Thinking Out Loud

February 20, 2017

Two Worlds: The Cuba Caste System

poverty-in-veradero

Perhaps it’s not a caste system the way we normally use the phrase, but there was something eerie about the way two worlds seem to coexist in Cuba: The tourists and those who work in tourism.

In one resort at Varadero, a tunnel is used to get workers from the street into the basement level of the hotel. There were no doubt staff entrances at all of the 40-or-so resorts on the peninsula, but it was the tunnel that caught our eye.

Workers arrive by bus, not the air-conditioned ones known to the tourists, or even the double-decker versions, but older, hotter, more crowded ones.

For the non-tourists, there is also a different currency. We paid for things in CUCs, the convertible, tourist version of the Cuban Peso. Residents pay in CUPs. One Cuban Convertible Peso equals 24.728383 Cuban Pesos. Some stores accept the one, some accept the other, some accept both.

So we find ourselves in a country where there are two sets of currencies, two sets of buses, two types of taxicabs, etc…

…Another lifetime ago, I worked for a musician who played a number of Jewish venues including the banquet halls of major hotels as well as synagogues. It was customary to unload and load equipment through a service elevator or even through a kitchen. I am personally acquainted with what it means to be part of the service staff in a place where, on the other side of the wall, wealthy people are enjoying unlimited food, drink and entertainment.

There was something about this trip however where it reflected differently. I was, for seven short days, one of the rich tourists. As noted in yesterday’s article, for our tour guide to stay one week in this place, he would have to spend the equivalent of 19 months’ wages. As noted the day before, there is something unsettling at the fragility of the curtain which separated our tour guide from we tourists.

I say that not because I’m not wanting to associate with the waiters and chambermaids, but rather because I don’t want them to be invisible; don’t want them to have to be quietly ushered in through a tunnel…

…Last week in the Canadian parliament, a member stood up and mentioned in passing that before his government career he was a bus driver. And guess what reaction that got?

The members of the opposition party laughed at him.

I want to emulate the Nazarene who “humbled himself, taking on the role of a servant.” I want to be able to come alongside the waiter who is carrying too many plates, or grab the other corner of the bed-sheet while the maid makes up the room.

But the world doesn’t like it when those barriers are not firmly set in place.


Thanks for your indulgence during these 3 articles. There’s one more which will come a few days later, as I want to share our impressions in a tourist environment that is devoid of Americans and consider the potential of an influx of US tourists on Cuba.

February 19, 2017

Third World Exposure

havana-back-streetsI have been privileged to work in a variety of areas of ministry: For a local church, for a Christian book distributor, for a Christian music distributor, for a Christian book publisher, for two Christian camp ministries, for a Christian television ministry, for an international Bible distributor, as a teacher in a Christian school, for a local Christian newspaper, for two nationally distributed Christian magazines, for a Christian arts organization… well, you get the idea.

Always missing from my resumé was what I termed “third world missions exposure.” Essentially, I am a missions trip that never happened. I became aware of this at one of the camps I worked for:

The mission agency people knew very little about Christian camping or even youth ministry in general…but their third world exposure meant they had good organizational skills, an ability to adapt, and a variety of gifts. Overall, I think the kids who attended that year got their money’s worth from this diversity, even if things at the senior staff level were a constant tug of war…Parachuting people from other ministry disciplines into unfamiliar contexts is not always a great idea. I felt that within their own missions-and-development tribe, there were probably reasons to respect some of these people, not to mention their willingness to take on the camp challenge at the last minute.

As I mentioned yesterday, we finally had an opportunity to go to Cuba last week. Our first time on an airplane in 28 years. We debated whether as a nation, Cuba can be considered “third world.” My wife suggested “second world.” Political science is not my long-suit, but given Cuba’s ties to the former Soviet Union, it might fit the definition. These days however, the term describes economic status, not political alignment. Cuba is not undeveloped; their education system alone ought to be the envy of many western countries.

veradero-back-streets

Regardless, it was definitely my first direct exposure to poverty on a scale I never envisioned. Further, I never imagined how much it would affect me, seeing this now, at this stage of life. Would it have shaped my life differently to have this experience much younger? Perhaps, but in ways I will never know.

Posting a number of pictures to Facebook, my wife wrote:

When we got home, we calculated that for our tour guide to stay one week in this place, he would have to spend the equivalent of 19 months’ wages. Even the tour he hosted would be a months’ work.

I think knowing that helps me to appreciate the experience and to enjoy it more, while recognizing my privileged place and being humbled by it.

