Saturday, December 24, 2011

23rd, 25th - Aaron Alford

He lay at peace in the grass, the warmth of his mother beside him.  He closed his eyes and let the last, ruddy light of the day play upon his eyelids.  The grass was cool, and the sun was warm.  He had had his fill today, skipping until he could hardly stand, splashing himself silly in the stream, running himself dry in the endless meadow.

She had watched him at play all day, and her own heart sang with his.  She put her mouth to his ear, and told him she loved him in a voice soft and tender.

He felt her voice at his ear, and he smiled inside, but he tried not to show it.  He opened his eyes with a lazy squint to the sun in the west.  It was crouching low behind the hills, and he felt something in his spirit humming in tune with those last red rays.  That sun and that sky were up to something, and tonight that sun was setting with a secret.  He heard it speak, its voice still and not unlike his mother’s.

The stars have a surprise for you tonight.

I know, he said, and laid his head on the cool earth.

The shepherd stood nearby, crook in hand, gazing at the same sun.  He, too, felt the strange, quiet hum in his heart, thrumming in harmony with that setting sun.  And he could almost hear it speak, but he turned his eyes to the sleeping lamb and its mother resting at his feet.  He wondered what dreams they may be having, what thoughts were at play in their spirits.  The air was different tonight, toying with the thought of a breeze, gusting gently with a whim.  It seemed to invite such wistful thinking.  He closed his eyes and let the air tug gently at his clothes, his hand gripped and resting on the crook that had belonged to his father.  He couldn’t hear the sun the way the lamb at his feet could, but he also somehow knew.  A secret was in the air, and that setting sun knew more than she was telling.

Friday, December 23, 2011

Death By Presents - Aron Smith

I will always have fond memories of my first real Christmas, which occurred when I was 28 years old and a law student.  Having grown up in a non-Christian culture, Christmas barely moved the needle on my compass; it was nothing more than a two-week school holiday during which I would escape the icy New York winter by traveling to Florida with my parents and sisters.
In fact, until I was ten years old, I never felt I was missing out on a thing.  Sure, we didn't have a Christmas tree, blinking lights or piles of presents, but neither did any of my friends with whom I attended a deeply religious private school.  Even in my public junior high and high school, the very large number of non-Christian students in the community resulted in Christmas being muted into a virtual non-entity.
Things changed for me a bit when my family moved about 70 miles north midway through my junior year of high school.  I'd always gawked at the Christmas displays at the mall, secretly in awe of the garish decorations and lights, all geared to suck the parking lot full of moths into the capitalist flame.  But this was my first experience with a school where they literally decked the halls,  At home, we'd tune in to the local radio station in the morning while we were eating breakfast and getting ready for school and work.  I'd listen attentively when the jewelry store commercial came on, always starting with a vocal rendition of "It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas."  If the announcer finished reading the news and put on a recording of "Silver Bells" or "The Little Drummer Boy," I knew my mother would quickly change the station.  But I picked up what snippets of Christmas culture I could so that I didn't seem like a total doofus at school.  I smiled, I nodded and I pretended a lot, leaving an explanation that I was of a different faith as a very last resort, knowing the looks of pity I'd receive.
Our family trips to Florida during Christmas vacation yielded some amusing moments from time to time.  The drive took about 24 hours, and we'd frequently be on the road on Christmas Eve.  As we rolled through rural areas of the South on the interstate, only one or two radio stations wuld come through the crackling static up and down the dial.  If a preacher was holding forth or the ubiquitous Christmas music was playing, my mother would yell at my father, "Turn that off!  I don't want to hear it!"  But sometimes it would be late at night, Mom would be sleeping and my father would need to play the radio to stay awake as we cruised down I-95 through Virginia and North Carolina.  My sisters and I would be in the back seat, with me in the middle to keep the girls from fighting, where eventually I'd endure one sleepy head conked out on each shoulder.  On the radio, José Feliciano would be singing "Feliz Navidad."  One of my sisters would wake up and we'd listen closely.  We didn't understand a word of Spanish, but later, when my parents weren't in the room, we'd try to imitate what we thought sounded something like "fay-less buh-dee-dud."
The year I was 12 years old and my sisters were eight and ten, we stopped for dinner at a roadside diner in South Carolina on Christmas Eve.  The waitress proceeded to gush over how cute we were.  "Is Santy Claus gonna bring you lots of presents tonight?"  the waitress cooed.  The three of us looked down, embarrassed, in silence.  "They're shy," my father apologized.  All of us knew that there are many places where it is just assumed that everyone is a Christian, particularly such a lovely looking family with such cute children.
When I graduated from college and started working, that's when I really started to appreciate Christmas.  No one wanted to work that day, giving me the opportunity to pick up extra shifts and overtime money.  But it wasn't until I moved to Massachusetts to attend law school that I experienced Christmas firsthand.
My first year in law school, I disappeared right after final exams to make the trek to Florida by car with my parents.  My sisters had long since married, moved away and had started their own families.  I grabbed my girlfriend and the four of us headed south.  Things did not go so well on this particular trip; my parents argued incessantly, alternately yelling at each other and at me.  I vowed that this would be my last time.
The next year, I stayed put in Massachusetts for Christmas break.  Along with several other law students, I was renting a room from empty nesters who had found themselves rattling around in a huge house and decided to have all those empty bedrooms help pay the bills.  In early December, as I was pulling all-nighters and generally freaking out about impending final exams in several classes in which I was not doing well at all, the McGees put up an enormous Christmas tree in the living room, decorating it with tiny lights and many ornaments that their children had made or given them over the years.  Soon, gifts started appearing under the tree.  I noted the steady accumulation as I headed out the door to school each day.  It began as a trickle of boxes and ribbons, and slowly picked up into a stream, a river and then a veritable torrent!  By the time I had finished my last exam and my girlfriend drove up from New York to spend a few weeks with me, one side of the living room was covered with a deep pile of literally hundreds of gifts.  The McGees' four children would be home for Christmas, three of them with their spouses.  There were many gifts for everyone, which Mrs. McGee had lovingly purchased throughout the year.  One of her sons-in-law, who grew up without a mother and was not accustomed to such holiday hullaballoo, dubbed this spectacle "death by presents."  As for me, well, I had never seen such a thing in all my life.  I gawked in awe.  And I knew there was only one thing to be done:  When in Massachusetts, do as the Yankees do.  I headed for the card shop across the street from the law school, bought several rolls of wrapping paper and began making my own contributions to the growing pile.  After all, I planned to be there on Christmas Eve, not in a car on the way to Florida, and I wondered how many hours it would take to open all of these, whether a shovel or a backhoe would be needed to reach the bottom of the pile, and whether any of us would ever see the living room carpet again.
It turned out to be a lovely experience.  I wasn't quite sure of the appropriate etiquette for witnessing the dismantling of Mount Generosity, but it was comforting to me that I would be spared the embarrassment of having to open gifts myself.
But sitting in the convivial glow of the fireplace, listening to the laughter of the McGee family, sipping egg nog and watching the pile of torn wrapping paper grow higher and the mountain of presents grow smaller, I realized that I hadn't missed a thing growing up.
I could never have appreciated the beauty of Christmas back then.

