Immigration and Assimilation

We listen to quite a few podcasts in our house, well, actually, in our truck. I regret not starting sooner, as they have brought so much interesting conversation into our life. Even Geshem loves listening to podcasts and talking about what we learned. We listen to Thai podcasts too, which takes learning to a whole new level. Recently we listened to This American Life, episode #600. Part of this program looks at some of the sentiment towards immigration. I understand that immigration reform is complex subject, and regardless of your perspective, there are ways immigration can be improved in the US. I don’t want to talk about particular policies in this post, but want to look at something that was highlighted in the podcasts, namely people’s fear of immigrants.

There are many people very fearful of what the immigrants will do to America. They are concerned about Islam taking over. They are concerned about resources being dried up. They are concerned with jobs being taken. There are many concerns, and the concerns are real. The fear is strong. In the podcast, these voices were heard. There was this idea that it is important for immigrants to assimilate. The lack of perceived assimilation was cited as source of concern for many people. I would like to talk a bit about this.

I have been living overseas in a completely different culture for more than four years. I, along with my family, have been relentlessly trying to assimilate. We have immersed ourselves in language, we live in a normal Thai house, our kids learn in schools where Thai is the method of instruction. We eat a lot of Thai food, we shop in the market, we listen to Thai podcasts. We continually seek out Thai friends. You get the idea: we work hard at assimilation. After four years, I can’t say that I have “become Thai,” in fact, the deeper I get into culture, the more challenging it becomes. The more I understand language, the more questions I have. In many ways, we have become more Thai, but we are not Thai. Assimilation is hard. Adaptation is draining, it is exhausting, it can wear you out.

Now, we come from a pretty considerate degree of privilege. Tracy and I went to great schools. I am college educated. We have amazing people standing behind us, supporting, cheering us on as we work to make a difference here. We are provided for. Thai people mostly look at us as valuable, or at least non threatening. Most people are happy to see a white face trying to integrate, trying to learn Thai, trying to serve.

Refugees…immigrants….not so much. Even here, non white immigrants are frowned upon, left to the bottom rung of society. Even fully qualified near native speakers of English who have dark skin and come from a non white country can barely get a teaching job, even when vacancies abound.

In the US, the refugees and immigrants (I assume legal, I don’t want to write about ‘illegal’ in this post) do not come to the US with the same advantages that I came to Thailand with. I imagine that they feel what I feel, and it is amplified by 1000. I imagine that ever challenge I face, they face, but even more. The odds are stacked against them, yet they press on. My point in this is: assimilation is very hard, especially for refugees.

Now, some may argue we should not take them. I disagree. I believe that receiving refugees is one of the things that makes America great. I believe that refugees could become one of the greatest assets to America. They have grit like you cannot believe. They have creative solutions to problems, they have insight and perspective that is untapped. They are a human resource waiting to be cultivated into something great.

Immigrants and refugees can teach America many things. They can teach about community, about serving one another, about meal sharing, about simple joys, about hope, about strength in the face of intense difficulty, about dreams. Are you willing to learn?

Many people are afraid of the Muslim refugees. If you believe Jesus, you can be prepared to show them the love that you have discovered. You can be like Jesus with the woman at the well, and be unafraid to talk, despite cultural barriers, despite fears. You can be like the good Samaritan and serve the one lying broken on the road. You can allow fear to spiral into suspicion, or you can reach out and discover a depth of love in yourself that you did not know existed.

Sitting with refugees and immigrants can be very challenging. Americans have to step out of their comfort zone and into a new world, one that is right at their doorstep. It is not easy, but it is worth it. I want to encourage my readers to take the time to talk to a refugee or immigrant. Ask questions, learn their story, help them understand America. Go to their house and join them for a meal. I think America can be great if Americans open their doors and their hearts and seek to learn from the least of these. If you take a chance and give it a try, send me a note, I would love to hear how it went.

Education 2

I post this despite my hesitation…I feel like it is unformed…Oh well.

