The Bakken Fields: A Broken Promised Land or Boomtown USA?

•October 10, 2013 • 1 Comment

By now most Americans have heard of the controversial practice of “fracking” (or hydraulic fracturing); the process by which pressurized water and chemicals are used to break apart shale to extract trapped oil deposits. You may have also heard of the Bakken oil fields, a large area located throughout the Williston basin region of North Dakota. Thanks to the technological development of fracking, North Dakota is now second to Texas for oil production in the U.S and by 2010 production outstripped pipeline capacities for transporting oil out of the Bakken fields.

While on one hand this has created economic prosperity for oil companies and certain lucky prairie dwelling residents in towns like Williston, (not to mention fomented rumors of the United States maintaining net oil exports and becoming energy independent in the next decade), a sometimes overlooked side of this story involves the environmental risks of fracking and social and economic effects of this relatively new oil boom on near by communities. A number of articles have explored the sex industry’s growth in Williston, where prostitutes fly in on weekends from out of state to make upwards of 2k per night. While that and the stories of increased violence are notable (if not sensationalized), there is an over arching story of struggle and change, often with negative impact, that is rarely explored outside of the communities effected by the Bakken oil boom.

In August 2013, I traveled with 4 friends from my church to Williston North Dakota, a major hub of the Bakken fields. We went to learn more about this promised land of natural resource and plentiful economic opportunity, where its rumored truck drivers can make 100k in less than six months. Our desire was to listen to locals and produce a short film (posted above). What we discovered, in the words of my friend Justin Thomas, was a “broken promised land”. Some have certainly found prosperity as a result of the oil boom. But the citizens we spoke with in Williston, while somewhat hopeful for positive change in the future, almost all told stories of frustration, disappointment and serious community degradation. While officials we interviewed were quick to point to the “growing pains” and “prosperity” in Williston, the struggles that have arisen there (where in 7 years the population has increased by some estimates nearly 6 times its pre-oil boom level) are too great to ignore.

In the midst of this brokenness, the question inevitably arose, “How can the church be the church here”? With input from local public servants, educators, pastors and other residents from religious and nonreligious backgrounds we brainstormed a few ideas, creating a list (below) of needs the church has a unique opportunity to engage in “Boomtown USA”.

Fixed income housing and wellness support – While property values have increased substantially in Williston (spelling big rewards for those willing to sell or rent their properties), those with fixed or limited income have suffered greatly, especially the elderly.  Subsidized resident housing or assistance in other areas of life like discounted vehicle repair, food, or living support for those on fixed income in Williston will go a long way towards allowing the community to survive the impact of the oil boom.

Resources for the homeless – The influx of workers into Williston has created such a high demand for temporary housing that hotel rooms and apartments are rented for greatly inflated prices.  According to Amy Kruger, Executive director of the Williston Convention and Visitor Bureau, Williston has gone from having 607 hotel rooms to 1698 in only the last 2 years. Many of these hotels serve as short-term homes for those in the oil fields. For those who do not find work immediately, homelessness is a very real issue. Local services for the homeless are few. Churches and social centers in the area are not equipped physically, logistically or experientially to handle the spike in homelessness, especially in the midst of frigid North Dakotan winters. Some form of support or partnership with organizations working for positive change for the homeless or those poorly prepared to handle life in Williston is essential. Organizations that are already established in urban contexts elsewhere could help a prairie town like Williston, which has not established reliable networks for dealing with the types of social issues commonly found in urban centers.

Addiction rehabilitation services – Several public servants we spoke with mentioned the need for increased rehabilitation support. Community focused support in this area appears to be a notable need in Williston.

 Man camp community support – Outreach to the living facilities that sprawl throughout the areas surrounding Williston known as “man camps” could be an incredible opportunity for the church to truly be the church in the Bakken fields. These facilities house thousands of workers far away from their social support systems back home, and could likely use some form of caring community. Our research revealed only one small ministry that advertised outreach to these facilities. If outreach could focus on these residents it could make a meaningful impact towards transformation and support.

Child care – There is a lack of available child care in Williston and the surrounding region. A ministry or non-profit providing  day care, a pre-school, or other service could support those on the margins in Williston due to drastic cost of living increases.

