Culture & Race

35 conversation-starting videos about race, stereotypes, privilege and diversity

YouTube has taught us all that sometimes nothing is as powerful as a video clip that delivers a powerful, memorable message in less than 5 minutes. I’ve found videos endlessly useful as a means of starting productive and thoughtful conversations about issues of issues surrounding diversity, whether in the classroom, on Facebook, or in personal conversations with family and friends. The videos below are the best I’ve found (with a little help from my friends – thanks to those who gave me ideas for this!).

On race & stereotyping

What kind of Asian are you?

 

Scene from Crash

 

Racist harrasses Muslim cashier

 

Guy brings his white girlfriend to barbershop in Harlem

 

How to tell someone they sound racist

 

Moving the race conversation forward

 

The Lunch Date

 

A look at race relations through a child’s eyes

 

African men. Hollywood stereotypes

 

The women of Nyamonge present: Netball

 

UCLA Girl’s Offensive Asian Rant

(be sure to watch the response below)

 

Asians in the library of the world: a persona poem in the voice of Alexandra Wallace

 

A trip to the grocery store

 

(1)ne Drop

Make sure to watch their other videos about race here.

 

5 Things White People Should Do to Improve Race Relations

 

Harvard professor Henry Gates Jr. on his arrest

 

Lin’s success crosses racial boundaries

 

On privilege

Africa for Norway

 

Cadillac Commercial (Make sure to watch Ford’s response to this commercial below)

 

Ford’s response to the Cadillac Commerical

 

On white privilege

 

Make Poverty History

 

Giving is the best communication

 

 On diversity

America, the beautiful

 

It’s beautiful, behind the scenes

 

Ethnicity matters: The case for ethnic specific ministries

 

Move – Around the World in 1 Minute

 

 Where the hell is Matt? 2012

 

The world’s most typical face (National Geographic)

 

Reconsider Columbus Day

 

 On Immigration

A new dream: Evangelical undocumented immigrants tell their side of the story

 

Accents and fair housing

 See more videos on immigration here.

 

Longer Documentaries

A class divided with Jane Elliott

 Watch the whole documentary here.

 

Who is black in America?

 

America’s Promise: Black boys in America

This is a trailer. Read more about the series here and watch a few more clips here.

Did I miss your favorite clip? Leave it in the comments below!

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Culture & Race

Confusing the ‘American Dream’ for the Good Life

I’m guest posting today at A Life Overseas about the temptation for people around the world to pursue the hollow and meaningless parts of American culture.  Here’s a quick excerpt:

In class, my Burkinabé students echoed similar assumptions, believing that American streets were literally paved with gold.  Consequently, it wasn’t difficult to understand why a ticket to America was their dream come true (especially since most of the roads in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital city, were not paved at all).  This mentality recurred throughout Ouagadougou – American flags on T-Shirts, pictures of American movie stars on billboards, or American rock classic playing in restaurants.

“This isn’t what you want,” I challenged my students one day as we discussed the opulence of American culture, “I know it appears enticing, especially in comparison to the poverty, hunger, and injustice people here face on a daily basis.  But what I see being chased – the pride of “image”, the greed of materialism, the selfishness of “independence” – is a façade.”

Read the whole article here.

Books, Families, Children & Marriage

The gift of seeing themselves: Strengthening children’s identities through multicultural literature

It’s quite likely that I can attribute roughly 30-50% of my faith to writers, and I must also credit the same to the growth of my understanding of culture. As a result, I have a special love for the beautifully told stories in children’s picture books, so multicultural literature has naturally played a huge role in our family’s life.  (Check out some of our favorites here.)  It’s been my way of helping our children to see both stories of themselves and others reflected in their lives.

One of my very-favorite essays on the value of children reading stories in which they see themselves reflected in the stories is written by Mitali Perkins, an author of quite a few young adult fiction books on children living between worlds.  I used to read it to classes of teachers-in-training that I taught and would swallow my tears every-single-time I read it as I felt the intense emotion in her words.  It’s one of those pieces that just never leaves you, and I’m quite pleased that she’s given me permission to share it here.

