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.