Saturday, January 29, 2011

Haircut Culture

There are perks in every adventure. Today I did the one thing I always enjoy doing when I go to Delhi….get a haircut.

I know this sounds odd but I hate getting a haircut in the states. The barber or hair stylist never know exactly how to do it, seem to be offended when I make a suggestion, charge me $12 or more and expect a tip. I started going to a barber college in my town where, they still don’t know what they’re doing, but at half the price. My tip goes to some struggling single mom, high school student or kid who is not on the fast track toward a university degree.

In anticipation of my journey to India I let my hair go way beyond the need for a trim to coincide my arrival in Delhi. I found a guy in a Muslim basti (some would call it a slum, more likely a term for poor neighborhood) who is a master at his craft. He knows exactly how to cut my thinning dome and I never have to worry what it will look like when he is through lowering my ears. We don’t speak as I don’t know Urudu and his English is limited. He tops off my trim with a strong massage to the scalp, neck, shoulders and arms. All of that for the grand price of $.70. I usually give him an extra $.30 cents for a job well done.

As I sit in the dark small two chair shop I think about how, as a Christian, I am surrounded by community of Muslims on a narrow street in the heart of a Hindu city. The feel of my haircut adventure is part of the appeal. The foot paths that snake through the village, all the men with beards and prayer caps; women in full covered and black veiled dress, the sounds of kids playing and the blaring call to prayer over a loudspeaker makes my haircut more than a grooming exercise but a cultural experience.

It will be three weeks before I return to Delhi, but you can bet I will be making my way to the barber in Nizamuddin before I fly home. Partly because I want to avoid, as long as possible, the barber college back home. But mostly because I enjoy the culture of the Muslim barbershop and the bonus of getting a great haircut at a great price.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 Training Report

Each year I send out a report on the work of Lewis Cross-Cultural Training, Inc. Click on this link to read the 2010 ministry.

If your church or organization would be interested in cross-cultural training and discipleship, please contact us.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

It Takes A Team: Making Up Positions To Have Something To Do

It’s an old problem in missions, trying to create a position for someone so they will have something to do when they leave the field or retire. In the old days, before schools tightened up their academic requirements, you would often see retired missionaries teaching in Bible Colleges or seminaries. It didn’t make much difference if they were qualified, had the gift of teaching or that their subject was even relevant to emerging missions, they were given a position so the school could (1) fill needed staff positions and (2) allow the missionaries to maintain their support and therefore not a financial burden on the school. Returning missionaries also was good to fill office staff, cheap labor for mundane busy work.

Today’s mission organizations, at least a few that I know, find positions for people to serve, whether the job is relevant or not. Some family gets burned out overseas and so is given a post as a regional director (Asia, W. Europe, E. Africa, etc.). The family lives either in a different country or, more likely in the U.S., and manages others on the field. And how do they manage --- MEETINGS. Strategic meetings, team family retreats, meetings to plan other meetings, conference meetings, all in the name of efficiency, effectiveness and tactical.

I have been around organizations long enough to know that most meetings are just busy work, at best. One-year goals, quarterly reviews make the manager feel like they have a role, make the organization feel like they are holding people accountable but seldom translate into concrete action. If a missionary is a worth his/her salt they are usually self-motivated and they don’t need a manager tell them what or how to do their work. In some cases the manager isn’t qualified to direct people because they weren’t all that effective themselves (I know of one organization where the president was a first-term dropout, never planted a church and had conflict with his colleagues on the field). Goal setting is important but the people who actually do the work, in my opinion, don’t need approval from someone else to move forward.

The other reason for creating a position is so that the organization doesn’t lose the needed revenue that the missionary support provides. Para-church groups live off the 10, 15 or 20 percent of the support that missionaries raise. Missionary attrition is an economic hardship for those in the home office, so to keep revenue stream flowing, agencies create positions for retainment, not necessarily because the person is qualified for the job or that is a position is needed or that it is vital to the ongoing work of the Great Commission. The mission director may say, “We really need this person’s valuable experience,” but behind that is that small voice is, “and we really can’t afford to lose the $700 a month his support contributes to our agency.”

Yes, there are some good people who for various reasons have had to leave the field and their expertise and giftedness are extremely helpful to the mission as a whole, just as there were gifted retired missionaries working in schools. But, like in business, where the Peter Principle often elevates people into positions beyond their ability, many people on home assignment are no more strategic than the meetings they design.

Before I left Kenya, where I served for 13 years, I approached my organization (which was not dependent on my support for their operation expensed) ad what role or job might be available to me if I returned to the states. I was told flatly that they didn’t have an opening for me and my choices were simple, stay in Africa or come home and resign as a missionary. I remained in Kenya until an opportunity to train missionaries was presented to me. By not providing a position for me I was forced to trust the Lord for His direction and, I was driven to make my own decisions. I assume that most missionaries who must or need to leave active service overseas follow the same pattern. For groups that feel they must create a position to retain personal and funds it doesn’t reflect well on organization. Growing agencies are known for their focus of ministry, not providing safety nets for those who leave the field.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Fashion, Symbols, Consumption and Piety

In a recent article in the American Ethnologist (2010:617-637), Materializing piety: Gendered anxieties about faithful consumption in contemporary urban Indonesia, author Carla Jones writes about piety among Muslim women and the wearing of the jibab (scarf and floor length dress). Jones describes the tension within a devout Muslim society and modernization, fashion and piety.

Since the events of 9/11/2001 Muslims throughout the world have been more aware of the symbols of their religion, not only within their own culture but also to the non-Muslim world. There was a time when young women considered wearing the jibab as something that was a necessary devotion to piety, sometimes forced upon them, most of the time merely an expectation by the norms of religious practice. Today the jibab and other symbols of Islamic religion is giving way to the market as entrepreneurs capitalize on the yield toward fashion and consumption while at the same time promoting fashion symbols as a means for piety.

“The Islamic lifestyle and the Islamic market segment encompass an almost limitless variety of goods and services. From CD’s and MP3 recordings of sermons, halal fast food and the Islamic finance to hajj packages, hajj gold, religious ringtones, themed weddings, gated Islamic housing communities, and even fesyen Islami (Islamic fashion, including socks, gloves and makeup), what one might generally gloss as religiously identified commercial offerings cover the spectrum from high to low consumer culture” (617).

One advertising company estimates that the halal (permissible/lawful) consumer market is at 1.8 billion people in 57 countries and worth $2.1 trillion in annual sales, $560 million of which is spent on cosmetics.

Piety consumption is certainly not only an Islamic market phenomenon. Hindus, Buddhist and most certainly Christians integrate commerce and faith as well. Go to the average Bible book store and you will see nearly as many trinkets (pictures, plagues, CD’s, DVD’s, wrist bands and bumper stickers) as there are books. Christians are more verbal with their faith than outward attire, but where there is faith there will be someone who can manipulate devotion into profit.

Manufacturing is the engine for economic growth, but so, too, are goods and services. If there were no religion, the world would still build and produce products. But, thanks to faith, there is, as Marx suggested, a link to religion, materialism, capitalism and consumption. The jibab, the plastic idol of Ganesh, yoga books and classes, the gold crucifix or the porcelain image of Mary; the edifices of the giant Mosques, Golden Temples and Cathedrals, all point to a capitalist transubstantiation to the Divine. Perhaps Jesus had no place to lay His head; Buddha may have renounced all human impulses and the founder of Jainism, Mahavira, may have rejected all creature comforts, including clothing. Nevertheless, the faithful still pay big bucks, yen, rupees and pesos to be fashionably pious.