Archive for August, 2009

Reverse Culture Shock…

I think the last 8 months has left me more culturally “shocked” than any time in my life.  Except maybe birth, because I’m guessing it must have been pretty shocking to use my lungs for the first time.  Ok, that was random.  Anyway, in addition to the culture shock people experience when visiting distant lands, another phenomenon occurs when returning home.  It’s called reverse culture shock.  I tend to get used to the way things are wherever I find myself, so being overseas for the time that I have this year and then coming back– American culture is shocking me.

Don’t worry, I’m not going to be “that guy” who talks about all the things wrong with our culture (at least not in this post), I’ve just noticed a few things coming back this time around.

  1. Pedestrians have the right of way in the U.S. You may say, “Duh, Kenny,” but let me just say that elsewhere it is not so.  There are so many people in India, and the streets are so crowded with everything you can imagine (including pedestrians), that our version of right-of-way seems foolish to them.  If you told an Indian driver that in the U.S. people walking on the streets have right-of-way, the response you would get may go like this: “But why? The vehicle is so much bigger!”traffic at the Red Fort
  2. In the states, I’m actually expected to wait in line like everybody else. Other cultures are often missing things we take for granted.  Several examples come to mind, like the time our Kenya team was trying to get off the bus we had traveled on all day, and the mass of people waiting to get on the bus began to push themselves in even before we could get out.  It’s difficult to describe, but one word does come to mind: pandemonium.  I ended up hitting a guy in the head with my guitar case just so we could get past him.  But I hit him in a loving way.  That’s one example of what happens when you don’t grow up in public schools that have “wait your turn” lessons and “follow the leader,” etc.  In India, at the markets, no one waits in line.  You pick up the items you want to buy, and then regardless of who is waiting to pay, you place your items on the counter and start waiving around some money.  That being said, you can imagine my shock when I get in line at my favorite cafe here in San Diego and have to wait while 3 sorority girls in front of me practice their reading skills on the menu, even though I know what I’ve been wanting for 3 months (‘The Works’ Acai bowl is the best).  Maybe there is a method to other cultures’ madness
  3. No one’s staring at me any more. Maybe it’s because I don’t have a rainbow-colored mohawk or a sweet sleeve of tatoos, but no one’s staring at me here in the states.  I’m actually enjoying this one.  Everywhere I’ve been this year, majority of people have had much darker skin than me.  It brings to mind what a man in Mena told me in January when I told him I would be visiting Kenya.  He said, “Do your best to blend in.”  He then chuckled at my red hair.  Needless to say, I have stood out.  I’m a ginger, and maybe a little recognizable.  Like the man in Kibera who said to me, “What is your name?” and then before I could respond he answered himself, “Chuck Norris!”  But after the better part of 5 months in Africa and India, I was getting pretty tired of being gawked at for being white.  I think this definitely gives me some perspective for how some immigrants to the U.S. might feel in the beginning.
  4. Electricity runs all the time here, not counting thunderstorms. This is one thing I missed, especially in India.  When it’s 120 degrees in the afternoon and you’re sleeping because it’s all you can do to escape the heat; the power goes out, and the only fan in the room stops running, you immediately wake up in a hot sweat.  Electricity is niceholding hands
  5. Guys don’t hold hands in public.  Granted, I do live in California, so it doesn’t happen more often here than other places in the states.  One of the things that was intially different, but I had to get used to, was the innocent affection that friends have for each other both in Kenya and India.  In both countries, it’s not odd at all to see grown men walking down the street either holding hands or arms over each others’ shoulders.  It happened to me.  My best Kenyan and Indian friends would go for my hand quite a bit, and initially it’s a little awkward, but also a little endearing.  That being said, if any American dudes reading this try to hold my hand you might find yourself holding my fist with your face.  Ok, I’m just kidding, but you never know.

Back in Sunny D.

I’m back in San Diego and the price is right.  It was around mid 80’s and my friend said, “Man, it’s so hot.”  I tried my best to hold back that whole I’m-self-righteous-because-I-just-spent-my-summer-in-the hottest-place-on-earth attitude that I seem to get from time to time since being back in the states.  A little of it still showed up.