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The Magic Carpet

by Mitali Perkins

I had a magic carpet once.  It used to soar to a world of monsoon storms, princesses with black braids, ferocious dragons, and talking birds.

“Ek deen chilo akta choto rajkumar,” my father would begin, and the rich, round sounds of the Bangla language took me from our cramped New York City apartment to a marble palace in ancient India.

Americans made fun of my father’s lilting accent and the strange grammatical twists his sentences took in English.  What do they know? I thought, perching happily beside him.

In Bangla, he added his own creative flourishes to classic tales by Rabindranath Tagore or Sukumar Roy. He embellished folktales told by generations of ancestors, making me chuckle or catch my breath.  “Tell another story, Dad,” I’d beg.

But then I learned to read.  Greedy for stories, I devoured books in the children’s section of the library. In those days, it was easy to conclude that any tale worth publishing originated in the so-called West, was written in English, and featured North American or European characters.

Slowly, insidiously, I began to judge my heritage by colonial eyes.  I asked my mother not to wear a sari, her traditional dress, when she visited me at school.

I avoided the sun so that the chocolate hue of my skin wouldn’t darken.  The nuances and the cadences of my father’s Bangla began to grate on my ears.  “Not THAT story again, Dad,” I’d say.  “I’m reading right now.”

My father didn’t give up easily.  He tried teaching me to read Bangla, but I wasn’t interested. Soon, I no longer came to sit beside him, and he stopped telling stories all together.

As an adult, I’ve learned to read Bangla.  I repudiate any definition of beauty linked to a certain skin color. I’ve even lived in Bangladesh to immerse myself in the culture.

These efforts help, but they can’t restore what I’ve lost. Once a child relinquishes her magic carpet, she and her descendants lose it forever.

My children, for example, speak only a word or two in Bangla.  Their grandfather half-heartedly attempts to spin a tale for them in English, and they listen politely.

“Is it ok to go play?” they ask, as soon as he’s done. I sigh and nod, and they escape, their American accents sounding foreign inside my father’s house.

“Tell another story, Dad,” I ask, pen in hand, and he obliges. My father’s tales still have the power to carry me to a faraway world. The Bangla words weave the same colorful patterns in my imagination.

My pen, however, like his own halting translation, is unable to soar with them. It scavenges in English for as evocative a phrase, as apt a metaphor, and falls short. I can understand enough Bangla to travel with my father but am not fluent enough to take English-speakers on the journey.

My decision to leave mother tongue and culture behind might have been inevitable during the adolescent passage of rebellion and self-discovery. But I wonder if things could have turned out differently.

What if I stumbled across a translation of Tagore or Roy in the library, for example? “Here’s a story my dad told me!” I imagined myself thinking, leafing through the pages. “It doesn’t sound the same in English. Maybe I should try reading it in Bangla.”

Or, what if a teacher handed me a book about a girl who ate curry with her fingers, like me? Except that this girl was in a hurry to grow up so she could wrap and tuck six yards of silk around herself, just like her mother did.

“Wear the blue sari to the parent-teacher meeting, Ma,” I might have urged.

Chocolate-colored children today have access to more stories than I did. A few tales originating in their languages have been translated, illustrated, and published.

Characters who look and dress and eat like them fill the pages of some award-winning books. But it’s not enough. Many continue to give up proficiency in their mother tongues and cultures.

“Here’s a story from YOUR world,” I want to tell them. “See how valuable you are?”

“Here’s a book in your language. See how precious it is?”

If we are convincing enough, a few of them might transport us someday to amazing destinations through the power of a well-woven tale.

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This essay was originally published here.

Read more by Mitali Perkins

Culture & Race, Travel

Foreigner at a train station

train station

What happens when you shift from foreigner to friend without actually moving to a place? Such has become my reality in Sri Lanka, my husband’s homeland, as we have travelled there repeatedly over the past 15 years. I wrote this reflection for She Loves Magazine on my experience of returning year after year to the complex and beautiful country where my family and I love and are loved deeply. While it is not our home, it remains a precious piece of our life together.

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I enter the train station trepidatiously. A foreigner-with-fancy-suitcases-and-tennis-shoes, I stand out against the locals in a sea of sandals, sarongs and saris. We board the train without incident and peer out the windows, eager to begin our journey. The train jolts and lurches forward; we travelers settle in.