Community integration programs –Locals told us that the temporary workers make little meaningful contribution to the community. Two key reasons are clear: 1. Long time residents of the region have seen several smaller oil booms in past decades and are calloused towards new comers (frequent reports of disorderly and careless behavior blamed on oil field workers certainly don’t help to warm relations). 2. Oil field workers are usually temporary and therefore rarely contribute to the community. If programs could be developed that both integrate those working in the oil fields into some aspects of the community and give them an alternative outlet to the destructive forms of recreation that often make headlines in the media, it may serve to relieve tensions in the community and bring about a greater level of health and communication. Something as simple as a sports league catering to those in the oil fields may serve this purpose.

One thing is certain; there is ample need for the church to be the church in Williston and the surrounding regions affected by the oil boom. More is needed than short-term outreach. We need people willing to live and reach out in a holistic way, to dig in and live “in light” of the message of gospel, listening to and attending to the needs of the community on every level.

Do you feel called to serve in this capacity? Do you feel called to support? If so, we would love to know! Contact: justint(at)calvaryfellowship.org

Individualism vs Communal Life: the ‘I’ in Community

•January 7, 2013 • Leave a Comment

Especially in my freshman year of college, the horizon of my understanding was simultaneously expanded and challenged in pretty incredible ways. Exposure to a wealth of diverse worldviews was a very healthy aspect of my own development, and so was the questioning of assumptions rooted in my own family, faith and cultural up bringing.

The notion that things supposedly so fundamental to our humanity and cultural existence, like discussing the quality and trajectory of a government, for instance, are in fact relative to a set of western ideals, the existence of which is often directly influenced by the luxuries we have acquired throughout the centuries. We have the luxury to whine, to rest, to sit back in the comfort of a sofa in a dry warm space and discuss the decisions of our leaders, elders, and representatives. Even complaining about the bad weather and how it affects the mood of so many people in a grey gloom repository like Seattle is something we can invest energy investigating because of the luxuries we enjoy.

Indeed, there are billions of people throughout the world whom, whether it be for cultural reasons that prohibit frank discussion, political oppression, or socio-economic issues that cause a general population to be completely focused on simply surviving (many times it is a combination of such factors), have a wholly different notion of what is fundamental to existence.

When was the last time you or anyone you know cared that existence is in fact fundamental to existence? We’ve accessorized beyond that in our Kardashianized false-reality TV bound enclaves of convenience, peace, and over-consumption.

I remember when I first realized the degree to which individualism set western culture apart. The global and over arching language we in the west use to talk about how fundamental individualism is to humanity became particularly offensive to me. I began to be enamored by anything non-western. “Communal” or “community oriented” cultures became a romanticized ideal for me. I expressed, even on a subconscious level, criticism of the degree to which individualism had crept beyond the respectable place of a chosen or acquired way of life and into an unchallenged assumption of rules governing human identity and relations. I felt like I had some sort of valid grief with this individualism I had unknowingly assumed, and I yearned for something I thought to be more ‘authentic’ and more ‘human’.

To be certain, a fair bit of this criticism and challenge still resides within me. I don’t think it is a bad thing, as long as it is tempered appropriately (how to do this and what it might look like is another discussion).

However, in the course of traveling and living in places that are less individualistic, being part of diverse groups of people and various ‘communities’, I have definitely concluded that there is a resounding and important “I” in community. Whether or not this is just my western sense of global objectivism kicking in, I don’t know. Even if it is, western thought does a lot of good too.

What I have observed is that the degree of relational suffering, dysfunction, and oppression that exists where a focus on the comprehensive health of the individual is overlooked is quite high. Just be placed in a “communal” culture for a year or two, where rights of individuals are secondary and all sorts of isms run rampant. After you witness the abuse, (possibly the suicide), and the very PERSONAL anguish surrounding you, you’ll be pleading for justice, not just for yourself, but also for those individuals around you. And what rule might we appeal to for such a justice to come about?

From where I stand, looking particularly at the intentional development of community, I have observed that the health of individuals is inextricably related to the health of the community they are in, with individual health of the leadership in such community endeavors being of notable importance. Simply put, its not individualism versus a communal way of life, but rather community and individualism have a necessary relationship if both the community and the individuals within are to be healthy. This should be obvious.

I have been a part of a number of “communities” that have claimed some “intentional” focus. It has been an enduring theme in these communities that sharing life together, challenging and supporting one another, being together, and having an impact on the world around us has screeched to a halt as the community has been forced to the level of dysfunction of the most needy and unhealthy people within the group. Narcissism, dependency issues, exclusive cliques, un-addressed baggage from past wounds, histrionic issues, need for personal acquisition of power and a whole slough of other indicators of poor individual health exemplify some of these issues.