Anyway, just dropping a line to say I’m back and I’m stoked.  Tomorrow I’m going to blaze a trail through San Diego.  Wanted: a Job, a place to stay, and possibly another degree.  We’ll see.  Peace.

1 score and 4 years ago

Bible study members in Kibera

Bible study members in Kibera

1 score and 4 years ago…

I would have been almost one month old, with a body-fat percentage that would put a sumo to shame.  After all, I did pop out of the birth canal about 2 weeks late, all 11 pounds of me.  That’s right, you read right, 11 lbs.  I had blubber rolls on my forearms.  You should see the pictures.  But back to being one month old.  Ah, if I knew then what I know now.

I’m not even really sure what I mean by that, except for the fact that I’ve learned so much in the last 24 years.  We enter as a blank slate, or at least that’s what Aristotle said (tabula rasa).  Whatever we learn and experience in our time here is what we know and have experienced, and boy, I feel like I have been blessed to experience a lot.

In this vein of thinking, 2009 has been a landmark year for me thus far, just because I have had an overwhelming amount of new experiences.  I mean, before my travels this year, I had never fallen into poop, or had poop thrown on my shoe.  I had never shaken a leper’s hand, or hugged a Kenyan.  I had never spent an afternoon with orphans or preached to slum kids or played my guitar in a church building made of tin and sticks.  I had never shared the gospel with breastfeeding women, or met a kid named Kirk Franklin, or slept under the stars (and grazing camels) of the African bush, or drank 4 Redbulls in one night, or driven a scooter in the rainy streets of Delhi, or taken a man’s binoculars for looking at the girls on our team from his roof, or had one million of the other experiences I’ve had this year.

Wow.  I feel so blessed.  But the coolest thing is that God is teaching me.  And the thing I’ve learned is that he uses our life experiences to speak to us.  And I guess that the main point I’m trying to make is not, “Look at me and how much I’ve learned,” but rather the amazing thing that there’s always more to learn.  There is always more to God, always more of him he has to show us.

In a conversation with a friend today, she noted that some time ago she had an epiphany in prayer.  You know those times when everything seems to come in clear for a few moments before going back to the normal haze?  She said that the realization she had was that in spite of all the wonderful adjectives we have for God, (i.e. wonderful, merciful, amazing, loving, powerful), that there exist so many aspects of God that he could reveal himself to her in a way (in a particular adjective) that no person from Adam and Eve until the present day may have experienced him before.  What a neat thought to realize that God is SO BIG that he could reveal himself to you in a way quite unlike any other way that anyone else has experienced him in history.  Yes, nothing is new under the sun, but God is our infinite discovery, our endless adventure.  He is our Teacher and guide into the depths of the knowledge of God.  It’s an amazing thought.

It’s neat how you can learn something from every experience in your life, whether good or bad, success or failure.  And if you listen enough, you can hear God speaking to you through every situation.  And after 24 years, I’m learning to listen.

A glorious night

Last night was pretty epic.  About as epic as a singer/songwriter house-show among friends and family and ending with a half-cover of “Hearts on Fire” from Rocky II and a small dance party, can get.  Intense.

When I was in India, I had talked to Jonathan, a friend of mine, about some opportunities to play my music while I was in Fayetteville.  I’ve been staying at Jon’s house, the J house, appropriately named because each of the four inhabitants’ names begins with the letter “J.”   So last night, we invited close friends over to the “J House,” had some coffee and cookies, set up a projector screen to play  movies (like Amelie, and 2001: A Space Odyssey)  on the wall for ambiance sake, set up a sound system that would put t0 shame a frat house on game day, and had a blast into the night hours!  I played many of the songs I’ve written and Jon, Stephen, and Tyler each played their songs.  The mood was perfect… I wish I had pictures.

Anyway, it’s just really fun to be with people you love and share your life experiences with each other in song.  We ended up recording some of last night too, so maybe I’ll have something to circulate once I get back in the SD.

