Category Archives: Culture

Something We Can Agree On: From the Aftermath of The Sandy Hook School Shooting

This goes with a complimentary post:

Art of Advocacy: How the Sandy Hook Shooting Can Awaken Us

***********************************

After the horrific Sandy Hook Shooting a week ago, where almost thirty people were brutally murdered, I was sent this post written by fiction novelist and analyst, Joel Rosenberg. It doesn’t take long to infer he is a classic right-winged W.A.S.P.  Actually, I agreed overall with what he had written in his post. But I was irked by it too. It seemed so . . . generic.

Indeed, Americans need to be better, different, remade.

Yes, we need our schools to be great (we just differ on how this looks).

We want our politics to be awesome (again, where we are all but unified).

Indeed, we should stop bad people and keep guns from bad people (yes, that includes both concerned sides of the gun debate).

Then, undoubtedly, we really need our families to improve.

Oh, and maybe we shouldn’t let our eight-year-olds whittle their days away playing Assassins Creed.

We need to stop sinning. Pretty sure that is a given.

(On a quick side-note, no pointing fingers! We are all guilty of sinning, so stop saying it is the people who kill their babies’ fault, or God’s wrath on us because some people sleep with whomever- I’m pretty sure self-righteousness, pride, lying, lusting over porn, etc… all qualify as sins too). 

Lastly, it should be obvious that there is evil in our world, even though there is a lot of good stuff in the world too (Look at my rant on this here if you haven’t yet).

To all of this- No kidding!

Not to be mean to or anything, but thanks for stating the obvious, buddy (Rosenberg)! Even so, maybe sometimes someone does need to state the obvious.

Yes, we need help to be transformed, and I believe we should pray. I believe we can only be remade by seeking out the life Jesus promises (for many reasons, feel free to ask why).

But instead of focusing on guns, politics, prayer, schools, religion mixed with politics, views on abortion, video games, military, etc… all which are not agreed on and are hotly being debated in the wake of Sandy Hook, my question revolves more around how we can be practically proactive on something we can agree on.

In case you haven’t read a version of this blog post yet, this is a must read:

I Am Adam Lanzas Mother

After reading this, and pushing aside our initial “What the ______!” reaction, I have no doubt EVERYONE believes we need to help parents and children like these.

Why are Michael and Adam Lanza the way they are? Are they born with crime in their DNA? Are they products of their environment? Do they just have terrible mental illnesses? Could it be more than that? Do they have demonic influences?

I don’t know and this is where we will start differing in our opinions again.

But what I do know is that even if Americans are remade and there is a “revival” in America, that doesn’t guarantee horrific things like the Sandy Hook Shooting will disappear. I don’t think more people being quick-fixed “saved” will change our world, not they have true life-change. Then, if someone prays over a loudspeaker at school, verses just with their friends around a flagpole- that isn’t going to make a school immune to a violent upheaval either.

Why? Because you need less than .0000001 percent of the population to do terrorist-like activities.

But what we can do, proactively, is look around us and start caring for parents who are readily asking for help, like Michael’s mom. If we had relationships with friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, and actually chose to get uncomfortable enough with them to actually talk about more than the weather, then we might be able to support families who need it.

I am part of an experiment called the Art of Neighboring. One of the challenges is to know families around you so well, you actually know the state of their marriages. Or maybe, in this case, the state of their children.

You see, I need people to help me parent.  I know others need that too, and feel honored when people I know are willing to consider things I have learned.  What if we lived life with people so we could be there for them when they have an out-of-control kid? What if we hosted community parenting classes, advocating for parents when they confess their child scares them? They don’t have to agree with everything we say. It requires a certain vulnerability to have conversations like these, a vulnerability we don’t often embrace.

It goes beyond parenting, but about being there for students, about being there for young adults as they find their way in college, in the world.

Am I so naive to believe that if we are attentive to those around us, if we learned how to have healthy conversations with those in our circles, even if challenging, lives could be spared? Am I so naive to believe that living life with people literally changes the world?

Why yes. I think I am.

Then, the other obvious factor is that another scenario needs to be available rather than just throwing thirteen-year-olders with mental illnesses in jail. I am not sure what that looks like, but it looks like something. Who will raise up to the challenge to make that happen? Who already is making that happen? How can we support their work?

