Sunday, December 28, 2014

The most wonderful time of the year

Glimpses of the family via internet
What a lovely time we've had. In past years, I've disassembled "Christmas" decor the day after Christmas. Here the tree's still up, the decorations are out, and we're not done yet meeting people.

Christmas Eve
We'd come to Jakarta the night before so a relaxing morning is welcome. Avery has decorated the flat with lights and a little tree. W and I walk a few blocks on rugged sidewalks and gutters to the Rempoa Outlet for a top and trousers (under $20 for both). Then we turn down the street for "House of Lamb" cuisine. Pretty good, actually!

A mostly mutton menu
On the way back, we wander through the neighborhood and almost get trapped in a dead end. The fellows watching us point out a narrow sidewalk alley where we can get back on track. A few twists and turns, a walk back toward the way we'd come, and there we are back at the flat. Hot. Sticky. Stinky. Ready for a shower and nap.

We leave for church a few hours before the 6pm service. W and I join other staff members to greet guests as they arrive. "Merry Christmas sounds odd to me after saying it hundreds of times," one gal whispers. So true. Good thing Indonesians are very gentle in shaking hands or we would have had crushed fingers.

Pastor Dave introduces the staff "family" to the congregation and expresses his appreciation. We are always touched to be included. Hearing the story of Christmas through song and sermon is reassuring and affirming.

A policeman pads his Christmas bonus by
relieving W of Rp500.000 ($45) for an
imagined offense in Jakarta
God with us. Such a mystery! Only God could come up with the idea of being born in the lowest circumstances to experience life and suffer death as a human. (We always try to avoid pain and insignificance, wouldn't we?) To think he was reconciing us to himself. It's hard to grasp but wonderful to contemplate!

Between evening services, about 50 staff members and musicians eat together in the offices upstairs. Supper choices: mie goreng (fried noodles) or nasi goreng (fried rice), boosted by several Dominos pizzas courtesy of Bramonos. W and I arrive on time to split the last piece of pizza.

The 9pm service is just as good as the first. We head home once people stop coming in (3/4 hour after service starts), riding home with Avery and reflecting on the goodness of God. Our driver does a snazzy turn through an almost-empty neighborhood to avoid congestion. Except that the other end of the street is blocked off so we have to return and fight traffic anyway. We are home by 11pm.

PD preaches the Christmas message
Christmas Day
The services are wonderful and well-attended. A few people come early and most arrive within a half hour of the set time. The musicians outdo themselves and the Word is spoken with power and grace. Our hearts are full as we listen and respond. God with us.

God with us. I am staggered to think of it.

About 15 of us have lunch together at the Grand Hyatt. It's a feast for the senses: beautiful decor, excellent food (including "real" bread rather than the fluffy stuff that's common in bakeries), and good company. We sit and chat until after 3pm, when we head back to the flat. I have a brief snooze.

A jungle stroll
Then W and I drop by Dave and Gigi's briefly, before driving back to Bandung. Hard rain and lightning accompany us most of the way home. W follows busses and trucks onto the shoulder of the road, bypassing traffic that is too slow. We're home within 3 hours and happy to drive into the yard.

Boxing Day
We're up early. By 8am we're at the Bamboo Shack, a little restaurant in Dago owned by an Australian and his Indonesian wife. The menu, a combination of Asian and Western foods, looks interesting. But we're gathering with other expats to hike in the hills. When 7 or 8 of us have gathered, a driver takes us to a parking lot at the trailhead.

One couple brings their huge golden retriever, who trots off-leash. The Indonesians along the trail almost melt with fear: they hate dogs. It's about 4 km. down the jungle trail to the lower parking lot. The trail is paved somewhat regularly, especially considering the damage by motorcycles tearing up the path. A few boulders have rolled down over the paving and the trail diverts around them. Monkeys chatter, watching watch us from the tree canopy.

W takes pictures. I meet a German student who is in Bandung for a few days visiting a fellow from her university in Berlin. She's studying in Thailand, not going home for Christmas for the first time ever. At the bottom of the walk, we pause for grilled corn-on-the-cob.

The Dutch etched tunnels for water turbines through the hillside but the hydro project was never completed. We walk through the cool passageway toward the parking lot.

