Thoughts on the American Church / part 3

church blog series

In conclusion to last week’s discussion on the American church, here are Lizzy’s closing thoughts on the subject…

////////

Great thoughts, Courtney! I like your words, “I’ve never encountered the church he’s describing.” I wish I could agree absolutely, but I don’t think I can. Daniel was kind enough to give us an updated blog post which you readers see here, shortened for the purpose of NOTW’s post. One idea I resonated with from his original, however, is the phrasing that the church “lost” him. Every TCK can come up with a list of the American church’s grievances that rub him or her the wrong way. Churchgoing in the US is just gruelingly hard for us. It presents each of us uprooted, adjusting teens with a unique set of challenges. In fact I believe Satan is often the one presenting those challenges, trying to drive us away from the American church–a body that creates an environment so unlike any we’ve known and yet is crucial to us fulfilling our individual callings in America.

Daniel’s post made me stop and think how the church has lost me. Rich white people? Materialism? Inwardly focused? Oh yes! I don’t want to believe those things of the entire church but I most obviously do! I don’t blame monocultural churches–diversity requires a lot of creativity, and giving, courage. And I can know that though there are most definitely great numbers of rich white families who are the best lovers of and walkers with God and I’ll still hate the image of Christian wealth. Heck, I could get rich, go to church, and still feel uncomfortable with other wealthy whites. Let my hypocrisy be revealed, that Satan’s victories in my heart be exposed!

I moved to the States two and a half years ago, to a good sized town that locals might call a city. The town is operating off of a big church planting revival period about ten years ago, and rich fruit has been born. I tried out churches for the first six months, quickly realizing there would be nothing quite like the loving international fellowship I’d left in East Asia, that met in a dirty shopping mall and represented over 160 countries. I was also astounded and a little disappointed by how long my list of criteria was for choosing a church. When my family decided to settle in one fellowship I went with them, but I wasn’t fully satisfied. When discussing spiritual subjects with my art teacher at school, I couldn’t honestly recommend him to attend my church, since what he felt would bring him back to the faith– a church of deeply sincere people, contemporary but art-filled music, diversity and a casual, accepting atmosphere–was what I was still looking for.

I ended up attending college in the same town two years later. I’ve spread my wings a bit. I now go to services at a large building half an hour from me, that does a great job of engaging believers of all ages and backgrounds in the Word. Really though, I just go for the college Bible study that meets early. I’m not so hot on the service that follows it. There you have my story; I’m going on two and a half years.

I’ll now pull on some tendencies to sin that I’ve encountered, and I think all of us do. (If you think of more, please respond to this post below!):

1. Giving in to generalizations about Americans that we have applied to form generalizations about the church.

2. Letting our high (or at least culturally-tailored, specific) expectations make us picky about churches.

3. Letting our misery in transition hinder our action in participating in the American church system.

4. Claiming our cultural upbringing as an excuse to give up on churches in our passport country.

To all you TCKs out there, I challenge you to ask yourself, “where has the church lost me?” Then, PRAY ABOUT IT. The church in America has major, MAJOR issues, but make sure you offer the things you see before the Lord so you are not tempted to judge and think falsely. I applaud our Slovak MK’s open, wise words here when he repeats throughout his post, “I am confused about_________in the church.”

Daniel: It takes time. Don’t give up on this flawed church. I believe that all those verses in the Bible that instruct Christians to meet together are yet embodied in the church system in America, and it’s therefore our responsibility to keep trying to participate in it, to engage in spiritual warfare there because the over-equipped, materially attractive sanctuary with the comfortable seats and stage lighting system is still the hotly contested ground, the spiritual battlefield.

The Road Home

Screen Shot 2013-12-30 at 6.49.17 PM

{click here to watch the full film}

The other night, I watched a short film made by a TCK and written about a TCK, called “The Road Home.” Lizzy was the one who first found it through this review from Denizen  and we both thought the film was beautiful and thought-provoking. Since it was a short (only about 25 minutes), it was more of a discussion opener than a deep delve into the TCK psyche.  The main character is a British-Indian boy who struggles with accepting both of his cultures. It made us wonder if it’s possible to only live in one culture, to flip the switch between two worlds. I know that my brother has always been able to do that – speaking flawlessly in Italian to following the latest American trends – but is it positive? Is it possible to ignore and shut out the influence part of your life has had on you? The film sought to loosely answer this question, which we had a great time discussing over Skype.

