And God…

It’s November 7, 2012 and I’m tired. So.Tired. I stayed up too late and my body has that sluggish, dry mouthed feel of exhaustion.

And God is still God.

We are poised for a Nor’easter, which means a big storm with lots of wind and rain. There is no sunshine and clouds are building as I write this.

And God is still God.

The world has watched the election results – giving America far more attention then we deserve. Half of my friends are ecstatic — the world will not end for women as they feared. They feel safe. So safe and so powerful. The other half are deeply troubled, they feel assaulted and are looking for comfort.

And God is still God.

I pass Mary with the Boston Herald as I do every morning – she’s ready for rain with her army green windbreaker and her ready smile. I pass Jeff in his usual spot outside Dunkin’ Donuts just off the T entrance – he’s still homeless like he was yesterday.

And God is still God.

The United States is still a country divided and this is reflected in everything we do. And Dengue Fever is endemic in India where mosquitoes breed without check beside stagnant pools of water; and mortar is exploding in Damascus; Greece is still in an economic crisis; a bomb went off at a base in Iraq. And some of my friends still think that the President of the United States is a saviour of sorts; others continue to see him as a relative of the Antichrist — because we’re all stubborn like that and it takes so much to change our minds. Even more to change our hearts.

And God is still God.

New York Times Headlines - Middle EastAnd though I have penned over two hundred words that speak of tiredness, division, disease, and seeming gloom there are a million more words I can write about God and his sovereignty and majesty; of his love, his grace, his mercy, his kindness. A million more I could pen of the mystery that is salvation — God become
man to enter into the New York Times headlines, headlines that speak to a world in need, a world divided.

And today God is still God and, in the words of a song I just discovered, there are still 10,000 reasons to bless him, to praise him, to love him.

Because God is still God.

Fear over Food

Pakistan was often on the cover of the NY Times the weeks before our departure for flood relief last year, so it made sense that the most common question I was asked before leaving was “But aren’t you afraid?” Suggestion is powerful and a week before leaving I found myself texting Carol with the message “Do you have any premonitions?” Carol is one of the wisest women  I know and I felt instant relief when she messaged back:  “No!  Why?” It should be noted that I didn’t message God to ask him…but with infinite wisdom he used the cell phone and Carol as my reassurance.   On arrival, in learning we were one kilometer from the 26 burnt out NATO trucks that had been attacked a week prior and half a kilometer from the mosque where the Taliban responsible for that attack had hidden just before their capture, I nominated Carol & myself for the “COOL MOMS OF THE YEAR AWARD”.   Even in that I felt no fear until the day we went to what we called “The Railway Camp”.

Both Carol and I were working on barely 3 hours of sleep a night.  The change in time-zones combined with exhaustion and frequent power outages was taking its toll on us.  It was in that spirit that we drove into the Railway Camp.  We had driven an hour and a half through badly flooded areas, at one point passing 125 brightly painted trucks in a traffic jam that cannot be described adequately.  We headed off the main road and drove a quarter-mile along the railway tracks until we finally arrived.

There were crowds awaiting our arrival.  Along with the medical camps, five men – four from the Marwari tribe in Pakistan and one Canadian would survey families on their needs.  The number one need was usually food, the second medical care.  80 pound food bags were distributed according to the families on the list.  These bags contained oil, rice, tea, sugar, flour, lentils, and spices.  Tension would rise as soon as the food truck arrived.  Hungry people wanted to make sure they received their fair share.  This particular day the tension was high.  That coupled with the isolation of the village and the crowds gave me a feeling of unease that began to root itself as fear.

Roosters, chickens and people wandered over to our pharmacy area and unlike earlier camps, we were not able to set up a system where crowds couldn’t close in on us.  In the middle of this came food distribution and fighting erupted – someone had stolen a bag.  Such was the desperation in a group of hungry people who had the responsibility of feeding hungry families that the anger was palpable.  Months later, while watching a group of ducks fight over food at a pond in Kensington Park, I remembered the struggle. Watching birds fight over food is easy, watching people is terrifying. Our men were in the middle of this trying to calm the crowd and get to the root of who had taken the food bag.  I looked at Carol and tried to concentrate on our job but the feelings of vulnerability and fear were strong.

