Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Busking

I'm not sure what this guy's story is, nor how he lugs a piano downtown to play a little street music.




In fact, things have gotten more complicated for street musicians in our town. In addition to getting licensed, they need to be a certain distance from store entrances and from each other. And they can only be stationed in the same spot for about 2 hours (which seems kind of pointless since they just switch places). It's kind of sad, because these "characters" are a part of the culture of our town.

Mystery hymn

It's hymn time! However, this time there are a few missing pieces.

Our sermon yesterday centered on grace, within the framework of Titus 3.

"But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy."-Titus 3:4,5b

To illustrate this concept, we heard the words of "a hymn."
Law and terrors do but harden,
all the while they work alone;
But a sense of blood-bought pardon
Soon dissolves a heart of stone
I can almost visualize that hardness melting away as the reality of God's forgiveness strikes us.

The source of the hymn, however, is unknown to me. The most common place it seems to be quoted is in Charles Spurgeon's sermons. I've seen it credited to Hart, and also to Toplady, who wrote "Rock of Ages."

But I haven't found the entire hymn, nor the melody associated with the portion above.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Are Christians in America persecuted? (part 1)

Right now I'm reading a book called "Persecution: How Liberals are Waging War Against Christianity," by David Limbaugh.

I know, it sounds a bit melodramatic. So far the chapter I'm reading describes a series of cases in which students and teachers were barred from speaking about Christ in public. A majority of the cases are related to either saying a prayer at a public event or mentioning prayer in a graduation speech.

It seems too much like complaining. We have so many freedoms in this country! How can we call this persecution when people in other countries die for their faith? Yet...should we be aware that these restrictions are in place? Should we be fighting back?

A book that I liked on a similar topic was "Total Truth" by Nancy Pearcey. I thought she made a good argument for Christians needing to be informed about secular indoctrination.

Maybe I'm not aware of all the legal battles, but I don't need to read a book to know that this kind of discrimination is going on. It happens enough in real life...

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Here are a few examples from my days as a student.

1) 11th grade English class

In practicing writing modes, we came to a "cause and effect" assignment. I worked my faith into as many writing assignments as possible. This was partly for evangelism purposes (if only for the teacher to be saved!), but it was also just an easy thing to write about because I thought of it often. So thinking of a topic for "cause and effect" was a no-brainer..."How Being a Christian Affects My Life." I'm not sure where the paper is now, but a 30-second outline would have looked like this:




After turning in the rough draft, the teacher asked to see me. "I'm not sure this is really cause and effect," he said.

Awkward silence. Then I pleaded my case. How could any writing topic be clearer than this one? How could anyone NOT see how my lifestyle was affected by my faith? (at least, the way I portrayed it in the paper...maybe I didn't always stick to my values)

Eventually he gave me a few options for editing, but even after the final review, he took some points off, due to my choice of topic.

2) First year of college, scholarship application

I was awarded a merit-based scholarship my freshman year to be used for a summer project. I had to write an essay to claim it. I didn't have any plans other than a short-term missions trip to Russia, so I thought I could apply the money to that to cover supplies and travel expenses.

Why was I going on this trip? Easy. To share my faith in God.

I was called into the department head's office. With some awkwardness, he explained that to give me the scholarship would be a violation of the separation of church and state, because the university would essentially be financing my missionary efforts. He also mentioned that another Christian student (incidentally, studying Russian) had run into the same issue, a few years before.

In the end, I changed the proposal to read that my goal was to "serve with my church group," or something to that effect. I left out the part about evangelism. The department head approved it. I didn't really consider the restrictions to be discrimination, considering that the university had certain rules, and he was just doing his job. He also could have rejected my proposal the first time, since he knew the true goal of my trip. But instead he gave me tips on changing the wording, as if he secretly wanted me to succeed.

I've never felt discriminated against so much that it warranted legal action. Should Christians sue? I suppose that is a whole different topic. But, I have definitely felt ostracized. And that psychological humiliation is almost worse than the punishment of not being able to hold your little Bible study on campus or not getting to wear your "I love Jesus" t-shirt. It's the feeling that you are the weirdo in the room. Do Christians need to be prepared to fight these kinds of battles? Yes! At least, we should be surrendered to Christ, so that He helps us to overcome the temptation to let our pride rule our actions.

I'll see if I have any more thoughts after finishing the book.

Friday, June 26, 2009

The end of an era

I was in the mall today and had that feeling of being isolated from the world, although it had been only a few hours. I didn't have a cell phone with me nor any access to news.