And before you read into this something I am not saying, obviously, no community could be without similar struggles. And more importantly, no one should be maligned for experiencing anguish in the midst of such conditions. To the point, when a dichotomized view of community vs individualism prevails, these problems are made worse and possibly even overlooked. The tendency to white wash or write off possible (though not definitely) unhealthy choices as “sacrificing for the community”, “surrendering personal boundaries” (that may be necessary to maintain emotional health), or “putting the community first” may become the norm.  Similarly, as is the case with so many well-intentioned ‘ministries’, the needs of those serving become secondary to the development of the community, the movement, the church, the outreach, etc. Just how should personal needs be prioritized with respect to the community or the ministry or the _______?

For me, this has highlighted the weakness in my own criticism of individualism as a simply western assumption of identity and social order. I bought in to a dichotomy, and I was dead wrong: it’s not a community-oriented way of life versus an individualistic way of life. Community and individualism are directly related: There won’t be good health in a community without good health amongst the individuals in that community.  Developing a healthy community means developing healthy individuals, and how can a healthy individual be defined without appealing to indicators of individualism? Personal rights, healthy emotional boundaries, healthy physical boundaries, respect of personal choices, etc. All of these hallmarks of individualism must be developed and respected in appropriate ways if an individual is to have health, though health is certainly much bigger than just those things.

A friend of mine recently made a great comment while discussing related aspects of community with me. “James,” he said, “The community in fact does not exist. Only the individual exists.” This comment has been resonating within me ever since, especially with respect to my deeply held beliefs regarding the ministry of Jesus and the duty I have of living out His teachings and lifestyle to the best of my ability. Jesus preached and prayed for the healing and protection of relationship, oneness amongst those who received him, forgiveness, and so many things indicative of community and relational health (Example: John Ch. 17).

As Dietrich Bonhoeffer explains in the “Cost of Discipleship” (he also touches on this in Life Together), “Through the call of Jesus men become individuals.” Later, “He [Christ] wants to be the center, through him alone all things shall come to pass. He stands between us and God, and for that very reason he stands between us and all other men and things.” And again, “Now we learn that in the most intimate relationships in life, in our kinship with father and mother, brothers and sisters, in married love, and in our duty to the community, direct relationships are impossible. Since the coming of Christ, his followers have no more immediate realities of their own, not in their family relationships, nor in the ties with their nation nor in the relationships formed in the process of living.” [Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship. SCM Press Ltd, 1959. Pp. 94-96.] Christ, he argues, is the mediator, and when he calls someone, He calls that individual to Himself. Christ, through His calling, creates an individual, and through His mediation, creates a community of individuals, the church.

I can remember the first time I read this I was so frustrated that one of my favorite Christian thinkers would advocate some form of individualism. “It’s all about community,” I thought, “and forsaking the emphasis on an individualistic outlook is necessary to practicing community”. But this was me and my dichotomy at work.

And I believe this dichotomy is embraced by too many going through a similar struggle with their western identity. It’s a good struggle, as long as they come out on the other side in a better place for it, with good tools and reality to work with.

All this is to say that in few ways does community stand opposed to the identity of the individual and his or her individual well-being.  Of course, radical selfishness or an isolationist pursuit of autonomy may be justified by certain types of individualism, but on the grounds of what makes a healthy individual, such issues may easily be identified as problematic for both the health of an individual and a community. Community and individualism are interdependent on one another, and without Christ, we as cultivators of community will be hard pressed to have the healing and mediation necessary to have relationship within community as appropriately defined individuals.

Idealisms: And the Complacent Shall Be Greater than Jesus

•December 31, 2012 • 2 Comments

Pic Swords to Ploughshares

Election season is now long past almost like it never happened, and I have found myself reflecting on my voting predicament this year. I was nearly undecided until the bitter end. Indeed, I was tempted not to vote. If you’re one of those who identifies with this type of indecision struggle (or, if you didn’t vote) you may just be an idealist. Likely that, or you simply just don’t care enough to vote. Disinterest and lack of participation are, after all, one of the biggest threats to democracy, and these conditions plague the political dysfunction of many developed nations.

After some soul searching and an attempt to see how my faith and life experience have come to bare on my decision-making, I have come to believe that many forms of idealism, while in no way inherently bad as a quality, are often dangerous and deceptively safe places for too many.

