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It is so odd to parent teenagers. Their maniacal mood swings create for some incredible drama.  A parent can go from being the best dad/mom to the worst parent ever in milliseconds.  When I give permission for my daughter to do something she wants to do, I get hugs and smiles and a giggly girl excited about life.  However, if I decide that what she is asking permission to do is not permissible or that she must obediently follow-up on something I requested or required her to do, then I become an unthinking, ugly ogre who has no more sense than an aphid and my beautiful girl turns into an unrecognizably grouchy and surly carbon-based life form.

The parent of a teenager can exhibit all the brilliance of Einstein and still not be recognized for any measurable contribution to his/her child’s well-being the same said child. My teenage son can bounce into the room, ask for my opinion about something, presumably because of my 21 years of education and life experience, and then turn around and do just the opposite.  This, of course, leaves me completely dumbfounded, especially when I become blamed for the outcome in spite of the fact that my counsel was exactly opposite of his own chosen course of action.  It is still my fault in some sort of vicarious way.

It is amazing how a child’s perspectives about his/her parent can change on the flip of a dime. When they are going well, according to their desires and plans, the parent is all-loving, all-wise and full of beneficence.  When things are not going so well, then the same parent – in the twinkling of an eye – becomes the vicious judge of their world, the destroyer of happiness and the cause of all the world’s ills.  The jump between these two emotive universes can happen several times in the same day.  It is as if the child is a being who is able to live in parallel universes and able to jump between the two at will.  Or, perhaps, they really are two different children who keep swapping places with each other between their good/bad universes.  The problem for the parent is never knowing what child they will wake up to in the morning or which one they are addressing at the dinner table.

Ancient Mayan Architecture, Chichen Itza, July 2003

Ancient Mayan Architecture, Chichen Itza, July 2003 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

If all this sounds ridiculously twisted, imagine how God must feel toward his human creatures. We tend to treat him in much the same manner as hormonal teenagers.  When life is going well, God is good!  When life is going bad, God is distant, deaf and demanding our blood.  When it appears he answers our prayers the way we want them answered, then God is to be praised.  However, when it appears he has declined to hear our prayers or gives what appears to be a resounding “No!” to them, then he is to be neglected and ignored.

One of the outcomes of my disobedience toward God is not only how I view my self but also how I view God. It affects my perspective of him.  Sin twists my perspective of God to where he no longer is “Our heavenly Father” but my condemning judge.  My perspective changes from one that sees God as for me to God as opposed to me.  He becomes, instead of the giver of life, the destroyer of life.  My twisted perspective then affects how I look at worship, church, the Bible, Christian leaders and fellow Christians.  How I believe God sees me becomes tainted.

This twisted perspective happens on a larger group or national level too. When the economy is robust and our jobs are good, then God has definitely blessed America.  However, when a disaster strikes or the economy tanks and we lose our jobs, then God is accused of not really being loving, caring and all-powerful.  After all, thinking like hormonal teenagers, if God really loved us, cared and was all-powerful, then he would always side with us; he would always say “Yes!” to our requests; and life would have no disappointments or pain.

The duty of the mature adult parent is to be the emotionally stable one when surrounded by the unsteady tides of teenage angst. It does not serve any purpose when the one who is supposed to be the adult acts just as emotionally immature as the teenager.  Of course, for an exhausted and frustrated human parent, this is not always the way it works out.  Even we have our limits and the worst comes out of us.

Fortunately, God does not have such human limits. He is the perfect parent who loves and acts with consistency.  He is the heavenly Father who does not change his perspective towards us no matter how much ours might change towards him.  When we are unfaithful, he remains faithful.  Even when we are in the position of a prodigal child, he remains the loving father waiting and hoping for his child to return to his/her senses and return home.  His perspective of us remains true even when ours gets twisted by our rebellious, deceiving hearts.  He sees us clearly with eyes of love while we view his character and nature dimly through suspicious eyes.

