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America Must Get Off the Road to Germany’s Fate – What Living Abroad Taught Me About Christianity and Politics: Part 3

March 14, 2016

American_German_Flag

In Part One of this article series, I explained the first way my Christian political opinion “shifted” while living abroad in the Czech Republic for three years: Living abroad opened my eyes to the moral problem of political corruption. In Part Two, I shared that living abroad brought a teacher into my life who explained the deep impact of post-modernism on government. In Part Three, I share the third of four shifts.

Shift #3: Living abroad introduced me to the political and spiritual dangers of extreme nationalism.

During my second year in Prague, I had a conversation with a German, Christian expat. As a history nerd, I was brazen enough to ask Anke her perspective on World War II and Hitler. I learned that German nationalism has been at an all-time low since the war.  Why?  Because extreme nationalism gave Hitler his power. He promised to make Germany great again. This was amazing to me since I had recently graduated college where I had studied amazing German concertos, cantatas, opera, quartets and lieder. I was in love with German culture (and still am) – how could they not be proud of it? Yet their nationalism went so overboard in the 1930s that their national pride disappeared in the aftermath of Hitler’s Third Reich.

Anke was not the only German who revealed this to me. My husband, Matt, had the privilege to go on an informal fellowship retreat of Christian brothers in the German region of Bavaria, invited by a new friend. In the foothills of the Alps, they stayed in a small castle inherited by one of the participants. Matt asked one of the German men, Dietrich, what annoyed him most about America. First, Dietrich jokingly said hamburgers, since they are symbolic of American over-consumption of food. Then he followed that answer with a serious one, and that was over-nationalism. At the time, Obama and Romney were campaigning for the presidency and both were using rhetoric that America is and should continue to be the greatest nation in the world.  This greatest-nation rhetoric was very offensive to him and reminded him of the movement which gave rise to the Nazis. He confirmed what Anke had told me about the lack of German nationalism after the war. Only recently had Germans had the courage and reasonable pride to fly their national flag at a sporting event, and it was a very, very big deal. Something like that had not been done since the war. Lack of pride in their national identity was the sad repercussion of over-nationalism in Germany.

These contemporary German perspectives on nationalism brought depth to what Dr. Gillis Harp, a professor at the conservative Christian school Grove City College, had taught me in American History. America is not the embodiment of Jesus’ kingdom, contrary to what many Christian school curricula would teach us to believe. His Church is. I have realized that Christians can pray and vote for moral values in our government, but our pride and mission should rest in the spiritual kingdom of God. If the church is on the fringe of culture in America and has little earthly power, that’s okay.  God doesn’t need earthly power to spread his kingdom. Christians have no business equating their national pride with their Christian identity.

We must be careful not to idolize our country. God delights to give people good gifts- like a great Constitution and a beautiful heritage. It is good to preserve these things as well as we can – besides, the Olympics wouldn’t be as fun without some nationalism!  However, extreme nationalism is dangerous because it twists the redemptive mission of God’s kingdom into evil and injustice. Adolf Hitler claimed to be a Christian, and so does Donald Trump. Like Hitler’s bewildering success, Trump’s popularity rests largely on extreme nationalism that sadly draws misguided Christians. His campaign is fraught with political and spiritual peril, and uses bullying and intimidation as primary tactics.

Neither should we reject any candidate merely because their ideas are “un-American.” If other countries are doing well, it is reasonable to consider their systems with an open mind.   I think we may find that other countries have examples of more democratic, more free, and more just policies that we haven’t noticed because our heads are in the sand.

Christians, we are called to a higher allegiance than America: the Lord Jesus Christ and his Church. As I said in part 2, Jesus’ kingdom is not of this world. But we are called to further his Truth and Justice however we can, regardless of national pride. Trump is not Hitler, and we are not in post-WWI Germany.  Yet we may find a Hitler in the White House someday if we continue to make nationalism our guide. Vote strategically, my friends!

Continue to Part 4!