Fear is a difficult emotion.  The physical manifestations of a racing heart, shaky voice, and trembling extremities can cause anxiety to increase and result in a cycle that spirals out of control.  I began to feel some of those physical symptoms as we tried to move the clinic forward, taking care of real medical needs in people unaware of what was going on inside my head and heart.

My fear was legitimate, but nothing compared to the fear of so many in the camp – fear of being unable to feed their families, fear of houses collapsing, fear of robbers taking what little they had left, fear of one more disaster.

As I’ve followed some of the news stories on Somalia and the famine, said to be the worst in East Africa in 60 years, I have thought about this camp and event many times. Words like “Food insecurity” are used by relief agencies. Those words are a perfect description. They don’t only describe the lack of food, they describe hungry people – insecure and full of fear. Fear because they are unable to feed those for whom they are responsible, fear because they know they could die. My time in Pakistan was the first time I have worked with people who are truly hungry. It is sobering to be from the land of Twinkies and fast food and realize that 80 pound bags of food can feed a family for a month.

Just yesterday the UN announced that famine had spread to another area in Somalia and warns that aid efforts have to be “scaled up”.

We can’t underestimate the scale of the crisis,” said Mark Bowden, the United Nations humanitarian coordinator for Somalia. “Southern Somalia is the epicenter of the famine area in the Horn of Africa. It’s the source of most of the refugees, and we need to refocus our efforts.” from NY Times September 5,2011

I’m not in a place now where I can go and physically help and I sometimes question my faith in situations where I am so far removed from the actual disaster. The question then becomes this: In my helplessness and faith can I pray Isaiah 41:13 for Somalia and Pakistan?

For I am the Lord, your God, who takes hold of your right hand and says to you, Do not fear; I will help you.

Acculturation or Assimilation?

“Yet, faced with a man clearly in decline, Mrs. Kirschner seemed unmoved. She found him troubling. Though skilled and vastly experienced, a professional who’d helped thousands of immigrants make the transition from the old world, making the transition had been based on the act of letting goabandoning belief systems that were quaint and out of date in favor of the modern, the new, the progressive ideas that were so uniquely American.

That is what assimilation was all about, yet the overly polite genteleman with the vaguely British accent and the severe limp rejected the notion out of hand.

My father was by no means convinced the values of New York trumped those of Cairo. He couldn’t see abandoning a culture he loved and trusted in favor of one he barely knew, and which he instinctively disliked. He preferred being an “old Egyptian” to a “new American”. He had, in short, no desire whatsoever to assimilate. “We are Arab, madame,” he told Mrs. Kirchner. ” It was a tragic clash of cultures….” from “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” p. 207

I quoted from “The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit” in the past in my post “Coats Too Big, Shoes Too Small:Shopping as an Immigrant”. It is by far one of the best books I have read that describes the immigrant experience. The quote above comes from a section in the book describing the family’s arrival in New York and their interactions with a social worker at an agency then called the New York Association for New Americans or NYANA. The cultural clash came between the social worker in charge of the case and Leon, the patriarch of this new immigrant family. I believe the quote captures much of what newcomers feel as they embark on the arduous process of adjusting. I don’t think it is a case of people not wanting to live in the United States so much as the fear that those things with which they disagree or find culturally disturbing will make their way into the fabric of the family and community, threatening to destroy that which they hold dear.

The word assimilation sounds exactly like the meaning. To “become or cause to become similar.” Basically it’s the process minority groups or individuals go through to “absorb” culture and take on the culture of the majority of people. As I think about a multicultural society is that really what I want? What we want? It sounds too robotic and sterile.

Acculturation, by contrast, is when behaviors and attitudes of people are adjusted or shaped as a result of contact with a different culture. There is a hypothesis that at least some cultural equality has to exist between cultures for acculturation to occur. Compare this with assimilation where it is the stronger cultural group that influences and compels people to adopt values rather than modify or integrate values.

