28 September 2012

Going deaf, one concert at a time

My dad wears earplugs to church.

He really does.

But before you think he is trying to tune out the sermon (after all, why else would he attend church?), let me explain that it is because he is worried about losing his hearing in church.

This is a real and legitimate fear that I, at age 30, am realizing is something we really all ought to have.

My dad’s not the only one. I have heard other people—though I admit they are mostly over the age of 45—complain that churches today are just too loud.

I attend a rather quiet church. Yes, most of the time, I wish the music were a little more upbeat and contemporary, that there were a guitar rather than just a piano, that sort of thing. But at least I don’t worry about losing my hearing. There is no worship team, and the choir has simple choir mikes. Nothing is blasted anywhere. My eardrums are grateful.

But I attended a concert last night that made me wonder, Why do we think louder is better?

I admit I didn’t know most of the songs, and I went mostly for the company and the experience. I had a fabulous time, thanks to some ladies from my PWOC group and to great musicians. (And dinner at Dairy Queen, which is a rare treat.) But because I didn’t know many of the songs, I felt pretty out-of-the-loop.

Why?

Because I couldn’t understand the words! I caught maybe one out of every ten words.

Why?

Because it was so darn loud! There was so much audio distortion due to volume that I literally could not understand the lyrics of the songs. If it had been true only for the warm-up bands, I wouldn’t have minded so much. (OK, so the Sidewalk Prophets can hardly be considered a warm-up band, but they were not the name on the ticket.) But the featured artist was just as hard to understand.

I get having loud music for a rock band. I’m totally down with that. I went to an Audio A concert once, and we sat right in front of the speakers midway back in the fair tent. Dude. We could feel the bass just pounding in our whole bodies. Quite the experience. But I’d expect that sort of thing from Audio A.

Honestly? The songs I enjoyed most the whole evening were the ones with the least accompaniment. Francesca Battistelli has a lovely voice, and I loved the songs in which I could actually hear it, when she wasn’t being drowned out by the bass or electric guitar, the songs in which she sat down and sang to a single guitar.

Yeah. That was nice. I didn’t know the songs, and I could hear her singing, understand the words, and be moved by their power.

OK, yes, so some songs are more upbeat and can use some more pep and volume, but really, to blast the music at a level that will literally cause long-term hearing damage if the listeners (not to mention the musicians) are exposed over a long period just doesn’t make any sense to me. Why is louder better?

From another angle entirely, if the musicians really do seek to minister to people in their concerts and spread the gospel, wouldn’t their music be more effective if the lyrics were intelligible? Some of the words are so juicy and powerful if only they could be heard. Evangelistically, loud and distorted music just doesn’t seem very ideal.

Maybe it’s just me. From now on, though, I think I’ll either have to stick to concerts of people with whose music I am rather more familiar or take earplugs and enjoy the lights show. And when my peers are going deaf at 45, I’ll just smile and whisper, “Can you hear me now?”

17 September 2012

I believe in ghosts.

ghost Yes, Halloween is still six weeks away, but I got a catalog in the mail last week that had costumes on the cover, and Timothy is already talking about what he wants to be for Halloween. Just like last year, we had to discuss the options that were “out” because Halloween isn’t about scary things; it’s about dressing up and making sure everyone has a fun, safe time.

I’ve mentioned before that we were never allowed to dress up as scary characters when we were children. No witches, ghosts, skeletons, goblins, vampires, werewolves, zombies, or Frankensteins (although of course we educated folk know that Frankenstein was the name of the creator of the “monster” while arguably being himself a human monster for his role in the creation, right, Ruth?). My brother Jonathan dressed as a bum when he was in 6th grade, but I think that’s the closest we got to negative characters. My sister was Laura Ingalls Wilder at least once and even made herself into a jelly bean jar one year. But it was always clear that the “traditional” Halloween themes were not welcome in our home.

That went for decorations, too. We never ever decorated for Halloween except with a Jack-o’-Lantern (or two or three). My sister and her now-husband one year carved a globe into their pumpkin for Halloween. Talk about awesome! So pumpkins are good. Witches & ghosts, not so much.

We were never allowed to watch any scary movies, either, which is completely understandable. Not only that, but we weren’t even allowed to watch friendly ghost movies like ones about Casper the Friendly Ghost. I have still never seen Ghostbusters, The Addams Family, or The Nightmare Before Christmas.

