Wednesday, March 25, 2020

New Normals are Hard

Introduction to the cross-cultural mindset series…
In honor of completing ten years of working and living cross culturally I had dreamed about a monthly blog post reflecting on what we have learned and especially focusing on topics that we think would be applicable to others regardless of where you are, what you do, or if you ever plan on living cross-culturally.

What I didn’t plan for is that I would be writing this in one of the most turbulent times of my life in one of the craziest years yet. And I am sure that will certainly affect some of these topics, nevertheless, I would still love to share bits of hard earned understanding this year regardless of what is going on around us.

So I am starting with something that I think is relevant to most people, especially in areas hard hit by the novel coronavirus. Why new normals are so hard?

What happens when you are in a new culture? Especially in a different country with a different language? You know, when everything is new…? This is what happens when you first start working and living cross-culturally.

Often times one of the things you will find missionaries or expats getting trapped in is a routine. They find one place that has the food the like or one shop owner that helped them one time and they continue to go back to them, even when it ceases to make sense. I have seen missionaries ask a shop owner about government procedures instead of forming a new relationship with a person in that office. They, we, do this because every day in a new culture is well…new. And therefore tiring, so you look for shortcuts.I can still remember the many friends our first year who tried to fulfill new requests or ask questions which in reality they were not at all qualified to answer, yet they were all we had.

Today you wake up and it will be a joy and a surprise to find out what the five new words that you learned the day before can get you now that you could not get the day before. It can be amazing to experience the simple time and energy that it takes learning a new recipe and finding the ingredients all in the midst of forming new relationships and maintaining some semblance of productivity. And the biggest thing with all of this is simply how much energy it takes. I never slept more then my first year in Tanzania simply because of how much energy it takes to wake up to an ever adjusting normal, with a steep learning curve, seemingly no routine, new cultural rules, and a constant uncertainty of what is coming next. This is not a normal space for adults who often have routines, a basic understanding of cultural expectations, and several constants in life whether it is friends, family, work, or something else.

And all of that takes energy. If you want to break out, adapt to the new normal, thrive then it takes even more energy and not a little intentionality.

So, in this time of constant shift and change in the US and around the world I have some advice.
1)    Take a deep breath
2)    Get some extra sleep
3)    Don’t neglect your routine
4)    Don’t confuse anxiety and lack of energy (there is plenty of anxiety to go around, but sometimes all you need is rest)

This too shall pass and it will be okay. But obviously, and yet for many of us oddly enough, it does take a new normal to deal with a new normal. The missionaries who fail in the field are those who never adapt to their new normal, whether they are there three months or twenty years. So even if this is three weeks let us adjust, live into our new intentions, take on new roles by checking on loved ones and helping our neighbors, and live fully in this moment. If the past ten years is anything to go by when all of this is said and done we will have found ourselves different then we were before and that can be a very, very good thing. 

Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Mighty God: The Greatest Christmas Gift

This morning, as I was up early reading, Kaleb woke up and came and cuddled with me. It is Christmas Eve and since this is only his second Christmas in the US in his seven years of life he does not always understand the unspoken signs that Christmas has arrived since they are so different from what we have in Tanzania. So we started talking about Christmas Eve, Christmas day, what we are celebrating, why we give gifts, etc. It is one of those quiet moments that I value so much with my children when I get to share without the constant background noise that seems to invade the life of a family of five.

Mostly Kaleb and I talked about why we give gifts and what gift to us does Christmas represent which is the most important gift of all. Today I want to look at the amazing gift we receive on Christmas by reflecting on the second title bestowed on Christ through the prophecy of Isaiah 9:2-7, Mighty God. Feel free to check out my reflections on Wonderful Councilor here. Walter Brueggemann focuses in on two major points with this name. The first is that the term Mighty refers to military might so that Jesus is being recognized as the Lord of Hosts or as the prince over the forces of the heavenly realm. The second point is that Jesus is a carrier of the divine. It was an understanding in the nation of Israel that the king was the connection point between the people and God, and therefore was a carrier of the divine. Jesus works to take this a step further in that he is not just a connection between the people and God, but by being divine himself, he carriers the spirit of life inside of himself and brings it as a gift to all people through his birth.

