Sunday, May 28, 2006

SPAM and Eggs

     Until recently, if you mentioned SPAM, my mind would immediately shift to the Monty Python’s SPAM Sketch.  But this changed a few weeks ago, when I met my mother and father at a Holiday House for lunch.  On the buffet, amidst other dishes recognizable and unrecognizable, was a container of stewed prunes.  

     “I ate so many prunes in the Service that, when I got out, I told your mother I’d never eat a prune again,” my father remarked with a laugh.  “And I haven’t eaten many!”

     My father never talked much about his time in the military when we were growing up, but now that he is nearing 82, he will share his memories from time to time.  My father was a Naval Hospital Corpsman (HMC).  He retired from the Navy after having served in both WWII and Korea.

     As we ate our lunch, Dad shared a few of his memories with me and my four children.  Another dish that was apparently as ubiquitous as prunes was SPAM.  

     “Fatty stuff – couldn’t stand it,” he grimaced.

     My father’s grandmother loved fat.  She would eat the fat others removed from their meat.  Great Grandmother also made the best noodles on the planet – so good that my older brother once asked her to mail him some!  She kept a box of chocolate-covered cherries in her bureau drawer.  On our visits, she would sit me in her ample lap and share a precious morsel.  She lived to be nearly 100 years old.  My father loved his grandmother dearly -- but he doesn’t share her love of fat.

     Fatty or not, SPAM was extremely helpful in preventing starvation among British and Soviet troops and civilians in WWII.  However, my father and many of the soldiers on Guadalcanal might disagree with British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher, who called SPAM a “war-time delicacy.”  My father described an incident when a Japanese plane bombed the supply depot – destroying their store of SPAM.

     “We all cheered!” he chuckled.

     I pictured my father and his fellow Skeeter Beaters, brave young men, standing in the suffocating heat so far away from home, applauding the demise of the hated tins of luncheon meat.  At that moment, those men seemed connected with all the other soldiers, past and present, who sacrifice not only their comfort, but risk life and limb to keep our nation free, and I was humbled by their sacrifice.

     Our meal progressed, and the discussion of war-time foods did as well.  After SPAM, there came the dehydrated foods, including powdered eggs.  My father said he used to carry a bottle of Tabasco Sauce with him in his pocket.  

     “It was the only way I could stomach those eggs.”

       Growing up, our kitchen never lacked Tabasco Sauce, and the pantry never held SPAM.  My husband and our four children like SPAM.  Maybe I’ve picked up an instinctive dislike for the stuff.  But I think I will always be happy to see SPAM, because from now on, when I see a can of SPAM, I will think of my father and the brave Allied soldiers of World War II.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Cross Connections

I was e-mailed a question today by a man named Hiredhand.   Strange name? Well, I “met” the gentleman in question on an Internet discussion board.  I have many “friends” there with names like Maximus of Texas and Peacebaby.  His question for me was, “What is God saying to you lately.”

Not your everyday question.  Strangely enough, this same morning I received an e-mail from my friend Davlin.  Davlin isn’t his real name… it’s the name of his character on an MMORPG (Massive Multiplayer Online Role Playing Game) called City of Heroes.  Davlin, my husband and I (well, Area Man and Nuclear Mom), frequently discussed the meaning of life in between missions to defeat villains.  Davlin is a twenty-something young man living in rural Canada.  Of course, he could be a 13-year old boy from England, a 40-something inmate from California, or a 60-year old grandmother living down my block for all I really know.  Davlin doesn’t play City of Heroes any longer, but he occasionally writes to keep in touch.

Keep in touch.  Reach out and touch someone.  Make connections.  

My dearest friend recently expressed concern about her 13-year old daughter.  She’s a beautiful, sweet, talented and smart young lady – not the type to cause her mother concern.  But her mother has observed that when her daughter’s friendships become too challenging, her daughter is quick to sever ties.  I immediately thought of the Internet.  Our children are growing up in the age of e-mail, instant messaging, and MySpace.   Safety features allow us to screen our messages.  We can hide, lurk, global ignore.   If an internet conversation is getting too uncomfortable, we can easily walk away, change our handle, and block messages.