Thursday, December 22, 2011

Holiday videos - The Nelson Family

Terry and Cynthia Nelson and their kids wish us happy holidays. Terry and family live in Ontario; Canada where Terry heads up the creative work of Innertainment. This first video is Terry's family "Christmas Card" and the second one...well, I couldn't resist posting it! Enjoy...

Mystery, Wonder and Extravagant Love - Jimmy Sustar

When I was a kid it seemed to snow a lot more than it does now. I remember an average of three to five feet of snow throughout the Winter season and it hung around until late March. I remember thinking it absurd that anyone would find themselves dreaming of a white Christmas. It was just a given.

We were quite poor economically, but I never knew it. We ate venison that my dad hunted, and vegetables that my mom froze. We worked hard together to live simply. We heated our house with wood, and every Saturday morning in the fall, my little brother and I joined our Dad in his old Ford pick-up truck. We drove to a patch of woods and spent the entire morning cutting wood and loading it into the truck. The drive back home was always reflective and sleepy with a little bit of goofing off and being told to calm down. The rest of the day was spent stacking wood tightly around the back of the house where it would wait for the harsh winter to fall on us.

It was my job to keep the fire burning while Dad was at work. It was a sweet pleasure to be given this task. The average winter temperature was only fifteen degrees Fahrenheit so this job taught me a lot about dependability. Whenever I stepped outside to play, or gather more firewood, my heart felt full and glad to catch the smell of burning oak rising from the chimney. I couldn’t stop the smile, this smelled like home to me.

There were also some really hard times. There were moments of unexplainable uncertainty that felt heavy, like a mantle of doubt. There were family troubles that I didn’t understand because I was too innocent and young. There were times my parents struggled to believe that we were going to make it through. There were days that seemed to never bend toward the light...

But I never knew we were poor. We had it all. My sister and two brothers, my Mom and my Dad. We knew what love was and we loved each other very much.

At night, I often would steal away to our back yard. I would walk until I escaped the light of the house and find myself hidden in the darkness and quiet, in the hush of newly fallen snow, the moonlight and the sound of wind blowing through pines. The smell of our home being made warm by the hard work of our hands. The safety of peace. The mystery of Almighty God coming to us in innocence, and vulnerability. The wonder of being loved so extravagantly. I just loved to stand there alone in the dark and soak it in.

It was, and is still more than I can stand.

There’s a song by a band called, ‘Mineral’ that beautifully describes moments like this. Deep, simple love. I love the unassuming tone in this...

‘And the snow falls melts before it even hits the ground
And I’m standing here listening
To the sound of your hand Washing back and forth
Across my filthy heart
And I don’t know if I should say “I’m sorry” or “Thank you”
I try to speak but the tears choke the words...
And I think I finally know what they mean When they talk about joy.’

May you find this place of peace, hope, and joy as you bend to hear Him whisper love in your ear.

-Merry Christmas-

Monday, December 19, 2011

Saa Gaar Vi Rundt Om En Enebaerbusk - Justin Fox and Martinus Hus

Justin Fox is a singer/song-writer and city reach pastor from southern California.  His music, like the man himself, is hopeful, infectious, fun and points to all good things.  You can find out more about Justin, his family, their mission and his music at
My father-in-law, Martinus Hus, was from Holland.  He lived through the war, survived intense poverty, suffered abuse, and experienced extreme hardship.  He was a gentle husband, a loving father to his three kids, a wicked skier, and a collector of old, scratchy sweaters.  He was always quick with a big smile and a welcoming, Dutch hello.  He was European, so of course, he loved Christmas.  He had little charming songs and tasty recipes that gave the season a special spark and a richness that isn't felt too much these days.

Before he passed away, I was able to capture him singing one of his favorite Christmas songs.  He and the family would hold hands around the tree and sing this little tune.  I added a tiny Glockenspiel to the recording, and if you can pronounce that then you might consider tackling the title; Saa Gaar Vi Rundt Om En Enebaerbusk.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Mystery Christmas - The Rap Starz

It's a new season and so the conversation around the Fire Bowl will turn to meet it. And to kick off our next series of posts we have somthing really special. As so many around the world have come to expect, Christmastime means a new offering from everybody's favorite seasonal rap group, the Rap Starz!  They have generously agreed to let us post the newest piece here.  You can download this song and the other Rap Starz holiday raps for free in a brand new Christmas 3-pac!  Just GLONK HERE!

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Find Me Here - Stephanie Mullen

This is Steph's 2nd post in the Fire Bowl (you can see the first one HERE). This will conclude our posts on how God can turn bad things for our good. Thanks Steph for the beautiful song. You can download this song, see the archive and subscribe for future podcast posts and the podcast site HERE

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Me. Ow. - John Rosenbaum

Dear Reader, this is John's 3rd (and 4th) submission to the Fire Bowl.  What follows are two pieces that I have posted together for your thoughtful perusal.  Please note that the Fire Bowl is a creative writing community that explores variations on a theme.  The current theme is stories about bad times that turn out for our good.  John's two short submissions here contain some...ahem...honest language and for that reason, we are warning you ahead of time.  Thanks, John, for these posts...rated PG-13.



God, I’m disgusting.  Look at me, practically wallowing in my own filth.  Not that I would have to, but that jackass hasn’t cleaned out my box in days.  It’s like he even enjoys my filth, despite all the ruckus and insults he throws my way about the stench.  Always demanding perfection, cleanliness, even “shit that doesn’t stink.”  Guess what, dude!  I’m an animal!

Man, I’ve gotten so fat.  This comfortable life is my own gallows.  I can leap small buildings in a couple bounds, and I can do it with perfect balance and grace.  If I wanted.  Oh sure, I will cry and wail wanting to go outside, stare out the window for hours, and try to weasel my way out the door given the opportunity, but you know what I do once I get out there?  Immediately regret it.  These four walls have made me soft.  With all my fur and the pudge around the middle that I pass off as fur you would think I’d be able to stand even an afternoon in the cold, but no.  The life given me by this jerk has even ruined me of my own nature.

Damned if you do!  Sure as hell damned if you don’t!  What a lot is this?