I see two different forms of idealists.

The problematic idealist finds a safe place of easy comfort because they are free from action: if the adhered to ideal is not a possible option in a given circumstance, then the problematic idealist can simply sabotage those options that are given from a safe place, abstain from association with the reality of the circumstance and reject productive action that would bring about anything save the fantasized ideal in proud protest. This type of idealist is frequently found amongst the ranks of liberal arts university students/recent graduates and also in the successful intellectual classes of the developed world.

This problematic idealism is often simply a means of insulating one’s self from action, possibly based on fear, a need for security, incompetence, past trauma, or any number of other enabling factors.

One’s political ideals, for instance, may in fact be ideas that could be beautiful when/if/however practiced, if it is possible for them to be realized. But who is practicing them? For too many, idealism is often a shield from the repetition of disappointment or trauma that has been experienced as part of living in a world of broken, hurting, often hopeless people. Possibly shield is too positive a word, because it also conjures images of battle, necessary protection and potential victory. Possibly a better word is prison: a protected space that at once sees one locked safely away from involvement in less than ideal circumstances.

After all, being part of a solution to the issues that our bleeding, bruised world is subject to may involve exposing our own dysfunction to the elements. Maybe someone’s ideals keep him or her from voting, because no candidate ever seems to be a safe option. Maybe the candidate is too extreme or too moderate. Maybe they promised to end many forms of injustice during their last term and they failed.

Beyond the realm of factors that enable dysfunction in democracy, often similar ideals have tempted me nearer a safe space of agnosticism, because no matter how much I respect Jesus, I am at times fearful to be associated with what’s been done in His name. Association, therefore, is not a safe place, and because I recognize and stand for an ideal, I am justified in my criticism and in the way I distance myself from belief and/or communities of Christians.

Based on the narrative of love unto death of Jesus for His followers, such thinking is certainly cowardice, however justified.

I pray that instead of this problematic form idealism that blesses complacency and disconnection in the name of critical evaluation and special understanding, my faith becomes my shield, as I move out of a secure space in to the unknown: the insecure space of decisions made with incomplete knowledge, the choices forced by an obligation to move forward in a direction which is not the ideal, but simply the best option based on the understanding and options available.

Armed with this shield, humbled by it, in the wake of life lived so often cocooned in a protectionist mindset punctuated by moments of utter disregard, I hope to move forward in new confidence and in faith. Safety is not my guarantee, though I am at once freed and bound by love, if I love my savior with the same love with which He loves, I will be in danger. I will be hated by some, the object of jealousy of others, taken advantage of by many, and yet still respected by some, I hope.

This is the adventure I need to lean in to.

And in some ways this is the other form of idealism, but these ideals stand apart. They demand action and investment.  They promises struggle, and guarantee no immediate safety. In no way do such ideals coddle one who lobs criticism from the safety of their insulated ivory tower of perfectionism.  They force one to embrace a form of adventure and growth. Instead of seeing perfection as a starting place for involvement, they instead are humbled by imperfection and confound self-righteous judgment, embracing grace as the way forward in an imperfect reality. Ultimately, as I learn to walk in the path of my savior, I must surrender my own safe judgments and places of comfort and in their stead hold my hands open before Him, my only assurance being that He defines justice, and while His way forward may be difficult, He walked it first, and I am no exception, nor am I greater than Jesus. This, I believe, is what repentance looks like.

What ever the least of these have done to you….

•August 17, 2012 • Leave a Comment

This summer I was blessed with an unexpected and awesome trip to Peru. Even more excellent, I was hosted throughout the trip by several Peruvian friends.  As a result, not only did I develop some cool relationships, but the view of the country I had was both more in depth and more realistic than I could have had as some backpacking foreign tourist.

I was welcomed into more than one household during my trip by the relatives of those I traveled with. Two different times, people gave up there beds for me, a stranger in their country. Everywhere I went I was treated to amazing food, met incredibly warm and hospitable people, experienced Machu Picchu (which is certainly one of the most scenic and impressive historical sites I have ever witnessed), and felt constantly intrigued with my surroundings and blessed by those I was with.

My fortune was great especially in that my Peruvian friends gave me perspective and stories of what their nation has gone through, and this was not something I took lightly. I’ll probably reflect on these conversations for the rest of my life.

