Wednesday, April 29, 2009

UN Refugee Poster

In the halls of Refugee Resettlement Center I volunteer at, there is a poster pinned to the wall. It speaks the words of refugee thoughts. It inspires those working with refugees to press on. Here is what is says:

I HOPE they won't kill me. I HOPE nobody's following me. I HOPE I don't step on a landmine. I HOPE I find some water soon. I HOPE I don't die out here. I HOPE someone will find me. I HOPE the United Nations can help me. I HOPE they've got food and shelter. I HOPE they can help me find my family. I HOPE we'll be able to go back one day. I HOPE we find a place to call home. I HOPE we learn to fit in. I HOPE we can build a future here. I HOPE we never, ever, have to run again.

The United Nations gives 19 million refugees reason to HOPE.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

2009 High School Required Reading List

Wandering through Barnes & Noble today, I stumbled across a table labeled "Required School Reading." I asked the employee nearby and he confirmed these were for high school students. Although I recognized some of the same classics from when I was in high school, I was surprised to realize I didn't even recognize a majority of the titles. Fascinating! So I had them print me a copy of the list (all 175 books*) so I could maybe-- someday (HA!)-- catch up on what the educational field is requiring young people to read these days. (You can click on each title to link straight to the description on

Books I am surprised and excited to see on the list:
Modern titles I have heard of, but have no clue what they're about:
A random 7 of a LONG list of the books I have never even heard of:
Books that I have mixed feelings about being on the list:
Are THESE BOOKS our MODERN CLASSICS? Wow. If you've read any of them, please comment and let me know what you thought. If you would like me to email you the full reading list, comment and I'll get it to ya!

* The 175 books on the Barnes & Noble "Required School Reading" list are a compilation from high schools (both public & private) from across the nation, and vary by region or town in actuality. The Barnes & Noble I was at was on 360 at Bee Caves Road in the Eanes ISD school district.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Do You Remember AIDS?

I first remember hearing about the AIDS pandemic when I was in elementary school in the mid-80s. During a conversation over dinner with my family one night, my dad was trying to teach me and my older sisters about AIDS (with what little information we had back then). He told us he heard that 1 in 3 people around the world would end up getting AIDS and dying from it. To illustrate the point for us he said, "so basically that means one of the three of you (me and my two sisters) will get it." I was too young I think to separate an illustration from reality, so I took the comment literally.

So from that day, I started paying a LOT of attention to news about the disease. The school I attended through 12th grade did a lot of AIDS education and I was increasingly surrounded with information about it. I even remember asking my parents in high school to donate the money they would spend on my Christmas presents to AIDS research, hoping for a cure. Then, I went to college-- UT-- and stopped hearing much about it. Stopped meeting people with the disease. I naively assumed it meant that the global AIDS pandemic had improved. I knew they hadn't found a cure, but had invented plenty of meds to fight it. I also assumed that because it appeared as though the U.S. had stopped having as many victims, that it must be the same across the world too. I am just beginning to understand how wrong my thinking was.

I am reading a book right now in preparation for my June trip to Ethiopia called "There Is No Me Without You" (by Melissa Fay Greene). It is the story of an Ethiopian woman who starts taking in and caring for children orphaned by the AIDS in her own country. The book weaves back and forth between this woman's story and the story of AIDS from its beginning up until now. Her personal story is tender and compassionate. But the story of AIDS is just making me plain mad, and broken for its victims.
"The numbers of AIDS deaths in the U.S. and Western Europe plummeted just as the numbers of AIDS deaths in Africa were exploding. With the falloff of mortality in the northern hemisphere, the public engagement with HIV/AIDS diminished. ... The wealthy nations lost interest, once they understood they had escaped the worst." (p. 190-191) No wonder I started hearing about AIDS less and less.

The author wrote a chapter about all the drug advancements that have been made, but about how few of them ever reach Africa. As for Ethiopia, "In 2004, a quarter million HIV-positive Ethiopians reached the critical stage of the disease requiring (drug) treatment to avert rapid deterioration and death. Only 4%-- 10,000 people-- had access to the medicine, which restored the lives of patients in wealthy countries." (p. 184) The rest were left to die. And "there would be no anti-AIDS drugs for children in Ethiopia until 2005." (p. 142) That is just 4 years ago!

She writes that most doctors (even as late as 2006, when the book was published) in Ethiopia are afraid to see patients they think might be sick with "the slim" (Ethiopia's slang reference to HIV/AIDS). They refuse to serve/treat them-- as though they had treatments to even offer. And they are scared to even touch them. The disease has slowly wiped out a generation and a half of parents. Leaving behind over a million orphans... some infected, some not yet.

