Some things I learned while abroad

20170629_103555Just as a prelude, it’s not helpful to ask someone “How was [X country]?” if they spent an extended time abroad. How on earth am I supposed to tell you how my 6 weeks in South Africa were in a way that encompasses everything important and isn’t too long that you’ll get bored by my answer? Not that it’s a bad question, but some better questions that people have asked me were, “What were your favorite and least favorite things you did there?” “What were your living arrangements like and your opinions of those?” “When were you most afraid?” My personal favorite question (asked by the lovely and insightful Marianna) was “what did you learn while you were abroad?” So, I will answer that question in blog format because it does encompass a lot of the big things I did ther.

  1. I learned that I adapt well to new situations. I mostly knew that already, but I could see it very clearly while abroad. I would say things like, “Well everyone here speaks English, so I don’t feel like it’s that different from home,” which is actually kind of comical, now that I think about it. South Africa isn’t ridiculously different from the US, but there is much more nuance to it than I was giving it credit for. But beyond that, I learned that because I make a home quickly, I became uncomfortable by the same things that would make me uncomfortable here at home. I have a whole post about this coming soon, so that’s all I’ll say about it for now.
  2. I learned ways that I have contributed to making people of color feel uncomfortable in spaces, things that I now can change to go against that. Like, even if I do not verbalize (to others or even just to myself) judgments against something important to people of color (a style of music, for example), my face can show judgment, making me unapproachable. But the goal is not just to make myself approachable for people of color but to humbly approach them, relinquishing the power I hold in white-majority spaces to become a true ally. Obviously, there’s a whole lot more than that, but that piece stood out to me the most.
  3. I learned that I respond very strongly to natural beauty. I really enjoyed our rural homestay (pictured above), even though we had to kill cockroaches, we had to use long-drop toilets, and bathing was a major struggle. But for me, the natural beauty of our surroundings made that all worthwhile.
  4. I don’t really want to teach. I saw the future teachers around me light up in classrooms and dream about the day when they would be in charge of their own classrooms. But that didn’t happen to me. More often than not, I felt uncomfortable with the learners. But hey, it’s helpful to know what I don’t want to do!
  5. On the flip side, I really loved being able to talk with adults about anything and everything. One of the most impactful experiences I had was a 2-day initiative we did with a prison rehabilitation program in an actual prison. I saw life there, I saw humanity there, I saw regret and redemption there. Those robust conversations were incredible, and I’m going to look for ways to do something similar when I go back for my last year at university. (more about this experience will come, don’t worry!)
  6. I learned a new reason to have hope in God and the gospel. I had my closest moment with God not in a big church or among “impressive” people; I saw God most clearly in the face of poverty on a day that I had lamented not understanding how I could have hope in God. This is also a really big, complicated story (that may one day grace this blog—we’ll see!). Feel free to ask me about it.

That’s it for now, friends! More will be coming soon!

What We Should be Doing Instead of Yelling at Each Other

So there’s thing that’s been in the news recently (at least it has been in Virginia) called same-sex marriage. And for the longest time I’ve been decidedly torn on the issue. I’ve known that I love the people themselves, but I wasn’t sure about the topic of marriage. I can’t help but see both sides of the debate, but I guess that’s better than screaming at the people on the other side for not agreeing with me. And I think that (the screaming, that is) is part of the problem. Actually, it’s a big part of the problem. People are so stuck in their ways, unwilling to listen to the other side and make a compromise. Well, compromise is my middle name, so here goes.

So on the one side you have the “progressives” who say, among other things, that committed monogamous relationships between two people, regardless of their sex, is better than many of the abominations in marriage we see today that are still legal.

On the other side of the issue are the “traditionalists” who state (on the grounds of religion mostly) that marriage should be between one man and one woman and that’s it. As a committed Christian myself, I can’t deny seeing the truth of that statement. Marriage was made to be between one man and one woman for life. Anything less than that is simply not what God, as our loving Lord and Savior, intended for us. 

But look around you. Where is there anything or anyone that is functioning exactly the way God intended for us? The point that gets lost in translation in this argument, this war of words, is that no one is a sinner on the mere grounds that they are gay. No, we are sinners because we are human. It’s a part of our nature. We have all sinned, you, me, and everyone, and none of us are perfect. People just make a big deal about homosexuality, but they could very well be making a fuss about lying or stealing. I think it’s a shame that we spend so much energy arguing about this issue instead of preaching the Gospel. 