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Many Conservatives Act Post Modern – What Living Abroad Taught Me About Christianity and Politics: Part 2

March 12, 2016

What is Truth

In Part One of this article series, I explained the first way my Christian political opinion “shifted” while living abroad in the Czech Republic for three years:  Living abroad opened my eyes to the moral problem of political corruption.  In Part Two, I share with you the second shift.

Shift #2: Living abroad brought a teacher into my life who explained the deep impact of post-modernism on government.

When you live in an expatriate community, you encounter unique individuals with refined opinions. I had the privilege of interacting regularly with the Rev. Dr. Thomas K. Johnson, an expert on human rights and a member of the International Institute for Religious Freedom. In conversation, he explained that post-modernism has fundamentally changed the process of debate and law-making in government. In modernism, society assumed that there was an ultimate Truth to seek and find.  Divergent opinions each held at least a kernel of Truth. Politicians with opposite perspectives understood that although their opinions differed, ultimately they were working together to find Truth– the best laws, the best systems. Political compromise enabled politicians to seek Truth together.

The post-modernism found in today’s society says truth is relative. There is not one Truth that anyone can find; rather truth depends on your perspective. Popular magazines wax poetic about living “my truth.” This relativity of truth causes chaos in government. How do we find the best laws if we don’t have confidence that higher Truth even exists? The answer is power. Law-making has been boiled down to a duel to determine what perspective wins. Whoever “shouts the loudest” while manipulating the government and the public gets to have their laws passed.

Such an explanation of today’s political climate is not solely the idea of an American expat in Prague.  David Brooks wrote in the New York Times: “We live in a big, diverse society. There are essentially two ways to maintain order and get things done in such a society — politics or some form of dictatorship. Either through compromise or brute force. Our founding fathers chose politics.” Brooks is saying the same thing as Johnson did, only with different words.  In modernism, our government operated through politics.  In post-modernism, two opposing forces in our government are attempting to operate via a veiled attempt at dictatorship. Brooks identifies today’s Tea Party as an example of this, and I would identify President Obama’s habit of making executive orders as another.

So, when I see candidates – including Right-Wing “Christian” ones – slime their opponents or brag about causing a government shutdown in Congress because of a refusal to compromise, I do not see Christian or even modern politicians, I see post-modern combatants. When I see candidates presumptuously promise “I will surely beat _______ in the general election,” I do not see politicians, I see soldiers in a war. But when I see candidates share about compromises they’ve made and speak with a respectful tone about their political opponents, I see leaders I could respect, even if I disagree with some of their stances.

Now, those last few statements sounded post-modern, since in post-modernism, perspective is truth. However, my perspectives are not necessarily the whole truth. They are opinion. That is an important difference. Perhaps if our governmental leaders had the same attitude, our nation would prosper in justice. We are not a theocracy— Jesus told Pontius Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world.” Neither should we be in a perpetual spirit of post-modern civil war. We are a democracy. Let’s act like it! Truth will prevail.

Continue to Part 3!

Corruption is a Moral Problem – What Living Abroad Taught Me About Christianity and Politics: Part 1

March 10, 2016

passport bible

Any person who has lived abroad for a significant amount of time can probably say that it was a transformative experience. When you come face to face with ways of life and thinking that are unfamiliar and foreign, it is impossible not to react. As I follow the 2016 USA Presidential Race, what I learned while spending three years in Prague has come sharply into focus for me. In four ways, my political Christian opinion shifted from a conservative mold to an embrace of transcendent Truth.  This is the first of four articles in which I will share these shifts.

Shift #1: Living abroad opened my eyes to the moral problem of political corruption.

Upon arrival in the Czech Republic, one of the first things I learned is that the country is notorious for thievery and bureaucratic corruption. There is a funny but sad story about former President Vaclav Klaus (not Vaclav Havel, leader of the Velvet Revolution and first president) getting caught on camera stealing a really nice pen. The Czech government has strengths, but integrity is not one of them. The national problem of corruption and dishonesty has been acknowledged by a government official: Deputy of Interior Minister Adriana Krnacova told the BBC that many Czech politicians are “not friends with transparency.”

