Friday, December 31, 2010

A New Year's Greeting

After a holiday hiatus, I have to get back in the blogging game.  And there's no better way to do so than to rely heavily on one of my favorite Op Ed columnists - David Brooks.  In his latest piece he reviews a book called "All Things Shining".  He highlights several parts of the book, but let me cut to the chase.  Brooks paraphrases authors Hubert Dreyfus of Berkeley and Sean Dorrance Kelly of Harvard when he says this:
The most real things in life well up and take us over. They call this experience “whooshing up.” We get whooshed up at a sports arena, at a political rally or even at magical moments while woodworking or walking through nature.
He then goes on to dismiss some of the conclusions these two philosophers come to, but zeroes in on something that grabbed my attention:
We have official stories we tell about our culture: each individual is the captain of his own ship; we are all children of God. But in practice, willy-nilly, the way we actually live is at odds with the official story. Our most vibrant institutions are collective, not individual or religious. They are there to create that group whoosh: the sports stadium, the concert hall, the political rally, the theater, the museum and the gourmet restaurant. Even church is often more about the ecstatic whoosh than the theology.
The activities often dismissed as mere diversions are actually central. Real life is more about serial whooshes than coherent meaning.
(emphasis my own)
Then Brooks concludes:
We can either rebel against this superficial drift, or like Dreyfus and Kelly, go with the flow, acknowledging that the autonomous life is impossible, not seeking totalistic theologies, but instead becoming sensitive participants in the collective whooshings that life offers.
Is it true that real life is more about whooshes than coherent meaning?  Can your life be defined that way?  Is mine? 

As much as I think these writers are on to something, I'd like to see myself swimming against the tide.  If there's ever a time for rebellion I would suggest it should be against the trivial, insignificant, but often popular events our society engages in.

So here's to a fulfilled life - even when the glass is empty.  Here's to looking at life from a different perspective.  Here's to a coherent, meaningful, and Story-driven 2011.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The _____________ Twos

Turning two - and having a child that turns two - can be shocking.  Although I've done the former, I can do a better job of reporting on the latter.  Let me give you some adjectives to describe the culture shock that has accompanied Enoh's transition into the twos.

1. Terrible.  Don't stop here!  It's not that bad.  But sometimes you just have those instances, like the one below, where you wonder what got into your kid.  For those of you who received our Christmas card this year, this was the scene 10 minutes before the family picture was taken.   Yep, it can be terrible, but those moments only last for a...moment. 

2. Turbulent.  This is the one my wife prefers to terrible.  And I get it.  The life of a parent of a two-year-old is a plane ride over the Icelandic volcano - up, down and all around.  You just never know what response you'll get to a "no" or which parent, grandparent, or stranger they'll prefer over you next.  Oh, and restlessness?  Off the charts. 

3. Teachable.  It's amazing how Enoh has been learning.  We've had him thouroughly confused for close to two years now with this whole bilingual thing.  But he's starting to catch on.  It's rewarding and enjoyable to see a two year old learn - no matter what it is. 

4. Tender. Enoh was never a cuddler before he turned two.  But the combination of being the recipient of frequent hugs and the arrival of a younger brother have brought out some tender - albeit brief - moments.  Enoh is a wonderful big brother. 

5. Terrific. Genuine smiles are the best.  And when you get one from a two year old, you know it's real.  With all the terribleness and turbulence, comes a whole lot of terrific-ness.  We love you Enoh!

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

'Tis Always the Season

As we sat down on the pew last Sunday, our 2 year-old son Enoh looked up at the projector screen hanging from the ceiling in front of the pipe organ and said in a manner that would make any Christian dad proud: "Iwant...Isus (Jesus)!" 

Enoh begins at least half of his sentences this way whether the object is in Croatian or English: "Iwant...gamma" (grandma), or "Iwant..meko" (mlijeko, or milk).  (We are working on "please")

What was it about this church service that made him say he wanted Jesus?  Did he associate the PowerPoint on a large screen (like many congregants would these days) with church?  Did he connect the pipe organ (like many congregants in the past) with religion?  I honestly don't know for sure.

But I don't think so.  I think it started with the fact that there were a bunch of people in the room.  I think the kind people who gave us a hug and asked how we're doing gave him another clue.  I think standing, praying and singing as one may have clinched it for him. 

I want Jesus too.  And I love that a congregation who loves and cares for each other gives us a glimpse of who he is and indicates that he is among us.  Christ came to redeem his people.  He came because he loves his church and desires for others to come to him.  I'm reminded of what Christ told his disciples before he was betrayed:
"Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
May we, as Christ's church, regardless of the season, leave others with the desire to know Jesus by our love.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Reverse Culture Shock: Black Friday

Like the Running of the Bulls in Spain, Carnival in Brazil and Oktoberfest in Germany, Black Friday has become a defining cultural event in America.  So, it was my duty as a culture shock weblogger to observe Black Friday firsthand.

After waking up at 3:30 a.m., my wife, my brother and I drove to the closest collection of consumer attractions called (appropriate for this day) The Shoppes at Blackstone Valley in Millbury Massachusetts. 

As we approached the shopping center we thought we must have had it all wrong.  "Wow, this isn't bad!  There's hardly anyone else going to the stores" I mentioned as we drove towards the mall.  We soon realized why.  The parking lot was already completely full and everyone and their brother was in line waiting for the store to open at 4 am. 