Yes, of course I want the people in our country, heck, in our world, to be spiritually transformed. I think we should seek this, pray for this, and ya, ask God to heal our land. But having real relationships with people around us and coming up with immediate solutions to help families like Michael’s is a practical stepping stone that I think we can all agree on. This might be vague, but it is less generic than “God Save America.” It is better than just arguing about what is wrong; who is wrong.

And, now that I have effectively written a whole blog post on the subject, I must humble myself by saying I need to be more aware of those around me. I have had friends talk with me about their children’s mental illnesses, and I was either skeptical or didn’t really know what to say. I didn’t offer to help them or walk through their unique situation with them, and for that I am sorry.

God, please change me to be aware of and compassionate for those around me. When it happens, help me to have a clue on how to be there for a family walking through these types of situations. Please transform us to care for the Adam Lanza’s of the world and know how to fight the “rulers and authorities of darkness” which the Bible’s Ephesians tells us our real battle is against. And as always, thank you for your love and bigness, even in the midst of suffering like this. You are enough. Amen.

Again, the companion post to this one is found at The Average Advocate, where I typically blog. But as this didn’t really fit the theme of that website, I decided to post it here on my personal blog instead. Be sure to check it out and sign up to receive those posts!

From “Internet Minute of Silence Declared for Sandy Hook Victims” Zoe Fox from Mashable.org

Advertisements

Anthropology of an American Girl: Review

Some friends of mine have this intensive book review blog, the Reading Teen and their website, Parental Book Reviews which is pretty helpful if you like to read. Especially if you like to read Young Adult books. I did a guest post for them on a book I just finished. It starts out like this:

Hilary Thayer Hamann. 2009. Spiegel & Grau: New York.

Right from the start, it must be said: This book is a brick. Not just a brick but pretty much brick in every sense of a way a book could be a brick. For starters, I am pretty sure these 600 pages could be used to hold open a door or be plastered into your wall to give it strength. My copy fell into the bathtub and still survived, instead just adding another inch of strength to its massive form.

Yet, it’s a brick between the covers too. It has moderate violence, heavy profanity, very heavy sexual content, and also includes drugs, underage drinking, smoking, and suicide.

But don’t throw out the Anthropology of an American Girl just yet. It was really good. In fact, maybe even a potential classic. There is no way I would categorize this book as young adult, not just because of its “heavy” content, but really just because I don’t think its intended audience is teenagers. This book explores the soul- your own soul. Which is really heavy. . . ”

If you want to read the rest of it, you can at by CLICK on this LINK HERE.

Does it Even Matter? Food in France Feeding Terrorism and Fears

I watched and read this article today in CBN News, by reported Dale Hurd (January 5, 2011). The article was titled “Muslim Halal Food Sales Supporting Terrorism?” The article went to point out a major discrepancy in French politics, while unveiling that buying Halal meat might very well be supporting Terrorism. I believe them.

And yet, the article irked me.  First of all, why are we being told about what is happening in French politics, on this one issue? The only thing I ever hear about France these days has something to do with Islam. Surely there are other things going on in France! The only reason we must be being told about it, again, from a new angle, is because we care. So then I ask myself, why do we care? Or more specifically, this branded Christian American news source (CBN) is reporting on possible terrorist links dealing with  food in France. And maybe, if that outrages us, we should look around us to notice we just might be eating the same food here. Tyranny!

I wasn’t too sure why this irked me, so I wrote out ten points, as follows, for no good reason, in which I analyzed this article from the what I believe is a Biblical perspective (note, not traditional American Christian- you can read all their comments in the comment page just to get a feel of their outrage at Halal):

1.) Halal meat is healthier than our typical drugged-up, corn and hormone fed, stuffed in cages meat. So, the way of health, you can easily say its preferable. If our bodies are supposed to be a temple of God, then yes, maybe we should all eat halal meat. I’ve considered it.

2.) If we should get rid of everything associated with Sharia, as the man at the end of the article was saying, then shouldn’t we also get rid of rice, flour, etc…? Those are acceptable under Sharia law, too, right? In fact, we should also get rid of many concepts of justice Islam and Western Democracy agrees on. That Christians agree with. Just because its Sharia. Really now, we can’t be against everything Sharia.

