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Introducing Cross-Cultural Literacy

hands coming in together

Before my sixteen-year-old was born we began building his library. Among the board books and chapter books we eagerly collected, anticipating the day we could read them together, were atlases and cultural studies for young people. We wanted our future children to love the world at large and feel comfortable in it.

Although we have traveled widely throughout the United States with them, my two oldest made their first out-of-the-country trip last year when we joined a church mission group to the Dominican Republic. Yet, I feel we had already exposed our boys somewhat to cultures and customs beyond their own through personal stories (Their father and I have visited and lived in several countries), movies, documentaries, culturally diverse friends, and of course, through reading. Recognizing it will take time to develop fluency, introducing cross-cultural literacy now is important to us.

In 1987 E. D. Hirsch published his Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know, where he first used the term. Tying an intimate and comfortable knowledge of one’s own language, customs, entertainment, symbols, history and dialect to a knowledge of decoding letters and words (i.e. literacy proper) Hirsch created an awareness of cultural literacy itself.

Having a solid basis in cultural literacy is important. If we are not aware of the idiosyncrasies, foibles, strengths and roots of our own cultural language, then it will be exponentially difficult for us to enter in to another culture with any sense of understanding or appreciation.

At sixteen, fourteen and seven, I do not expect my boys to be culturally fluent in any location outside their own culture, but I would love to think that they have been introduced to a sufficient number of other “worlds” that something new and different doesn’t startle them. I like to hear them talking with people from other countries or backgrounds while asking about their cuisine, being able to discuss basic issues relevant to the other country, or just being aware of behaviors that might be culturally offensive to others. We cannot be fully literate in every culture, but just as there is a term for “kindergarten readiness” or “reading readiness,” so there is a way to prepare for “cross-cultural literacy.” Whether it is through travel, meeting new people, eating out in a Vietnamese restaurant, or reading a book set in Botswana or India, there are many ways we can open new worlds for the children in our life.

What good is there in being culturally literate? Much.

  1.  We grow in empathy. Our hearts expand and open through the diversity of people we can relate to.
  2. We grow in our knowledge of cultures and worldviews, which piques our curiosity and broadens our interests and love for the world.
  3. We are protected from xenophobia, exclusionary or condescending views toward others.
  4. We learn the universality of feelings and basic needs. The specificity of lifestyle, language or custom may differ, but the commonality of the need for love, acceptance and respect transcends nations, ethnicities and cultures.
  5. We are less likely to fall prey to chronocentrism, the assumption that people who lived 100, 500, 1,000 years ago should think and act as we do.  A chronocentric attitude would see people from days past as inferior and as not having had time to progress as far. Here we should recognize that cross-cultural literacy does not only figure into national borders and dialects, but also time periods. The American Midwest where I live today, while sharing some similarities and history, does not share the same culture from 150 years ago. If I want to read James Whitcomb Riley, I will need to make use of some learned cross-cultural literacy techniques, and be ready to recognize that I am still not fluent.

Perhaps this seems obvious to us, but more and more I see kids (and adults) eschewing books which are “out-dated” in lieu of something “relevant” and “modern.” This belies the attitude that historical settings have no bearing or application in our lives, even more, that we have no connection as humans. Gravitating to contemporary and pertinent issues may seem understandable unless we only gravitate to books whose characters are “like me.” There is a danger in always trying to find ourselves in the pages of story. Story is where our world expands, and our capacity to empathize is not dependent on how closely the main characters’ lives and values reflect my own.

We need to help ourselves and our children become cross-culturally literate, whether we are crossing the street, traveling with a passport or through time. On first hearing of a new holiday or a new root vegetable from South America, I would love my children’s initial reaction to be curiosity and enthusiasm. In the same way, as they encounter hurt, discrimination and triumph in other people’s lives, I would love for their reaction to be sorrow, anger and joy where appropriate.

How beautiful to understand that God works IN cultures, ABOVE cultures, and IN SPITE OF cultures, including our own.

