Monday, February 25, 2013

Favorite Things

Watching the Oscars last Sunday got me thinking about favorite things:
Favorite story/play/movie/music.... Les Miserables

Favorite places... Homer, AK, Portland OR and the OR coast, Skaneateles, NY

Favorite "wild" places... Kodiak, AK; Okefenoke Natl Wildlife Refuge, No. FL; Denali Natl Park, AK; Watkins Glen St Pk, NY; Redwoods Natl and St Parks, No CA

Favorite book stores: Powell's in Portland; Title Wave in Anchorage, AK

Favorite authors: Anne Tyler, Ann Patchett, Barbara Kingsolver, Eugene Peterson, Anne Lamott (whats with all the Anne's?), Philip Yancey, Tim Egan, Graham Greene, Virginia Stem Owens, David James Duncan ....

Favorite Classics: Brothers Karamazov, Count of Monte Cristo, Les Miserables, Tolstoy's "short" stories....

Favorite Biblical authors: F.D. Bruner, Gordon Fee, Fred Craddock, William Willimon, Stanley Hauerwas, John Goldingay, Karl Barth, N.T.Wright, Elizabeth Achtemeier, Kenneth Bailey ...

Favorite restaurants: Spenard Road House, Snow City Cafe and Middle Way Cafe in Anchorage AK; any one of many in Homer, AK; Dougs Fish Fry, Skaneateles, NY; Burgerville in the NW, In and Out Burgers in CA; Five Brothers in FL; Panera Bread, all over; Tim Hortons in Canada and WNY.....

Favorite coffee: Kaladi Bros in AK; K-Bay in Homer, AK, Harborside in Kodiak, AK; Stumptown coffee in the NW;

Whats on the nightstand right now? Francona by Terry Francona and Dan Shaughnessy, The Comedians by Graham Greene, Shadow Country by Peter Matthiessen, The Shock Doctrine by Naomi Klein

Favorite movies of the past year: Les Miserables, Argo, Moonrise Kingdom, Beasts of the Southern Wild, Anna Karenina, Flight, Skyfall, Hobbit, (I have not seen Lincoln but I'm sure it will be on the list of favorites).

Favorite TV shows: Downton Abbey, The Good Wife, Person of Interest, Parenthood,

Favorite books of the past year: Caring for Mother by Virginia Stem Owens, Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo, Sacred Hunger and Quality of Mercy by Barry Unsworth, Wild by Cheryl Strayed, The Halftime Walk of Billy Lynn by Ben Franklin, God's Hotel by Vi Sweet, The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harld Frey by Rachel Joyce, Faith of Cranes by Hank Rentorf, The Cutting Season by Attica Locke, Zeitoun by David Eggers, Impeachment of Abraham Lincoln by Stephen Carter, Empire of the Summer Moon by S.C. Wynne, Half a Yellow Sun by C.N. Adiche, Short Night of the Shadow Catcher by Tim Egan, Summoned From the Margin by Lamin Sanneh (2013), Farewell Fred Voodoo by Amy Wilentz (2013), Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann (2013), The Big Truck That Went By by Jonathan Katz (2013).

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Spring Training

Pitchers and Catchers report to camp on Tuesday. Of course, some veterans have been working out at camp already. There was a good article in the NY Times this week about fans waiting at the Yankee's camp in Tampa - some lining up at 3am - for a Derek Jeter sighting and maybe - an autograph. So, as they say, hope springs eternal at Spring training camps. Every team is tied at 0-0. Every team has a shot at the playoffs, theoretically. We suspect some teams have a better shot than others. But there are always surprises like the Orioles of last season. There are unseen injuries like Jeter's postseason broken ankle. There are power outages in the superstars we thought we could depend on like A-Rod's production dropoff at the end of last year. There may be suspensions coming as the Miami PED story plays out. So, as they say, that's why we play the game. Are the Yankees finally too old? Jeter, Rivera, Texiera, A-Rod are all right around 40. But, other than A-Rod, who is out until at least the allstar break, they are in good shape. Who has helped themselves out in the offseason? Toronto picked up Dickey, the Angels got Hamilton, Altanta took the Upton brothers. Baltimore and Oakland did not do much but they may not have needed to. Seattle beefed up the middle of their line-up and secured King Felix for the longterm but the rest of their pitching staff is shaky. They may have been helped the most by the addition of Houston to the AL West. They will not finish last this year. Will Detroit contend again? Are the Royals ready to fulfill their potential? Will Washington with Strasburg pitching all year be in the World Series? Can the Red Sox come back from the Valentine fiasco?  Come Tuesday our questions will begin to be answered. We will be watching and waiting and cheering.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Haiti missions