But it didn't seem like four o' clock in the morning.  Once inside, the store hummed with excitement.  Televisions, most almost as big as their soon-to-be owners, zipped around in their red vehicles.  Shoppers knew what they wanted, where they would find them and exactly what method had to be exercised in order to pull the desired merchandise off the shelf before their closest competitor did. 

Surprisingly, it didn't get nasty.  That was the one positive thing I pulled away from the whole day.  It was as if everyone knew how dangerous this could get.  Two years ago a Wall-Mart employee was trampled to death by a herd of consumers bursting through the doors to get inside.  But today there was no rough-play.  In fact, my wife reported that one gentleman kindly offered his cart to another guy in need of space to drop his stack of DVDs, video games and other electronics he had collected. 

Since 2001 Black Friday has been the biggest shopping day of the year, but not until this year did so many shoppers shop.  Get this: In 2010, 212 million Americans shopped in stores or online during Black Friday Weekend.  That's 8% more than last year and more than two thirds the population of the country.  Get your calculators out, because once you figure that each consumer spent an average of $365, you'll get an idea of why people say the recession is over.

What I thought was interesting was how programmed the shoppers were.  I overheard one lady say she got in line at midnight.  But it didn't phase her or the person she was talking to at all because she - like most other shoppers - came well prepared.  Each person had an objective, knew what to do and was fulfilling their plan with confidence.  There was no embarassment, no shame, no feeling that this was something out of the ordinary.  Besides the person behind me who said "that guy's taking pictures of all of us idiots", everyone seemed to feel very comfortable in their element. 

In fact, this wasn't a shocking scene for most people.   It was completely normal.  It happens every year.  It happens every day!  Whether you like it or not, America is in many ways defined by their consumerism.  For better or worse it's what we do.  We consume. 

But if you're like me, you wish it weren't so.  A couple minutes after engaging in this cultural event, I was ready to go.  Ready to go back to what I already had.  Ready to celebrate Thanksgiving again.  Ready to go back to a country where a want doesn't constitute a need. 

America, you've got a lot of things going for you.  But Black Friday is certainly not one of them.

Friday, November 26, 2010

My First Thanksgiving

They say it was my "first Thanksgiving!" 
I met some people who I've only seen on a computer before.
They played with me. 
 And I played with them. 
They also played with my brother.
 While all that was going on my mama and oma cooked. 
 And stuffed. 
 And cooked some more. 
We ate and were satisfied. 
 What does Thanksgiving mean to me?

I'm not sure I can put it into words. 

But I do my best to express it.
I am grateful for all of the Bohalls who made my first Thanksgiving so amazing!

Monday, November 22, 2010

Have you read any good books lately?


When we visit the States, I tend to have more time to read for pleasure than I do in Croatia.  Two years ago I spent all of that time devouring Anna Kerenina.  This time I'll invest my reading energy into a variety of books and authors.  Here's the latest:

The Unlikely Disciple is a fun read.  The rookie author of this book - Kevin Roose - decided to take a semester off from Brown University and attend Liberty University while covertly assembling the thoughts contained in this book back in 2007.  He's not an Evangelical Christian nor had he ever been immersed in Evangelical culture before his transfer.

So it's a book about culture shock.  Roose's political views are drastically different than those of the conservative Evangelical student body at LU.  He believes in evolution but is surrounded by young-creationists.  And perhaps most severe, his tolerance of homosexuality collides with the often homophobic comments he encounters numerous times every day. 

But what about the faith aspect?  How does his unbelief fit in?

Without giving away any of the conclusions he comes to by the end of his experience, let me share one quote that's worth considering:
Liberty's true social code, the one they don't put in a forty-six-page manual, has everything to do with being a social and religious conservative and not a whole lot to do with acting in any traditionally virtuous way
Whoa.  And that observation is only a third of the way into the book. 

This is an entertaining read.  It's an enlightening read.  It's also an important read. 

If you're interested in finding out more, visit  On his site you'll be able to read an excerpt from the book.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Kingdom Culture

Culture shock need not apply only to the contrast between traditions, values and religions in different countries.

This morning I experienced the vast dichotomy between two completely different cultures.  But I didn't even have to get in a plane to do so.  I simply turned on the car. 

The song was called Beloved.  The melody was sung by a smooth tenor over open guitar chords, and not much else.  Often truth dresses itself in simplicity. 

Derek Webb has written a beautiful song from Christ to His Church:
Beloved listen to me
Don’t believe all that you see
And don’t you ever let anyone tell you
That there’s anything that you need
But me
The words I heard a few minutes later on the radio were equally exclusive:
Let's go all the way tonight
No regrets, just love
We can dance until we die
You and I
We'll be young forever
Talk about two completely different sets of values! 

I'm not sure if I've ever heard a better summary of what our pop culture promotes than what this second set of lyrics delivers.  If we're coming at this from a Christian perspective we could begin to point out all the differences between what we believe and what our culture believes.  It's an important discussion to have.

Because if we're followers of Jesus we live in both worlds.  It won't do to physically separate ourselves from the rest of the world as if it were as easy as flying to another continent.  Instead, we've been called to "be transformed".  Not transported.  We're to "be transformed by the renewing of our minds."

I would suggest that prayer is the best place to start.  As Jesus commanded us to pray:
Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Heads Up!