In an op-ed piece in today’s edition of the New York Times there is piece called “Assimilation’s Failure, Terrorism’s Rise”.  I found it to be an interesting and provocative piece written by a British writer, Kenan Malik. He begins by looking back at the terrorist attack in Britain on July 7th in 2005 where London’s mass transit system was attacked spreading fear and chaos. He makes the distinction that while America’s 9/11 was the work of an outside terrorist group, 7/7 in London was the work of British citizens and that fact has troubled and confounded authorities.

The writer goes on to talk about multiculturalism and it’s two meanings that are rarely distinguished.  He states  “On one hand, it refers to a society made diverse by mass immigration, and on the other to the policies governments employ to manage such diversity. The failure to distinguish between these meanings has made it easier to use attacks on multiculturalism as a means of blaming minorities for the failure of government policy.”

It is an interesting read and I haven’t figured out what my response to his points are, but as I work with immigrant communities on an almost daily basis, I think acculturation is critical. Assimilation? That continues to be a more difficult and controversial issue.

Little Word: Big Problem

Google the word civility in the Google News search bar and you will come up with 7,699 hits between the dates of January 13 to January 18.  That’s a lot of news on a little word.  It’s a little word but a big problem.

Over seven thousand choices but I have picked three favorites. An op-ed piece by David Brooks, a letter to the editor of the NY Times, and lastly a Times article looking at hope in the midst of tragedy.

Tree of Failure:  This op-ed piece speaks to the places humility and acknowledgment of failure play in the dialogue process and the political process.  It’s the check and balance system that reminds the writer or speaker they don’t know everything and  perhaps haven’t  looked at the other side of the issue, forgotten a crucial talking point or maybe haven’t  checked all the facts. That “even if you are at your best, your efforts will still be laced with failure. The truth is fragmentary and it’s impossible to capture all of it ” and that  civility comes “from a sense of personal modesty and from the ensuing gratitude for the political process”.

Here’s my take: If able to admit to failure and display a fraction of humility, the voices of both public people and the media could become voices of substance and value.  When unable to show these characteristics they become white noise (annoying when I focus on it so better to ignore and sleep through it) The problem – failure and humility doesn’t sell and is rarely shared as a Facebook status.

Civility Among Centrists:  This letter to the editor argues that it’s the far sides of the spectrum that are unable to be civil.  That those more moderate “engage in moral and political discourse with civility”.  The words and tone of the letter are compelling and an advertisement for a more centrist view.

My last pick and the one that needs no words to explain why is the story from Time Magazine “Tucson’s Rays of Hope: Empathy, Civility and Donated Organs Restore the Sense of Sight for Two Children”.

Take a look and see what you think – if you have articles that have caught your eye and mind on civility be sure to give the link in the ‘Comments’ section.

Brave Marriage – Sustainable Marriage

NOTE BEFORE YOU READ:  The author of this post has enjoyed a brave marriage for 26 years and did not take the quiz.

The NY Times put out a Sustainable Marriage quiz just before the New Year.  It received scathing comments.  Basically we are told that the Happy Marriage is the Me Marriage.  Put in other terms – if my marriage makes me feel good about myself than I will probably score high, if not I will score low.

It’s the comments in the article that carry the best advice and the most humor.  One man talked about being happily married for thirty years and the only self expansion both of them were experiencing was in their waistlines.

In a society where we have increasingly lowered our view of marriage I loved some of the comments that came from those who had been married a long time and offered this wisdom: It’s not a quiz that will help you sustain a marriage. Notably absent was any reference to offspring, family or extended family making the point clear that the authors feel marriage is about the couple alone,  as if they existed in a vacuum.

One man signed Mike from DC makes this cynical observation about the quiz:

“So basically, a relationship is like a coal mine. If you are getting a lot from it, great. If not, drill harder or shut it down”

And what of  the days when you can’t stand your spouse, while other days you can’t get enough of them?

As one man named David puts it

“I’m glad I stayed. Because some days she scores 10 some days she scores 70.”

My husband and I talk about how we have enjoyed a brave marriage – we borrowed the phrase from someone a few years ago and it has stuck.  Those who know us well understand all the depth of meaning behind the word ‘brave’.  We are both glad we didn’t walk away at the times when we would have scored a zero, or worse still a negative number.

So take a look at the Sustainable Marriage Quiz and let us know what you think – no worries, you don’t have to say what you scored!