Monday, April 9, 2012

Going North American--Or Am I Already There?



One more quick lesson from going North American.  For context, read the previous two blogs.  I hinted at it earlier.  I asked you this question:  What do others say about you?  Now, here is the real question that we need to answer: What do we want others to say about us?

I am so serious about this that one day, not long ago, I sat down at my computer and pretended that I was like Tom Sawyer listening to my own funeral. I imagined a line of people waiting to eulogize me, and then in my mind’s eye there was one requirement.  These people were going to tell the truth.  They were going to stand up at a microphone, look at my coffin and say in total honesty—this is the type of man that Joe Holman was.

I asked myself what would they say today if they were honest…and then what did I really want them to say.  What adjectives would I like to be used?  What stories would I like to be told?  What did I want my wife to say?  My kids? My friends? My co-workers? My churches?  How about my enemies? 

I am purposely trying to live out the life that I wanted them to describe. 

This is a big part of it.  When people see me, they see me as a North American Gringo.  They automatically know that I am a missionary so they see me that way.  They have a preconceived idea of who I am and what I am like.  I want to rewrite their book the more that they get to know me.  How?

My driving passion is not to be known as an American (and yes I am a patriot).  I don’t want to be seen as a missionary.  I want people to see me as a devout follower of Jesus Christ and to know Him by knowing me.  I want them to see Jesus in my life.  I want them to hear Jesus in my words.  I want them to experience Jesus in how I react…even when they don’t have change. 

I don’t want to be known as a uber conservative homeschooling fundamental Christian.  I want to be known as a CHRISTian.  I want people to see the facial expressions of the Lord in my eyes and on my brow.  I want my hands to do His work, my feet to go to His world, and my mind to think His thoughts. 

Who are you?  This is a pretty serious and thought provoking question.  For many of my readers, I can pretty accurately describe you.  You are a republican or a tea party member.  You are a fiscal conservative.   You are for the death penalty and the war but against abortion.   You are against immigration and the TSA.  You are against homosexuality and big government.  You believe in the original intent of the constitution.  You like to speak evil of others but hate it when others speak evil of you.  On my FB, probably 25% of my friends are homeschoolers.

How many of you can say that this paragraph TRULY describes you?  There is NOTHING NEGATIVE in that paragraph.  It describes almost all of my readers. 

Now read it again.  Notice that I said nothing about Jesus.  I just described you to a ‘T”.  The people in your office would put that paragraph under your photo as a bio of you.  It is WHO YOU ARE…and I did not mention Jesus.  I did not say that you were full of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness, gentleness, goodness, faith, self-control, mercy, and truth.  I did not say that people knew who you were by the way that you loved one another. 

Think about it again.  You can be described WITHOUT talking about your love relationship with Jesus.  Here is what I believe.  I believe that we should be so much like Jesus, that we should be so in love with Him, that we should be pursuing Him with such a passion that ANY DESCRIPTION of us has to begin and/or end with Him.

One day, about 15 years ago, Denise came to me and asked if she could share something.  I said that she could and she said this.

“You are a great speaker.  You are a good leader.  You inspire others to do things that they would not do without you.  You are a good planner.  You are one of the most intelligent people that I have ever met.  You are a good pastor.”  I was thinking that I had married an insightful woman, but she continued.  “However, when I think of you, and when others look at you….I don’t think that they see Jesus.  They see a guy really good at his job…but they don’t see Jesus.”

OUCH!  Praise God that the Holy Spirit intervened at that moment and let me know that HE was speaking through my wife.  I don’t know about the first part, but the last part was accurate.  I was not a whole lot like Jesus.

This is my lesson from Going North American.  You see, when my buttons are pushed, I still see my culture coming out.  It is a reminder of how much I need to depend upon the Holy Spirit and why Jesus died for me.  I want to live in such a way that when my buttons are pushed, grace—love—compassion—mercy…the heart of God come out.  I want others to first see me as a white guy FROM the States, and then soon discover that I am a redeemed sinner GOING to Heaven.

I want my main identity, my source of who I am..to be Jesus.

What is your core identity?  Really? 

Until Next Time

Joe

Leia Mais…

Friday, April 6, 2012

Another Lesson About Going North American



In my previous blog, I explained what the term “Going North American” means.  Read it for more insight, but here is a quick copy/paste.

North Americans have a stereotype based somewhat in reality, of being pushy, loud, demanding, overweight and rude.  You may not believe that, but it is true.  In America, when you are displeased with customer service or think that you have a ‘right’ to some different type of treatment than you are receiving, you can forcefully explain your point of view and demand to go up the ladder telling higher up people what you think.  This is okay when both the giver and receiver share a culture that permits and expects this behavior.  However, when you are in a different culture, it is not socially acceptable.  We missionaries recognize it and try to overcome our demanding and slightly obnoxious cultural background.  However, it is still such a part of us that sometimes when something triggers it, we respond as if we were in America…and since we are not it is totally out of place.  Our missionary friends are the ones who gave it this moniker, going North American.  It is a derogatory description of bad behavior.  In the other blog, I talked about how cashiers seldom had change and how I responded by going “North American”.  Todays lesson:

Another question …what do people think about you?  I mentioned that North Americans have a stereotype.  We may disagree with it.  We may argue about it, or even defend it by pointing out the virtuous side of it.  But, we do have one.  I promise you.  I have been on five continents and in about 30 countries…and we are viewed as narrow-minded, harsh, individualistic, rude, and loud.  In Bolivia there is a saying, “Ella estaba gritando como un gringo”, translated it means “She was yelling like an American.”  This stereoptype is so true that we missionaries actually call it ‘Going North American” when we are weenies to other people. 