As I sat down on the subway in Boston last week and looked around, I was amazed by the number of people who had their heads buried in some kind of flat hand-held web-surfing rectangle.  Now, don't get me wrong.  It's not that Croatians (and other Eastern Europeans for that matter) don't use small electronic devices.  The point is that they're not constantly browsing the Internet on their BlackBerry.  They're not looking at pictures on facebook with their Itouch.  They (generally) simply text and are done.  I would guess that most Eastern Europeans would be shocked if they saw what I saw the other day.  I sure was. 

At the risk of promoting a rather hypocritical advertisement (isn't the point to get you to use their phone more than someone elses?) this commercial exaggerates, but is dead on:

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Money Matters

There are differences between the way people use money in America and the way they use it in Croatia.  Certainly, some of the comments below may apply to other places; ie. America may corrolate with western Europe, Croatia with Bosnia, who knows?  But since I'm an American living in Croatia visiting America, I'll stick to what I've observed first hand. 

1. Change.  I drove up to my local Dunkin' Donuts the other day, ordered a medium french vanilla coffee with cream and sugar and was told that I would owe the lady at the window $2.02.  I panicked.  In America, you pay what they tell you to pay.  In Croatia, they'd be fine with $2.00.  $1.50 would probably do too if you were going to the local bakery and you told them you'd pay them back next time.  But here, if you can't find 2 pennies among all the junk in your pocket, you'll have to pay $3 and receive a whole heapload of change.  At least next time you'll have it. 

2. Tips.  I'm told the going rate is 15% here in the good old United States of Be Kind to you Waiter or Waitress.  When I was a server I had to earn my tips.  This unwritten rule of 15% bugs me these days because I live in a land where the only things you leave on the table are your crumbs.  In Croatia, the price of the meal is the price of the meal.  No hidden cost.  No expectations.  No alternative motives.  End of story. 

Last week I went to a restaurant in Boston to watch the World Series with my brother.  The waitress promised us she'd turn the channel to the game as soon as we sat down.  Fifteen minutes later, she took our drink order.  A half hour later she asked us what we wanted to eat.  Finally, forty five minutes after the initial promise, the channel changed to the 5th inning of the baseball game.  How much did she get?  That's right, 15 percent.  Don't get me wrong, I'm not complaining about the service.  I'm just complaining about backwards mindset of being required to pay what's supposed to be a reward.  It's called a tip right?

3. Prices. Good old consumer America has good prices.  They have sales.  They have clearance sections.  They have bright red stickers with unbelievable prices written on them that make you think you've uncovered a pot of gold.  I know, because I was there today.  I visited the hat section of my local Gap store and found one for $2.97 among all the others priced at $25.  Two Dollars and ninety seven cents!  I bought that cap faster than you can say "price check" and got myself out of dodge.   

So there's good and bad in both places.  In Croatia, you pay up to ying-yang for clothes, electricity and gas.  In America, college can put you in debt for a lifetime and you pay an arm and a leg to have a baby.  Which country is kinder to your wallet?  I'd have to say Croatia.

But that's just my 2 cents. 

Friday, October 29, 2010

Culture Shock in the Melting Pot

It was the most mellow sound I had heard in years.  A slow ballad backed a smooth trumpet melody and accompanied the delightful five minute interval between my descent into the Boston T-station and my entrance onto the red-line train.

My hearing wasn't the only sense stimulated by an everyday event everyone else was accustomed to.  The diversity of the soon-to-be passengers both entertained and confused my vision.  "Where am I?", I had to ask, despite the fact that I knew I was in melting-pot America and more specifically Quincy Massachusetts - only 5 subway stops from the heart of Boston.

Quincy is classic Boston in more ways than one.  Named after John Quincy Adams, it's a city, but a suburb, urban, but historic, diverse but united by its appeal.  The same could be said for Salem - our residence during my final year of college and the most popular place to celebrate Halloween in America.

But the point isn't Quincy, Salem or even Boston.  I'm reminded of the Sunday School song I sang as a kid; "He's got the whole world in his hands".  To take nothing from the Lord's omnipotence, the American City has the whole world in its grasp.  Red, yellow, black and white, urban America is a refreshingly beautiful sight - at least for these sore eyes. 

Take your pick - Pakistani restaurant, Dominican hair-salon, Bosnian night-club or Boston sports bar - it's all here.  The teenager in a burqa who served me coffee this morning instructed her Mexican co-worker how to blend it.  A blind African-American woman asked a second generation Asian student if she could help her find the entrance.  The pipe smoking, thickly bearded Caucasian walked quickly, not noticing the kaleidoscope of skin he passed.

He didn't even think about it because it's home for him.  Home for representatives of every country in the world.  Home for me - even if it's only for three months.  Because even though I'm visiting from another part of the world, I'm among other visitors whose distinction is becoming less about their skin color and more about their decision to stay.

The trumpeter feels at home too.  Or at least that's how the perfect balance of melody, rhythm and acoustics convey itself as it settles ironically into a space originally developed solely for transportation.  The foreign sounds fit in perfectly.

Suddenly a jumpy bossa nova beat interrupts my thoughts and introduces the approaching train.  Off to other sights and sounds.  Off to another diversely united city of America.

Off to another place I could call home. 

