Sunday, August 31, 2008

What You May Not Know About Joe Biden and Why it Matters

I was never a big fan of war-stories - you know, those times when you sit down with veterans (very often your uncle or grandpa) and hear about how they went to hell and back.
I got enough of them during my travels as a military musician. This war story is different though. It comes not from a soldier, but from a theologian, and the point isn’t to look back. The point is to look at how past experience can shape the future. So here’s a look at Joe Biden and the ways he’s influenced Eastern Europe through the eyes of Dr. Kuzmič.

The last time I saw my father-in-law so excited was 3 weeks ago – when his grandson was born. Petra’s dad couldn’t figure out how to narrow down all of his Biden stories into one small column for the local newspaper. “Do you know” he said with his Croatian accent “that Joe Biden was a prophet here in the former Yugoslavia?”

No, I had no idea. Before last Saturday Joe Biden was Joe Shmoe for all I knew.

“April ’93. Biden came to Sarajevo (Bosnia) and Belgrade (Serbia). He had a chair on the Committee on the Judiciary at that time as you know.”

No I hadn’t a clue.

“Anyway” he continued, “Biden met with Slobodan Milošević in Belgrade and listened to Milošević tell him about how Serbia was not an aggressor, but just the opposite – Serbia was the victim. After giving his speech, Milošević was curious and he asked Biden ‘What do you think of me?’”

“Biden responded bluntly ‘I think you’re a damn war criminal and you should be tried as one!’”

Turns out Biden understood what most of the world didn’t yet know. Milošević was indeed handed over to the International Criminal Court in early 2002.

Dr. K. continued with how Joe Biden again predicted history in Eastern Europe during the atrocities in Kosovo in ’99 when he said that Milošević would no longer be in power in a year. Biden’s influence in ending the violence and convincing world leaders that Milošević was committing genocide led to Milošević’s loss of power in 2000.

Fast forward to August 2008 – just a few weeks ago in fact. Joe Biden went to Georgia to see firsthand what Russian troops were doing there. If you’re like me, you felt like you were getting mixed reports from the media. Biden’s summary when he got back was that Russia’s response (or initiation) was disproportionate to the possible need of military intervention in Georgia.

As we now understand, Russia’s involvement in Georgia was their response to America and NATO recognizing Kosovo’s independence. These are the kind of things Biden recognizes because of his experience here in Eastern Europe.

Whether or not Obama picked Biden as a reaction to the “experience” McCain has firmly in his court, he made a wise choice for a running-mate. Obama is learning what many of his followers are learning – that experience is in fact necessary, especially that kind of experience that has a record of changing war stories into peace stories.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Coffee Lovers Unite!

Have you ever gotten comments about your coffee drinking habits? Have those tired, nonstimulated killjoys ever given you one of these: “Coffee isn’t good for you – you’ll get addicted” condemnations? They usually launch into how coffee will raise your blood pressure, stain your teeth, make you go to the bathroom more (even though it’s supposedly dehydrating) and didn’t a study prove that it’ll give you cancer?

Well coffee lovers, it’s time to celebrate. It’s not true! None of it. The New York Times recently ran an article that combined various studies proving that there are absolutely no harmful effects of drinking coffee everyday and that it could in fact actually benefit your health.

The myth about dehydration? Wrong. Even a Starbucks grande will give you as much of your daily dose of hydration as 16 oz. of water. What about heart disease? Nope. Cardiologists at University of California at San Francisco found no proof. Cancer? Uh-uh. In ’81 it was found that coffee led to pancreatic cancer. Then they started studying the same patients and realized it was actually the cigarettes that did it.

And it turns out that coffee can decrease your risk of cancer. That’s right – decrease! One study showed that those who drink coffee had half the chance of developing liver cancer. The one thing that we all know is that it’ll help you wake up, give you more energy and enhance your mood and productivity.

So let’s celebrate with a tall coffee – or a grande…whatever. Go ahead and sip that caffeine injected drink you love and let it slowly stimulate your system. And whenever someone questions you, give them this reply: You can have your apple, but it’s my coffee each day that keeps the doctor away!

Friday, August 22, 2008

Church outside of church

I'll be honest with you. I haven't been in a church building much this summer. A combination of a lack of protestant churches near my wife’s family vacation spot and being away from our church home in Orahovica has made it difficult to attend. But I have been to Church. Let me tell you about 3 times this summer when I've been part of two or three gathered in His name and I came away with a strong sense of God's presence.