We peer our heads out of the windows, breathing in a combination of warm-wind and train-smoke. The train clacks and bounces, while the intensity of both the beauty and the poverty rolling past our windows leaves me silently choked up.

Filth.

How do people manage to live like this? I wonder. But they don’t appear to be asking themselves any such questions.

“The people seem happier here,” my ten-year-old daughter observed. I have not spoken with them – I don’t know if this is really true or not – but from my train window, I notice the same thing: there is a contentedness to simply be that I do not often see in my wealthy-and-developed-world.

Shop owners chat. Children walk alongside mothers. Three-wheeler drivers await customers. There is no urgency to hurry or consume or buy.

Who am I amidst this place? I wonder. My external trappings carry no label except white-and-wealthy-foreigner. There can be no other put-on identity – funky, classy, intellectual, hip – except for this very obvious one.

It is undeniable that I do not belong here; but in spite of this, I cannot shrug the sense of strange belonging that comes with being a foreigner-wife. I am not merely a tourist in short-shorts trekking the ancient ruins and soaking in the breathtaking shores, but a family member, returning to the same people journey after journey, eager to see the small changes, check out the new developments and embrace the arms that have held my babies. We may not share language or culture or skin or fashion, but we share the same love for the same hearts. This bond holds us steady.

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Click here to finish reading at She Loves Magazine.

Culture & Race, Restoration & Reconciliation, Spiritual Formation

Rethinking how we speak about American blessings

“We’re so blessed to live in this country.”

I cringe a little when I hear a statement along these lines, wondering about the sentiments that lie beneath the actual words.  I usually hear people respond this way in response to conversations about difficult realities like poverty or hunger or lack of sanitation or war.

Statements like this unsettle me for a variety of reasons.  When people say, “We’re blessed to live in the US,” sometimes I hear an assumption of superiority behind their words that portrays an attitude of we’re-so-much-better-than-those-poor-folks-in-the-poor-world.  It makes me wonder if focusing on our assumed ‘blessings’ of comfort, prosperity and sanitation allows us to numb out the feelings of horror, responsibility, and generosity we might feel if we actually let those realities of global poverty sink in.

Another reason these words unsettle me is because they passively imply that those in other countries aren’t equally blessed to live where they live. There’s a sense that we live in the promised land, and those poor folks – well, sucks to be them, eh?  On one level, I follow the idea that a developed and civil society is a more comfortable environment to live in.  Cleanliness, prosperity, order, and efficiency are good ideals that benefit society as a whole.  However, they certainly aren’t the only qualities by which the value of a place should be judged.

While I know a lot of people who’ve sacrificed immensely to move to the US, I also know quite a few who would never want to live here.  They don’t hate it, it’s just not home.  They feel blessed to live in their homes, with their food and their loved ones and their dirty streets and inefficient systems. They’re also horrified by our violence, materialism, sexual ethics, and isolation from each other.

A friend of my husband’s from Sri Lanka who’d lived in Singapore for several years recently told him, “Everything there is soooo clean and efficient and productive, sometimes you just need to get out to get a break or you go crazy.”  I chuckled when I heard this, for at the time, I was in Sri Lanka missing those very qualities about my American home.  Sometimes, it’s all about what you’re used to.

Don’t get me wrong, I love my homeland.  It’s taken nearly three decades, but I can even say that I love living here (California has helped this process quite a lot).  Driving across the country a few years ago gave me a whole new appreciation for its vastness, diversity, and beauty.  I love that the freedom here allows for a global mosaic like Los Angeles.  I love the sense of community the lingers in my heart from my small Midwestern home town.  I love the hustle and bustle of New York City, and the never-ending quietness of Kansas.  It really is a unique, diverse, and beautiful country.  

But there are a lot of such places around the world that people call home.  From the outside, we might perceive some of these places as destitute or hopeless, but this is not their only story.  I spent a summer once in Burkina Faso, one of the poorest countries in the world at that time.  The capital city, Ouagadougou, had two paved roads.  Disease and hunger were rampant.  At first glance, the people were destitute.  But then I looked again.