But the pre-teen girls next to me on the bench did have cell-phones (and probably knew how to use them better than I know my own). They had just received some news.

"Do you think she knows?" one of them whispered to the other. They turned to me.

"Michael Jackson died."

"Oh really? Today? What happened?" They didn't know any details.

It felt odd that Michael Jackson's death would merit speaking to a stranger. I felt that strange feeling of wanting to distance myself from the world, yet at the same time wanting to talk about this thing that was of common interest. Or, shall I say, common grief.

Thoughts about "emergence"

When I first heard about the Emergent Church, I was skeptical. You might look at my conservative habits and remark that you're not surprised. I'm actually quite open to stylistic differences; new ways of "doing worship;" new avenues for evangelism. When it comes to doctrine, however, I'm not into improvisation. And what I've seen of the doctrine of the Emergent Church does not impress me. Some of what they were suggesting- things like "missional living"- seemed to me to be pretty basic Biblical principles, and not ones that would require a whole movement. Why were people parading around with these notions as if they had discovered something new?

I was glad to see the book" Why We're Not Emergent,"* thinking that I had found someone on my side, although I was still confused about the movement itself.

The premise of the book is that people have approached the authors (Kevin DeYoung and Ted Kluck), promoting Emergent Church ideas. Although these two men (one a pastor, the other a journalist) fit some criteria of who embraces the movement, these guys are not buying into it. In this book, they explain why.

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A word about the style of the book:

This book has a very cynical tone to it. In a way, it's funny. In other instances it has a quite disrespectful air to it. The men are quick to explain that they are in fact acting in brotherly love, but that is open to interpretation. While dissecting the teaching of emergent pastor Brian McLaren, DeYoung explains, "I have never met Brian McLaren. I bet that I would really like him and find him warm and thoughtful and kindhearted. Everyone I've talked to who has met McLaren has spoken highly of his kindness and sincerity"(43) And then proceeds in picking apart his potential "friend's" writing...

What is the Emergent Church?

Good question. I understand a bit more after reading this book, but mostly due to the inclusion of David Tomlinson's "from....to" list** on page 150 and a few other visuals like this handy chart I found on the Internet. They may not explain it all, but they help break it down into simpler thoughts. I like having the visuals, so maybe it will help you, too.

The Controversy

I actually felt fairly conflicted reading this book. The descriptions are dead-on with some of the stylistic quirks of the era, which is entertaining...yet, I'm not concerned with hair-dos. From a theological perspective, a lot of the "faulty" ideas that DeYoung and Kluck criticize in connection with the Emergent Church are really close to what I believe, yet there's just something funny about the wording that makes me wonder whether it is just a case of sloppiness in Biblical knowledge or if there are serious doctrinal issues there.

Ted Kluck seems to be concerned about the theology of the following quote about hell, from emergent author Rob Bell. Although there is no clear explanation as to the errors of this statement, DeYoung emphasizes the importance of teaching God's wrath, later in the book.

"...When people use the word 'hell,' what do they mean? They mean a place, an event, a situation absent of how God desires things to be. Famine, debt, oppression, loneliness, despair, death, slaughter-they are all hell on earth.

What's disturbing then is when people talk more about hell after this life than they do about hell here and now. As a Christian, I want to do what I can to resist hell coming to earth. Poverty, injustice, suffering-they are all hells on earth, and as Christian we oppose them with all our energies. Jesus told us to."(Rob Bell, quoted on p.102)

I believe Bell has a point here, but with a few problems. First of all, what about God's sovereignty? A person may be living in "hell on earth" because he is contributing to these world problems by disobeying God. However, a Christian living in poverty or sickness is not necessarily living outside of God's will. God's allowing us to experience suffering does not mean He is not all-powerful.

In addition, I don't know what's disturbing about focusing more on eternity than the present. We can be sure of heaven, but we can't be sure of what will happen tomorrow, and we certainly can't make promises to others.

With confusing statements like these, I often found it difficult to immediately agree with DeYoung and Kluck in their criticism of the Emergent Church. A question of emphasis is not always a problem with doctrine. However, there are clear fallacies that the authors call attention to.

