Saturday, November 24, 2007

Awkward Silence

We're always looking for opportunities to interact with people here. I think one of the neatest things is how God continues to bring us to people who are willing to interact with us on a deeper level despite the fact that we are foreigners.

One weekend not long ago, we were invited by a friend to visit them in their family's "country home," where they like to spend most of their summers. They have a child the same age as ours, and they love to play together. Of course, we recognized this invitation as a great opportunity to spend time with nationals. We consider it an act of God whenever someone actually wants to be around us. This was an even bigger deal, as we were invited into their home, something people here just don't normally do. Our entire relationship started when my wife, desperate to find a friend, and friend, walked up to this woman siting on a bench and just started talking to her. It was a great opportunity.

I didn't want to go.

I feel bad that I didn't want to go. Really. How terrible of me to not even be the least bit excited about building a relationship with these nice people. But I felt fake. I have nothing in common with these folks. The husband is twice my age. It felt so forced, so fake.

We drove the hour-long half hour's drive in silent anticipation of that awkward feeling we've felt so many times before. In my head, I was scripting the dialogue that would inevitably take place. How do you like the weather here? How is work? Did you hear about the new movie theater they're building? I wanted to add, "Why did you invite us?" or "What's the point of all this?" I knew I wasn't really going to ask those questions, though, because I probably knew better than they did what prompted them to invite a family of foreigners to spend the day with them.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Friendly Fire

The longer I'm on the field, the more out-of-touch I become with my home culture. I suppose this is natural, but it can make communication with people back home difficult, to say the least. Take my blog, for example. The misunderstanding seems to get worse the harder I try to clarify my thoughts and opinions. This is especially apparent with the arrival of partners from the States. The other day I had a conversation with a new arrival that was, um, disjointed to say the least. He asked about my favorite Christian music. I don't have any. He asked about several church planting conferences he had been to. I hadn't even heard of a single one. He asked if I knew any of the (according to him, at least) movers and shakers in Christian circles in the States. I tried to play the name-drop game too, but I don't really know anyone who's someone. (No offense if you're someone I know.) I haven't read the latest Christian bestseller (I can't even name one), and I don't care about what Al Mohler thinks about anything.

My friend was surprised that the things that were important to him weren't important to me. For him, it wasn't okay that I wasn't up on all the latest Christian news. He (seriously!) doubted my spiritual maturity because I thought that MyPraize or GodTube were good ideas. He questioned my understanding of scripture because I'm not enamored with Mike Huckabee (who is apparently the only presidential candidate a Christian should vote for).

Back home there are training programs to help teach Christians how to interact with lost people. I need one to help me learn how to relate to church people.

Why is it that church people are some of the most difficult people of all? Where everyone else gives you the benefit of the doubt, leave it to the religious folks to point out every flaw. Lost people call you "different," saved people call you a heretic. I don't understand that. I don't understand why the same Christians who cop out of rational debates with nonchristians by using blind faith arguments insist on using logic to prove their points in conversations with fellow believers. I don't understand how God's people back home can claim to love people, but ignore the lost and fight with the saved.

Why is it that I regularly have commenters who attack me? How could anyone chastise me for sharing what God is teaching me with an admonition ("Don't bite the hand that feeds you!" "You don't know how good you have it!")? I'm not complaining here. I can take criticism and disagreement. I can admit that I'm not always (hardly ever?) right. I just don't understand why do so many Christians consider those they disagree with (in knee-jerk reaction) to be enemies?

Maybe I just don't get Christians.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Greek To Me

I may not know you, but I can pretty safely say that you do not speak ancient Greek. Maybe you've studied it, I'm sure you can define a noun, parse a verb, or analyze the grammar. You might even be clever enough to make a witty joke in the biblical language. But you don't speak ancient Greek.

Don't tell me that in no uncertain terms, you know what the original text means, because you don't. Your understanding comes from popular interpretation (Or your Greek teacher, or a lexicon, or some fancy computer software.) Please stop using "panta ta ethne" as your basis for missions strategy. Please stop trying to trump everyone else's argument by saying that you know foe certain that biblical "oinos" was weaker than modern wine.

Greek scholarship is important. Without it, we would have poor translations of the Scriptures, and we'd have little to go in in terms of the original context and cultural implications of the text. But you are not a scholar, you are a preacher. You are a blogger who took the same Intro to Greek course I took (and my professor was probably better than yours.) You are a seminary professor who thinks that no one should be allowed to question you if you quote the Greek. Stop it, please.