But I believe in ghosts.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe in Casper. I think dressing up in a white sheet is kind of silly and ridiculous, and I can see how it might be fun (though I won’t let my child do it).

I’m talking about actual ghosts. I think they do exist, just as I think real witches exist, and I have what I consider to be a healthy respect for spirits I cannot understand.

In 1 Samuel 28, a medium (or “witch” in some translations) called the spirit of Samuel up at King Saul’s request. Saul spoke with Samuel’s ghost about an upcoming battle, and the spirit of Samuel prophesied the death of not only Saul but also his sons, in addition to a rout of the Israelite army (v. 19).

I’m not a Bible or theology scholar, so I could not explain to you how this fits in with the concept that death is the end of reality here on earth, and that once we die, we spend eternity with God or apart from God. Yet even in the story of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:27-31), the rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to the rich man’s family to warn them about the torment awaiting them if they did not change their ways. Was he referring to sending a ghost? I don’t know. Maybe it was rather a request for someone to “ris[e] from the dead” (v. 31) as in the NIV. Either way we’re talking about people who have died coming back to talk to the living. But notice that Abraham said no.

By way of pop fiction, the Harry Potter books give a great deal of discussion to ghosts. In Book 5, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Sir Nicholas tells Harry, “Wizards can leave an imprint of themselves upon the earth, to walk palely where their living selves once trod. […] But very few wizards choose that path” (p. 861). He explains later,

“I was afraid of death. . . I chose to remain behind. I sometimes wonder whether I oughtn’t to have . . . Well, that is neither here nor there. . . . In fact, I am neither here nor there. . . . […] I know nothing of the secrets of death, Harry, for I chose my feeble imitation of life instead.” (p. 861)

It certainly is food for thought.

While I am curious about ghosts and the spirits of those who have died, I will leave that in Pandora’s box, so to speak. After having lived in Nigeria, I have no doubt that spirits do exist, and I should think ghosts fall into that category, too. I believe a spiritual battle is waging, just as Frank Peretti so eloquently depicts in his novels. But since the only instance I’m aware of in the Bible that mentions ghosts is a negative portrayal [the medium is terrified because God has forbidden His people to turn to mediums or spiritists (Leviticus 19:31)], I will just assume that we’re not supposed to summon ghosts but let them be at peace.

When I lived in Nigeria, every time we traveled to the nearby village of Miango, where there was a cemetery for missionaries and their children, it was my habit to visit several graves at night, when all was quiet and peaceful. I miss that. I miss laying flowers down for Hyo Jin Lee and Aimee Ardill.  I would stand by their graves—pensive, mellow, and not a little bit hopeful, but never afraid.

While I believe that ghosts do exist, they do not frighten me.

My God is bigger than they are.

Image courtesy of http://www.uttertrivia.com/halloweentrivia.php.

13 September 2012

Where I come from (Part I): Seasons

Many people ask me, “What was it like growing up in Nigeria?”

Wow, what an overwhelmingly huge question.

I usually have to follow the question with my own question: “What do you want to know?”

I mean, if you moved to a foreign country, and someone asked, “What was it like growing up in America?” how would you respond?

Umm… Different.

So, in case you’re curious about what it was like growing up in a foreign country, I’ll try to tell you a little bit and hopefully not bore you to tears.

***********

The first thing that struck me as we journeyed from the northern airport town of Kano five hours south to our new hometown of Jos, Nigeria, on Saturday, August 24, 1991, was how green everything was. I was coming from southern California, which is dry at the best of times but which that year was suffering from drought. The vivid green was just startling. It rained on our trip. It rained during dinner at our new neighbors’ home that evening. It rained the next day after we had lunch with other new neighbors. Welcome to rainy season in Jos!

Nigeria is a very disparate country as far as climate. You wouldn’t expect it when you think of Africa. The average person tends to picture “Africa” as Sahara Desert, flat savanna with giraffes and zebras, or jungle. And he’s be right. Africa is really, really big and has all sorts of climates and topography. Even in Nigeria, which is not by any means the largest country in area, has all three of those main areas. The south is coastal and very tropical, a typical rain forest. It rains a lot all year round and is hot and humid all year round. The central belt is more of a grassland with two distinct seasons that are as different from each other as summer and winter in Minnesota. The north is arid and is the beginnings of the dry land that becomes the Sahara the farther north you go.

Our town, Jos, is in the central belt, on a plateau of about 4000 ft. It’s the second coolest place in the country (on average). Really, the temperatures are a lot like southern California: in the 70s. Most of the year.