These are the ones that spoke to me the most:

1) Praise for uncertainty. This involves...
  • Denial of our ability to "know God."
    "The Christian faith is mysterious to the core. It is about things and beings that ultimately can't be put into words. Language fails. And if we do definitively put God into words, we have at that very moment made God something God is not...The mystery is the truth. "(Rob Bell, quoted on p. 38)
DeYoung remarks, "True, there are secret things that belong to the Lord our God, but what about the things revealed that belong to us and our children forever? [Deut.29:29]"(38) I think this response is apt.
  • Refusing to take a stand on key moral issues. As the authors point out, this is a disservice not only to our congregants, but also to non-believers who are trying to understand what we believe as Christians. There is a difference between humility and just plain cowardice! We need to present a message of clarity. The example the authors use is the question of homosexuality.
    "...McLaren and other emerging church leaders surely must realize that indecision is not pastorally helpful to most people. There are people in my congregation who struggle with same-gender attraction. To ostracize them for struggling with these desires would be pastorally damaging, but so would an unwillingness to encourage them in their fight against these desires."(48)

Here is another example of the ambiguity that Kluck and DeYoung criticize. It comes in the form of a list of characteristics for emerging churches, drafted by McLaren.

"1. Identify with the life of Jesus
2. Transform the secular realm.
3. Live highly communal lives.
4. Welcome the stranger.
5. Serve with generosity.
6.Participate as producers.
7. Create as create beings.
8. Lead as a body.
9. Take part in spiritual activities." (McLaren, quoted on p. 177)

Sound like Christianity? Sort of. But it also sounds like a lot of other religions. Kluck compares this with a list of goals of the Unitarian Universalists (very similar) and concludes "...there is nothing said in either list of guiding principles about Jesus' death and resurrection and the need of both for our salvation."(178) Again, I think this is a fair observation of how the emerging church represented in this example falls short of declaring basic Biblical truths.

2) Orthodoxy vs. Orthopraxy

-Again, there is a lack of clarity in the Emergent Church about what we should believe. Instead, there is an emphasis on how to live. Above all, follow Christ's example. Sound like good doctrine? Well, at a quick glance, we might say yes. "What would Jesus do?" Isn't that what it's all about? Not exactly. Many non-Christians who see Jesus as a moral teacher would also like to follow His example.
"Instead of following the Greek-influenced idea of orthodoxy as right belief, these chapters show that the emerging community is helping us rediscover the more Hebraic and mystical notion of the orthodox Christian as one who believes in the right way-that is, believing in a loving, sacrificial and Christlike manner....Thus orthodoxy is no longer (mis)understood as the opposite of heresy but rather is understood as a term that signals a way of being in the world rather than a means of believing things about the world" (Rollins, quoted on p. 110)
Here is part of DeYoung's response:

"John wrote his gospel, not that people might follow Jesus' exemplary way of life, but that they might believe Jesus was the Christ and by believing have life in His name [1 John 4:2-3]." (112)

Again, I agree. Christianity without a specific belief in Christ is not Christianity.


Conclusion

I think I will stop there before I end up quoting the whole book. It's worth reading if you are interested in this topic and don't mind a bit of cynicism or the picking apart of statements by various Christian leaders.

Appropriately, the book ends with some thoughts on the book of Revelation, in which we are exhorted to examine our own congregations to see what is lacking.

*DeYoung, Kevin, and Ted Kluck. Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who should be). Chicago: Moody Publishers, 2008

** “David Tomlinson catalogues a number of shifts (some of which are below) from the modern church to the postmodern church. He sees them yielding the advantage to the postmodern church. The shifts within the church include:

*from propositional expressions of faith to relational stories about faith journeys;

*from the authority of Scripture alone to a harmony between the authority of Scripture and other personal ways God mysteriously and graciously speaks to Christians;

*from a theology that prepares people for death and the afterlife to a theology of life;

*from a personal, individualistic, private faith to harmony between personal and community faith;

*from the church being a place where people take up space to the church as a mission outpost that sends people out;

*from arguing faith to the “dance of faith”;

*from salvation by event to a journey of salvation;

*from motivating through fear to motivating through compassion, community, and hope; and

*from a search for dogmatic truth to a search for spiritual experience.” (150)


Thursday, June 25, 2009

The Missing Agora

I was having coffee (okay, iced tea, but same concept) with a friend today. We finished the TESOL course together and have actually kept in touch a little bit.

My friend has done some traveling and spent a few years in the Peace Corps in Morocco. She remarked that she misses a community element, living in our town. It's funny, because to me it feels a lot friendlier than St.Petersburg or something other big city. There are regular "characters" downtown; people just strolling around. You can always expect to bump into someone you know.