The Czech Republic is the least religious country in Europe, and therefore a lack of integrity makes sense. One may accuse me of ignorance of the goals of Secular Humanism to further justice. However, a group of researchers has found that fear of a god causes people to act less selfishly, promoting trust, which in turn facilitates the cooperation needed for success. Niraj Chokshi reported in the Washington Post: “When people are inclined to behave impartially toward others – even if that’s because they fear retribution – they are more likely to adopt behaviors that can create and support large-scale cooperative institutions, such as trade and markets.” This research does not mean that secular societies are incapable of integrity – God gives grace.  This research also does not mean than religious societies are without corruption – sin still affects us.  However this research does indicate that it is no surprise a country ravaged by Communism for forty-one years and now lacking religion struggles to foster financial integrity.

Corruption in the United States looks different than in Czech. Fortunately, there is a great deal of transparency in the financial dealings of our federal government, thanks to The Center for Responsive Research at www.opensecrets.org. However, because there is transparency, what should be called bribery and corruption is passed off as a system called “Courting the Establishment.”   Cronies give millions of dollars to the government and politicians’ personal bank accounts in the form of campaign contributions, lobbying, and “speaking fees.” Such money influences the decisions of our lawmakers, leaders and judges, undermining democracy and justice. At worst, this bribery is condoned as acceptable, and at best, it is called a problematic political complexity. Yet rarely is it cast as a moral problem.

A simple concordance search of the Bible makes it obvious that bribery is against the character of God. For example, in 2 Chronicles 19:7, King Jehoshaphat tells the new judges he has appointed, “Now then let the fear of the LORD be upon you; be very careful what you do, for the LORD our God will have no part in unrighteousness or partiality or the taking of a bribe.” Living abroad has opened my eyes to moral problems in American politics other than the typical morality flag masts (like abortion and marriage). I am not belittling such concerns. I ask, why is bribery a non-issue? Where is the march for integrity? Why are “Christian” politicians guilty of corruption and yet church-goers hardly blink an eye? Why did a hypocritical Republican candidate, who accepts money from the for-profit prison industry, receive endorsement from a group of pastors? Why is there so little respect for liberal politicians seeking to demolish cronyism? If the American Right-Wing claims that this is “A Nation Under God,” and if financial integrity is important to God – who is Truth – then where is our collective passion for such integrity?

Continue to Part Two, in which I share the second lesson living abroad taught me about politics and faith.

I want to thank Liz Lalama and Julia Wise Lambert  for their helpful editing and feedback on this series.

Is Socialism Satanic? – Why has the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gone all Political?

February 24, 2016

Excellent piece on the interaction of Christianity and Politics

THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON

Is Socialism Satanic?

Why has the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals gone all political?

It was to say the least, an interesting prayer meeting. The former missionary from Northern Ireland stood up and prayed fervently that the Lord would deliver us from the evils of homosexuality, abortion, nationalism and socialism.   Afterwards when I was speaking to him, I called over three of my elders. “Donald, what’s your politics?” “Oh, I’m a true blue Tory.” My missionary friend nodded approvingly. “What about you Angus?” “I can’t stand the Tories, I’m a nationalist through and through.” “And you Ross?” “I’m a socialist.”   The look on my friend’s face was priceless…. “But, but…these are good and godly men.” “Indeed they are,” I told him, “And you will never pray in this prayer meeting again using political criteria rather than biblical.”

A couple of years later I was sitting at a conference in the US…

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How to Connect with Teens (My Two Cents)

December 16, 2015

 

teen-issuesIt’s the white elephant in the room:  American community is no longer what it used to be.  All the ages are relatively segregated into their respective activities, with the exception of family.  Even in family, older members increasingly find it harder to connect with the younger generation.  In many ways we have lost our “village.” We care less about the children and teens in our community unless it is specifically in our line of work to care for them, or unless we volunteer in children and youth programs (if that’s you- good for you!  Keep reading).  Or, we may care, but we feel so disconnected from them we don’t know how to show it.  Increasingly, children and teens are seen as a nuisance.

