Thursday, March 31, 2011


I'll admit, I'd been a little disappointed by Mark Bittman lately. The NY Times food writer used to provide simple, easy recipes as The Minimalist. The only reference source I use more often than his How to Cook Everything Vegetarian is Wikipedia. His recent promotion to weekly Opinion columnist writing about a range of food and food system topics has, however, been less pleasant. He now bites off huge (and important) issues, dispatching problems like US agricultural subsidies them with simplistic solutions (subsidize veggies instead of corn!) in under 1,000 words. (Of course, I make the same complaint about Times columnist Nick Kristoff, who covers international politics and development, so perhaps my issue is with the column format in general.)

Nevertheless, Bittman just about restored himself in my mind with his most recent column, "Why We're Fasting". Earlier this week he joined activist and religious leaders around the country who are giving up food for a period of time in response to the current federal budget negotiations. Under serious consideration are huge cuts to anti-poverty programs like WIC (nutritional support for pregnant women and those with young children), Head Start (free preschool for kids from low-income families), food stamps, and international food and health aid.

I first heard about the fast through Bread for the World. I'll admit I dragged my feet on joining in, but Bittman's piece was a helpful reminder. I know from my clients how essential these services are for poor people here. In the case of food stamps, I know from my own experience how important they are. I believe these cuts are wrong. Today, I fasted.

Friday, March 4, 2011

further reflection

Two more responses:
What is more important to you now? What is less? Who knows you -- really knows you? How is prayer changing your life?

In what ways have I used my gifts to affirm my neighbors & friends and to encourage human flourishing both generally and particularly?

Wednesday, March 2, 2011


In preparation for a time of reflection on the year I am ending, I asked a number of the women whose thoughts, prayers, poems and silences have shaped me this year for questions:
In the last year, how have I been touched? How have I touched others (physically, emotionally and spiritually)?

Despite the moves and upheaval, what does it mean to live a home made life? Not in the briefest sense of the briefest pass of the term, but if you parse out "home" and "made", what does that really mean? How could that feed into a more peaceful and simple living?

What has given me life? How have I given it? What would it mean to live and love freely?

How did you perceive power as a child? What ideas, self-representations, objects, stories and people held power and meaning for you as a child? How did these ideas change and shift as your fire or power was tampered with?

What is the most important thing you have learned about yourself in the past year? a more self-critical vein, I like sometimes to think of what CS Lewis calls the "disordered loves" - how does what I crave or desire mask my transcendent desire for God?

What has been the time you felt most alive in the city? Series of moments? What is one city landscape that has really connected with your spiritual state of being?

What a gift.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

where are you from?

"Where are you from?" For most people, it's a fairly straightforward question. "I grew up in ______."

Not so for us third culture kids (TCKs). We are:
...individuals who, after having spent a significant part of the developmental years in a culture other than that of their parents,develop a sense of relationship to all of the cultures while not having full ownership in any. Elements from each culture are incorporated into the life experience, but the sense of belonging is in relationship to others of similar experience. (from Third Culture Kids: The experience of growing up among worlds by David Pollock and Ruth Van Reken)

...people who root themselves in ideas rather than places, in memories as much as in material things; people who have been obliged to define themselves - because they are so defined by others - by their otherness; people in whose deepest selves strange fusions occur, unprecedented unions between what they were and where they find themselves" (Salman Rushdie in Unrooted Childhoods)
Growing up, my answer to the hometown question depended on who was asking. When bargaining with Kenyan vendors at the crafts markets, I came from Kilimani (a Nairobi neighborhood). When traveling in East Africa, I was from Nairobi. To friends I made at youth group while we were on furlough in Georgia, I was from Kenya (though I often had to identify the continent for them as well). I embraced my TCK identity, and made sure that every new person I met knew where I grew up. It was a source of pride.

In college, that started to change. When swapping introductions with classmates I began dreading the standard "so where are you from?". My answer would usually either shock my new acquaintance into an overly-broad question ("So what was that like?") or provide a launching point for an enthusiastic description of his or her life-changing two-week trip to Zambia and subsequent "heart for Africa".

And in the last two years, I've found myself hiding my background. Once upon a time I eagerly shared my overseas upbringing, particularly with those from other cultures. I figured they would appreciate my global perspective and cross-cultural skills. And yet I've found something less than affirming in the responses of the Somali refugees, the undocumented Mexican farmworkers, and (most painfully) the Kenyans. There are polite questions about what my parents were doing in Nairobi, followed by silence.

Why? Because while I might have places or at least cross-cultural exposure in common with my immigrant friends, our experiences of change are entirely different. For me, moving between continents is easy. There is no walk through the desert, no wait in a refugee camp, no years-long visa application process. While our international lifestyle means I see my family members less often than I'd like, there are no legal or bureaucratic barriers to visiting them. And when I travel, money, med-evac insurance and white skin insulate me from the lived realities of the locals.

As my work has brought me closer to the poor in the US, I've realized that my TCK background can hurt rather than help my efforts to relate cross-culturally by highlighting my economic and social privilege. I've taken (somewhat ironically) to hailing from the Chicago suburbs.

So how do I now answer the question: "Where are you from?"

It still depends on who's asking.