You treat Koine Greek like it's some secret knowledge that gives you greater enlightenment and brings you closer to God. You act as though you are the keeper of all truth and wisdom because your theologies are built on God's own language. But God doesn't only speak Greek (Or Hebrew, or Aramaic).

So stop looking down your nose at me because you think that my understanding is founded in some misunderstanding of the original language. I've got the same interlinear Bible you've got.

Did I mention that you don't speak ancient Greek? The language is no longer tied to a surviving culture. If learning a second language has taught me anything, it's that all living languages are dynamic. A phrase has a literal meaning, a commonly used one, and a colloquial one, and all are "correct." Meanings can differ from town to town, nevermind region to region. When you add to that Greek was imposed in multiple cultures who lived together, you've got layers and layers of meaning; layers that you weren't around to observe.

So how about qualifying all of your pompous predications with "Many scholars agree..." Can we replace "The actual meaning of the original Greek is..." with "A possible meaning might be..."? Sure there is a right understanding and interpretation of Biblical text. But if that understanding doesn't come from illumination of the Holy Spirit, we're not going to get it from a dead language.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

I'm Running for President

That's right, of the U.S. of A. The way I see it, an anonymous blogger has just as good a chance as anyone these days. I'm not sure if I'd run as a Democrat or a Republican; I may even start a new party. My platform will be "I'm not a politician," and my strategy is "cut the crap."

For starters, I'd refuse to play political word games. "Tax cuts," for example, is a really bad way to say "collect less taxes." Also, when Hillary Clinton accuses me of "tax cuts that go to help the wealthiest 2% of Americans, I'll show her the math- taxes are charged in the form of percentages. Because the wealthy people pay a whole lot in taxes, lowering them will "help" them more than, say the welfare recipients that don't pay any.

Criminals are not all the same. Violent criminals should be punished, but more effort should be made to rehabilitate criminals such as drug dealers and users, prostitutes, and people who commit fraud. Besides, if we really want to punish them, we should make them go to school and work 9-5 jobs on construction crews.

And then there's gun control. I hate guns. People that play with guns are creepy. But setting stricter gun control laws (background checks, waiting periods, taxes, requiring licenses and locks, etc.) is really ridiculous. Criminals don't buy their guns at Wal-Mart. They either steal them or buy them from a guy named Skeezy who stands on the corner all day in a puffy jacket. (Skeezy, by the way, isn't disposed to conducting background checks or paying taxes. )

I'd bring home nearly all of our troops, and make the U.S. military in charge of protecting our borders, ports, and resources. Isn't that what they're for anyway? Defense? I'd put military air marshals on every plane, and I'd put lots of money into cyber-, psych-, mech- and other non-lethal types of warfare.

I'd ask Americans to tighten their belt buckles. It seems that every U.S. president has resisted doing this, but for the sake of our economy, our resources, and our health, we need to spend, drive, and eat less. "We're in this together!" reminds my favorite WWII propaganda poster. Scaling back voluntarily would help balance our trade deficits, and unify our people. When more money stays in the country, we do better. Collect less taxes from those who really cut back as an incentive, and we might get right-side up in our national debt.

I would increase the base salary for public school teachers and administration, and start a government placement program for student teachers. The only way we're going to get good teachers in our rougher schools is to pay them well. Oh, and to require them to do some time teaching in rough districts before we grant them their teaching certificates.

Health care seems like it would be the easiest. Require all employers to cover their employees regardless of the hours they work, and collect less taxes from those small business that can't otherwise afford it.

Okay, so I've solved all the world's problems. Any questions?
Vote for me!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Language Exchange

In my country of service, the culture has a built-in opportunity for meeting people. It is perhaps the one activity to which we can naturally contribute. They are called "Language Exchange Partnerships," and basically make up an underground network of nationals who are interested for whatever reason in improving their English through conversation with native speakers. It usually works like this: English-learner posts an online ad, introducing himself as vaguely as possible and stating his intentions for the exchange. "I am looking for an American guy to have a drink with and to practice English." Most of them are pretty much the same.

There are the expected, "I just started a new English language course at university," and then there's "I have an English exam in four days, and I want to to cram for the test by pretending to be your best friend until then. After that, I will never return your calls." Okay, so maybe they aren't that honest about their intentions, but you'd be surprised. The other day I saw one by a brutally honest 32 year-old guy. "I an looking for an American or British girl to," well, let's just say he was interesting in exchanging a little more than language.

