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.