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Orahovica, I will miss you

We're headed to the US of A in just a few days.  Maybe it's the fall weather leaving me with some nostalgia.  Maybe it's the fact that I feel more at home here everyday.  No matter what, there's a lot I'll miss about Orahovica Croatia.  Here are the top 5:

5. The bakery.  Fresh baked rolls for 50 cents.  Bakers who smile pleasantly when I make a mistake in Croatian because they've been part of the learning process with me.  Burek s mesom.  You will be missed. 

4. The scenery.  I know, I know.   I'm headed back to New England and the fall foliage will be fantastic.  But the horses, the river and the beauty of the foothills of Orahovica are tough to leave behind. 

3. Baseball.  "Are you kidding me?" you may ask.  "The World Series starts the day you get to the States and you're complaining about leaving baseball behind?"  Last Sunday we played our best game yet.  These teens and kids have come a long way since we started 3 years ago.  Can't wait for spring BOK!

2. Our church.  The other day we were talking to someone in the States about our sending church.  Turns out, even though we're considered missionaries, our sending church is right here in Orahovica.  They pray for us.  They support us.  They've cared for us tremendously.  We'll miss the corporate worship with Betanija church while we're gone. 

1. Our friends.  Whenever you leave a place, it's always the people you miss most.  No exception here. 

Orahovico, falit' ćeš me.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

European Ingenuity Part Deux

You've heard me complain about the roads, driving and parking in Croatia.  You've endured the sob-stories about how many obstacles there are and how many accidents I've been a part of.

But friends, let me tell you about the silver lining.  The light at the end of the tunnel if you will.  Because, while I have lost my love for driving since I moved here, there's a well deserved prize waiting for me when I arrive at my destination in any Croatian city.

For this demonstration we will use Osijek - the city we frequent the most when we venture out of Orahovica.  It's the first place I came across our latest edition of European Ingenuity.

Let me introduce to you the idea of paying by cell-phone.  Maybe you'd call it Mobile Magic if you live in England.  Whatever the case, when in Croatia you'd be terribly behind if you chose to pay for parking the old fashion way.  Dropping coins in the slot?  Phhh!  That's so yesterday.  

Let me show you how it works:

1. As you're looking for a parking spot keep your eye out for this blue parking device.  Once you're there - don't even think about getting out...

2...unless you forgot your license plate number.

3.  Type that number as a text message (make sure you've stopped the car so as not to violate the commitment you made to Oprah) and send the message to the 4-digit number listed on the cell phone in picture number 1.

Folks, that's it.  That's all you have to do.  But what happens after you text the number to City Parking?

1. You'll immediately receive a message confirming your request to park in the beautiful city of Osijek.

2. City Parking will send an approximately 75 cent bill (the price of parking) to your cell phone company which you will pay the next time you pay your monthly cell-phone bill.

3. You may do your shopping, enjoy the sights and sounds or conduct your business without having to worry about when to pay again.  Why?  Because your friendly neighborhood City Parking will notify you via cell phone 10 minutes before your time runs out.  Then all you have to do is repeat steps 1 through 3.

Too bad driving isn't that easy huh?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Lost in Creation

One of the reasons we love Croatia as much as we do is because of the natural beauty.  And it just so happens that Orahovica - the town we live in - offers as many examples of that beauty as any place in Croatia. 

Today, as I prepared the morning must-haves - coffee for myself  and a bottle for Ian - I looked out the window to see 5 horses practically in our backyard.   Every fall, the owner of a nearby corral lets his horses graze on the land right behind ours.  We're fortunate to have them drop by every so often.  This was the scene this morning: 

They seemed to enjoy our company almost as much as we enjoyed theirs so Enoh and I stood watching them for about 10 minutes.  Both of us must have gotten caught up in the situation because as soon as one of the horses snorted we both jumped and laughed. 

What is it about God's creation that causes us to lose ourselves? 

I was reminded of the way David expressed his awe in Psalm 139:
How precious to me are your thoughts oh God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them they would outnumber the grains of sand.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A Common Language

If you're a regular here on the Culture Shock weblog, consider yourself privileged. 

No, I don't say that because this is a spectacular blog or anything.  I say it because that means that you are part of the 4 billion people in the world who use English - or "Globish" as Newsweek calls it.  In other words, not only can you read and understand this blog, you are able to speak with, listen to, or understand 67% of the rest of the world when they use English.

While I studied teaching ESL four years ago, we were told that we might someday find ourselves in a situation where 2 people from 2 different parts of the world who speak 2 different languages are communicating in a common second language - English.  They used the example of two businessmen - one Japanese and one Dutch meeting in Cairo, and speaking a language which is native neither to the people nor the land.  "Pretty cool", I thought, "I wonder if I will ever see that?" 

Turns out that I have seen something like it on a few occasions since I've lived in Croatia.   Just this morning, I listenened to a conversation between these two guys:

The one on the left is Croat.  He asked the teenager on the right from Norway to tell him a little about the electronic drumset he was playing as part of the concert they would be putting on this evening in our small town of Orahovica.  They spoke English and understood each other quite well.  Even though Croatian and Norwegian were their native languages, they successfully used a second language to communicate effectively. 
It happens all around the world folks. So while it may not seem like a privilege to speak a language most of the world understands, if English is your native tongue, the fact is the rest of the world is learning how to communicate with you.

Kind of convicting for someone who only knows one language fluently.   Thankfully, it's English.  

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Have I Ever Told You About Parking Lots/Spots In Croatia?