I saw old women with their heads wrapped in vibrant scarves dancing down the church aisles to give away the little money they had.

I saw bright eyes, curious to learn, fascinated by color, eager to smile at passersby.

I saw people sharing meals with each other, spending long hours together, warmed by each others’ presence.

I saw a generous hospitality that gave up beds, welcomed strangers, and cared for the sick and the poor.

I saw eager minds, grateful for the opportunity to learn and hopeful for the gift of an education.

There was so much good there that I would have never seen from a picture in a magazine of a bloated baby with flies in her eyes.  While their good didn’t look like my good, it was still very real.  They were blessed beyond measure, and I had so much to learn from them.  

When we hear about the hard-things-of-the-world, what would happen if we refocused our response away from our own comfort, safety and prosperity?

  • Issues of poverty seem so devastating, are there ways I could help alleviate it with the resources I have access to?
  • So many people go without, how could I simplify so I have more resources to share?
  • While it may look like a desperate situation, what is the strength of the people in it?  How can I learn from them rather than pity them?
  • If I live in comfort, are there people near me who don’t?  Do I see them?  How might they perceive the country I say I’m blessed to live in?

If we ask these questions first in our hearts, maybe our words would start to change too. Instead of responding that I’m so blessed to live in the US, maybe we’ll start saying, I love my home, and I have much to learn about how to see the blessings in the rest of the world.    And while we’re talking about it, maybe we’ll actually start doing it as well.

Let’s brainstorm new ways of speaking about where and how we live that honors the whole world, not just the US or the West. Have you found words/ways to do this?  I’d love to learn from how others speak about such things.  

Also, be sure to check out this post from Communicating Across BoundariesThe Problem with Blessing, to ponder the idea of blessing even further.  

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Books, Culture & Race

More than a tourist: Living deeply across cultures

DSC_1609When I first started to cross cultures, there was a distinctly romantic quality to every adventure – fascination with food and language and buildings and transportation and landmarks. I would inhale the smells and sights and textures with wide eyes, captured by the difference they represented. I would wrap my tongue around the words and sounds, attempting to capture some small meaning with my own mouth. Culture captivated me, and I drank it in with every cup of tea I shared.

As time has passed, however, this romantic captivation slowed, and I found that crossing cultures no longer carried the same zing it once did. In fact, it required more energy with each new encounter for I no longer entered ignorant about my own assumptions and inadequacies.  When I enter a new culture these days, it is slower, more observant, less enraptured. I walk carefully and quietly, curious but patient about the new realities I encounter. After nearly half a lifetime of loving across a culture, the exoticism of such differences is being slowly replaced by a simple expectation of normalcy and humanity.

Click here to read the rest of my guest post this week at Communicating.Across.Boundaries.

Books, Culture & Race, Families, Children & Marriage

9 ways to help children develop global awareness

Before our kids were even born, my husband and I knew we wanted to raise our children with an awareness of global reality.  Once they actually arrived, however, we found this easier said than done – especially when living in either isolated or wealthy communities.

When our kids were old enough to process more than Cheerios and Elmo, we wanted to help them develop an understanding of concepts less prominent in American mainstream culture like community, respect for elders, simplicity and generosity that was shaped by something other than the Disney Channel and their peers. Since my husband spent half of his childhood in a developing country at war and the majority of his family still lives there, we were especially keen to help our children growing up amidst privilege understand these realities more deeply. We’ve made attempts at this in a variety of ways, hoping that a few of them will stick:

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Beatrice's GoatAn early favorite was reading Beatrice’s Goat by Page McBrier, a true story about a girl in a village whose life changes all because of the gift of a single goat.  There is a developing genre of children’s books telling stories of empowerment instead of pity that includes other titles like One Hen: How One Small Loan Made a Difference and The Good Garden: How One Family Went from Hunger to Having Enough.  These books are all part of Citizen Kid, a book series designed to help children become better global citizens.

Screen Shot 2014-01-01 at 10.24.12 AMProviding a glimpse into a positive view of diversity, Norah Dooley and Peter Thornton have written an absolutely fabulous series about a child who explores the world in her neighborhood by sampling the variations of foods they each enjoy.  Titles include Everybody Cooks Rice, Everybody Bakes Bread, Everybody Brings Noodles and Everybody Serves Soup.  My other all-time favorite storybooks that showcase the world are How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World and Abuela.

