Category Archives: Cultural Issues

Standing Up For What Is Right

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On one of my trips back home to Zambia, I had gone into the city to buy some African wood carvings and paintings for friends and for my apartment back in the United States. After I was done shopping, I made my way to a bus station. A man, a little older than me, was heading in the same direction a few feet in front of me.  There was a group of young boys between seven and thirteen ahead us, begging on the street. They were totally ignored by people passing by. One of the boys went to the man and asked for money to buy food. The boy looked dirty and hungry. The man grabbed the boy’s head and pushed him to the ground. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. I reached in my pocket for some change and handed it to the boy and continued to walk behind the man. I felt the urge to say something to him, but did not know how he would respond.

We walked a few blocks without any incident. My anger was growing. I had to say something. He stopped at one of the street vendor’s shops to buy himself a snack, and I gathered enough courage to talk to him. I politely asked him why he pushed the boy away. He responded, “Which boy?” His question made me even angrier. I couldn’t believe he had already forgotten what he did a few blocks away, or maybe he was trying to play dumb. I reminded him where the incident had occurred of which his response was, “Those Street kids are a problem; we had helped a few at our church, and one of them ended up stealing church property. These kids choose to be on the street, and they are nothing but trouble.”  I tried to plead the boy’s case. He really needed help but got shoved in the face instead, which was unnecessary. He told me he didn’t want to talk about it anymore and left.  I watched him walk away and disappear in the crowd. And this guy was supposed to a Christian?

I bought some food and made my way back to the spot where I saw the boys, but could not find them. I waited a few minutes to see if they would come back, but they had already moved on. What if those boys were angels in disguised?

The incident inspired me to write a song called “Reach Out” about a little boy and little girl who were pushed away by the very people who are supposed to help them out. Jesus taught a lot on taking care of the little children; the most vulnerable and defenseless; the least of these.  The church is not only a place of worship, but a place where the sick, the helpless, the hurt, the disillusioned, the fatherless should find refuge and healing. It’s a place where everyone should feel welcomed and loved, and should not feel like an outcast.

Unfortunately the church has become more of a country club where if you don’t share the same political views or wear certain clothes or look a certain way, you are not welcomed. It has become a place of hypocrisy and condemnation. We care more about the color of carpet than our neighbor next door.

We are faced with situations where we see injustice, corruption, abuse, and hatred, but are too fearful to stand up for what is right because of what others might think. For instance, a little church out of Topeka, Kansas became infamous for going to funerals of servicemen to protest for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. The forty member church believed the death of soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan was the result of America’s tolerance for homosexuality. The church’s mission was to show up at funerals unannounced picketing, holding hate signs.  I can’t imagine how families of the deceased felt seeing hateful signs that said: “Thank God for Dead Soldiers.  God Hates America. Jews Killed Jesus. God Hates Jews. God Hates Fags. Fags Doom Nations.” Wow! A time of mourning for a loved one turned into a nightmare. No one stood up to counter their hatred until 2000 bikers created a human barrier to stop their plans to picket at a staff sergeant’s funeral in Hinesville, Georgia.  In recent years, they have been met with counter protest which has derailed their hateful mission.

I have always cringed when people of faith spread hatred in the name of God. As a Christian, churches like Westboro or any other supposedly religious organizations who have preached hatred does not represent my religious belief and what I know about Jesus’ teaching. The teachings of Jesus were centered on love: For God so loved the world; love your neighbor as you love yourself; love your enemies; do not judge, and the list goes on.  Anything that is preached contrary to what Jesus said is anti-Christ.  If we do not stand up to condemn injustice and hatred towards people who do not have the same belief or political values as we do; people who have been bullied to the point of committing suicide because of their lifestyle; people who have been abused and taken advantage of, we are simply endorsing the hatred, the abuse, the bullying, and the injustice.

Unfortunately, the media focuses more on stories that encourage division and hatred, but there are people who stand up for justice and speak out in the face of evil. A picture surfaced on the internet of people picketing at a high school holding signs with hateful and derogatory words.  Some motorists were even honking showing their support as they passed by. No one stood up against their hatred until a young boy wrote a small sign with words, “God Does Not Hate Anyone” and stood in front of one of the signs. The picture of the boy was all over the internet. It took a lot of courage to do that. Standing up for what is right can be costly at times. It can mean rejection, being ridiculed, and even risking our  lives. People like Abraham Lincoln  and Martin Luther King Jr. did stand up for what was right and paid the ultimate price.