Somehow I picked up this A-load of fleas, these parasites crawling around my portly body like anxieties that won’t shake.  Fleeting little buggers!  Every time I think I got a hold on one (and there’s plenty to choose from) the little bastard slips through my teeth, vanishes like a whisper, and I’m left chewing on my own flesh.  Not that that is a deterrent from trying and trying again.  It’s like eating away at my own flesh, creating my own open sores which are infinitely worse than the pricks caused by my tormentors, is somehow control.  I am not accomplishing anything save gnawing off parts of who I am, but it’s the only thing I can seem to do.  Not that the tyrant would have to expend any energy on my behalf—a couple drops of medicine once-a-fracking-month and I would be free from torture, freed from my own destructive behavior, the sin of self-mutilation under the thinly-veiled guise of comfort.  It’s in that jackass’s power, but what do I get?  A few sympathetic comments thrown my way and hands that prod my self-inflicted wounds.  Agitation, not restoration.  Wow.  Thanks for caring.  I’m treated worse than a pet, but you will parade your progressive self flouting the term “animal companion.”

With all this ranting I think I’ve worked up an appetite.  Or not, but I’ll eat anyway.  And commence with the routine: I jump up on your precious countertop and cross the proverbial line.  You spray me in the face with that squirt bottle of yours and after a couple of rounds of that I’ll get what I want.

God, you’re worse than the Dursleys.

Meow and Forever

Oh, you little cat!  Why do you keep jumping up there, forcing me to spray you?  How I wish I could explain to you that your last owners did you a disservice by leaving out a bag of dry food for you to just munch on as you saw fit.  Not only is dry food bad for you, but you shouldn’t graze; you need set meal times.  We got to get that extra pudge off of you!

Speaking of pudge, I got a string here that I can wave in front of your face if you’d like.  Man, I could do that for hours, you’re so cute.  You don’t seem to want to go outside, even though I’ve done what all the cat experts have advised—I’ve helped you chase off those other cats so we can establish your territory.  So until you learn to trust my perimeter we got to get you exercise some how.  Remember: I got yo back, cat!  Now chase the string!

Come here!  I know you don’t like when I comb through your fur picking off fleas one by one, but what choice do I have?  It breaks my heart to see you chewing yourself to bits, but I can’t afford flea medicine until I work off that vet bill; I’m still not sure what was causing you to throw up all the time, but I’m sure glad your tummy has been doing better.

Ow!  I’m not sure if you know this, but your front paws are wrapped around my wrist and your hind legs are ripping my forearm to shreds and your little, razors-for-teeth are sinking deeper and deeper into my tender, nerve-ridden hand.  Oh, man.  You’re bringing me to tears!  I’m going to wait it out, though.  Whew, I want to smack you so you get off!, but that isn’t going to help you; your little instincts will interpret that struggle as a challenge, but I want you to know you are safe and loved and don’t need to protect yourself from me.

Now please remove your claws because I got to clean out your box.  Your shit stinks.

Monday, November 28, 2011

What God Arranges - Mark Barrentine

This is Mark's 2nd post in the Fire Bowl (read the 1st one HERE)

In Eugene Peterson’s The Message, Galatians 3:11b states, “The person who lives in right relationship with God does it by embracing what God arranges for him.” I think this statement sums up the current Fire Bowl topic beautifully. 
At the beginning of this year, I took a test to become a supervisor at work. After passing the written and oral portions of the exam I placed 3rd on the hiring list. I was in excellent shape to be promoted, because there were 4 open positions. Administration interviewed the top 7 individuals on the list. 
Well, I was not selected. As a matter of fact, I was jumped twice to hire number 4 and number 6! I was very upset. I began to suspect some sort of conspiracy. I racked my brain wondering what went wrong and why administration didn’t “like me?” I became bitter and disgruntled. I kept telling myself, “There’s a reason for everything.” But I didn’t really accept it.
Shortly after the promotions were made, my wife got real sick. Her illness required me to take off several days from work. My wife really needed me. Not just as moral support, but on a couple of occasions I had to act as her advocate to be sure her voice was heard. After a couple weeks she recovered, and I was able to return to work.
A couple months later, I was pondering the promotions again and asking God why I hadn’t been promoted. I explained to Him how embarrassing it was to have been passed over twice. I shared with him how desperately we could have used the raise. I told God how upset I was with the arrangements He was making. Then our most gracious and loving Father reminded me of my wife’s illness. I was able to see, that if I had been promoted I would have been unable to take the time off that my wife needed me to take in order to care for her. And quite possibly, I would have been away at Supervisor’s school when she suddenly got ill. He did not grant me favor with the decision makers, so that I could be the man and husband He created me to be in a very crucial time.
I have a new found respect for how God arranges things, and a greater desire to embrace those arrangements. I am still slow on the uptake, but He is patient.
Peace and all good, my friends.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Bad Turned Good - Aron Smith

This is Aron's second post here in the bowl.  You can read his first one HERE.  The topic for the next few posts are about how God can make bad things into good things...or, at least, a learning experience.  Thanks for stoking the fire with a good story, Aron!

This is a hard topic, Chris!  Write about something that seemed bad and turned out to be good?  It would be far easier for me to write about a situation that seemed good initially and soon enough went bad.  After all, isn’t that how things usually go in life?  I am reminded of the title of Chinua Achebe’s wonderful novel Things Fall Apart.  This seems to be nature’s way:  Today in full bloom, tomorrow gone to seed; all good things must end.  This, of course, has been a pervasive theme throughout literature and scripture.

My personal favorites on this subject are Psalms 146:3-4 and Shakespeare’s famous “all the world’s a stage” speech from As You Like It.  We are reminded by Ecclesiastes 3:1 that there is “a time for every purpose under heaven.”  Having been impressed at an early age by the profundity of this simple statement in the lyrics of The Byrds’ “Turn, Turn, Turn,” I recall being shocked when, as an adult, I discovered that it is actually in the Bible!

But something that starts out bad and turns good?  That seems to run counter to the natural course of events.  We don’t start out ancient and decrepit and somehow energize to youth and vitality.  We may have everything and lose it all, but, Mega Millions and Power Ball notwithstanding, we don’t start out with nothing and end up with everything.  No, this is not nature, this is what we refer to as a “miracle.”  Man destroys, but only God creates.  This is Lazarus being raised from the dead.  This is the miracle of the loaves and fishes.  This is the Children of Israel going from slavery to freedom.  This is the very concept of salvation.

And yet, there seems to be some type of spiritual law of physics at work here, a divine E=mc2.  Everything has good and bad aspects and nothing really changes from one to the other.  It’s just a matter of perception.  The woolly caterpillar doesn’t look anything like a monarch butterfly, but there you are.

In 2009 and 2010, I was out of work for eight long months.  Four years earlier, I lucked out by hopping over to a different type of work just before my former employer closed its doors.  This time, however, I was not so lucky.  Things had started to go bad at work at the beginning of the year, but I was very well paid and couldn’t find anything else with a salary even close.  As the months wore on and the situation deteriorated, my wife (always my steady ballast) urged me not to quit so that, in the worst-case scenario, I could at least collect unemployment.  By October, I was doing just that.