1. Our youth group took a trip up to the Papuk Mountains to mark the end of the school year. We were enjoying a BBQ in one of the most beautiful parts of Croatia, when my friend Scott from Boston calls up out of the blue to talk for a few minutes. Turns out he's headed to the Middle East for a few weeks on a missions trip. I can't tell you much about the conversation except for this: When I asked him what I could pray for he didn't mention a good trip over, or safety when he got there, or even that he would influence others for Christ. What he did say was what he usually says: 'Pray that I fall more in love with Jesus'. Those words have influenced me to the point that it’s a prayer that I pray for him, but now also for myself and my family.

2. My wife spent some time in India 7 years back. The family she stayed with was in Italy in July and decided they liked Petra enough to take a full day to travel to Croatia to see her for 24 hours. I'm glad they did. The four of us sat down on the dock by the Adriatic and had church. We talked about how the Church and religion sometimes take away from efforts to spread the gospel. We talked about the burden that some in the Church have because of the extra rules we Christians sometimes add. We also talked about freedom in Christ and what that means.

3. Petra and I were leaders at childrens camp a few weeks ago and I was invited to have coffee with a pastor during our break. He’s a Croat who has a heart for the city of Karlovac. When he decided to move from his home in Split to Karlovac he didn’t know one person. He told me that his family of 5 had no apartment to live in when they got there. God’s call was so strong that he felt he had no choice but to go – despite not having contacts or a place to live. They didn’t have any churches financially supporting them. They didn’t even have a strategy. But he rode his bike around the city and told random people about how Jesus had changed his life. Five years later they have a strong church of 75 people. More importantly his congregation is maturing in Christ and taking the good news to the rest of Karlovac and Croatia. He will be a key figure in the effort to make disciples here in Eastern Europe and I think it’s precisely because of his utter dependence on God.

These are the exciting kind of experiences that you don’t need a church building to have. Don’t get me wrong, gathering in His name is essential to the Christian faith. Having a weekly time devoted to church is an important way to fellowship with believers and worship the Lord. But it’s refreshing to know it’s not the only way.

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

A Debt of Gratitude We Owe

This past Sunday we had the privilege of having Enoh dedicated in our home church in Orahovica. Adding to the occasion was the fact that most of Petra’s immediate family was able to attend the dedication before returning to America. Enoh literally means ‘dedicated’ so it was fitting that we dedicated him to the Lord in the presence of family and fellow believers.

During the service and at other times since Enoh was born I’ve had an overwhelming sense of how many people had a part to play in his and our well-being. The Lord has blessed us with a number of people who have shown through their actions that they genuinely care for us. While it is certainly necessary to thank them in person, I think it would be fitting to use this space to acknowledge some of those people to whom we are especially grateful. In no particular order:

- Pastor Slobodan and his wife Lidija Stojkovic who will probably never read this and if they heard me say the word ‘blog’ they would probably think I was mispronouncing the Croatian word for ‘God’ (Bog). Nevertheless, they cut their vacation two days short and drove 13 hours from the crowded Croatian coast so that we could have Enoh’s dedication on Sunday. This is just one example of their humble and selfless dedication to the church in Croatia.

- My Grandparents who have always been faithful to pray and send encouraging cards and emails. Your cards make our day every time we receive them! My Grandma must have spent countless hours on the quilt pictured below.

- Our friends Milo and Erin Wilson who organized a baby shower for Petra. They contacted our family and friends and encouraged them to send us something from our registry. Baby supplies and clothes are at least double the price here in Croatia and if it weren’t for their thoughtful initiation we wouldn’t have some of the clothes and other necessities for Enoh, not to mention nondisposable diapers that we now have.

- Petra’s sister Tatiana who brought over the aforementioned baby gifts. She received, shopped for and packed most of the baby supplies Enoh will be using. Tatiana also was the most help to Petra during her 59 hours of contractions. Her famous line? “Just breathe out the pain Petra, breathe out the pain!”

- Our many friends and family members who generously shopped for and sent the clothes and baby supplies.

- My parents who gave Enoh his first gift a year ago – before he was even conceived. They also bought what for me is the most significant gift on the registry – the Baby Bjorn. (If you Croatians haven’t seen one of these yet, just wait. I’ll be the coolest daddy in the country.) Most importantly, my parents taught me how to pray for my children. Remembering them pray for me and my future every night of my childhood has become one of the most important memories of my life.