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Culture Care

In a previous post or two I have mentioned Makoto Fujimura, his art and his encouraging book entitled Culture Care: Reconnecting with Beauty for our Common Life.  Now, I have expanded my description of the book on my church’s blog post. You can read it here.

Culture Care : Reconnecting With Beauty for Our Common Life (Paperback) (Makoto Fujimura) - image 1 of 1

 

 

From Simply Robert: Fostering a Better Relationship with Our Meltdowns

The following is an excerpt from a practical and encouraging article a good friend posted yesterday. We have known each other twelve years now. He has been a tremendous source of information and inspiration to me as my husband and I strive to best parent a child (now, a young adult) on the autism spectrum.  As someone on the spectrum himself, he has a specialized perspective on how to navigate this world. As a person of faith, he is kind and compassionate, full of grace. Here, he explains how we might view meltdowns, not only as a negative, but leaning in to them, they might be a coping mechanism.

 

Continue reading From Simply Robert: Fostering a Better Relationship with Our Meltdowns

Best of all worlds

Somewhere, in the middle of February usually, I get discouraged with homeschooling. I want to stay in bed. I don’t want to send my kids to school, necessarily, but it would be nice to return to Christmas routines without the holiday part, when we had no schedule but played games and read a lot of books. Intellectually, I acknowledge that my funk is easily due to the weather, but each spring the first days of sunshine and daffodils surprise me.

After a picnic lunch today at a nearby park, G came home and instead of finishing up the last of his school work, decided to tack on an extra activity with some birding and journaling in our backyard…on top of our grill. It’s not the location I personally would have chosen, but he certainly looks comfortable, doesn’t he?

I think we will make it to the end of the school year.

Loving the labels and labeling our loves

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“That’s an Allosaurus, not a T-Rex. A T-Rex doesn’t have little horns on his head, and he was bigger.”

When A was small, he knew every name of every dinosaur. Every single one. He was able to detect the slightest difference in crested dinosaurs; he knew which lived in Jurassic and which in Cretaceous periods. He knew the Lambeosaurus as opposed to the Corythosaurus. A didn’t just know them intellectually, but appreciated them, and loved to name them whenever the opportunity presented itself. But this post isn’t about dinosaurs; it is, however, about naming things.

When early spring arrives through red buds and daffodils, when tiny green leaves, mere infants, show themselves on nature trails, do we love their beauty any more if we know their names? If I can claim acquaintance to the tufted titmouse, or greet the American Sycamore in passing, will I care for them to any greater degree? I think the answer is yes!

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It may be difficult to discern whether we love the things we name and label, or whether we label the things we love. Likely it is both. In forming our mouth around the verbal symbols for the cosmos bipinnatus, or the name of the dish we ate when we first discovered we loved curry, we call those words and their antecedents into our very heart and soul.

If you are unsure if you agree, think of humanity’s (adam’s) first, God-given task.

Now the Lord God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

Genesis 2:19-20

In the Lord God’s love for the people he created, he gave them the gift of creativity in naming the things around them. In labeling the lion and the rabbit, Adam loved them and created a relationship with them. It is the first recorded incident of humanity engaged in what J.R.R. Tolkien classified as being “sub creators.” In this act Adam learns what it is to create and hope for a relationship. His mouth forms the name “deer” and “porcupine.” From the loving dentals to appreciative plosives, naming what we see helps to build on our pre-existing love, and in turn, connects us even more firmly in our relationship.

If you are someone who grew up with Pixar or Harry Potter (or are a parent of one from that generation) you intuitively know this to be true. Remember Mike Wazowski’s horrified reaction when he discovered Sully had named the little girl “Boo?” Or how Hagrid’s eyes filled with tears when he disclosed the fire-breathing hatchling, not as a Norwegian Ridgeback, but as “Norbert?”

When we name something we acknowledge it, and often grow closer to it. God creates something new even today when we make the crucial decision to follow Christ. Although he rested on the seventh day, he was not finished with his work. Every day we are a part of becoming his new creation, and like Adam we can name what we see and claim it as good.