In retrospect, I was fortunate that my employer chose not to contest my unemployment claim.  My sudden joblessness threw me into a funk from which it would have been difficult to effectively fight a denial of unemployment.  I updated my résumé, networked with all my contacts and got on the Internet to apply for everything in sight.  It was lucky that my wife had some seasonal data entry work for a few months that helped slow the exit of funds from our savings account.

As the months rolled by, I became increasingly panicked and began applying for jobs all over the United States.  I kept a little outline map that I highlighted with an orange marker.  Soon, I had 23 states filled in.  I decided I probably didn’t want to go to Alaska.  North Dakota, however, I would consider.

Yes, I said North Dakota.  Any Dakota would have been bad enough, but I had to choose the northern one!  Images of blizzards danced in our heads.  My wife started to wonder why she married such an idiot.  Was this plan in pursuit of a wonderful position that paid six figures?  More like nine dollars an hour.  I had a phone interview and they seemed to like me.  I started perusing maps.  My poor wife started to panic.  At about that time, I learned that the city of Devils Lake, N.D., site of said job, had a little problem with flooding that rendered most of the housing stock uninhabitable on a more or less annual basis.  This resulted in a little situation with mold.  Luckily, my wife put her foot down this time.

Next was the job in Massachusetts.  This would have meant transporting all of our household goods and belongings three thousand miles across the continent.  I felt badly about dragging my wife so far away from her family, but how else were we going to pay for rent and food when the needle on our back account hit E?  I figured I’d try to make the best of it.  After all, I did have some distant relatives living in the area, and as I reminded my wife, we’d be located only three hours from New York or Boston.  Oh, did I mention that I’d have to make a lot of trips to corporate headquarters in Nebraska?  Not Omaha or Lincoln, mind you, but a little town out on the wild prai-ree.  I am the original white knuckle flyer, but I figured, hey, I’d just have to get used to it.  After the second phone interview, I never heard from them again.

After that was the job in Washington State.  At least this one was in a place we had been to before.  My wife took a few days off work and we drove up to Olympia.  We even arrived on a day when it wasn’t raining.  And we happened upon a gorgeous view of Puget Sound.  The Pacific Northwest was starting to look better and better.  The interview went fairly well and I was told that the finalists would be asked back for a second round of interviews in a week or so.  Donna couldn’t take off more work, so I started lining up family members who could help me make that long drive.  I waited by the phone like a teenage girl for a call that never came.

About this time, my depression started mixing with an unhealthy dose of anger against those at my old job who were determined to see me gone.  I started sleeping all day, rousting myself out of bed just before my wife got home from work.  I began reading entire books of the Bible aloud with as much dramatic flair as possible as a vent for my frustrations.  I started playing chess with a local shut-in as a means of getting myself out of the house for a few hours.  And I applied and applied and applied, for just about anything I could find, no matter how far the distance or how low the compensation.  We started planning on moving in with relatives.

Then I got onto a kick about moving to Dothan, Alabama.  I had heard online about a group that was paying the moving expenses of people relocating to that town and even helping them to find jobs in the area.  I applied immediately, even though I knew it didn’t look good.  “Unemployed over-the-hill geek with a never-used law degree and data entry operator wife wish to take advantage of your generosity before penury and homelessness set in.”

I started posting Facebook updates listing the number of weeks I’d been unemployed and the number of jobs for which I’d applied.  Amazingly, no one unfriended me, but then again I stopped getting comments on my Facebook status.  It’s just as they say, “laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and you cry alone.”

I decided that perhaps a job in the public sector would be more stable than a mom-and-pop shop like the one I had been summarily tossed out of.  I spent hours at a time on USAJobs with the feds and on every state’s personnel website.  Being a New York boy, I had no special attachment to California, but since my wife had lived here all her life and wished to stay, I regularly checked the websites of each of our state’s 58 counties.  Well, almost each one.  I actually found a few counties that still don’t have their own websites.  Applications went out via email and fax to county governments from Yreka to San Diego.  Many of the positions I applied for were clearly not job matches, but it made me feel better to do something rather than nothing and to be able to make another notation in my little notebook.  I started hating the sight of that notebook.  For me, it served as a symbol of double failure — failure at my last job and failure at finding another.

One Saturday night I spent three hours writing the essays required to apply for a managerial position with the court system in Riverside County.  A position for which I lacked the requested experience, I should add.  I asked Donna to help me come up with ideas for some of the difficult essay questions, but I did not tell her that the job was located in Blythe, an outpost on the Arizona border located eight hours from Fresno and nearly twelve from her family.  I had been through there on the interstate a couple of times on the way to Phoenix, so I figured it couldn’t be too bad.  I looked around online for information about Blythe and quickly learned that they typically have less than two inches of rain per year and temperatures over 100 degrees for at least six months out of the year.

When I finally got up the nerve to confess to my wife, she was a very unhappy camper.  I think she accused me of wanting to take her to hell, being out of my mind, and a few other choice things that I’d just as soon forget.  I wasn’t really that concerned, assuming that this application would meet the same fate as all the rest.  It didn’t become real until a few weeks later when I was asked to come for an interview.

We drove down the day before the big show and camped out in Motel 6.  The temperature was 107°.  Donna and I looked at each other and knew that this entire venture was insane.  We cranked the AC in our motel room and avoided going outside.  “Can we leave and just say you did this interview?” she asked.  I was very tempted to go along with this plan, but decided that I may as well go through with it since we were already there.

Well, nearly a year and a half has passed since that June day and I am pleased to say that, praise God, we are happily ensconced in Blythe.  Both my boss and my staff have been very good to me, I have learned a lot and we have even gotten (somewhat) used to the horribly hot summers that are the norm here.  As the memory of my troubles with my former job in Fresno and my eight months of unemployment begin to recede into the distance, I realize that being fired and going through the existential struggle of being out of work were not all bad things after all.  They did lead me to a better place in my life and to a location that I am convinced was God’s destiny for us.  We have met many wonderful people here and everyone has been friendly and helpful.  I like to tell out-of-town visitors about our neighbors, one of whom climbed on our roof to fix our air conditioning one night when it was 110°, and the other who takes in our mail when we are away and has become a friend to my wife.  Back in Modesto, we barely knew who are neighbors were.  And in Fresno, we got to know our neighbors very well, because they’d get drunk every weekend and throw things at each other.

Can something that started out bad turn into something good?  You betcha.  Or maybe all I chose to see was the bad when there were good aspects that I had yet to notice?  I think the lesson here is to avoid the temptation to see things in black and white.  Just as man contains both the good and evil inclinations, so does every situation have its positive and negative aspects.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Drama in the rain - Chris Whitler

In May of 1991 I was in Romania.  This was my second trip to the freshly democratic country that had undergone violent revolution just two years prior.  Missionaries were sounding the call.  The time was right for the gospel in this hurting nation.  People were hungry for hope.

