Wednesday, December 22, 2004

Feliz Natal!

Oi, todos! Tudo bem? Hoje estou com saudade para meus amigos e minhas familias no Brasil. Estou achando sobre Natal para eles. Eu fiquei triste porque eles sao muito especial para mim, mas eu nao posso emborar ai.

Hello, everyone! How are you? Today, I am missing my friends and my family (adopted) in Brazil. I am think about Christmas for them. I became sad because they are very special to me, but I cannot be there. So, maybe we could talk a little about Christmas in Brazil. The tradition of my host family is that they will go to Christmas Eve service at 8 or 9 p.m. and return home around 11 to have their midnight feast, open presents, etc. late into the night.

My American family will be attending church at my parents' church, where we grew up, perhaps for the last time, as Dad is retiring and they are planning to build a house in another town closer to the grandkid. After our candlelight service, around 7:30 p.m. it starts, we will return home and perhaps watch a movie or read, then go to bed, get up and open presents on Christmas morn, but usually we have breakfast first. My mother insists. When we were younger, forget about it. We woke them up early and tore into those presents. But my Mom has trained the grandkid to wait. And so, unless it's under the tree and unwrapped, he does. Breakfast will be Swedish tearing (from Mom's cultural background), a sausage and egg caserole which is fabulous, and eggnog or orange juice. Sometimes we also have a frozen fruit salad as well.

Then it's time for the greed! HEH HEH HEH. I am having a hard time getting enthusiastic about Christmas this year. It has been so hard for me. I lost my second fiance in five years. And this time, she broke it off, and I have no idea why, except, by the way she did it, I know she is not for me. Very selfish person. I am so in debt from the seminary degree that I am not even using, that I can't fulfill my dream and hit the mission field. I feel like I have not accomplished much at 35, and yet I have been to Africa 4 times, Brazil twice, Europe several times, and taught and performed music, I had a national Christian single that was in the top 200 Christian radio stations and still gets airplay. I have released two albums, written songs that are sung in churches around the world in several languages. But I am not where I wanna be. And I am alone without children. And I just am losing hope about that. I am frustrated that God gave me the desire for these things yet He keeps allowing me to fail in these areas. It just doesn't seem loving to me. So I guess, if you pray, you can pray for me about that. Because I am really angry about it. And I don't know what to do.

Anyway, I didn't plan on writing about this here, but oh well, holiday nostalgia. Hey, I'm not even sure that many people read my rantings on here anyway. Just know of one or two. So, I hope your Holidays are blessed and great! May God richly bless you in the year to come! Mawu nayra wo ka ka ka!

Friday, December 17, 2004

Cultures Clashing: Brasil v. Estados Unidos (USA)

Talk about Cultures Clashing! Since I have taken an interest in Brazil, and visited twice, I have realized how similar the United States and Brazil are in many aspects. So it makes me sad to see our countries seemingly so diametrically opposed.

While the U.S. dominates North America, Brazil dominates South America. It is the largest economy in Latin America. The US economy is the largest in the world. And while the US shares the continent with only Mexico and Canada, Brazil shares with Peru, Columbia, Paraguay, Uruguay, Argentina, Chile, and several other lesser known countries as well. And it is surrounded by countries that speak Spanish, while Brazilians speak Portuguese. At least the US has the advantage that English, as a language, dominates the world. Sure, not everyone speaks it, but it is studied in school systems all over the world and remains regarded as a key language for those in international business and government to learn.

Brazil has rich natural resources, as does the U.S. And it has mountains, prairie, savannahs, and also jungle (unlike the U.S.). Brazil has a polyglot of people of different ethnic backgrounds from Germany, Italy, Japan, the Middle East, and Africa, among other places. And each of these peoples have brought elements of their culture into the Brazilian landscape, creating a cultural polyglot. In fact, I would dare say that their original cultural ideas have been more largely adopted by larger Brazilian society than that of similar immigrants to the U.S. Like the U.S., Brazilian cities have German or Italian or Japanese neighborhoods and cuisine.

In geographic size, the two countries are very similar. And there are citizens of Brazil whose own personal wealth could easily compete with the U.S.' Donald Trumps and others. But the degree of separation between rich and poor and virtual lack of a middle class is something that distinguishes Brazil from the U.S. One study in 1995 showed that around 60% of the land was owned by 10% of the population, while 10% of the population had 90% of the wealth.

Like the U.S., Brazilians have a well developed media and entertainment industry with standards for television and film and music comparable and competitive world wide with U.S. product, unusual for a Third World country. You can say the same about advertising and marketing and fast approaching, telecommunications. Brazilians have one of the largest percentage of online users in the world. And cell phones are rampant. The consumer mentality of Brazilians in the upper classes is also very much like that of most Americans. But the economy has products that range in price from more expensive to comparable to very less expensive than the same products in the U.S. I like shopping in Brazil because I can often get a lot more for my money. Products like DVDs and electronics, though, can be more expensive, so I am selective in what I buy. But clothes, CDs, some books, food, handcrafted items, art, and many things are great deals. Even film developing and film itself. Whereas in Africa I can get 4 times what I could here for these items, in Brazil, I at least double, if not triple my money.

