Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Teach Me Easy

And so it begins with a typhoon.

Technically, I guess, it began yesterday, the day the typhoon was supposed to hit and then continued today, actual typhoon day, during which it rained half-heartedly and gusted a little more than normal. If this is what a Korean typhoon is, I am unimpressed.

But this year’s students are already shaping up to be an interesting bunch. In my 9:00 Monday class I have group “Power Rangers” of five boys whose English names are (chosen in an instant, mind you) Frog, T.O.P (name of Korean pop singer), Kancho, Zombie, and Twinkle. In yesterday’s level testing of the junior class, we had one student beg, “Teach me easy.” Luckily for him, he’s going to someone else’s class. Maybe.

Working at Kosin—and perhaps working abroad in general—is madness. “Fluid” might be a more polite way of putting it. I found out less than a month ago which classes I was teaching when. Less than a week ago, I got some of the books, and less than a day ago, I was still figuring out what exactly the classes were supposed to be about. There are still things I don’t know—how many students in each class, their ability, what book to use, when the books I ordered will actually be here and—naturally—what else will crop up in the next 24 hours.

For instance only five students out of twenty showed up this morning for my 10:00. The excuse?

 “So windy day, go to school is very difficult, Was allowed to the back of the class to the professors canceled. Sorry to think it is too profit convenience only.”

Flexibility, fluidity, madness—all are virtues for teaching at Kosin. Bending with the winds, but not breaking. So that when a typhoon hits, it’s not really that extraordinary.

(But my dream about the typhoon last night was. Scene:
            Dad sat up, startled in his café seat.
            “Did you see that?!” he gasped. “They just dumped a dead body in the river!” He pointed out the window behind me at the raging river splashing half over and half under a bridge. A car drove away, disappearing instantly.
            I shrugged. “Guess that makes sense. If I were going to drop a dead body somewhere that’s about where I’d put it…”
            But I stayed glued to the window, searching for the body amidst the waves. Two mini-tornados swirled into existence—a twisting morass of water and air that cleared out the river bed. There was no corpse.

Clearly I wanted this typhoon to be a little more epic than it is.)

Friday, August 24, 2012

Yeongdo Nightlife

I’m sitting on the roof of Kosin’s building #3 where the sun can’t get me from behind the mountain and the breeze keeps me cool. I can see everything on this side of the city: oryukdo (the five or six islands, depending on the tide) and its lighthouse, the Buddhist temple across the street, Centum City and the Gawngan Bridge in the east, Taejongdae in the west.

To my left there’s smoke puffing up out from the mountain’s forest where fire has no business being. It dies away.  At the boys’ middle school, hundreds of uniform-clad students mill in and out of classrooms. Not many are leaving, even though it’s past dinnertime.

Mountains and clouds play across the water. The boats glide in and out of the harbor. On the road below, cats slink around and it’s a good night for writing. The glockenspiel’s wooden twang from the temple, now the Taekwondo students yelling as they hit things in the gym four floors below. Lightning off the southern coast of Taejongde. Moments like this could last forever and I would be pleased.

Maybe I’d be more pleased if I’d thought to brush my teeth, though, and my mouth didn’t feel like curry. Mosquitoes at seven-thirty: time to go in.

Actually, this isn't a picture of Yeongdo at all. But I have surprisingly few pictures of the scene described above and those that I do have, I've already used on previous blogs. Turns out I didn't take many pictures last year. So here's me and Lee from a hiking trip we did . . . forever and ever ago. He and I are the remaining young teachers in the English department for this year. Round 2: 시작!

Twisting Leadership

My friend Alice and I were in New York one summer a long time ago. Both Alice and I were first-timers in the city, but I volunteered to carry the map and navigate. She agreed, saying she was horrible with directions, and I was happy because if there’s something called a mapophile, I am it.

At the end of all things it was Frodo who needed Sam's
leadership in many respects. More about Hobbits here.
Inevitably—as it’s one of the top five rules of traveling—we had some argument-inducing directional troubles. In the end, nothing really came of it because “in the end” implies a lot of things about a strong friendship and a lot of time to let that water flow under the bridge. At the time, however, the navigational difficulties elicited some seriously unpleasant moments arising from differing opinions about which way to go. Moreover, it erupted into a struggle hinging on responsibility and authority that I had never seen acted out between friends.