I was there with a Youth With A Mission (YWAM) team of 20 or so in response to that call.  We were serving full time missionaries and churches by doing what we could to gather people together and communicate the story of Jesus to them.  It was the early 90’s, it was YWAM and that means drama.

Not drama as it has come to be referenced these days with indignant bobbing heads and snapping fingers and a “I can’t believe she comes in here and creates all that drama!”  I’m talking about mime make-up, costumes, a translated sound track and some amateur thespians acting out the great story to the best of our ability.  We were performing a play called ‘Toymaker & Son’, an allegory with dance, physical theater and colorful costumes that was part Nutcracker, part Cats and part Shields and Yarnell.

As people gathered into the soccer arena for the “spectacol” so did the storm clouds overhead.  We had set up the sound equipment and the props.  We had marked the dirt square as our stage area.  And now we were afraid of those dark, heavy clouds.  So, we started to sing.  We didn’t want rain to drive people away and postpone their chance to see this story.  We sang, we prayed, we asked God to move the storm along.  People still gathered.

As we fervently beseeched like we had never beseeched before for that storm to pass, a beam penetrated those clouds and the heart of the storm was shot through with light like the birth of a Thomas Kinkade painting.  It happened suddenly and we all exclaimed excited praise and thanks.  The show would go on!  God is good!

Infused with faith and adrenaline, we took our places.  I sat in the dirt, awaiting my cue.  The music began.  On that introductory trumpeted note, the rain began to fall - a sprinkle, some drops and then a full on shower.  The dirt became mud.  We all started laughing.

We carried on.  We slipped through creation.  We splashed through man’s rejection of God.  We slid through Christ reaching out to his broken creation.  We sloshed through the crucifixion.  We splattered through the resurrection and the ultimate defeat of evil.

At the end, a local pastor invited people to the hope that Christ offers and many responded, coming forward to pray.

As it turns out, storm clouds break apart and storm clouds gather.  God is still good.  Sometimes rain is an invitation to have a little more fun.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Sci Fi Country - a song by Chris Whitler

For the past few weeks, we've been exploring stories and lessons learned from crossing cultures and this is our last entry on the subject.  You can enjoy this original song by me right here by clicking on the player.  If you would like to download the song, listen to more music or subscribe to future Fire Bowl and Whitler audio, just GLONK HERE.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Legend of the Cows - The kids of the Tsartlip First Nations Community

This past summer, several of the fire bowl contributors (along with some other friends) were helping at a community camp for Tsartlip Village, a First Nations community near Victoria, BC in Canada.  During our camp out night, we all wrote this story together.

Many moons ago, there was a cow named Bob and he was really fat and he took over the world.  He had two baby cows.  Their names were Cheese and Hot Dog.  They liked bananas.

Cheese and Hot Dog were sad because they didn't have a mother so they ran away to New York city.  They hated yogurt but they loved to play in the park.  Their little family went in search of a new mother.

One day, while eating grass on the field, they found out that their mother had been assassinated by the mysterious Ben Lomond.  They plotted revenge on Ben Lomond by becoming the best jazz trio ever seen.  As they were performing, Lomond came to the jazz club.  It was then they realized that their mother had been free running with Ben in the woods all along.

They were so shocked that they went and found a shy cow named Flower.  Flower was a blonde cow with three legs and a beard.  Eventually, the entire family was reunited.

Suddenly, they saw an entire mass of Japanese people running toward them and Godzilla came and crushed the entire cow family.  And then shoelaces began falling from the sky.

The cows were on a happy journey to McDonald's to help feed people.  Ronald McDonald came to life and took the cows on a magical journey to Disneyland.  There, they saw a statue of a cow.  A chief from a local tribe, who was hunting in the area, heard the noise and when he got there, he realized it was his cow!

On nights when you can see the moon, you can see four cows jumping over the moon.  One has three legs and blonde hair.

The End.

Monday, October 17, 2011


 Aron and his wife Donna are some of the most hospitable people I (Chris) have ever met.  Aron manages the courthouse in the hottest place in the world, Blythe, CA.  He is better at scrabble than any of us could ever hope to be and knows where to get good Mexican food.  Enjoy!  This is his first post in the Fire Bowl...welcome Aron!

It’s been many years since I’ve been outside the United States, but I am pleased to have had some international experiences in my younger days.  We bring our American baggage to our travels and soon learn that our frames of reference are not necessarily shared by our brothers and sisters in other parts of the world, or even by our close neighbors in Canada.

I have visited the Caribbean, Europe (England and France) and Canada (twice, once on each coast).  I got a huge kick out of speaking French in Québec and in Paris, standing in the rain to watch the changing of the guards at Buckingham Palace and having to catch my breath when I turned a corner stepping out of the Métro to find the magnificent Eiffel Tower staring me in the face.

I learned a lesson about attitudes toward Americans when I climbed into a taxi in Paris one night and directed the driver to take me to a particular restaurant for a late dinner.  I felt around the seats for a safety belt, but none were in evidence.  Out of (American) habit, I pressed down the door lock at the edge of the window.  Incensed, the driver turned around and yanked the little black button back up.  “Ce n’est pas Chicago!” he yelled.  In other words, how dare I insult him, and by extension all Parisians and the French people as a whole, by insinuating that I had to protect myself from crime in the way that we are accustomed to do over here on the other side of the Atlantic.  I found it interesting that he chose to invoke the name of Chicago, rather than my native New York.  Perhaps he had been read a book about Al Capone.  I bit my tongue to stifle my desire to vindicate myself by explaining that my father was a driver ed teacher and that locking the car door had more to do with wanting to remain inside the vehicle rather than staving off crime.  (Remember the bloody driver ed movies with names featuring the words Tragedy and Agony?  My father brought them home for us to see, and he could recite the soundtracks verbatim.)  But then I suppose the driver would have felt that I was casting aspersions on his driving prowess, which would inevitably have led to me be thrown out of the cab in an unfamiliar arrondissement at midnight.

My visit to St. Maarten in the Netherlands Antilles was a different type of experience entirely.  Rather than wandering about with the aid of a guidebook, I mostly stayed in the cocoon of a large resort, where I could have been anyplace at all in the tropics.  As this was in the days before the euro, I dearly wished to change some money so that I could bring home a few exotic guilders.  Every time I tried the local bank, however, it was the wrong day or the wrong time and it was closed.  It turns out that the local businesses desired American dollars and had no interest at all in gringos changing money.  I suppose the slot machines that took American quarters should have been a tip-off.