But a lot of Brazilians resent America. Why? 1) We call ourselves America. And they are in America, too. How pompous of us! (A lot of other Central and South American countries feel this way, as well as, Canada, too. We should really be more sensitive.) 2) We dominate the world economically and militarily in many ways. 3) Our culture permeates the world. Everywhere in the world people lust after American music, television, movies, clothing, electronics, etc. And often to the detriment of their own traditions and cultures. Truth is, when you travel around a lot and see how it is, it is not hard to understand the resentment. But often I feel the resentment of a lot of Brazilians is particularly sad, because their country often acts economically like the U.S. and has begun doing so militarily. It dominates its economic spectrum very much like we do.

I and many Brazilian friends were all excited when Lulu became Brazil's President and we all agreed that if he could only have an honest term, he could change Brazilian politics forever by showing them a new way is possible. He has tried. Though some key advisors have tried to screw it up. And the scariest part is Lulu is befriending diehard communists like Castro and moving Brazil in that direction. Brazilians may only be beginning to see the dangers of that. If they think they should have more and be more, just wait until they see the cost of communism. And Lulu frequently badmouths the American administration and makes it difficult for the U.S. to work with him. He makes strong demands that the U.S. often denies because they are only in Brazil's best interest, not the interests of the U.S. Because of this, though, many Brazilians say America is bullying them and trying to control them. But in reality, their President and ours are both putting their countries first. Isn't that what they were hired to do?

A lot of the anger comes from the war situation. Because the American economy was heavily impact and thus America's involvement all over the world lessened and it hurt every other economy that depends on us, including Brazil. Furthermore, U.S. interference in the government of other nations is regarded as more U.S. bullying into other people's interests. So a lot of people really resent it. But Brazil has its own similar history of bullying, though perhaps on a smaller scale, its neighbors economically and physically. And I think Brazilians tend to forget that and miss the reality of how much positive effect the U.S. work in Afghanistan and Iraq can have for the whole world in the long run. Yes, we are waiting to see. But dictators like the Taliban and Sadaam are never good for the world. Brazilians should remember more of their own history, with the military dictatorship and Vargas, among others. Were they as extreme as Sadaam? In silencing their critics with prison terms and torture, yes. In other ways, perhaps not. But nonetheless, I am surprised more Brazilians do not seem to recognize the parallels.

As Brazil continues to stretch her wings, acting as a peacemaker for the U.N. in Haiti and building its economic block, it will be interesting to see how many more parallels develop. I for one, hope Brazil can become more like the U.S. in equity between poor and rich. The U.S. is far from perfect, but there is a lot Brazil could immulate. I would like to see Brazil parallel the U.S. in education and jobs training programs. I would like to see Brazil become considered no longer Third World. But I hope Brazilians can see through their frustrations and distaste to find what is good to learn from us, as I hope we can do the same and learn from them. I think we both have a lot to contribute to each other. And I think the world would be a better place if we did.

Monday, December 13, 2004


Okay, as I've been doing this now for a couple of months, I feel it's time to comment a bit on the experience. I am a bit disappointed, I confess that I have not had much response. But the other day I got an email from Adalton Nascimento, who is a Brazilian brother, working with World Vision on Los Angeles, my old home. He is having, as he describes it, my opposite experience. But he felt my blog was fair to Brazil and a balanced view, for an American. So I appreciate that. It is what I have been trying for. Here is a link to his blog. It is in Portuguese, so don't go there if you can't speak the lingua:

Thanks, Adalton. I look forward to dialoging with you about your experiences and invite you to interact with me here. You wrote me in Portuguese, but I am assuming you can speak English, as life in L.A. without it would be very challenging!

I hope there are others of you out there. I really would like to hear from you. I want to dialogue about your impressions of your own culture, of life, and of my opinions. I want to learn and grow from you, and I hope you can learn and grow from me. I have travelled a lot more, than most people. I have been overseas 7 times since the year 2000. And I have interacted with people from a lot of different cultures who come to St. Louis and whom I meet at other places. And I also interact with lots of cross cultural folks on the web as well. I have strong opinions, but I hope I am as fair and accurate as I try to be in representing other peoples' cultures, even when I disagree with them.

That being said, I will try and post more later this week, when I get inspired. But I need to hear from you here for this to work. Make comments. Let's dialogue with one another. There's so much to learn!

Thanks. Deus te abencoe, Mawu nayra mi ka ka ka, God Bless You!

Monday, December 06, 2004

Animals, Cable and Excesses

Okay, today's post may sound a bit arrogant. I do not intend it that way. I am not looking down on anyone. Nor in any of these posts, though I always feel free to express my strong opinions. I mean, it is my blog. You can get your own and do the same thing. But that being said, there is a phenomenon that I want to comment on.