So, what do people think about you?  If your co-workers were talking about you one day when you were on a trip or not at the office, or if your fellow students were chatting about you over lunch when you were not there, what do you think they would say about you?  I am not asking what do you want them to say, or what would you like to think that they would say….but be honest, what do you REALLY think that they would say about you?  What adjectives describe how you treat people?  What do others think about you?

Now…this is the point…WHY do they think that?  Right now there is a huge uproar over a new television series about a mega church in Texas and the women in that church.  I don’t know much about it except the fb chatter.  However, there is a stereotype of hypocritical narrow-mindedness and self righteousness that is the basis of that series (or so it seems).  I have to say, after being a pastor for 25 years…there is at least a bit of truth to the stereotype.  Instead of screaming at the stereotype, maybe we can see how the stereotype was formulated.  Was it based on misinformation, or just an extrapolation of the truth?  Let me give you an example.  I am a homeschooler.  For over 18 years I have homeschooled my children.  I have been on the board of homeschooling organizations.  I have appeared on television and been on the radio representing home education.  I have spoken at conferences, and taught at a college where 90% of the student body are homeschool graduates.  I pastored a church in which over 90% of the members were homeschoolers.  I have written for homeschooling magazines. I KNOW homeschooling.  I LOVE homeschooling.  I believe in homeschooling.  I am a home educator and will be for the next 16 years (my youngest is only 3 years old).

Negative stereotypes of homeschoolers.  Socially inept.  Judgmental.  Self-Righteous.  Know-it-alls. Chauvenistic. Backwards. Arrogant.  I know that there are positive things to say, but for the sake of this article I am using the negative.  Now, as you see my credentials above in the homeschooling arena, please take what I am about to say as an expert opinion.  The negative stereotypes are based in reality.  We can scream media biased and persecution all we want to.  However, there is simply some truth to the distortion.  It is like when you have a caricature drawn at the carnival.  Your ears may not be that big…but they are big.  Your nose may not look like a ski slope, but it is sloping.  We tend to be self-righteous and arrogant, looking down our noses at anyone who does not agree with us.  It is an accurate stereotype.  So, what do we do?  Do we judge the people using the stereotype and call them names, or do we try to break the image?

I believe the same thing is true about us Christians.  Yes, I believe in a media biased.  Yes, I do believe that there are supernatural powers at work trying to undermine our testimony.  However, I believe that in most cases it isn’t a situation of spiritual persecution…it is a case of a Christian who is a weenie being treated like a weenie.  Are we known by our love, or by the t-shirts that we wear and the mousepad on our desk?  Do we truly look like Jesus as we seek to be in the presence of lost people so that we can love them and help them come to the Father?  Or do we look like the Pharisees who simply tried to avoid contamination?  Do we judge sinners for sinning, or do we seek to help them break the shackles of hell?

I want to be honest with you.  One of the obstacles that missionaries have to overcome is our stereotype.  We have to break the North American stereotype by becoming humble students of culture and seeking to understand/learn before we try to convince/teach.  We also have to overcome the Missionary Stereotype where we are the superman who will fly in and save the day with all of our training and answers.  When I first arrived in Bolivia, I met with 10 different pastors one-on-one.  They all asked me “What are you going to do?”  I surprised them with my answer.  I told them that I did not know what I was going to do, that I did not know the answers to their problems because I did not know or understand the questions.  I said, “I am from a different continent, a different culture, in a different environment.  What I have done in the past is not what you need.  I must learn from you and then together we can see what God says about your problems in His word.”   One pastor told me that he had never heard a missionary say that they needed to learn. 

We have to be real.  We have to be honest. We have to let people see that we are nothing more than people who need Jesus.  How do we do this?  The same way that you can do it at your school, in your office, or with your neighbors.  By following Jesus.  By letting the Holy Spirit lead us.  By being filled with the Holy Spirit and bearing His fruit.  By becoming less like our Sunday School class members and more like God.

Until Next Time,
Joe    

Leia Mais…

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Lessons From Going North American...


I have only gone “North American” a few times since moving to Bolivia five years ago.  Going “North American” is synonymous with what we used to mean when we said, “Going Postal”.  I have to explain and this may be the ‘ouch’ part of this little article. 