Maybe instead of condemning people to hell through our hatred of their “outrageous sin,” we can love them anyway and invite them to join us in heaven. What does condemnation do? Absolutely nothing. Zilch. It just creates an even larger barrier between us and people who desperately need God’s hand of love. This is not to be confused with conviction. Conviction leads to repentance and is based on love, but condemnation just creates hate. Think of conviction like me telling a friend that she can’t just eat junk food all the time. I tell her this because I know there’s something better for her, and I tell her in a way that makes that simple fact clear to her. 

Marriage, at least in the US, is not a religious matter. It’s a legal matter. And I can totally see how people can feel like second-class citizens just because they’re denied this right. Arguing about the morality of same-sex marriage is not going to change who’s gay and who’s not. It’s not going to change how many people enter into all sorts of broken marriages that are destined to fail. The only thing it’s going to change is the perception the world has of Christians. And that perception is not going to be pretty. 

I shall close with this last thought, written by Russell Moore in a Christianity Today article titled “What Did the Supreme Court Really Change Today?”. I could never hope to say this in a better way, so I leave you with his words: “It’s a time for forgiven sinners, like us, to do what the people of Christ have always done. It’s time for us to point beyond our family values and our culture wars to the cross of Christ as we say: ‘Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.'”

ImageEpylle Spydre

Karma Part 2

Enter the second part of my series that is at least somewhat about karma! Alrighty, this one is more on the topic, I promise you. Okay, so I was thinking about karma yesterday, right? And as I said in yesterday’s post, I think it’s really sad that people have taken the idea of karma and made it into something commonplace and ordinary. From my understanding of karma, it is the idea that all of a person’s good deeds and bad deeds, no matter how small, are on a scale. And those deeds will sort of prescribe the future of that person, either good or bad, so that they receive what they deserve. And I don’t expect you to get my thought jump here, but I went from the idea of putting so much importance on our deeds on hypocrisy in the church.

Yup. But I swear, it’s totally legitimate. You’ve probably seen it or heard it: people preaching that the way to get to heaven is by doing enough good works, being good enough. It’s really quite a common misconception that you need to be good enough to get to heaven. But being good enough finds its definition in things like not smoking, not doing drugs, not having sex, not cursing, going to church every Sunday, or maybe giving to charity every now and then, but not doing much more than that. But see, here’s the cinch: people who aren’t in the faith can see through this. They can see through the false pretenses people put up. If the only way you’re identifying yourself as a Christian is by not doing all the bad stuff, people can see that you’re not really a Christian.

I’m sorry, but the name “Christian” has the name of Christin it. As Christians, we follow in Christ’s footsteps. And while it’s true that Christ didn’t say bad words or do all that other stuff, there’s a whole TON of stuff that Christ did that people are forgetting about: healing the sick, feeding the 5,000, preaching and teaching, and in general, loving people. The thing that strikes most non-Christians about real Christians is their incredible love. And the worst piece of hypocrisy that shows up in the Church is not loving people. I mean, all those people who protest at soldier’s funerals saying that God is using the death of soldiers as punishment on the homosexuality ARE NOT BEING REAL CHRISTIANS. But you probably know that already. Unfortunately though, people like that cast a bad light on the real Christians out there. It’s not that all people in the Church are like this, it’s just that there’s an awful lot of people who are just messed up Christians. Or should I say “Churchians”. And the rest of the world can see that.

But back to my original idea: there are a lot of people in the Christian faith that, besides being big hypocrites, convince people that you get to heaven by your works. But that is the farthest from the truth. Please believe me when I say this. Some people will say that getting to heaven is all about YOU and what YOU do, but in reality, heaven is all about JESUS. Jesus is the only one who will get you to heaven, because he was the one who took our sins upon himself as he died on the cross. By taking our sins, he was the Pascal Lamb, and God took those sins and spread them as far as the East is from the West. When we accept God’s gift of salvation, we become perfect in the eyes of a perfect God. Our hearts are changed from an inky black to a beautiful, pure white. Getting to heaven is not about us, but about Jesus. And the only thing we need to do is accept that.

The ironic part is that after we accept salvation, God’s love fills us up so that we do go out and do things. Getting to heaven is not about our works, but our works are what define us as Christians. Because if after receiving God’s love we do not go out and love other people, then we aren’t really Christians. There’s a delicate balance between “your works are what save you” and “your works show that you are saved”. As Jefferson Bethke says so much better than I, “Religion: If I obey, then God will love me. Gospel: because God already loves me, I want to obey.”

Epylle Spydre

p.s. sorry, once again, karma was less integrated in the post than I was originally thinking it would be. Woops.