- My brother JB and his fiancé Kristin. They supplied Enoh with the gear necessary to root for the Cubs this year should they become the ‘lovable winners’ and win the World Series. Only problem is, Enoh will have to start eating a lot more if he plans on fitting into it this October.

- Petra’s family whose help has been too invaluable to calculate or express.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

NOW SHOWING!: Is the Spy Capable or Not?

My wife and I rented a movie here in Croatia a couple years back that is called Crazy House (Luda Kuča) when literally translated. It stars Ben Stiller and Drew Barrymore and although it’s a little over the top we enjoyed it. When we visited the States we looked for it on DVD but couldn’t find it. Turns out the title was actually Duplex. Since then we’ve found that very few of the popular titles are translated literally the same when imported into Croatia.

Chris Hawley wrote an entertaining piece in USA TODAY and the Arizona Republic recently about the literal translations Hollywood movies have in other countries. The following is a list of some of those movies and their titles along with the countries (or areas) in which they were renamed:

Get Smart (2008)
Super Agent 86 (Mexico)
Confused Spy (China)
Is the Spy Capable or Not? (Taiwan)

Airplane! (1980)
The Unbelievable Trip on a Wacky Airplane (Germany)

Alien (1979)
The Eighth Passenger of the Nostromo (Poland)

Much Ado about Nothing (1993)
Lots of Noise and Not Many Nuts (Latin America)

Knocked Up (2007)
Slightly Pregnant (Peru)
One Night, Big Belly (China)

Grease (1978)
Vaseline (Argentina)

Lost in Translation (2003) Lost in Tokyo (Israel)

Thursday, August 14, 2008

What's in a name?

If you're an astute Croatian who has kept up with my blog, you might have read my original post about Enoh, gone to your Bible and found that the passage in Genesis does not have 'Enoh' spelled this way. In fact it is spelled 'Henok' which apparently is close to the Hebrew way of pronouncing the name. The fact is, this spelling ('Enoh') and pronounciation actually comes from the Serbian translation of the Bible. Petra and her family always heard 'Enoh' in church and apparently assumed it was the Croatian version.

For those of you who are curious, Croatian, Serbian and Bosnian are essentially the same language. I say that hesitantly because there are former Yugoslavians who would straight out object. However, the Slavic linguist in our family who teaches all three languages at a university in America says they are the same - with some minor differences (kind of like the relationship between British English and American).

So, it was not correct to say that 'Enoh' is the way the name is written in the Croatian Bible, but it is correct to say that it is the commonly used version of Enoh here in the former Yugoslavia - apparently rooting from the Serbian translation.

If nothing else this blog entry gives me an excuse to add more photos!

Monday, August 11, 2008

Eyes Wide Open - My Birth Observations

You can’t go through the birthing process in a different country without noticing some things. My eyes were wide open as I nervously tried to figure out how to best help my wife and stay on the nurse’s and doctor’s good sides. Here are some of my observations:

- There aren't any doors to the delivery rooms - nothing to separate others from the sounds of labor. You can hear a lot. The most frequently said words in the delivery room are NE MOGU! (I Can’t!)

- My wife was in an altered state of being. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t blame her (I guess you could blame me). The number one reason I knew she was in another state of mind was the fact that she used her wet cloth meant for moistening her lips on her sweaty shoulders, forehead and hands before her mouth.

- Croatian men don’t participate much in this process. The hospital only allows them if they go through a class which I did (but I didn’t understand anything). I didn’t see any men in the birthing hall. I didn’t see any men in the halls where they keep the women after they gave birth. I did see a man drop off his pregnant wife at 3 am and go home. I’ll be honest, Croatian men: I don’t know how you could pass up that opportunity. At worst, wouldn’t you want to help her out during the most extreme pain of her life?

- Socialized medicine is not such a bad deal – at least not from my experience this past week. We didn’t pay a kuna (except for parking) for the delivery. Petra had 2 doctors and a few nurses in the room when she gave birth. They were very professional and kind to her. From what I could tell they had everything they would need in case of emergency. The room she’s staying in doesn’t have a TV or a whirlpool, and she does have to bring her own TP but it beats paying an arm and a leg to have a baby.

- We love our son. He looks more like a Kuzmič than a Bohall so far and I say that he looks kind of distinguished with his prominent nose. Petra says he looks like Kermit (the frog) so she calls him Kermy. He doesn’t seem offended yet, so I haven’t stopped her.