When I see my brothers and sisters in Christ I can call out their names. “You are selfless,” and “You are gracious,” or “You are courageous.” I can call them out as A called out the names of the dinosaurs he loved. Instead of diplodocus, I look at you and say “compassionate” and “faithful.”  In doing so, our relationship is sealed. I love you for these named qualities, but I also call them out of you because I have loved you already.

May He continue to create in all of us and may we never stop naming the good, and labeling our loves.

 

“Thou art indeed just, Lord,”

Lately, I have been busy, but feel I am accomplishing little. It is the sort of busyness our Western culture strangely seems to value. I could enumerate several tasks I have completed throughout the day, yet the weightier ones, the ones which possess the most significance seem to remain neglected, undone. I have a list of deadlines looming, but even more our family seems unsettled and my own soul is not fully at peace. I am experiencing the disappointment of constant striving but without focus or satisfaction.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) experienced this, as well. The English poet was increasingly frustrated with his lack of productivity. The depth in his poetry seemed to elude him and though he wrote and wrote, the results disappointed him. He struggled with discouragement, even depression, most of his adult life.

Like the psalmist David, Hopkins begins his poem “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord” with a lament and complaint.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

This is a cry of theodicy, a questioning of God’s goodness and care in a difficult world that seems far from ideal. He then ends it with a plea for help and a praise-filled recognition of the Lord as the true source of refreshment.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I

contend

With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is

just.

Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and

why must

Disappointment all I endeavour

end?

Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,

How wouldst thou worse, I wonder,

than thou dost

Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and

thralls of lust

Do in spare hours more thrive than I

that spend,

Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks

and brakes

Now, leaved how thick! laced they

are again

With fretty chervil, look, and fresh

wind shakes

Them; birds build – but not I build;

no, but strain,

Time’s eunuch, and not breed one

work that wakes.

Mine, O thou lord of life, send my

roots rain.

It is somewhat comparable to David’s content in Psalm 13 where the psalmist also confronts his creator on his fairness and justice.

How long, O LORD? Will

you forget me

forever?

How long will you hide

your face from me?

How long must I take

counsel in my soul

and have sorrow in my

heart all the day?…..

Consider and answer

me, O LORD my God…..

But I have trusted in

your steadfast love;

my heart shall rejoice in

your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD,

because he has dealt

bountifully with me.

Psalm 13, A Psalm of David

For weeks I have felt weighted down by my ineptitude as a mom, teacher, peace maker and spirit-filled being. Even if I grow heavy with the feeling of unfruitfulness, I can count on his grace and his refreshing rain like the psalmists rely on, to supply “my roots rain,” for “he has dealt bountifully with me.”

Diet Coke and Moral Pluralism

Advertisements and commercials are no longer just selling goods and services. They want you to buy a worldview. Perhaps they have always been like this, but it certainly seems more blatant now. Maybe blatant is good. If we are observant of what is being promoted maybe we will be able to make decisions more easily about whether or not we choose to jump on the bandwagon.

Case in point? The new Diet Coke commercial: Because I can. A minor celebrity, a millennial, walks a city street passing shops and cafes talking about what they enjoy, how it’s ok to be genuine, to be who you are. Perhaps it is a positive message in a graceless, unforgiving and demanding world, yet somehow I feel manipulated. Instead of feeling refreshed (pun only slightly intended) or encouraged, the Diet Coke drinkers come off as pretentious. This message seems to be birthed from the reactions against the “moral relativism”of the 1970s, 80s and 90s. Our culture wants something more concrete to cling to, but we have opted for watered down alternatives, based on little other than our own personal preferences.

Apparently, we are now living in a shame-based culture. Whereas many eastern cultures have lived with this for centuries, Americans, accustomed to individuality and maverick personas, are tasting the devestating effects for the first time. Many blame our society’s readiness to inflict moral shame on phenomena like social media pressures and, ironically, the negative aspects of globalization.