What is it with poor families having an abnormally large number of animals? My friend V. in Brazil is in a family of 7. They are poor. They have 4 dogs, 25+ chickens, 12 monkeys, and 1 cat. My friend A. in Missouri is poor with two boys. She has 7 cats. My friend C. in Africa has 4 kids, her husband and various nephews and nieces living with her, and 2 dogs, 1 cat, 2 goats, and several chickens. These are people who have trouble supporting their families. They have told me so. So why do they spend money feeding all these animals? I mean, yes, they eat the chickens and their eggs. Yes, they get milk from the goats, and occassionally use them for meat. But the dogs and cats? And why so many? This is a phenomenon that I just don't understand.

I have one cat. I have no wife, no kids. And my budget is always barely squeezing by. I love animals. I would love to have a lot more. I cannot afford it. In fact, if I was this poor when I heard of her, I probably wouldn't have Lucy either. But thank God I do, as the companionship is important. But I notice more and more people who are poor with multiple animals. That just doesn't make sense to me. As I said, I love animals, but when it comes to buying Lucy food and my own, I win. I buy her food, but she doesn't eat as well as I do sometimes.

There are a lot of these kinds of choices made by people living on or below the poverty line that puzzle me. For example, a recent study I saw showed that 90 percent of them pay $50 or more per month for cable. Yet they cannot afford dental care, and have rotting teeth. They cannot afford doctors, and have medical problems. They cannot afford food and are malnourished. I just don't understand that. You can get 10 channels with just an antenna. I pay $11.80 a month and get 25 channels. Is that not enough? Is it not more sensible to buy a VCR one month and rent movies? I mean, that would be a LOT less money in the long run.

I think the consumer culture is very addictive and escapism is becoming a normal way of life around the world. When you investigate, you find that one reason so many poor place a high value on entertainment is to escape from the depressing realities of their lives. And they seem to need a lot of options to do it, so they all get satellite dishes or HBO and Expanded Basic.

I was in Brazil staring up at these amazing favellas. Shanty after shanty built of scraps on slanting hillsides. Barely room to walk between them. No plumbing. No public power. And poking out from rooftops and windows were satellite dishes!!! It blows my mind! They ran their own power lines, siphoned off electric poles (at great personal risk) to run them, too! It is mind boggling! Sure, poor people deserve entertainment, too. Absolutely. But I think priorities are a bit screwed up. I would choose sanitary conditions first. I mean, not all of these are legal setups and neither are the power lines running them, but nonetheless, it seems confused.

I think our consumer culture has many of us thinking we are entitled to things that are luxuries and nonnecessities. I make those choices every day, but I am more and more conscious of them. Some people, I honestly believe, don't see things the same way. To them, cable or satellite is actually more of an essential than getting a dental filling!

The sad thing is that many governments think the same way. In African nations, money is blown on all kinds of perks for the poiliticians while roads are washing away with the rain and infrastructure and basic necessities are pipe dreams for a majority of the people. And while citizens complain, they often don't do so on the basis that it is irresponsible government. They just complain that they are denied such luxuries. I mean, who needs roads and power and water? They steal what they need. Why shouldn't they? The government is stealing from their tax dollars to live in luxury?

In Brazil 10 percent of the population has 90 percent of the wealth. These people have lifestyles beyond belief, yet people across the street are starving. There are numerous examples around the world. Even in the U.S. I think we really need to reexamine the cultural values and ideas that allow such inequalities to exist and create such distorted priorities! I think the God given right argument is much more applicable to the right to have good access to hospitals, doctors, and schools than it is to any right to MTV and HBO. I guess I kinda wish a lot more people felt the same way. Maybe we could change things.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

The Arrogance of Javally

One of my favorite sites was hacked yesterday by some character calling himself Javally and claiming he was a Brazilian hacker and superior intellect. The irony is this character complained of anti-Brazil Americans and expressed the usual anti-Bush/anti-American dominance sentiments on a website founded by Brazilians living in America and that features articles where Brazil is most often viewed positively. In fact, a large number of articles are written by Brazilians or people presently living in Brazil. In fact, some of them even criticize America and its foreign policies in a similar vein to this Javally character. Apparently the superior intellect doesn't bother to read the sites he hacks, or he would have known that.

To me, this arrogance of the hacker types is amazing. They invade people's lives and do destructive things and then act as if it is all in good fun. What a sad statement on where morality is going if young people think criminal acts against others are all fun and games. I feel the same way about those recently convicted for spamming. The perpetrators' made statements to the effect of "nothing we did hurt anyone" or "we did nothing bad." I for one hope they throw them in jail for a number of years. Because I am sick and tired of the 100+ spams I have to clean out of my email daily. It is ridiculous. But this attitude, to me, in indicative of a moral failure in society. And not just American society, either, but worldwide.