New friends at the Bamboo Shack
W buys tea for the restaurant owner and ourselves as we wait for the rest of the group to come by. After a half hour we give up and have the driver take us to the Bamboo Shack. The others walk the rest of the way and meet us there.

Meanwhile, the owner grills up sausages and the staff serves tea and coleslaw, rice and potatoes, and drinks. Delicious! We chat until after 2pm when W and I head home. It starts to rain in earnest on the way back and there's no one else in the angkot. So the driver veers off his route to take us to our door. W tips him generously.

At 5, we walk around a few corners in our neighborhood to find out who tucked an invitation for a Christmas open house in our gate yesterday. Oh, it's Pak Alan (whom we've not met) and his wife Christine. We're the second family to drop in, meeting their children and indulging in some home-cooked food. We have to leave by 6pm. They and the other family are conservative believers, reminding me of the people we grew up with. Familiar and sweet memories bubble up in my head.

The beautiful couple enters
By 6:30, we are on our way to a Sundanese wedding reception with Dr W. It's my second and W's first Sundanese wedding. We again have no idea how to dress. "Not too formal, not like last time. I'm wearing trousers," says our friend. So W wears a large-scale batik-print shirt and I'm in a skirt and blouse topped by a white shawl, hand-knitted by my Auntie Edith 20 years ago. But when we look around the room, it's obvious that W needs a great-quality batik: the men wear gorgeous patterns on silk or cotton fabric. Dr W makes an appointment for us with a friend for next Wednesday: she's a clothing designer so will help us find a proper shirt. Whew.

The bride and groom wait under a golden parasol while a traditional orchestra plays and dancers parade the red carpet ahead of them. Then the couple enters, followed by clergy and both sets of parents. Their clothing is splendid: sparkling pastels, beautifully wrapped head-dresses, and shiny shoes. After the family lines up on stage, the dancers perform another set between them and their 1000+ guests. The women beat drums, twirl, and bow, then both men and women performers line up on the platform for a picture. Soon the receiving line starts.

Traditional Sundanese music and dance
A separate area of tables is sectioned off for the family, but the food is abundant for all the guests. Besides two central buffets of Sundanese foods, there are a few drink tables. (No alcohol of course.) One caterer cooks fish and chips. Other vendors offer noodle and beef hide soup, filo-pastry-topped chicken and veg soup, chicken saté, nasi goreng, and other dishes we don't recognize. There's an entire circle of tables laden with desserts, from ice cream to coconut concoctions, to jellies, to other sweets.

On stage: beautiful clothes for the receiving line
We circulate around the room. Everyone is polite but our poor choice of clothing is obvious. Dr W hasn't seen some of her university friends for 30 years. One man, widowed 3 weeks ago, has been persuaded to come and his friends surround him all evening. Dr W encourages us to speak Bahasa but most conversation flows around us in local Sundanese. The loud music makes talking almost impossible.

After 9pm, we are ready to head home. "So much food was left over," our friend observes. "Such loud music makes it difficult to eat." We pick up party favors - little batik-print wallets - as we leave. (To get them, we exchange coupons received when we signed the guest book upon entry.)

Classmates catching up
Dr W's driver is waiting in the parking lot. He easily negotiates the car through still-thick roadways, taking us up the hill, turning into the narrow lane of our neighborhood, and parking in Dr W's gated driveway. We wave our goodbyes from the porch, waiting for her to go safely into the house.

Sunday, December 28
We call the family in the morning to catch up on their Christmas. Then it's off to church downtown. Only about 80 people are in the Baptist's English service. Among them are our friends Dr H and her family and Sumathi and Augustine. The pastor reads from Peter's epistles and talks about leadership traits.

A street vendor carries New Years favors
After service we have lunch at a nearby Indian restaurant with Sumathi, Augustine, and two other friends. It's their anniversary tomorrow, and the other husband had a birthday yesterday; his wife's birthday is tomorrow. The food is neither the best nor worst we've eaten. We finish off the spicy mutton, curried chicken, and roti with rice. We use our fingers to pick up the food. "It tastes better than eating with cutlery," they tell us.