One of my favorite singer songwriters is Mark Mathis. I have been deeply moved by his music many times throughout the last ten years. I became a fan of his instantly one day when I saw him in a coffee shop in Charlotte NC. I was sitting doing some reading and noticed him. I gathered the courage to go up to him and tell him that I really liked his music. He politely thanked me and asked if I had his album. I did not. He quickly ran out to his car and got me a copy, for free. So, Mark Mathis got himself a lifelong fan that day.

Mathis has some songs that are political / social / spiritual critique in nature. I love how he can critique through beautiful melodies and storytelling. One such song is aptly named “Christian Schools” I would like the lyrics to provide a bit of an outline for some ideas I would like to process. I would recommending having a listen as well, and let his music move you too:) click here to listen.

Christian schools and Christian rules, Money from your kids

Jesuit Priests and monasteries, they used to do it for free, do it for the least of these.

I would love to take every line of this song and process with a blog, but that might be too much. We will however start with a few observations from the first few lines.

Christian Schools and Christian rules: I never went to a Christian school. There were some in the city I grew up in, there a quite a few in Omaha. I want to write a lot of broad statements here about what Christian schools are all about…but I won’t, because I didn’t go. But I can say that they are not known for being institutions that serve the poor, broken, troubled, educationally deficient. Most have a reputation for being for the elite, the brilliant, and for those who want to keep their kids safe and / or be sure to get a good education free from the nonsense that can be in the other options.

Money from your kids. Bottom line here. Private schools do not receive government funding…so the money comes from families. Hard working sacrificing families. To my know knowledge there is not a major movement of churches using significant parts of their budgets to provide access to quality general education for their communities. I would like to stand corrected on this point.

Which brings us to the next line. Jesuit priests and monasteries, They used to do it for free, they’d do it for the least of theBoom. Used to do it. A shameful line. In some glorious golden age of mission, people gave up everything to go provide access to education for the “least of these.” Not only that, the Catholic Church opened some her coffers to provide this access. I did a little bit of searching to find some history of the Jesuit movement. Interestingly, they didn’t start out with education as a method of serving the poor, but they kind of fell into it, and then discovered how well it helped them serve the community. I am not Catholic, or Jesuit. I cringe to even think about aligning with any denomination or movement, but I am a Christian. Globally there have been faith communities that have provided educational access to the poor. Now, we know that Jesuit schools are no longer for the poor and the least of these…but why?

Mark sings to to us some answers and some challenges

what are we doing here?

what are we doing here?

christian school and christian rules

we are a song

we are a melody

it’s never been safe and it’s never gonna be

 

we’ve got a chance to change their minds

we got a chance to give our lives

we got a chance to live like Christ

live like crazy,love like crazy, you are crazy, yeah..

Education part 1

This is the beginning of a series I am going to write on the vast subject of our involvement with education.

The following are a few words that often frame my thinking on this subject.

Inequality.

Incarnational.

Access.

Service.

Over the last four years we have been serving in the education sector in Thailand. Many of the students that have been a part of our lives come from disadvantaged, volatile or educationally deficient backgrounds. It is interesting when you dream about something, when you have goals and desires to serve, to reach, to risk…and then you start to do those things. The complications increase, the emotional and logistical challenges abound. Often the dream stage is better than reality:)

One of the most significant emotional challenges we face as we seek to contribute to the educational development of the under served where we live is the challenge of our own biological children’s education.

A dominant and unending question that we ponder is “why do our kids ‘deserve’ one thing, but the kids we came to love and serve must ‘settle’ for something else, often something less than stellar. I want the best for my kids…I also want the best for the youth of our community.

We have made the choice that our children will attend schools where we serve. Fortunately, they are both great schools, they are not, however, as great as other schools that we could send them to.

There are, of course, many valid arguments for us to make different choices. For now we have landed on this arrangement. It is in part logistical, in part economical, and in part philosophical/spiritual.

