Friday, June 25, 2010

Holy Cow! (An Indian Adventure)

In 2005, Andy & I traveled to India 3 months after the tsunami hit. We had already planned the trip to go and work with 2 orphanages in the state of Orissa through Austin non-profit, The Miracle Foundation (TMF) before the big wave. But after the tragedy, we asked to extend our trip to be able to go down to the tsunami affected region and see how TMF was meeting the needs of the devastated community.

During the first leg of our travels we were with a team of a dozen Americans who were serving alongside us. And someone brought HOLY COW: An Indian Adventure to read. The book was passed around to multiple readers, read aloud over dinner and break times, and the whole group was constantly finding release in the laughter that this book provoked. I cannot tell you if this book is as funny to someone who has never traveled to India, but to us it was affirmation that our thoughts about how crazy this country was were not, well, crazy.
The author (a native Aussie) recounted her tales of living in India for 2 years (following a fiance who was on work assignment in the country) and her constant confrontation with the diversity and chaos that makes this country so wonderful & terrible all at the same time. When we were there, I cried almost every night in our hotel room talking to Andy about the difficulty of this land. I hated it. Yet it still drew me in. By the time we were on the airplane returning to the States, I turned to Andy and confessed: "I hope God never calls me back to this country, but if He did, I would go." Andy was dumbfounded. And here I am, 5 years later, and I feel the stir to return nudging me.

In the opening pages of Holy Cow, the author shares a similar story. She had traveled around India 10 years prior with a girlfriend, and in the preface she describes her final moments at the airport as she left: "I break into a run, push onto the plane and sink into my seat. As we take off I give smog-swirled New Delhi the finger. 'Good-bye and good-riddance, India. I hate you and I'm never, never ever coming back.'" (p.3) And yet she did.

Some passages I found myself near tears with laughter as she paints the "colorful" picture of locals in the midst of everyday Indian life (including burping, drawn-out calls for chaaaaaaaaai, and the uniquely Indian head-wobble which says yes, no, and maybe all wrapped into one). Some passages I was near tears from the pain and inner conflict I felt at her portrait of the poor, the beggars, the sick that pepper every roadside in every city (including modern day lepers, burying the dead by placing them in the river, and passing never-ending slums in the heart of every city).

She explains it well when she writes, that its pointless to try and "figure out" India. "India is beyond statement, for anything you say, the opposite is also true. It's rich and poor, spiritual and material, cruel and kind, angry but peaceful, ugly and beautiful, and smart but stupid. It's all the extremes. India defies understanding... My confinement here is different-- I'm trapped by heat and by a never-ending series of juxtapositions... What's more, India's extremes are endlessly confronting." (p. 107). This is so true!

If you (a Westerner) have ever been to India, this book will make you feel normal for all the frustrations and love affairs you had in your mind while there. If you've never been to India-- but want to go-- this book will help you capture a glimpse of the wonderful, terrible confusion that lies ahead. No matter how hard I try, India will not leave my heart. And I would whole-heartedly tell anyone to travel there. Go. See it. Experience it. Love it. Hate it. And go back.

Oh ya, and read this book! It's a perfect travelogue to be your companion to a foreign land.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Giving Made Easy!

If you frequent my blog, then you probably are aware that we are big fans and supporters of a non-profit called Seed Effect, Sudan. The quick "scoop" about what they do, in my own words, is: they give small loans (like $50-250ish) to locals in Southern Sudan who are struggling to survive. The loans are to help a Sudanese business owner start or expand their business, hopefully increasing profitability. The big picture goal is to help these entrepreneurs to put food in the tummies of their family members and pay for their children's school fees.

Seed Effect recently partnered with Capitol One credit cards to create a program through which you can give money to Seed Effect just by shopping!!!! For every dollar you spend, Capitol One contributes 1-10% of that dollar straight to Seed Effect. How stinkin' cool is that?!?!?! So, without costing you money, you can help fight poverty in Southern Sudan by donating to such a great non-profit!