As I have traveled in a number of developing countries in the past and spent time in college studying factors of development, I am always trying to discern what the best way is of connecting, engaging in outreach and making an impact on development for the better. The few groups embracing practices of downward mobility as a preferred lifestyle for outreach and ministry continually impress me. I didn’t see any ministry going on in Peru of that particular nature, although there must be people engaging in this manner there (I later found there is). However, I did have a thought provoking conversation with two Peruvian friends with regard to religious outreach.

In the midst of talking about Christian outreach and church development in Peru, I asked if it was possible for foreign Christians to come in and make an impact. One of my Peruvian friends remarked, “James, there are many poor people who would join any church or say anything if it meant their lives could simply be better.” This kind of desperation is something foreign to my experience. I may have met people struggling in such a way, but I have never experienced this kind of need. It caused me to reflect on how my own circumstances and need influence my ability to connect with others in need. Indeed, there is such a gap between experiences, my own as the offspring of an upper middleclass suburban white American family, and that of others, working simply to eat and survive, and sometimes not succeeding. Forget a language barrier: how could I ever say something to people from such poverty stricken backgrounds that could be taken seriously? And moreover, how could I know if anything I might say was actually received and not just humored in order to get something from me, my friends or whatever wealth I am associated with in America?

But maybe I could live something: transcend words and really be with those struggling. Make my home as their neighbor, in their corrugated metal ramshackle neighborhoods, with the hunger, the grief, the pain, the death and the reality. Not just showing up on an outreach from some far off land for a couple of weeks, handing out clothing and taking videos of the poverty with my digital cameras and iPhone, all the while furthering the chasm between the haves and the have nots, but identifying with those in the midst of desperation. Raising a family in their midst, encouraging my kids to play with theirs.

And maybe, at some point, it could go further. Maybe in being neighbors and surrendering my identity (something all Christians must surrender anyway), I would be fortunate enough to realize that in the midst of missions, outreach, and various well intended but disconnected modes of service, there has been an objectification of ‘the other’. Instead of following the example of Christ and putting ourselves at the effective mercy of those we serve, we have put them at our mercy. Maybe by being neighbors in the midst of desperation, we can be instructed, informed, related to and blessed by those experiencing the epitome of need and desperation. Suddenly, the barriers of “us” and “them” challenged, pushed aside. What a beautiful role reversal. Is this possible and could it make a difference?

I tried to explain to several of my Peruvian that not all foreign missionaries are the same. A few strive to live an ideal like this. I asked them if they thought it could make a difference. “Maybe,” they said, “but it would take a revolution guided by these ideals.”

Humbled.

All this has caused me to reflect on the times in my life where I experienced this dynamic shift of power and outreach. There have been few times where I was in need and experienced God’s grace through those around me who whether by socioeconomic inequality, historical enmity and/or the mere fact that I was an apparently wealthy stranger traveling in their land should have ignored my need.

To be at the mercy of others in such a way is a humbling and uncomfortable thing. To be served and befriended in the midst of need is something one must experience if one is going to learn reliance on God, know his provision and embrace his grace. (I think Jesus encouraged his followers to embrace this truth, as evidenced in Luke 10 when he sent out 72 people without material provisions, commanding them to stay with those who welcomed them. This was a precursor to healing and restoration wherever his followers were welcomed.) It is all the more powerful when those who serve you evidence the kind of need I will probably never fully understand.

While none of my own experiences of this nature have come out of any life style shift of my own, each one has served to challenge me to reconsider what outreach and relationship really mean. Humbling moments such as these never last long enough, but they have given me a glimpse of something that brings fresh understanding to my own notion of God’s kingdom on earth.

“For whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me….”

If I am not also privileged enough to be one of the least of these, even just for a moment, I will have missed an opportunity to know and identify with my savior in an important way. I will have missed what it means to be human, too.  Could it be that as the least of these have reached out to me, in essence, God has reached out to me?

Life at Home: Music, Community, Challenge

•April 8, 2012 • Leave a Comment

It has been a long time since my last update, and life has taken me to some unexpected but hoped for places since I returned from living in Asia. I recently read that reverse culture shock can take up to 2 years to run its course. I can say that after 7 months, I am fairly well through the adjustment, but my mind continues to wander and compare experiences to my time in Asia. I’ve gotten used to reading expressions on the faces of those around me (the sudden awareness of the emotional status of perfect strangers, expressed in their facial expressions, body language, and general uninhibited extroversion was one of the most difficult aspects of re-entry for me. It was so overwhelming.)