We are forever changed.

havana-downtown

 

 

February 18, 2017

Breaking the Fourth Wall

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:44 am

cardenas

It wasn’t exactly breaking the fourth wall as is usually defined, but it was a moment in our trip to Cuba where the wall between the lives of the villagers and the rich tourists on the air-conditioned bus was momentarily shattered.

Sitting on the bus weaving through a number of towns and villages was exactly what we wanted to see. “Today,” the tour guide intoned, “You will see the real Cuba.” It took me awhile to think about the implications of this: In other words, what you’re seeing in the tourist resorts is not the real Cuba. Actually both tour guides on both days used “the real Cuba” phrase.

Our guide the second day was more than willing to talk about every aspect of village life. What things costs. How the free university education system works. The age to vote. The parliamentary system. Asking us questions about how similar things transpire back home. Sitting at the front of the bus each time so that we had access to the tour guides was strategic on my part. It meant being able to engage in conversation and ask questions throughout the entire 9 hours (the village tour) or 11 hours (Havana).

In a very strange way, the tour guide was, in my mind at least, slowly becoming one of us. Speaking perfect English (in the first case) or both English and French (in the second case.) It was easy to forget that the well-dressed young man sitting one row in front of me holding a microphone was actually a member of the culture in one of the towns where stopped.

That is until…

I was looking around and not fully paying attention when he picked up the microphone and said, “My house is two blocks that way. You can all come for dinner; we’re having rice and eggs.”

It took a minute for that to sink in. I quietly whispered to my wife, “Did he just say…”

In that moment I was totally wrecked…

…When we got back to the hotel I told this story a few times to some other people we had met from Canada. But I couldn’t do it without breaking up.

It’s one thing to sit on a tour bus — the analogy we used a few times was of people traveling to Pennsylvania to look at the Amish — but it’s a whole other thing when you’ve spent several hours getting to know personally one of the people who is part of the tableau spreading out before you.

It wasn’t a particularly attractive neighborhood.* Not one you or I would choose. And for dinner that night, back at the resort, we would be eating far more than rice and eggs.

I’ll write more tomorrow about the impact the poverty had on me.


*We didn’t take a lot of pictures in that particular town. The one at the top is borrowed from a tourism site. It’s a contemporary image, not something out of a movie recreation. The image below is one we took in Havana. We’re 99% sure that’s someone’s home. She was talking on the phone up to a 30 seconds before we took the picture.

habana

February 17, 2017

We’re Back!

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:12 am

hotel

For a number of reasons, the vacation we just returned from represented our first time on an airplane in 28 years. Money, kids, health, work, money, sandwich generation issues, and money are just some of the reasons why we never got away.

I know a lot of you get to travel and I don’t want to sound like an overexcited neophyte, but the point is that we did go to a part of the world that my 74% US readership have never visited, Cuba. Over the next few days, I’ll be sharing a little bit of that experience once we’ve got the film developed, so to speak. I want to consider a number of things surrounding the contrast between the excesses in the resorts and the poverty of the masses in the rest of the country; and also the strange ways in which these worlds intersect.

For us, it was a life-changing experience; but then again, I’ll probably overuse that phrase many times in the next few days.

 

February 16, 2017

Camped Out on the Edge of Belief

southern-ontario

I mentioned a few weeks ago that twice a year I am asked to write a devotion for our local newspaper. It presents a number of challenges, not the least of which is trying to keep it under 550 words. If I I’m writing for C201, I don’t include things that begin with illustrations; we cut to the chase of studying text. But I have to include some type of local references, to our town about an hour east of Toronto. I thought I would share with you what I came up with awhile ago. Your comments are invited.

As I mentally scan the map, I can’t think of any place along the southern tier of Canada where it’s possible to be so close to the U.S. border but have to drive so far to get there. On a clear day, you can see a generating station’s smokestack across the lake with the naked eye, but entering New York State involves either a nearly two-hour drive in either direction to reach a border point.

In many ways, it’s a metaphor for the relationship that Canadians, especially in the days before today’s religious pluralism, had with Christianity. Even now, many sit camped out on the edge of belief. They might even hold church membership or do volunteer work, but a spiritual heart examination would show that they’ve never crossed the border of commitment; they’ve never placed themselves, by faith, under the covering of the cross.

