used. Worshipful homage brings forth a servant who feels it an honor to serve. He is completely overwhelmed with awe for his King and sees it as a mercy to wipe the floor after His footsteps. Little does he seek for a word of praise. Why should he be praised when His King is here? He knows he is safe and privileged where he stands because his King is Christ, the God Almighty. This servant grasps how great his Master is, but even more amazing, beholds what that Master did for him. The King rescued the worthless wretch. How could this wretch now not serve with his whole heart, with everything he has, with surpassing joy? That is the true heart of service. When we live for our King and only our King, when we live in the light of What has been done for us, when we see just how much we can never pay back, service then becomes a blessing - a means to praise, not be praised. Then we will be able to go the extra mile and wipe away the spilled milk - because the King wiped away our tears.

And that concludes this series.

*Ella, you know, Cinderella? And then Emma is inspired by Austen's heroine. If you have no idea what I am talking about, don't worry.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

A Puritan Recording

I will probably post about the happenings at Librivox in due time, but I could not wait to share this first solo recording. The Life of God in the Soul of Man is a friendly letter from one Puritan to his struggling friend. This book pushed me along to becoming a Fair Lady.

The recording project is a team effort. Just because I read it does not mean no one else was involved. So, thanks, Libivox, for this wonderful opportunity! You should peruse their catalog and see what other goodies they have to offer, all free.

Note: To the right you will see I added a link to all the recordings I have done with Librivox so far. The list keeps growing every week, so be sure to check every once in a while.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Green the Whole Year Round

Christmas has passed and the New Year zipped through yesternight’s sky. Some of us have already had time to break our grandiose resolutions. There is work to be done, school to study, and life to be lived. Now comes the busy, bleak mid-winter.
Not over here, though! Our Christmas decorations still adorn our mantle and the tree continues to glow through the night. See, our New Year resolution is to have Christmas all year round. Does not Christmas celebrate the birth of our King and the sacrifice He made? Are we not simply celebrating our salvation? And that lasts all year long. 
So, we as a family are going to spread the Christmas spirit through all of 2012, and have a grand time doing it. Yes, I will still have work to do, school to study, Librivox to record, and piano to practice. But I will work, study, read, and practice with a holiday tune singing in my head, and a Christmas celebration ringing in my heart.
Care to join me?