So I was glad to head just slightly off the tourist path by taxiing over to the French side of the island, St.-Martin.  It’s not that there were any sights I hoped to see over there, but that was where the ferry launched for a day trip to Anguilla.  I was unprepared to see women sitting cross-legged on the ground, fruit spread out on blankets before them, hoping to sell a plantain or an orange to the rich touristes.  Then again, back in Phillipsburg on the Dutch side, I walked the streets and found little black children running about in their birthday suits as if this were some type of National Geographic special on TV.  As a privileged American who paid a lot of money to stay at a resort, it was too easy to forget that this was a Third World country I was visiting and that there real people experiencing real suffering right at my elbow.  People whose experience did not include eating at Le Lagon Bleu or playing roulette in the casinos.  In fact, I later heard that gambling is illegal for citizens there.  No need to make social problems worse than they already are by permitting the locals to throw their guilders down the hungry gullets of the slot machines.  Let foolish foreign tourists leave their dollars here for us, thank you very much.

I would never have guessed that my few international forays would not provide anywhere near the cross-cultural experience that I would eventually gain right here in the United States.

It all started when I moved across the country to California after 35 years in New York and New England.  My years of high school and college French served me well in Québec and Paris, but I landed hard in the Central Valley to quickly learn that I should have studied español.  The signs on the mercados, bodegas, carnicerias and panaderias in Madera, and later in Modesto, flummoxed me to say the least.  Who was it that said that if you know one Romance language you can easily figure out the others?  It took me some time to learn that many of the delicacies advertised were actually (gasp!) organ meats.  Okay, so I kind of expected this when I spent a few days visiting a friend in Laredo, Texas, directly across the Rio Grande bridge from Mexico.  I did learn a few handy phrases there, including soy perdido (which I thought sounded an awful lot like tofu) and lo ciento (which I had to use a lot).

But here in the golden land of California?  It was pretty ignorant of me to expect English to be as much the lingua franca in Fresno as it is in the 13 Colonies.  I had never eaten Mexican food before, and I did not even know what a tortilla is.  Bagels and lox and kugel, yes; tortillas and salsa, no.  It took several years before I gained an understanding that there were certain types of chiles I could eat without burning my insides out.  One of my favorite Modesto memories is asking the proprietor of a small taqueria what type of pescado they were serving.  The poor man understood my question but did not know what the word for it was in English.  He settled for running back to the kitchen and reappearing a moment later holding the whole fish up for my inspection.  (My other favorite is the time my wife and I were in a drive-thru on McHenry trying to order me a fish burrito, a request that the hapless clerk at the other end of the speaker could not seem to comprehend.  “Pescado!  Pescado!” my wife and I yelled and the same time, erupting in giggles when we realized that we had finally made ourselves understood.)

I quickly caught on to words such as iglesia, cuidado and baños, but I was clueless when it came to quinceañera, viaje and (now one of my favorites) zanahorias and I had no hope whatever of productively eavesdropping on a conversation, say, in the produce aisle in Winco.  (Which reminds me of the time my wife and I combed haplessly through jars of jalapeños and nopales in an attempt to fulfill our young niece’s request for something called pepinos).  There are still times when I feel a stranger in my own land, but at some level I know it’s my own fault for not taking the time to study Spanish.  Now that I live on the very border of Arizona, home of Sheriff Joe Arpaio and ground zero for the immigration debate, I realize that there is more than one viewpoint on the language issue.  My wife, for example, believes that those who live in this country should learn English.  This, of course, is what my Eastern European forebears did after being processed through Castle Garden and Ellis Island and settling in the Bronx and on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.  They attended night school, passed their citizenship exam, stood in line to raise their right hands and swear their loyalty.  Much as I admire this, I realize that there is more than one way to skin un gato.  I  believe that if native Spanish speakers should learn English, then the rest of us need to learn Spanish.  I believe that this is a cultural divide we can cross if English and Spanish are named dual national languages in the same manner that English and French are in Canada, not to mention the multilingual standards of Europe.  I am encouraged in that I am beginning to see two-way bilingual immersion programs starting in kindergarten.

To me, “embrace diversity” is more than a catch phrase.  It is the approach this New York boy takes to living in California.  And even if I don’t always comprende what my neighbors are saying, I am no longer cowed at the prospect of admitting that I don’t know what a particular word means and asking for help.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m headed out for some chile rellenos and frijoles.

Hasta luego, amigos.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Welcome Changes - Stephanie Mullen

 Stephanie Mullen has recently returned to the United States from serving the Burmese refugees on the Thai/Burmese border.  She is resting, renewing and waiting on God for the next step.  You can read about her missionary journey at her blog HERE.  Welcome to the Fire Bowl, Stephanie!

My culture-crossing experience when I moved to Thailand wasn’t nearly as dramatic as I thought it would be.  I imagined that I’d feel so out of place, see one too many cockroaches, and have some kind of public meltdown.  While I definitely had my moments of frustration and utter confusion in that year and a half, many of the differences were welcome changes for me.

People see you.  They say hello and offer you something, even if they have very little.    The generosity is so humbling.  They invite you into their home, they feed you, and they don’t waste any energy trying to portray some kind of A+ lifestyle.  They put themselves out there, for better or worse; and they let you do the same.  And thankfully there were no fashion police around.  My hair drier caught on fire the one time I tried using it, so I was fine with settling into low-maintenance mode.

Life is simple.  Homes are small, motorbikes or bicycles are sufficient, and the local shops or markets have everything you need (although maybe not everything you want, like Blizzards from DQ or granola bars).  There were no malls or movie theaters, so you had to be creative and learn to enjoy the simple stuff.  My friend and I used to buy ice cream and go sit in front of our favorite field when we wanted to do something special.

And people there share.  They aren’t possessive of their things, but are happy to give whatever they have if it’ll help someone.  Neighbors look out for each other.  Actually, they need each other.  They rely on one another for the daily stuff just to get by.  In extreme cases, someone in the community will even take in a child as their own if the parents are removed from the picture for whatever reason.
It’s beautiful.  There are so many things I saw and experienced that I want to keep with me back in here the US, but the longer I’m stateside, the less I’m shocked by a commercial for a pill that relieves dehydration, or by our sexualization of women, or our infatuation with celebrities.  We’re encouraged to have more and better, and the clutter can be numbing.

But no culture is perfect, and there were things that I was sad to see in Thailand, too.
Many men cheat on their wives, and it seems to be expected.  Customer service is non-existent at best, infuriating at worst.  Conflict is handled by avoiding it, and it’s not okay to just bring up issues.  I learned this the hard way when my friend was asked to find another place to live after we showed our frustration with her landlord.  Also, it’s okay to tell a woman she’s fat... something I never happily embraced.