We arrived in August, which is the peak of the rainy season. And in July and August, it rains every single day. Sometimes it’s only in the afternoon. Other times there are thunderstorms on and off all day long. Most of the rain is from storms: hard, driving rain that pounds on the zinc roof. And hail. I can’t forget to mention the hail. It doesn’t hail every day by any means, but there are always several good hailstorms every year, casting down ice as big as cherry tomatoes. During our awards ceremony at the end of one school year, the electricity went out (which is normal), and no one could hear the speaker because of the rain pounding on the high roof of the chapel. Our high school math teacher had to do the rest of the awards and announcements in his booming voice. That’s the kind of rain I’m talking about. Not rain like in the U.K. or Pacific Northwest. rain The season starts in late April to mid-May and always comes with the explosion of flying termites that seem to literally erupt from the ground after the first drenching rain. They are everywhere. They get in your face, fly around the house, flutter around the car, crawl into your bed, the whole works. They totally creep me out, even though I lived in Nigeria a total of nine years. I hate flying termites. The local kids will run around and collect them, grabbing them and throwing them into a bucket of water. The wings fall off in the water, and once the termites are drowned, they get thrown into a pan and fried… or sometimes eaten raw. No, I’ve never eaten one. I just could never get up the courage! Driving at night could be dangerous because there would be flocks of children around the few working street lights (to which the termites are attracted), all trying to grab the flying bugs. Delightful.

The season usually starts off slowly. It rains a couple times a week at first, then three or four times. By mid-July, it’s raining every day. Beautiful thunderstorms and lightning that also bring high winds and flooding at times. Washed out roads, huge potholes, everything. It’s my absolute favorite time of year. The rain cools things off considerably, and I used to love curling up with hot tea (my family is obsessive about hot tea) and a book on summer vacation. You have to sit right by the window, too, because the electricity is often off, so the house gets pretty dark during storms. Our windows are slatted, though, so you have to risk getting rather wet. Even when the windows are closed all the way, rain still gets in. During a really hard storm, we’d have to remove the cushions from the couch, which was pushed up against our living room window, to keep them from getting soaked.

Then in September, the rain starts tapering off, and sometime in October, it mostly stops. It’s warm and humid, but it doesn’t rain.  In November, the dust rolls in. Some years it happens gradually, but other years, we’d wake up one morning, and literally overnight, the air had become filled with a thick cloud of dust. Not like a dust storm you might imagine from watching Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a fine, reddish brown powdery dust called harmattan, and it gets everywhere. In your hair, your nose, onto the furniture, window panes, clothing. Sometimes you can even feel it when you breathe. And the land just dries up. Grass withers and dies. The lush green landscape turns into a brown wasteland in the space of just a few weeks.

harmattanBut it’s not hot, as you might expect when you think of dust and dry weather. On the contrary, the coolest temperatures usually come during the dry season. The dust is so thick in the air that the sun’s warmth just doesn’t penetrate as well. It never gets cold, but it can cool off enough that people begin to die of exposure. It has been known to be in the 40s at night on rare occasions. The whole season isn’t like that; mostly it’s in the 60s and 70s, but the cold nights can be refreshing…as we snuggle in blankets because homes are not insulated and have no heating mechanisms except for fire. The visibility decreases, too. Distant hills become practically invisible. The sun vanishes before it goes below the horizon at sunset as it sinks below the layer of dust in the air. It’s a red sun, a harmattan sun. One of our missionaries used to sing, “I’m dreaming of a brown Christmas.” How fitting.

Dry season lasts through about February. March brings warm, humid weather again. This is the time of year my mom and I dislike the most. Neither of us is suited for heat, and the humidity can be overpowering, especially without electricity to run a ceiling fan. (Besides, ceiling fans are problematic in the kitchen, where it’s hottest, because they blow out the gas flames on the stove and while you’re trying to light the oven—with matches.) It is warm and humid but doesn’t rain. You can just feel the heavy air. High school classes after lunchtime were particularly difficult in March, since most classrooms didn’t have fans. We were pretty droopy.

And then finally, one day, we’d spot a dark cloud moving in, and we’d hear the sound of distant thunder. We’d go in to class after lunch with the fragrance of rain filing us with hope. Then, about 1:30 or 2 o’clock in the afternoon, we’d hear the pitter-patter of rain on the roof, and we’d beg to be allowed to dash outside to enjoy it. When the bell rang, we’d all dash out from under the veranda roof and lift our faces to the rain. That blessed, refreshing, rejuvenating rain.