We choose to send our children to the schools we serve because it is logistically easy. Our daughter can go with her mother to school. Our son can walk to his school as it is just down the street. Economically the school fees are within our budget. While our budget is higher than the poor in our community, it is a far cry from those whose children go to the “good” schools. Of course we aim to have more room for educational spending in the future.

On the philosophical standpoint, we want to be willing to experience as much of the life of the people we have come to serve, and that especially includes education. We also want our children to experience a more authentic connection with the people whom we live with. Educational experience is a vital part of cultural and relational identity. In the schools we serve there is a strong connection to the community and to the “common people.” We also must consider our own feelings of entitlement and weigh them honestly. Why do we feel we should have something when so many others are denied? Obviously if we look at every aspect of our lives in this light, we would all spiral into a pit of despair. We do not want that to prevent us from being as honest as possible in our evaluation.

This means that our children go to school with a lot of people from a completely different cultural, economic and spiritual background. Even the Christian teachers in the schools hold theological positions that I fundamentally disagree with. This means my children will have to sit through some terrifyingly boring and useless content. This means that nationalism will be drilled into the mind of a child who is not sure if he even has a national identity. This means they will have to sit through hours of worthless testing, hours of standing in line in the sun, listening to teachers ramble on. This will mean they will miss out on “international standard” education.

It also means they have a shared common experience with the children of the community and culture. They have real friends from their host culture that they can be bored with, get in trouble with, play and laugh with. This means they can struggle with their identity and find belonging in a variety of ways. They can learn to adapt to situations where they are outsiders. They can have the rich experience of overcoming misunderstandings, challenges and fears.

These above things would be present regardless of context. I think that a parent in the US who is struggling with the decision of whether or not to send their children to the local school would face the same challenges and questions. Over the next set of blog posts I am going to “think out loud” about education and our role in educational development. I write this post initially to be vulnerable regarding our struggle. I think our choice to serve in educational development demands close examination of our goals, dreams, ideologies and foundations. I write in part to process, and to welcome you along the journey.

Quotes on Hospitality

I figured a picture with my beautiful wife and daughter would promote more clicks:)

I write about hospitality because I really do believe in it. I want to encourage others to begin to experiment and explore what kind of hospitality they could express to their friends, to their community, and even to strangers:) My friend Jonathan shared some quotes a few weeks back that I would like to share here. They give me something to think about, and hopefully they give you something to think about too.

Thinking is fun!

“The heart of hospitality is when people leave your home they should feel better about themselves, not better about you.” -Shauna Niequist

This quote is like a motive check for me. I wrote awhile ago about the hospitality of my Thai friends. Their curiosity and patience made me feel valued. I want to create a place in my life where others go away from me being encouraged.

“Hospitality is when someone feels at home in your presence.”

I like this quote because it expands the boundaries of hospitality. If I am at a coffee shop, or a shared table place like Pitch in Omaha, I can work to create a welcoming place for strangers.

Hospitality: A brother came to see a certain hermit and, as he was leaving, he said, “Forgive me abba for preventing you from keeping your (spiritual) rule.” The hermit replied, “My (spiritual) rule is to welcome you with hospitality and to send you away in peace.”

Finally, this quote is great. I have fallen to the idea that inner / personal spiritual disciplines are more important than any external expression. Certainly through cultivating inner life we can become more loving, welcoming and kind. However, it is often in the welcome of hospitality that our character is refined.

When I think about welcoming in hospitality and sending in peace I discover that there is something that happens in between welcoming and sending. In our expression of hospitality we look to create opportunity for peace to be given to our guest.

Generosity 

This is what I ride now. Some of the Dura Ace components from the Ritchey are on this one.

 About 9 years ago I was working as a server in a restaurant in Omaha. I was newly married, and I had it in my mind that I wanted to start riding a bike to work. I rode a borrowed bicycle a few times. I enjoyed it. There was a guest in our restaurant who came fairly regularly. He liked to talk philosophy with me. I always enjoyed our talks.

One day he said to me “Caleb, do you want a bike?”

Yes, in fact I do.