Are we willing to stand up for what is right? Going outside of our comfort zone to help our neighbor?  What we say or do can make a difference. If we all loved our neighbor, the world would be a better place.

How Does She Do It?

mother_imageTwo hours with the kids and I am almost pulling my hair out!

I work 8 hour days, 5 days a week, by 5:00 p.m., my brain is all mushy from writing web programs or dealing with the technical issues of the day. I always look forward to getting home so I can have a few minutes to relax and spend time with the kids before their bed time. My wife who is an excellent cook always has a meal ready for us to eat. After the meal, we try to get the kids to help with cleanup and getting the dishes in the dishwasher, even though it is messy at times; it’s the thought that counts. Once we have the dishes all cleaned up, it’s time to play tickle-kiss with the kids—some kind of game we invented. Our oldest son is the loudest and most active and our youngest is obsessed with stuffed animals; she has quite a stash in her room. All it takes is several minutes for the house to look like a mini tornado went through. If my wife told anyone that she had cleaned the house and had everything in order, no one would believe her because of the lack of evidence.

How does she keep up with the never ending list of chores, menus for the week, cooking, laundry, cleaning and whiny kids? And the list goes on. Where does she get the strength to keep going? When does she have a quiet time to reflect and rest? Can you imagine a single parent who has to raise children, work, go to school and worry about the day-to-day chores?

The other day, I heard a man argue with his wife; he told her “all you do is stay home with the kids while I bust my [tail] with these 10 hour shifts at work to put food on the table”. I couldn’t believe what came out of his mouth. Yes, he definitely deserved the dog house. I am afraid that was probably the way he regularly talked to her. The lady, who was visibly shaken, picked up the crying baby and proceeded to check out the groceries in silence. The guy kept grumbling on the way out the store.

One thing that came to mind after I saw the incident was the story of a Texas woman Andrea Yates, a stay at home mother who drowned her children. No one really knows what drove her to commit such a crime, but what we know is she was suffering from postpartum depression after her fifth child. When I read an article “Andrea Yates: Ill or Evil?” by Katherine Ramsland , I couldn’t help but feel sorry for a family that was fully involved in their local church and appeared to be happy on the outside,  go through something so horrendous. When I read comments from people, calling her a monster and that she deserved to be hanged, I was amazed at such rage coming from the readers of the article. Wow! I am not trying to lessen the crime she committed; I am just appalled by people who commented without a clear understanding of what mental issues can do to a person. Her oldest son’s final words to her were “I am sorry”. Could it be the challenges of raising five kids that drove her to the breaking point? Is it possible that her husband was so busy trying to provide food, clothing and shelter for the family that he neglected a crucial aspect of their relationship, her emotional well being?

A lot of people who are suffering from depression and in need of help are afraid to reach out for help because of how we respond to them. We tend to isolate ourselves from people who are dealing with emotional or mental issues. We have created an environment where there is no room for people to be real. People like Andrea Yates who do reach out to the church or people around them, get a “you got to fix your life first” before you can come into my little circle of friends. This kind of treatment could be the reason why a lot of people dealing with depression and other emotional issues remain silent. What Andrea Yates shared with the cops in the 30 minutes interview after she was arrested, was what she should have shared with her husband or her church group. She believed she was a bad mother and the kids were getting out of control. She needed to do something to save them from hell. This to me sounds like an outcry of a mother who felt alone and did not have anyone to share her issues with. Could the whole situation have been avoided?

What makes us human is the ability to process information and able to make sound judgment. In most cases, people going through depression or extreme stress have a difficult time making rational decisions because their reality has been warped by isolation and compounded by life demands, cultural expectation and the little voices that circulate and condemn. Sometimes family and friends who know of a loved one dealing with depression or other mental issues live in denial, and would rather not deal with the situation instead of seeking help through counseling or other means.