We can all see the border. We see it in the chorus of our federal anthem, which is a prayer for God to keep our land free, just as we see it still in some municipal councils where another prayer acknowledges the sacredness of God’s name, invites His kingdom to be fulfilled and recognizes His power and glory. We see the border when local churches step up to build a house for Habitat for Humanity, join en masse a walkathon for Multiple Sclerosis (canceling a Sunday morning service in the process) or feed the hungry through the Salvation Army…

Just as we can watch U.S. television stations and listen to its radio so easily, because the border is so close, we live in a time and place which has been influenced by Christianity, but still, many hesitate to fully enter in, to fully engage, because, figuratively speaking, the drive to the border is too long. Nothing of urgency has forced us to make the trip.

In Acts 26, we read the story of an encounter between the Apostle Paul and King Agrippa. This is Paul’s moment to secure his release from custody, but from a legal standpoint, he squanders the opportunity and instead tells Agrippa the basis for his belief that Jesus is the long-anticipated Messiah, the deliverer of Israel in particular and mankind in general.

As Paul is speaking, Festus, the Governor, interrupts and says what many still say to passionate followers who seem more heavenly minded than earthly good: “Paul, you are insane. Too much study has made you crazy!” (vs. 25, NLT)

But Paul calmly reminds him that none of the occurrences in the Jesus story were made up, nothing was done in secret, “for this thing was not done in a corner.” (vs. 26, KJV) Agrippa and Festus need merely to check out back issues of The Jersualem Times to read the accounts for themselves of Jesus’ teaching, miracles and crucifixion.

And that’s where Agrippa says, “Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian;” (vs 28, KJV) or “Keep this up much longer and you’ll make a Christian out of me!” (vs. 28, MSG)

But a few short verses later the scene ends. We’re left with the picture of King Agrippa camped out on the border of belief, but, to return to our analogy again, he never gasses up the car and makes the run for the border. Full commitment is in view, he can see it with the naked eye, but nothing of urgency forces him to make the trip that day.

Perhaps that sounds familiar.

 

February 15, 2017

The Making of the Wednesday Link List

Filed under: blogging, Christianity — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:33 am
For the first 30 times the Wednesday List Lynx appeared, I didn't realize that I didn't need to upload the image each time. Exactly 30.

For the first 30 times the Wednesday List Lynx appeared, I didn’t realize that I didn’t need to upload the image each time. Exactly 30.

A friend walked into my workplace and asked if I’d heard the one about the pastor who was caught having an affair and hid naked in the bushes. It was making the rounds in local and national newspapers.

I told him that I actually had heard the story and it had been in the blog’s link list the week before. I guess the story took its time gaining traction.

But then, I suddenly felt this sense of embarrassment. Why had I felt the need to share that story with my readership? Why would anyone want to share that story with anyone else?

Such is the nature of the beast. Using a secret sauce mix of sources, I’m able to pull together a variety of things which reflect the nature of the readership. I’m told we have radio guys who are looking for some quick things to fill the gap between songs. We have pastors and church leaders and seminary professors, many of whom started following during the 22 months the link list appeared at Christianity Today. We have people in KidMin and yMin and every other Min. People looking for the Essay of the Week, and the Video of the Week, and Parenting Place and Leadership Lessons.

Although there are weeks the WLL seems like a giant albatross, most weeks I’m amazed how it comes together; even as I add just one more link at a few minutes to midnight before logging off for the night.

Oh…I do think the nutty pastor stories need to be out there. (I want to say exposed but it doesn’t work well with that particular story.) For good or for bad, these people are part of our extended faith family. I think we kinda need to know what our crazy cousins are up to.

Today, I’m taking a week off for the first time in a long while. I’m sure you’ll find some things online to fill in the gap, or you can go to an August, 2015 post where (if you scroll down a bit) you’ll find a list of aggregators; people who (at the  time) were doing link lists and news roundups like mine.

If the Lord wills and I am able; we’ll be back at this time next week.

Wednesday Link List Sign

 

February 14, 2017

I’d Marry You Again

Filed under: Christianity, family, marriage, personal — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:30 am

ruth-3-pictures

In addition to Valentine’s Day, it’s also our anniversary. Not just any anniversary, but one of those special ones that ends in a ‘5’ or a ‘0.’ A really special one.

Where did the time go?

I decided that for today’s article, I would share the text of a poem I found on a card that my father sent my mother on an equally special anniversary. Last week I put it in a very safe place. You know how those things go, right.