As I read this book, I am realizing that I almost forgot about AIDS. But even in 2009, it is still VERY MUCH an issue in Africa, and our world. Even if we feel more insulated from it here in America. If Americans get it (which plenty still do), they can treat it. What happens to those outside America who get it and have ZERO options but to wait out their death, leaving behind children with no one to care for them?

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Piper's" New Hip-Hop Video

Desiring God's media team partnered with Reach Records to make a hip-hop video encapsulating the message of John Piper's book Don't Waste Your Life. It's reallllly good... check it out below.

Uncovering Paradigms in John 2:1-12

Day two of reading through John trying to see through the lenses of "shame/honor," "defilement/clean," and "fear/power" (from this blog post) and tripped upon all three in John 2:1-12. I am remembering that the culture in which Jesus & the Israelites lived was full of situations reflecting these worldviews.

In this passage, I see a situational example of the "shame/honor" paradigm. The hosts of the wedding party had run out of wine for the wedding celebration. The footnote in my Bible says: "To run out of wine was more than embarrassing; it broke the strong unwritten laws of hospitality." So Jesus, in this situation, was responding to a heartfelt need... the need to restore the honor of the hosts. And He was capable to do just that.

The "defilement/clean" paradigm is more subtle in this text, but it is still there. Jesus sees 6 stone water jars at the wedding party and uses those very jars to turn water into wine. Those jars were used for Jewish ceremonial washing. My Bible footnote reads: "According to the Jews' ceremonial law, people became symbolically unclean by touching objects of everyday life. Before eating, the Jews would pour water over their hands to cleanse themselves of any bad influences associated with what they had touched." This cultural notion of defilement still exists in many modern belief systems. Although we don't see Jesus doing an act of cleaning here, we learn that "defilement/clean" is a common paradigm at play in His audiences' lives. And we know that (later) Jesus provides the answer to 'how can I be clean?'

Third, we see the "fear/power" paradigm at play through the miracle that Jesus performs. There is not so much an expression of fear in this scenario, but a bold demonstration of Jesus' power. My Bible footnote reads: "The miracle showed Jesus' power over nature... Miracles are not merely superhuman events, but events that demonstrate God's power." For those who witnessed this miracle of Jesus, do you think they wondered- in awe- if He had the power to change or rule over the things in their lives that made them feel fear? Jesus has the power to meet our needs, the ones we are desperate for intervention in.

Although the 3 paradigms at work in this passage don't specifically address salvation in these instances, they DO point to it. Because they touch on the issue of JESUS' ability to restore HONOR where there is shame, to offer CLEANNESS where there is defilement, and to demonstrate POWER which alleviates fear. These things point to Jesus' character, His powerful ability, and His role in our salvation!

Isn't that COOL!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Why Do We Notice the "Guilt/Righteousness" Paradigm More?

(an excerpt from pg. 152-153 of this book.)

"The Bible is loaded with all four paradigms (that I wrote about in yesterday's blog-post), but for various reasons, we Christians, especially in the West, have been trained to take notice only of the "guilt/righteousness" paradigm. Here are some reasons:
  1. Paul's letters are loaded with legal terminology such as guilt, penalty of sin, judgment, and justification.
  2. Some of the early church fathers were not only theologians but also lawyers, such as Quintus Tertullian (ca. 160-225) and Aurelius Prudentius (ca. 348-405). Not only that, but some of the Reformers, such as Calvin, were also lawyers in addition to being theologians. So our commentaries are loaded with legal terminology.
  3. The famous tools for evangelism that were created in America and spread all over the world through organizations and mission agencies all use legal terminology. The "Four Spiritual Laws" is just one example.
  4. The famous evangelists whom God used in the twentieth century in the lives of many people used the "guilt/righteousness" paradigm. Billy Graham is the prime example.
  5. Perhaps most of us reading this book, as we remember the message we believed that transformed our lives, woudl come to the conclusion that the message was based on the legal or "guilt/righteousness" paradigm.
  6. Christian commentaries around the world are colored by the Western culture. English is the international language, the church in the West tends to be wealthy, and there is an abundance of well-known Bible scholars in the West. Therefore, it is more likely that a commentary written in English by an American Bible scholar using the "guilt/righteousness" paradigm would be translated into other languages than a commentary written in Arabic by an Egyptian Bible scholar using the "shame/honor" paradigm.
For these reasons and others, we have developed some blind spots when we read our Bibles. This blindness influences not only how we understand and present the GOOD NEWS of the GOSPEL but also how we interpret many texts in Scriptures."

Just thought this mapping of our influences was interesting to think about in light of yesterday's blog post.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

How We View The World Affects How We Share the Gospel

Did you know that we (Americans) most often present the gospel to people on the basis of "guilt and righteousness"? And did you know that this paradigm* is only one of many lenses through which people in the world view life and need?

