Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Marriage and In-Laws

More about Thailand is still coming, although we've traveled to Colorado, New York City and Pennsylvania since then. I've got a pile of thoughts built up.

But before I get into that, a thought about marriage and in-laws (and for those of you who aren't married, you can skip this one or translate the concepts to the relationships you have that are your best opportunity to grow -- friends, family, etc):

I just spent several days with my wife's family. She is one of 4 sisters, all of which were around this weekend with their husbands. I had this crazy idea to get the guys together, have a beer and talk about being married to these sisters. It worked out and we found a place with Guinness on tap, free Sprite refills and good wings and caught up on our work situations. Then I asked them what they're learning in their marriages which sparked a fun and enlightening conversation.

Encouraged, the next day I mentioned the conversation to someone. They pictured in-laws sitting around complaining about their spouses. This was strange to me, so I told someone else. They had a similar idea of what might have occurred. (I think it particularly struck me because I just experienced Tibetans honoring their elders and have been thinking about honor). I kept thinking about it. Why would people assume that if the guys got together they'd be whining? And about their wives?

Is marriage a hell that men and women escape to their friends and inlaws to let off steam about?

It is hell to some people most of the time, and to everyone sometimes -- still, sitting around slandering the in-laws seems like a good way to go down another level of the inferno to me.

Let's be honest -- It's hard to find people to trust. It's easier to not talk about things, or to just complain. But we all need people outside of our own little worlds of work and marriage to talk to. And we need people who want to see us become something better, who believe what we sometimes can't.

I've had the costly privilege of a couple friends and mentors who don't just love me, but fight for my marriage and periodically call me on my stupidity and selfishness. They remind me marriage is an ongoing opportunity to grow. This is one of my greatest assets, and I could list a number of things I've learned from conflict in marriage has made me more compassionate and effective at everything I do. I wouldn't have learned it without help.

I imagine a world where in-laws get together to celebrate the honor and holy challenge of being married to whatever particular family they landed in, a world where husbands brainstorm together about how to better love, encourage, serve and empower (or to use the apostle's language "to lay down their lives for") their wives, a world where it makes sense to learn what you can from and make allies of friends and in-laws not to justify our own opinions and gain leverage for ourselves, but to more effectively fight the war against the hopelessness, fear, stupidity and evil that is being waged against every human, ourselves and spouses included.

This isn't the world most of us live in, but it's more than just imagination -- I saw it this week like a seed ready to be planted!

Saturday, March 20, 2010

What we did there

Now I want to get into what we did on this trip. Briefly:

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Thai Culture

We spent most of our time and energy with foreigners while we were in Thailand. Nevertheless I'd like to reflect briefly on my experience of Thai culture.

Beauty finds a variety of expressions in this culture that I found meaningful and challenging:
a. Landscapes. Amazing mountains rising up from mostly flat fields and grazing land.
b. People. People everywhere are interesting and beautiful to me: Here I was struck by monks in orange garb, stunningly beautiful young people, noble elders.
c. Religious architecture: wats (temples) and spirit houses were everywhere, usually very ornate and well-kept. There are neighborhoods in the US where you don't see anything that is beautiful and well taken care of. In my very limited experience of Thailand, even in the most squalid areas there are little spirit houses that are in some sense beautiful and taken care of.

My most vivid memories are of riding through the mountains on a moped, walking past handicapped people stretched flat on the streets in Bangkok asking for change, and walking outside temples deserted except for monkeys sitting around like old people outside their homes.

Thai ideas of what is appropriate in dress and conduct was also striking: women do not bare their shoulders, you don't touch peoples' heads, and many people put their hands together and slightly bow their heads to each other to show respect and say thank you.

I know very little about Thai culture and history -- as an outsider I'm struck by both the amazing variety between different cultures and the similarities/humaness that are right under the surface.

Sunday, March 14, 2010


This is the first of several blog posts about our recent trip to Thailand -- check back for more in the next couple weeks if you're interested. This first installment will be glimpses into the travel. Later I'll reflect more on ideas and learnings from the trip.

Getting to Thailand and back:
Left a day early because there was a big snowstorm headed for Virginia. Supposedly we were one of the last flights out from the airport -- they routed us through Chicago instead of DC. We sat in the plane on the runway for several hours while the pilot told us he wasn't satisfied with the results of the airworthiness tests they do before you take off. It started to snow while we waited. Then we took off.

It's a long way to Japan from Virginia.

Spent a day in Japan due to the last minute flight changes.

From Tokyo/Narita to Bangkok it took less than 6 hours, but you move from cold to tropical, from refined, reserved, ordered cultivated beauty to heat, ornate designs, and a generous excess of plants, people, devotion and motion.

In Bangkok we got around on the sky train and the river taxis (long boats full of Thai passengers and foreigners). We also walked some, which is normal in downtown areas, but we explored out beyond where people normally walk to where taxis, buses, tuktuks and cars mainly go.

The trip back was hard: we were exhausted and a little sick. I had something wrong with one eye I so I stumbled through customs with my head down trying to not cough on anyone. I've rarely been as thankful for a bed and an Applebees as I was when we finally got to DC. (To be honest, I'm not sure I've ever been thankful for an Applebees before).

I met some interested people on the planes. The winner though, was a Chinese business man who works mainly in Africa. He had an interesting (and for me enlightening) perspective on the relationship between business, communication and political agenda. This got me thinking about bigger trends and changes in the international community as China's influence grows. You hear about these large scale changes in the US, but to talk to people directly involved made it much more real for me. There are truly great opportunities and challenges ahead of us as the world landscape changes in ways we're still mostly unaware of.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Birds Up

Birds up in the air, flying.
We're back breathing air here in small town Virginia.
No wats on mountaintops, no stretched white/black beaches
edging glowing waters.

Birds up in the air, fighting.
We're back gulping down draughts of fire water,
strength for
moving through the thick sludge of
unmotivation, sickness, weakness, poverty

Birds up in the air, gliding
The updraft of that which
God himself gives
The promise of.