I am by no means an expert on relating to teenagers, but I’ve been intentionally spending time with them for a number of years now formerly as a teacher and now as a church youth leader, and before college as a camp counselor for middle school girls. So far, I have picked up a few insights that I want to share with you.  I wish I could share this with every adult I know.

If there is only one thing you take away from this, here it is:

Just show up.

Show up where they are, especially if you are not being paid to do so.  My husband is a full-time youth director at a church, and teens have specifically commented before about how he is paid to hang out with them.  We make a lot of effort to show them our care for them is genuine, in spite of the salary.  So youth volunteers are crucial!

There are two men who serve as volunteers in our church’s youth ministry.  One of them has been there for at least five years or more, and is incredibly faithful.  He is in his 60s I think, and is one of the church elders.  I’ll call him “Tom” in this article.  The teens love him!  They trust him. We have an activity where the kids write a private prayer request on an index card, and my husband gives a card to each elder in the session (church leader board) for them to pray.  One of our girls specifically requested that Tom receive her prayer request, and even invited him to her birthday party last year!

Yet the remarkable thing is that if you asked Tom if he finds it natural and easy to show up at youth group, I think he would say no.  The teens are high energy and loud (especially our girls), and this can be rough on tired adults who are used to quiet.  Often, kids have their faces stuck in their electronic devices (sometimes due to insecurity, I think). It can be difficult to hold a conversation with the teens. So showing up is often “just being there.”  Much of the time he just sits or stands there, listening.  But time and faithfulness have shown the kids that he cares.  Don’t underestimate how important this is to them.

I also struggle to keep up a conversation with the teens at times, and I’m not even out of my 20s!  But I show up.

Besides church youth group, other places you could “show up” to be with teens could be, for example, sports events or concerts of teens you know personally.  You could volunteer yourself as a tutor for struggling students in your school system.  You may have other ideas of where you could show up.*

So once you show up, what do you do?  Here are some additional tips for showing the kids you care.  After the tips, I want lastly to share why showing the kids that you care is so important.

  1. Listen first. It is very tempting to judge teens and lecture them on appropriate behavior.  But you must show them that you love and accept them unconditionally before they will even care what you think.  Otherwise, they feel like they are on the defensive.  So for the first 6 months to a year of your relationships with them, correct them rarely, and listen and smile the rest of the time.** And even after a year, continue to make listening and understanding a top priority.  Typically, their main motive is to have fun, and I’m sure you can relate to that.
  2. Expose yourself to their world at least a little bit. I don’t watch all the movies or listen to all the music that they do. I don’t have time for that and I probably wouldn’t enjoy everything they enjoy.  But if they keep mentioning something a lot, I at least look it up on the internet and watch a trailer or listen to a song. Sometimes I will rent or borrow a movie they like.  I do this mainly for the purpose of understanding them, but it also helps with conversation.
  3. Ask them simple questions about their lives. If they are dancers, ask them what song they are learning a dance to right now.  If they play sports, ask them what their position is.  Ask them what they did over the weekend. Ask them how their day was, why it was good or what would have made better.    If it doesn’t start a 10-minute conversation, that’s okay.  Just the simple act of inquiring shows them you care.
  4. Realize that they are different from you when you were a teen. When I was a teen, I was very academic and actually enjoyed learning in school and church.  Several of the teens I know strongly dislike academics, and this can spill into their relationship with any advanced reading like the Bible.  There is nothing I can do about this, because I have no influence on their learning environment.  So in order to relate to them and help them grow from God’s Word, I have to think outside the box.  Your teens might be more academic, but my point is, they are probably different from you in some way and that is normal.
  5. But be yourself.  You don’t have to pretend to be like them.  Be genuine, that’s what they want.
  6. Pray for them. God has access to their heart and mind that you don’t.
  7. Persevere! Keep showing up. The kids are changing and growing. You never know when they will suddenly open up to you.
  8. Love them.  Show unconditional kindness.