W and I walk to Istana Plaza to see if Christmas trees are on sale. At 50% off, the only one that looks good is $200. No deal. We catch an angkot back to our neighborhood and walk home. The rain holds off; we are still dry when we get back and the back hall has not flooded. (Mind you, W swept pools of water out of the hall after last night's rain. The little rugs that capture water before it can go into our kitchen were soaked so they got hung outside.)

The rest of the day is relaxing, a true Sabbath. Now it's almost 2am, time for sleep. We're expected for an early brunch at a friend's in the morning.

Read more:
*Bless the LORD, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name! Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits. Psalm 103:1-2 ESV

*Guard your steps as you go to the house of God and draw near to listen. Ecclesiastes 5:1 NASB

*Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 ESV
*(After seeing the infant Jesus, old Simeon) took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” Luke 2:28-32 ESV

*But when the fullness of time had come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, in order to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as children. Galatians 4:4,5 NEV

*Rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. James  1:21 NEV

Moravian Prayer: Holy One, guide us in your way, lead us back when we stray from the path you set before us and renew us with your presence, we pray. Amen.

C. S. Lewis in The Problem of Pain
On self understanding: Be sure that the ins and outs of your individuality are no mystery to Him; and one day they will no longer be a mystery to you.

Thursday, December 25, 2014

The implications of Christmas

Foyer of the Jakarta Grand Hyatt
It's our first Christmas abroad. We attend church services, meet lovely people, and feast during Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When we head home on Christmas night, rain pours down and little streams gush along the sides of the road. The motorcyclists push past, eager to get off the wet roads of Bandung.

We've been praying for people we know, for IES Jakarta, and for our future. As we pass a university, we make a request: "Dear God, protect the students. Give them peace and keep them from moral failure."

Which leads us to wander into theology. What did we just pray for?

Friends by the
IESJakarta Christmas tree
Our trail of thinking starts with this question: is it significant to pray that people live good lives, whether or not they are Christians?

Scripture says sin separates us from God. It also says that Jesus came into the world to redeem us, paying the penalty for our sin. In this way he reconciles us to God. Therefore, Christmas is about celebrating the coming of God-among-us. God-with-us, called Immanuel.

We read in the Bible that when we try to save ourselves by keeping the law and living "righteously" by religious rituals and rules, we must keep each and every law perfectly. (James 2:10)

Once we've made one mistake, we are separated from God. We are imperfect before a Perfect God. It might make us angry to think that Someone has the right to judge our limitations and flaws. But not liking God's standard doesn't negate it.

Which leads us to consider the effects of sinning. Does committing a lot of sins - or do the kind of sins we commit - matter?

Exquisite food
1. Sinning more doesn't separate us more from God. Our relationship is already broken by our first sin.

2. In our separated state, "more sins" do have an effect. They harm us and our fellow creatures. So when we pray that students will avoid moral failure (lying, cheating, sexual sins, etc.), we're praying for their protection. That they do not harm themselves or others by their actions.

All of us suffer from bad choices and sins. Sometimes those decisions are ours, but sometimes other people have followed evil desires with consequences to us. When we pray for each other, we plead for reconciliation and reconnection between us and our Maker. But we also ask God to keep us from hurting each other or from damaging our reputations and our futures.

A selfie at Starbucks on Christmas day
3. By accepting God's forgiveness and forgiving others, we purposefully do less harm to ourselves and to others.

We choose freedom to live graciously, to love wisdom over convenience, thoughtfulness over self-interests, and longterm good over temporary pleasures. Imagine a world filled with people who lived this way!

Let's extend the freedom and generosity offered by God's Christmas gift to others. Then the blessings and peace of the season will be ours all year long.


Read more:
*For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David's throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this. Isaiah 9:6-7 NIV

*Indeed, there is no one on earth who is righteous, no one who does what is right and never sins. Ecclesiastes 7:20 NIV

*(Jesus says,) "In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents." Luke 15:10 NIV

*God will repay each person according to what they have done. To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism. Romans 2:6-11 NIV

*For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. For he who said, “You shall not commit adultery,”also said, “You shall not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do commit murder, you have become a lawbreaker.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment. James 2:10-13 NIV

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Christmas adjustments

Tags made for the season
My strange feeling of disconnect isn't just because we're in the tropics this year.