What Diet Coke may be hoping to reinvent alongside the image of their soda can, is a far more welcoming culture of moral pluralism. We may not share the same set of moral values, but we are trying our best to live up to what our value code deems good. This is distinctively different from moral relativism, which says my truth is as good as yours. Moral pluralism recognizes, instead, that everyone perceives themselves to be answering to a higher value code, though they may differ. Moral relativism promotes the idea that no belief is wrong, while moral pluralism asserts that there may be multiple, even seemingly opposing views on an issue which can all be equally right.

In A Practical Guide to Culture: Helping the Next Generation Navigate Today’s World, authors John Stonestreet and Brett Kunkle state that

“…in a descriptive sense …Christians can and should be pluralists, aware that we live in a religiously diverse culture and ready to make a case for the Christian worldview while recognizing the inherent dignity of all people..”

from Chapter Eighteen. “The Right Kind of Pluralism”

This thought is similar to Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, who opts for both religious exclusivism and political pluralism. As people of faith, we hold to the viewpoint that our religion is the only one which is true, and yet we embrace the diversity of our society and encourage the peaceful coexistence of all peoples. In his book Flourishing: Why We Need Religion in a Globalized World, Volf discusses this current cultural phenomenon by saying,

”A soft relativism of doing one’s own thing and letting others do theirs is an echo in cultural sensibilities and philosophical arguments of a world in which ‘solid things’ have been profaned. World religions stand in deep tension with important aspects of the ‘intolerance of the intolerance,’ a moral stance reinforced by present globalization processes.”

p. 101

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As a Christian, I want my children to be grounded not only in truth, but also to have a strong sense of how that truth plays out in their lives. I want to teach my kids to anchor their beliefs to something more authoritative and less ephemeral than the swinging pendulum of our cultural mores.

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Safe, comfortable and, here, chop this onion

Recently, I read an article revealing the top three things visitors notice about your home. It supposedly served as a warning against less than spotless bathrooms and the lingering odors of last night’s breaded chicken dinner. Another title, which popped up on a suggested post on Facebook promised to help me give a wide berth to last year’s outdated home trends and decor. If we are not careful, we may actually start to believe some of this stuff.

I am grateful for my home. We live in a pleasant area and our house is roomy enough that we can invite friends over. But my bathroom is not spotless; I have piles of unopened mail, and books and the children’s things stuck in corners. My closets are disorganized. Oh, please don’t look in the garage. It’s kind of gross. I suspect my decor is not on trend, but then again, I am blissfully ignorant of what is popular at any given moment.

I’m not sure I am there yet, but I would love to be the person who is not so concerned about what people think when they enter my home, but how they feel. When I think back to friends whose homes I loved visiting, they were not always the ones with the matching furniture. Not always. Sometimes hospitality and ambience go hand in hand, but not always. My goal is for my guests to feel safe, comfortable, valued and honored. When I can achieve that I will have fulfilled Romans 12:12-13.

Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

and

Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.

I John 3:18

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Now I only embrace this theoretically, but I hope to one day have a home where it doesn’t matter if my floor is clean, because you are welcomed regardless with open arms. Here is a home creed in which to aspire:

Let’s make our homes safe. It’s ok to talk about difficult topics, to voice opinions of dissonance. It is ok to admit failure, hardship and trouble. You will not be undermined. You will be loved and are secure.

Let’s make our homes comfortable.  The furniture here is secondary. There may be a lump in the couch, but the blankets are handy and you know where the silverware is. Let’s make our homes a retreat for our family from the outside world, but also welcome the world to come in from time to time and put their feet up on the ottoman. God holds me accountable for I have often been sheltered by some of the most hospitable of people.

Let’s make our homes the venues in which we can value and honor others. It  is an honor to have you enter our doors. You have blessed us with your presence, and now we want to show how greatly you are valued. We listen, we reserve judgement, we cater to your specific needs. We speak words of honesty, love and gentleness.

As I reflect again on the pointless articles mentioned above, they have not emphasized what we truly care about. Being in someone’s home is about being, and feeling, included; it’s about a sense of belonging.