One of the reasons I update this blog is to inform those who come after me.  Some of the things I've experienced in Croatia have taken me completely by surprise.   For example, I had no idea it was so beautiful here. Have I mentioned the hospitality?  And who would have thought you might have to pay to use the facilities?

Now it's time to add parking lots to the list of things that have taken me off guard.

I've been at fault for 2 car accidents in my 12 years of driving.  Both happened in Croatia.  Both occurred while driving slower than 3 MPH.  And both car accidents were in a parking lot.

Now, I realize am the one at fault.  Not Croatia.  I understand that.  And I've taken full responsibility.  But if you are an American driver who learned how to park at Wal-Mart, just know that things are different here. Parking often involves sidewalks - two tires on, two tires off.  Parking is often very hard to find.  The lines are extremely narrow.  Your car will get scraped by someone else's door.

And people often double-park.

Our good friends the Wilsons came to visit right at the end of the tourist season so we decided to take them to the coast of Croatia.

We made a plan to visit one of their college friends who lived 2-3 hours away.  Because of the fact that between the 3 couples we have 6 kids, we found it adventageous to plan ahead.  On Thursday, we decided to make the trip Saturday.  We would leave the house at such-and-such a time so that we could make the right ferry, that would put us in Split by such-and-such a time so we could see the city but make it back on the ferry by such-and-such a time so the kids could get to bed at a decent time.  Our plan was foolproof.

Until Saturday morning when I went to the car to pack some things before the trip and found that a van had parked right behind us making it impossible to leave the parking lot.  That wouldn't have been so bad except that the van belonged to 1 of 40 fishermen who were already competing in the annual island contest and were spread out along a kilometer of rock on the water.

I stood and looked at the van in disbelief.  Are you kidding me?!?  You park right behind my car and then go and participate in a competition in which you actually have to sit there the whole time and wait for a fish to attach itself your string?

I walked back trying to hold my composure and found a judge.  He was surprisingly very pleasant when I told him the situation with my less-than-perfect Croatian.  He promised to find the culprit.  And he did.  It just so happened that Mr. White Van was near where we were talking.  He agreed to move the van as soon as we were ready to go.  And he did.  And we made our ferry.  And we had a great day. 

So why did I get so frustrated?

Because I'm still not used to it!  I would like to be able to pull smoothly into a wide parking spot, take care of my business and be able to leave without any issue.  I guess I'm a typical American who relies on ease and lots of space.  Often that's not the way it works here though.

I know it's a small thing.  It really is.

Almost as small as the parking spots in Croatia.    

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

A New Milestone

Several people have asked me recently how the Wilsons are doing.  We had the great pleasure of having them visit us in Croatia a few weeks ago.  Can you imagine taking two young daughters on a plane to Europe for a two week vacation?  They did it.  And they were a huge encouragement to us while they were here.

Erin posted this on today.  I encourage you to read it.  The post/prayer crossbridge family wrote on their behalf is incredibly moving.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Solver

Funny how one word can set the theme for the summer.  When I think back on what just happened, this one event, one song, one simple word best summarizes our summer 2010.  And the word's not even in English.  Let me explain.

Camps are the highlight of the year for my wife.  This year was a big one because camps returned to the town they originated in and the town we live and serve in.  That meant that throughout July we would live and breathe camp.  Since my wife and I  are egalitarians through and through, we decided to divide things up nice and evenly - she would work 3 weeks of camp, I would work 1 week and stay with the boys during the other 3 weeks.

It was during that one week of camp that I learned a new Croatian word - riješiti - to solve, resolve or deal with.  The head of camps used the word constantly - but only in the future tense.  One person would ask "so what are we going to do now that our main worship leader is sick?" To which he would respond, "riješiti čemo ." - "We'll solve that later."

(This is to say nothing of his leadership abilities.  Often the problems got solved quickly and efficiently.  But still - in the middle of all the confusion, his answers weren't satisfying.)

Fast-forward to August when my parents and I were driving up to Austria to celebrate my dad's 60th.  We had the opportunity to stay overnight with one of Petra's relatives in Slovenia.  While we were there we were invited to the opening night of Young Adult camp at a camp very similar to ours in Orahovica.  Now the Slovenian language is different from Croatian, but there are enough similarities that most Croatians and Slovenians can get by listening to each others' languages and speaking their own.

When the first song began, I recognized it.  The chorus would start with the word "Savior" and even though we hadn't translated it into Croatian yet, I was ready to sing the Croatian word for Savior - Spasitelj - quite literally, a person who saves.

But to my surprise, the word sung instead was Rešitelj - a person who solves - The Solver.  All of a sudden my mind went back to all the chaos and confusion of camp in Orahovica on the first day.  It's difficult to summarize emotions, but the Psalm Paul wrote to the church in Colossians summed up my feelings pretty well:

Once you were alienated from God and were enemies in your own mind because of your evil behavior.
But now he has reconciled you, by Christ's physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation.

Christ is the Solver.  We often don't know how he will solve, nor do we always like his solutions.  But from the creation of the world, to how all things are held together through him, to his death on the cross, Christ is my Solver.  What a reassuring thought.

Enoh and Copland Play Catch

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Menu Misprint?

Not that cucumbers with black pepper sounds all that appetizing in the first place, but the sauce this Slovakian restaurant serves it with makes it even less appealing.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

My Experience at Dachau Concentration Camp

When I arrived, I knew I could go back. 
When the gate closed, it was so they could take a nice picture.