I wonder what Vivaldi’s masterpiece The Four Seasons would sound like if he had grown up in Nigeria…

 

Harmattan photo courtesy of http://ebushpilot.com/blog/index.php/2007/01/harmattan-daze/

Rainy season photo courtesy of http://kimkennett.wordpress.com/2010/11/08/settling-in/

12 September 2012

It’s about me, not about you.

This blog is very simple. I’m a writer. My thoughts and feelings have been pent up for much, much too long, and I am trying to finally release them. I have thoughts I like to share. Sometimes I want feedback. Sometimes I just want to express myself without the fear of judgment and ridicule. I can’t do that in my everyday life, so this is my place of escape. I haven’t had such a place for years, and I ache for a venue I can just be genuine, just be me.

I have controversial thoughts. I step on people’s toes. On Facebook, I have hosted discussions on Islam, gun control, modesty, health care reform, and other hot topics. I really enjoy discussions and the way in which people [generally] interact in a civil way. I don’t want to necessarily convince anyone of anything, but I think we should talk about things. We can never get along if we don’t get into some of these issues and at some point either agree or agree to disagree and move on. Civil, loving, and informed discussion is healthy and awesome. I love it. It’s probably what I miss most about my college years at Wheaton. (OK, Heather & Will, you’re right up there, too.)

I offend people. I step on toes. That’s not my intent, but it happens. When I have controversial ideas and openly discuss them, I cannot avoid offending people who take my ideas personally instead of in the spirit of academic debate. I don’t mean to hurt feelings. Really, I don’t. But I cannot possibly agree with everyone. I don’t want to. I like variety, and I can’t take a stand on anything if I’m worried about offending someone.

We read in Jesus Mean and Wild: The Unexpected Love of an Untamable God last night that we cannot expect to make everyone happy. Christians who take stands on important issues are going to offend people. Jesus offended the Pharisees big time. No lie. The apostles and early church leaders spoke the truth in love and gently (when they could), but they spoke the truth, and they were persecuted.

I’m not saying I speak the truth necessarily, but I think it’s important to at least search for the truth instead of assuming we know what it is. It’s important to open your mind to other ideas and possibilities, to not be narrow-minded. Not to accept everything and become so tolerant that you forget your values. That’s not what it’s about, either. But I am changing all the time, developing and growing, and I want to evaluate my ideas and beliefs to see if they still make sense to me as I get older and learn more about life. That’s my personal reason for these discussions. I think I have that right.

That is Facebook. This blog is not designed to be a forum for discussion. Sorry, but that’s not its purpose. This blog is my selfish indulgence in my love for writing and my attempt to be genuine in some tiny area of my life. The brutal truth is that while I have lots of friends here in Georgia, I don’t have a bosom friend or a kindred spirit. (Yes, that may offend some people, but it’s true.) I have had such amazing friends in my lifetime that I have really, really, really high expectations. While I might talk about “struggles” in my life to some of my local friends, no one really knows the real me. No one here. That is just the truth. I have dealt with it and moved on. And this is one of the ways in which I’ve moved on. Here, I can spill my guts, just lay it all out on the table, be totally me. Please don’t judge me. This is my space. Let me have my moments here. Don’t take things personally. No offense, but I’m not thinking about you here in my space. I’m thinking about me. I need this. I really do.

I love my readers. So many of you have encouraged me and blessed me by reading and commenting, and even just by nagging me to write. Thank you! But seriously, if I offend you, please just don’t read. If you can’t handle my brutal honesty, that’s fine. But don’t whine about it. Just give me my space. Peace out.

11 September 2012

Bucket list

bucket list I watched the movie The Bucket List sometime in the past six months and found it intriguing even while it was entirely unbelievable. Generally I liked the film. I did not immediately make my own bucket list, but it was food for thought. The idea was not new to me, as one of my favorite movies is A Walk to Remember. In that film, a  young woman dying of leukemia has a list of things she wants to accomplish in her life, including being in two places at once, having a star named after her, and finishing medical school. (Love the movie, hate the book. Sorry, Nicholas Sparks.)