Lizzy: In the film, the line my heart responded most to was the free-flowing, French backpacker-hippie’s announcement to the boy: “You can be both.” Pico, a British kid with an Indian appearance, considered himself exclusively British. He fought to make everyone else believe he wasn’t Indian and eventually developed doubts himself. For me, “The Road Home” brought up the question of choice. Can I choose how much Chinese and how much American is inside me? Can I choose just one or the other? Do I already try to? I think I try to have a lot of control over the parts of my identity as they make up the whole, measuring and dividing them. I think I often want to choose how much and how little, and I wouldn’t be surprised if other TCKs compartmentalized the effects their countries have had on them in the same way.

In sum, we came up with three major takeaways:

1. It’s ok to be angry when you feel frustrated and confused with your TCK story. 2. You can’t always just choose one culture to live in. 3. Live in the present; live where you are.

I hope a full-length film is developed from this – I’d love to see more TCK themes explored against the sweeping backdrop of rural India. We recommend you check out the film by clicking the link!

Opportunity Hides in the Belly of the Drink Cart

a78ae8990c3aba23e0ea7c8f600d9191

{source}

I am always loyal to my traditional choice of apple juice while flying. At least, I was, until the other day on Delta I spied a can of Minute Maid Cranberry Apple Cocktail peeking its shiny head out on the third shelf of the drink cart. The entire time the cart rolled toward me, I just wanted the attendant’s blue pencil skirt to move out of the way so I could view the whole drink selection! It didn’t. Flight attendants wouldn’t take kindly to being asked to recite the list of drinks, either.

But to give up there would be to ignore an important fact: there are always open cans.

On the shelves, flight attendants store half empty containers of beverages so they don’t waste. No, not half empty—half full. The volume of the can does not match the volume of the cup. What I’m saying is that it’s time for you to branch out with your drink choices. Ask the flight attendant to MIX THEM.

If you’re a very savvy flier, you can search airline websites ahead of time for a list of drinks that will be served. You’ll find blogs from hundreds of other travelers playing the game, too. Why go to the trouble? There are a few reasons. You’ve been on so many planes, you deserve to get the most out of your flying experience. It’s also important to celebrate the little things and the long travels. Who knows, your most cherished American beverage could be available, or an odd, obscure, international item that you just need to try. Don’t miss out.

And to be honest, we don’t get to order alcohol. Haven’t you ever wanted to be like the smooth chick in the movie who impresses the bartender by easily rattling off her complicated order? Have the satisfaction of delivering the awesomeness and knowing you’re one step ahead of the airplane game.

Of course, there’s no telling how the flight attendant will respond, especially if you ask for something that’s too complicated. But remember, the cans are always open. And when the cans are open, customer service and satisfaction will be victorious.

10 Things to Do with a Barf Bag

air-sickness-bag

  1. Collect the bags from every airline you’ve been on.
  2. Scrapbook.

  3. Reuse as envelopes. (use www.instructables.com for inspiration) this is a thing in Australia, according to Wikipedia.

  4. Write a letter to a friend on it.

  5. Make a hand puppet.

  6. Use for storage. Don’t forget, the bags seal!

  7. Use as a lunch bag.  (heh heh. Snicker snicker.)

  8. Place damp food leftovers in, seal, hold at arm’s length and proceed down entire aisle of plane looking green.

  9. Create a poster for that friend or teacher you have with the middle school sense of humor.

       10. Put on feet to make airplane slippers. Proceed down aisle again.

//////////////////////

Look for more airplane activities from Lizzy in the upcoming issue!

A {Christmas} Thought to Start Your Week: Holding the Christmas Spirit Too Tightly by Lizzy G.

ChristmasDay
My grandma called up my dad in May and said “Do you know what a ‘Macbook Pro’ is? Do I want it?” She’d won a brand-spiffin-new, sleek 13 inch from a radio station to which she donates. My dad said “YES.” And in a roundabout way, I ended up with this Macbook Pro for Christmas. Good gift. Great gift. Hallelujah, it’s a laptop I would never have dreamed of having.  I was speechless for several minutes in shock. All the opened presents lay between pieces of furniture and my family members. It was 11:00 am. Of course, the biggest present, and the most time-consuming one, has to be opened last.I had a thought about this laptop that I took hold of before it got away. My thought was “Oh good, I have a present that will make Christmas last beyond today. I have something I can keep on enjoying after all this is over.” The shady little thought lying beneath that one went something like: “Oooh, a gift I can delight in. A way not to be disappointed by this Christmas. A way to fill the void.”

After this sneaky thought was captured out in the open, I was pretty confused. Why would I need to have a way to fill the void? I don’t have a void!

But I’ve noticed that the more tightly I hold on to my Christmas, and the higher the expectations I place on this season, the more I begin to celebrate Christmas incorrectly. A void begins to open.