Enjoy your Saturday!

guitar stuff
guitar stuff

this picture is basically unrelated to last night, except for the fact that I’m holding a guitar and striking a power stance.

Musings on Money: A non-comprehensive compilation of recent thoughts

We all know money doesn’t make you happy.  Or at least most of us know that.  It is said that money reveals who you truly are inside.  Money gives you options.  Options to possess things.  Some things good, some things superficial, some things questionable at best.  A new car, health insurance, new jeans, hair product, groceries, diapers, college funds, bills, a house.  But health insurance doesn’t give you health any more than new jeans give you good friends.  Having a degree doesn’t mean you’re  truly educated just like paying your bills only gives you freedom for 30 days.

We need money to survive.  God knows that.  And we all know money won’t make us happy, but we all tend to act like it will.  We generally make decisions in life that will lead us to more money, assuming we’ll be content when we have more money.  Considering that progression, why don’t we just choose to be content first?  Choose to be happy first, then make our money decisions.  Shape our money decisions around the truth instead of making our money decisions in spite of truth.  This way of thinking would seem to make more sense to me.

But instead of choosing this way, we most often throw our best efforts and energy into winning a race that doesn’t matter.  We bring no possessions into this life and we take no possessions out of it.  Only what you do for Christ will last.  Jesus said not to lay up treasures on earth where moth and rust corrupt and the thief can steal, but to lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven.  This is a truth that most Christians profess.

But time and life have a way of lying to us.  The longer we are here, the more we believe we belong here.  The more we believe we belong here, the more we behave like this life is the means and the end.  And the more we live like that, the more we tend to play off Jesus’ words about money as allegorical– or as if the truths they contain are meant for others and not for us.

We rob the gospel of its power when we act as though Jesus didn’t mean what he said.  We rob the Christian life of its witness when we live as though all we are living for can be found here on earth.  As believers, we are called to look toward our eternal inheritance; to recognize that this world is not our home; that we are passing through.  In fact, Paul said that Christians who aren’t looking forward to eternity are the most miserable people on earth (I Cor 15: especially verse 19).

Only one passion can fuel the human heart.  Vying for two passions is like cheering for both teams in a competition:  when the games ends, you’re not sure if you won or lost.  It’s like trying to run in two races at the same time headed in opposite directions.  Jesus said that No one can serve two masters… you cannot serve both God and Mammon (mammon being the god of money.)  We have to make a choice.  This is the truth, and the reason it stings is because truth pierces.  Truth divides.  Truth separates between what is true and what is a lie, what is the light and what is dark.

What am I saying?  Is it wrong to be rich?  Is it wrong to have money?  By no means.  I am saying that Jesus says it’s about as difficult for a rich man to enter heaven as it is for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle.  I’m saying that when we make decisions, we should choose God.  If he gives you money, great.  If he doesn’t, it’s still great.  Paul said he learned to be content with much or with little.  (“I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances.  I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty.  I have learned the secret of being content in every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.  I can do everything through him who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:11-13)

Also, what I’m saying is that if you’re reading this, the odds are that you already are rich, myself included.  We’re probably both very rich in the global sense of the word.  Let me give a few examples.

  • You’re educated enough to read
  • blessed enough to have a computer/access to the internet
  • if you have a car, you are among only around 8% of people on earth who own a vehicle
  • if you have access to potable water today, you’re doing better than at least a billion people today in that aspect
  • are you in an air-conditioned room
  • do you have electricity
  • the average annual income of Kenyans is $353, less than one dollar a day; but a decent job for a college student would make more than that in a week
  • should I mention the people who died of hunger today (1 person every 3.6 seconds)

You are rich.  I am rich.  We are rich.

What am I saying?  Choose God.  Don’t just make him the first choice in a list of priorities.  Make him the only choice.  The only way to serve god and money is if you’re serving Mammon (the god of money); and that’s no way to spend your life.  You’re going to be at the end of your life one day, and you’re going to say either something like this :” I spent my life on things that count, I spent my life on Jesus.”  Or something like this: “I wish I had lived my life more fully for God and chosen him in everything.”