A life like mine

Another genre of children’s books we’ve loved are illustrated non-fiction books about actual children around the world.  Our favorites include A life like mine: How children live around the worldChildren just like me: A unique celebration of how children live around the world, If the World were a Village, and The Usborne Book of People of the World.

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Having grown weary of too many depictions of a white Jesus loving on only white children, I’ve also been in search of children’s bibles that reflect the whole world God created.  My favorite is The Jesus Storybook Bible, and World Vision also recently published God’s Love for You Bible Storybook.

videos header

Videos can provide a more tangible reflection of global realities than books, and watching has helped our children get a better sense of how other children live around the world.  Citizen Kid and World Vision both feature child-appropriate videos that explain concepts like the need for clean water, microenterprise and education.  MamaHope also has an excellent series of short videos called “Stop the Pity” which portray those living in poverty with dignity and respect.  Compassion International has a great site (that includes a downloadable study guide!) for kids to learn about poverty called Quest for Compassion.  I’m also a fan of fun videos like Where the Hell is Matt which show the joy and humanity that span the globe.

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My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador
My son chasing a chicken in Ecuador

While much more challenging when our kids were younger, we’re now in a stage where we can actively participate as a family in service projects.  We’ve helped serve meals for the homeless, visited nursing homes and participated in a service learning trip to Ecuador together.  (While taking toddlers to another continent was certainly a challenge, it has been helpful to embed a personal connection to other realities in their minds.)  I know other families who help at food pantries or tutoring programs.  Serving helps children see beyond themselves, and I’ve been pleasantly surprised by how much my kids genuinely enjoy it.  I’m also a thrift store fan and enjoy talking with my kids about how this kind of shopping serves more than just our own purposes.

food header

We eat at ethnic restaurants as frequently as possible, and have worked hard to help our kids learn about other cuisines.  When we lived in an area where the closest thing to ethnic food was a Chinese/pizza buffet, I buckled down and learned a whole variety of Asian recipes to cook at home.  As a result, we eat Sri Lankan food (check out my curry recipe here) at least twice a month and Asian food about half the time at home.  While they still prefer pizza and chicken nuggets, they don’t scoff at Chinese food anymore and are willing to try a wide variety of foods.  This wasn’t a simple process (there have been a lot of ‘eeewwws’), but our insistence to always try new food is starting to pay off.  Here are some ethnic recipes to try with kids and some tips for introducing your kids to ethnic food.
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jehan horn
Entertaining aunties and uncles

We’ve also made intentional efforts to help our kids experience a bigger world, whether it be exploring the town down the highway or crossing the globe to see family.  Being an intercultural family, we wanted the world to be something that had always been a part of our children, not something new to which they would be suddenly introduced.  While they don’t remember trips they made as babies, the family we visit remembers, and it has helped our kids develop a comfort with and attachment to another side of their background.  They’ve wrestled with uncles, played cricket with cousins, and kissed aunties.

We also make it a point to visit lots of museums to help the kids can see worlds beyond their own.  My favorite find is the Association of Science and Technology Centers Passport Program which allows free entrance to over 350 museums worldwide.  We recently visited a science center in Kuala Lumpur on a layover for FREE!  For those who travel around the US at all, it’s a quite economical way to visit a lot of different museums while only paying for membership to one.
hospitality headerWhile hosting guests was less possible during the PhD and toddler years, we’ve recently been enjoying welcoming others into our home.  Whether it’s our neighbors who recently moved from China or international students I teach, hosting guests from a variety of places and backgrounds in our home helps our children put a face to the world.  Whenever the news media about a particular country (particularly the Middle East) doesn’t match with the reality of the people they know, our kids notice the discrepancies and often make comments like, “But so-and-so wasn’t like that.”