Mutual respect and understanding is a fundamental value necessary to any civilized society. Yet somehow we seem to have lost that along then way. There was the old saying in America: "My rights stop where yours begin." The idea is that you have freedom to be who you want to do, do what you want to do, say what you want to say, until it encroaches on the same freedoms which are someone else's. So we have a point where we all need to compromise in order to live civilly with one another. This is a hallmark of all civilized societies. I have seen it in Europe, in Brazil, in Africa. But there seems to be a lot of people in my generation and younger who just don't get it. People like this Javally, lost in their arrogance and overinflated sense of self-importance. And they bite the hand that feeds them -- trampling on the rights of people who
even agree with their core ideas.

While I have no problem with folks like this being thrown in jail, as they need to be awakened to reality, I often wonder what good it serves. Will they become more jaded? More criminal? What we really need is to reeducate their values so they can use their gifts and intellect (no one can deny they have talent and brains) to positive, constructive purposes. Imagine what they could to then? I have noticed this attitude creeping into American dialogue more and more. This past election, Americans adamantly disagreed and could not find any common ground or areas or compromise. Families were divided, friendships destroyed. In Ghana and Brazil, I have often been dismayed by the negativity of the politicking. How they slam one another with incredible statements daily. How they assassinate each others' character. How they always find the negative slant on everything the other candidate or party does. Yet they get together after and laugh and have a beer or a meal together like it's nothing. It always seemed very strange to me. But now I am thinking we have something to learn from them. Maybe we need thicker skins.

To me, the answer to these two delimmas must lie somewhere between improved moral character and willingness to accept differences. I pray that our country can move in this direction, and I pray that other countries will as well. This is not a culture specific issue -- it is of interest to all civilized humanity.

Tuesday, November 30, 2004

Public Perceptions

It is interesting to me how many discussions I've had with foreigners who think that only they get the truth from the press. Generally, they argue that our press (American) lies to us and tells us only what the President wants us to hear, while their press shows the real truth. This from people in countries like Brazil, whose President Da Silva recently suggested censorship of the press and the Middle East where the press are virtually arms of the local government and heavily controlled. We think we have press bias!

Anyone who looks at the facts can see that the press in America is biased today. They report stories negative to people they favor and barely touch on the positives. There are numerous examples. During the recent Presidential campaign, they were very quick to downplay positive aspects of the Iraq War than the negative stories of prison scandal and death tolls. This negatively impacted the President. There are other examples. Stories even get promoted more because they negatively impact the competition -- repeated stories about Fox News' conservative bias from all other more liberal news organizations. The slamming of the Dan Rather story by everyone but CBS News, where he works. Tell me that doesn't show bias of its own! The sad thing is it wasn't always this way.

As recently as the 1970s, Walter Cronkite was the most trusted man in America. He served CBS News for decades! He was renowned for his fairness and impartiality. Newspapers went out of their way to edit out biases in reporters' stories and to assure the public got both sides, well presented, of every issue. So what happened? My opinion is that this is the result of a general watering down of our values. I think that is something European countries went through several decades ago. But now it is happening here.

The election of John Kerry would have brought support for a number of policies that would change the American identity, because they would negate long standing morals and beliefs on which this country was founded, and on which our traditional American character has been built. The artistic community and press have cried out about Bush's reelection because he has the opposite agenda. Somehow artists and press today have become smitten with their own knowledge and influence. They have bought into the old lie that they are better or higher beings and therefore deserve to tell other lesser beings how to vote and how to think. By way of contrast, when you study history and look at people like William Shakespeare, Rembrandt, George F. Handel, J.S. Bach, Leonardo Da Vinci and others, they have one common strain -- respect for their own human limitations and expectation that there remain things all around us that were created by a being higher than ourselves. It is evident all over their work. Yet it is not so evident in the work of arrogant artists like Michael Moore or Tim Robbins today.

This is sad for all of us. Because this nation was founded on Christian principles "under God, indivisible." Yet now there is a growing divide. And at the root of it is a lack of respect for those of other ideologies and beliefs than our own. It is disturbing that the nation of freedom is becoming a nation of freedom to only be honest with those who agree with you. If we continue in this direction, America will lose its world influence and solidarity with drastic consequences. How can we stand up as examples to the whole world of liberty and compassion, when we can't stand to let our neighbor speak his mind? How can we stand up as example to the world of unity despite differences, when those who don't get their way would rather immigrate to Canada than stay and examine how we got to a place where this land might not be the place we want to live? I think now, more than ever, America needs self-examination. We need to figure out what we've lost and discover how to bring it back. It begins with reexamining our own biases and demanding of ourselves that we not force our opinions on those around us. But the problem is, far too many Americans could never even agree on that.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

America v. Brazil

I recently entered a new environment where cultures have been clashing for months., an invite only website where people can join communities on topics of interest ranging from alma maters to sports teams to singers to languages of the world. It is fun and interesting, but there has been a war raging.