It was titled, “I’d Marry You Again.” You’ve possibly seen it on cards and on plaques and on goodness knows what else. But the one you’ve seen is probably the version credited to Anne Peterson. It ends,

…With all the ups and downs we’ve had
In learning to be friends
I know that in this heart of mine
I’d marry you again.

In looking around online however, I found Lynette, a blogger in South Africa who had posted a version of the poem credited to Carla Flamm. Lynette’s blog seems aimed at creative crafters and scrapbookers and I clicked the header to see if she was still writing and she is. She says her blog is, “The place where I am free to share my love for my Lord and Saviour.” That header reads, “My life: Perfectly imperfect.” So for all those reasons, this poem seemed to fit like a glove

Do you know how much I love you
How much you mean to me
I can’t imagine my life without you
My world would be empty

It seems like only yesterday
I first looked in your eyes
But the years have passed so quickly
Much to my surprise

The life we’ve made together
Our children and our home
The memories we have to cherish
How much our love has grown

Through the good times and the bad
You’ve been right by my side
You’ve made me smile, made me laugh
And wiped my tears when I have cried

You are my partner, my companion
My lover, and my best friend
If I had the chance to do it over
I’d marry you again.

I’m writing this a few days ahead, and things are a little hectic. It’s a perfectly imperfect day. But I have so very, very much to be thankful for looking back over all these ends-in-a-five-or-a-zero years. I really married up. I got the better of the deal. And it’s just for that reason that she would never admit this. She accepts me despite my brokenness, my sometimes cold responses, my frequent inability to make decisions, and even the odd bad habit. I have the greatest difficulty accepting that; accepting that I am so very blessed.

Happy Anniversary, Ruth. We’ll celebrate that in a few months when the weather is warmer. You are so intelligent, so gifted and so wonderfully unpredictable. For today, Happy Valentine’s Day.

I’m so thankful I have someone to say that to.

February 13, 2017

My Personal Battle With PTSD

Filed under: Christianity, Faith, family — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:17 am

Originally, I never thought of it in PTSD terms, and it’s not like I did a tour of duty in the Middle East. Instead, it started our gradually, with phone calls from the seniors’ home where my mom was living. The calls always came late at night, when the staff were wrapping up paperwork once the residents were sleeping.

  • She had another fall today.
  • They’re putting on her a new medicine.
  • We’ve noticed she’s not eating so much.
  • The doctor’s concerned about her circulation.
  • She fell again today.

I realize these health care workers have a responsibility to notify families, but the calls always came at an hour when we were winding down for the evening and wanted to relax, not deal with tension. We asked for “emergencies only” notification, but we had different definitions as to what constituted an emergency.

It got to where every time the phone would ring I would tense up, and now that she’s gone, the after-effects of this stress continue.

Telephones often bring bad news. Especially now when other forms of communication happen through email or on social media or texts. Four years ago, long before the worst of this experience was to take place, I recognized that having a calming ringtone doesn’t change the fact that it’s a phone call.

ring-tone

So again, while I wasn’t in Iraq or Afghanistan, I do have little bit of empathy for people who are bound by Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  It’s no fun living with anxiety, stress and tension and while having a strong faith and trust in God ideally brings peace amid the chaos, it doesn’t always work that way. Rather, the disconnect between the elements of faith we profess regarding God’s sovereignty and protection, and the inner turmoil we’re experiencing in the situation; that disconnect only adds to the problem.

A person dealing with PTSD is a person in desperate need of joy.

 

February 12, 2017

“God Has a Wonderful Plan for Your Life”

four-spiritual-laws-1by Russell Young

(A joint post between Christianity 201 and Thinking Out Loud)

Consider the cliché: “God has a wonderful plan for your life.”  This pronouncement is often given by those trying to evangelize.   This cliché is easy to accept at first glance.  It is encouraging to the one going through one of life’s struggles; it offers promise.   Those who accept that there is a god would esteem him to know all things and to be all powerful.  They also accept that he is all loving.  Consequently, the message is given and taken as if the person being addressed would only confess faith, his or her life would be wonderful, richly blessed and filled with joy. Although these descriptors are true, they are not true according to the world’s understanding.

What was “God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the apostles? They all, but one, experienced horrible deaths.  Think of God’s wonderful plan” as experienced by the many faithful today who are being martyred for their faith in Christ. What are people to think when they suffer through disease and poverty? How are they to interpret God’s “wonderful plan”?