As mired as I am in the discussion of women’s roles in the church, I couldn’t help but be reminded of God’ intended patterns for leadership and submission when recalling this incident. On this topic, the complementarians are strong: God has created a world of order and even if that order doesn’t appeal to our 21st century sensibilities, it doesn’t mean it isn’t God’s mandate and thus the optimal pattern for living. Moreover, it’s clear that even in friendships like mine and Alice’s we act out this pattern instinctively.

Holmes is undeniably the leader of this duo, but in medical
cases, he's not always the more knowledgeable of the two.
But patterns of leadership-submission are flexible. As in the New York example, there were no men to which we ought to have submitted. Did one of us have to lead and the other follow? No, it came naturally. One of us (me) is a natural, forceful leader. Alice tends to accommodate strong personalities. In that same example, imagine that Alice was instead, my hypothetical boyfriend or husband or male friend who is equally directionally uncertain as Alice: should I submit to his “leadership?” Hardly—I was the one who was leading in the first place since it was my area of expertise. Would he “delegate” his leadership to me, then, since it’s my area of expertise? What happens if we disagree? Can he take it back? Even if he’s not more qualified? Leadership-submission is complex and flexible and maybe that’s one of the top things to remember in the debate.

Here’s a better example from a Godly marriage. My friends Ann and Andrew got married this past summer. Ann is a registered nurse and Andrew is a computer guy. Both excel in their separate fields and both are very intelligent people. Eventually they’ll have kids and eventually those children will get sick or crack their head open on the playground and then what happens? Ann will unequivocally be in charge, not Andrew. He will submit to her orders her talents and experiences make her superior to him in that field. If it’s a car problem, Andrew, who grew up fixing them, will be in charge. They both, however, are talented cooks: does that mean Andrew should always be in charge in the kitchen? (I’d like to see him try.)
Flynn, admittedly under duress, takes orders from Rapunzel.
She defers to him in many matters as well.

All that to say, in theory complementarianism is an intelligent, viable option. But in practice, holding to a strict hierarchy in gender roles is insanity bordering on stupidity. If a woman is a lawyer, you’ll submit to her leadership in the courtroom whether you’re male or female, because she knows much more about a complicated procedure than you do. Submission is a part of all relationships, not just for women but for men, too.

To confuse things further, during the time of the I Corinthians and I Timothy letters, men were almost always better educated and more knowledgeable about public matters than their female counterparts. Jewish women were excluded from much of the religious teaching that men were indoctrinated with. It would have been insanity to put an uneducated Jewish woman in charge of a Christian congregation. In marriages, women were usually much younger than their husbands, besides having less education than their husbands. Where they were qualified (Priscilla, teaching beside her husband and Phillip’s four prophet daughters), Paul supported the full exercise of female gifts, without mentioning or implying whether there was a clear male authority over her or not.But sometimes Paul told women to shut up and submit, even if they were passionate about their pursuit of Christ. The difference appears to be her competency, something women have aggressively achieved in recent years.
In situations concerning the magical powers of her hair
(including its ability to support both their weight flying
through the air), Flynn takes his cues from teenage Rapunzel.

Alice and I ran into other snags during the trip to New York. I was tired of leading when I knew Alice could plan a day of travel just as well as I could. Alice was frustrated when I showed little energy for figuring out the next step. I stepped aside and she took the leadership role for the day. She told me where to go and what time we had to be there and I checked what she’d done and made suggestions that were eventually rejected (for good reason; she had a better idea of the logistics at the time). It was difficult for both of us to act out the role the other was good at (leader, follower), but I know that I learned a lot about the frustrations of and talents it takes to be a good follower that day.
Admittedly, these examples are fictitious,
but fiction isn't created in a vacuum. As
someone smart once told me, some men
couldn't lead 2 friends out of a room
while some women effortlessly command
the attention of an auditorium. Kel, the
girl-hero-leader of the above series leads
with quiet, level-headed competence.

Hierarchy is a part of life. Submission is a part of life. Leadership is a part of life. The first shall be last and the last, first. Every one of us will be called to submit and to lead during our lives.

If you’re egalitarian that means exercising that with which God has endowed you (II Corinthians14:26).[1] God has given you gifts that ought to be used: they should not be hidden under a bushel for the less-qualified to ignore, but should be shining on a hill to lead all towards the one who gave you those gifts. Sometimes you lead (when qualified) and sometimes you follow.