It started several months back when the number of Brazilian members outnumbered Americans. Portuguese and Brazilian references are everywhere. And apparently some of our American friends got angry that they couldn't read all the postings or hit on all the cute girls. I think this is sad. Americans are notoriously (throughout the world) known for cultural elitism and ignorance. They think the American culture is superior to everything else and have never bothered to find out what everything else is. I will not waste words here arguing over America's superiority overall (because I don't think we are), but we are the world's sole remaining super power and we are a cultural presence felt throughout the world. But that doesn't negate the important contributions of other cultures. For example, French restaurants, Mexican restaurants, Italian restaurants, Pizza parlors...need I go on. That's cultural influence from non-American sources right there. Sure, we've perverted it to Americanized food in many cases, but it still retains core elements and the label. American culinary arts have been heavily influenced by other cultures. In fact, even the quintessential American cuisine, the hamburger, which is known throughout the world now through McDonald's and other fast food exports, is accompanied by French Fries (a gift from our English friends though not the French). And a lot of our indigenous plantlife was imported original with settlers and colonizers from other lands.

Okay, so Brazilian food, while amazingly good, is not as famous here. But no one who knows anything can deny that Brazilian music has heavily influenced American culture more than that of any other country (excepting perhaps the classical composers of Europe). From THE GIRL FROM IMPANEMA (1963) to TRIBALISTAS (2002), American musicians are listening to and reacting to the influence of Brazilian musical artists. The Bossa Nova craze started by the international notice in 1959 of Palm D'Or Winner BLACK ORPHEUS (Orfeu Negru) [which, by the way, also won the Best Foreign Film Oscar in 1960] is still felt today. Jazz was never the same. There was a profusion of Jazz albums pairing American and Brazilian musicians which continues today. Three of the most highly regarded Jazz albums of all time in America involve Brazilians: JAZZ SAMBA by Charlie Byrd and Stan Getz (with Bossa Nova songs by Brazilian composers), GETZ/GILBERTO by Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto (where IMPANEMA was released to become a hit single) and BUTTERFLY DREAMS by Flora Purim (an early example of Jazz Fusion). [Purim and Gilberto are Brazilians and other Brazilian musicians and songwriters contributed to both albums.] Paul Winter, Herbie Mann and many other known Jazz artists have done records of their own featuring Brazilian influenced music. Some of the top percussionist in pop music have roots in Brazil as well. And Brazilian percussion has been featured by top artists in the field to enhance their songs. So almost everyone I know has enjoyed the impact of Brazilian music in America. Culture ignorance aside, this deserves respect.

It makes me sad that instead of embracing the possibilities that exist, intelligent Americans interested in engaging with others and learning, get territorial and angry about an influx of non-Americans to their discussions. They should welcome the perspective and knowledge base that is different from their own, as it can only serve to enhance discussions if they let it. I mean, plenty of these Brazilian make contributions in English to the discussions. Maybe some have trouble with the grammar, but my Portuguese has problems, too. I am still learning. So are they. Cut them a break. If you want to understand Portuguese, take the time to learn it, like I did. If not, talk to those you can and use the open mind you are presumed to have in entering such spaces (it's kind of implied as above all else is a forum for the exchange of opinions and ideas) to learn from people who aren't like you. They have a lot of value to teach you.

The Democrats for one would love to talk to fellow Bush haters. There's even a Brazilian room for those who hate Bush. Truth is, education is different, information is different, economics, culture -- so much beyond language. So Brazilians really do see the world differently than we do. But that can only help us become more well rounded people...if we take the time to listen.
Maybe that's the problem today -- no one wants to take the time to listen. We all want our quick fix in this culture. Please the senses, satisfy the cravings, and move on. Instead of savoring the opportunities that we let pass by every day. I know I'm guilty of it, but thanks to some Brazilian and African friends, I am trying more and more not to be.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

Thank God, it's over!

Well, Bush is secure for a second term, with a record lead in the popular vote. I am thankful. But for next week's post, I will write some friends over seas to ask what they know of Bush and why they like or dislike him as well as those around them. Stay tuned....

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Anticipation

Got an email this week from a friend in Brazil who reminded me that Brazilians are anxiously awaiting the outcome of our election, and, in fact, I am sure this is true around the world. I saw a news article about protestors in Great Britain and how a major newspaper there had invited readers to mail letters to undecided voters in an Ohio county about the election, expressing opinions on how those voters should vote. Of course, many Americans were offended by this, as, no doubt, many British would be offended if we did something similar.

I sit here with baited breath and can hardly wait for the election returns to start trickling in. I believe this is the most important election of my lifetime and that George W. Bush's first term will go down in history as one of the most important Presidency's in our nation's history. Certainly it is far more significant in foreign policy than either of the two Presidents in the 12 years before him, Clinton and Bush, Sr. Both of them did some good things, but September 11 eclipses that. Our whole world changed in that one day. And America became a lot more like other countries who have suffered from terrorism on their soil for decades. Our self-assurance and sense of security were threatened, and it shook us up. It continues to.

