On Patriotic Parfaits and Competing Loyalties

patriotic parfaits

The picture shows a perfect patriotic parfait: blue jello, white whipped cream, red strawberries. Above the perfect parfait was a sign that read “Patriotic Parfait. These Colors Don’t Run!” Click the mouse and there’s another version – blueberries, whipped cream, strawberries, more whipped cream. Red.White.Blue.Red.White.Blue – the colors echo through the dessert. And indeed, it is gorgeous. 

At an early age we learned that God is not North American. He spans nation and ocean, culture and ethnicity. To bind him to one nation is idolatry. To attach Him to one country elevates our own perceptions of that country. Secretly believing that God is North American justifies our private beliefs that we are superior. It’s not true

Even if you wanted to, you could not escape that there is a national holiday in the United States this week. From patriotic table settings to patriotic menu themes, red, white, and blue abound. July 4th is the quintessential holiday in the United States. It brings out a fierce patriotism and loyalty, along with the ever-present colors of the American flag on everything. From cupcakes to plates, from store decor to napkins — everything screams nationalism. There are even instructions for patriotic manicures! 

The holiday is a strange one for me. It forces my divided loyalties and living between worlds to the forefront and it’s not necessarily comfortable.

What is the ‘right’ response for the third culture kid, the one who lives between worlds, at home on both sides of the globe to independence day celebrations in their passport countries?

More importantly, what is the proper response for a citizen of Heaven? One who defines their loyalty less on their country and more on their faith?

The first one is less complicated than the second. I always loved the 4th of July overseas. Throughout the world, amazing 4th of July parties hosted by embassies are held. These parties are like nothing I’ve ever experienced in the United States. From hot dogs to face painting, they are incredible celebrations. One of my personal favorite stories is about winning a trip to anywhere in the United States at a 4th of July celebration in Cairo. It came at a time when I was aching for extended family and the trip was a gift of grace. On those days I held my American passport and citizenship with pride and excitement.

I’ve come to recognize a phenomenon of many of us who live between worlds: when we are in the West we are fierce supporters of the East, challenging those who would criticize these places we love; when in the East we veer toward fiercely defending the West, aware of all its faults but wanting to explain it to others. It’s like family – I can criticize my family, but if you criticize them you are in big trouble.

Living between worlds gives one the unique perspective of seeing through a double lens, of being able to both love and criticize across cultures and cultural values. So from a third culture kid perspective, I had no problem accepting the party piece of the celebration and not thinking too deeply about the rest of it. And truth be told, I like it that way. I don’t want to think too deeply about it other than this is a holiday celebrating an event in history. Just as August 14 is a holiday in Pakistan celebrating Pakistan’s independence from British rule as well as from its neighboring country, India, so July 4th is a holiday celebrating independence, where friends and food, small town parades and fireworks come together in a day off from work.

There are many things I love about the United States. This is a country of extraordinary diversity and the cities that I have been privileged to work and live in offer opportunities to interact with people from all over the world. From restaurants to cafés, from hotels to green spaces, from recreation activities to public transportation there is much to enjoy, to be grateful for. And we do have freedom.  I wake up daily to the sweet smell of freedom and it is a gift.

There are also things I love about Pakistan – from food to hospitality; from the beauty of the north to the Indian ocean in the south; from the resilience of a people to the friendships I’ve been privileged to have. And then there is Egypt – one of my beloved places. I have learned what it is to love on both sides of the globe, and this is a huge step for me. And with this in mind the TCK question I posed is easy: I can enjoy barbecues, I can enjoy burgers, I can enjoy fireworks, I can enjoy parfaits — no matter what color they are.

But the second question is more difficult. We are in an era where American exceptionalism is touted by many, where the United States is seen as a country “blessed” by God and therefore superior.

More recently, the “Make America Great Again” ideology is an ugly one that has allowed racism, ethnocentrism, and nationalism to grow in dangerous ways. Lady Liberty’s “Give me your poor” speech is trampled by fear, poor policy, and hardened hearts.

This thinking is highly concentrated in many conservative Christian groups. This is deeply troubling. When the underlying message becomes about the supposed moral superiority of the U.S. – that it is intrinsically ‘better’ than other countries, I cringe and step back. The pretty parfaits turn to bile in my mouth and I struggle to find words that articulate my issues with this thinking.

