Month: July 2012


It was the end of a long class day, and I was arguing with myself over whether or not to straighten the desks of my classroom before faceplanting the podium in front of me.

Then a fellow teacher came in, said some friends were going on an afternoon hike. There was room to cram one more in the taxi.

Adventure on.

Before the afternoon was over, we had hiked to a forbidden island–literally. Saipan natives believe that the spirits of the ancestral dead haunt that place. The drowning of several Korean tourists a few years back adds credence, they say, to the legend.

Forbidden or not, we took the rough path from the hills at the northern point of Saipan down to sea level. The trail required clinging to stabilizing ropes and skidding down steep pebbly slopes on the descent.

Why does that which is forbidden always seem the most attractive? As I could have guessed, something about the place wrapped every rock in mystery and unreal beauty.

Who knew that it’s possible to stand right in the middle of something so beautiful? Strange, to actually feel the sea breeze off an exotic emerald coast. Strange to see the iridescent rainbow of a fish, gemlike, swimming in the water at my feet. Strange to hear the glassy crunch of a million bits of washed-up coral.

Strange, like I was the invader photo-bombing someone’s tragically beautiful portrait shot. But not quite forbidden.

ESL Class, week 1: I raise you three grape Skittles.

The kids in my class play poker over lunch break, betting with Skittles.

They’re actually pretty good at the game.

Asian culture is different. In three weeks, I’ve gone from Mexico to Micronesia… and I’ve never experienced such contrasts. The seven- to thirteen-year-olds in my class here are as silently reserved as the Mexican kids were enthusiastically outgoing.

Mexico was a walk in an air-conditioned park compared to this.

Here, I’m the teacher of a class of mini-adults. Seven out of these eight mini-adults had never heard the gospel before coming to Eucon this summer. Half the kids in my class don’t understand anywhere near enough English to get the meaning of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. But after last week, at least they know John 3:16 by heart. The English will come.

If only I could speak Korean and Mandarin–forget the English opportunities! Here are kids who don’t know who Jesus is! And I have them for six whole hours a day!

Suddenly the poker-playing doesn’t seem like a big deal. At all.

Theology of Hogwarts

I read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone for the first time last week. The reading choice was borne more out of a sense of curiosity than anything else–what has the last ten years’ worth of hype been about, anyway?

How could one ruffled little wizard bring in so many millions in book sales and Hollywood revenue?

More importantly to me: How could one ruffled little wizard get an entire culture–that of conservative Christians–up in arms?

Yesterday evening, when I turned the last page of The Sorcerer’s Stone, I still didn’t get it.

For a book many conservatives still seem determined to stay miles from, it seems pretty tame. Magical brooms, green sparks, owls that carry messages, and an archetypal good vs. evil plot wrapped up in mystery and magic.

A few observations:

  • If children growing up in a Christian home are so corrupted/influenced by a fantasy novel that it causes them to question the doctrines of the Bible, I’d think there’s an underlying problem far more fundamental problem than the book itself. Perhaps if, instead of presenting children with a this-book-is-satanic-and-you-may-not-read-it-list, parents actually read fantasy books with their children and talked with them about it, they’d find countless (biblical!) teaching opportunities.
  • Everyone who has told me that the Harry Potter books are wrong has also admitted that they have never even read one of them. The English major within me screams–collapses–in protest at this blatantly counter-intuitive phenomenon. How can you make such weighty claims against a book if you’ve never read it? Go. Read it. Then defend your position with sources from the text.
  • Vocabulary can incite wars. Especially literary ones. I have a feeling that if, instead of hobbits, The Lord of the Rings had witches and wizards, it would have been just as incendiary. The reverse is true: What if Harry Potter had been a hobbit? Would he still be banned from thousands of conservative homes?
  • I’m even more confused now, this time as to why I’m taking the time to argue for J.K. Rowling. I’m not passionately in favor of the Potter books, though I’m planning to finish reading the series. I am, however, inexplicably passionate about people who ban books based on assumptions, catching fire at a little spark based on assumptions about mere words like “wizard” and “magic.”

Maybe I’m too naive to see satanic references in the books, but… I’m not finding it there, and I’m pretty sure a few billion (or more…or fewer) university English classes have taught me at least some critical reading skills.

I see a fantastically magical story about the good guys battling the dark side, only this time the players have wands and spells. As a matter of fact, I see more opportunities to put a biblical spin on the story than otherwise (Danielle Tumminio, who teaches a course on Harry Potter and Christian Theology at Yale, has an interesting take).

I’ll end with a quote, because I like the quote. If there’s evil indoctrination going on here, it’s hidden so deep I can’t find it.