So what is the connection between Hiredhand’s question, City of Heroes, and my friend’s daughter?   It’s coming – I promise.

I just joined a small group at my church.  The groups are called Real Life Connections, and they seek to allow believers to grow more deeply in fellowship with one another.  The first week, we discussed love, how the word love is really defined by the actions of Jesus.  The second week, we discussed how to comfort those who mourn.  In John 11, the story of Lazarus, Jesus showed His love for His friends Lazarus, Martha and Mary by showing up, listening to Martha and Mary, weeping with them and praying for them – things we all should do to comfort others.  But then He did something we cannot do – He called Lazarus back from the dead, revealing the glory of God and His true nature to those who watched in amazement.   These acts of love set in motion the Pharisee’s plot to kill Jesus (John 11:53).   In John 15:12-13, Jesus says, This is My commandment, that you love one another, just as I have loved you.  Greater love has no one than this, that one lay down his life for his friends.

We live in a world in which technology has made staying in touch with people so much easier, and yet we are as disconnected from one another as we have ever been.   In the days of Jane Austen, decorum kept conversations and relationships superficial, avoiding topics like religion or politics and staying with safe ones like the weather.  No such decorum exists today.  Strangers share their most intimate thoughts, desires, beliefs and actions with other strangers.  But relationships are no more intimate.  It’s cyber flashing.  We all walk around in trench coats looking for an audience, then FLASH!  We watch for reactions, and if they are favorable, we stay for more.  If not, we close our coats and find another audience.

Cyber relationships are easy.  You don’t have to clean up your house, shower or change your clothes when your cyber friends come to visit.  If the conversation gets too dull, too heavy or too controversial, you walk away with little thought of your cyber friend or the real person behind the computer.   Real relationships are messy.  They take work.  They are risky.  Real relationships are costly.  We may be called to tear our robes, weep, sprinkle dust on our heads and be silent.  

What is God saying to me lately?  This Holy Week, God is saying  Love others as I have loved you.  It’s a costly love, one that will require actions that far exceed my feelings at the moment.

I am not advocating shunning all electronic relationships.   I don’t believe that desserts, for example, are so dangerous because of what they contain, but for what they replace.  If your diet consists of only desserts, you will miss the food that truly nourishes and sustains.  We are called to love others as Jesus loved us, and we can only do so much of that behind online masks.  Jesus shared meals with people, went to the markets where they shopped, the wells where they drew water, the shores where they fished, the temples where they prayed.  He met people in the places of their everyday lives and prayed for them, touched them, healed them, and taught them.  Christ connected with people and loved them, even unto death on the cross.

Jesus is calling me to a leap of faith into the Holy Wild.  He’s calling me to trust Him and follow Him.  He’s asking me to be bold and courageous. He’s commanding me to love others as He loved, no matter what the cost.  He’s calling you, too, and, to borrow from my friend, Steve Brown, He asked me to remind you.

Friday, January 27, 2006

Inspired by End of the Spear

Our family finally saw End of the Spear last night. Reviews for this production have varied widely, so if you aren’t completely confused, here is mine.

End of the Spear is an independent film based on the true story of missionaries and their contact with a violent tribe in Ecuador. Many of the negative reviews seem to center on the story itself. Several reviewers appear to critique the film with an anti-religious, anti-missionary bias. They seem to want the movie to give what they consider an even-handed account of what missionary contact has done to indigenous peoples – even-handed meaning that the account paints missionary contact as misguided and/or evil.

Desson Thomson in his Washington Post review wrote:

Although the film invests time among the tribesmen, it never really explores the idea that one man's missionary work is another's ideological aggression.

Allison Benedikt of the Chicago Tribune writes:

That "End of the Spear" is a no-holds-barred Christian movie is not necessarily a bad thing, just something to consider when you're surfing Fandango.

What is necessarily a bad thing is that "End of the Spear" is a childish and visually repetitive movie, ham-fisted, proselytizing and overtly simplified.