I heard a snippet on the radio a few weeks ago from a Focus on the Family program in which two people were discussing the concept. From what I recall—and please take this with a grain of salt--the main speaker was explaining that he thought it was pretty silly if not unbiblical to have a bucket list. His argument was that this life is only the blink of an eye compared to our real life of eternity that begins with this earthly death. Why should we focus on earthly accomplishments at all? Shouldn’t we be more focused on things above?

I’m no theologian, but I think that’s a pretty extreme view on the topic. I suppose I would agree that if your goals for this temporary life are about wealth and worldly success, that is unbiblical and silly. On the other hand, I strongly believe setting and reaching goals for ourselves can help us develop determination and diligence, which are important and desirable character traits for everybody, Christians included. So then does it really depend on the things on your bucket list. Can it be silly or unbiblical, for example, to have on your bucket list to share Jesus with five people? or—one of my personal goals—to help my mom write her memoirs and share her amazing story of God’s goodness with other people? As for more “neutral” ideas, is it wrong to want to hike 50 miles of the Appalachian Trail? or visit all 50 states in the U.S.? or deliver a baby?

We are in the world, not of the world. But we are still in the world. Can we not enjoy it? Enjoy adventures and making memories? Yes, this life is only temporary, but while we forge ahead in lives of faith and grace, why should we not set goals and celebrate accomplishments? If not for ourselves, then maybe to create memories for those who come behind?

What do you think?

I am different

I know many, many amazing ladies who are great moms, wives, friends, and followers of Jesus.

I would like to think that—at least sometimes—I fall into those categories, too.

And yet, I am different.

Maybe it’s just the people I know here, but it seems even my Facebook friends have similar traits. I can’t really say clearly how I am different from my closest friends, since two of them aren’t married, and the third is married but is not a mother yet.

How am I different?

  • I have no plans to homeschool my kids. In fact, I like the idea of handing them off to someone else for a few hours each day.
  • I don’t cloth-diaper. I love the earth, but I also love disposable diapers. Woot.
  • I eat processed food. Sure, we eat lots of fruit, but we also eat mac & cheese, bologna, and Hamburger Helper without any guilt. And I really, really like fast food.
  • I really hate football. Period.
  • I honestly cannot tell the difference between Pepsi and Coke, but I’m a sucker for diet cola in whatever form it takes.
  • I have no interest in competitive running. Thanks, but I am exercising to be fit and healthy, not to be fast. Even that is a huge struggle.
  • I am not on Pinterest and have very little desire to get pulled into that. Facebook is a big enough time-waster, and I’m afraid Pinterest would only underscore all the amazing and wonderful things I’m not doing!
  • I am a huge supporter of allopathic medicine. Huge. While I understand medical doctors cannot treat everything, modern medicine is amazing and has not only increased life expectancy but also—more importantly in my opinion—increased quality of life for so many people. If you don’t believe me, spend a summer in an African clinic.
  • I immunize my kids without any qualms. None whatsoever. I’m only sad that it makes them cry.
  • I have not taught my 4-year-old to read. I figure he will learn when he’s ready to learn… Or his teachers will eventually teach him. Either way, he’ll learn to read.
  • I believe in speed limits. No, really. I do.
  • I have never wanted to live within the European Union. It sounds really neat, but it does not sound like a place I’d ever fit in. Take me instead to Ethiopia or Zambia.
  • I don’t drive a minivan and never plan to. I don’t need all that space because
  • I am very happy to only have two kids. They are plenty for me, and I will be delighted if we never have another baby! (Granted, I will be equally delighted if we do, but as far as it is my choice, two is good!)
  • I don’t have a smart phone or a Kindle. I’m sure I will at some point, but not yet.
  • I don’t cook if I can avoid it. I just don’t have ideas for enough things that my picky kids will enjoy. Eat, yes. Enjoy, no. I do make sure they are getting enough of the right foods, just not in cooked meals as such.
  • I am going to be a working mom. Not sure what that will look like yet, but it’s going to happen. It’s just a matter of time and circumstance.
  • I am a liberal who thinks that life begins at conception and thus abortion is generally wrong, and that homosexuality is unbiblical. Or maybe I am a conservative who believes in gun control and federal assistance for the poor, including health care reform. Who can say? But I definitely ride the fence, and that makes me different.

Are these differences good? bad? neutral? Of course it all depends on your point of view. But while I feel lonely and out-of-touch sometimes, I am glad at least that my personality remains intact—as much as that is possible since it is continually developing and changing. When I don’t feel isolated, I am happy being different. Maybe in our next living situation, I will find someone who is different like me.