The hope that every parent of a teenager has is that one day they will mature and “grow out of” their emotionally unstable ways. I wonder if our heavenly Father does not wish the same thing for us who call our selves his children.  I often chide my children with saying, “I can’t wait until you grow up and get old enough so I can get smart again.”  For, in almost every case, the child in later life will look back over the years and say to him/her self, “You know, my parents sure knew what they were talking about.”  This is every parent’s reward and justification.

Until that time, it will remain the duty of every parent of a teenager to be the unmovable rock in the changing tide. This stability will be seen as unreasonable, demanding and unjustified.  However, it is exactly what is needed at this time in a teenager’s life.  It is also exactly what we need from our heavenly Father:  stability in an ocean of changing values.  So, let us caution our selves when our vision of God becomes twisted by the fortunes or misfortunes of life.  Let us untwist our perspective into the right one:  God does not change; we do.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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One of the things missing in the debate about immigration today is the view from the other side of the border – or fence in some places.  Americans seem to be myopically fixed upon their own ethno-centristic view of “the immigrant;” especially the illegal.  There is little regard or interest in how the rest of the world sees us, which explains a large part of the mess we have made in Iraq, Afghanistan and other parts of the world where we have attempted to interfere or intervene.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of Americans live in a mono-cultural setting while the rest of the world lives in a multi-cultural setting.  People in the rest of the world are made, as a part of everyday living, to interact with two or three different cultures and speak in two or three different dialects or languages.  On the other hand, Americans are impatient with an immigrant working behind the counter at Burger King.

Traveling abroad opens up a whole new world for those needing to break out of their mono-cultural worldview and experience life like the majority of the rest of the world.  Probably no experience for me has shaped my view of different cultures as much as my experience in India.  At the same time, no experience has taught me more about culture and immigration than my interactions with people from different countries attempting to start life over in the USA.  They are the brave ones.  It gives me an appreciation for what my ancestors did when they first came to America from Sweden a century ago or from Germany more than two centuries ago.

Lizard On Burnt Stump, Deschutes River Trail, April 2010

Lizard On Burnt Stump, Deschutes River Trail, April 2010 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

India is a study in contrasts.  In the major cities, there are people everywhere.  The bright colors of dress and Hindu temples, music blaring from loud speakers and non-stop sounds of automobile horns surround a person.  There is no escape.  At the same time, the smells of diesel, perfumes, foods, open sewers and dead animals constantly waft around you.

As one moves through the city and countryside, a person cannot escape the rotting garbage, open trenches of raw sewage, plastic bags everywhere, wandering cows dropping there excrement everywhere, dogs running lose and people walking in and amongst traffic.  For all the beauty, the filth and chaos is unavoidable!  Forget any American sense of the rules of the road.  Trucks, buses, tractors, cars, motor rickshaws, bicycles, tricycles, ox carts, cows, water buffalo and people all vie for the road with honking, waving and shouting.

This is how most Americans see India and its people.  How about their view of us?  I recently read an article taken from the Evangelical Missions Quarterly (44:1 January 2008) by Paul G. Hiebert entitled “Clean and Dirty: Cross-Cultural Misunderstandings in India.”  It was eye-opening and revealing.  I wish I had read it before I my trip to India.

I presently live in an apartment complex that has a number of Indian families living in it.  The smell of curry drifts from their apartments.  I love it.  I have a new appreciation for their attempt to live in an American culture that is so foreign to them.  They have a lot of work cut out for them just to navigate everyday life.  I – all of us – have a lot to learn from them.

One thing that Indians notice in stark contrast from where they came from is the public cleanliness.  Manicured lawns, prettily painted houses, clean streets, no open sewers all make the world seem neat and orderly.  And the traffic!  No one uses their horns!  People drive clean, dent-free cars.  They stay in the well-marked lanes and actually stop at stop-lights and stop-signs.  On top of that, they will actually wait their turn to go through an intersection!  It is all simply amazing to them.