North Americans have a stereotype based somewhat in reality, of being pushy, loud, demanding, and rude.  You may not believe that, but it is true.  In America, when you are displeased with customer service or think that you have a ‘right’ to some different type of treatment than you are receiving, you can forcefully explain your point of view and demand to go up the ladder telling higher up people what you think.  This is okay when both the giver and receiver share a culture that permits and expects this behavior.  However, when you are in a different culture, it is not socially acceptable.  We missionaries recognize it and try to overcome our demanding and slightly obnoxious cultural background.  However, it is still such a part of us that sometimes when something triggers it, we respond as if we were in America…and since we are not it is totally out of place.  Our missionary friends are the ones who gave it this moniker, going North American.  It is a derogatory description of bad behavior.

            I have honestly been pretty good.  Before Denise and I came, we read five, literally five, books on cross cultural living.  We learned to identify what is part of our culture, and what is not, and to not confuse our culture with the Bible.  I have been good….but the fact is that I am an American.  Denise has said that I have such a hurdle to overcome.  I am an independent American who feels free to express my opinion.  I am not only that, in a sub-category of it I am a Texan, who has to deal with that even more independent mindset of slight arrogance. Then, I am a fundamental, conservative evangelical Christian homeschooler….need I say more?  If there was ever anyone in the history of the world that knew the best way to do anything it would be me.  (dripping with sarcasm).  So, I have really tried to NOT BE ethno or cultural centric.  But…every once in while I have gone North American.

            Two of the times that I have done this have been over the same behavior of Bolivian culture.  It drives me BOINKERS.  Bolivian businesses do not plan in advance and therefore have change in their cash drawers.  They do not start the day with the ability to make change.  Then, because they are always short on change, they NEVER want to give any.  It is up to the customer to have the correct change.  Many times they will take your money and then tell you that they will bring the change to you when they get it (if you are at a restaurant).  In an ironic lesson, I am at the airport on the way home from a trip and just tried to purchase a cup of coffee.  It cost the equivalent of $2, and I just handed the cashier the equivalent of a $14 bill.  He would not give me change.  He said he did not have it.  I told him that I saw the open drawer when he put the money in it for the man in front of me and I saw that he had change.  He said that I had to give him the right change or I could not buy my coffee.  I came back to my computer with a good attitude.  I think.  Maybe.  Well, at least I kept my bad attitude hidden. :0)   Back to my little story.  The last time that I went North American, I actually YELLED, yes, I yelled at a 17 year old cashier.  I told him that I KNEW he had change and that he was just keeping it.  I told him that it was HIS JOB to give me change, not my job to give it to him.  I said that it was stupid to start a cashier’s day without money, and that he had the money.  Then I said, “Give me my change now!”  He opened the drawer and out of the massive amount of change that he had he gave me my change.  I went back to the table and my kids said, “Two things dad.  Never make someone angry who is working on your food, and did you invite him to church?”  (AAAGGGGHHHHH  Children are so mean!)

Before going any farther, I went back and asked him to forgive me.
 
Now, my point…there has to be one.  Oh, yeah.  There are several.  Let me just point out one because I don’t want to write a book. J

These people are so worried about running out of change that they behave as if they had no change.  They treat people like they have no change.  They ‘think’ like a ‘no-changer’ would think.  They make ‘no-change’ demands.  They are so stressed out about the possibility that they will run out of change, that it distorts their entire perspective.  Customers are change takers.  It is more important to keep change in the drawer than it is to sell coffee.  The goal of the day is not to move a product, it is to finish the day with change.  Purposes, priorities, and actions are all based upon the worry of no-change.

What do you worry about?  Have you ever been so concerned about something that ‘might happen’, about something that ‘could happen’ or about what ‘someone might do’, that you responded to this fictional event rather than reality?  Have you ever found yourself clutching to what you have instead of reaching out for what God wants you to receive?  Have you lost sight of the purpose?  Let me give a missionary example.  God blesses us in North America with many resources.  We have houses, cars, education, talent, possessions, and opportunities.  If we are not careful, these things ‘in our drawer’ become our purpose.  Instead of using the things that we have in order to advance the Kingdom of God, we stop the advancement of the Kingdom in order to keep the stuff in our drawer.  Do we evaluate ourselves based upon our accomplishment of HIS purposes, or upon how much we retain in our personal cash/value drawers?  Why are we here?  What are we doing?  Why are we doing it?  Is it to protect and keep what we have, or to risk what we have for the greater purpose of what is ahead?  Do we even risk? 

This is not just a ‘give money’ thing.  It is holistic.  I think that the same mentality that causes a coffee shop employee to say not to a customer over the fear of losing customers because of no change…that same mentality causes us to say “No” to the call of God upon our lives.  He wants us to do something, risk something, try something go somewhere…change….but we look at what we have and think that keeping the status quo is why we are here.  God has not called us to keep the status quo.  He has called us to change the status go….we are to help people change the status of where they are going…heaven or hell.  We are called to risk it all for His glory.  We are called to sacrifice, to give, to lose it for His sake…do we?  Do we think about what He is doing, or worry about what it may cost us to do it?

Until next time…
Joe

Leia Mais…