I do not believe that the United States is uniquely “blessed”. I do not believe it has a divinely appointed mission to police and save the world. In fact, right now I believe the United States is in an age of reckoning.

I do not believe that my friends, from all parts of the world, are to be pitied for where they live and what nationalities they hold. And in no way do I believe that America or Americans are more deserving, more unique than others that God has placed on his earth, in his world.

My allegiance is to a citizenship far stronger and greater than any nation. My loyalty and world view are defined less by a country and more by a faith. I am called to a higher calling and a far greater identity than that which is indicated by my passport.

So as a Christian, I will enjoy July 4th — because it’s a holiday, because I love a good barbecue and a small town parade, because it’s a day off, because there are many things I am grateful for – and freedom is one of them. But if I ever confuse my identity as an ‘American’ with that of being a ‘Christian’ may I be called out and challenged by those around me. Believing that a national identity is greater than a spiritual identity is quite simply idolatry.


 *Robynn and Marilyn in What Growing up in a Muslim Country Taught us

A Life Overseas – When People Hate Your Home

Readers – I’m sending you to A Life Overseas today to a post called “When People Hate Your Home.” If there is anything that convicts a third culture kid it is a post like this! Because it’s not easy to love our passport countries and sometimes we fall into the category of the biggest criticizers. And that’s why I love this post by Lindsey Lautsbaugh – because she walks us through what it means to both appropriately love our passport countries as well as how to respond to those who don’t.  It can also be transferred however to those countries we were raised in that people in our passport countries hate – say Pakistan for instance. Or Iran. Or other places. Take a look and weigh in through comments either here or at A Life Overseas.

down with usa

I was 19 and just beginning to explore a future in missions. An internationally diverse group of us traveled all around Namibia doing presentations in local high schools. To begin our presentation, each team member would introduce themselves.

“My name is Lindsey and I am from the United States of America.”

As the only American in the group I secretly revelled in the loud cheers and applause that I got each and every time. No other person got that sort of response for their nation.

Fast forward 10 years… how times have changed.

My husband and I, on a Sunday morning, were listening to our local church pastor. He was preaching out of 1 Peter on how to live in an anti-God society. I remember the moment so clearly. Our pastor was really finding his groove.

“What do Christians do when their nation is so corrupt or so violent… completely opposed to the Kingdom of God? God has strength for those who live under rulers of nations like Iraq, Zimbabwe and the United States!”

We stared straight ahead but could read each others minds instantly. “Did he just compare our President to Saddam Hussein and Robert Mugabe?”. Yes, he did.

We were not blind to the changing perception of our home country. If we did have any doubts that times and perceptions had changed, this church service erased them.

A few months later we had a prayer time with all our staff and students at our Bible School. For some reason, those leading the time felt to pray for America… not something we had done before. The prayer topic was not well received to put it lightly. As everyone broke into groups to pray, a strange silence enveloped the room (not normal for a prayer time in Africa!).

After 10-15 minutes the leaders spoke up, “What is going on? Why is no one praying?” Finally someone broke the silence, “In order to pray for a nation you have to have something good to say about them, I can think of nothing good to say about America.” Person after person admitted this was true for them too. This awkward-ness was compounded by the fact that their were several Americans in the room.

The reality is, people from many nations other than America have these similar stories and worse. No matter where we go in the world, there is a high likelihood that one nation or culture is despised or looked down upon by another nation or culture. Read the rest of the post here.

Re-Post: Beyond the Nachos – The Underbelly of the Super Bowl

A human trafficking awareness poster from the ...
Image via Wikipedia

New Orleans is the place – Football is the Game. 

I wrote this last year but am compelled to re-post. Let us not let our appetite for entertainment allow us to forget the wrong that surrounds that entertainment.

I am not a football fan but this weekend I will excitedly forgo a Sunday afternoon nap and head to our friends’ to enjoy great company, good food, interesting advertisements, and … oh yeah – I think there’s a football game as well. I love the Super Bowl for all the reasons beyond football.

Much as I want this to be a light post there’s a troubling underbelly to the Super Bowl and it demands my attention. Earlier this week my nephew alerted me to the problem of sex trafficking at this event – an event that has people tuned in across the nation, riveted to their seats to watch that missed field goal….!

