Monday, April 4, 2011

Lent Day 23: From here to there and back again

"The land of the free? We have never encountered so many rules as in America!" our Swiss friends exclaimed. They have worked and invested in the USA for several years. There are many things they love about living here, but we examined some of the trade-offs of living somewhere other than our native land.

We'd also been talking about Singapore, and what a great place it was to visit and do business. Though the country is perceived as legalistic by Americans, expectations and consequences are clear and enforced. Don't do crime, you won't do time. "Here there are laws for this and that, and you have to be careful because you don't always know what you are doing wrong until you are sued."

The conversation moved along to spurious and overblown lawsuits and the caution of foreign companies investing here. Of course the McDonald "hot coffee" fiasco-of-justice-settlement came up, among other examples they'd noticed in the past year. "In Switzerland, if you accuse someone and you lose, you have to pay their legal costs. Here, you have to pay to defend yourself. If you would have to pay to accuse falsely, maybe people would think twice!" We know. We know... those who lose must pay court fees in Canada, too.

"Parents don't take their children outside every day, something no Swiss parent would consider. The junk food stuffed down as meals seems like child abuse. And the over-protection that prevents adventures and leads children to expect adult supervision every minute?" Head-shakingly odd to our friends.

In fact, I met this charming, careful, and holistic-minded mom in a coffee shop, where her 6 month old son Marki was clinging to the side of his stroller, 20 feet away from where she was ordering a drink and pastry. I knew right away this was no local family!

Dora makes baby food and soothes her children with herbal teas rather than sugary fruit juice or cows milk. She walks outside for miles with the kids every day, rain or shine, snow or sleet (almost like UPS). That's normal where she comes from.

Yesterday, Dora's darling, now two years old, carried his miniature backpack a mile to our house and trudged back up our hill toward home afterwards. The pack was filled with juice bottles, toys, and a clean diaper for his baby sister, who was sleeping in the stroller. I chuckled as Marki backed up to me, holding the backpack out, slipping an arm through, and waiting patiently while I fastened the clips. He demonstrated the whistle on the strap under his chin. It's been great fun to watch these sturdy, healthy Swiss toddlers roaming and learning in the freedom of childhood, the way I remember it for myself.

Every country has its own quirks. When we live abroad or in a foreign land, the assumptions of the populace can take us by surprise. Our feelings of safety and danger, right and wrong are deeply embedded beyond self-recognition. Our understanding of politeness and permissions wraps around our worldview so tightly that there can be no "neutral" entry to another culture.

I wonder how Jesus felt, coming from the wealth and freedom of heaven to engage the poverty mentality, the "cannot-do" of his disciples, and the hopelessness of those around him. Luke 9 reports an exasperated and sad comment from Jesus after yet another failure: "Don't you get it? How long do I have to explain this?"

The writer to the Hebrews says that Jesus' followers are likewise strangers and aliens. If we're getting too comfortable, maybe our worldview has not yet been transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1-2). Or maybe we're forgetting that our journey destination is eternal, not permanent settlement in a temporary and strange land.

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