Unfortunately Petra has to stay in the hospital for a few more days. Enoh is having a hard time eating (I don’t know why – Croatian food is the best!) so they need to monitor his weight. Other than that this whole experience has been wonderful. We so appreciate those who have prayed for, supported and loved us as much as they have!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Meet our son Enoh Daniel Bohall!

“The best way I can describe it is ‘shock'” said my wife after she returned to her normal state of mind. “The combination of the most pain and the greatest joy you've had in your life is just shocking.” That was her summary of the last few hours of labor. Petra had contractions for 59 hours (during which she couldn't sleep a wink) before finally giving birth. She performed magnificently though, coming through at the end when it looked like she wouldn’t have any more strength for the last few pushes. There weren’t even any insults directed toward my mother, me, or my responsibility for getting her into this mess. We'll never know for sure, but if a woman ever makes the case that they can endure more pain than men, I won’t argue.

If it was hard for Enoh we couldn’t tell – he went through the whole thing unfazed. He let out a halfhearted 'wah' after arriving just to let us know he was alive, then promptly fell asleep. He woke up again 15 minutes later, took a look around for awhile, blew some bubbles, but didn't use his vocal chords again for another few hours. In fact, whenever he cried that first day it was for 5 seconds before doing that cute little whimper and staring into the eyes of whoever had the pleasure of holding him at that moment. Enoh has already been a blessing to us. The gift of a child is so profound that it's very difficult to summarize with words.

The name ‘Enoh’ is the Croatian way of saying Enoch of Old Testament fame. He was the guy of whom the writer of Genesis said “Enoch walked faithfully with God; then he was no more because God took him away” (after 365 years). Our desire is to walk with God and we could hope for nothing other than that for our son.

It’s not really a Croatian name – the nurses here have resorted to using Daniel when addressing him because they’re not familiar with the name ‘Enoh’. We both like the way it sounds in Croatian and since we live here it’s spelled the way it’s written in the Croatian Bible. If you want to give it a try you can say the ‘e’ like you would in ‘beg’. The ‘no’ sounds like the ‘no’ in ‘knock’. Finally the ‘h’ is guttural - like a happy-medium between ‘k’ and ‘h’.

Chinese superstition aside, I was hoping he would be born at 8:00 or 8:08. Officially the papers say that he was born at 8:05, but it was actually 8:07. If the clock had been set a minute later perhaps the doctor’s would have noticed the significance of 8/8/08 at 8:08 and written it down rather than rounding to the nearest 5. In all fairness, Petra’s dad is to blame for her long labor. On Tuesday when she called her parents to tell them that the contractions had started, he told her that it would be great if she could just wait a couple days to have the baby on the 8th. Aren’t we men so thoughtful.

The ratio between the woman's role in labor and the man's is extremely lopsided. On top of that, the man is able to enjoy the gift without going through any of the pains of unwrapping. So with that disclaimer, I will say the whole experience was exhilarating for me. Those final minutes when Enoh arrived were pure emotional joy – perhaps the most exciting few minutes of my life. I will anxiously anticipate the next time I'm in the delivery room with my wife if God blesses us with another child.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Marriage as Culture Shock

My sister-in-law is a huge Leo Tolstoy fan. She’s into Tolstoy literature like Michael Jackson’s into plastic surgery – it has reshaped her. And apparently Tolstoy also influenced Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr. among others. That, in addition to the fact that he’s considered a literary genius is enough for me to listen to some of the things he had to say.

In the introduction to my blog I mentioned the fact that marriage can sometimes fall under the category of culture shock. It seems that there are others who agree, including Leo Tolstoy. So here’s Tolstoy on marriage from Anna Karenina:

Levin had been married three months. He was happy, but not at all in the way he had expected to be. At every step he found his former dreams disappointed, and new, unexpected surprises of happiness. He was happy; but on entering upon family life he saw at every step that it was utterly different from what he had imagined. At every step he experienced what a man would experience who, after admiring the smooth, happy course of a little boat on a lake, should get himself into that little boat. He saw that it was not all sitting still, floating smoothly; that one had to think too, not for an instant to forget where one was floating; and that there was water under one, and that one must row; and that his unaccustomed hands would be sore; and that it was only to look at it that was easy; but that doing it, though very delightful, was very difficult.

I think he’s right on. In fact, I’ve found that it’s often after some of the more difficult moments that the ‘unexpected surprises of happiness’ find their ways into our marriage. Sure, marriage can be culture shock, but I can’t imagine my life without the wonderfully committed relationship I have with my wife.