I wonder if people all over the world are anxious as I am about the election results. For many Americans, like me, the choice is clear -- traditional values on which our country was founded are at risk. And that means the reality of who we are could change if John Kerry is elected. And that would have implications far beyond this generation and change our country negatively forever -- our whole national identity. For others, George Bush is too smug, or even arrogant. He lied to them (although they stumble when trying to explain and prove this). He has made people in other countries hate us. He is fighting for oil. They have various reasons, none of which hold up well under careful scrutiny.

Don't get me wrong, I don't agree with everything George W. Bush stands for or has done. He has been stubborn at times when he should not have been. Some of his advisors have mislead us, and his continued support of them bothers me. And then there are my fundamental issues with the Republican Party. For example, I believe we need gun control. I believe the Founding Fathers who wrote our constitution (and whom, by the way, wrote clearly in many other writings of their faith in Jesus Christ as the principles upon which this country was founded) never anticipated the diversity and power of weapons that are available. And throughout history, despite the freedoms accorded us, Americans have had to make sacrifices to their own freedoms because of irresponsible other citizens who take advantage and abuse their freedoms. You simply don't need a gun that can shoot through three houses to protect your home. And since those same guns are being used by criminals, some limitations are a good idea. Even a necessity. I also, as Christian, do not believe Jesus Christ would take up a weapon to protect Himself. That was not in His character. But getting back on track here, George W. Bush is a good and decent man who really cares about people. He also is decisive at a time when we need a leader who makes tough decisions and stands by them. No human being can be perfect in that. But we need to project strength because we have been attacked to our core. He is also a Christian and thus shares the fundamental values on which this country was founded and which the majority of Americans still hold dear, despite what those on television and in journalism try to project. They are not mainstream America, believe me.

His opponent, on the other hand, changes his views when the wind blows because his primary platform is "elect me at all costs." If you hate Bush, vote for me. If you hate war, vote for me. No my ideas aren't better, no they're not that different, and who cares about the consequences of them, just vote for me. I'll do whatever it takes to convince you. Hardly decisive. Hardly strong.

There are a lot of people who feel different. And many foreigners would agree with them, but they don't know Bush's character the way Americans can. They only see him as the bullying President whose decision to go to war have negatively impacted their economy or who protects American businesses by refusing to bow to trade deals that might not be good for America. Do I think he's wrong in this sometimes, yes. But the point is, the reality is different from they view they get in their newspapers and television -- which often are far more biased than our own and censored by governments so they only hear what the leaders want them to hear.

In any case, I wonder how the world would react if they knew George W. Bush the way so many of us know Him and saw a more well rounded picture. I wonder if America were not the power it is and the terrorists and others with ambition ran rampant, how they'd like an indecisive American President.

I probably should to make my opinions and the thoughts behind them totally clear. But I try to keep these postings short enough to read through fairly quickly and give just enough info to provoke thoughts. The reality is I am deeply concerned about the outcome of this election because of how it could destroy the traditional foundations of our way of life. And the impact of that around the world would likely be immeasurable!

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

America On The World Stage

There's been a lot of press this past year, particularly tied to the the Presidential race, about America's status in the world. There are some bad impressions out there. Democrats want to put the blame on Bush. They always want to blame Republicans. And Republicans like to blame Democrats, too. But as one who travels a lot and interacts with other cultures, I can tell you that I think there is a real mixed impression out there.

America is the richest, most blessed, most successful nation in world history. While a few of our Western "allies" might dispute that, for the rest of the world it is known fact. We have more wealth and power and influence on every level than any nation in the world. So even the most vocal critics I have met, I often suspect, would be the first ones on the boat or plane to come over if they could. America is the "land of opportunity," and, especially in the Third World, they see it as the only path to true escape from their poverty and struggles. So America is still a place where a lot of people want to be.

Additionally, the list of nations we provide economic support to is endless. We have the money everyone is depending on to feed their people and fight AIDS and other problems. And even though the need is increasing daily for aid, without our aid, they would be making no progress. So they have to have it. And they all know that. So they are all indebted and grateful for the help.

But why do they have so many bad things to say about it?

American foreign policy is a big problem. We have been bullying other nations for a long time, Republicans and Democrats. America and American businesses use their wealth and influence to dominate on the world stage, inevitably to the disadvantage of Third World and other nations. But this is especially true with nations who have a hard time fending for themselves. They are desperate for the American aid that is so often tied to these other policies. They surrender because, in the end, they can help more people. But leaders and citizens of these nations grow more and more frustrated with such American bullying. I mean, if you were in need and someone was giving you large amounts of money that could really make a difference, you wouldn't want to give that up, either, but what if that donor started making demands that you paid higher tariffs to import goods to that country or that the donor would get goods for less than market value? How would you feel then?