Obviously, God is involved here. Let me try to explain. I got cold water in the face at Christmas this year because I had to play a role that was less childish and more grown up. I was expected to contribute more in terms of stocking stuffers, stayed up way after midnight Christmas Eve, pretty much saw my parents playing Santa (placing the presents under the Christmas tree), and even wrote a note from Santa to my dad on the same stationary which he always uses to write Santa’s notes to me.  I was upset. I didn’t want to grow up. I didn’t want to let go of Christmas traditions. I will never say aloud that Santa Claus is not real. As is a theme quote in The Polar Express, I didn’t want the magic to end.

Friends, there is a difference between Santa magic and Jesus TRUTH. Regrettably, I looked in the wrong places for significance this Christmas. I wanted to celebrate Santa, tree decorating, and cheesy Christmas movies on Lifetime and Hallmark before celebrating that Christ came. I made the classic mistake. I relied on a new laptop to gain more Christmas happiness instead of on Christ who came once to give us a joy that lasts forever.
If we celebrate Christmas for the right reasons, the joy we find at Christmas will continue in much greater ways, all year long.

Christ came. We celebrate his coming as a beginning. A few years after he arrived on earth, he died for our sins. He came to this earth with death as a mid-life goal. He came to restore what has been broken. He came to destroy sin. He came to give us new life purpose. He came to stand as the intercessor, and to give us hope that our failures will be forgiven. He came to draw us into the relationship. He came to fulfill the new covenant. He came for God’s glory.

If you’re more excited about eggnog than the above truths, something is very wrong. When I get excited about Jesus, the need for a long-term Christmas gift becomes obsolete. Christmas becomes a starting point; it’s the runway for the plane that carries my joy through the rest of winter, spring, summer, and fall. Jesus didn’t come to earth to give you seasonal salvation. It lasts all year long.

I find that hope in Christ inspires in me a much better version of “Christmas spirit” than the one the movie characters that we try so desperately to discover and hold on to. It is nice to know, too, that the cheery feeling will be with me in July and forever.

It’s now a half a week after Christmas, and I love my Macbook Pro, but my enjoyment of it doesn’t hide from me the fact that over this vacation, my relationship with God needs the most attention. And as I settle in to watch the last of the sappy Christmas films we have recorded on the TV, I breathe a sigh of relief that my mortal void is filled with the Holy Spirit and not by worthless plot-lines on the Hallmark channel and fancy electronic gifts.

///////////////////////////
_JMA3427

Lizzy is an ex-East Asia mk who is now finishing high school in Athens, Georgia, USA. She enjoys band, drama, chorus, and art; old musicals, pasta, and those good old Africa mission trips. She has written sporadically and erratically for NOTW since its debut in 2009.

Fiction by Lizzy G. // Part Two

Look for part 1 here

/////////////////////

…I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?

At least I was feeling that upbeat about it until after I had sat with a forced smile through my first two class periods on Monday and I met that Freshman. My first day of school in America was an experience that is impossible to describe, but I’ll try my best. Maybe it was the fight in the hall or the first time someone asked me if I liked fortune cookies. Or maybe the hardest part was sitting alone at a desk, unsure, and unknown, wondering how long it would be before I could stop making small talk and laugh a real laugh with a real friend.

But because I hate to dwell on things that bring one down, I’ll tell you that the best part of that morning was meeting people who genuinely cared. In each room circumstances and my hungry eyes located a few students who gave me reassuring smiles, a few who stayed with me for the second minute and said “You’re from China? I think that’s really cool.” From a few people, that was a sincere statement, beautiful in its simplicity and cherished in its reception. When the first girl said that to me, a wad of feelings loosened themselves in my gut and rose to press gently in my head. The only one I could pull from the tangled mess was gratitude—tentative, wistful, dependent gratitude.

The girl’s name was Sharon. I told her “thanks,” and as I spoke back I knew three things:

One, that I would always, always welcome future new kids with all the strength and love that I had in me;

Two, that I would push my body and my brain until every last smile and piece of shallow conversation had left me, that I would make connections and small talk also with all the strength and love I had in me;

Three, that if I stepped out onto the slippery wet floor of relationships and worked to gain new friends in this frightening new place, there I would find what “home” was.

As an overseas kid, I know what a real friend is. The relationship formed between the two of you is made by each taking a reckless step of faith to trust. We settle and move again across the world so fast that we have to have the confidence to make friends when we know our time together will be shorter than a celebrity dating relationship. So we make the friends and we leave them, but connections are wrought between us that are never broken and span oceans and cultures. They are small, taut strings that stretch across the globe and are more than just video chat calls and tweets—they hold you together when you need it most.

I knew I was in trouble if I wanted to find friends like that in a sleepy American high school in the suburbs. But by third period I was also really, really determined.