When it rained, I opened my umbrella.

When I saw opportunity, I could afford to take it. 

When I looked out, I saw sightseers. 
When the wind blew, I zipped up. 
When I had experienced enough, I left. 

Thursday, July 15, 2010


"Welcome to the Balkans!", my passenger announced as we sped up and reviewed the scene that had just happened in front of us. 

It was raining hard - "like there were 3 guys standing on top of our car pouring buckets of water on the windshield" as my friend put it. The car in front of us was going slower than the oil spill recovery efforts.  And behind us was a driver who was in a Hurry. 

Speedy Gonzalez found a way around our car despite the oncoming traffic - who had to slow down to accomodate his impatience.  But he was forced to squeeze between my car and the car in front of us.  As soon as the oncoming traffic had passed, Mr. Fast tried to pass Mr. Slow but Mr. Slow crept over to the other lane (whenever possible) to keep Mr. Fast in line. 

Both my passenger and I were keeping an eye on the situation despite our conversation.  I did my best to keep a distance, but Mr. Slow was even more intent on driving slowly (and on the line) when he saw how successful he had been in irritating his opponent. 

All this was brewing as we drove on for a kilometer or two, but I couldn't have predicted the revenge in quite the way it happened. 

We were approaching an exit to our right.  Before we even got there, the speedster veered into the breakdown lane, put his elbow on the horn, his foot on the accelerator and stared at the slow driver over his shoulder as he passed. 

But then the wheels started turning in his brain and just about stopped turning on the car.  He screeched and swerved back onto the road slowing down to 5 k/hr. The slow car in front of us was forced to go even slower prompting several angry honks and creating an even bigger line behind us.  Finally, at the last second, the instigator sped off onto the exit ramp having achieved his retribution. 

And so my passenger's initial reaction was correct.  There is indeed a special breed of revenge in the Balkans.  Having just come from Hungary, but familiar with the former-Yugosloavia, he had apparently seen the creativity with which many Croats and Serbs have plotted revenge in the past.  Let's face it, most - if not all - of the conflict in the history of this part of the world comes down to payback: "Son, let me tell you what the ___________(insert ethnic group) did to your mother", for example.  And it takes generations for it to die out. 

Perhaps it never will.

Monday, July 5, 2010

On Missions and Worship

Missions is not the ultimate goal of the church.  Worship is.  Missions exists because worship doesn't.  Worship is ultimate, not missions, because God is ultimate, not man.  When this age is over, and the countless millions of the redeemed fall on their faces before the throne of God, missions will be no more.  It is a temporary necessity.  But worship abides forever. 
Worship therefore, is the fuel and goal in missions.  It's the goal of missions because in missions we simply aim to bring the nations into the white-hot enjoyment of God's glory.  The goal of missions is the gladness of the peoples in the greatness of God.  'The Lord reigns; let the earth rejoice; let the many coastlands be glad! (Psalm 97:1).  Let the peoples praise thee, O God; let all the peoples praise thee!  Let the nations be glad and sing for joy! (Psalm 67:3-4).
But worship is also the fuel of missions.  Passion for God in worship precedes the offer of God in preaching.  You can't commmend what you don't cherish.  Missionaries will never call out, 'Let the nations be glad!', who can't say from the heart, 'I rejoice in the Lord...I will be glad and exult in thee, I will sing praise to thy name, O Most High' (Psalm 104:34;9:2).  Missions begins and ends in worship. 
- From Let the Nations be Glad by John Piper

Thursday, July 1, 2010

On Godly Parenting

My parents are good parents.  The older I've become, the more I've realized that fact.  Having children made me realize that fact.  Observing other parents made me realize that fact.  But rather than listing all the things my parents have done right, I want to zero in on the thing they have done right.

That thing, though certainly not a secret, is often a mystery for parents - even Christian parents.  Miroslav Volf, in an article called Will My Son Be a Christian? wondered aloud:
I'd almost rather [my son] be no Christian than an indifferent Christian, or, even worse, a zealous Christian manipulating faith to promote his own selfish ends.  But I want him to embrace Christianity as a faith by which to live and for which to die.  But how do I pass on that kind of faith?
After describing the fear he had in letting his faith "dribble away" as he tried his best to pass it on, and after pondering several solutions, Dr. Volf recalls:
Then I remembered my mother's prayers.  Right language about God matters; godly life matters even more.  Yet neither will suffice.  If the seed sown by word and deed is to grow and bear fruit, it will need the life-giving water of God's Spirit.  So I abandoned trust either in statistics about religious belonging or in the genuineness and strength of my own faith.  I vowed to pray.
Thank you Mom and Dad for also taking that vow. 