3.) Paul said its okay to eat meat offered to idols- hence the whole Mecca-Allah-professional Muslim cow-killer shouldn’t be a moral issue for Christians eating halal (unless you are causing others to sin because they believe it is wrong, which just might be the case, now thanks to this article).

4.) Was any of the money back in the meat-offered-to-idols day funneled towards religions/politics/ideologies that were not Christian? I assume so. Which means, I can argue that it is okay once again (from solely a moral standpoint) to buy/eat meat of another religion/ideology.

5.) When I buy from KFC or McDonalds, one could say I fund the spread of Westernism, Colonialism, Self-indulgence….maybe even humanism. In fact, we are terribly guilty of major damage on the world, possibly turning many away from the true God by our Western influence on the world. So, from that logic, would that mean I shouldn’t buy KFC or McDonalds? But, both the U.S. and in France are already seriously saturated in these humanistic ideologies which aren’t really for God. Does it matter which not-Jesus religion/spirituality we are living in culturally? Yes, we have our preference for freedoms, in democracy, but, is that anything more than a preference?

6.)  Please note that in France the concept of freedom of religion and separation of church & state is different in the U.S. In France, this goes beyond just keeping things separate.  It means that anything not French, whatever might be a threat to nationalism/state as first, is not allowed. The goal is to keep everyone the same, so nothing stands out except being French. My description might not be perfect of French politics, but be aware that there is a definite difference, and do some research on it. So, with that said, please note that the French politician + groups mentioned in this article are speaking from this worldview. Which means that it is probably even more horrible for them, than it would be for us, to see the French government having connections to Islam, which is overtaking the country. Their fight is slightly different from just a fight for democracy as we as Americans might understand it.

7.) I personally am not pro-Islam or Muslim by any means.  I think Islamization its something everyone needs to be aware of, because it’s already upon us (if you study population growth, migration, and birth rates, you will see that within this century our Western civilizations as we know them will look drastically different). I believe the question that this “threat” to our current culture is really a matter of learning how to live, as Christians, in a new world which will likely look more Islamic. The question isn’t “How should we put our energies into stopping it?” After all, in some places, especially in Europe, it’s too late for that.

8.) I believe we are called to be Christians above being Americans. We constantly need to check the basis of our concerns. Are we afraid of Islam because it will negatively affect our lives, our comfort, or worldview as we know it? That is a very understandable fear.  But why are we striving for the sake of democracy? I am far from saying this is bad. I am pro-democracy, I believe much less oppression happens in a Republic than any other type of government. And yet, I think we need to question the roots of any judgments we make or act on- do these judgments embody God’s character and would our actions be following Jesus? Or is the root our love for our homeland, America and the democracy we enjoy? These are sometimes in conflict. So we must ask ourselves, what is most important?

9.) I think we should consider other ways of fighting this process than just boycotting halal, freaking out, or trying to ban all things Islamic through the political process. Maybe these aren’t bad, but I think they aren’t going to bring about sustainable change. It might be too late for passionate campaigns, which encourage WASPs (and other good ol’ American Christians) have more babies in order to race with that insane growth rate of Muslim populations.

10.) I guess what it comes down to, is that I really believe loving Muslims, showing Jesus to them, is more sustainable than getting worked about halal. Even if they don’t all become Christians, which I think would be just awesome, at least being exposed to another worldview is a major force for change. It is undoubtedly more effective to promoting opportunities which provide meaning to life (like having an occupation rather than killing the infidels), while educating (giving alternate worldviews to radical extremist Islam).

The reason this article irks me is that it doesn’t consider the people who follow the religion of Islam, many who do so just culturally rather than fanatically. It feeds the fear American have against Muslims, urging us to run the opposite way, rather than encouraging us to show love. The article might seemingly be about justice, a character trait of God.  We can choose to let an ideology which we are uncomfortable with turn us away from following Jesus, who says to love our enemies, and teach others to follow Him.  I don’t remember Jesus saying we should not buy Halal meat. What if we were able to help lead the guy who sales Halal kabobs to Christianity because we spoke with him, laughed with him while we ate what he made us- rather than boycotting him. Maybe preventing innocent deaths through terrorism would be what would happen if we ignored the halal-guy, or picketed his meat. At minimum, though, we should seriously consider what furthers God’s kingdom more.