I'm enjoying the familiar Advent readings with a dear friend. Listening online to Cambridge and Oxford choirs singing traditional carols renews my spirit. (Mind you, I've avoided pop versions of Christmas music for years.) Artificial pines and firs strung with lights and ornaments are spread around the city. W and I have attended a Christmas concert at an Indonesian church and Sunday services with a nearby congregation.

The most obvious change is how our routines have shifted. These pre-Christmas weeks lack the busy bustle of years gone by. Usually, I bake up a storm, plan the birds and fixings for 2 or 3 turkey dinners, and check the schedule to make sure we're not missing a commitment.

Our December calendar is emptier. Several groups came to the house and new friends drop by for tea or meals. We've had wonderful encouragement by telephone from friends. We look forward to several more festive dinners and breakfasts before year's end. So it's not that we're alone - but the faces of family and old friends are far away. Honestly, we don't expect the calm to last beyond this year.

A wintery cake at the bakery
Restricted mobility is my biggest adjustment so far. Each shopping trip is an excursion. Once we're settled, I'll drive the car or hire the driver who works across the street. (At this point, I drive so seldom that W carries my license and I have no idea where the car keys are.) W prefers to walk so it's not a simple matter of picking up groceries by hopping in the car or taxi. If we find something while we run errands, we often leave it there. Without a car handy, we return on another trip (if I remember what it is). I stay home from many of W's far-ranging treks.

We've prayed - and asked friends to pray - about our house situation: what should we do? Stay or go? The bugs have been an annoyance. But the rain suddenly came through the ceiling again this week and a closer look at the sloping rooflines was worrying.

Yesterday, as the handyman is painting and repairing the hall, he pauses. "How long are you going to live here?" he asks.

"Why do you ask?" W responds. "We would like to stay for a long time."

Palms and pines: our first Christmas abroad
"This roof needs replacement. I can't just repair it," he says. "Soon it will fail." Whaaat?!

W contacts the leasing agents, who send over a building inspection team immediately. The men look briefly at the roof, take in the sagging kitchen cabinets (from which we've just removed our dishes), and say, "We don't need to see more. If you fixed it today, in 4 months it would be unsafe again. The whole wing has to be removed and rebuilt."

We've asked friends to pray with us for wisdom and insight. Now we have two new pieces of our housing puzzle: we can't stay here (which means negotiating a refund on our remaining lease and the damage deposit) and we have the business card of a trustworthy building inspector as we consider other places.

Starting today, it's Christmas week. We're so excited to celebrate Christ's birth in the new setting. Following Jesus sure isn't boring, either.

Read more:
*He will cover you with his pinions, and under his wings you will find refuge. Psalm 91:4 NEV

*For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him. Psalm 103:11 ESV

*(About John) And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace. Luke 1:76-79 NIV

*In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. Luke 2:1, 4-6 ESV

*And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:7 NEV

*Grace to you and peace from him who is and who was and who is to come. Revelation 1:4 ESV

Moravian Prayer: Almighty God, you are the beginning and the end and all that is in between—we thank you for your boundless love and gift of peace.

Great Protector, shelter us from the storms of life, give us refuge in times of trial, and fill us with the peace which surpasses all understanding. Amen.

C. S. Lewis, in The Problem of PainThe golden apple of selfhood, thrown among the false gods, became an apple of discord because they scrambled for it. They did not know the first rule of the holy game, which is that every player must by all means touch the ball and then immediately pass it on. To be found with it in your hands is a fault: to cling to it, death. But when it flies to and fro among the players too swift for eye to follow, and the great master Himself leads the revelry, giving Himself eternally to His creatures in the generation, and back to Himself in the sacrifice, of the Word, then indeed the eternal dance ‘makes heaven drowsy with the harmony’. 

All pains and pleasures we have known on earth are early initiations in the movements of that dance: but the dance itself is strictly incomparable with the sufferings of this present time. As we draw nearer to its uncreated rhythm, pain and pleasure sink almost out of sight. There is joy in the dance, but it does not exist for the sake of joy. It does not even exist for the sake of good, or of love. It is Love Himself, and Good Himself, and therefore happy. It does not exist for us, but we for it.