As I remembered all this and felt the emotional pressure again in the practice room, I was seized with a mad impulse and said “Wait, David.”

He came back, possibly surprised that I’d remembered his name when he told it to me.

“Hi,” I said. “I’m Kathryn. You’re in ninth grade, right?”

“Yeah,” he said cheerily.

“Awesome,” I said. “Can you write? Because I’m thinking that I do need to write some songs and they are going to have words.” He sat down eagerly and I thought aloud. “Music can express what someone is feeling, and so can words. Words are probably really important, actually…and wow, do I have a lot of expressing to do.”

He wasn’t really listening, but he started in on playing something. It was upbeat. Words are first steps, I thought. First steps toward friends, and first steps toward a new home.

 

Fiction by Lizzy G.

I blame the Freshman for everything. It’s his fault I got on this wearying mission in the first place. He was one of those disappointing ones, the awkward boy just out of middle school who speaks in a low, macho vibrato. He’s disappointing because when you hear him behind you you’re expecting a hunky, suave athlete and then you turn around and see a spindly stick of a person who is unmistakably, unfortunately, a Freshman.

I was in practice room two fiddling on the oldest of Mr. Yackley’s pianos, a weathered, brown piece of work with yellowed keys. It made that hollow echoing sound that an aging piano forte makes to tell you that it is not “cheap,” but it should not be expected to have the lifespan of a Steinway.

The Freshman came in—he actually had the nerve to open the door and come in—and said “Oh. Do you play piano?”

“Yes,” I said. I did not feel beholden to make eloquent replies to ninth graders.

“That’s cool.” He paused, and I thought he would leave. He didn’t. I glared good naturedly at him. “How long have you been playing?” he asked.

“Since I was little,” I told him, my left hand fingering an A minor chord. It was one of my favorites. I liked things in minor keys.

To my continued surprise he stuck out his hand pompously and said: “I’m David. I like music, too. Do you write songs?”

It took me a moment to address his question; I was still wondering how on earth he thought he could freely bother an upperclassman like this in the first week of school.  “I—no. I don’t,” I said, not worrying because if there was any awkwardness in the room, it had to be coming from him. That was just a rule.

“Why not?” he asked. His eyes searched mine eerily. I wondered if this was some strange, unusual sign, and an underclassman had caught me in a strange, unusual mood and was seeking to tell me something strange and unusual.

I thought a moment, determined to keep my dignity and give a reasonable reply. I tilted my head and looked at a spot on the wall.

“I guess I’ve had the notes but…I’ve never had the words.”

That was what set things rolling.

 ///////////////////

I loved the blue sky almost more than I loved the half gallon ice cream tubs and Friday night pizza deliveries. I had few qualms about moving halfway across the world to a place called America, a country that was like a dream to me. Maybe I thought that ice cream and real candy bars would solve all my problems—don’t look at me like that, we all have false hopes sometimes that worm their way into each human’s subconscious. I happen to entertain more ideals than other people.

My family had just moved back to the USA after living in Asia for the past eight years of my life. I was American, but on the day we landed I did not know all the words to the Pledge of Allegiance and I had never thrown a football or eaten a Reeses cup. But I was not Chinese…as far as I could tell.

I wearily handed the guy in the customs booth my battered passport. He thumbed methodically past the first page to the shiny one that had my picture and information imprinted. The dark hair in the photo seemed to obscure my face and almost the rest of the page, scattered across those glossy pictures that are hidden on the pages of the new US passports. I had spent many hours in grungy airports making out those pictures aided by fluorescent lights. They were Americana to the extreme—a pumpkin, the white house, an ocean wave, fireworks, and the words to the Star Spangled Banner printed backwards…don’t ask me why. These were as far as I had made out, but as I sat in every one of those airports, the pictures were shiny symbols to me, of the tantalizing land, The United States of America.

“So…Kathryn,” read the customs guy. “I hope you had a good trip?”

“Oh,” I said, “we lived there actually.”

“That’s great. Welcome home!” he waved me through.

I smiled cynically and rolled my suitcase to the exit. ‘Welcome home’? I thought. Am I in the wrong terminal, sir? Because I don’t call this place ‘home.’ Home is…

I stopped next to an immaculate metal bench.

Home is…not here. That I know. Come back to me on that. 

I walked out onto American soil with my parents and sister, and together we breathed in the clear air and greeted a world of sunshine, consumerism, and major league baseball. My dad was probably thinking about football season and the flat screen TV he was waiting to buy. My mom was thinking about her Kitchenaid mixer she had left in storage all those years ago. I’m pretty sure my sister, Alice, was thinking about hot American guys and college looming in the future. I thought, well, maybe I could work with this. ‘Home’ is a relative word, right?

/////////////////////

Read part two here.