Yet, she's right; what's missing is the town square, a common area where anyone can drop in and do business or just hang out. Most of the stores in our are fun to browse, but you definitely can't "loiter" there. The coffee shops are nice too, but still meant for solitude or quiet conversations with friends. You wouldn't wander in and strike up a conversation with just anyone. We have some parks, but not much goes on there, and our climate is not the best for outside lingering during most of the year.

So where can you go to do that, in this day and age? Do we have to create a space for it, or do we need to simply take the spaces we already inhabit and approach them in a new way?

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Let the red tape party begin!

I'm beginning to collect documents for temporary residency (in St. P.) from the U.S. side of things. I'll try to keep a record of everything here. I've seen it on other people's blogs, and it seems helpful. I might repeat myself a bit, but I think it is worth having the steps (as well as thought process) in writing.

Let's begin...

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Step 1) Criminal Background Check

I decided to stroll down to the police station today and see about getting my background checked. My parents had done this when they were adopting Anastasia and Maria (from Russia).

You can get a background check on a local, state, or federal level. I'm not sure which kind, if any, is the standard. I've been visiting a dizzying array of blogs, ex-pat forums, and official websites, trying to get an assessment of what is required in my particular situation. I'm also in touch with a few people who have gone through the process recently, and are able to offer updated information.

For example, one site seemed to imply that the standards are stricter for U.S. citizens, and they should therefore be prepared for extreme measures. I don't know if that's true or not. If it is, I doubt anyone official would admit it.

I got the local check since they do it while you wait. I can tell you right now that it doesn't have enough seals on it for the Russian government. I might be able to just get it "stamped up;" i.e. notarized/apostilled. And that would be sufficient.

If not, I'll look into the state and federal checks. I just might have to plan a little trip to Boston for sightseeing fingerprinting.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Why go to Hawaii?

I like going to Missions' prayer at church. Maybe it's the fact that I am the youngest person in the room. :) Maybe it's the like-mindedness. Maybe it's the new information and perspectives that I encounter.

For me, hearing from missionaries is a mixed experience. I listen as one of "the people," hearing yet another American missionary do his best to convey what he's seen from what may be a limited perspective. But I also listen as a fellow missionary, hearing words spoken in "my own language." Even if it's a completely different area of ministry or different phase, there is usually something I can pick out that relates to my own experience...

This evening, we heard from a couple associated with the Missionary Aviation Fellowship. Next, a couple who serves in Eastern Europe shared about their ministry. They had been to Belarus, Romania, and other countries.

They shared how it had been a bit of a culture shock when they first went to Belarus, but recently, they felt content there. "Why go to Hawaii when you can go to Belarus?" the man sharing remarked...

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That met with laughter, yet everyone in the room had had some sort of cross-cultural experience, and knew what he was talking about. You know you have caught "the bug" when you want to kiss the security guards; when the bumpy roads seem glorious; when you are eager to hear that confounded language that you just can't get right. It isn't about going on vacation or having an enriching experience; it is about your destiny in Christ.

We saw a few photos of their trip to Romania. It reminded me of Russia. When I see photos like that, to me it is like looking through a family album, or photos of my hometown. I may have taken the same photos on my first trip, but now they are just daily sights. I have to think hard to understand, "what is unusual about this photo, to American eyes?"

We also heard from a young Korean couple with a heart for evangelism. And joining us was a woman from Tibet who doesn't know of any other believers in her people group. She's studying ESL at the language school where I got my certification last summer.

It is a blessing to have this kind of fellowship regularly. And it is comforting to know that they pray for me when I'm not around!

Monday, June 22, 2009

Family events

It was a busy weekend for family celebrations. On Saturday, we had a bridal shower for Nastia.



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And Sunday, of course, was Father's Day. I cooked dinner and my sister made a rhubarb pie.




My brother was home for the weekend as well. I'm not sure why Mom's not in the picture. I guess, because it was Father's Day. But she was standing right there.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Irksome blogging technicalities that no one has time for

Yep, I ended that post title above with a preposition.

But seriously, if any of you know enough to play around with your Blogger template...

My issue right now is that I've been admiring the "read more" feature in Wordpress that can be added to the end of long posts. And I really wish Blogger had the same feature. Maybe they're working on it, but who knows how long it will take.

Right now, I have to constantly adjust the number of posts shown on the page, because I have no way of "hiding" part of the post and showing just a preview. Therefore, they're all different lengths.

I've tried a few widgets and have not had success. Maybe someone out there has been more successful?