My introduction to the world began in part because my mom’s family hosted an exchange student from Thailand when she was in high school. We hosted another student from Finland when I was a teenager, and building a sisterhood across cultures proved to be one of the most cherished and foundational experiences of my life.

generosity headerWe openly talk about giving with our kids, and two of the primary means we give are World Vision and Kiva.  Both fund the empowerment of people living in poverty.  I’ll often sit down with the kids and let them pick the microloans or projects we support.  The World Vision site is great because it often includes videos that we can watch with the kids to help them understand just what it means to lack clean water or education.  Watching these videos and then donating money to the projects have opened some great conversations.

imagination headerBecause children naturally love to play and imagine, stories of other worlds  like Narnia and Harry Potter have been helpful allegories in our house.  Such stories help children begin to understand how other lands may have differing customs and realities than their own.  The power dynamics between good and evil also help us explain the comple dynamics of world politics in more kid friendly ways.

simplicity headerI am not naturally a simple person.  I love shoes, ice cream, and soft beds.  I like to shop and window browse and decorate.  However, being married to a spouse from the developing world, I’ve had many occasions to grapple with what is necessity and what is luxury.  Hence, I’ve spent a lot of time over the years sorting out my materialism, and looking for ways to simplify my life in light of how much of the world lives.

It has in now way been a perfect journey (I still have a weak spot for shoes), but as it turns out, pretty much most things are luxury past food and shelter.  As a result, we do the best we can to live within our means – no credit card debt, used furniture (my favorite chair has a big hole in the arm), simple schedules and intentional budgets.  While we live in a small house and drive old cars, we often discuss with our kids how wealthy we are because we have these things at all, regardless of whether or not they are new.  In turn, our imperfect efforts toward simplicity remind us to be grateful for the abundance we do possess, and enable us to give generously as well.

What about you?  What are ways you help your children learn about the world?

Related Posts

Further Reading

Spiritual Formation, Travel

Living in light of global reality

The heaviness of the tropical air settled on us as we waited for our baggage, two pieces of which had been lost. It was an instant reminder that life marches to a different beat in the developing world than in our Organized States of America. After a seeming eternity, we pushed our overloaded baggage cart through customs to finally embrace my husband’s parents who were convinced we’d missed the plane. As we left the airport, our arrival into another world descended on us quickly.

Driving in Sri Lanka looked more like a chicken fight gone bad than cars following rules of the road (what are those, anyway?). Piles of trash covered random street corners, their putrid odor overwhelming passersby. I breathed it all in deeply – finally, a vacation!

For me, the word vacation usually conjures up images of resorts, beaches, and relaxation rather than of bad driving, inconvenience and trash heaps. Yet as we’ve spent our days in Sri Lanka over the years, I’ve experienced a vacation of a different sort, for I did not occupy myself with the same kinds of expectations I carry with me in the U.S.

In the US, when I sit in an uncomfortable chair, I curse under my breath at the negligence of whoever must be at fault. In Sri Lanka, I was grateful to get a chair under the fan, comfortable or not. Here, I concern myself greatly with the tastiest brand of apple sauce or ice cream. In Sri Lanka, I’ve recognized that eating these foods at all is a luxury. Here, I rush to the hardware store to buy ant poison upon the discovery of a few ants roaming my living room floor. In Sri Lanka, the ants roam so freely and abundantly that on occasion, I’ve stopped on occasion to study their resourcefulness, order and determination.

In America, vacations nourish my self, surrounding me with opportunities to be served and relax. In Sri Lanka, the vacation was from myself, from my daily list of expected rights and materialistic consumption.

In Sri Lanka, I do not have the luxury of ignoring the reality of the harshness in our world, for it has all been in my face at once: poverty, injustice, beggars shadowed by a history of war, tales of child soldiers, land mines, suicide bombers. I do not step outside the gate without a breath of prayer for the safety of myself and my family, or pass a beggar-in-front-of-a-mansion without seething at the inequitable distribution of wealth around the world. I do not read the paper without shaking my head at the greed, selfishness of the-hands-that-hold-the-power.  I do not walk into the homes of my family with out breathing deep their resilience, faithfulness and fortitude amidst all of these realities.

Even in light of such immediate chaos, I still find myself easily consumed by my own humanness. Daily life settles in, and a battle between the global and the personal ensues.

