Saturday, September 23, 2017

Seeing the Need for the Gospel

I had an interesting conversation in the baby room at church recently. To be honest, any sort of conversation with little kids around is challenging...Both parents spend most of their time redirecting and parenting their small children through a maze of things that they can play with or injure themselves with, depending on the context. I didn't know the other Dad in the room, and we chatted for a bit. At one point, one child did something selfish, and I made a comment about how children are inherently selfish, and it isn't something that we have to teach them. His response surprised me. He defended a sort of morally neutral viewpoint that the reason a child is selfish isn't because they are naturally that way; it is a learned behavior. It is because they hear "no" from us when they grab at our mobile phone (or in our case, the dog's water dish, to which Maya makes a bee-line ever chance she gets). When they hear "no", they learn our own selfishness.

To be honest, I was pretty fascinated by this line of thinking. I find this here every once in a while. I try to make comments that lift up the hood on my worldview every now and again. I understand that my worldview is fundamentally different than many of the people I encounter here in Austria, but it is often something that lies under the surface. Aspects of worldview are things that aren't normally addressed. They are hidden around every corner, but don't always come all the way up to the surface. It is important to be able to talk about and dialogue about worldview perspectives. I don't think we think enough or discuss enough these sorts of fundamental questions.

The weakness in his view is two-fold. First of all, I have less and less moral agency in my own life if I am purely a product of my environment and learned behavior. I can say, "its not my fault, I was raised like this", but our parents and their parents can make the same argument. I can give up responsibility for my own choices. It also doesn't explain the foundation of this all. If it just runs up the generations, where is the genesis for it all? It all remains subjective and disconnected from a reality outside of the material world.

The second weakness is it feels awfully hopeless. If this spiral is bread into us and permeates society, what hope do I have to break out? Do you really trust yourself to have the shear force of will to pull yourself out of this? Maybe others are able to bear that, but it feels too heavy for me.

The world is fundamentally broken, there is something wrong, and we can feel it. If we are honest with ourselves, the sickness is not just outside ourselves in society or just in other people, it is in our own hearts, as well. It is in my heart. I think this is the first step to understanding our need for the gospel. We need to understand that all that darkness is in our own hearts, too.

But that is not the end of the story. It is into our darkness that Jesus arrives and gives us the chance to change; he makes us new. It isn't my white-knuckled fingers on the steering wheel that change the direction of my life. It is his transformation and his power.

Thursday, September 7, 2017

Getting Away

Last Friday, we returned home from our first two week vacation in Austria. We were so thankful for the chance to explore this beautiful country we live in and see some areas we had never visited. The more we visit various new parts of Austria, the deeper our understanding grows for the Austrian culture and values. After a busy year we were also very thankful for the chance to rest and get away (although travelling with little kids is not always very restful...it did have it's moments).

Here are a few photos highlights from our trip:

The first week was spent in the province of Tirol in the Alps, near the Swiss and Italian borders. We rented a house with another family from Vienna. The kids had a blast playing together and we enjoyed exploring the local area.













Our second week was spent at a "Vacation Farm", where we had an apartment on property. We got to cuddle cats, feed the animals, do crafts and ride ponies. We also loved riding the gondola to the top of the local mountain, where there were lots of great views and adventurous activities.






After two weeks away, it was nice to return home and get back into a normal routine. With September's arrival comes the start of kindergarten again for Ellie and the kick-off of ministries at church. We are excited to jump back in and see what new things God has in store for us this fall!

Thursday, August 17, 2017

Frame of Reference

A few weeks ago, Ellie and I went on our first Austrian camp out. We went with 3 other dads from our colleague's church in the city. All four families are at a similar stage in life. Each family has an oldest daughter with in a one and a half year span. Even though we don't go to their church or see them really often, we have stayed connected with these families throughout our time here in Vienna.

So we all packed up and headed to Neusiedlersee which is on the southern border of Austria and Hungary. Austria is not that big of a country and so it took us about an hour and a half to get there.

We had a really great time. It was Ellie's first time sleeping in a tent and in a sleeping bag. We got to go swimming in the lake, eat some ice cream and relax in the shade. Despite a light case of heat exhaustion (for me) and some car trouble, we had a ton of fun. All the girls did a great job playing together.

One thing I found really interesting after spending the weekend with the guys was how much our up-bringing affects our frame of reference. The first and most obvious example of this was what camping actually means. For me this is camping, and this and this. Camping is calm in the woods, it is cooking out on a fire, it is ready-made adventure. For me growing up, camping was vacation. But here camping is a little more communal. We were all together on a big grassy area with very little shade. It is just a different experience.

Another side of it was spending that much time with the guys and seeing how we each worked with daughters. I think every family is different in how the discipline and help their children. Culture isn't the only thing influencing these decisions. We were also a bunch of Dads that all didn't have to do the rhythms that our wives set up for our families...but that is a different post. It was a small window into these families and how we handle daily chores and tasks.

I was at a small get together recently where they had a cold buffet laid out. One food here that isn't in the U.S. is something called Topfen. It is a form of farmer's cheese similar to the cheese you would have if you took cottage cheese and blended it. They make all kinds of dips and spreads out of it, and I like it very much. I turned to someone in line I was chatting with and mentioned, "You know in the States, we don't have this. I think I would really miss it." He looked at me confused and said something along the lines of "really?" For most of us in the U.S. that sort of spread on bread just isn't a category. It's not something normally put out for cold sandwiches.

I think it is valuable to set aside our frame of reference and seek to see things from someone else's perspective. It gives me the chance to evaluate my preconceived notions about the world; it helps me to see myself more clearly. It holds a mirror up to me as I see different ways of doing things. We continue to unearth small things in this culture that are like that, simply a different way of solving the same sets of problems.

This is why we need each other. This is one of the values of cross-cultural relationships. It is a mirror held up to you where you can see the weaknesses of your decisions, the places where the light of God's glory doesn't shine as bright. This shows us places where others do things better, and it is up to us under the guidance of the Holy Spirit to act on those things.

The great thing about this is you don't have to live 4,700 miles away from home. You have neighbors and friends close by where that same feeling is available. I want to encourage our American friends to seek out a neighbor or co-worker from a different culture and learn something about yourself.