I applied for my card and YOU SHOULD TOO!!!

West Texas Vacation

In The Beginning... from The Austin Stone on Vimeo.

We just returned home from a Texas-sized road trip to Marfa, Texas. Its near Big Bend country and we did a lot of scenic drives to drink up the nature. There were so much jaw-dropping beauty we were pulling over ever few bends in the road to take pics.

Anyway, it reminded me of this awesome video our church did to kick off our current Genesis sermon series. The video was filmed in the same area we vacationed in, so it's all the gorgeous views we kept enjoying... so happy vacation on your computer from watching this video!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Ayaan Hirsi Ali & "Nomad"

I am usually nervous to post when I am reading a book by Hirsi Ali (I just finished her latest memoir, Nomad). Yet I can see the great irony of my fear to speak out when that is one of the things I admire most about her. Truth be told, she has profoundly influenced my love for Muslim women. When I read her first memoir, Infidel, in 2007, it broke my heart with a heavy compassion for women world-wide, as- to me- she was a snapshot, a single portrait of a reality lived out by millions of women. (Let me clarify, though, that I fully recognize her story is one story and I do not pretend to apply it to every Muslim woman in the world.)

Hirsi Ali is fiercely vilified by many, and she certainly causes much controversy over her stated opinions. But her message is so important to voice, at the very least, because it is not the majority point of view. We live in a land where diverse thought can be debated. Freedom of speech is a treasured gem. Yet that means we have to endure people we fundamentally disagree with just the same as we have the right to passionately agree with others. I am grateful for Hirsi Ali because of some of the things she says. But I am also plain grateful for her because she says them.

My nervousness to post about her usually reflects the greater desire I have within me to demonstrate LOVE for Muslims living in this country. I believe, as a follower of Jesus, that Christ cares for all people. Jesus loved poor people & rich people. He loved women & men. He loved children. He cared about sick people, people in prison, people who were oppressed or outcast. Jesus had a heart for people who were "strangers in a foreign land" or were a persecuted minority. And because I want to imitate Jesus, I want to love all those people too. Within me, Jesus compels me to care about what & who He cares about. And so, I love Muslims living in this country. In the deepest parts of my heart, I literally ache with an affection for them that only Christ could instill within me.

Which I hope explains why I hesitate to tell my readers things like: I read Hirsi Ali's book. But the truth is I did. And it makes me love Muslims even more. She does not make me afraid of them. She does not convince me that all Muslim's have evil motives (in fact, I don't think even she believes that). She does, however, move me. She causes me to think, she spurs me to question, she entices me to evaluate. She paints a vivid picture of real people she has met, real situations they've experienced. Often those stories are painful or feel extreme... but they are real to those involved. And I share in their pain as I read about them.

I haven't been convinced (as she is) to reject God and embrace atheism (which was at one point in my past my "religious" allegiance too). But I have been convinced (and not solely through her arguments) to fight women's oppression both here in the U.S. and abroad. I don't want to live in a world where some of the modern travesties against girls exist. I want to speak up and say "enough!" Even Hirsi Ali doesn't try to argue that the Muslim World has a monopoly on the perpetration of these crimes against women. So I stand in solidarity with her in my opinion that women the world over are neglected, abused, or under-valued.

I am drawn to read Hirsi Ali's books because of her experience as a woman, her experience as a refugee, her experience as a thinker, and her experience as a participant in both Eastern & Western worldviews. She has a unique insight into a large portion of the issues facing modern society. To listen to her reason & grapple with reality is fascinating. I stand by that. To read Hirsi Ali's book is to engage in thought-provoking discussion over today's powerful social dichotomies.

To Ayaan, thank you for your bravery, my literary friend. You inspire me, challenge me, and encourage me to engage even further in loving those who are forgotten, overlooked, abused, oppressed, discounted, and unloved...