I’ve been able to feel at home in two different cultures, and at times feel like I was dropped from outer space into both.  I hope to experience more, though, because seeing different ways to live allows you to decide if you want it or not.  I think God had an idea of what everything would look like, how we’d all treat each other, and that we can see pieces of it in play in different places... like we’ve all taken a shot at trying to live with one another, and we’ve all gotten some things right while falling painfully short at others.

It’s contrary to the way I grew up, but I’m interested now in having less and depending on other people more.  And I hope I don’t ever settle for thinking that I have it all figured out, but will be willing to feel like an alien if it leads to experiencing life more like it was designed to be.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

Yes - Aaron Alford

Aaron is currently hanging his hat in Italy.  This is Aaron's 2nd post in the bowl (1st is here).  He is a YWAMer spending a sabbatical year as a citizen of the world. 

Writing a story about crossing cultures should be easy for me.  Lately, it seems it’s all I do.  I am currently in the second half of a year in which my only requirement is to stay out of the United States.  I’ve traveled from Canada to Thailand, from Thailand to Israel and Jordan, to Holland, to a Native reservation on Vancouver Island.  

And within each of these geographical locations, I’ve experienced a dozen other cultures.  I became good friends with Burmese people in Thailand.  I was welcomed into the home of an Arab Catholic family and into a monastery of French monks in Israel.  Here on Vancouver Island, I’ve been hosted by a family that is half Coast Salish Native and half Samoan.

Again, this should be a very easy topic to write about.  But when given the charge, I find myself drawing a blank.

Perhaps it’s because I’ve crossed so many cultures lately that I find it hard to zero in on a single story.  I could tell you about sharing a Burmese cigar with a man living at a garbage dump in Mae Sot.  I could talk about the Palestinian cab driver who invited me into his home for tea and bread.  Or perhaps I could talk about swimming in the Sea of Galilee with some French monks who welcomed me into their community.  There’s also Ollie, the German-born man living in Holland who literally invited us into his castle.  And of course, there’s that time we buried a pig to roast for an Island luau at a Native reservation.  The list goes on.

So I find myself thinking about what it is that unifies these stories, both in me and in the people I met.  What is it that made these stories possible?  

In missionary and NGO circles, we tend to talk a lot about “cultural sensitivity”, and honestly, I find the subject somewhat tedious.  Of course, I don’t want to be insensitive and end up rubbing a Thai monk’s head with my bare feet (I’m sure there’s a series of incidents that could make such a travesty happen), but God knows I’ve known a person or two who was very culturally sensitive, and whose personality was best described with an expletive.  What I don’t want is to become so entrenched in my own pre-conceived ideas of what another person may find offensive that I actually limit my opportunity to experience the life of that other person.

And I suppose that’s what it gets down to.  A person.  What made each of these experiences possible was openness to another individual.  My first rule of travel is, “Say Yes.”  Say “Yes” to the other, in whatever they may offer.  In this, I open myself not merely to “experiencing another culture,” but to experiencing another person within that culture.  In saying “Yes” to their offer, I am in turn offering myself.  It may be for just an hour, or it may be for a lifetime, but I say “Yes” to the possibility of friendship.

We can become trapped in insecurity and close ourselves off to relationship because of our own fear.  We forget that a person is not merely the sum total of their culture.  We must step past our own fears of offending, and embrace the moment.

Perhaps each person is simply a culture of One, each culture rich with what makes it unique.  Each with its own sense of art, of beauty, of tradition.  Each with its own unique way of offering kindness and hospitality.  It’s true that what may be welcomed by one may offend another, but kindness and humility go a long way in forgiving small ignorances.  What makes the journey of crossing over into another’s culture possible is that simple word: “Yes”.

Kindness.  Openness.  Humility.  Love.  Such things are understood in any culture, from Arab cab drivers to homeless Canadians.  We are, each one of us, a culture of our own, waiting for another to say “Yes” to us.  And each of us, each culture of One, has something of great value to give: Ourself.

Frére Dominic and I are taking this trail down to the water.  Would you like to come?



(Hand motions indicating an offer of tobacco)

Ho' ke!


Would you like to meet at Fraser’s house at 5 a.m. to bury the pig for the luau?

(deep breath)  Absolutely!

Would you like to come to my house for some tea?

نعم !

Monday, October 3, 2011

Circular Thinking - James Harrison

This is Jame's 2nd submission to the Fire Bowl (read the 1st here).  He writes from Canada where he serves as a leader in a Youth With A Mission training program.

After three flights of stairs we entered Timothy's office.  The five of us sat down in his small seating area and gladly gave him the respect he was due.  As a gentle, experienced missionary in a very hard place, it was a privilege to spend time with him.

We each sat with slight smiles and focused faces and asked questions.  "How long have you been here?"

"Is it hard having an HIV/AIDS ministry?"

"What is it like living here?"

He quietly answered our questions with exceptional English and revealed that he had a partner who began the ministry with him and that this man had passed away.

Quietly, I asked a direct question: "When did he pass away?"

"We started working together 14 years ago," he began, "after we met..."  The story continued for a quarter of an hour as Timothy shared their history as partners, how they served God together and how the man eventually became very ill.  He ended the story, "He died seven years ago."

Leaving Timothy in his office, I had forgotten that I asked the question that spurred that narrative.  When the meeting was over and we descended the stairs, one of the girls excitedly pointed out what we'd learned about Circular Thinking - a mindset prevalent in Asia where an indirect answer can be given out of respect or other reasons - and how our host had used that when I asked about his partner's death.

I was strongly impacted on how important it was for Timothy to tell the whole story of his partner. Because of how much he meant to him, he had to give the big picture; to list his partner's service and sacrifice for the gospel, even to death. My blunt question was gently answered in an inspiring missionary biography that left me surprisingly refreshed.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Place of the Wolves - Dave Skene

Dave Skene is a Metis of Scottish, French, Menominee and Cree decent.  Dave is one of the Co-Founders of Global Youth Network an international organization working to educate and mobilize young people towards making positive change in their world. He served as the Executive Director for Global Youth Network from 1995-2010. He recently resigned from that position to work with Global Youth as their Indigenous Program Coordinator. Dave has lead numerous teams of Canadian youth on international volunteer and education projects. He has taught on justice and community development across Canada and Internationally. At present Dave is developing youth programs in Kenya, Brazil, Korea, and several First Nations communities in British Columbia. No matter what Dave puts his hand to he is first of all a youth worker, supporting youth to discover how they can create a more just society. He also been a member of the YWAM Canadian Leadership team since 1996. Dave has been married to Liz Becker for 25 years and right now they make their home in Duncan British Columbia.

This is a poem I wrote in Mexico city I believe in the mid 90’s. I was in an area in the city called Coyoacan or “Place of the Wolves”.  It was here that Hernan Cortes and the Spanish set up their head quarters for the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire. It is now a gathering place for artists and university students.