Thousands of women and girls are brought to large sporting events and they aren’t  brought  to watch the games. They are brought  to satisfy the sexual appetites of Super Bowl fans who came from around the nation. In the 2010 Super Bowl an estimated 10,000 prostitutes were brought to Miami, many unwillingly. Football, Nachos, beer and top it all off with a dessert of sex from what are often trafficked women and underage girls.

My stomach is turning and the nausea is inescapable – Could it be God uses these physical symptoms to get my attention.

Last year Indiana  passed a human trafficking law that is much tougher and “extends the definition of sex trafficking and increases penalties” This is largely because of the work of Shared Hope International, an organization with a mission to “rescue and restore women and children in crisis. We are leaders in a worldwide effort to prevent and eradicate sex trafficking and slavery through education and public awareness.”  Leaders in the organization were thrilled that the law was passed in time for the Super Bowl, sending a message to customers that they will be watched. There is still little awareness on the topic in the United States, perhaps because it’s often seen as an overseas problem, but that is far from the truth. I was happy to find the poster featured above –  but where are the posters in the United States? They should be present in every metropolitan area.

If there is one thing I know about you who read my blog – you are pro-women. From Blue Bras to Arranged Marriages to Mothering to Feminism – you are about women and who we are, who we can be.  So take a stand this Super Bowl and let people know about this underbelly. Introduce them to Shared Hope International. Let’s all find out more and see what we can collectively do to make a difference. All the fuss this week about women? Let’s make it matter by focusing on an issue I’d like to think everyone could agree on.

Most of all, if you are a woman, know who you are before God so you can let others know who they are before God. Just as Jesus relentlessly pursued the woman who reached out to touch his clothes in the book of Matthew, so he is in a relentless pursuit of you. Just as he cried with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus, so he weeps with you. Just as he said “Your sins are forgiven!” to the woman caught in adultery, so does he the same for you.

Related Articles: Hope Through Jewelry

Read more: http://www.foxnews.com/us/2012/02/02/human-trafficking-law-passes-before-super-bowl/#ixzz1lG7Lypth


In 1982, I was living and working at a women and children’s hospital in Pakistan. I had gone on a tourist visa with intent to stay the year. I had arrived in September with a 3-month visa. My visa had expired but I had stayed on, hoping the proper papers would come and not thinking much about it.

And then in December, just two weeks before Christmas, I received a hand-written letter from the local police office telling me that I must leave the country in 24 hours.

Was this a joke?

My mom and I pored over the letter laughing. It was my father who said “I don’t think it’s a joke, I think it’s serious” and suddenly my world changed.

It was two weeks before Christmas and I could not eat or sleep. I had come to Pakistan in a bad place. I was with my family and in my home and I was gradually healing. I intended on staying in Pakistan at least a year. Now suddenly my plans were turned upside down. I had to leave. I was no longer living in the country with proper documentation and I had been asked to leave. Mercifully I was given until after Christmas to leave. Two weeks later I was deported. And although it happened many years ago, the memory of that event is alive. 

Well not technically ‘deported’ as in I wasn’t escorted to the border. I went on my own accord but it wasn’t willingly. And had I not left, I would have been escorted to the border.

Pakistan was my home. It was Pakistan I looked to when I was having a bad day in the United States. “In just a few months I’ll be going back” is what I said to myself all during the summer before I arrived. I couldn’t imagine that I would be made to leave, to pack up all my possessions and leave the place I loved most in the world; the place that  raised me from breast-feeding baby through bratty adolescence to adult woman.

I think of this event a lot when I think about those who were brought to the U.S in diapers, have known nothing else, yet have only recently had a path toward legal registration. I get that we have laws and rules, that borders can’t be a free for all — anywhere. I get that this is a complicated issue and there are no easy solutions. But the United States has been negligent in not working on immigration policy with urgency and putting laws into place at a federal level.