If you’re complementarian,then a suitable helper is one that will help lead. A leader can’t lead all the time because at the very least he or she will not be qualified for a great many things, never mind the times when there are no authoritative men present.


Apologies, friends, for the extremely long post. I hope some of you at least skim your way through it. I enjoyed writing it, and I promise the next posts won’t be so long. I’m trying to  alternate between women in the church posts and normal posts, so if this isn’t your favorite topic, read up for the next one. I think it’s going to be about fingernails, if that’s a draw for you. J

[1] Both gender roles and English are complex and sometimes it’s just better to end the sentence with a preposition. Agreed?

Monday, August 20, 2012

Your Top 10 Questions about Hong Kong: Answered

I know you’re all dying to hear about my Hong Kong trip so that you’ll be able to plan your own in the near future. Instead of nattering on about my personal feelings of the city, allow me to answer your most pressing questions so that your own trip will go smoothly.

     1.      Can I drink the water?
I call this "Blurry City at Night because Elaine is Terrible
with Night Shots on her Camera and the Boat was Moving"
Probably. But the restaurants boil it first, if that’s any indication of the locals’ expectations of their water’s purity.

     2.      How should I get from the airport to my hotel?
Depends on the time of day. Since Faith (my traveling compatriot on this journey) and I arrived in the middle of the night, we took a taxi whose driver had a collection of god-only-knows-what-voodoo-creepy stuff on the dashboard and who drove literally double the speed limit.

     3.      Will I get lost in the city?
I hope so! Don’t be afraid to be lost: that’s one of the best parts of travel! That said, it’s a pretty straightforward city with a very navigable transit system. If you do find yourself scrabbling for directions, you’ll probably be able to find someone who speaks English well enough to help you out. The two times Faith and I asked for help, both people were fluent.
View from said hostel

     4.      What kind of Chinese should I be speaking?
Cantonese. Study up.

     5.      Where should I get my hotel?
Hong Kong Island. I recommend Hong Kong Hostel, located on Paterson St right next to a bunch of bus stops and the subway. It has creepy 3D pictures of cats on the walls, but the view from the balcony is great! Also, we saw no less than three runway models (live gods and goddesses of beauty) less than a block from the hostel.

     6.      Can I brush my teeth with the water?
Yes. Just don’t chug it.

     7.      What are the modern-day reminders that Hong Kong was a British Colony for much of its history?
They stare at you no matter where you go.
I’m glad you asked. From my vantage point: the large English-speaking population, international education, and a friendly reminder to “mind the gap” before entering the subway car. And it’s not an idle warning: the gaps between the platform and car are large enough for small children and puppies to fall through.

     8.      What geography do I need to be aware of?
The South Island, Lantau Island and the mainland are separated by Victoria Harbor and easily bypassed by superior bridge and tunnels systems. Lantau Island is home to the airport and an exceptionally large Buddha. The north part of Hong Kong Island and the central-southern tip of the mainland make up the city’s center.

     9.      What should I eat?
Yes. Though I wouldn’t recommend the duck eggs/minced pork option that I managed to order on my first evening in the city. It was less than delicious.

     10.  What’s the best thing about the city?
See? British! With English jokes about butts and boats!
It’s a tie between the air conditioning blasting out of buildings and cooling all the sidewalks and the amazing public transportation. Apparently Hong Kongians brag about their public transit: and they should. Subways come every two minutes (to platforms which are just as air-conditioned as the carriages) and I’ve never been on a system so intuitive. Every time we transferred lines, the line we wanted to go to was somehow directly in front of us! The only not well-air-conditioned transit system are the trams which were built in 1904 and are still widely used for quick hops around the city. They are super-cool. Old, but double-decker, and riding on them costs only 25 cents!

     11.  Please stop talking about the transportation.
No! The buses are double-decker and I loved them. We also rode on a minibus one time that probably almost killed three people as it swerved around mountains, but it went really fast and goes all over the island. Everything is easy and intuitive, navigation-wise. And to pay for everything, all you need is the famed and mysteriously named Octopus Card. You swipe it onto every bus, minibus, tram, and subway entrance and you’ve already paid. They’re very easy to charge up and if you plan it right, you can take the airport bus back with the card so you don’t have any extra money left on it!