(Not) Following the rules

I was reading a book about drawing techniques, and I skimmed through several pages of exercises. In response to the instructions I said, "Nope, I'll just skip right to the fancy stuff." I wasn't interested in drawing squiggles and cross-hatching; in exercising my hand.

And then it dawned on me. I was disobeying, and in doing so, I was setting myself up for disaster.

"But those exercises aren't really for me, they're for people who really need the practice." Why did I feel like I didn't fit that category? And suddenly, a few other experiences passed before my eyes: piano lessons (I don't need arpeggios, I'll skip to the preludes), learning Greek (I don't need to study the charts, I'll skip ahead 10 chapters), cooking (that step seems unnecessary), etc.

It seemed that the only place where I had been destined to succeed was elementary school, where everything had been broken down in tasks. No multiplication without mastering addition. Those teachers know what they're talking about.

Now I break everything down into tasks myself. I teach myself things, according to the plans I devise. But I don't always follow the plans.

This is true of the spiritual side of things as well. Is it really that hard to figure out what our mission is in life? But we are always trying to take a shortcut...or maybe a long-cut, if we feel like procrastinating.

I still haven't done the drawing exercises.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Только раз в году

Yesterday was my birthday. My Russian friends decided to begin congratulating me at 4pm the day before, so I felt like I had two birthdays.

I decided to sleep in, and then when I finally got up, my mom lured me downstairs with bacon.




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My dad had purchased a rose for me.





He gave one to my mom as well, as he does on every 18th of the month.




In the evening, we went out to dinner.

Here I am with Anastasia (left) and Louisa from Nigeria, who is staying with us.





This is Nastia explaining to Dad how she wants a "non-traditional" wedding song for when they're walking in together. He's listening and processing this information.




Here is the group: Shawn (Nastia's fiance), Nastia, me, Louisa, Emily, Mom, Dad




I decided to have a strawberry dessert since they're in season and I don't get fresh strawberries much in Russia.



I can't photograph all of the e-mails, phone calls, and other messages. But they were appreciated. Thanks, everyone!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Becoming bilingual

...author Julia Alvarez reports that hearing the English 'Julia' prompts her to extend her arm for a handshake in greeting, while the Spanish pronunciation, 'Hoolia,' prompts her to proffer her cheek for a kiss. (Pearson, 292*)

I don't know about you, but I find this a fascinating observation on how being bilingual extends to behavior and emotions, not just linguistics.

Bilingual children in our midst

Growing up, I had a friend whose mother was French and father was American, and she was bilingual. Then my friend spent some time in Mexico and became fluent in Spanish. She picked up some other languages in school and college, and most recently has been using her Mandarin skills in China.

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I have also met some children in Russia who are bilingual. I don't mean they just speak both languages well. They speak both (English and Russian) as their mother tongue.

One example is a girl whose parents are both Russian. In childhood, she went to English immersion school and her father spoke English with her at home. When I met her she was a confident 15 yr old, easily conversing with people in either language. With not a hint of an accent.

I also met a girl whose father was American and mother Russian. I listened carefully and it seemed that she too conversed in either language without an accent. She could be in both places and no one would ask her where she was from. She could think, live, breathe both identities.

I have written before about my observations of language acquisition. But honestly, I don't know much. It's just speculation.

A book review

Then I was at the library the other day, and a book caught my eye. It's called "Raising a Bilingual Child (A step-by-step guide for parents)," by Barbara Zurer Pearson, Ph. D. And I decided to check it out.

If I had a complaint about the book, it would be that it has TOO much information. For example, there is a whole chapter ( 30 pages) devoted to explaining how a child learns his first language, complete with charts and diagrams. I'm not raising a child, nor am I writing a thesis, so I didn't necessarily need all the details. But at the same time, Pearson's research gives credibility to her practical advice.

In fact, in general, I would say that the subtitle of the book is misleading. You can break down language learning into different topics and issues, as she does. But to describe it as a "step-by-step" process is oversimplifying a bit. I think "guidelines" would be a better word.

What I liked about the book was that it answered certain questions I had pondered. For example:

-Does learning two languages at an early age "confuse" a child and make it harder to develop normally?

-Is it possible for a child to be raised bilingual even if the parents have the same native language and are less than fluent in the second one? (Pearson says yes)

-How do the parents interact with each other in front of the child if they are presenting themselves as monolingual?

-How much exposure to either language does a child need in order to be bilingual?