“What color do you like? What is your shoe size?”

Blue and 12.

That was the end of the conversation. A few weeks later he came back and told me I could go pick up the bike at the Bike Rack. I was still a bit confused, but I went. When I came, they had the bike ready for me, complete with the shoes. It was a 1990’s Ritchey steel frame road bike with full Dura Ace. I had no idea how cool it was…but I loved riding it.

After my first spin, I was hooked. I have considered myself a cyclist ever since. Today as I commuted again to work, I thought about how much this one gift changed my life. One person’s generosity has been the source of great joy for me for many years. I rarely saw the man after he gave me the bicycle. Once I ran into him at the University library, I again thanked him, and we chatted about a book he was working on.

Sometimes our generosity can be an important key to unlocking a person’s future. Generosity communicates value, hope and love. I am not talking about just big extravagant generosity. I think it is also the little expressions of generosity that can bring significant transformation and change.

My wife is excellent at paying attention to little things that can be a blessing. She will buy things to give away. Every little gift she gives is an expression of value, of hope, of love. When we express generosity to others, we communicate the message that they are worth a bit of sacrifice, that they are noticed, that someone cares about them, that someone recognizes their existence.

As we extend generosity, we extend hospitality. Jesus talked about even giving a cup of cold water to a little one was giving to Him. I have thought about this. On one level, a cup of cold water is a simple thing, but if you look closer, you realize it is also a big deal. I don’t think that during Jesus time there were ice makers. I don’t know how water stayed cold, but I think that it might have been at least a little special. Seems like Jesus likes little, special gifts:) 

Radical Hospitality 6

Sometimes people come to our door and we don’t want to let them in. Sometimes we shouldn’t.

Sometimes we see someone walking our way and we make a quick turn to avoid a conversation. Often, we quickly grab our phone, pretending to have an important call to make, or an important message to send…or at least I do.

Avoidance.

I do it, you do it, we do it.

The Levite did it, the Pharisee did it.

Sometimes we need to…

Often, we don’t.

I have been writing about hospitality lately, and the truth is, I don’t always want to have people over. I am not always giddy to cook for a bunch of people. I often don’t really want to try to listen and understand.

However, quite often, I love it. I believe deeply in the Christian call to love your neighbor. We are better for going beyond our comfort to serve and listen.

Recently we have been stretched in this area. Some people wear us out. Often, we don’t know what to do. We are left only to be present. That can be uncomfortable. But it is in those moments we need the Comforter. 

Coming

JoseyMariaWeb
From the blog of Everett Patterson check out his work:)

Hospitality and Advent.

Advent is from the Latin word “coming.” Neat. This is supposedly a time to reflect on preparing for the “coming” that already occurred and the “coming” that is yet to occur. I think it is also a time to reflect if we receive His “coming” in those around us.

I love the above cartoon image of a “modern” Joseph and Mary.

It makes me think.

Think and wonder, wonder and think.

Am I ready for Who is coming?
Is He coming in a way I expect?

Maybe He is coming in an unexpected way.

In thinking about hospitality, I wonder if my heart and mind are prepared to receive the One who is coming…in whatever form He may come, hungry or fed, nicely clothed or in tatters, bound or free, thirsty or satiated, smile or scowl, ready or not….here He comes.

“I was hungry and you gave me something to eat…”

Radical Hospitality 4

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One our community dinners back in Omaha. We have continued this tradition here in the Land of Smiles. So fun!

I recently read the book Scary Close by Donald Miller. In the book he talked a bit about he and his wife’s desire to create a home that is healing and restorative. A place where people can come and be safe on their journey of becoming whole. When I read this I thought,  “Wow, this is exactly what Tracy and I have been trying to create.” I was motivated to continue learning and practicing in creating that kind of environment.