In contrast, however, when Indians first come to America, they are shocked at our personal filthiness.  Paul Hiebert in his article points out that they see Americans going to school, buses and stores in torn jeans, very short shorts, unkempt T-shirts and gaudy footwear.  Women dress in the same drab attired as men or in sweat pants or, worse yet, pajamas.  From their cultural perspective, all these look like beggars’ clothes.  Obviously we can afford more respectful clothes.

It is puzzling to these new comers to America that we keep our shoes on when we enter a house.  This is really confusing to them when we enter a house of worship into the presence of God.  It seems that we care more for our cars, yards and streets than we do ourselves or our god.

When visiting India, if one looks past the surface of dirt and filth, one would see a culture that is very concerned with purity and pollution.  Hiebert points out that Indians are, in fact, obsessed with personal cleanliness.  When leaving their small huts, men will always come out with their best shirts, ties and trousers, washed and pressed, along with polished shoes.  Women will only appear in public in brightly colored feminine clothes.  Houses even with dirt floors and court yards are swept daily.  People brush their teeth and comb their hair almost obsessively.  Plus, they will do it outside, in public, so that people will see their concern for cleanliness and public dignity.

When Indians watch Americans eat, they do so with incredulity.  After all, Americans like to eat with utensils that have been in other people’s mouths.  They frequently do not wash their hands before eat – even if they touch food with their fingers!  They also use their right hands in toilets and use paper to clean themselves.  Hiebert also points out that Americans eat meat, particularly beef, which gives them a strong body odor that vegetarians can smell.

Since Indians are concerned with personal pollution, they are careful about the things they touch.  Only the left hand is used for dirty activities, such as toilet duties.  They only eat with the fingers of their right hand, after washing, which has not been in other people’s mouths.  They are careful about who and what they touch to prevent themselves from being defiled.

Perhaps Americans could use a lesson from about “cleanliness” and “purity” from our Indian friends.  Instead of being so concerned about outward cleanliness, we should focus on what defiles us.  It seems Jesus addressed the Pharisees of his day with the same concern.  They were more concerned about outward purity than inward defilement.  His advice to them was not to be so concerned with the outward cleanliness of the cup, but pay attention to what is inside it.  It is what comes out of us that defiles us.

I suspect there are other lessons world-citizens could teach us if we were willing to learn.  As more and more people come to America from around the world, we have a prime opportunity to allow them to teach us.  It might behoove us to not demand that they become “like us.”  In some instances, it may be better for everyone if we become more like them.  This will take getting a vision from the other side of the world.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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“Made in the USA” does not hold the credibility that it had fifty years ago.  Today, it communicates overpriced and poorly made.  Other countries have surpassed the USA in producing the same products more cheaply.  More important, some countries have surpassed the USA in producing those products with better quality.  Increasingly, those companies in the USA who are producing qualities products that the American consumer wants are foreign owned.

There are many reasons for this decline in quality and affordable USA products.  However, one outstanding reason that must be examined and critiqued is a growing cultural comfort with personal mediocrity.  For the last 50 years, the USA has increasingly raised up children fed upon the idea that personal work ethic and effort is not important.  We have taken pride in producing a “safe” environment in our schools and playgrounds where “everyone is a winner.”

For the past few Olympics, Americans no longer pride themselves in “taking home the most gold.”  Now, we just count total medals.  It used to be that Americans and their Olympians counted only the gold medals in comparison to other nations.  However, when that comparison became more sketchy in guaranteeing that we look good, we switched to counting total overall medals.  A silver and bronze medal is something to be proud about, to be sure.  But it makes one wonder if this switch was not a subtle way of seceding our ability to be the best or another expression of “everyone is a winner.”  Of course, this change did not just happen over night.

Our young people have their whole lives chewed upon the American idea that participation is enough.  As a result, they have come to expect that participation is all that is required of them.  Everything else will be provided for them to succeed because every child deserves to succeed.  It is no longer the individual’s responsibility to succeed but the community’s responsibility to make them succeed.  At the end of the day, every one will get a trophy, certificate, or diploma regardless of personal effort or work ethic.  And the community will take pride in making another child feel good about their self.