I am not saying that America should never enjoy the benefits of its prestige, success and wealth. But I am saying that we should treat the benefits and influence with respect and act accordingly, and I don't think we have been very good at doing that. America is often a bully while pretending it's a big brother, and that needs to stop. We really could do much more to feed the hungry, fight the AIDS crisis, and help developing nations succeed. And in the end, it would benefit our nation, because they would provide more and need less. And they would look more favorably upon our partnership. Personally, I think a whole lot of elites out there like things status quo. They like to dominate and don't want to take any chance of losing that power. But I think that is a crime, because people are dying and suffering every day. And we, who have the wealth and resources to do something about it, do nothing.

No wonder so many people out there hate America and love it at the same time. Okay, this is an oversimplification of the problem, but I just wanted to touch on it briefly, because I think it's something a lot of Americans want to forget about or never think about. I think we need to think about it. President Bush is not the one to blame for America's position in the world and/or loss of prestige. We are all to blame, going back decades. And we will continue to be worthy of that blame until we demand more of our leaders in both business and government and do something about it.

Monday, October 18, 2004

On Our Own

Recently a friend in Brazil told me about an American coming to visit and possibly live there. He is 24 and has only recently moved out of his parents home saying he needed to be on his own. My Brazilian friend told me this was not at all common in her culture and would be frowned upon as disrespect. I am certain the same would be true in Ghana. But I told her that in our culture, there is a need to establish a sense of independence and grow into your own sense of responsibility and awareness of who you are as distinct from you parents. I think this is true. But it got me thinking.

Truthfully, I am glad I moved away from home after high school, and, except for one summer, have not returned to live for longer than a week or a few days. For one thing, I think my family would drive each other crazy living together. For another, I really have grown from the experience and it has been good for me. But in a lot of cultures, Latin America and Africa for example, children continue living with their parents until they marry, and often even after (Someone has to care for the parents). In some ways, this is economic necessity. Every one works to support the family and income is hard to come by, so they need each other's support. Additionally, though, there is a cultural sense of community interdependence and respect that is very interesting. I have spent a lot of time studying this aspect of African culture, and now Brazilian as well. I think it is good in that it promotes a greater sense of closeness and respect between parents and children.

Recently, when I stayed with a Brazilian family for two weeks, the brothers even slept in their parents' room so that I could have my own space. I never asked for this and fully expected them to not be very pleasant to me because of it, but I spent a lot of time with the brothers and they were great. Don't know if I could have done the same. The daughters pitched in with daily chores (a good three hours) of sweeping, mopping, dishes, trash, laundry, etc. I never heard one complaint. I also never heard one family member snap at another harshly or talk anything but kindly. I was the crankiest one in the house, and I was the guest. (Hey! Jetlag's murder and I had medical issues plus it was freezing as they had no heat and no air!) But even I had no real complaints against anyone. Can people really live like this? Where did my family go wrong?

I have observed a similar phenomenon in African households. Children always respectful and polite to one another and their parents. Even when one parent was cranky or rude to them. I really think there is something to be learned from this cultural understanding of family and discipline and closeness. And yet, I remain glad I didn't have to stay at home longer. But I sure envy their closeness to one another. My family has to work hard to achieve that, and even then, we can't go a day or two without someone arguing or taunting or snapping. A lot of American families I know are like that. Just something to think about.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Parental Controls??

Okay, so in my welcome note, I mentioned the time my friends' son, 4 years old, turned on Jerry Springer while I was visiting their home in Ghana. Interesting cross cultural phenomenon... The mother didn't even realize what he was watching until I mentioned it, because she runs a catering business from her home and was occupied with cooking, etc. The boy, when asked, told me he watches this every day, because it's funny. The Jerry Springer Show funny to a 4-year-old?! Of course, the mother made him flip it when she realized what it was. But it was interesting to me that so many American parents complain about television saying they don't have time to stand over the TV and screen what their kids watch, and here was the same phenomenon in Africa!

Of course, it also should be said that most Americans can't imagine what constitutes a hard days work for most Africans. Those people really know how to work hard. It is amazing. Most people work from before 7 in the morning to 5 or 6 at night then do housework, raise kids, help with homework, etc. Sometimes the kids come home from school and go to work.

I think a lot of other cultures work harder than the average American does. (This readily includes myself!) In Brazil, according to a news article I read several months ago, the average workday is 17 hours! That means, most Brazilians have never heard of 8 hours of sleep! They are probably lucky to get 4 hours! And this is a regular reality in which they live.

The saying: "We live in a culture of leisure" takes on a whole new meaning in the face of this, doesn't it? I am not saying people don't work hard here, but the standards and necessity are different. The average Ghanaian worker makes $40 a month. That feeds a family of 3-7 children (or more) and the parents. The average Brazilian, last I read, makes around $200 per month. And it takes all those extra hours of hard work just to earn that. Yet I don't know any American who could get by on $200/month, let alone $40/month.