Anyway, now I’m back in Korea where the subway platforms are not air-conditioned and I have to hike up a mountain in order to do my laundry. But Korea has good things too—like friends and treadmills, potable water, and cute art supply stores. But it’d be cool if we had a tram system, too. Just saying, President Lee Myung-Bak. Just saying.

Monday, August 13, 2012

The Glass is Half Empty

The glass if half-empty because both sides of the “women’s roles in the church” argument are wrong. More on that later; it’s more helpful to start by introducing the boxers in the ring:

Aaaaaaand in corner one it’s the Complementarians!!!! (Okay, I’ve never watched a boxing match in my life and I don’t even know how to pretend to introduce Complementarians—comps for short—as a contender for the featherweight championship.) Comps, also known as the traditionalists or the hierarchialists, believe that while men and women are equal in personhood, they have different positions to live out—roles that are more traditional, by some definitions hierarchical, and in function complement one another). Simply put: the personhood is equal, but their positions are not.

Aaaaaaaand in corner two it’s the Egalitarians (I’ll probably call them the Egals or Eagles). Even more simply put, egalitarians believe the Bible supports that men and women are both equal in personhood and position.

It’s important to be clear on terminology and who exactly the two sides are. Complementarians don’t hate women; egalitarians don’t hate men. Both sides have far more in common with one another than they have differences. For example: both sides are Christians; both sides look to scripture as the inerrant word of God; both sides believe they have interpreted scripture in a God-honoring way that illuminates the good, pleasing, and perfect will of God. Both sides are made up of fallen human beings who make mistakes and whose entire thought-process are inextricably linked with the culture they live and in which they grew up.

As is often the case, there are two opposing views and a full gamut of grey between them. There is also an area of black which I will not go into except to use it as an example of complementarianism gone wrong: that is when Christians advocate male dominance over women. Those beliefs are hurtful, unproductive, and unbiblical in a big way. Those who believe that dominance to be Biblical cannot be censured strongly enough for an uncritical and shallow approach to their faith.

The two sides I’ve researched both have rational interpretations of the scripture, but both have their weaknesses.

Complementarians lack direct scriptural support for many of their beliefs and must draw inferences from things like the order of creation and words left unsaid (Genesis account in particular). Proponents of this view often ignore the exceptional gifts women have (and have often been used in missions)which include leadership, teaching, and prophecy.

Egalitarians, who do have more direct scriptural support, also have to do some backbending to avoid other scriptural verses (I’m looking at you I Corinthians). Proponents of this view tend to ignore that there are inherent differences in men and women that go beyond biology and that support the chronological order of God’s creation of humankind.

Both sides have to rely on some things being cultural and not others, discerning which commands can be directly applied and which must be traced back to their roots to be understood at all (head coverings, for obvious instance).

So the glass is half empty.

And so, half full.

Both sides are right and both sides are wrong. They are right to search the scriptures. They are wrong to focus on an issue like this instead of unity, service, and justice. They are right to aggressively test their sisters and brothers’ interpretation or apathy. They are wrong to demean the other side’s intelligence, their reading of scripture, their biases. They are right to be inquisitive. They are wrong to be divisive. They are right to seek answers. They are wrong to think they have the answers at all, that their reading and reasonings have come to the right conclusion where others have failed.

Half empty, half full— I think it’s probably more important what’s inside the glass (I’m praying for a non-alcoholic Shirley Temple, which are baller).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Raining on My Parade

            It’s scary how easy it is to pack everything in two suitcases. For the better part of a week I’d been dreading piling things up and pushing them into their coffins of convenience for the flight back to Korea.[1] There was simply too much—I knew it would never all fit, that it would be impossible to stuff my life of the last couple months  into as many bags (fifty pounds or less). I would have to cull a few books from the packing list, or maybe leave a beloved sweatshirt behind to loiter in my room until I got back.
            Packing is my nemesis, my Captain Hammer if you will. I hate the hard choices—I want all of those books with me all the time! I want that stupid t-shirt I only wear when it’s frigid and I’m eating cookies in my cookie pants (which I also want to bring, even though Korea is lacks many cookies). It had to be done—but I knew it would undoubtedly be difficult.
            After a relaxing hour of watching Avatar the Last Airbender and completing the early stages of packing, it was clear I had over-estimated how hard it is to put one’s life in a suitcase. Obviously I had to leave the beagle behind (woe!) and my parents have lives to live that aren’t in Korea, but still. It should have been harder. I should have had to spend days—or at least an all-nighter, since I never pack more than 24 hours in advance—to figure things out. I should have been reviewing the past weeks, sifting through experiences and thoughts and memories and getting ready to move on.
            It was raining when I left, as we drove out of the driveway. Some people think rain at the beginning of the trip is a bad omen, or at the very least not in the proper spirit of trip-making. I see their point, rather like how some people say you aren’t supposed to cry when someone leaves because the last way they see you and how they remember you ought to be smiling. I like that idea. My family would fit in well in that kind of tradition, not because of the belief, but because we’re simply not criers.
            That’s why I like it when it rains at the beginning of a trip. Sure it makes logistics less nice and sometimes fouls up your hair or gets in your socks. But my parents and I don’t cry when we separate. We—like the packing, which of course shouldn’t take days—are logical like that. But the rain has other priorities. Lacking a vocabulary and the practicality to know that barring freakish misfortune reunion is inevitable—the sky is right to rain.