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On Bureaucracy in Eastern Europe

I've written about this before, and I'm sure I will again, but one of the things most difficult to get used to in Croatia is bureaucracy.  Apparently, the situation was similar in Russia when Leo Tolstoy wrote Anna Kerenina.  His (autobiographical?) character Levin describes it perfectly:
...All this bustling, going about from place to place, talking to very kind, good people, who well understood the unpleasantness of the petitioner's position but were unable to help him - all this tension, while producing no results, gave Levin a painful feeling similar to that vexing impotence one experiences in dreams when one tries to use physical force.  He felt it often, speaking with his good-natured attorney.  This attorney did everything possible, it seemed, and strained all his mental powers to get Levin out of the quandry. 'Try this', he said more than once, 'go to this place and that place,'and the attorney would make a whole plan for getting round the fatal principle that was hindering everything.  Then he would add at once, 'They'll hold it up anyway, but try it.' And Levin tried, visited, went.  Everybody was kind and courteous, but it always turned out that what had been got round re-emerged in the end and again barred the way.  In particular it was offensive that Levin simply could not understand with whom he was struggling, who profited from the fact that his case never came to an end.  This no one seemed to know; the attorney did not know either.  If Levin could have understood it, as he understood why he could not get to the ticket window at the station otherwise than by waiting in line, he would not have felt offended and vexed; but no one could explain to him why the obstacles he encountered in his case existed.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

On Spiritual Life

The spiritual life is first of all a life.
It is not merely something to be known and studied, it is to be lived. Like all life, it grows sick and dies when it is uprooted from its proper element...We live as spiritual [people] when we live as [people] seeking God.  If we are to become spiritual, we must remain [human].  And if there were not evidence of this everywhere in theology, the Mystery of the Incarnation itself would be ample proof of it...Jesus lived the ordinary life of the men of His time, in order to sanctify the ordinary lives of men of all time. 

If we want to be spiritual, then, let us first of all live our lives.  Let us not fear the responsibilities and the inevitable distractions of the work appointed for us by the will of God.  Let us embrace reality and thus find ourselves immersed in the life-giving will and wisdom of God which surrounds us everywhere. 
- Thomas Merton from Thoughts in Solitude

Sunday, June 27, 2010

On Sabbath

Tom Foley is the CEO of CEO.  His job is to mobilize missionaries.  Petra and I are part of Christian Educators Outreach and we've found Tom to be a huge encouragement.  Recently he shared some thoughts about Sabbath on his blog Kingdom Travelin'.  It's worth a few minutes of your time.

On a trip to DC a few weeks ago, I heard a radio program while driving among the NoVa suburbs where our younger daughter works about sleep. The levels of sleep are several, from the light sleep where we are totally aware of our surroundings to deep sleep where we are virtually paralyzed in stillness. It is in this deep sleep that the body heals and has physical restoration. It is in dreams, the expert stated, that our mind goes through a daily ‘de-fraging’ (excuse the computer lingo). It is, therefore, in rest that we are renewed. Hence, Sabbath.
I’ve read a little bit over the last years about Sabbath. The philosophy I’ve developed about Sabbath comes from that. Once a week we are to stop. But God intends for it to be intentional, not random, like the train I was on yesterday slowed down and stopped. It stopped in the hottest part of the day and without explanation. It just stopped. After awhile people began to get restless. They looked out the window and wondered. Soon people began to get off! It was then that I figured that we were near the city. Indeed we were only about a km out of the city very near the outer train station. So I joined the folks who were rats from the stopped ship. And I made the walk into the city. This random stopping, in an uncomfortable situation, without preparation was not the best time for a rest. It was not planned, it was not intentional, it was not among loved ones, but among strangers. This was not Sabbath. But many people treat their “Sabbath” like this. With randomness. I’ll just take what comes! This is not scriptural. In Scripture, we read that God expects detail and panning and that which is supposed to consume one-seventh of our lives deserves thought and planning.

Sabbath, according to one writer should include delight. Intentional time to delight in God for He wishes to delight in His creation and we are made in his image, so we are made for delight. Delight in Him, one another, and in creation. This requires one to understand what we delight in. But this too requires an intentionality that is often missing in our work-a-day random world. What are the ways in which you delight in connecting to God, your loved ones, your own mind and heart? For we are all different and have different ways of going about things. We need to each identify ways of deepening our Sabbath.

In Others' Words

This week is Quote Week. 

I've noticed, as perhaps you have, that good writers usually quote other good writers.  In fact, I think you'd be hard pressed to read something that hasn't been influenced by someone else's thinking. 

Quote Week is a tribute to authors, thinkers, friends, and family members who have influenced my thinking through their writing.  Every day I will publish a post that contains a quote - some short, some long - that has rubbed off on me in some shape or form.  It also will have something to do (though not explicitly) with culture shock.  For as I mentioned in the introduction, culture shock is not limited to cultural differences between countries.

Let Quote Week begin.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Back and Forth

"Back and forth, back and forth, back and forth.  Seriously folks, I am more entertained by the shutters blowing in the wind than a 2010 World Cup soccer match.  In fact, the creaks and groans that come from my back door offer a greater variety of sound than those vuvuzela horns.  Two days into the tournament I am positive that my initial ho-hum reaction to this competition was merited."

I wrote the above a week and a half ago.  At the time, I had nothing else to write so I didn't publish it.  Then I sat down and watched Chile move the ball against Argentina in a much more exciting way that a European team ever would.  Then Serbia tied heavyweight Germany in their match.  Then I complained when the American goal didn't count as the decider against Slovenia (the most watched soccer game in ESPN history).  Then I read up on the tournament.  Suddenly I'm into this thing. 