I've been reading about Haiti lately. It's a place with a fascinating history. It was one of the wealthiest colonies in the West and it was built totally on slave labor. Then, the slaves rebelled and overthrew their French masters. It was the first Black led republic in the world. Their revolution came soon after our own American revolution but it was not as successful as ours. A Black led country of former revolutionaries made other slave supported economies, such as America's, uneasy. The French exacted onerous financial debt payments from the Haitians for their "lost labor" (threatening a blockade - with American help- if they did not pay). Now that Haiti was free no one wanted to trade with her. Her people were exploited by a series of dictators. So, historically, Haiti has been seen as dysfunctional and poor. Her people have been seen as resilient and friendly and even happy despite their misery. Perhaps more than any other country, Haiti has been the recipient of years of mission outreach. There are probably more mission organizations and other aid groups per capita in Haiti than any other country. People want to help the Haitian people.

I went on a short term missions trip several years ago (see previous blog post). I was amazed at all the mission groups in Haiti doing good work. I had that impression so many of us who visit Haiti do: they have a vibrant faith in the midst of such dire poverty. I came back grateful to have spent a bit of time in Haiti. I felt like my faith was strengthened. A few years later I returned with a group going to the Dominican Republic where we rebuilt a church destroyed by a hurricane (common occurrence it seems on the isle shared by the DR and Haiti) in a community of Haitians who work sugar cane in the DR. We had a dentist along who spent the days we were there extracting teeth from people who had never seen a dentist and whose teeth were rotted from eating raw cane (it helps stave off hunger pains). Most of us mixed concrete, made blocks, and built a small concrete structure to be used as a church and school. Once again, upon returning home, I had a sense of doing something good, of helping people who could not have done it themselves. We stayed at a church in La Romana and worshiped with the people. Although most of us did not speak Spanish, we could enter into their joy as they worshiped. We slept in huge dorm room on cots and paid the women of the church to cook us breakfast and dinner.

I've maintained an interest in Haiti, reading books, supporting Haiti missions, and trying to learn all I can about the country and the people (I even took on the task of learning Creole through a correspondence school but I was a poor student!). Thus, my interest was piqued while reading a new book by Jonathan Katz called The Big Truck That Went By: How the World Came to Save Haiti and Left a Disaster Behind. You get the point of the book from the title. Katz was in Haiti when the earthquake struck in 2010. His residence was flattened. He was covering Haiti for AP. He writes about the impact of short term missions trips to Haiti which he calls the template for how many Americans experience Haiti firsthand. "First, shock at the deprivation; then uplift by the spirit of the people; finally, after the construction of a breeze - block school or a delivery of Bibles, exultation in a new closeness and humanity through faith." That summed up my mission trip feelings pretty well.

But he goes on, "Many (short termers) emphasize that one of their primary goals is to teach Haitians self-reliance." It is true we hoped that by leaving some tools, some clothes, some money behind they would be able to do what we did by themselves. Katz points out, "Ironically, the Haitians not only tended to harbor a faith more fervent and deeply tested than that of the missionaries, but also self -reliance beyond anything the visitors were likely to imagine. They were, after all, still alive in a country that spent 180 times less on healthcare per person than the United States, offered 83 percent fewer people adequate sanitation, and offered almost none of the basic highway, plumbing, or building infrastructure of the United States. They didn't need survival techniques, introduction to the New Testament, or even a new breeze - block school ... but they took what they could get in the hope that the relationships would eventually yield more... what distinguished the missionaries from other foreigners was their zeal, and the assuredness that they could bring hope and salvation to a blighted land through faith and good works."