The foreigner bubble I inhabited in Asia, while at first lonely, became quite comfortable as I branched out and lead a life rich with vibrant relationships, predictable weekly rhythms, scheduled down time, and more simplified living circumstances: a good salary, neighbors within walking distance and a greater network of communities within a bus ride. The convenience and simplicity of a studio apartment filled with my 3 bags worth of things from home and a hand full of used hand-me-downs from other teachers, no car, awesome public transport, late night food and drink within one block of home, and life on a peninsula that takes only 5 hours corner to corner to cross was awesome. As was being able to sit in a coffee shop and zone out, not bothered by the conversations near by, the topics of which, with much focus, I could sometimes vaguely discern.

My life in Korea has begun to occupy a region in my memory that previously only knew that mixture of free time, boredom, creativity, trouble and adventure of the Summer vacations of my elementary and middle school years. I often wonder if it is just a romanticized memory, but it has been such a short time since I have been gone that I feel it is more than that. I have a strong inkling that it was both right for me to depart when I did AND that I will be back there again some day, making a significant life investment. Whatever that might be, God only knows.

As for my life and adventures here in Seattle, my circumstances are fairly awesome, though challenging. In December I took a position working for a small faith based non-profit that is trying to do community development work, both by supporting various outreach initiatives and working to grow missional communities. As they are in the midst of a fairly notable transition, it has been a hectic introduction to small non profit, ministry oriented work circumstances. I have learned so much from this experience already, and I am praying about how I can move forward with them. (This weekend, for Easter Sunday, I am coordinating an outreach in Pioneer Square in down town Seattle. We will be serving coffee, juice and baked goods to people mainly of disenfranchised backgrounds. We will also be offering to pray and worship with anyone around in the spirit of Easter).

One of the downsides to my current work situation is that the amount of down time I have is severely encroached upon by time sensitive and unpredictable issues. If I took one thing away from my time in Asia, its that I am an introvert that needs to be able to structure down time into my life. As I have a severe deficit of down time in my life currently, the creative and philosophical part of my mind feels like it is absolutely neglected. Such a lack of inspiration was rarely a concern in Korea, where I frequently had well protected down time.

In spite of this, I have been able to start a musical project with two good buds and former band mates (formerly of Heliocentric. Side note: the Heliocentric page now has our discography archived with free access to all!). Our new project, the Seabeast Has Hands, was recently featured in the most recent issue of “This Great Society” (listen to Pelagic) .

We are focusing on a little more improv with this band than past projects. Don’t be mislead. While most of our recordings currently posted are geared more towards meandering atmospheric contemplations, the majority of the material we have been focusing on is fairly directional and robust, with a healthy rhythmic emphasis. We have been delving into harder, darker builds, with a fair amount of inspiration coming from bands like Jakob  and Rosetta. We have also been using a baritone guitar liberally, and it is awesome.

Another update has to do with my living situation. I am currently living in community with some awesome people. There are 9 of us, and we connect on a weekly basis to eat, work in the garden, and share life together. We are a multi-generational bunch, and I have gained so much from the relationships I have developed in this home. More on that later…

Finally, I have yet to hear the final word, but it would appear that my infamous 1985 Volvo has breathed its last. Once upon a time called “Bert”, and more recently “the Chastity Belt”, this fine piece of Swedish engineering spuddered to a halt on Lake City Way last weekend.

The fantastic part of it all was that just the night before, I had actually sat in my car and prayed, thanking God for the provision of that car: I had driven it off and on for 9 years, spent less than 1300 dollars to repair and maintain it, and I got it for free. I prayed a prayer of thanks, and I asked the Lord that it might accomplish the journey He had purposed for it. The next day, boom! It was toast… The whole event just felt right, strangely, and I have been the beneficiary of multiple friends’ offers to loan me a vehicle for the week (I still need a permanent fix for this issue). I have also been relishing riding my bike through Seattle…. It is so freeing!

Now that I am back up and running, I hope to update this blog every couple weeks. In closing, I have to say that God has given me everything I have asked for in this season of my life. I am surrounded by so many community opportunities it is amazing. He is certainly a God of goodness in my life, and His justice is perfect. As I mentioned, while the thoughtful part of my brain is out of gas, I have some old sputtering ruminations on the relationship between community and individualism that will be posted here shortly… as well as more updates on community initiatives I come into contact with, among other things.