I can’t comprehend what it is like for a mother carrying a baby for 9 months and going through labor, the everyday demands of giving without receiving, sacrificing herself for the needs of the kids and her husband over and over. Moms never have a break. They keep going even if they are in pain or sick. Parenting is hard, harder when you feel like you are carrying it all. It is easy to go off to work, earn a paycheck, and come home and check-out of this world through watching TV. I know of mothers who work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week who still go home and cook, clean and do all the household chores. We all need a break, we all need a rest and refuel, but how does a woman find the time? Since she is so in the groove of self-sacrificing she will not ask for time alone, she might. Sometimes she does, but it feels wrong to her….is it culture telling her that she cannot rest, refuel? We guys can zone out in front of the TV, computer, iPhone, play games, be totally oblivious to what is going on in the house. Sometimes it is easier for a woman to do the chores herself, rather than try to communicate to a spouse who has checked out to what needs to get done or how to help. Wives are expected to assist their husbands, to listen, be sensitive to pick up on the cues of what they like, dislike. Why can’t men try to do the same?

What a mother does is more than work, it’s LOVE. It’s sacrifice. So how does she do it? I can honestly say that I don’t know. But I can help her.

When Cultural Expectations Don’t Lineup With Reality

cultural_expectations2When my wife and I got married, like any other young couple, we had a list of things we wanted to accomplish which included having kids. We thought we had this whole marriage thing figured out during our courtship, and since we were not guaranteed tomorrow, why not get on with the program and have kids right away. I had always dreamed of a baby boy or girl running around the house getting spoiled by daddy. Whatever the challenges this little munchkin brings my way, I would be able to handle them as grown up men do. After our two-year honeymoon was over, I was more than ready to be a daddy. My wife always talked about being a stay at home mom, that was her dream before we even met.

Two, three, four, five years had passed, no baby. We had started to wonder if this whole children thing was for us.  Me being on the road, traveling with a music group did not help the situation. We felt time was not on our side. It seemed everyone around us was getting pregnant, even couples who were not ready to have children. We talked about adoption if we could not have children of our own. My wife’s work was getting more stressful, she wanted to quit her job, but her dream of becoming a homemaker was getting shattered, and I knew she felt bad. If she stops working, what would she become? A stay at home wife? It would have helped if we had a bunch of pets, she would have at least quit work to take care of them at home. Ha! 

Finally, we accepted the possibility that we might not be able to have children – and we were okay with it. But then what would she do? Her purpose in life was supposed to have kids and take care of the home–at least that is what culture taught her. And me.

During my time of reflection, I began to realize my cultural expectation of what marriage should be was getting a kick in the rear. I grew up in a culture where married couples were expected to have children. I remember even at a young age how people who had failed to conceive were isolated and ridiculed. In every case, the woman was to blame even though there was no proof that indicated the woman was the culprit. I couldn’t imagine how women felt who expected support from their husbands, family and friends, but instead got a slap in the face – a baby making machine that does not work.

We have literally created these cultural boxes where roles for men and women are stored. Everything expected of a man or woman is defined by the checklist within the box. My wife who was born and raised in Minnesota was challenged at one point by someone she knew. She told the lady that her desire was to get married and raise a family but she wanted to go to college to get an education first. The lady told her “why do you want to waste money getting an education when your desire is to get married and be a homemaker?”

That kind of cultural expectations hung over my wife’s head as she tried to figure out what she should do until meeting Mr. Right. So, she became a lady-in-waiting, waiting for prince charming to whisk her away to a castle where she will live happily ever after. Then she met me…LOL. In the following six years she remained childless. What was she going to do in the meantime? Be a housewife? No, she went off to college and discovered her true passion. Not that her desire for having kids lessened, but sometimes we have to face the inevitable. What if my wife never had kids? Was she supposed to work menial jobs? Or could we perhaps be called to more? Do we allow our culture to hold us back? To dictate certain expectation but only to find that these cultural demands does not line up with reality? Then what? Maybe we need to take a step back and think what we are teaching our sons and daughters.

Challenges we face now are definitely different from what our forefathers faced a century or two ago. There is nothing wrong with keeping up with traditions, but if our traditions become a source of strife and harm to our loved ones, then maybe we should think twice about holding on to them. I have seen families who hated each other’s guts get together for cultural  or traditional holiday gatherings because it is expected of them. At what cost? Perhaps we should spend more time mending broken relationships and empowering people to use their talents to their full potential. This world is full of pain and suffering, we can all use a little encouragement from loved ones.

What are some of the cultural expectations you faced that did not lineup with reality? How did you deal with them?