The "guilt/righteousness" paradigm exists in the Christian West, but the paradigms of "honor/shame" and "defilement/clean" exist mostly in Muslim countries. It is simply the more natural way that they look at the world. Worldviews like these exist not just in Muslim countries but spreads all the way from North Africa in the West to Korea and Japan in the East.

A fourth paradigm- "fear/power"- exists in the minds of folk Muslims all over the Muslim world and in some African (and Caribbean) countries where some people are occupied with the demonic and magic.

Now, did you know that although most of the way we read our Bible relates to the "guilt/righteousness" paradigm, the Bible actually addresses ALL FOUR of these paradigms. So, the challenge we face is learning to present the gospel with all four paradigms in mind, starting with the paradigm appropriate to the person we are connecting with.

For example, if I begin to share with a Muslim friend about humanity's sin problem and its resulting guilt, and how righteousness through Christ is the only way out of that condemning guilt... am I saying anything wrong? No. That is all true and of course is necessary to understand. But it just might not be the primary way in which my Muslim friend views the world, so it doesn't strike her as the most important issue she wants resolved in her life.

For her, maybe, she is more interested in knowing how Jesus can remove the shame she feels in her life and restore her to honor. Or maybe she is aching inside to feel clean and needs to know that Jesus removes her stains and makes her white as snow. Or maybe she lives in fear and would like to know how Jesus has overcome all the things in this world (and the next) that plague her with fear.

Tomorrow, I am starting a new study of the Gospel of John and I am going to pray that God helps me recognize in His Word the ways He teaches, heals, and gives hope to ALL people, addressing the key issues in all worldviews. I want to try and read the Bible like someone from another culture would so I can learn what stands out to them and what brings them peace.

(I learned about this subject and paraphrased the concept from this book.)

* Paradigm means: A set of assumptions, concepts, values, and practices that constitutes a way of viewing reality for the community that shares them.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Songwriter vs Writer

"The difference between you and me is that I want to write one sentence and have someone ponder it for two hours... and you want to write something that a person would have to read for two hours."
- Andy Melvin, my wonderful husband

From his thoughts on the difference between being a songwriting and a writer-writer.

It's funny, cuz it's true!

Carboard Signs

Cardboard Stories from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

The Easter service video from our church, The Austin Stone.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pinching Myself on Easter

Today I am reflecting on how powerfully God is moving around the Arab World... and it's making my Easter worship just awesome! Because it is reminding me of God's creativity in drawing each of His children into relationship with Him. He has no limits! The whole world, creation and all created things, is at His disposal to help declare who Jesus is and the message of hope that He brings.

Here's a small sampling of stories that are helping me pinch myself today at the reality of my big, crazy-awesome God! And these are stories I have heard FIRST HAND while traveling the world. They are not rumors, they are REAL stories of God's work!
  • A woman came to Christ and prayed for God to keep her safe from her husband while she conducted a Bible study in their home each week (she was a secret believer). After praying each week, God makes her husband deaf and paralyzed just for the time that her group meets and then brings him out of it. God's done this every week for 8 years!
  • A widow had a dream where she was trapped in a room with no windows or doors and no way to get out. And her dead husband appears in the room and she asks him, 'how do I get out?' And he tells her Jesus can get you out. She wakes up and began to ask people, 'who is this Jesus?' (that she'd never heard of before) until she found someone who could explain and eventually she came to Christ.
  • When one woman was praying to God for answers- asking 'what is the truth- Islam or Jesus?'- a cloud rolled into the sky and spelled the name 'JESUS' in Arabic. She screamed and started crying and ran to her bathroom to baptize herself.
  • During Muslim prayers, one man started to see the image of a bright cross on the floor in front of him each time he bowed face-down on his prayer rug. It kept freaking him out and when he told his family, they thought he'd gone insane and put him on medications for mental illness. After a long time, and the cross consistently appearing to him, he eventually came to a relationship with Jesus.
  • When a national newspaper ran a front page article aggressively blasting the Evangelical Church for evangelizing by putting Christian tracts on car windshields in a small neighborhood, they also ran a FULL copy of the tract with the article, on the front page for the whole country to read!
And THAT is just a small taste of our BIG and WONDERFUL, redeeming-love God! Happy Easter everybody. We worship THAT same God!

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Turkish Delights

Everytime I have seen the famous Turkish candy called "Turkish Delights," I admit, I've been afraid. My first time in Turkey, I refused to try them. What were they? Strange, scary, squares of WHAT?