Haiti is not the way it seems. If we spend just a short time there it only serves to reinforce our preconceived ideas. One of those ideas is that no one has jobs. In fact, even the leaders who are trying to "rebuild a better Haiti" after the quake operate under the assumption that Haitians don't work or don't want to work. The current thinking is that they need more garment factories there to provide jobs even thought the garment factories do not pay a living wage and no benefits. Haitians want a job which means to them - reliable and sufficient income (Katz, 142). Pre - quake Haiti was reported to have an unemployment rate of 40 to 70 percent. But most Haitians work all day, every day, selling juice, selling food, clothing, phone cards, baby clothes, and washing cars. All those acts depend on a long chain of supply and distribution. Haiti does not lack jobs or people willing to work. What Haiti lacks are life supporting jobs. The World Bank's definition of extreme poverty is living on $1.25 a day. Haiti's minimum wage is $1.75 a day. Most Haitians live on $2 a day or less. But when Target is selling children's clothing as cheap as $8 a t-shirt, Haitian garment workers are not going to be paid a living wage. A 2011 survey of 27 Haitian garment factories showed not one was in compliance in the categories of Benefits, Safety, Health Services, Hours or First Aid. Most did not even have a place or soap to wash hands. Most had no emergency exits and some even had them locked during the day. Most did not pay minimum wage. Of course, there were no unions. Joseph A. Banks which has a plant in Haiti sells $500 men's suits which it claims are "imported suits" in it's catalog. And they are - the Haitian woman who sews the sleeves on the suits makes enough for a cup of rice a day, a taptap ride to work, and helps out her quake injured boyfriend and her son. Meanwhile, she sleeps on the streets until she pays down the loan she took out for rent on her house destroyed in the quake.


Lamin Sanneh's book Summoned from the Margin: Homecoming of an African will become a much discussed book among American Evangelicals, I hope. Sanneh teaches World Christianity at Yale. One of his concerns is that American Evangelicals are not aware enough of World Christianity so the lens through which they view World Christianity is too limited to Western Christianity. He cites the numbers showing how Western - centered Christianity was in 1900 when it accounted for 82% of all the Christians in the world. Today, about 35% of the world's Christian live in the North Atlantic region. The Church is growing faster in Africa than anywhere else in the world and has been for some time. Sanneh says our mental map of World Christianity is very different from the physical map. In America and Europe the "new gods of secular materialism have been provoked into staging something of a comeback, with churches turning into cultural and entertainment monuments."

"Jesus did not speak English."
Islam has a sacred language. The Koran is written in Arabic. There are translations but they are all unofficial. The official language of study and worship is Arabic. Even if you don't know Arabic, that's the language of the Mosque. The truth of God's Word only comes in Arabic. Christianity has no sacred language. We believe God's Word speaks the same way in any local language. The Incarnation is a foundational belief of Christianity. It says that God became real flesh and blood human in Jesus Christ. So God's Word is fleshed out in our indigenous languages, too. God can speak to us in the KJV or the NIV or The Message as well as any translation. That's a very good thing. God came down to our size to reveal Himself to us. But, we shouldn't misunderstand that. It does not mean God is our size. That God is one of us. The danger of the Incarnation is that we will domesticate Jesus. He becomes our pal. Worship becomes mostly about us and how Jesus makes us feel (listen to our worship choruses). Preaching becomes the central focus of worship. "How am I being fed" becomes a major criterion for choosing a church home. Sanneh writes, "Preaching is for us; worship is only for God." We believe that God accommodated Himself to us when He became human and that's a good thing. But He is still God, the Holy LORD of the universe. Do we get that sense in much of our Protestant Evangelical worship today? Can we still worship if the sermon did not feed us, or if the music was not to our liking? Is there anything else in our worship services besides the sermon or the music? What scriptures are read, what prayers are prayed, what creeds are said, how often is the Lord's Supper observed, what is done to engage us in the worship of God? Do we go to church to worship or do we go to be entertained, to be fed, to feel good afterward?