Peace and Love.

Cambodia, Vietnam, Korea, Home

•August 15, 2011 • 1 Comment

This has been a crazy last couple of weeks. Of all the adjustments made in a short time, not limited to saying good bye to a bunch of great people, not getting to say good bye (in person) to many more good people, having an impromptu roommate in my studio apartment (my replacement), leaving my job, my students, my home, packing, and leaving a town that had started to feel something like a home should, I think these changes have all yet to really sink in. And maybe they won’t have to for another few weeks.

Tomorrow I head to Cambodia, and then Vietnam. I will be seeing old friends, checking out Angkor Wat, spending some quality time at the beach, and trying to disengage a bit before heading back to Seattle in the middle of September.

Korea has been a complicated but excellent season in my life. I am so thankful for it, but somehow as I sit here on a friend’s couch preparing to play tourist for the next few weeks, it doesn’t quite seem real that I am really leaving (I come back to Seoul for a few days in between southeast Asia and Seattle). Hopefully I’ll have a more wide angle reflection on my time here in the near future.

If you are a friend in Korea reading this, you will be missed. IF you are back home, I can’t wait to reconnect.

Asians Are Better at Colonoscopies. They Have Small Hands.

•July 31, 2011 • 2 Comments

After a bout of crazy intermittent gastro-intestinal distress I stiffened my upper lip. I decided it was time to go to an international clinic in Seoul. My goal was to acquire a referral to an allergist, as most of my symptoms have resembled some form of food allergy.

Before I explain the conversation that occurred between me the attending physician, I must confess that my experience at the clinic in Seoul was the best experience I have had in a hospital in Korea. The staff in the international ward all spoke great English, and the doctor took more than 30 minutes to speak with me, and he offered me a whole range of referrals and great advice. They even had a shuttle that took me from the hospital to a pharmacy and then to the subway station. This experience, however, like all the others, was not without notable details.

(My past experiences flashed in my memory. There was the time I had a problem with my foot and the front desk attendant asked me to follow him as he RAN through 3 corridors to the doctor. Then there was the time I peed in a cup and was directed to walk through the waiting room holding an uncovered vile of my own urine. Still yet, just before making fun of a nurse, another doctor, with bare hands, squeezed the puss out of an infection I had my foot, and without washing his hands began typing a report on his computer keyboard.)

In this instance, the doctor was more than willing to prescribe helpful medication and connect me with an allergist. However, he suggested that, in order to cover all necessary bases, I pursue a more invasive procedure in order to rule out the possibility of any serious health issues.

At this point in my ‘consultation’, I balked. I was quiet for a minute after I heard the words “barium enema” and “colonoscopy”. “I am 26″, I thought, “Is it really time for that kind of thing?”

I searched for the right words. I didn’t want to discredit his advice, but such procedures, I reasoned, would be more agreeable at home. Or so I thought. I am sure in Korea it would not be much different from home, but my experience with medical facilities here has never been without surprise. I guess in this instance I used the same logic as I would for other scenarios: I prefer to use my own towel, wear my own clothes, use my own toothbrush, and have colonoscopies in my own country. Wouldn’t you? If it doesn’t feel like home, sometimes its better to wait.

I explained to the physician, in the most sensitive way possible, that the psychological hump was something I might take some time to overcome, and at the moment, I would like to discuss my symptoms in more depth. I explained that I was really there for a referral for an allergist.

He looked at me for a minute with an amused yet sympathetic stare. “I understand,” he said, “But you must understand that getting a colonoscopy here makes a lot of sense. It only costs 200 dollars, and in America it can cost 2,000.”

I still wasn’t convinced, but I nodded in understanding.

“Some people come to Korea just to get the procedure,” He remarked. And then came the clincher.

“You know, in America, people have very big hands. But Asian people, we have very small hands. We can operate the instruments very carefully. It’s really better here. We are very good at it.”

“Great.” I thought to myself. “Ahh, I see. Well I’ll have to think about it.” I said, trying to look thoughtful and enlightened.

I am not even sure if what he said is true. (I have made an effort since to look at the hands of passers by). But in the future, I will reflect on how the size of my countrymen’s extremities effects the quality of my health.

We discussed my symptoms further and he decided that I likely had some residual ick from food poisoning. He did schedule me for “a procedure”, just in case I changed my mind.

Small hands. So reassuring, but they don’t quite feel like home.

 
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