These and other questions are addressed in the book. At the end there is a table directing the reader to the page where they are addressed. This is closely followed by a table listing common "myths and misconceptions" with Pearson's response. These are my favorite parts of the book, and I almost wish that there were a shorter version of the book just answering these FAQ's for those who aren't looking for scientific explanations.

The other part of the book was a short (unfortunately) chapter on "bilingual identity," which I quoted in the beginning of this post.

Bilingualism, for example, has a physical aspect.

"There is, in fact, a tiny physical realignment in the posture of one's mouth in one language as compared to another, which may be reflected in a more general whole-body sensation. For example, we can compare the neutral filler vowel in English, which is a low, lax 'uh' ('I...uh...don't know') to the French pause filler, 'euh,' made higher in the mouth with more tension in the musecles. So the 'resting position' for each language is different. "(Pearson, 292)
I find this actually to be true even with a second language. My mouth, jaw, even eyebrows, feel different. Sometimes I feel that if I just contort my face the right way, the Russian will come out flawlessly.

And another aspect worth mentioning is the chapter containing several case-studies of bilingual families. Pearson presents a chart in each case listing factors such as parents' native languages and proximity to extended family who speak the minor language. The factors are assessed and their weaknesses examined. It is hard to draw conclusions as each situation varies greatly, but it is helpful to at least note which factors are important.

I don't know how applicable it is to life, but it seems that this would be a good reference book to have on the shelf.

*Pearson, Barbara Zurer. "Raising a Bilingual Child." New York: Living Language, 2008

Monday, June 15, 2009

Signs of commitment

Yesterday's Sunday Times contained a piece on a young teen who initiated his family into going to church on Sundays. You can read the online version of the article here.

By the end of the article, the family was attending regularly, and the mother had signed up to bring a carrot salad to a church picnic. I found it interesting that the article ended on this note rather than something related to spirituality or being "born again." But bringing something to a picnic speaks volumes. It signifies: 1) a commitment to future involvement and 2) a sense of ownership.

At what point do we realize we're committed to something? I decided to evaluate my own experiences...

I often find it difficult remembering milestone decisions...or at least, the details of what led me to choose that particular path. I think that we sometimes begin to act and see the fruit of our commitment without realizing that we've made a decision. When big opportunities come up, we've already spent time analyzing our position on the matter, and our hearts and minds are in a condition to make a decision.

It's often little things that show how our hearts have changed. The first words we speak after forgiving someone might be laughably simple..."What do you want for dinner?" It's in our body language; how we dress; which section of books we are drawn to at the library.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Post office culture

One of the pieces of culture shock is navigating the post office. I was terrified the first time I went to the Russian post office. I entered a hall with a sea of people, many of them elderly. But despite the disorganized appearance, the complex queuing system was in effect. Mailing my letters took a lot of praying and telling myself that there was no need to fear people. Whether convenient or not, this was normal life for them.

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I'm embarrassed to say that I still haven't figured it out. I walk in and don't know what window I'm supposed to go to, because there are many different services offered, and you must stand in the correct line. Here are some examples: http://www.cityvision2000.com/communication/centpost.htm. It's a similar situation at the bank.

It is a little easier going to the post office at home since I don't have to decide which window to go to. Speaking English helps, too. :)

When I went there the other day to get some stamps, I was reminiscing about my experiences in Russia. The odd thing was that as I approached our post office, I passed a man talking on a payphone outside in a foreign language. I tried to listen a little bit...just to figure out what language it was. It sounded Slavic. It sounded almost Russian.

I went inside, where there was no line. The man at the counter knew exactly what I needed. He counted out the stamps with precision and put them in a wax paper bag. It was a simple transaction.

I love watching them crisply apply a piece of tape, smoothing it with their fingers. Maybe it's because I'm not good at doing things "crisply" myself...so I love watching the adeptness.

When I left, the man was still on the phone. This time, I knew without a doubt it was Russian, with a very heavy (American?) accent. Where was he from? What was his business here? Whom was he talking to in Russian? I found myself asking these questions in my head as I passed by.

So, you see, Russia is never very far from my mind.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Flexing my aunt skills

I dreamed in Russian last night. My sister and I were separated at an amusement park and I was trying to find the metro so I could ride a few stops to meet her. I woke up a bit confused...

When I went downstairs, Nastia and Angelica were visiting. Angelica is my sole niece, but will be joined by a baby cousin in the fall!

We tried to keep Angelica occupied so that Nastia could work on a project.

She did a little drawing...