Many of the critics seem upset with the story itself. They don’t want to hear a story about Christian missionaries going to an indigenous people and improving their lives. They don’t want to hear about Christians at all.

The film is a relatively low budget, independent film. The production budget was $10 million dollars according to The Numbers . (King Kong had a production budget of $207 million.) The film did not feature famous actors, but the cast was large, and the production budget allowed for limited filming on location. I went in with high hopes but not high expectations for the quality of the film. I was pleasantly surprised. I thought the acting was decent, and the cinematography was often breathtaking.

Far from being heavy-handed, this proselytizing movie never mentions the name of Jesus. Instead, God is referred to by His Waodani name. The missionaries’ spiritual lives, how they received their calls, and why they did what they did are virtually ignored. The focus of the production is the Waodanis. Nick Saint does tell his son that they would never kill the Waodanis, even in self-defense, because the Waodanis aren’t ready for Heaven, but the missionaries were. At one point, Dayumae, a Waodani who had been living with missionaries, explains that God has a Son who was speared, but did not spear back, so that those who spear can live a better life. The Waodanis are encouraged to follow God’s carvings on the trail. In two hours of film, that is the extent of the religious discussion that takes place. Christians may be disappointed by the lack of a clear presentation of the Gospel or any deep discussion of salvation.

Unlike the documentary Beyond the Gates of Splendor, the Waodanis in the movie wear some clothes. Violence is depicted, but it is not extremely graphic in nature. Our nine-year old daughter loved the film, although she clung to her father’s arm through several parts. Some of the script is in Waodani with subtitles, but the story is less dependent on subtitles than was the documentary. The pacing was at times a bit slow. The filmmakers could have safely edited out 10-15 minutes and had a tighter film. Be sure to stay for the credits – you’ll see the real Steve Saint and Mincayane and some fun clips from the documentary.

The film was “power released” in over 1,100 theaters and on its first weekend grossed $4.3 million. It needs to earn at least another $17.7 million to cover the production and advertising costs. According to the film's credits, half of any profit will go to help indigenous peoples like the Waodani.

If any story was worth 2 hours of your time and $7.00 of your money, this is the one. Each member of our family – middle aged parents, teenage boys, and nine-year old girl – thought the movie was terrific. It’s not The Lord of the Rings or even The Passion of the Christ, but it is an inspiring true story of the power of God’s love and forgiveness to change hearts, minds, and even societies. Your time and money not only will buy you thought-provoking entertainment, but will also make a statement to Hollywood that the public wants uplifting, encouraging stories and will tell the critics that their opinions do not reflect the views of most of America. Now, that’s a bargain.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Beyond Splendid

The Auca society was the most violent ever documented. Six out of every ten deaths were due to homicide. In 1956, five American missionaries dared to make contact with this tribe of natives in Ecuador and found death at the end of a spear. The missionaries were armed when they were attacked, but they refused to use their weapons against the Aucas. The missionaries knew they were prepared for Heaven, but the Aucas were not.

Beyond the Gates of Splendor documents the lives of these missionaries and their families. The stories are told by family members and members of the Waodani (formerly known as Auca) tribe. Theirs is an amazing, true tale of the power of love and forgiveness to transform lives.

The documentary is extremely moving, so keep the tissues handy. But the tone is not grim, and there are several moments of laughter. The Waodanis did not wear clothing, and the documentary shows footage of village life. There are also black and white photos of the murdered missionaries. Some of the story is told in the Waodani language with subtitles. I wouldn’t recommend this for very young children, but our nine-year old daughter watched, laughed and cried with us.

A theatrical version of this story, titled End of the Spear, will be released on January 20th. Both the documentary and the movie tell how God’s love transformed a society. Buy or rent the DVD of Beyond the Gates of Splendor, then join our family at the theater to enjoy End of the Spear. The summer blockbusters will include heroes like Superman and the X-Men. This winter, learn about real heroes, whose sacrifices impacted a whole society for eternity.