Your mother died to save you. If there is one thing Voldemort cannot understand, it is love. He didn’t realize that love as powerful as your mother’s for you leaves its own mark. Not a scar, no not a visible sign … to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever. Quirrell, full of hatred, greed, and ambition, sharing his soul with Voldemort, could not touch you for this reason. It was agony to touch a person marked by something so good.

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, pg. 299

Snorkeling in the Philippine Sea

I had a moment with a fish today.

He was about two inches long, crimson and lemon-yellow striped, with curious eyes. While all the other fish were cautiously swimming for cover in the coral reef, he swam over and fearlessly hovered just inches from my nose, looking me right in the goggles.

A sea of fish I could’ve sworn were glowing blue swooshed to my left. A few dozen sea cucumbers lazed about six feet below in the creamy white sand.

Goggles pinching my face into an inhuman contortion, snorkel adding to the overall look, I felt like an intruder into a beautiful world I didn’t even know existed. (And yet another Bucket List item bites the dust!)

Oh, to be as fearless as that little fish.

Not alone… 8,000 miles from home

“You’ll be less homesick if you bring your own sheets. Pillow too,” the director of the school told me.

Maybe he’s right—he’s dealt with a number of foreign English teachers before. But I can’t imagine my old dorm room bedding making me less homesick.

Not after I’ve already been out of the country for half of this summer. In the past, I’ve suffered from travel-related migraines, stomach ailments, and altitude sickness. Not homesickness. Ever.

Nevertheless, I packed sheets. Also a well-traveled rubber duck named Gritzie.

As I type, I’m in a Boeing 777 somewhere over British Columbia, Canada (vivid snow-capped mountains! deep blue rivers! I need to add this to my list of Places To Go!).

Somewhere in between watching “The Hunger Games” on the little screen in front of me and wishing The Princess Bride was available in Spanish, I keep stopping to peek out the window. It makes it seem like I’m really going somewhere.

Mexico seemed real. I’d been there before. I knew it existed. But when my plane lands after about thirty hours of travel (today? tomorrow? the day after tomorrow?) I’ll fully understand that Tokyo exists, too. And Guam. And Saipan.

A few hours after my plane lands, I’m scheduled to teach three English classes to junior high students, with lunch and “assembly” (chapel?) thrown into the mix. By Thursday night, I’m not sure I’ll even have the energy to throw a homesickness-preventing sheet over whatever mattress they give me.

Am I really traveling halfway around the world by myself to live for several weeks and teach classes to people whose cultures I’m not even marginally familiar with?

And I will pray the Father, and he shall give you another Comforter, that he may abide with you for ever;

Even the Spirit of truth; whom the world cannot receive, because it seeth him not, neither knoweth him: but ye know him; for he dwelleth with you, and shall be in you.

I will not leave you comfortless: I will come to you.

John 14:16-18

No, not alone.

6 hours of church.

Three sermons, a kids’ club, puppets, Bible stories, songs. Mexican church services can be long.

View from the window of the house-turned-church in Mexico City

Six hours of church kept us occupied on our last Sunday. I attended Sunday School (a sermon in itself), then took a few opportunities to visit with the hermanas in the church during the break before the next service. Singing hymns in Spanish–familiar yet foreign, because I don’t know the lyrics–never gets old.

I think of our team, with Chile, Ukraine, Finland, Puerto Rico, Mexico, and the U.S. represented, and of the people here in Mexico, living in a very real place so different than my own version of familiar. I think of the authors of the words of the hymns and composers of the melodies, and the whole six-degrees-of-separation thing takes on a whole new meaning in light of the family of God.

Conversations with the missionaries are really helping me iron out my own point of view on ministry, missions, and education. Basic educational theory: teacher’s aren’t in front of the classroom to teach facts, but to teach you to ask questions. I guess it goes back to the writing maxim I learned in many professional writing classes: Curiosity is a muscle. Flex it.

Maybe curiosity isn’t just an aspect of some people’s personalities, but a necessity to live fearless, out-there kind of life God mandated. Interesting, that He didn’t say, “Go, and tell the whole world the good news, unless you’re an inherently introverted person, in which case you can go and serve Me in whatever way you’re comfortable.”

He also didn’t send us to the safest places of the world. He sent us to all of them.

The Dispatches from the Front video we watched tonight reminded us that Christian life, and all of Christian ministry, is war. And that war is hell. Wrestling against principalities and powers isn’t a walk in the park.

Get out there. Read the newspapers. Know current events and enough history for the current events to make sense. Talk to people outside your circle circles, your denomination, your country. Know what they believe and tell them the most beautiful story they’ll ever hear. Be interested. Be curious. Whether it’s in your own town or in Burma, get out there and live like your Savior is watching.

–Excerpt from journal entry 6/20/12