A sort of etiquette has even been developed for these partnerships. Usually an exchange entails getting together over coffee or drinks and talking. The first hour would be in the national language, and the second or third in English. However awkward the actual conversation might be, it's the easy part compared to finding a willing partner. Contact begins with an email or text message, but such contact does not necessarily imply commitment. The return email or message establishes the meeting point, usually some busy and crowded public place that would make finding your mother difficult. Sort of like "In the middle of Grand Central Station. I'll be wearing a coat." Something like that.

When you finally identify and meet your new language exchange partner, it's exactly like a blind date (from what I've heard). You exchange the usual formalities, where are you from, how long have you been here, why are you learning the language, and so on. This part usually goes as though it were scripted, and usually lasts between fifteen and twenty minutes. That's when The Silence hits. You probably know what I mean, and why I choose to capitalize it, but The Silence can drown you in overwhelming awkwardness. "What more could I possibly say to this person?" you think. "How could we already have exhausted 'what's your favorite...?' -that should last for hours!"

And then it happens. Politics...

I'll spare you some of the experiences I've had with Language Exchange partnerships. I've had many that barely survived that first meeting, and one that lasted three years. The reason I share this is that I'm always talking about how we do relational ministry through activities that are already happening in the community. "We don't do programs or big events," I say. And people always ask what I mean by that. Language Exchange Partnerships are a big part of that.

Think about what an opportunity it is to build a relationships with a national that seeks you out. And not just some guy off the street, but someone who is open to spending time with a foreigner and has some knowledge of English. These relationships provide the perfect setting for us to share life with nationals; talking about our faith, asking questions, and getting to know them personally. For us, this is the beginning of church planting.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Book Tag

When David Rogers tags you, you play along.

1. One book that changed your life: Where the Wild Things Are, Maurice Sendak
2. One book that you’ve read more than once: Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger
3. One book I’d want on a desert island: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain
4. One book that made me laugh: A Series of Unfortunate Events, Lemony Snicket
5. One book that made me cry: The Giving Tree, Shel Silverstein
6. One book that you wish you had written: The Fall of the House of Usher, Edgar Allan Poe
7. One book you wish had never been written: The Growth Spiral, Andy Anderson
8. One book that you are currently reading: The Shadow of the Wind, Carlos Ruiz Zafon
9. One book that you’ve been meaning to read: The Fountainhead, Ayn Rand

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Beat Up By A Seminary Professor

Last week, we were visited by a church planting professor from one of our seminaries. He taught a seminar for some of the workers in our country as part of the IMB's professor-exchange program. He shared church plating strategies and theories, and some basic principles from scripture.

I sent our Journeymen.

These girls have been great at building relationships and engaging the culture here. I've learned a lot from them about sharing life with people by publicly working out their faith. They are pioneers in relational church planting in Western Europe. Their experience makes them the experts; there really isn't anyone who can teach them how to minister in this context. Unfortunately, these particular Journeymen don't feel as though they know what they're doing. They don't understand that despite being young and not having seminary degrees, they are leading the way for cross-cultural missional church planting in the world. There aren't any books written about it. There are no formulas, programs, or training materials to teach them how to do their jobs. They are learning by doing and having a great time on the journey.

The Journeymen came back from their time with the church planting professor very discouraged. It seems that the professor, who has tremendous experience and by nature of his position presents himself as an expert in all things church planting, questioned a lot of what the Journeymen were doing. His questions, of course, were coming from a perspective of no cultural insight, and no understanding of our team. He bullied them. Why weren't they passing out Jesus films? he asked. Why were they just hanging out with nationals if that hadn't worked yet? Why weren't people coming to the Lord and churched being planted? Why don't you just...?

On an academic level, these are good questions, and a good start to a discussion that needs to take place. When I met the professor for coffee the following week, we had a great conversation. But the girls still haven't recovered from it. They are still questioning their ministries, and the direction of the team. "We'd hate to do it and our friends would hate us, but maybe we should be passing out tracts." "What's the point of doing relational ministry of it takes years and years to build a relationship in Western Europe and I'm only here for two or three?"

So now I'm trying to encourage them. The professor doesn't know our context, I reasoned. Our strategy is not accidental, I remind them.

So now I'm convinced: seminary training doesn't make us better church planters.