We really do have to count our blessings, I think. And do what we can, when given the opportunity, to help those people around the world who are less fortunate than we are.

Welcome to the Clash!

Okay, so I have never blogged before. Not formally. Though I do post to message boards and wrote editorials. And I'm not a big blog surfer either, so it's learn as I go, but I do spend a lot of time interacting with other cultures. I am an American. And as I interact with other cultures, I become more and more aware of what that means.

Believe it or not, I once told a friend of mine "America has no distinct culture." Okay, I've since changed my opinion. The American culture is a dominant influence around the world. This is not always a good thing, but it is a reality. Everywhere I have been from Africa to Europe to South America, people are knowledgable about American pop-culture and its icons. From Madonna to Mel Gibson, Bruce Springsteen to James Taylor, Dallas to Dawson's Creek -- people around the world are being influenced by us.

I once sat in my friends house in Accra, Ghana, West Africa, and their four-year-old turned on the TV to JERRY SPRINGER! I was mortified. Is that the best our culture has to offer? People are learning who we, as Americans, are and what we are about from crap like Jerry Springer's show. How embarrassing.

There are many people around the world who hate Americans, not because of the culture, but because of the wealth and power we as a nation have now and have had throughout history. Ironically, as you engage in dialogue with them, you find that many of these people would be the first ones to hop on the boat or plane if they were given the chance to come here.

So I thought I could blog with you about my experiences with other cultures and belief systems. Perspectives on being an American in a foreign land and trying to fit in. And how that changes who you are when you come back to your own culture. Maybe very few people will find this interesting. Maybe a lot will. I will admit that I speak from American cultural bias and understanding. And as a Christian missioanry, I also have that. But I wish to just be honest. I don't seek to discriminate or offend anyone. And I am open to learning from you if you feel I am wrong. I also have a number of friends who are serving in foreign countries, whom I will invite to dialog with us from time to time. I currently am in St. Louis, MO, but I travel several times a year doing Leadership Development training with my ministry, Anchored Music Ministries. I invite you to dialogue about your own experiences so we can learn and grow together.

My bias is in favor of other cultures. I think we have a lot to learn from each other. There are many things about African life and culture, which, if we examine them, can be quite beneficial to improving our own. I feel the same about places like Brazil and Mexico. So welcome, and please share your thoughts. And I'll share mine. And I hope together we can promote better understanding and cultural awareness, and maybe even have some fun.

Before we go on though, we need a Disclaimer:

It is funny how people react to honest expression. I never claimed to be the world's foremost expert on cross cultural realities, nor did I expect to find that honestly blogging about my cross cultural experiences would be an issue for some people. People love to pass judgment and snap judgments at that. They read a few words and they automatically assume they know who you are. So silly.Anyway, if you read this blog, please don't do that. If you are a foreigner reading this blog, don't take too much offense that I see the world differently or that I report on things since as both positive and negative. You do the same when you travel and I am sure you would have just as much to say. I try and be graceful about what I write and how I write it, but all of us have prejudices we are not always aware of. My daily quest is to overcome those prejudices and reeducate myself, but it takes time. As much as I am aware of them, I acknowledge them, and I hope you can respect that, as many people do not.

For anyone else, I am writing this blog as much to relate honest experiences and reactions as to provide positive information. And sometimes the reaction to those experiences is negative, but I always try and put a positive spin and my heart's desire is that people who read would desire similar experiences themselves, because I think the world will be a better place the more everyone interacts with each other, especially cross culturally.That being said, the purpose here is to discuss culture clashes. Not to pass judgement on them. If you cannot do that, then you shouldn't read it. But there are culture clashes occurring every day and if we never discuss them, we will never get past them or stop them from occurring. So be it what I will, I will write honestly. And I will try my best to be respectful and sensitive. But at the same time, it will be mostly from my point of view, as I have no other point of view to write from.However, I would welcome comments and discussion as long as they are not vulgar, rude, insulting, denegrating, or otherwise inappropriate (disrespect being inappropriate). I will gladly respond and we can learn from each other. It does no good to share my point of view, if I am not open to yours.

And I cannot become a better cross cultural citizen without learning from others. I do however have it set that I have to approve comments, so if you are of the type I said won't be welcome, don't waste your time. I will not allow it on the site. Otherwise, let's discuss.Finally, a definition of culture might be somewhat helpful. When I talk about culture, I am not just referring to the rich cultural heritage of architecture and arts, etc. Nor am I just referring to history. I am referring to daily life. Those who look at the cultural heritage are right to wonder what some of the daily minutae mentioned here have to do with culture. But those minutae have everything to do with daily culture and that culture, I believe, is what most visitors have the most struggle with or at the most immediate reaction. So that is what fascinates me the most. Everybody deals with different aspects of daily life in unique ways. That is as much a part of their cultural reality as music and design. And it is what makes us different in ways that are more immediately noticable for many people. So I choose to include those things in my definition of culture for the sake of culture clashes, and I discuss them here.