...but kept getting distracted since M-o-m-m-y was still in the vicinity.

So the next idea was for Ti-ti (that's a Spanish version of Auntie...in Russia I'm "Tyo-tya") to take Angelica for a little walk.

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Angelica gladly hopped into her stroller, but boy was she mad when she found out I was going with her and Mommy was staying behind.

So I walked around the neighborhood with a screaming 2-yr-old and tried to play it cool so I wouldn't be accused of child abduction. I pointed at various things, trying to make them seem exciting. But apparently I wasn't very convincing.

When we got to a grassy area, I let her out of the stroller. She was still mad. She got her chips and juice out and made me stand about 10 feet away, yet I was allowed to come closer and get a chip so she could share. I saw a few smiles appear. A 10-minute respite...

Then all of a sudden, the floodgates opened again. I got her back in the stroller and acted like we were going home. After walking around a little bit....silence.



Even in her sleep she looks mad! :)



Meanwhile, Nastia and Mom were measuring the backyard to see what the possibilities are for a rehearsal dinner next month before the Big Day.



Angelica woke up to wave a tear-crusted goodbye before being escorted to the car. Another day in the life of a 2 yr old...

Friday, June 12, 2009

The Road to Residency

One of the advantages to being in the U.S. right now is that I can take care of some paperwork that will be needed for obtaining a residency permit. There are some documents from the U.S. side of it that are necessary. And since they're not as time-sensitive, it makes sense to do them now.

Then when I get to Russia in September, I can get them translated and notarized, in preparation for applying for residency in January, at which point I'll need to do the medical tests and so forth.

That's the current plan. But no guarantees. ;)

Thursday, June 11, 2009

A dud

So far I'm 0 for 1 with the library books.

I picked up an autobiography of Paul Tillich's wife, Hannah. I figured it would give me more insight about him since I don't know very much. I thought it would describe what it's like to be the wife of a theologian. Something about his research and writing, maybe a description of their family life.

The blurb describes the book this way:
"From Time to Time, Hannah Tillich's autobiography of her life with Paulus Tillich, has caused a furor in literary-and theological-circles months before its publication, principally among those who cannot or do not want to see Paulus as the passionate man he was."
My mom tried reading it first, described it as bizarre, and gave it back to me. This still didn't faze me as we often have different taste.

I had assumed "passionate" meant emotionally and spiritually, but I didn't expect to find myself reading about Tillich's sexuality. At first I thought it was a few isolated experiences, but I soon realized that the whole book was comprised of Hannah and Paul Tillich's romantic encounters with various people (including, of course, each other). Of course there were other themes, but the emotions were so intense that I found it difficult to read and make any kind of conclusion.

It was so different from what I expected that I'm not even sure I can evaluate the writing, although other reviews seem to praise it.

So it was a bad pick. Time to move on....

Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Enjoying my usual morning cup of ....skeleton?

As I was pouring myself a hot drink on this chilly day, I fell victim to the practical joke that's been in the family for awhile.




It all started with an unwanted brussel sprout (can you make that singular?) that was left in a mug as a joke. A few other "gifts" were left, and eventually Mr. Corpse became the permanent resident, to be found in one of the mugs at any given moment.

It's fun when these things resurface. This one and the carrot always make me laugh.

Monday, June 8, 2009

A foreigner at home

When I come to the U.S., I try to notice things that seem unusual to foreign eyes. I think it is important to do this as an exercise in understanding how newcomers feel. I take my camera everywhere, looking for those points of confusion. But many of them are hard to convey in text or pictures: the traffic patterns; the body language as people relate to each other; the different sounds and smells.

My skills of observation are especially dulled since I was just here a few months ago. Perhaps if I were in the CIA I would do better (note to the FSB: I'm NOT a spy!).

It seems too much like stalking to take pictures of people, and I'm too shy to ask.

So I'm left with random shots of the highway taken out the car window....

When you live in another country, you notice things like where the horizon is and what decorates it.





...how many lanes there are and what kinds of car people drive





...what is growing by the side of the road.





I also have random shots of wildlife, like when I was trying to find the resident snake and stumbled across a toad...





And just some unique places. Being ready to tell their story is good.


There are a million other things, like the heaviness of the air; the way the showerhead works; the way products are categorized at the grocery store. Little things...that aren't really a problem, but take energy to figure out.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

Prayer in different places

I headed down to the river and drank in the tranquility- the chirping of the birds; the June blooms; the sun on the water.