I believe the decision to allow those brought to the United States as children a way to apply for legal status so that they can stay and work without fear of deportation is a good start. This is just one piece of what should be a multifaceted approach – beyond that should be a means for their parents and grandparents to register and have legal status. It is estimated that over 12 million people (men,women, and children) are here without the proper documents. These are people who are working and have no way of becoming citizens, of coming out of the immigrant “closet”. If a solid plan existed, a plan that experts say should include paying taxes, registering, and learning English, then I would put money on most people coming forward. They are sick of living in the shadows, but the alternative of leaving what has become home seems incomprehensible. The Opportunity Agenda, a group with a mission of “building the national will to expand opportunity in America.” gives these recommendations to Congress around immigration and a “roadmap” to citizenship.

  • Provide safe, legal means for migration through points of entry.
  • Eliminate the existing three and ten-year bars to admissibility.
  • Increase the number of employment-based immigrant visas to reflect market demand for sought-after skills and experience.
  • Allow individuals outside of the United States to meet certain criteria to submit and process their applications at the U.S. Consulate in their country of residence.
  • Enact laws that create a system which allows individuals already residing in the United States, including undocumented persons, members of multi-status families, refugees, and asylees, to apply for permanent residence by registering, learning English, and continuing to pay taxes*

I am hopeful that a comprehensive new policy will be a priority – a bipartisan priority. But until then I enjoy telling my deportation story. The astonished “How could a white person be deported?” that I get every time I tell it is a point of connection, for all of those who I have told know someone who is here without authorization.  In their world, it is inconceivable that a white person would not have the proper papers to stay in a place. It is brown people who get deported; brown people who are undocumented. English: Statue of Liberty Gaeilge: Dealbh na ... May 2013 bring about better policy and may the United States continue with a common sense approach to the words inscribed on that statue of hope for many –Lady Liberty:

Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, The wretched refuse of your teeming shore. Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me, I lift my lamp beside the golden door!

“I saw the Statue of Liberty. And I said to myself, ‘Lady, you’re such a beautiful! You opened your arms and you get all the foreigners here. Give me a chance to prove that I am worth it, to do something, to be someone in America.’ And always that statue was on my mind.” Immigrant from Greece (Wikipedia)

I know many immigrants read Communicating Across Boundaries and I value your voice.

What are your thoughts? You may differ profoundly from what I have voiced and that’s okay. Join in the conversation through the comments.

*http://opportunityagenda.org/files/field_file/commonsense_3_0.pdfRelated articles

In Which I order Two 25 Kilo Turkeys in Cairo, Egypt

We did our shopping on the weekend. The turkey, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, jello (you must have jello) and so much more. As this time of the year comes around I think of Thanksgivings we have spent all over the world and all across the country. Pakistan, Chicago, Essex, Haiti, Egypt, Phoenix, Cambridge – all the memories make me smile.

But one stands out in my mind and to this day makes me laugh. 

To give context I did not cook a turkey until I was 34 years old and had four children.

Attending an international boarding school while growing up in Pakistan meant that we were never at home for Thanksgiving, that quintessential American holiday. Instead, the boarding school I attended graciously took the holiday and created their own version of a special meal (skinny chickens and mashed potatoes) followed by a musical concert. We called it thanksgiving and it was, for we were grateful for those scrawny but tasty drumsticks.

Furthermore turkey as known in the United States at that time was not available anywhere in the country outside of the American commissary, so Christmas dinner was generally chickens filled with homemade stuffing or the rich meat of wild duck.

It meant that I  never helped my mom cook a turkey. I didn’t know how to do it. I knew nothing about making a turkey or a roast, or any of those things that are considered good solid American fare.

But how hard could it be?

At 34 we found ourselves in Cairo on the Island of Zamalek responsible for 18 American college students in a semester-abroad program. I decided now was the time. So armed with my best Arabic I headed to a grocery store I knew well in Maadi.

The conversation went like this:

“Hosni, I would like to buy two 25 kilo turkeys for our feast”.

“Madame – I don’t know if I can find turkeys that big!”

“Hosni! I am having a lot of people. A lot of people ….I need TWO 25 kilo turkeys” He shook his head muttering but he had dealt with the likes of me before and knew there was no arguing.

When he called to tell me the turkeys had arrived, he apologized – he couldn’t find two 25 kilo turkeys, instead he had one that was 13 kilo and one that was 10. “I told you I needed BIG turkeys” I wailed. Hosni laughed “Oh, they are big!”

And then I went to pick them up.