Place of the Wolves

place of the wolves
old beyond your years
your ugliness has become the thorn that pricks the conscience of the human heart
the rose
flower of greed
hides the truth of your toothless smile

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

S-21 - Phil Cunnigham

Phil is one of the founders of Steps of Justice, a YWAM initiative to educate and inspire the Church to become engaged with global justice issues.  He is currently gearing up for the "Justice and Worship Tour" (coming to Modesto in October!).  Phil loves to his family, tacos and helping people take simple steps toward a more just life.  You can read more from Phil at his blog...

Two weeks ago I landed back in the USA after a two-week trip to Cambodia.   I went over there with a group of twenty-one other people on the Steps of Justice mission trip. We had a few reasons for going on this trip:

1. To get away from the USA and Canada to experience another culture in order to see our culture with different eyes.
2. To learn about the different injustices in the world, specifically poverty (which leads to hunger), water issues, human trafficking and slavery.
3. To see and learn from other non-government organizations (NGOs) on what we can do to give a voice back to those who have had theirs taken from them (the poor and oppressed).
4. To "do justice." This was a huge one; this was not just an awareness trip, it was a trip where we intentionally left something, and did not just take something.   So, we built a house for a very, very poor family.

Many of you probably know about the genocide that took place in Cambodia from 1975-1979.   The Khmer Rouge marched into town after the Vietnam War ended and decided to create a communist society.  They moved all the workers and laborers out of the city and into the country side where they forced everyone to become rice farmers and commoners. They abolished money and they also interrogated and executed everyone they felt was against the new government. They took out religious people, professionals, medical personnel, the educated, those who wore glasses or knew a second language and everyone else they saw as "enemies of the people."  In total, over the span of four years one-third of the population died or was executed, up to 3 million people.

In 1979, Vietnam came in and overthrew the Khmer Rouge party.  People started to slowly move back to their homes and into the cities.  Many of them still died because they spent time looking for their loved ones instead of finding ways to make money and rebuild their society.  One well-known place in the country of Cambodia is S-21 prison.  S-21 used to be a high school, but when the Khmer Rouge came in they turned it into a prison and interrogation center.  Approximately 500,000 people were interrogated and executed at S-21 over a period of three years.  Seven months after the Khmer Rouge was toppled S-21 was opened as a museum.  Seriously, this is unbelievable after only seven months.

I have been to a few museums in my time.   Most of them are clean, well kept, non-offensive and expensive.  Not S-21; S-21 is as it was.  There are still blood stains on the floor, the torture devices are still there, the signs that the guards made to instruct the prisoners are still up and the handcuffs that locked them in their 5'x3' cells are still on the floor.  Going there is like getting kicked in the face. It is hard, it is raw, and you can't even believe that something like this really happened in our lifetime. It doesn't seem like history; it still seems so fresh and real.  I have been to S-21 six or seven times and it doesn't get any easier.  I just get more numb, which is a fact I hate.

This country has been through so much and continues to go through so much, but she moves on and continues to fight for freedom and life.  There are no secrets in Cambodia, just real people coming out of a horrible past and trying to make a better future.  Maybe this is one of the reasons I love Cambodia so much--they are a people who have continually been knocked down, yet continue to get back up.  I'm thankful for this country and will continue to bring people there, not only to see Cambodia changed, but to see us changed through her.  

Picture by Vanessa Hadford

Friday, September 16, 2011

Cultural Disorientation - John Rosenbaum

This is John's 2nd post here at the Fire Bowl.  Read the 1st one HERE.

I once journeyed to a far and distant land, a land of loggers and loonies, the home of hosers and Hortons.  I am, of course, referring to our Canadian cousins to the south (don’t buy what “maps” will sell you... every conspiracy theorist worth his or her salt will tell you that disorientation through the transposition of compass directions is the first step in population control used by the powers that be [those powers being... oh, I don’t know... SATAN?!]).

My first human-to-Canadian interaction was a little disheartening, to say the least.  As my wife and I were simply trying to enter the country, the customs lady laid us out under an endless barrage of questions: “What’s the purpose of your visit?  Where will you be staying?  How long are you planning on staying here?  How do you know this friend you will be staying with (and is it the bearded guy waiting outside)?  What do you do for work in the States?  Why did you move to Washington?  How much cash do you have on you?  Are you using a debit card?  How much money do you have in your account?  You recently moved to Washington and have no roots; you don’t have a job and are visiting a friend you used to work with in the States--how do we know he doesn’t have a job that will pay you under the table waiting for you up here?”

In short, Canada was offended that I, an unemployed, homeless man, would come into their country and not be seeking work.  “What, you’re too good for our jobs?”  Well, yes, Canada, as a matter of fact, I am.  I’m a philosopher--judging by the employment history of philosophers, we are all too good to be employed.  At all.

After riffling through our personal belongings customs sent us on our way: we clearly weren’t trying to stay in the country being we brought little more than our toothbrushes with us.

Aaron, our host (the bearded guy waiting outside) then took us on a tour of the little port-town of Sydney.  I ate a moose and Rhiannon consumed an entire galaxy.  After our hearty meal we were driven to the native reservation, and what a beautiful and scenic, though painfully slow, trip it was (really, Canada?  An average of 35 mph everywhere?).  Aaron took us to a dock where we watched the light set (the sun proper was already set), smoked a pipe, and watched bats play across the surface of the water.  There was even a fireworks show!

The next day I experienced for the first time the single greatest contribution Canada has made to the international community--Tim Horton’s (did I just hear a cheer rise up from the crowd?).  It truly is like nothing I have ever seen.  It’s much too nice to be a Dunked Donut, too pastry to be a WacDonald’s, and too convenience store to be a Startruck (I know what you were expecting me to say!).  Really, though: those donuts are glorious.  They look like something you would see in a movie (think Hook) but instead of tasting like p00p (think of the appearance-versus-taste scenario of Ukrainian cakes) THEY WERE AWESOME!

Well done, Canada.  Well done.

Our cultural experience did not end with Tim Horton’s (again and again and again).  We had the much-acclaimed Swiss Chalet (another home run) and were even privy to the Canadian Generation X’s childhood memories thanks to YouTube.  You’re my new best friends, Hinterland Beaver, Robin, Loon, and Hoser!  And I was so moved by Aaron’s favorite song-put-to-cartoon that I myself want to marry a log driver who can waltz!

Sadly, our cross-cultural experience had to come to a close.  We had one last touristy tour of Sydney, found one of the best (in terms of selection) though worst (in terms of price) used-book stores ever (Beacon Books), and boarded our vessel for home.

Entering into our own country was a pleasant experience--the customs agent gave me a friendly pat on the shoulder (and armpit, abdomen, buttocks, and legs).  No problem!  Oh, well, our car wouldn’t start...