Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Wild Grapes

In honor of Easter I have been reading part of John Stott's "Through the Bible" daily devotional book. Today I hit a devotional about John 15 - The Vine and the Branches. A few years back God used these verses to cause some growth in my spiritual life and hammer out some "trust issues" I had been having with Him. So, it was really nice to be reminded of this teaching. It felt like returning to and old friend's house.

Then, in the middle of the devotional there were some suggested readings the normal verses about the fruit of the Spirit, and then Isaiah 5. So, I looked at Isaiah 5. God found some good soil, planted a vineyard, made it all nice, but then the vines gave wild grapes instead of grapes. I don't know what wild grapes are, but apparently not the result He was going for, because he proceeds to trample the vineyard, undo everything He had done, and let it get overgrown with weeds and thorns. I just keep thinking - what are wild grapes? So, I looked it up.

Most commentators that I read about commented that wild grapes are beautiful, but sour and even poisonous. Also, they are what you would expect in the wild if nothing was done to cultivate a vineyard. So, rather than just even being unfruitful, which perhaps would have warranted more care (just my speculation), God's vineyard had actually produced bad fruit as if He had done nothing at all. So, in my life, wild grapes would be the natural sin from my sin nature. Is there good fruit in my life? Do I live as if God has done anything at all for me? Sometimes I wonder, but then I go back to the vine and the branches. Christ is the true vine. If I am living in Him, I will produce fruit. The branch can't say "Well, I feel like producing fruit today." It just does.

One more part of the devotional that struck me was about pruning. I thought of my mom and grandma. They always get so much grief over their overpruning practices ("Don't kill the thing!"), but in the springtime, my mom's garden is really something to see. There is color everywhere. Stott mentions also that spiritual growth is rarely disconnected with some kind of suffering. This is a great thought. Happy Easter everyone! He is Risen!

Friday, April 6, 2012

Obvious Tax

It's tax time! Having just finished my taxes, I've got taxes on the mind. I'll just print out my forms and mail them off tomorrow - I won't even need the automatic foreign resident 2 month extension this year! Sometimes I feel silly filling taxes here. While I'm filling out the forms I feel like I'm doing a fake out with the IRS - here's how much money I made on line 347 OOPS! I made it all outside of the US on line 758. Gotcha! It seems like a lot of form filling, adding lines 5-61 and multiplying by .4749283 to write the number "0" at the bottom, but it is pretty amazing, when you think about it, that they made a handful of two page forms to accomodate the various life situations of over 300 million people. It's also amazing, that with five thousand here and three thousand there, they collect enough to run a country (I know, there's a huge deficit, but it's still amazing). I wouldn't be saying it's amazing if my number wasn't zero, but when you think about it, it is big job.

Then I was thinking, what if I and others around me could collect a little here and there as a tax. I like saying "If I had a nickel for every time...", but since nickels are out of style, I'll up it to a quarter. The first tax I would collect is the Obvious Tax. When people tell me something obvious about myself, I will collect a quarter. If they are married, have children, or were born after 2002, they get a deduction, 5 cents for each that applies. Examples of "Obvious" qualifying statements include, but are not limited to - "You are tall." and "You look tired, (teacher)." These two will be enough, actually. I could finance my own Department of Transportation with that tax.

The second tax I would collect is the Spam Tax. This would be harder to enforce, but if I only enforce it with spam text messages, I should be able to collect enough from my bank and telephone company alone to finance my Ministry of the Interior Design. Who ever heard of a bank spamming its customers? Do banks in the US do this?

PS - As a disclaimer, just because I don't pay taxes in the US doesn't mean I don't pay taxes. I'm actually really thankful that the US doesn't double-tax citizens who live in foreign countries. That was a great, merciful idea, whoever thought of it.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Kleenex vs. Reality

Welcome! If you're reading this, thanks.

I have many moments when I think "Yeah, I've got this down. Oh yeah, I've adapted to this place. That old me that first came here was so naive. Ha! I am so wise. My wisdom overwhelms me." Then, usually what happens after these thoughts is I get annoyed when I overhear someone whispering about that foreigner over there (that's me. It's always me. Even in my hometown, if someone is talking about the incredibly foreign looking person, it's me.) Or I get stonewalled by some bureaucratic process and hit play on my now memorized mental rant about the inefficiency of EVERYTHING ABOUT THIS PLACE. So, maybe I haven't adapted so much. Maybe I don't want to. I have been realizing more and more, though, that I really do compare my adopted home to a version of my original home that, if I could paint a picture of it for you, you might describe as heaven, but a little better. Everything works smoothly in this idealized land. Everyone is polite and waits their turn (post office, people?), but no one waits too long (banks, anyone?). Busses never break down and always run on time, and people only ride busses if they want to save the environment, because gas is free and cars get you everywhere you want to go in 10 minutes. Students are respectful, teachers are wildly educated, schools are clean and churn out overachieving critical thinkers by the thousands every year.

Now, if you are reading this blog, it means that you know me, and you know the place I am describing - the place I am from. Let's call it "Kleenex, Barizona" for the argument's sake. Everyone is polite? I can remember some not-so-polite behaviors. What immediately comes to mind is a woman who spit a mouthful of her pancake breakfast at the bus she had been kicked off of because no food or drinks are allowed. I've never seen that in my new homeland. Yeah, I was on that bus. It took an hour to go anywhere, but I was riding the bus to save money on gas. Yes, my friends, it wasn't free. I have waited for an hour or more at many a post office, bank, government office, and on and on in "Kleenex". My students in the Land of Facial Tissue weren't really that respectful. In fact, I had one threaten me. I've never been threatened here. And not to say this is good or bad, but I haven't had to be trained to recognize homicidal tendencies in students' writings here like I was in "Barizona". I've never even been afraid of a student here. My first week of teaching in "Barizona", a student asked me if he could write a descriptive paper describing the experience of carrying a gun on campus. (My answer was, "Um, no.")

I am generally against comparing the two places, because every place and person is so different, and comparing leads to generalizations that are neither true, healthy, nor useful. But, it is useful for me to remember that the version of my hometown that I created in my mind on the plane on the flight over to my new home is wildly sensationalized. All of the bad aspects were sucked down the airplane vacuum toilet - never to be seen again. (Aside - there is still a part of my mind that believes that the vacuum toilet sprays its contents into the atmosphere over the ocean, and I always say a little prayer that some poor, unsuspecting sailor won't be caught unawares. Can anyone confirm or deny this thought with scientific data? Thanks.) That was a wild aside. In any case, I'll just keep trying to keep everything in perspective. Bureaucracy is bureaucracy everywhere. Being a foreigner involves a lot of paperwork, and yes, I did choose this. Repairmen don't come when they say they will no matter where you are, used car salesmen's job is to rip people off everywhere, and I'm sure in London, Siberia and Nairobi alike car repairs don't work on the first try. So, these are my thoughts today as I wait for the plumber to come for the second time in one week. Do any of you fantasize about life being greener on the other side of the ocean? Can anyone confirm or debunk my vacuum toilet fear?