They were massive. They filled two large boxes and packed beside them were their severed heads. In an instant I realized I was forgetting the weight difference between the metric system, used worldwide, and the American system, used only in America.

I had ordered over 110 pounds of turkey.

I was duly rebuked and humbled – no wonder Hosni muttered. We both laughed – he with glee and me with chagrin.  I often wondered if he enjoyed telling the story of this insistent white woman and her huge turkeys. Each year after we would laugh together about the 25 kilo turkeys.

It’s a good story to remember. The arrogance of my white-skinned insistence makes me cringe. This was only one of many times of having to admit that I was wrong; I didn’t have a clue. One of many “25 kilo turkey” moments of cross-cultural learning.

When we cross over into other cultures, we function most effectively when we can take 25 kilo turkey moments and recognize our need to listen and learn.

Thanksgiving dinner that year was amazing, the turkeys cooked to perfection. And the 25 kilo turkey moment remains a reminder, not only of an amazing Thanksgiving, but of the need for cultural humility, ceasing to be an expert and being willing to be a student of the culture where I was making my home.

Do you have cross-cultural holiday stories to share? Share your story in the comment section! 

The Immigrant Vote

English: Ballot Box showing preferential voting

“I know that I say this at the risk of over-sentimentalizing electoral politics, but seeing immigrants vote is the best thing about America” Annie Rebekah Gardner

I have two friends who voted for the first time on Tuesday. Both of them just became American citizens. One is from Romania and the other from South Africa. They were both elated.

It was a Big.Deal!

In the voting queue I was in back of a couple. As they talked with the man beside them it became clear that they too were voting for the first time as American citizens. In the early morning rush to the polls, as people waited in a line that went out the door and down the block, they were excited, engaged, happier then everyone around them.

My daughter Annie was behind a gentleman from Somalia, in line with his little girl, in line to voteSomalia has not had a functioning effective government for years. While I don’t know this gentleman’s story, I’ve heard other immigrant/refugee stories of walking to refugee camps, avoiding terrorist attacks, famine and disease. It’s a picture that we sitting on comfortable couches on this Saturday morning, or out to breakfast with friends, or getting our early morning shopping done at massive grocery stores with every imaginable food available,  cannot imagine. For him, voting was a big deal!

Voting was a gift.

It’s yet another lesson I learn from my immigrant friends. They take none of this for granted. They go and cast their votes with pride and excitement – not with disillusionment in a party and a process. They are fully engaged in this process and wear their new citizenship with the pride of belonging.

The immigrant vote keeps us grounded and honest. Newcomers to the United States have a different worldview and first-hand experience in countries where the freedom to vote is not a guarantee; not a right.

The phrase “We are a nation of immigrants” is overused and because of this it is under appreciated. But there’s nothing like being at a polling booth, with no fear of guns or bombs or violence, waiting in line with immigrants who have walked a long journey to get to the ballot box, to make one really proud to be part of this “Nation of Immigrants”

And so I salute you my immigrant friends – particularly those who have voted for the first time. You’ve walked a long journey to get to this place. Thanks for encouraging and challenging me. We are so lucky to have you in this country.

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.

Champagne or Hemlock? Election 2012

Today’s the day and tonight’s the night!

“Why don’t you come over to our house? We’re going to have both champagne and hemlock so we’ll be ready!”

Today in the United States ballots have already begun trickling in from east coast to west. All eyes are glued to television and computer screens as we watch Wolf Blitzer appear in hologram, listen to pundits with bald heads, and enjoy our own commentaries in the privacy of homes or in public venues like good dive bars. The champagne/hemlock reference was said to a friend of mine by her dad as they made plans on where to watch the election results.

And that about sums up this last year. Judging from the vitriolic, heated comments and responses from both donkeys and elephants, half the country will end up drinking champagne while the other half takes hemlock!

And the world will watch, because policies and politics of the United States affect a great many people — either for good or for ill.

And with that I’ll sign off and leave you to ponder our Champagne or Hemlock election – the election of 2012 where Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face off.

Happy election day 2012. May the odds be ever in your favor! Now – Let the games begin!

If you haven’t already seen this 20 second video, I think you’ll enjoy this 4-year old speaking for the world.


I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them to vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy; to speak no evil of the person they voted against; and to take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side — wise words from John Wesley penned on October 6, 1774.