This inbred attitude is taken into the workplace where the right of a job is expected.  Or, it is taken to the college or university where the right of a degree is expected.  Once at work or in college, the expectation is that they should pass or qualify for the job, they deserve to graduate or be promoted, and they deserve to succeed.

Talk to any business manager or owner today and you will find the same critique.  There is an attitude of entitlement in the generation coming up that does not think that personal effort and work ethic should have anything to do with keeping a job or getting a pay raise.  It seems that teaching our children that “everyone’s a winner” – regardless of personal effort – has robbed our children of a productive future rather than helped them.

The pressure upon our school systems to pass kids, raise their grades, help them achieve seems to leave out one important factor.  The desire and motivation of the child to succeed.  When parents come to parent-teacher conferences blaming the teachers and administrators for not guaranteeing their child’s success, it only reflects the entitlement culture that has been bred among us.  Instead of looking at their children and their own family life as a possible cause for their child’s personal work ethic, parents with an entitlement mindset can only see and blame others for their parenting failures and the failures of their child.

It is no wonder, then, that when these young people enter the work force they are unable to hold a job.  Coming to work on time, putting in a full day’s work, working hard to help guarantee the success of their employer, and doing their best to personally learn and grow in their field is completely foreign to them.  When they find their selves unemployed, they become angry and blame their former employers for being unfair.  After all, “everyone is a winner,” right?

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009

Hot Rod, Cool Desert Nights, Richland, Washington, Summer 2009 ©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

Try and explain that attitude to the workers in the majority world who must work or starve.  Try to explain that mindset to the business owners and entrepreneurs of the majority world where “survival of the fittest” determines whether they are in business next year or not.  Try and explain that to the young people in the majority world where getting into a college or university is a slim chance and so every effort to succeed is important not only for their own personal success but for the survival and success of their extended family.  I think you would get a lot of blank stairs.

Meanwhile, Americans feel threatened by immigrants who come to the USA and take their jobs.  They will work jobs that most Americans will not touch.  Pooling their efforts and resources together, pretty soon their own and run those business.  Then, Americans are shocked to see those same immigrants running the hotels, restaurants, lawn businesses, laundry stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, beauty salons, and other industries.  Surprised, we cry in dismay that “those immigrants” are taking over our country.  (Forgetting, it seems, that our European, ancestors were once those same immigrants with those same work attitudes and goals.)

In reality, it will probably be these immigrants and their families that will save America from going into total global economic decline or even non-existence.  Every wave of immigration to the USA has brought its challenges.  But it has also brought renewed vitality to the American economy and politics.  In other words, an infusion of fresh blood into the American family tree is probably just what we need right now.

It does not matter whether you are a Democrat or Republican, lean to the political left or right, or hold to no political affiliation and shoot straight down the middle.  Creating a societal atmosphere of entitlement that disincentivizes the individual’s work ethic, work effort, and expectations for their rewards is hurting America.  It has largely produced an uneducated, unimaginative, and unwilling work force.  Meanwhile, other world economies are outpacing us, out producing us and will soon leave us in their GDP (Gross Domestic Product) dust.

There is no excuse in America for an educational system that has poorly maintained buildings, terrible educational models and opportunities and inept teachers.  Especially when one considers that America spends three-times more per student on education than its closest competitor in the world. More money is not the solution.  Countries with worse buildings, educational models and ill-trained teachers are still creating better students and a subsequent workforce.

Is it any wonder that in the last 40 years in the USA there has being an exponential rise in home schooling?  That private and religious schools are in high demand?  And that independent charter schools have taken off?  Everyone realizes that there is a problem!  Except for those at the leadership levels of our politically charged national and state educational systems and teacher unions.

There are no easy solutions to recovering what we have lost.  One does not just simply turn around a cultural and societal problem and attitude like this as if it were a U-turn on a Boulevard.  Nevertheless, it must be done.  If America continues with the idea that regardless of work ethic or effort “everyone is a winner” then, sooner than later, no one in America will be a winner.

©Weatherstone/Ron Almberg, Jr. (2010)

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