[1] And I really do mean coffin. The twinkies barely made it and the grits were mangled something fierce.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Adventures from the Porch

            There are roughly three thousand more exciting ways to spend your summer than how I’ve spent mine. Horseback riding on the Mongolian plains. Hiking in the Tibetan mountains. Backpacking through Europe. Road-tripping from state park to state park. Vampire slaying in Romania! Dragon riding in Peru!
            Actually, since I spent my summer with a nose in book after book, chewing on a pen as I took notes, some might believe that every other way to spend my summer would have been more exciting. The adventurer in me is disappointed that I didn’t at least take the car up to the U.P. and look around. She’s mortified that leaving the house even once a day, while easily accomplished, actually took conscious effort.
            But there will be adventures.
            There is a season . . .
            This season was a time for reading like I’ve never read before—not even in college (I dearly hope my professors don’t read this one). In college I read a lot, but there was soccer practice and deadlines and, like most students these days, I am accomplished at completing the assignment without fully delving into the subject. There simply wasn’t time.
            The subject for this summer was gender roles in the church. After more than a few disappointing conversations and sermons this past year, I decided I wanted to understand the subject. When a pastor says, “We believe in a traditional interpretation of women’s roles in the church” I want to be able to say more than, “But this is the twenty-first century!” I want to point to each of the difficult passages, to know which ones are troublesome and which are traditionally poorly translated. To know what other pastors and authors and scholars have been saying on those passages.
            I suspect that for the first time ever, I sincerely wanted to study the Bible.
Having given my life to Christ, trusting in His provision as the Word, I want questions answered.
What did you mean by creating man first? Why were women second and what is a “suitable helper?” How can I and my sisters consider ourselves equal to our brothers in your kingdom if we are, by nature of our sex of all things, considered ineligible to positions of authority and leadership? Why should men not submit to women when the Bible clearly says, “Submit to one another” without making a gender distinction? Why are godly men ignoring godly women and why are godly women content with gossiping about problems when they have the skills to solve them?
The list goes on and on. The frustrations piled up during the past six months as I watched women in our church sidelined, their problems marginalized as “women’s problems” rather than “people problems.” They clogged my throat, my eyes, my brain when I tried to answer the complementarians’ question, “Why does having a different role make you feel inferior?” leaving me only with the ironic protest muddying in my skull: “separate but equal.”
Somehow every conversation I was having ended up on the subject of women in the church. Eyes glazed over. I received raised eyebrows and supporting nods, but noncommittal answers and apathetic shrugs. I learned early on that not everyone is set on fire at the same time about the same topics. But when you are set on fire—as I undeniably was and am—you don’t let the embers fester, sustained by frustrations but weakened by waffling.
I suppose I could have let it die, but I am what my mom describes tenderly as “tenacious” whether I want to be or not. Sometimes I think fire itself is my fuel. At times it fuels me to travel to Thailand and at times it asks for substance. Last winter I went to Thailand, so this summer I sat on my porch with the bees and my beagle and a stack of books.
And I want to share what I’ve found, whether you’re set on fire or not. I’ve read some good books and great books, some excellent articles and quite a few essays by some of the finest minds modern Christendom has to offer. I’ve read enough that I absolutely must start writing about it, but there’s still so much to read and to study. At this point my NT Greek is 90% nouns and I’ve yet to finish struggling through Piper and Grudem’s iconic Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. I look forward to a great many more months, books, and any links, rabbit trails, or musings you all have on the subject.