Recently a guy from my town  was captured for assisting a plot (a fake plot, sneakily created by the FBI) of terrorism made for the D.C. metro system. I am glad they caught him. But, I can almost guarantee you, no American had ever invited him into their home or really befriended him. Can you blame him for not changing his worldview, when we, the rich self-focused Americans in my town, never relationally presented him with another worldview? When instead we probably only reinforced his hate for us? In his culture he would have been accepted in a new place. In ours, he was shunned. For all I know, I might have walked right by him five times in the course of five days, while never even smiling at him. The people who carry a culture and religion is what perpetuates that ideology. We, the people, by changing our attitudes towards Muslims just might have influence on the very ideology we fight in courts against.  Simply, by just showing some love.

Muslim Halal Food Sales Supporting Terrorism?

World AIDS Day: Kefilwe’s Story

“My momma’s got AIDS” the little girl whispered. It was one of those whispers that is so quiet that it knocks your breath away, like a sonic boom. Her skin was like copper, hardened, darkened, but smoother than silk. She had a pock-mark on the corner of her forehead, near where her coarse, black hair began to embrace her head. I couldn’t help but think that she looked beautiful. Her dirty “Adiddas” shirt had questionable smears on it, which made my stomach turn. Pathetic and beautiful.

“I’ve never met someone with AIDS until now,” I whispered back. She nodded, knowingly. “Neither did I until my daddy got sick. He’s gone. My momma was mad at him when she found out. She told me that he shouldn’t have done it, that it was wrong for him to do that to her. I don’t know what she meant, but I guessed it meant that if you have AIDS it means you’re a bad person.” I listened to her as we bumped our way over the dry, lumpy grass road.  I glanced around to see if I could find my water bottle. I wasn’t used to the feeling of dust continually clinging to my skin. We were driving to a medical compound, which according to my uneducated guess, must be even closer to the Kalahari Desert than we already were. It seemed surreal. I vaguely tried to connect the string of events that got me here, but I quickly gave up doing so. However I got here, I was here. Just for this week. But I was in a different world.

But Kefilwe, my copper-skinned companion, actually probably had known many people with AIDS before her dad.  At least one-fourth of the people in her little African Village were HIV positive, which is actually normal in Botswana (and much of Southern Africa). I shook my head.  I knew Kefilwe’s mom was dying. Maybe if we could get the drugs to her sooner, but she had an advanced case of Tuberculous, as well. I guessed she had less than a month to live. This poor little girl worked so hard. From sunrise, to sunset she would do what little she could to make her mom’s life less miserable. I marveled that my neighbor’s kid back in the States, the same age as Kefilwe, ate Lucky Charms, went to school, Karate, and then after dinner would watch TV, or maybe go outside to catch fireflies.  All the while this girl would be mushing who-knows-what, and then cooking it over a fire for her and her mom to eat. Or maybe she would be fetching water from that stinky mud-hole three miles away to cool off her mom’s forehead. The only reason I actually believed this nonsense, that Kefilwe’s drastically different life was actually real, was because I had watched her live it for a few days now. And she didn’t complain about it. Which must mean that its normal, because if it was my neighbor kid living Kefilwe’s place, there would be hell to hear.

“Do you think only bad people have AIDS?” she questioned. “I don’t think my momma’s bad. She doesn’t look pretty, but she’s not bad. The witch-doctor said that my momma has an evil spirit. But the church-people say that God is punishing her.” My mind wandered. I knew that in Botswana, although a large portion of its people consider themselves Christian, many practice a traditional African religion as well, referred to here as Badimo. Although I considered witch-doctors something of story books, I couldn’t help but wonder if we were not so different in America, practicing multiple beliefs at the same time while only claiming one.

“Kefilwe, have you gone to school?” I asked. Kefilwe just looked at me confused and then turned back to admiringly study the new stuffed polar bear someone with us had given her. I wondered if she even had a clue of what a polar bear was.  Another passenger took advantage of her distraction, leaned over, and proceeded to explain to me that the small school which had serviced Kefilwe’s village shut down five years ago when both the teachers had passed away because of AIDS. The passenger, who worked for Peace Corps, continued by telling me that if a country who was a major world-player, like India, China, or Russia had the same AIDS infection rate as this area in Africa, their economies would also falter. Yet, because of their global influence, it would create a domino effect in the economies of the world.  I looked at the Peace Corp with skepticism. She explained that a huge portion of Africa’s labor force had already succumbed to AIDS, creating gaps all over society and overwhelming barriers to growth. I knew that India already had a high rate of AIDS infection. I had never considered the effect of such a disease on a whole country before, let alone its effect on a continent, or the world at large.

Kefilwe eventually looked up from her polar bear, picking up our conversation again: “My momma says she won’t come back soon, and it will happen just like when my daddy died. She said she will look even skinner, and not talk much before that happens. She told me I don’t have to cry when she won’t let me feed her.” I smiled sadly. It’s not everyday I hear such a young child talk about sickness and death. She will soon be added to the fourteen million children who have been orphaned in Southern Africa because of AIDS. “My momma says I need to get that medicine for myself so I don’t end up like her and daddy. Momma says you have that medicine. She said you could get it for me. She said that the nice people in your village will hear about how we need their help, and they will bring us back the medicine.” And then she looked up at me with such big eyes full of hope.

Kefilwe wasn’t aware that she was already HIV positive. She never had a choice- she was born with it. A little knowledge, basic medical assistance, and access to antiretroviral drugs could have easily kept her from this fate. Instead Kefilwe is a statistic, one of the 400,000 babies born with HIV yearly. But on a positive note, she had made it this far. Half of the children born with HIV don’t even live past age two. I began to wonder about Kefilwe’s future: “Do you have any brothers or sisters, Kefilwe?” “I have a sister who is almost five, and we had a baby brother. He died last year.” I began to panic. Kefilwe was the oldest of two HIV positive girls. Would Kefilwe have someone to take her in, and regularly give her the antiretroviral drugs? Or would she become the head of her household? I shuttered. Kefilwe was six-and-a-half.

As if she knew what I was thinking, Kefilwe scooted across the ripped-seats, shyly grabbed my arm, and began to sing. Her tiny voice was shaky and off-pitch. But as I smiled down at her, she sang beautifully louder. Soon everyone else riding with us either joined with her song, or was grinning at her. We soon arrived at the clinic, and I begin to help the medical workers process their new clients. Because of the antiretroviral drugs (AVRs) we were able to deliver, these individuals would not only survive, but probably would even thrive for years. At least as long as they had access to them.

After helping distributing the AVRs with me, Kefilwe tugged at my pant leg and asked me for a drink. I stooped to her level, took her little hands, and closed that first forty-cent pill within her fingers. I hoped my family would not mind the ramifications of what I was about to say. I took a deep breath, locked Kefilwe eyes with mine and then promised her that it would all be okay, that I would make sure of it.  Kefilwe glanced down at that life-giving pill and then gazed in wonder back at me. She is my hero, even though she looks at me as if I am hers.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

These are the brutal facts of the AIDS pandemic, the doomsday virus that I sometimes call the greatest humanitarian crisis of all time. But once again I want to stress that there is reason for hope. . . Between 2001 and 2005, prevalence rates fell in Botswana from 38.8 to 24.1 percent . . .” (p.150).

Stearns, Richard. 2010. The Hole in Our Gospel.  World Vision, Inc. Thomas Nelson: Nashville.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

This is a fictitious story based on facts. Kefilwe’s story is meant to give an accurate example of the current situation in Sub-Saharan Africa.

Labels, Housewives, and L2F

I am part of an organization, L2F Needs Network. Actually, a best friend (the director of L2F) and I spend the majority of our non-essential-household-taking-care-of-time (there has got to be a better way to say that) running L2F. Well, her more than me- It’s her baby. But I like it too, partially because it categorizes some of my life under a label. I like labels. After studying things like psychology, sociology, and anthropology for so many years I am excellent at analyzing, categorizing, and labeling things. Ironically, we who study the social sciences proclaim the evils of stereotyping and labeling,  but that is pretty much what we do.

I’ve been thinking about labeling because sometimes I want another label in life. Typically I am labeled as a stay-at-home-mom, also known as a homemaker, housewife, domestic engineer. . . or my personal favorite (which is on my business card): domestic goddess. Lots of people understand this label as really meaning one (or all) of three things:

  1. Housewives are too stupid to do something else.
  2. Housewives are obsessed with their kids.
  3. Housewives are super traditional.

Of course, this is only my opinion of what others think, which might not be true at all. Regardless, I don’t like being stereotyped as such because I don’t feel as though I fit into any of these categories. Now, before you cynically remark about why I do fall into category number one, beware, before the character war begin! Case in point: these are the dangers of stereotyping. People only like being labeled into some categories, and not others.

In short, being a stay-at-home-mom is not my dream job. Raising my kids and managing my house are part of my dream job, yes. But, in addition to that I have been consumed with a little thing which I crave from the deepest part of me: Changing the world. I really want to reply, when someone asks me what I do, by saying “Oh, you know, I am a professional world-changer. For the better, obviously. What do you do?” If you really must ask, yes, my business card says “world changer” on it too.

I have spent countless hours psycho-analyzing why I am like this. Nurture, nature, life experience, etc. . .  might all go into it. I could write my life story here, if you really want to know why I am like I am. Thankfully, I will spare you this time.

I am pretty sure that having a label helps you change the world better. For years I have wanted to go back into an official position at an organization, church, non-profit, NGO, or have a profession, in part, just to have a label. People respect you, consult you, or consider you an authority when you have a title. I guess I don’t think people take me seriously otherwise, which annoys me because I think it hinders me. I wrote up the hours I spend doing various activities this week. Trust me, doing dishes and laundry were probably lowest on the list. Which explains why they are not done (and I don’t care). But, time spent trying to make a dent in the world was definitively at the top of my hours-spent worksheet.

Another benefit of the label is the accountability that comes with it. There is a set of responsibilities one has when they are a professional. Professional engineers, spys, dry cleaners, trash men, worm catchers, and even bad guys all have a standard they are expected to meet. Helping out on the side typically has minimal expectations and accountability. Even being an official contract signing volunteer, one has just a few standards to live up to. Yet, as a professional, with a title, the responsibilities and pressure to perform is actually there. I know most people view this as negative, but if you think about it, there can be a lot of positive motivational value as well.

I have semi-successfully been raising a family while trying to serve God by loving others for a few years now. Even though my label might not be what I prefer, I should only be thankful that I am able to raise my kids, that I am able to manage my own time, and I am therefore able spend so much of my time putting into what I believe matters. I might not feel fulfilled in having a dream job as a professional, but I am at least trying to be the first to admit how overwhelmingly blessed I am. I am content in my blessings; blessed by God and my husband, notably.  Regardless of whatever our label is, we can at least still make a difference where we are.

Hence, I wanted to introduce you to L2F (click here to see our blog, still in development). It is part of who I am, and its cool (so I think you should like it). In a nutshell, we pretty much find out about needs, communicate those needs, and try to meet those needs. It’s like we are Robin Hood, but we don’t have to steal from the rich. Which is good, because I would probably have some moral qualms about that. The vision goes beyond just helping people, it is really also just as much about giving others opportunities and teaching them to be world changers. Of course, I am the only one who is a little too ahead of the game, caught up on the phrase “world changers.” Most of us are just excited to be making a difference in Ashburn.  Our motivation is because we love Jesus, and we feel that this is the way He has guided us right now to show His love to our community.

A lot of what we do is through the local schools, but its kinda been all over the place. This week I delivered a bunch of diapers and formula to a social service organization, did some social media stuff, got school supplies for some kids,  talked about assisting a refugee family, helped plan a backpack program for hungry kids at our schools, and packed backpacks for the homeless. See, I told you its a bunch of random stuff! Personally, I love working with immigrants and developing contacts and relationships with those in need, as well as those who are already active in the community. Yet, there is always more to do! In fact, through our church (J10 Church), L2F Needs Network was really able to make a difference in an area that had no assistance directly after the earthquake in Haiti. I’ll conclude by showing a video of that experience below, and here is a link to some pictures a friend, Herb Looney, took while on this trip to Haiti.

Question: I know culture typically considers it morally good to want to change the world. But I have come to realize a lot of people don’t have that urge. Do you, personally, have that passion? What do you feel your responsibility is to your family, community, and the world as a whole? What is one practical step you can take right now, to make a positive difference?