Then my Turkish friend here in Austin had a baby and I went to see her in the hospital. I walk in the room and immediately had a box of Turkish Delights shoved in my face. "This is how we celebrate!" they told me. I was backed in a corner. My cross-cultural friendship meant more to me than my fear of this "thing". So, I tried one. And it turned out to be really good. It's basically like a soft gummy bear type thing covered in either powdered-sugar or coconut flakes. Some have nuts, and some are just solid jelly-ish.

On my recent trip to Turkey, I was walking through the spice market shopping. A man selling Turkish Delights began to call after us, saying:

"Get your Turkish Delights here! Famous Turkish Delights!
They'll make you...
(he paused, fumbling for the best pitch),
they'll make you...
(still thinking),
well, let's be honest-- they'll make you fat!"

I laughed out loud. Gotta love his effort!

Friday, April 3, 2009

Funny Moments with Michelle (brought to you from Turkey)

I had a great time hanging out with Michelle last week in Turkey. We laughed a lot, saw a lot, gabbed a lot, and even prayed some in between. Sadly for Michelle, she was often the object of my camera since I prefer to stay behind the lens. So, here's a montage of Michelle moments from our travels...
Michelle in a wildflower field at Laodicea waving to everyone back home in the States.
Michelle, disapproving of the Sultan's HAREM chambers.
Michelle bringing the heat from atop an ancient pulpit from the Hagia Sophia church.
A: "Michelle, go stand by that wall."
M: "Ok. why?"
A: "So I can take a picture of how they tried to change the engraved crosses after they turned the church into a mosque."
M: "I didn't even notice. That's interesting... they just scratched off the top half."
Please email Michelle and ask her what this is all about. Or look on her blog for an update coming soon!
Michelle pointing out the "Extra Love Tea" for sale in the spice market.
Michelle learning how to make a carpet.
Much to my surprise, Michelle is a germ-a-phobe. They rarely use sheets in Turkey, just a bottom sheet and a comforter in our hotel. She refused to let the comforter touch her so she slept under her raincoat all night.
Two girls, 5 bags and a guitar. For 1 week.
Michelle waving to "her subjects" from the throne in Sardis, which we later learned was used to display the Holy Books (faux paux).

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Book Review: True Grit

On my recent trip to Turkey, I took this book for my down-time reading pleasure. True Grit: Women Taking on the World, for God's Sake by Deborah Meroff was a great read while spending time abroad. The book weaves together so many different stories, essentially just testimonies, of ordinary women that God is using around the globe. Each woman has a different call, a different focus, and yet each story is touching and inspiring for readers to ponder their God-given purpose.

The women Meroff writes about share a common theme in the midst of their diversity: obedience, courage, and surrender to fulfilling their tiny role in the big world.

Chapters include stories about:
  • an American woman working with deaf Jews in Israel
  • a woman from Singapore working in Nepal
  • a European couple serving on a sea-ship sharing the gospel in ports around the globe
  • an American family serving in Tajikistan
  • a Vietnamese refugee working in Canada and then back home in Vietnam
  • a German couple living among the poor in Egypt
  • a Canadian woman working with Jews in India
  • a Canadian nurse adopting a handicapped child from Lebanon
  • a Brazilian woman serving Turks in Germany & Turkey
I heard about this book from my friend Melanie who said there's a guy online who is offering to send a free copy to 1 million readers in 2009. Click here and scroll to the bottom of his webpage to read his offer and send him an email... one week later, you'll have the book in hand at no cost to you! What a deal, huh?!

Bonus material in the book includes sections on "Vital Statistics" for women's related issues like child brides, trafficking, widows, female infanticide, honor killings, domestic violence, etc. I found these sections (although randomly placed throughout the book) very interesting and helpful to understanding key issues for women around the world today.

Topkapi Palace, Istanbul

During our sightseeing last week in Turkey, Michelle and I got to visit the famous Topkapi Palace, built by one of the Sultan's of the Ottoman Empire in the 1400s. Among its grand collections were:
  • an 86 carat pear-shaped diamond
  • the beard & sword of the Prophet Mohammed
  • the wooden staff of Moses
  • the sword of King David
  • an assortment of fine silk robes from the sultan's wardrobe
  • the harem quarters, with 400 rooms for its residents
  • a building used for one of the Nicea Councils
  • the rotted flesh and bone hand of John the Baptist
  • old keys to the Kaaba (Muslim shrine in Mecca)
  • a footprint of the Prophet Mohammed
  • a diamond encrusted chainmail armor-suit worn by a sultan
  • gigantic jewel-encrusted plumes used to add splendor to the Sultan's turbans
Just an interesting assortment of "sights" to see. Photography was not allowed in most of the exhibits, but I found a few online images. For the most part, you'll just have to take my word for it- just as I had to take their word for it (really? John the Baptist arm? how? and why?).