Let me give you a brief history of my soccer knowledge:

- 6 years old; played soccer in Sioux City Iowa.  Scored one goal.  Retired.
- 23 years old; heard about a guy named Beckham on Sports Radio.  Turned off the radio when I realized they were talking about soccer.
- 26 years old and freshly married;  The country my wife loved was in the World Cup.  Tried to get into it until Croatia was eliminated in the first round.
- 28 years old; living in Croatia and no access to baseball.  Declared myself a soccer fan and watched every second of Croatia's involvement in the Euro-Cup. Croatia lost to Turkey on overtime penalty shots in one of the semifinal games.  Renounced soccer for the rest of my life. 
- 30 years old; Reread introduction to this post.

The funny thing is, I usually stick to my guns.  I've been a Cubs fan since '84, a Buffalo Bills fan since '90.  I haven't give up on those teams despite their depressing inability to win.  I am still a fan.  In addition, I will always love baseball and always hate golf.  It's as simple as that.

But I can't figure out how I feel about soccer.  On one hand, I don't understand how a team (like '08 Croatia) can look like the better team for 112 minutes (2 overtimes), lead the game 1-0 then see the opposition tie in the last second (122nd minute) and win the match on penalty shots.  The better team clearly can lose on any given day - even if they've been the superior team for the vast majority of the game!  How can a legitimate sport allow this to happen?

On the other hand, I love the idea of watching two completely different styles of play go head-to-head.  I'm fascinated by the international story-lines.  I'm drawn to watching a potential power-house get beat by a traditionally weaker team. 

So where am I today?  I'll be watching with interest when America takes on Algeria.  Whoever wins is guaranteed a trip to the next round.  A draw would make Group C even more interesting.  Landon Donovan may be the best American ever to play soccer.  Algeria has never made it past the first round.  There's plenty to keep me interested. 

How will I feel by the time the tournament is over?  I may be more disinterested than before. 

I know; back and forth.  Back and forth.  Back and forth.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Is He worth it?

"It's only worth what someone's willing to pay for it."

That was the wisdom my father offered me back when I was an avid baseball card collector. 

Background:  My friend and I would wait breathlessly for the mail towards the beginning of every month when the baseball card price guide was due to arrive.  In it, we would find out if our latest acquistions had been worth the investment we had put into them - whether by trade, purchase or luck of finding the card in a pack.  And it's not even that we wanted to sell the cards.  We just wanted to find out whether we had struck gold and would be able to further build up our collections. 

But the quote stayed with me.  And it's been useful in understanding a story recorded in the gospel of John:

Background: Jesus is the guest of honor at Lazarus' house.  The dinner is going well;  Martha's preparing and serving, Lazarus is still taking strips of linen off as he and Jesus converse, when all of a sudden Mary pops open a bottle of perfume.  And it's not a cheap one.  My notes say the jar was worth a year's salary.  Before you can say "recession!", the contents have been poured on Jesus' feet and the house smells stronger than a french perfume shop in Paris.

But the act is a serious one.  It's not often that Jesus is the guest of honor.  Do we ever see another time in the gospels when his friends get together to throw him a party?  Mary, Martha and Lazarus are celebrating their close friend.  Mary goes to an extraordinary effort to honor Jesus. 

Enter Judas the Party Pooper.  Straight from the Law, Judas recites how God's people are to provide for the poor:  "Therefore I command you to be open-handed to those of your people who are poor and needy in your land." 

What a nice law-abiding citizen Judas the Just has turned out to be.  I'm sure Martha and Lazarus thanked him for the reminder.  Jesus also must have turned to Judas, red from embarrassment, and apologized for not stopping the thoughtless woman from committing such a foolish act. 

No, of course not.  Because rather than being open-handed to the needy, Judas the Thief reached inside that money bag whenever he got the chance and snatched whatever he wanted.  Jesus knew that and so did the author of the Gospel of John (Lazarus?).   Judas' concern wasn't the poor.  Just the opposite.  He looked for money wherever he could find it.  Hence the irony of the story and the lesson we're supposed to learn. 

Think about this:  The amount of money Judas The Traitor will make by betraying Jesus (30 silver coins) is close to a four month salary.  Compare that to the yearly wage Mary gave up (300 deneri) by pouring the perfume over Jesus' feet and you've got yourself two completely different reactions to the same guy.  It couldn't be any simpler.

Don't get me wrong.  We're not talking about the value of salvation or earning grace.  Nowhere in this story does salvation even come up.  Rather, we get a glimpse of how extraordinarily valuable Jesus Christ is to Mary.  And we see that through the sacrifice she makes. 

Is he worth it?  Mary gave up a year's salary, Zacchaeus 4 times what he had cheated, Stephen - his life.  But Judas gave nothing - because he had no use for Christ in his life.
Isaac Watts summarized it well in When I Survey the Wondrous Cross:

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
that were an offering far too small;
love so amazing, so divine,
demands my soul, my life, my all.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Don't Rain on My Parade!

Back when I played in the Marine Corps Band at Parris Island, we participated in a lot of parades.    Even since we've moved to Croatia I've played in a few.  But Sunday marked the first time in a long time that I've attended a parade as a spectator.  I'll tell you, it's a lot more fun to stand in the shade with your kids and take pictures than it is to dress up in a stuffy uniform and march a couple miles. 

Orahovačko Prolječe is the annual celebration of our town.  All the grade-school students march in the parade, making it a traditional event most everyone attends because they were in the parade when they were a kid.  Even some traditional folk groups from other parts of Croatia participate. 

The last couple years, it started raining just as the parade started.  But this year we had clear skies.  Here are some pictures from the 42nd Orahovačko Prolječe parade: