Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Who Is God?

Do you ever look back at one period of your life and still blush as you recall something you said?  I remember sitting in Sunday School as a 15 years old teenager.  Feeling very comfortable in my surroundings and confident with my Biblical knowledge I challenged our teacher: "Is there anything you can teach me about the Bible that I don't already know?"

Fourteen years later I'm the one being challenged.  Recently, I've taken an interest in several books written by very different authors from different perspectives.  They share one focus though - that we, as Christians must continue our search for who God is. 

The Challenge of Jesus by N.T. Wright is a quest for the historical Jesus.  Wright shivers at the notion that we - whether Roman Catholic, Protestant, Eastern Orthodox, or Evangelical - know exactly who Jesus was. 
I believe...that each generation has to wrestle afresh with the question of Jesus, not least its Biblical roots if it is to be truly the church at all - not that we should engage in abstrat dogmatics to the detriment of our engagement with the world, but that we should discover more and more of who Jesus was and is precisely in order to be equipped to engage with the world he came to save.  And this is a task for the whole church especially those appointed to leadership and teaching roles within it. 
Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes was a birthday gift from my dad last year.  I cracked it open 10 months later and have found it to be thought provoking and very helpful.  Kenneth E. Bailey is a theologian who spent the better part of his life teaching in the Middle East.  His goal is to "help the reader...better understand the mind of Christ, and the mind of the Gospel author/editors as the recorded and interpreted the traditions available to them".

Finally, a book I borrowed from a friend, God is Not... challenges our (mis?)conceptions of who God is.  The primary goal of the book is to "suggest that it is harder to think and speak of God than people normally imagine". 

During the season when tradition and religion often sneak their way into faith, I've found it refreshing to be challenged by the mystery of who God is.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Let It Snow! (But Don't Ask Questions.)

                                                                                   Orahovica December 2009
Although Croatia has a similar climate to that of New England’s, it typically receives less snow. I haven't been here during a major snowstorm so I haven't had the chance to compare snowfall (and the reaction to it) in Croatia to the hysteria I experienced in New England.

So when it began snowing the other day I started asking questions. How long is it going to snow? How much will we get? What roads should I avoid? Will there be any cancellations or delays?

It just goes to show that I've been programmed by local news stations in America (or is it maybe just the Boston area?) to ask questions. The sort of questions only "Breaking News" coverage can answer. The sort of questions only meteorologists with snow covered jackets and wind torn hair backed by the waves of Cape Cod can satisfy. The sort of questions that will promote worry, stress and excitement that keep us glued to our television sets or computer screens.

When I got home on Monday after surviving the snowy roads I switched on the TV. But I did not find a list of cancellations scrolling along the bottom of the screen. There were no advertisements advising me to stay tuned to find out the latest. In fact there was no mention of the snowfall whatsoever until the news came on. Even then the Italian Prime minister took the prime spot.

Only after bloody Berlusconi did they mentioned the snow. Yes, we had some snow. Yes, it's possible it'll continue...for the rest of the week. And that was it. No predictions as to how much. No cancellations. No advisories. No excitement.

Here in Croatia- and especially outside the cities - most lives are much more localized. You work fairly close to where you live. The store is within walking distance. School busses don't arrive to the school en masse like they do in America. If someone can't make it somewhere then they just won't go. But that doesn't mean that no one should go.

Even more importantly, there's not an obsession with "breaking news", "the latest update" or "developing stories". The evening news reports to us what happened and then it ends. They don't give us advice. They don't demand our attention. They just give us the news. Then it's over.

So for a person in whom predictability and planning circulate the bloodstream like caffeine, it can be frustrating. When is this stuff going to stop falling? Have they cleared the roads there, because they certainly haven't plowed here? What am I supposed to do?

Then I remember I’m in Eastern Europe. Planning goes out the window. But so does the media madness that surrounds snowfall. Maybe it’s better that way. Though it will take some getting used to.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Why is Your Car So Dirty?

Owning and driving a car in Croatia is much different than owning and driving a car in America.  I've touched on the shock of driving in Croatia, but being a car owner is just as....well, shocking. 

Just yesterday I was asked why my car was so dirty (blunt honesty is also a specialty here). The thing was, my car wasn't dirty - according to my standards.  I didn't have old McDonalds bags crumpled in the back seat.  I didn't have apple cores or lollipops sticking to the floor mats.  I didn't even have any toys for Enoh or crumbs from Enoh laying where Enoh usually sits. 

Granted, my dashboard was a bit dusty, my floormats had some dirt on them and I had a coffee mug in my cupholder.  But that's it.  I had vacuumed the car a week earlier, and I had washed it a few days ago.  I didn't consider it "dirty" but everyone who was riding in my car did.   

People here clean their cars a lot.  They wash their cars even more often.  And they never, ever have anything extra in them.  Never. 

So if you're planning on moving to Croatia say goodbye to your college days when Dunkin Donuts Coolatta Cups collected on the floor.  Wave farewell to keeping clothes in your trunk.  Say sayonara to the days when having a muddy truck meant you were Ford Tough.  Because where I live now it doesn't mean that at all. 

Whether you own an '89 Yugo or a '09 Mercedes you keep your car as shiney as Joe Pesci's tooth in Home Alone. 

And I can't say I blame them.  Let's use a Volkswagon Jetta for example.  This American VW website claims the new 2010 Jetta starts at $17,605.  In Croatia you would have to pay approximately $32,900 (a little more with a current drop in the exchange rate) for a 2010 WV Jetta.  If you'd like an automatic transmission push that price up past $35,000 and you've got yourself the same car for twice the price in a country in which the average salary is significantly lower. 

Granted, most Croatians don't buy new Jettas, but the price for used cars is also considerably higher in Croatia.  Put simply, it's expensive to drive here - especially when you add in the price of European gas. 

Someone once told me you value what you pay for.  In this context, if cleaning your car consistently means you value it, I am beginning to understand why.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Meeting Jolly Old Saint Nicholas

Today was a first for daddy and me. My parents and I were invited to meet St. Nicholas (Sveti Nikola) in one of the schools where they teach English. Being from America, daddy thought Santa and St. Nick were one in the same. Though there is much debate on the issue, St. Nick didn't look anything like the red-suited bowl full of jelly bellied fella we saw in the American malls last year.

Nor did his entourage include reindeer. Instead there was a horse and carriage in front of the school as we arrived.We walked inside and saw St. Nicholas talking with the schoolchildren.

We also saw his rival Krampus who managed to scare me, mommy and the whole first grade class. According to tradition, if you're naughty you receive a stick from Krampus rather than a present on St. Nicholas day. I don't know how they knew, but I got a bag full of goodies which my parents promised to help me consume. Then I got to meet them face to face - much to my dismay.
All's well that ends in food. We had a good time. Thanks to the principal in Mikleuš for the invitation!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Hungry in Hungary

I have a thing for Chinese food. Not the fancy Chinese restaraunts with the nicely folded napkins and wine glasses. For me, the smaller the restaraunt, the better. You've seen the ones with only one table and a chair inside. Or the ones in the food court with the nice lady handing out sesame chicken samples. That's what I'm talking about.

So a few weeks ago, when we made the short trip over the border to Hungary and went to an American looking shopping mall, I was ecstatic to find a "Chinese Bufe" restaraunt.

And the funny thing is, I half expected them to speak English. 99% of Croatia is made up of Croats, Serbs or Slovenians. They all have generally the same skin color. So when I see anyone from somewhere outside the Balkans my brain immediately reverts back to melting-pot America.

Well these Chinese cooks and food-hander-outers still had their Chinese accents, but here they were accompanied by the Hungarian language of which I know only one word. Thankfully when I got in line I found I was able to point to my chicken of choice and easily accept the rice that was dumped alongside. I asked for a Nestea (which is printed on the bottle) and indicated I wanted the peach flavor (which is also printed on the bottle). After paying 1,200 forints (a bargain) for my meal I sat down and enjoyed my food with Petra and Enoh.

But the whole experience of not knowing how to communicate at all with a stranger, being stared at as I point awkwardly and trying to pay with money I'm not at all familiar with was one I hadn't had in awhile - despite living in a foreign country.

I don't speak fluently yet, but I've been in Croatia long enough to know what the cashier will ask when and exactly how to respond without getting the "you're not from here are you?" look. And isn't that all we want?

It's no fun to be an outsider. Especially when you're hungry in Hungary.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

One Thought on Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day in Croatia is nonexistent. Unfortunately the practice of giving thanks is almost just as foreign. If there's ever a time when an American misses - even longs for their tradition, today is the day.

Last evening I joined a small informal house group gathering in a nearby town. I was invited to share something from a spiritual nature so I talked about thankfulness. We wrote down at least five things we were thankful for and then openly shared our lists with one another.

Sadly, some of those lists quickly turned into stories. Stories of abusive husbands. Stories of death. Stories that turned into tears. Stories that would continue as soon as the meeting was over. An activity meant to fill our hearts with joy left me wondering if I should have picked another theme.

This is just one example. But hopelessness, loneliness and depression fill many lives in this part of the world.

And as I write I realize it's this way everywhere. Fear is just around the corner, hunger is an ever-present feeling and pain is a constant for millions around our globe - America included.
________________________________________________

I looked forward to reading the Thanksgiving greetings on facebook as our day came to an end. It was a strange diversion I needed. I missed the Lions, la-z-boys, and laughter that have become symbols of past Thanksgiving Days. Today may have been shockingest shock of all.

Somewhere, everywhere, people are hurting. May our hearts, though overflowing with gratitude, never forget that.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What Do You Do?

Strangers have probably happened upon this site, read a post or two and wondered, what in the world do you actually do in Croatia. In the past I offered a few posts explaining our "job", but now we have created a new site that will explain what we do to a much greater extent.

The main purpose will be to offer our supporters a clearer glimpse of what our ministry is, what God is doing in Croatia, and how they can support our efforts.

If you're interested I invite you to go here.

Friday, November 13, 2009

I (don't?) Know Where You Live!

Chances are, if you're an American, you will have moved to another house, city or country by the time you're finished reading this post.

And don't think I'm just pointing fingers. My family moved every 5 or 6 years from the time I was born until I moved out of the house. And I followed in my parent's footsteps by making my own - right out of the country. Petra and I have lived in 5 different cities, 6 different apartments or houses and on 2 continents in our 4 years of marriage.

But what made me notice the trend was our address book. We have crossed out and written in so many addresses of our American friends that we need a new address book. The gracious 2 address slots that were provided for any individual or family have been used up in many cases.

Croatians on the other hand don't move. The dependency on family, the current financial situation and traditional values that exist here in Eastern Europe keep most in the village, town or city they were born in. Even after marriage many couples move into one of the parents' houses.

Maybe you could say Croats are like the stubborn donkeys who dig their hooves into the mud all along the Dalmation Coast. Or maybe they're the smart ones who would rather not bother with all the stress that comes with changing locations.

Either way, I've found that to become Croatian means to stay put. With the beauty, hospitality and cuisine we've experienced so far, I'm planning on it - at least for a little while.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Learning the Hard Way

It is no secret - learning Croatian has been extremely difficult for me. As I mentioned earlier, being shy hasn't helped, nor has the eagerness of many Croatians to practice their English with me.

But in my struggle to learn how to learn Croatian, I've realized the best way is to act like I know Croatian. Crazy, but true.

Before I realized this concept, I often acted as if I had to humbly apologize for my bumbling tongue before beginning whatever it was I had to say. Whether I was talking to a cashier, an acquaintance or a drunk man at the cemetary, I was constantly self-conscious of my grammatical ineptitude. And everyone could tell.

But the other day, I confidently walked into the book store, asked for 60 envelopes, a poster board and several copies. I probably made 5 grammatical errors in the process. But I received everything I asked for along with a compliment "Dobro ide!" ('it's going well' - referring to my progress in language learning) and a smile.

I thanked the lady for the pleasant words and realized the whole acting thing was a good idea.

As I thought about the exchange, and my new approach to learning Croatian, I remembered that C.S. Lewis talked about this sort of concept in Mere Christianity:

"Do not waste time bothering whether you 'love' your neighbor, act as if you did. As soon as we do this we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him. If you injure someone you dislike, you will find yourself disliking him more. If you do him a good turn you find yourself disliking him less."

___________________________________________________

Enoh's not concerned about the fact that he doesn't know how to walk like me yet. He just walks the best he can. And you know what? The process of "acting" like he can walk will naturally turn him into a professional walker. Nor does he care that he can't say "goodnight" yet, his "Ny, Ny" communicates just as well.

Whether it's learning a language or how to live like Christ, I'm finding that action has a big part to play in the process. Thankfully I have a child who's helping me learn.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Learning the Easy Way

It's been 3 months since I updated daddy's blog and though I sleep 12 hours a night (and 3 during the day) when I'm awake I'm a bustle of activity. One Croatian friend even called me a "mala vatra" (little fire). I've been using my time wisely though:

I've been learning how to eat:
And how not to:How to walk: And how to fall: How to clean:And how to make a mess:
I've also been learning how to become a real Eastern European:
How to read:
And how to pose for pictures:

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

McShock

I may have touched on this in an earlier post, but it is worth repeating.

If you are looking for a fine family restaraunt in the country of Croatia; if you want a place where you know the food is fresh, the kitchen is clean and the servers are sweet - then McDonalds is your place.

The first time I stepped into a McDonalds in Croatia I was shocked by the size of a "large" Coke. But after I slurped it down I noticed that families were sitting and eating together. I saw clean floors. I witnessed friendly cashiers. I saw expensive looking chairs. And apparently that wasn't good enough for them. That particular McDonalds has recently been refurbished with 2 flatscreen televisions and a brand new play area.

Why all of this?

A friend of ours, who was fired from McDonalds for using the wrong kind of cleaning sponge on the floor answered that question: "They told us this place has to be perfect in order to protect the American reputation. We have to be nicer than anyone else. We have to clean better than anyone. We even take toothbrushes to the space between the tiles!"

And what do the workers think about working there? Another acquaintance told us "It's the best working envirnonment I've been in. Everyone is so friendly, the pay is great and I feel like I have a purpose when I go to work."

If that's not culture shock for you I don't know what is.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Good Leadership

I came across this post on my friend Milo's blog the other day. Whether you're Croatian or American, good leadership can be refreshingly shocking. Milo's observations are valuable to anyone serving as a leader in any capacity:

I have spent the last 5 months in the Intensive care unit with my little boy Josiah Nathaniel. During this time, I have witnessed some things that can learned about leadership, and a working environment that may be helpful to your organization.

1. Everyone understands the chain of command, and the appropriate relationships within that chain.
2. The collective opinion of the leadership group is of great worth and value to those who answer to them.
3. Disagreements of opinions by those in leadership are resolved behind closed doors, then presented as a unified decision.
4. The opinion of those involved in the day to day work/care (i.e.. parents and bedside nurses) is regularly evaluated and listened to.
5. Every doctor and nurse has a training time when they arrive, but after that they are expected and encouraged to make their own decisions, and carry their own weight.

Numbers 6-10 here.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Hooked on Phonics

There's nothing better in language learning than a nice phonetic alphabet to get you started. Just ask anyone learning Croatian. As soon as you know the alphabet, theoretically you know how to pronounce every word in the dictionary.

So before I even moved to Croatia I was pronouncing Croatian words. After we moved, when I attended church, I was singing along to all the worship songs. I didn't have the slightest clue what they were singing about (unless it was a translated song) but I sang nonetheless.

But if you've grown up on a steady diet of phonetic letters, the English alphabet will feel like a punch in the gut.

The first English class I ever taught here was a lesson in this fact. I was going through the alphabet with some adult beginners. After I had shattered everything they knew about the letter A, there was one lady who became increasingly frustrated. Finally at "W" she lost it. At the time I had no idea what she was saying, but later one of the students told Petra what had happened and Petra translated:

"She was cursing you out Jeremy", Petra said laughing. "She couldn't figure out how it was called "double-U" when it looks like "double-V" and she definitely couldn't understand how if the letter starts with a "d" sound (Double-U) how the word "window" starts with a sound she can't even make!" (There's no "wh" sound in Croatian.)

And the lady never recovered. She came a few more weeks but then dropped the class altogether. Fortunately others have been a bit more patient, and thankfully I've learned how to deal with the fear and trembling that comes with the English alphabet since, but the problem makes sense. Consider the following:

Did you know that GHOTI could be pronounced like "fish"?

- If you take the GH from "enough" that gives you the "f" sound.
- The O from "women" gives you the "i" sound.
- And the TI from "nation is the same as "sh" in fish.

It's no wonder English learners have a hard time figuring out how to pronounce words. Anyone for a phonetic English alphabet?

Thursday, October 15, 2009

ID Please

Petra and I have had the opportunity to guest-teach English in the local High School here in Orahovica this fall. One of the topics we used to get students talking was "culture shock". What does it mean? We followed that conversation with an activity where the students had to come up with 3 things Americans would be shocked at here in Croatia.

Just about every class brought up alchohol. Some mentioned that Americans would be blown away by the strength of Croatian "rakija". Others noted how many people drink in Croatia. One person mentioned the legal drinking age (18) which is not strictly enforced.

And that's true. If I know where I could find underage drinkers on any given Saturday night, I'm sure the police do too.

But it got me thinking about the "legal age" a person has to be in order to do something.

For example, in Iowa, a 15 year old can get their permit to drive. Here you have to be at least 18 and pay an arm and a leg for that privelege.

In America you can't legally drink until you're 21. And you know what? That's not necessarily a bad thing. But think of all the things you can do (legally) at 18.

One friend in Croatia thought it seemed strange that an American 18 year old is allowed to join the military, kill someone in another country and come back to a celebration. But they're not allowed to have a drink. They may have a point.

On the other side of the ocean, Croatian law inforcement could easily lower the underage drinking rate. But what brings in the most money here? Bars, cafes and discos. Why stop now?

What dictates the legal age in a given country? Values? Money? Tradition?

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Signs Part II

And then there's this one, which is not too hard to figure out, but probably has a good story behind it.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Signs - Pictures Worth a Thousand Words

One thing I love about Europe is the signs. In America, we're so boring. We just write whatever it is that needs to be said, attach it to a post and put it up. But in Europe, where practically every country has a different language, they need to accomodate foreigners and create signs with pictures. As one of those foreigners, I've found many of the signs quite interesting. Like this one for example:

Friday, October 9, 2009

Who's Got the Floor?

As I was flipping through a book of suggestions for English teaching activities the other day I came across one that included the students sitting on the ground.

With hardly a thought I turned to the next page. "That one wouldn't work here" I said to myself.

Let me tell you a little bit about the death trap known as the "floor" here in Croatia. It's a place that must be quarantined. Whether it's slippers, rugs, chairs or shoes there has to be at least one degree of separation between your body and the floor - very often two or three.

I even heard from a reliable source that back in the day, Yugoslav babies didn't learn how to crawl. They went from laying down to practically running - a walker being their one mode of transition and transportation so as not to be overly exposed to the floor.

And what do I say about this crazy mindset?

Bravo Croatians! At least we have some sensible human beings among us on this planet!

I can remember being in 2nd or 3rd grade at one of those assemblies where the bigger kids came to put on a program for us youngins. On this particular day the 6th graders sang us the song about Joe - you know, the fellow who had a "wife and 3 kids and worked in a button factory".

Right about the time Joe was "working the button with his left foot" I was figuring out how I could misbehave in order to get the knot (caused by sitting on the floor) worked out of my left glute with a spanking. Who were these evil creatures called teachers who made us sit on the ground anyway? And why did they get to sit in chairs while we sat on a cold hard floor for hours at a time?

Here in Croatia students are not allowed to sit on the floor. Every student has a chair (and usually a pillow!) to sit on during larger school gatherings.

Many ask if it's safe here in Croatia. Sure it is. And as long as the floor situation stays the same, you, your bottom, and your feet will be much better taken care of here than in America.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

I Heart Croatia

A handful of recent posts may have given my readers the impression that there's a lot to complain about in Croatia. "Very little baseball", "difficulty with paperwork", "the language is so difficult", so on and so on. Jeremy, quit whining!

But the fact is, I love it here. And I'm not just saying that. Here are the top 10 reasons I love Croatia.

10. The beauty of the land. It is no coincidence that Creation and Croatian sound so similar.

9. The food.

8. The relative safety. A stranger came up to Enoh the other day and gave him a cookie after Enoh flashed a smile. We realized later, had we been in America we would have had some skepticism. Not here.

7. The climate. All four seasons like New England but a longer summer and less snow make it ideal for the Sensors among us.

6. The generosity of the people.

5. The education. This is a long story that many Americans living in Croatia (not to mention Croatians living in Croatia) wouldn't agree with. Post forthcoming with solid arguments.

4. Our job. We have wonderful bosses (see 2) who give us the flexibility to do what we feel called to. We have a sovereign God who has directed our steps. We are able to use the gifts God has given us for things we enjoy doing in a place we love to live. Financial security is a good thing, but it's not the most important.

3. Orahovica. There's no place like home.

2. Our church and our bosses. We have possibly the most godly man we have met as our pastor. His humility, wisdom and Christ-like example have made our local church what it is today - a fellowship that will have a profound effect on Croatia for years to come.

1. My wife. Croatia, its people, culture, beauty, tradition, education system, temperment and attitude have stronly influenced her. "Rough around the edges but undeniably beautiful" goes a long way to describing both.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Personality Disorder?

One of the first things I ever learned about myself was that I am an introvert. My dad was really into the Myers-Briggs type indicator tests when I was a kid/teenager and he often told my mom and I how introverted we were.

So last week when Petra and I visited some friends in Zagreb and they had us sit down to take the Myers-Briggs test, I knew what the I vs. E result would be. What I soon realized was that the fact that I am introverted has some influence on my ability to learn a language.

Here's why:

1. "I am a very private person and I don't like a lot of attention...I really like solitude" That's what the M/B evaluation says. And I agree. Usually in solitude, I don't do a lot of talking - especially in another language.

2. I value deep relationships with few people more than surface-level relationships with a lot of people. I don't do well in groups. Here's the problem. For example, I began a conversation with a good friend of mine like this a few weeks ago without asking how he was, or commenting on the beauty of the day:

"So I was thinking about how in Philippians we are told to immitate Christ. But when you live in a nation-state (like Croatia or America) and in some ways feel it's part of your duty to defend your family, culture and tradition you are suddenly thrown into an environment where you may have the choice to act agressively towards another person for "good" reason. Jesus never did that. So to what extent are we to "humble ourselves" in the way Christ did given our present situation?"

My friend, even though he had better things to do, indulged me and we had a good conversation. But had I tried in Croatian, we would have been there all night. Sure, it's much easier to talk about the weather, the nice new doors on the church or my friend's haircut. But honestly, I don't care nearly as much about those things (unless we'll be playing baseball in the nice weather soon) as I do my question that would make me think and perhaps build a closer relationship with a friend.

Is this an excuse? Well, sort of, yes. But knowing yourself goes a long way to improving yourself. For me, learning Croatian means learning how to be more extroverted. Just thought you should know.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Ride With Those Who Ride

In Romans Paul tells us to "rejoice with those who rejoice; weep with those who weep". Lately the Wilsons and Josiah have been riding a roller coaster through major improvements and discouraging setbacks. While it's impossible to join them, we do have the privilege of bringing them before the Lord. Please remember to pray and stay updated on Josiah's progress!


Tuesday, September 22, 2009

The Most Important Verse in the Bible

In a more focused endeavor to learn Croatian I've set out to memorize several verses in Croatian during the week. So yesterday, wondering which verse I would memorize today and partly out of curiousity, partly out of laziness I did a quick google search: "The Most Important Verse in the Bible."

I soon realized I had opened a can of worms.

I was expecting John 3:16 to come up at least 5 times out of 10. But what I found was that most sites I clicked on often had long, very opinionated explanations or testimonies about a certain verse that people centered their lives around.

The author of one site explained that "if a person really believes Genesis 1:1, they would not find it difficult to believe anything else recorded in the Bible."

Someone else feels the key is in Matthew 7:21. "Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven..." They go on to exhort everyone to actually do the will of the Lord rather than merely calling on his name. (Interestingly, neither of these verses, nor the authors of the webites - mention grace.)

Is it possible for there to be a most important verse and still have a well informed faith?

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Labor Pains

"The thing I dread most about having another baby is not the labor - it's the paperwork!" My wife announced the other day. And for a woman who had contractions for 59 hours last summer that's saying something.

Take, for example, a few years ago when Petra had to figure out why some of her paper work had "Kuzmič while others had Kuzmić". The difference in the last letter is the difference between a Slovenian last name and a Croatian last name although both letters are in the Croatian alphabet. Still other American documents had a plain "c" that complicted the matter even more.

We spent a month gathering birth certificates, passports, high school and college transcripts and identification cards, while visiting police stations, health insurance offices and city halls in several different towns. Why all the fuss? Because Petra had to change her name to Bohall.

When we first moved to Croatia my mom had to drive to Albany NY from Worcester MA to get my birth certificate. Had I lost mine? No. They just needed an original that was "up-to-date".

And though this kind of bureaucracy causes headaches and short tempers on both sides of the window it's much worse for those people going through legitimate legal battles or need urgent medical attention.

Take my friend for example. His mother who passed away years ago was fired from her job illegally. The State has declared that her family has a right to the money she would have earned had she continued working. Unfortunately the town in which she worked has found a way to stall the legal process indefinitely. He's not sure if he'll ever see the money that has been declared legally his because of a glitch in the system that no one cares to look into.

Sure, I've waited in DMV lines in the States. I had to fill out college applications and scholarship forms. I even hurried up and waited in the military. But if someone would rather go through labor than go through this process, I'm thinking some changes are in order.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Baseball World Cup Comes to Croatia

Apparently telling your average Croatian citizen that the Baseball World Cup is coming to their country is like announcing that your Grandpa's croquet league is holding their championship in your backyard. They think it's nice, but then they continue their conversation.

Yesterday we had the chance to see Croatia and Great Britain play the last game of the opening round of the Baseball World Cup in Zagreb. I knew Stuart Scott wouldn't be called in to cover the game for ESPN or that the fans wouldn't be calling their local radio station talking about Ivan Racic's lack of production the previous day.
But I was plesantly surprised. Despite a low turnout for Batting Practice, the stands eventually filled to standing-room-only making the announced attendance of 600 seem low. Even among all the Croatian spoken during the game I ingested a steady diet of "line-drive" "strike-out" and even "DH" baseball lingo. The guy next to me was able to tell me about each hitter and also informed me as to where most of the baseball talent comes from in Croatia.

Despite the 4-1 loss, I was convinced that there's a lot of potential in Croatia. They played a polished defensive game, didn't give up a run until the 6th and played to win despite their very slim chances of advancing to the next round.

The best part was I was able to share the day with my wife and 8 players from our team in Orahovica. Here are some sights and sounds of the game:

video

For more information about the 2009 Baseball World Cup go here.

For more about Croatia's part in hosting the first round go here.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

No Smoking - A Thing of the Past

I walked into a Croatian restaraunt the other day. With hardly a sniff, I felt like I was transported all the way back to...4 months ago.

Bravo Croatia! You were the only Balkan country to ban indoor smoking. Who cares if it only lasted through the summer? With hardly a thought to how it would affect local bars and restaraunts you pioneered an effort to lower the number of smokers in your country. You made a statement to the nonsmokers (the majority of the country) by showing respect for their desire for clean air. You even distinguished yourself as a country who would comply with this EU standard even if you weren't completely on board with other European Union requirements.

I applaud your efforts Croatia.

Too bad the temperature dip, the subsequent move inside and the drop in sales forced your efforts to go up in smoke.

Can't say I'm surprised.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Summer of Winter

Isn't it funny how sometimes you hear music and it takes you right back to another period in your life? Whenever I hear "All-Star" by Smashmouth I go back to 1999 where we had the pop music station on in our changing room in the Corps. One of the Marines even incorporated the song into a running cadence.

But last summer I rediscovered the beauty of Vivaldi's Four Seasons - specifically the first movement of Winter. Whenever I hear that piece it will remind me of the summer of 2008.

And a few weeks ago I heard it - but in a new way. Petra and I were in Dubrovnik when we encountered an ensemble made up of a violinist, guitarist, floutist and a bottlist (see percussionist) performing the Allegro non molto masterfully. The video doesn't do them justice, but you get the idea.

video

Another World

If you're a fan of bridges to Terabithia or rings that take you from one pool to another, you might be interested in experiencing this other world.

We were able to visit with relatives from both sides of Petra's family last week when they came to Croatia. One of her cousins (not pictured) from Slovenia offered to build a tree house for two of her American cousins (pictured below) who are 11 and 7. Here are the results:
Pictures never do fantasy justice. Neither do blogs, but if you are interested in another site about another world, check out my father's site: http://www.questmin.org/


Thursday, August 13, 2009

Sunglasses and The Sermon

As I began preparing for my daily walk with Copland along the shoreline of the Adriatic I thought about taking my sunglasses. They're the cheap kind, the ones the vendors sell on the street that look like the latest name brand shades everyone's wearing. And even though they'll break if you sniff, they're stylish. The problem is I don't have contacts - a luxury I had back when I bought the glasses, but one we've decided not to renew. So in order to put on my stylin' shades, I'd have to take off my government issued 3rd and 4th eyes.

And I actually thought about doing it. I wouldn't be able to see the sea. The rocks that give the shoreline its uniqueness would be invisible, my path blurred. All told, the sunglasses would be worn solely for the sake of vanity.

But as I was going through the decision-making process it occurred to me that this is the general principle Jesus was getting at in so much of his Sermon on the Mount. It's the difference between being seen and seeing - looking good versus seeing well.

Take Matthew 6:5 for example: "When you give to the needy do not let your left and know what your right hand is doing." (NIV) Apparently there were some who were perverting the act of caring for others (seeing) and using it for the their own purposes (being seen).

And throughout the rest of The Sermon I get the impression Jesus wants us to keep our natural desire to be noticed in check, while increasing our ability to see clearly. What are we to look for?

I'll leave the pleasure of seeking to you.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

I Like Birthdays!

I haven't been around too long so this birthday thing is still rather new. They tell me yesterday was my first. I'm not quite sure how long until the next one, but I'm ready for number two! Take a look:

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Oh Bee Gee Why? En.

OBGYN.

Gynecologist. Whatever you want to call them - I'm not uncomfortable anymore.

We've visited our friendly gynecologist quite a bit the last couple years. He's kind. He loves watching our kids wiggle around on his TV screen. And, he's getting up there in years.

Funny story:

We were headed back to the States for Christmas 2008 in 24 hours. Petra had taken a couple pregnancy tests that indicated she was pregnant, but had to see an OBGYN in order to make sure she and the baby were healthy and it was ok to travel. We ended up going to the only one who had time to see her.

The office looked more American than Croatian with a nice waiting room, pop music playing and the latest issue of Elle. We thought we were going to have to pay an arm and a leg to keep seeing this guy.

But after 5 minutes of getting to know Dr. Lederer, Petra realized he had met her before. 23 years ago, Petra's mom had been pregnant and had to get permission to travel to the States. While it wasn't legal for him to give her permission they talked about ways to make her look less pregnant than she was so the airlines would let her fly. One week later Petra was born in Illinois.

Fast forward to today. Dr. Lederer has become a good friend. And he should be. Now that we're pregnant (Petra more than I) again, we've seen him over 20 times in the last year-and-a-half.
He's affordable ($10 a visit) and will watch the ultrasound with us for a half hour if he doesn't have a patient after us.

Do you appreciate your OBGYN as much as we do?

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Everything I Need to Know About Potty-Training I Learned From Baseball

After two weeks of not seeing my son, I've got him all to myself while Petra works time–and-a-half at camp. Even while I was in the States I began to create a gameplan of moving Enoh from diapers to underwear before he turned one. (That was of course before my wife brought me down to earth and told me it was impossible.) Regardless, I figured this two-week period was the time to teach my son everything I know.

So perhaps you think I'm crazy for putting my 11 month old son on the potty. Maybe I am. But the guy's batting .800. That's right - 8 times in the last 10 days he's found a way to get it done. Yesterday it was more like a bunt. But give the little guy credit – he put the ball in play. We've had a few hit and runs (crawls) and the first day we tried, he hit it out of the park – and the potty. But that one's my fault – I had it turned the wrong way.

What's the secret? Good timing I guess. He usually steps up to the plate right after a nap. I also have a couple toys he can only play with when he's on the pot. It's never a sure bet, but last time I checked .800 was still a pretty good batting average.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What I Learned in America

For some reason culture shock has hit me harder the longer I experience it. Not that it gets any more difficult, but for some reason the differences between Croatia and America seem even more pronounced now than they used to. So with my latest trip to America a few days behind me, here are some things (related and unrelated to culture shock) that I noticed. In no particular order:

1. How much I love my wife and son. Does distance make the heart grow fonder? In our case yes!

2. How much I will miss my parents and newly-married brother. Spending time with them was more valuable than I imagined - especially now that we probably won't be back for another year-and-a-half.

3. How big Americans are. One article I read said that 26% of Americans are obese...that's more than Croatia.

4. How convenient many things are in America. Need directions? Mapquest. Want a book? Amazon.com has a wide selection and delivers quickly. Coffee and WIFI? Dunkin Donuts, Brueggers, the local coffee shop, or my parent's house -which leads to number 5:

5. How much choice there is in America. I'm getting worse and worse at decision making because of having less choice in Croatia. Maybe that's a good thing.

6. My propensity to overindulge in baseball. Sure I was only there for 2 weeks so I took as much as I could in, but man, I think I might be addicted.

7. How amazing the miracle of life is. I am so thankful for the opportunity I had to see Josiah. He and his parents have been heroes in how they've dealt with his heart condition.

8. How I feel increasingly like a foreigner in America. Can't put my finger on this one.

9. How inexpensive clothes are in America. Enoh's set for the next year because of Carter's amazing sales and my parent's generosity.

10. God's constant sovereignty. Not that I'm always conscious of it. Or even like it. But God has revealed his sovereignty in mighty ways throughout the last few weeks.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Separation Anxiety

Separation anxiety refers to the horror your child exhibits when you put them in someone elses arms and leave the room. It usually happens around 1 year old. Enoh still may have another month or so to go before he gets there, but I'm feeling a tinge of separation anxiety myself.

Back in January we decided that I would come to the States alone for my brother's wedding. There were a few reasons Petra wasn't able to come, but I still thought about bringing Enoh along myself. Better sense kicked in and I'm here in America alone.

Don't get me wrong. Being with my family, attending my brother's wedding, and seeing two ballgames (a cubs included!) makes the trip well worth it. And thank goodness for Skype without which I wouldn't be able to see Petra and Enoh at all during my two week stay.

But still...

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

No Smoking (For Now)

First time I walked into a Croatian police station I felt like I was on the set of the original Mission: Impossible. You know how they used to portray the communist characters – thick accents, hard as nails dictators and smoke. Commies always smoked.

So I half expected Mr. Phelps to walk in the door as I waited to get permission to stay in Croatia. The small room had it all: posters that dated back to the Pioneers, 70's style unis, flakey paint and a little square of cardboard to cover the hole at the bottom of the reception window.

And smoke. All four policemen were smoking as if their jobs depended on it.

That was only 3 years ago but it seems a generation ago now that the no smoking signs have gone up in every public indoor location in the country. Another government building – the post office – has been transformed into an up-to-date European service station simply by eliminating the smoke.

But it doesn't come naturally here.

Telling your average Croatian bar-frequenter that he can't light up in the cafe is like informing the U.S. Marines they can't bear arms in a battle. Impossible.

Luckily for the cafe-owners, there's always outside. The fact that the law was enacted at the beginning of summertime is no coincidence. Your average Kafić probably won't start losing money until the fall. That's the time when tourists get out of dodge anyway and the economic downturn is expected.

But will the law stand? At the beginning of '09 the government passed a no-work on Sunday legislation. Every grocery store had to close its doors all day no matter who wanted to shop. Once they realized they were losing 1 million Euros a day (no, they don't even use the Euro here yet, they just use it to measure money when they want to make a point) they did away with that one.

Who knows how long our public locations will lack smoky air? There aren't any 'just say no' ad campaigns, no Drug Abuse Resistance Education in the schools and smoking when you're 13 is still cool. The number of smokers in the country could actually be on the increase.

So what happens when the autumn winds blow everyone back indoors? Will the law stand firm or will it fade into the air – Croatia's hopes to get into the EU drifting along with it?

If you ask me, this idea needs another 10 years to be successful. Right now it's just mission impossible.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

BOK

'Bok' - an informal way of saying hello in Croatian. 'BOK' is also the name of our baseball team in Orahovica - 'Baseball Orahovica Klub'.

I began teaching baseball three years ago in Orahovica. They didn't know a thing. Right handers would swing with their left hand on top. Batters would run to third base after hitting the ball. The second baseman would throw the ball to the center-fielder hoping to get an out. They've never watched a baseball game, played catch or collected baseball cards. Needless to say strategies like a suicide squeeze or double switch haven't been covered yet.

But I'm proud of our team. They've really come along this year. One of our supporters sponsored t-shirts for the team - something each player had to earn with 6 attendences. I forgot to order any extra small t-shirts so the poor guys in the front have to wait until I return from America to get theirs even though they're some of the most faithful and energetic players on the team.
Baseball isn't very common in Europe and even less so in Croatia. But who knows, maybe one of these baseball players will be donning an MLB uniform one day.

Friday, June 26, 2009

A Foreign Land

Croatia has been a peaceful country to live in for over 15 years now. Yet, there remain quite a few scars from the war.

20 minutes from our house there's a Serbian village (in Croatia) that was destroyed by the war. Rumor has it that the Croatian government is offering to pay people to rebuild and live in towns like this one. So far it seems not many have taken them up on their offer. Here are some pictures of Pusina.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

It's About Time

If you are a regular reader of the Culture Shock weblog you must have been waiting breathlessly on the edge of your seat for my return to the blogsphere. I'm back.

And not a minute too early.

During my time in the high school marching band we had the following mantra pounded into our heads:

To be early is to be on time
To be on time is to be late
To be late is to be dead

Let's just say much of Eastern Europe wouldn't be populated if the phrase were true here.

A couple nights ago a friend was telling me that she needed something done by 4:00 so she told the person it had to be done by 2:00. It's not that they're incompetent. It's just that they're not concerned about schedule. Certainly there are exceptions to the rule, but that's the way many Eastern Europeans operate.

A meeting that 'starts' at 6:00 will actually start at 6:15, or 6:30 or maybe possibly be delayed until the next day. The person might not even show up. Who knows?

And the reason is that the majority of people here value relationships over schedules. If I arrange to have coffee with someone at 8:00 chances are we'll both be right on time. Then we'll sit, drink, talk, drink and remember we were supposed to be somewhere else 10 minutes ago. That's how it goes.

Maybe in Eastern Europe we should say:

To be late is to be normal
To be on time is to be early
To be early is to be a foriegner

But before you think this foreigner is being critical of my new home, I have to say I have begun to understand the value of relationship over schedule. Is it possible to find a happy-medium?

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Piano Man

Sure, we'd love for Enoh to become a trombone player, but if that doesn't work, it's good to know he's got another viable option.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

The Fine Line Between Cheating and Helping

If American individualism can be symbolized by a mother bird pushing her tweety out of the nest when it's time to learn how to fly the Croatian equivalent could be the mother bird finding extra twigs, straw and grass to enlarge the nest until tweety either learns to fly or stays in the nest. Is that a harsh representation?

Depends on where you live.

Croatians can't believe there are parents who would push their kids out of the nest at 18. Americans can't believe there are 45 year old sons (with jobs) who still live with their parents.

And it's this dependence (or lack thereof) that is one of the biggest cultural shocks a citizen of either country would face if they traveled to the other.

That brings us to today.

I was teaching my last English class of the spring. In order to finish on a cheerful note, I gave them a simple test that reviewed everything we learned in the last semester.

I had noticed in previous classes that a couple students tended to glance at each other's paper, but in a class where there are no grades and people come as they wish I turned a blind eye to the suspicious behavior. Nonetheless, today I purposefully separated everyone in order to get a fair representation of how much each student had learned.

As soon as I had handed the test out though, the daughter of another student craftily turned in her chair in order to steal a peak at her mother's test.

I couldn't believe it!

"Please look at your own paper" I politely said to the entire class. The 15 year old glanced up and gave an embarrassed smile.

But before you could say "compulsive cheater" she turned her face in order to use her peripherals. And to my surprise her mother had her paper situated in a such a way that the answers read like a billboard to her daughter. As I watched them communicate with scribbles on the paper and special eye movements I realized that this behavior had been thoroughly ingrained in both mother and daughter.

So I gave up. I let them cheat. Sure, it didn't matter because I wasn't giving them a grade. But still, shouldn't mommy cover up her paper, and let her tweety fly by herself?

I grew up hearing that "cheaters only hurt themselves". And I still believe it's true. But if you stop to think about how fine the line is between 'cheating' and 'helping' you may begin to understand why there are lots of cheaters in Croatia but very few who are without nests.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Who's in the Driver's Seat Now?

After the last post on this blog, and the subsequent response, Daddy thought it might be good to take a break. "Maybe I'm taking this blogging thing too seriously", he commented. And I agree. So it's my turn now.

But what do I talk about? I have neither started crawling, nor walking. If I'm going to be bilingual you certainly wouldn't know it yet.

There is one thing that's bugging me though. The first thing most people say about me is that I look just like my dad - 'isti tata'.

Come on.

Take this picture for example. I have so much more hair than he does!


Or this one. At least we don't root for the same team!

Whether I'll be more like my mom or my dad, I don't know. But I do know that I am dearly loved by both!

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Make Twitterers of All Nations

The first idea I read about wasn't so bad. In fact, I thought about giving it a try. The 9Marks blog challenged its readers to express the gospel in 140 characters or less - as a twitter message.If nothing else, it would give twitterers a chance to articulate the gospel concisely while possibly solidifying its truth in their minds.

But what followed was something I wasn't ready for.

Time Magazine ran a piece last week about how some churches are allowing - no - encouraging congregants to tweet during the morning worship service. Several churches around the country have upped the band-width in the auditorium, tweaked the projector and displayed anyone and everyone's tweets throughout the announcements, music and message. "Why tempt people with short attention spans with such distractions?", the article wondered. "Because Twitter is hot."

What?

Maybe Pastor John Voelz from Westwinds Community Church in MI expressed it better: We're looking to "make [church] not suck".Well there you go folks. We finally found the answer! Forget discipleship. Forget face-to-face fellowship. Forget studying the Bible during morning worship.

Sure, you could make the case that if people are tweeting during the message they are actively listening. Perhaps. But for every "nothing u do 4 the lord is in vain" tweet you also have "Nice shirt JVo".

What bothers me is that all of a sudden everyone is a preacher. Everybody's voice can be heard these days. And there's a place for that. But not during the morning teaching. Can't we sit still and listen for 30 consecutive minutes like big congregants?

I grew up learning that we should be fed during our weekly meetings. If all the congregation is doing is 'feeding' others with bitesize tweets, our churches are going to be filled with bitesize twitterers - twits.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

"Rejoice With Those Who Rejoice"

"Reserved optimism" is how Milo and Erin Wilson have described their feelings five days after giving birth to a son with a difficult heart condition. Earlier, Erin expressed that it felt like a roller coaster.

Nontheless we rejoice with the Wilsons in the birth of Josiah and continue to pray with them as he has several serious surgeries ahead of him. Stay up to date on http://thewilsonheart.blogspot.com/.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

What are you trying to say?

I encountered this warning on our new inflatable kiddie pool:

Americans, you might not be used to looking for your language, but if you look at the US warning, you'll notice it's considerably more detailed than the Great Britain equivalent (not to mention the Australian). Why is this? What are they trying to say?

Regardless, you do have to wonder why Aussies, Brits and Americans all need different warnings on their kiddie pools.

In related news, Enoh loves the pool. Laci, have the girls bring their swimsuits this weekend - he needs company!