I heard of a man who had a great heart for sacrifice and giving.  He had an acquaintance who asked him, “Don’t you think you’ve ever given too much?” to which the man quickly replied, “Do you think you’ll still ask me that when we’re dead?”

I’m saying we’re rich, both in the kingdom reality and in the reality of our broken world.  How can our world ever see the eternal hope we have in the kingdom if we live our lives as if the real goal is the temporary riches our broken world has to offer?  I want to recognize I am blessed, but I also want to be a good steward.  With knowledge comes responsibility.  Jesus put it this way: to whom much is given, much is required.  If I claim to be a follower of Jesus, I want to do my best to live like I believe what he said.  I want to do my best to close the gap between what I believe and how I behave.  I want to declare the message with my mouth and demonstrate it with my life.  Let’s do that!…. or at least take our best stab at it!

Lessons learn’ing’.. because it’s a process, you know

Howdy everyone-

So I’ve been back in Arkansas since last Thursday; back in the states since last Tuesday, and I’m so happy to be in America.  The first dinner I had in a restaraunt in Atlanta involved a bacon burger (because it’s illegal to eat beef in India) and the first meal I had in Mena was ribeye steak, for pretty much the same reason.  So, I’ve morphed in to somewhat of a carnivore over the last 10 days or so.  A couple of months of oatmeal, fruit, PB&J, rice, and veggies will do that to you.  To my surprise, I haven’t enjoyed one RedBull since being home.  I guess that’s more fun when you are playing Risk.

Anyway, my “re-entry” time has been so different from the last trip.  I came back from Kenya full and in many ways I came back from India empty.  Now there are a lot of reasons for this, one being my role as a leader on the last trip instead of just a participant as in Kenya.  Another being that, before 2009 I’ve never spent a full day out side of the U.S. of A., and now I’ve spend 5 months of this year overseas, without air conditioning, stoplights that are obeyed, or a constant flow of burgers.  So, I’m GLAD to be back here.  Because the traffic laws are actually enforced in our country, I can cross the street without having to look both ways the entire time, something I couldn’t do in India or Kenya; which brings to mind the time in India I stiff-armed a Honda. 

I think one of the biggest reasons I’m so fatigued is that God really used this trip to teach me a few lessons… lessons that I AM currently learning.  It’s not just bookwork, but it’s real life.  We serve a sovereign God, who is in control, but so often I go through each day believing that I’m in control.  Or I’ve even found myself acting like I believe I can control things better than God can.  And what is the fruit of such behavior?  Worry, fret, anxiety, etc.  I read a verse in Psalms that said “do not fret, it only leads to evil.”  God kinda slapped me on the face with that one.  Then on the last day of the India trip I got a note of encouragement from one of the students on the trip and it really spoke to me.  But there was one part that came as a harsh, but gentle?, slap on the face.  It said “control is the absence of humility.”  Guilty.  I’ve caught myself being prideful enough to thing that I have a better handle on things in my everyday life than the God who created the days in which I’m living. 

The truth is that God is Great, so we don’t have to be in control.  He is, and I can rest in that.  He uses the good and the bad.  He works all things together for our good.  And He knows what is good for us and the ways in which he is using our life events to shape us.  God is not as much concerned with our comfort as he is concerned with our character.  Who we are becoming is more important that how we feel during the process.  (Embrace the process– you’d think I would know this stuff.)

So that’s where I am.  I’m ended a great, but very stressful few months, and God is refilling me.  So I’m learning that lesson, along with a few others, that hopefully I’ll get a chance to share soon.  Anyway, that’s what’s going on. 

I’m in Arkansas for a few more weeks with a few events on my calendar before heading back to SD.  Speaking at Siloam Springs this Wednesday, my cousin’s birthday this weekend, then maybe some opportunities to play my songs for peeps up in NWA.  Mainly just seeking the Lord for what’s next… he’s Great… he’s in control.  And one thing I know I’ve learned is that I’ve never been happier than when I’m doing exactly what he wants me to!