So, why do they need to be shown that you care? This sounds like a tall order.  Why is it so important?

Teens need meaningful, personal relationships with adults. My husband has attended the Pittsburgh Youth Workers Conference for two years now.  In 2014, a “veteran” youth minister named Alex Ruzanic shared something very interesting:  In order for children and teens to stay in church when they grow up, they need to have relationships with at least five adults in the church while they are still young.  This makes sense when translated into communities in general too- in order for kids and children to thrive in a community when they grow up, they need a way to connect with their elders and gain wisdom, and this is done through personal relationship.  I don’t know where Mr. Ruzanic got the number “five,” but the assertion that teens need meaningful relationships with adults makes a lot of sense.  My experience as a homeschooler was that I had many meaningful relationships with adults, and very few of them were paid to have relationships with me (i.e. volunteer co-op teachers who were my friends’ parents).  This has enriched my life in countless ways and I attribute much of my growth to guidance and care from the adults who were able to speak into my life.  I am very grateful.  Teens need relationships with adults.

Furthermore, research shows that youth feel like they have been systematically, relationally “abandoned.”  This is evident in young adult novels that have made it into Hollywood, such as The Hunger Games and Divergent. These stories are very popular with teens for a reason. Chap Clark PhD, who formerly worked with Young Life and now teaches at Fuller Seminary, has done research on youth culture by spending time in high schools.  The result of this research was the book Hurt and its update, Hurt 2.0.  Published in 2011, Hurt 2.0 could be a little outdated now, but not by much.  What he found is that youth feel like they have been abandoned to the gods of achievement and efficiency.*** Teens are under a lot ofteenage-stress pressure. They need to know that we care about more than, for example, their academic, extracurricular, or even religious achievements.  They need to know and feel that we care about them personally.  The same also goes for children, obviously.

I’m not accusing you, the reader, of causing this cultural climate.  What I am doing is presenting the information I have received and challenging you to be the change!  Fun quality time is an important way to show you care.  This is why I said what I did above: just show up and be with them.  Most of this article is directed at adults in general, but if you are a parent, make quality time important for your family.  Eat meals together and put away the phones.  Give your children a sense of belonging by doing important things, like going to the Sunday church service, together as a family. If you don’t have children under your roof right now, go out of your way to show the teens in your community that you care about them.

Building relationships with teens is not easy, I know from experience.  Yet, they are our future, they are valued by God, and they need you!

*Of course, these days you may need clearances to show up in certain settings.  This is for the kids’ protection, of course.

**Obviously, this a little different in a teacher or parent’s case, since it is their responsibility to correct.  If you’ve read Anne of Avonlea, you know the story of how one student opened up to her after she gained his respect by disciplining him.  At the same time, listening is still crucial.

***I encourage you to read Hurt 2.0 for further information.  Another book with valuable cultural commentary is How to Destroy the Imagination of Your Child, by Anthony Esolen.

Do you have any advice to share about relating to teens?  Leave it in the comments below!

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Healthier Sloppy Joes (Sans High Fructose Corn Syrup)

June 2, 2015

Sloppy JoeWho doesn’t like sloppy joes?  Let’s rephrase this- what homemaker doesn’t appreciate the ease of making sloppy joes? Cook meat, add ketchup and other stuff, serve with buns and other side items.  Tada.

