Sunday, February 28, 2016

What we assume that just ain't so (not always, anyway)

What cultural assumption inform your reaction to this photo?

I find it interesting that my workplace is among the most diverse in Arkansas. I don't have statistics to prove this, but the fact that I have colleagues from four different countries (EXcluding the US) and that most of the teaching staff has lived for varying amounts of time out of the US, I think I can safely make that assumption. In addition, everyday we work with only international students, so we have a pretty international worldview as far as US workplaces are concerned.

Yet, I'm often amused (and occasionally disappointed) by how Western and distinctly American is our advice to students. Many a time I've sat in my office listening to an instructor give life advice to a student that has caused me to think, "But that's so outside what they would see as cultural accurate or appropriate!" In any culture, we are often blind to the assumptions that we have about life, about what is most valuable and desirable. Evidently, even those with cross-cultural experience often fail to note it.

 Yesterday I was reading the Minnesota Council of Churches Refugee Services Refugee Co-sponsorship Guide. In it was this list of characteristic descriptors of US culture. I thought it was a good, accurate list.

  • A belief in rugged individualism where people see themselves as independent and autonomous, rather than integrally related to a family unit or ethnic group
  • A system whereby positions and material resources are given as rewards for personal achievement, not based on need
  • A concern for efficiency and for solving problems in a pragmatic way, regardless of personal feelings
  • A limited need for privacy, other than physical privacy
  • A preference for separation of the elderly from the rest of society
  • An acceptance of displays of affection in public
  • An expectation that families will often be separated by long distances
  • A lack of acceptance of the world as it is and strong efforts to change it
  • A view that mental, managerial, and scientific labor is inherently superior to manual and service-oriented labor
  • A rational worldview where events can be explained and reasons for particular occurrences can be determined, rather than a belief in fate
  • A confidence that people with opposing viewpoints can be faced directly and intentionally confronted
  • A social order where the primary motivation is competition rather than cooperation

Your thoughts?

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Once They are Here

Obviously, there's been a lot of talk about refugees in recent days. Specifically it's the Syrian refugee crisis that has been dominating headlines. I understand people's fears. I understand people's concerns. Safety. Way of life. Expense. I've heard these concerns and more. I understand why people are encouraging their senators and representatives, trying to halt the flow. Whether I agree or not, I understand.

But, here's my question: What should our response be once they are here?

I don't mean Syrians specifically. I mean refugees. ...including Syrians and others from "suspicious areas". Once they're here, how should we respond?

I'm not sure what the general population thinks, but I think I know how Jesus thinks:
  • The "good Samaritan" dared to help someone, putting himself at personal risk. (It could've been a trap. The robbers may have been lurking nearby.) This is "being a neighbor". I should likewise help others, even if it may endanger myself.
  • I've heard people complain that "those people" want to hurt us. That they are our enemies. But Jesus said, "But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust (Matthew 5:44-45 ESV)." Guess what! You can't love people without getting involved! That's right! Engage the enemy... with LOVE!
  • Jesus asked the Father to forgive those who were literally killing him. And I mean literally in the literal sense, not the ironic sense. If he can do that, and if I'm supposed to follow his lead... Oh, my goodness...
  • Jesus said that perfect love casts out fear. If I have no fear before God, I ought have no fear before man. "So we can confidently say, 'The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?' (Hebrews 13:6 ESV) What, indeed?
  • And if I do fear?
Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you. Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. And after you have suffered a little while, the God of all grace, who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you. To him be the dominion forever and ever. Amen. (1 Peter 5:6-11 ESV) 

  • And this...
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’(Matthew 25:34-40 ESV)” 
I think Jesus would say, "Welcome them. Welcome them into your communities. Welcome them into your homes. Love them. Help them. Be light to them." I see in Jesus no other response but this.

We may disagree with our federal government. We may assert that our leaders are foolish and irresponsible for letting certain people into this country. Maybe it truly is in the best interest of the country to exclude certain kinds of refugees. In that, perhaps it is okay to put our country first.

Be that as it may, can we at least agree that once refugees arrive, one they are here, once they are in our neighborhoods and communities, our hearts and lives must be guided by a higher authority and higher values than patriotism and safety?

Saturday, February 6, 2016

About a Beer (and the Absurd)

Last Friday night, as my family and our exchange student were returning home, we stopped at the local Walmart Neighborhood Market. I wanted to buy some bitters and cherries, Liao Sha wanted to buy toothpaste, and our exchange student needed some contact solution. While there, I decided to grab some cheap beer.

We arrived at the checkout line together. I was asked for ID, which I'm used to. The cashier than asked for Liao Sha's ID, which she provided. Our exchange student is underage (as you would expect of a high school student), so the cashier refused to sell me the beer. She even put it under the register, where I couldn't access it.

Eventually, the manager sold it to me without a problem. Yet, I left with an odd dissonance: In China, parents can send their kids to the neighborhood market to buy beer (or stronger). In the US, I couldn't buy it because not everyone I was with, someone who really could theoretically be my daughter, was 21. Isn't there a happy medium somewhere?

Two observations:
  1. Sin affects everyone. Breaking laws just because you want to is, in fact, sinful. If young people would simply be willing to follow the law, there would be no qualms about selling alcohol to a 37 year old man. If people did not buy alcohol for underaged young people, there also would have been nary a second thought about whether to sell the beer to me. As it is, because people are rebellious, others have to suffer.
  2. Broken community leads to distrust. In China, most people know their community shop people well. You know the corner grocery people, and they know you. You know their kids, and they know yours. People know one another. There's little danger of selling a 7-year-old a bottle of beer for his dad when the seller knows the child and the father. One way or another, the truth will come out quickly if it's not legit.
I expect Chinese society will become more restrictive in the future. In the US, I assume we'll continue to reside in absurdity.