Psalm 103:3-5 talks about what this new gift of life is like. Jesus comes to forgive, heal, redeem, satisfy our desires with good things, and crown us with love and compassion (emphasis added). Jesus, as the carrier of the divine, brings us these gifts on Christmas. Does this match up with the gifts that we normally feel like we are getting on Christmas?

When I was a youth director I would take the youth Christmas shopping a few Saturdays before Christmas with the goal of having some fun and giving the youth a chance to buy Christmas presents for their families. We certainly had fun, but I am not sure how many presents were purchased for their family members J. It was a crazy time of the year to be at the mall because at that time of year the mall was full of hurried, harassed, harried people trying to get ready for Christmas, trying to get ready for a life giving Christ by finding the perfect thing for others.

We do this too often. We are trying to buy our way into this life we have been promised by the birth of a Mighty God onto earth, when it will never be possible. I have enjoyed over the last several years the shift I have seen towards experiences over things, but I don’t think we are quite there yet because the focus is still on a fulfilment by something temporary, just as the Israelites made the mistake of trying to find security in an earthly king who would one day pass away.

I hope that we can focus even for a few moments this year on receiving the gift of a Mighty God, the gift of a life giver, and reimagine what responding to that gift should look like by thinking of how we can…
·      Give of ourselves to others
·      Give ourselves a break (let’s stop being afraid of missing out)
·      Give ourselves in worship* to God

How can we give life to others in a variety of ways so that this world can be filled with life as God intended it to be instead of the death of morals, death of community, death of individuals who have been overwhelmed by lack of connection, death of authenticity and honest living, death of caring for those outside of our tribe? The list of precious things dying could go on and on, but today we get to receive a gift of life as a Mighty God is born as a new baby. And that is the greatest Christmas gift of all.

*Christmas time in Tanzania is always marked, not by giving so many things, but by spending time in worship (often all day on Christmas day or multiple days around Christmas). I miss that sometimes.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Wonderful Councilor: How Jesus calls us to reimagine the Christmas Season

I am using Walter Brueggemann's Names for the Messiah: An Advent Study this advent season as a different way to move through the Advent Season. This is especially helpful since we won't be at one consistent church this Advent Season which makes it hard to keep a consistent theme or teaching throughout this time of year.

The book is focused on Isaiah 9:2-7 and the four names that were used in that passage. These names, while originally meant for a different king have come to focus on what type of Messiah or King that Jesus will be. The first one is Wonderful Councilor. 

What Walter Brueggemann focuses on in his introduction of this first name is that many of us, when we hear the title of Christ being announced, that Jesus is being called a “wonderful counselor” but in reality the name is “wonderful councilor.” Jesus is not being called to listen to people and give advice, instead he is being announced as the new government administrator who is responsible for bringing about a new government.

As Christians we acknowledge that Advent, or the Christmas season, is a time of preparation for the birth of Christ. What the first of Jesus’ titles in Isaiah 9 is reminding us of is that the Christmas season is not about the beginning and ending of feelings of good cheer, but rather the beginning of something more. This idea of the Christmas spirit being all year round is common and a commonly echoed wish in many of our lives during Christmas time. So many good things happen around Christmas like food and clothing drives, donations for various causes, volunteering at various non-profits, and a focus on gift-giving to others. It is a time of the year known for transforming scrooges into generous benefactors and for reminding us what is truly important, such as families and relationships.

Jesus however, came to implement a new kingdom, not simply a slightly more generous season of giving. His title as councilor ushers in a new government with new policies, programs, and values. The transfer of administrations often means new government employees, campaign promises to fulfill, and voters to satisfy. The difference this time is that the agenda is not being set by a human hand, but God’s own hand.

The point however, is that this is a season of preparation for permanent change, not simply as a nice sentimental suggestion, but as a requirement. Therefore, we need to seriously think about how to move from the charity of the moment, towards a new way of living. Moving from soup kitchens to removing food deserts and reducing homelessness. Moving from dropping coins in a budget to dropping consumerism as a way of life with is actually leading to the death of our planet, economy, and family relationships. Move from volunteering in a great cause to building relationships with vulnerable or oppressed populations, relationships which will inform our lives and living year around.

We need to make this change as Christians, not just if we want to, as if Jesus’ title was “Wonderful Counselor” and he had made these suggestions to us while in a little office with a leather couch, but remembering that Jesus’ title is Wonderful Councilor and he is coming to institute a new way of life for all people.