But I found that I was not in a condition to pray. The setting might have been ideal, but the condition of my heart was not. I thought back to a week earlier when I had been in the orphanage amongst rowdy children. Somehow all that noise and stress seemed more spiritual than this picturesque scene. A hasty "help me, God" seemed like it had been more effective than an eloquent, perfectly arranged meeting with the Lord.

Sometimes we think we must remove ourselves from life in order to truly enter communion with God. We think we must go up to a mountaintop or walk on the sand to fully experience His greatness. Or we think that just because we are in that special place, His glory will hit us instantly.

Being in nature does help me feel God's presence. But here, my thoughts are "what a wonderful Creator. What a great God." They are more worshipful than supplicant. And it is good to have that balance. In the midst of my trouble, in the messy moments, it is harder to find the awe. It is more of a sheepish "I need You." I need both.

Friday, June 5, 2009

Jet-lag therapy

Some activities for getting over jet-lag:

1) Creative expression (But don't try anything elaborate if you are feeling testy; you will end up blowing up over things like glue consistency)




2) Seeking beautiful places





3) Communing with Nature (chipmunks are harder to capture on film than squirrels)







4) Mailing letters (Looks like someone else decided to express himself)


Thursday, June 4, 2009

Parents and children

(Or "Fathers and Sons," if I wanted to be literary...)

It was a topic that came up at the dinner table. If a person had been very sheltered in childhood, would he be more or less ready for heading into the "real world"?

The answer may not be as obvious as it seems.

In the recent conference I attended, one of the speakers used her own children as an example. When she gave birth to her son, she went back to work after a few months, leaving him in the care of her husband, mother, and other relatives. Now, the son is very clingy and won't let his mother out of his sight. After giving birth to her daughter, she did not go back to work, but opted to stay at home. She and the daughter were always together. The daughter is now very confident and outgoing.

This illustration was used to show how healthy attachments early in life affect behavior later on. Knowing that one's needs will be met gives one the confidence to step out into the world.

In many cultures, for example, children live with their parents until married. Does this extended togetherness prevent one from becoming independent? Or does the relationship instead provide more opportunities for passing on important skills from one generation to the next?

When American youth leave home at age 18 to enter university, are they more independent than their counterparts elsewhere? Or is childhood merely prolonged as American college students live in trashed dorm rooms, living off microwaved snacks?

Does calling home every day indicate an unhealthy dependency or a healthy bond?

Is it necessary to begin sending a child to school as early as possible, in order to encourage independence and social maturity? Does homeschooling prevent such development?

In many of these cases, individual personalities of both parent and child must be taken into account. But I wonder what general patterns exist.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Back in the U.S.

I'm back in Massachusetts until September.

Flying to a different continent doesn't really get easier, but there's nothing I haven't encountered before. It's always the same sequence of events: the packing, lines, security, sitting for hours, jet-lag, etc. But after the recent AirFrance tragedy (which occurred the same day), I don't think I have anything to complain about.

I had a different itinerary this time, and the jet-lag has felt different. Plus, it's summer. No strange wintery darkness to deal with. Just the adjustment to the different sights and sounds.

I've been staring at the computer screen for awhile, so I guess this post isn't going to get any longer...

Monday, June 1, 2009

Travel habits

Whenever I'm getting ready to go on a long trip, I get these bursts of nesting/creativity and start projects that are impossible to finish. I remember one year deciding to make Advent gifts for everyone before leaving for Christmas.

I would like to point out, however, that the projects are not always my idea! They just seem to surface at the last minute.

This time, I was asked to collect the rest of my belongings from the apartment where I used to live. I had left a lot of things behind because I was going from living in a 3-rm flat to a 1-rm.

If I had had time to sort through it all, I would have found that I could give most of it away, or box it up nicely and ask someone to store it on their porch. Key word being "time." Some of it I had to just dump back into plastic bags and hide under the furniture.



It was actually fun to be reunited with some interesting items, like all the change from when I first moved to Russia and was very clumsy with counting out unfamiliar currency. I also got my beads, which came in handy for visiting the orphanage. And there are also the odd mementos such as receipts from shopping in Spain, that I just can't bear to throw away yet.

I also embarked on a few cooking adventures. A few days ago I had the sudden urge to make calzones. Every time I make something like that, I think, never again. So much time for something that you gobble up quickly!




Then there were the elaborate Sunday school props. You get the idea. But I'm actually storing up creative energy for summer. I have a few art projects planned.

And now, here I am blogging. Time to go finish packing!