God does have a plan for our lives. Paul wrote to the Ephesians: “In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will, in order that we, who were the first to hope in Christ may be for the praise of his glory.” (Eph 1: 11─12 NIV)

The plan is not “for us” directed; it is “for the praise of [God’s] glory.” Later in that book Paul wrote, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph 2:10 NIV) This is also the declaration of a plan.

God’s plan is “wonderful” but will not necessarily bring the worldly blessings that many infer.   Paul wrote: “The Lord will reward everyone for the good he does whether slave or free.” (Eph 6:8 NIV) The rewards of God are not trivial nor are they necessarily temporal and their accomplishment requires suffering.  “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” (2 Tim 3:12 NIV) Despite the trials, persecution, pain, and poverty that true believers endure in this world, they will reap a harvest of blessings and eternal life, if they remain faithful to the end. (Mt 10:22)

The walk of truth and obedience brings glory to God and eternal rewards.  This is his wonderful plan.  It does not include ease, riches, and the pleasures of this world, and those who present clichés need to take care concerning the impressions that they leave others.  They can mislead and be destructive to furthering the gospel. Weak faith based on misrepresented truths can give way to disillusionment and destruction and the spreading of a false gospel. Should the one being evangelized know the truth about what is before him or her?  Absolutely!  They must count the cost if they are to become strong and useful. Perseverance to the end is the only way that God’s plan can become wonderful. True believers know this and have committed themselves to victory over all sorts of trials through the presence and power of Christ. It is for the fulfilment of God’s plan in one’s life that his people have been called for the praise of his glory and it is in that fulfilment that they bring him glory. His plan is to conform the faithful to the likeness of his Son and to assist in the building of his kingdom.

It should never be accepted that God has ordained a moment by moment strategy for the way a believer is to live, that his moments have been pre-destined and firmly established.  The manner in which believers are led will depend upon how well they listen and how closely they follow.  Paul wrote, “And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.” (Rom 8:27 NIV) It is God who searches our hearts and from his search determines a strategy to affect the Spirit’s purpose.  Sometimes God will discipline, and at other times he will punish.  “Do not lose heart when he rebukes you, because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son.” (Heb 12:5─6 NIV) God’s plan is wonderful because he has a personal interest in accomplishing those things in our lives that will give opportunity for transformation of heart and practice so that a person might become acceptable to him. (Rom 15:16)  It is wonderful because it leads to eternal life, but most of the ‘wonderfulness’ will come in glory, not as we walk this earth.


eternal-salvation-russell-youngRussell Young has been a regular Sunday contributor to Christianity 201 for the past year and is the author of Eternal Salvation: “I’m Okay! You’re Okay!” Really? available in print and eBook through Westbow Publishing, Amazon, and Barnes and Noble; and in Canada through Chapters/Indigo.  9781512757514 $17.99 US

February 11, 2017

Life in the Twitterverse

Filed under: Christianity — Tags: , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 8:10 am

Occasionally I take a day to simply reproduce Tweets here for those who don’t use that platform. For those of you with slow loading times, we’re just doing text, but you’re encouraged to visit me at Twitter.com/PaulW1lk1nson (change the letter “i” to number “1”) or simply click here and bookmark.

  • Fun car game: Flip the radio to various Christian stations carrying preacher programs and see who can first guess what major Bible story they’re doing.
  • ♫ This ban is your ban |This ban is my ban |From the Syrian desert | To the streets of I-ran… | …This ban was made for you and me. ♫
  • Attn. Middle-aged worship team members: If you wanna do all those songs which come out of youth culture, simply let the youth worship team play ’em
  • [Drew Dyck] When it comes to end times prognosticating, the trick is to change up the antichrist candidates while keeping the 1980s designs & graphics.
  • Buffalo newscaster just said, “If you go out without your gloves, you’re going to have some cold hands on your hands.”
  • The people making Christian giftware do know there are other scripture verses besides Jeremiah 29:11, right?
  • Ever wonder what’s hot and what’s not in Christian publishing? This link takes you to a pdf of the full Top 50 list
  • What does it profit a man to gain the office of President of the United States and lose the entire populace? [Mark 8:36 amended]
  • How tattoos work: Once you chose Option #1, you’ve automatically eliminated Options #2 to 999,999.
  • [Youth Group Boy] Rather than build a wall Trump just needs to talk to my church – they’ve kept minorities and those who are different out for years.
  • Need to rethink the classic Neil Diamond song: ♫ On the boats and on the planes They’re coming to America… ♫  — not anymore!
  • [Diane Lindstrom] “Opportunity is missed by people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” Thomas Edison

 

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