Back in 2007, when Tracy and I were first married, we lived in “intentional, missional community” with dear friends. These friends taught us a lot about the unconditional love of God. Their heart for the marginalized and disenfranchised continues to beat to this day. When we were back in the States earlier this year, we had the chance to visit with them a bit. Their house was warm as always with love and generosity. Their children’s friends were over, obviously they sensed the welcoming, accepting love that comes from the family. They were a model for us, an example we could see, and they created a place to experiment and grow, to make mistakes and learn and a place to forgive and receive forgiveness, a place to belong.

This is really what it is about. A place to belong. A safe place that communicates value and worth. Our homes and our very presence outside our homes can become a place to belong. Our presence with a friend or a stranger can become a place the communicate value and worth. This is radical hospitality.

People need examples and experiences to facilitate growth. Years ago we needed friends to show us how to love the marginalized. People need the opportunity to receive healthy and safe love from another human. They need to know what love looks like. By taking risks in creating a place to belong, we can help that occur. As I said, it starts with opening your heart…and continues by opening your door.

Radical Hospitality 3 Open Doors

IMG_1201
This is our front door. Open, as usual. I want you to encourage you to do the same, literally, but more importantly, metaphorically.

Set the table. Make it perfect. Clean the house. Make it spotless. Clean the bathrooms. Make them shimmery. Make the food. Make it otherworldly. Hide the blemishes. Hide the problems. Welcome the guests, on time, on schedule.

Nope. Don’t. Stop.

This might be hospitality for someone, somewhere. But this is not the hospitality that we are talking about.

When we talk about hospitality, we are talking about an attitude of the heart that manifests in our homes. We always ask “is the door of our heart open?”

Are we ready to receive the poor (regardless of their economic status) the broken (regardless of their outward appearance) the weary (regardless of their energy level) the confused (regardless of their apparent intellect) the refugee (regardless of their religious convictions)?
It starts with a crack in the door. We look out, prepare ourselves to encounter the unknown, to go headlong into uncertainty, to embrace a relationship and heal ourselves and the world in the process.

Radical hospitality 2

Last time I wrote about Dim and Doi and their expression of radical hospitality. I talked about how they expressed patience and they made a choice.

Today I will look at two more elements of the radical hospitality expressed by Dim and Dtoy.

Curiosity.

I have been told a number of times that I am weird, but good weird. Or that I am different, and a variety of other adjectives along those lines. So naturally, some people will be provoked to curiosity by our weirdness. As our relationship grew, I realized that both Dim and Dtoy were curious about our lives. Curious about how we parent our children, how we cook our food, how we spend our time, what our ideas are, what our life was like in America, what our family is like. They have had the privilege of meeting many of our family members that have come to visit.

This curiosity is something that made me feel welcome. I felt like they wanted to actually know us, as best as they could given our language hindrances. As they persisted patiently in the quest to know us better, we have the benefit of knowing them better.

During times when we are eating with them and other Thai friends, I have often heard Dtoy commenting on our parenting. He has been watching, and he likes to explain to his friends about how we are different, good different. I feel honored to be observed. It is certainly a bit intimidating, but honoring.

If we can develop a sense of curiosity about others, it can promote positive and radical hospitality. Allow our curiosity to open our homes and welcome new friends so we can learn about them and from them. In the process we can be mutually transformed.

Inconvenienced

Many times Dim and Dtoy have been inconvenienced by our crises. Whether it was a car accident, a hospital visit, a friend in need, their hospitality extended beyond the dinners. Some people call this friendship, and I agree, but you can be friends, even good friends, without being hospitable. Dim and Dtoy’s friendship created a level of hospitality that convinced us that they were ready to help, even at an unscheduled time.

I think that curiosity is a gift that requires cultivation. It requires us to suspend our preconceptions and opinions for a moment so that we can learn. Curiosity opens us up to a realm of friendship and hospitality that is transformative personally and within our communities.

A willingness to be inconvenienced is a vital part of hospitality. It is the fire that purifies our hearts. It puts us is the place where are kindness and generosity isn’t limited to our terms alone. I have been encouraged by the willingness of my Thai friends to be inconvenienced on my behalf, with nothing in it for them.