Keep it Simple

30 04 2010

Been watching TED Talks on my lunch break at work. This one has given me something to think about.

The point: simplicity.

The definition: something functional, reliable, cheap, and inter-connectable.

The best quote: “Perfection is finally attained not when there is no longer anything to add, but when there is no longer anything to take away.” – Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

This is all in reference to design, the Keep It Simple and Stupid (KISS) principle.

But isn’t great writing equally elegant in its economy?

And our faith? A theology as simple as possible, but no simpler? (Paraphrase of Einstein)

A Cultural Frustration

27 04 2010

I’ve debated whether I’m better off writing a post every day, even if it’s hard, or waiting until I have something to say and the time to write it well. Considering my track record on this blog, I’d say that latter isn’t working too well. So, a random reflection for the day.

Cultural frustration moment: I have a vet I go to regularly. He’s a nice guy. Both him and his assistant speak English pretty well and seem to know what they’re doing. The other day, I even tried an experiment – I called for an appointment! He must have saved my number, because he answered with “Hello!” It was quite cheery. I happily made a grooming appointment.

So, later I stopped by with some friends to drop off Selah. I’ve taken her in before and they do a god job. So it should be simple. I told him I wanted her shaved everywhere, leaving about 1 cm of hair. He was clear on it. The assistant showed me another dog as a sample, and I joked, “No, I don’t want a naked dog. Just 1 cm.” He clearly got it also.

Then the vet saw that one of my friends was Korean. And, while her English is good, it’s no better than the vet’s. But suddenly, he wouldn’t speak to me. He asked her what I wanted. And she proceeded to answer! They spoke about line cuts and all sorts of other things in Korean for at least 10 minutes. My friend has never had a dog (and presumably doesn’t know anything about grooming) and she never asked me what I wanted. I even walked out of the room to see my other friend. Honestly, I was very upset.

Finally, after they agreed on something that did NOT involve shaving, I said, “No, just shave her to 1 cm.” As I said that, the assistant joked, “No naked dog, right?” He got it and I appreciated his easing the situation.

So, what happened here?

First, as far as the vet’s concerned, he probably assumed a friend of mine spoke better English than he did. I get that, although that’s just a sign of how much he under-estimates himself. Also, I get that he probably wanted her to play the role of translator, not realizing she would just answer him herself.

Second, I don’t really know this friend very well, so I can’t guess at what she was thinking. She seems to have mis-understood my directions about “1 cm”, because I think she was convincing him I didn’t want Selah shaved. Perhaps she thought “no naked dog” meant no shaving, just a trim.

Most important: Why was I so angry?

A lot of it is perspective. Now I have it; then, I didn’t. That’s a big part of living in another culture – recognizing that your perspectives are different. And honestly, they will always be different. So even if you don’t “get” what others are thinking, the key is to understand what they think, learn to predict how they’ll react, and be patient with it. After all, you’re the foreigner with crazy ideas / strange reactions.

But for myself – How was I feeling that made me angry? I think it was mostly feeling de-valued / de-humanized. They spoke as if I wasn’t in the room, or as if my opinion didn’t matter. It was like I vanished. It was terribly rude.

But finally, a lot of it is about control. It’s my dog, my appointment, and my money is paying for the haircut. So I want my say in it. I was mostly upset with the vet for asking my friend instead of me; it takes away my authority as the client in the situation.

However, I recognized my anger and tried to hold my tongue. I know the feelings still seeped through – I don’t hide them that well. But, I also made an effort and let go of the anger within 20 minutes. As Ephesians says, “Be angry, but do not sin. And do not let the anger stay for long.” It’s nice to know that God understands our emotions welling up. We’re allowed to feel angry.

Anyway, the cut turned out perfect. And Selah act light and free!

The Academic and the Supernatural

21 04 2010

While I intended this blog as an academic exercise, I’m finding my time spent elsewhere. Yes, I’ve enjoyed the History of Christianity in Asia and a rather conservative commentary on Ephesians. But what I’ve really been reading? Charles Kraft’s I Give You Authority. Demons. Spiritual warfare.

Too often people read such books with a morbid fascination, a strong dread, and a good dose of skepticism. Because, after all, we’re modernists. Or early post-modernists. Or just plain human.

But that’s not how I read it. I’ve had to dig back about 5 years and remember what I’ve learned before. And the truth is, his books say very little that I don’t already know. I mean, I haven’t articulated it all as clearly as he has, but most of what he says I know to be true from my own experience.

The world we walk in is just one facet of reality. But God has given his power that humans in this world may influence the spiritual. So often we’re blind to that. Maybe we’ve never been shown the spiritual world, or maybe we deny it. But it’s there. And the more we ignore / deny it, the more power we give to Satan.

The people I’ve known to be the most effective in ministry, are those that balance the two: professors, pastors, missionaries…. an academic without spiritual awareness lacks authority, and the spiritually aware, without understanding, is easily misled.

Christianity introduced to Japan

4 04 2010

As promised, I’ve been reading Moffett’s History of Christianity in Asia. In particular, I started with Japan. Looking into the history of a culture clarifies its present.

Francis Xavier (a fascinating figure I should like to write more about) was the first to enter Japan as a missionary in the 1500’s. Yeah, over 500 years ago. Before the founding of the Lost Colony of Roanoke in the New World, a Jesuit priest was contemplating missions strategies for Japan. After his experience in India, where focusing on lower classes resulted in only local effectiveness, Xavier decided to start at the other end. In Japan, he chose to approach the ruling class, the feudal lords, the daimyo.

Personally, I would say that given Japanese culture and its attitude to authority, he couldn’t have had a better approach. Japan is a very top-down, group-focused culture. If you convert the leaders, others will follow. (I’m not sure that would be as effective an approach in American culture, where we tend to be suspicious of leaders and pride ourselves on “independent” thinking.)

The mission had success. In fact, as Moffett points out, there were a higher percentage of Christians in Japan in 1600 than in 2000. But he also points out, rightly, “how little the Christian century [1500’s] affected the subsequent history of Japan.” (pg. 68)

It is indeed astonishing to know that a country which, for its own reasons, welcomed Christianity, was later able to stamp it out, and still remains a mysteriously closed door. I would suggest it has much to do with the nature of Japanese culture and missionaries’ inability to understand and speak into the Japanese context. On the other hand, I would also suggest that when Japan does finally hear the gospel, it will be a powerful and sudden conversion.

So, Xavier departed in 1552, after just 3 yrs in the field. Think about how short 3 yrs is to introduce Christianity to even a single person and give them the knowledge and faith to face a lifetime of following Christ without a mature Christian community! Now realize he did that for an entire people. Of course, Jesus did the same for all of humanity in the same 3 years… so I supposed standards are relative. Anyway, in just 30 years (to 1581), th numbers grew from 800 to 100,000. All of that, by the way, was long before the first successful colonies in America.

So, that’s where I’ll leave the history of Japanese Christianity for the moment. Introduced, spreading like wildfire, but… something went wrong.

No matter how old I get . . .

1 04 2010

There are still days where I feel and act like a child. Days where simple things leave me frustrated and in tears, where the world seems too harsh a place. Days where I run to my Father and just cry into his arms, often over spilled milk.

I’m thankful for these days. They put me in my place and remind me how great a Father I have.

Father, thank you for always being there. For holding me tight and letting me be angry. And thank you for not leaving me in that place.