My children wake up from jet leg four times in one night = despair … but at least they have a bed to sleep in.

The heat is so exhausting I can barely keep my eyes open = whiny attitude necessitating an afternoon nap … but at least I have a place and time to take a nap and a fan to sleep under.

A taxi driver cheats me because I am a foreigner = indignance! … but at least I have enough money to even be a foreigner, let alone get cheated.

My in-laws don’t get to see my sweet kids actually be sweet due to their 10 hour jet lag = pouting … but at least they get to see them at all.

Clothes are sooo cheap here.  I want to buy as much as I can! = greed … but the break from the obsession of American materialism is so refreshing.

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“The mind wants the world to return its love, or its awareness; the mind wants to know all the world, and all eternity, and God,” writes Annie Dillard in Teaching a Stone to Talk. “The mind’s sidekick, however, will settle for two eggs overeasy.”

When I taught at a wealthy Christian university, I would dialog with students about what my husband calls “living in light of global reality”. We would discuss such complexities as the inequitable distribution of wealth, the lack of proper health care, the travesties of ethnic conflict and corrupt governments and what that meant for our personal and professional lives.  Occasionally, I’d run into an unusually naive student (usually a freshman) shocked at the prospect of poverty, but overall, the students were more trying to grasp a reality they had never known themselves.  Their background of privilege and sheltered lives made it difficult to understand another world, and even more challenging to determine how to make daily decisions in light of this reality.

It meant a lot of paradox for all of us.  Great compassion for children with AIDS or sex-slaves or racial inequities vs. buying new shoes to keep up with the trends.  Seeking a deeper understanding of the world vs. obsessively following the coolest music scene.

As I grow older, the questions only magnify.  Public schools or private? Suburbs or city? Safe or risky? Internally, I see that there are things far more important than my trendy new shoes or funky hair-cut. However, I continually grapple with the concept that ‘just because I can, doesn’t mean I should’ acquire, accumulate, and keep-up-with-the-Jones. As much as my mind throws its weight around by trying to be aware, my will acts far more often as its sidekick, settling for eggs over easy and a cute pair of shoes.

After years of ‘vacations’ in a war-torn tropical paradise, I’m slowly understanding this word paradox. It surfaces not only in the breath-taking beauty and heart-wrenching injustices of Sri Lanka, but also in my truth-seeking mind and self-seeking will. Living in the developed world, I face a constant tension to live in light of global reality because the pressure to keep up with the neighbors usually outshouts the hungry stomachs and unseen injustices in my direct line of sight.  (Even my dear mother-in-law comments when she visits how tempting it would be to buy things when they’re packaged so nicely).   In light of this tension, I count it a great gift of intercultural marriage to have reason for this reality to be part of my own family.

For Western believers, living in light of global reality means we need to spend far more time facing our role in better responding to these paradoxes, not shying away because we don’t understand. We begin this process by seeking to live humbly with each other, by listening for voices big and small, and by examining where our treasures truly lie.  A daunting task to be sure, but one that our Father clearly calls us to.  “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,” the Story tells us.  May we care for more than just our little corner well.

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Books, Families, Children & Marriage

Resources for raising a family between worlds

One of my primary reasons I began to write here in this space was for the connections it provides to others in similar life circumstances.  When we lived in the rural Midwest, we felt very culturally isolated and it was my only means of connecting to those who understood.  Having just started out in marriage, family, career, my husband and I often felt alone on the road without any role models of people walking this particular road ahead of us.

I am grateful to live in the age of Amazon.com and the internet, for it allows me to find some ways to integrate more of our family’s multi-cultural identity into our very monocultural context.  Every so often, I get an inquiry about good resources for children and resources for global families.  Since I’m an educator by profession, books are an easy and immediate way to bring the world to my family regardless of where I live.  I thought I’d point you to a few of my favorites.

  • I did a presentation several years ago on incorporating the world into daily family life.  The link is a power point with a lot of recommendations for how incorporated into our children’s lives when they were very young.  It’s a bit old, but my recommendations still stand.
  • I’ve also created a few Amazon widgets to keep on the sidebar which link to my absolute favorite multicultural children’s books and books on intercultural marriage, along with a few reasons why I like them.

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