The only thing is that it contains one ingredient I like to avoid: high fructose corn syrup, in the ketchup.  Why?
Well first you need to know that fructose is very bad for you (some experts use the word toxic or poisonous!) whereas glucose is good for you- a necessary chemical for living.  Whether or not a sweetener is good/bad depends on the ratio of fructose to glucose and other ingredients.  Whether or not it’s “natural” or “organic” is a whole separate question.  So, while all fruit contains some fructose, it’s okay because it’s a small percentage of fructose to fiber and other components of the fruit.  Fruit JUICE on the other hand, contains a high concentration of fructose!  It is little better than soda, especially if it is pasteurized and not fresh (no original nutrients).  Agave nectar is 90% fructose- so much for “natural” being healthy!  Cane sugar, organic or not, is ~50% fructose and ~50% glucose.  Honey is 40/60.  Maple syrup is about the same as cane sugar.  Dextrose (found on some ingredient labels) is basically glucose, I have been told, so apparently it’s not bad for you at all!  High fructose corn syrup (HFCS) can be anywhere between 50-90% fructose – we don’t know from reading the label on a package.*

Which brings me to the reason for wanting to make sloppy joes without the HFCS found in ketchup- I have no way of knowing how much fructose is in the dish.  I’m not scared of consuming fructose, I just try to be intentional about not consuming too much and not consuming it in foods that don’t taste that great anyway or don’t really need it.

I buy organic ketchup with cane sugar for our hamburgers and hot dogs, etc., but I’m not keen on using that expensive stuff in sloppy joe meat! So…

After a little comparing recipes online and experimenting, I figured out that instead of using ketchup to flavor sloppy joes, I can use tomato paste, salt, brown sugar, and other flavorings/spices. An added perk to this recipe is that they are a little less “sloppy” because the tomato paste is much less watery than ketchup.  Yay for cleaner toddler meals!

Here’s my recipe.  I hope you like it!

Healthier Sloppy Joes
2 lbs ground beef
1 medium onion, diced
1 tsp salt (and to taste)
1 six oz can tomato paste
2 Tb Worcestershire sauce
2 Tb red wine vinegar
2 Tb mustard (I used dijon w/ provence herbs from Aldi)
1/4 c. brown sugar
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 tsp garlic powder
1/4 tsp ground coriander (optional?)
1/4 tsp dried dill (optional?)

Brown your beef, onions and salt together and drain according to your liking (if it’s grassfed meat I don’t drain the fat because it actually has great nutrients- whereas fat in factory farm meat has the highest concentration of antibiotics and other junk to avoid*).  Add the rest of the ingredients and stir over heat until fragrant. Taste, adjust seasoning, and serve!

To make this even better, use good quality buns with whole wheat, simple ingredients and no HFCS (Aldi was selling whole wheat buns with no HFCS recently- love that store!). Use organic ingredients and grass fed meat if possible.

*All of this info is off the top of my head from the book Year of No Sugar by Eve O. Schaub and other random articles on the internet and hear-say.  Feel free to fact check this information.

Crock-pot Honey Curry Chicken & Rice

June 2, 2015

Looking for a delicious, easy (no pre-cooking), nutritious crockpot recipe?  Look no further!  I happily modified a common favorite into a one pot meal that can cook while you’re away from home!

crock pot meal

The base recipe for Honey-Baked Chicken I got at my bridal shower a few years ago on a note-card. I’m pretty sure it’s a recipe from More With Less cookbook, sans the mustard.

Mix together:

1/3 c. melted butter
1/3 c. honey
1 tsp. curry powder
1/2 tsp. salt

Pour over ~2 lbs chicken breasts and bake at 350 F.

To make this a whole meal in a slow cooker, I put the above in a crock pot with the following:

1 c. brown rice
2 c. chicken broth
1/2 c. water
2 c. sliced carrots
(1 tsp. salt b/c my broth was low sodium)

I tried to get the solids submerged in liquid as much as possible.  I set it on high for 4 hours. My programmable crock pot switched it to warm after the time was up.  The result was tender chicken surrounded by sweet, tangy, moist rice and carrots!  yum!  (The rice was a little mushy, but I like it that way.)

This serves 3-4 people, depending on appetite.
When I make this again I might add more veggies for nutrition’s sake, or serve it with a garden salad.

Enjoy!