You may only get water to drink at our house, but, here, you can chop this onion.

If the Golden Rule is treating others as we would want to be treated, then the Golden Rule of hospitality has nothing to do with the scent of hand soap in the guest bathroom. It is how do I feel when I am included in the host’s inner circle. Am I safe, welcome, comfortable, valued? I am far from living this creed out well, but it is a goal to strive toward. You are worth it.

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Parsing sentences

“That grammar lesson was fun!” says no child ever.

Unless….it’s ok to be silly, and they are only incidentally labeling the parts of speech. Unless… they are not only using their memory skills , but also their creativity.

G is learning to parse sentences as he slowly builds his understanding of nouns and verbs, adjectives and conjunctions. Parsing sentences for us at this stage simply means we are reading sentences and labeling all the parts of speech and which words they are modifying. As a seven year old, he has a pretty decent grasp of how language functions. But then, being the talker he is, he certainly takes in enough practice!

We are using Level 2: First Language Lessons by Jessie Wise. The book contains one hundred short grammar lessons, simple writing exercises and picture studies. It is an easy way for me to get in part of his language teaching without having to do much prep work. The lessons only take about 15 minutes, yet seem to be thorough. He has never complained about them, but if truth be told, I would never expect them to be the highlight of his day.

Until yesterday.

During his toddler years, I bought these magnetic words from a long forgotten vendor. We have only used them occasionally, but yesterday I pulled them out in an inspired last minute idea after we had discussed articles (a, an, the).

Sitting side by side, we got busy making up our own silly, lyrical sentences.

As the lesson progressed and G demanded “just one more,” the sentences just got ridiculous. However, that smarty pants labeled every single word correctly.

Things we learned:

1. Nouns can very often moonlight as adjectives. Especially if there are several of them in a row.

2. “Like” or “as” can wear several hats. In most of our sentences, however, they were adverbs.

3. It’s a good day if you are full out laughing at a grammar lesson.

Ratty and Mole and compassion and grace

Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind in the Willows has been a classic for over a hundred years. I have heard about it all my life, and yet I am reading it for the first time now. S and I are sharing the same beautiful copy I purchased online, a hardback with richly expressive and detailed illustrations by Robert Ingpen. It has been a little tricky trying to share a copy. We both tend to want to read it at bedtime curled up with pillows and the welcome silence of the house. We are also writing summaries, or “skeletons of the plot” for each chapter.

Even as an adult, if you have not read this 1908 classic, I highly recommend it even though I have only completed the first four chapters. It tells the story of inexperienced but eager Mole, wise river-residing Ratty, distractible Toad, unsociable Badger and others. Grahame is a master at presenting their distinctly animal-like characteristics while also providing a discerning eye toward our own human peculiarities. The stories flow at an easy trickle. No great events happen, but we are privy to more and more of their strengths and flaws with each chapter. Mole, for example, is quickly dismayed when his foolishness causes him to get lost in the Wild Wood. Not heeding the sage advice of his friend, he persists in entering the forest alone in search of Badger. A rabbit races past him screaming, “Get out of this, you fool, get out!” This is not helpful to Mole.

But then, there is Rat, ever true and brave, seeking out his foolish friend, despite his own fears and the dangers. His only thought is to rescue Mole. Rat holds no grudges. It doesn’t matter that Mole had previously refused his warnings and brought this calamity on himself. Instead, the Rat responds kindly and works to get them out of the situation.

“Dear Ratty,” said the Mole. “I’m dreadfully sorry, but I’m simply dead beat and that’s a solid fact. You must let me rest here a while longer, and get my strength back, if I’m to get home at all.”

“O, all right,” said the good-natured Rat, “rest away. It’s pretty nearly pitch dark now, anyhow; and there ought to be a bit of a moon later.”

P.54

And that, my friends, is love and compassion and grace. Not once did Rat chastise Mole, though it was all completely his fault. He did not abandon him. He saw his predicament, and it became their predicament.

Here is the way to lead others out of the terrors of the Wild Wood:

“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”

Galatians 6:2