Archive for March, 2010

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Worship Across the Spectrum

03/26/2010

As we learn more about the life and culture of Phayao, we are constantly asking ourselves how communities of faith can be contextually relevant here. One of the main areas we spend time thinking about is worship. And one advantage of taking a year to learn and discern is that we have the freedom to explore possibilities when our team meets to worship. While we want our time together to honor God and form us spiritually, we also have an eye towards creating a worship experience that will connect with people in Phayao. The result is that we decided to be intentional with “trying out” a variety of worship styles. We are taking a few months to utilize different worship experiences from the Christian tradition. For a lack of better terms, we have divided our Sundays into the following worship types: liturgical, devotional, theological, and contemplative. The emphasis has been on exploring different spirituality types in the setting of communal worship. Thus, in the liturgical type, we are focusing on ritual, communal participation, and the “narrative”” of the service. In the devotional type, we are emphasizing experiencing God, self-expression, and fellowship. In the theological type, we are stressing the spoken word, the written Word, and teaching. Finally, in the contemplative type, we are attempting to be silent, to contemplate, and listen.

We have spent a few weeks trying out the various styles (and various aspects within each style) and will continue for a few more weeks. The goal for this (besides honoring God in our worship) is to equip ourselves for when others join in our communal worship. A goal of ours is to enable the local community to discern how Christian faith is lived out here. We do not want to impose our own biases and tastes on future communities. Thus, we have to be very intentional and aware of how we present things in the initial phases. It would be very easy to worship how we have always worshipped, thus creating one particular model for new believers to experience. They would then, most likely, assume that model is THE model. And so the local community would have a tougher time discerning for themselves what worship looks like in Phayao. Therefore, if we can provide various experiences and options, the local community will then have a better chance of exploring and adapting as they grow in their faith. We realize we will not do this perfectly, but we want to do our best to allow the Spirit to move in creative ways within new communities of faith.

On a personal note, I have grown a lot as we try to stretch ourselves as a community in worship (remember that our whole team comes from the Churches of Christ, thus we have to work really hard to tap into styles that are not common in our history). I have seen that I have different reactions to each style. I feel most comfortable in the “theological” type (shocker, right?). I feel most drawn to “liturgical.” I feel most stretched in the “contemplative” style. And I feel most disconnected in the “devotional.” (I have enjoyed this style but it is the most unnatural for me. Just being honest.)

These reflections have made me think about the possibilities for other churches as well. My experience is that churches get comfortable with one worship style (or should I say, one type of spirituality) and rarely verge from it. I think this is a natural tendency and lots of good can come of it. However, I wonder if there would be some benefit in trying to push against that tendency a bit. It might help in including some people who do not resonate as strongly with the “norm.” Think about music for example. Most churches today utilize contemporary Christian music. This is great. The problem, though, is that not everyone connects with that genre of music (myself included). Thus, the preference of the majority in the church can easily marginalize those who have different tastes, or spirituality types. Expanding the music genres, and other aspects of worship, could possibly create an even stronger inclusive atmosphere.

Another benefit to expanding the range of the worship experience is that it could present possibilities for unforeseen spiritual formation. God has much more to offer than any one worship style can capture. We miss something if there is never time to be silent and listen. We miss out on the power of language if everything is extemporaneous. We miss out on lament if everything is praise and worship. We miss out expressing ourselves emotionally if we only sit and listen. And so on. Thus, exploring other worship styles could shape the community in rich ways for the sake of the world.

Therefore, I highly recommend exploring various worship styles and emphases within your community. You might try this in the large assembly or in your small group. It definitely creates a higher propensity for awkwardness. And it takes a lot of hard work in preparation. But, the benefits for the WHOLE community and for you are worth it.

Our team worshipping as we eat the Lord’s Supper (Thai style) together


Brynn leading “Jesus Loves Me” at the beginning of a “liturgical” service

Our team singing together in a “devotional” service

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March Madness

03/20/2010

Well, it is about time for a new post, I must say. Though our family is in mourning because our fav UCONN Huskies aren’t going to be the national champions this basketball season, we’re making the best of it. We’re enjoying watching basketball on our slingbox (for those that don’t know–it is a nifty little device that is connected to my parents’ DVR in America and through the wonders of the internet we can watch our favorite, can’t live without shows/sports over here on our computer). This has been especially fun for the girls to still get to catch a Yo Gabba Gabba or Dora episode, and well, I still get to watch Survivor. And American Idol. And maybe The Bachelor, don’t judge me, and please don’t tell anyone. 🙂 Hey, this culture shock thing has really gotten to me and a girl’s got to do what a girl’s got to do, right? Moving on….I’m embarrassed now.

Derran is working hard on cultural research and though it is definitely tedious many days, the Lord is revealing so much to us about this beautiful culture. Please continue to pray for this task and that the Lord will bring the fruit from this labor. We believe that the Lord has called us to this year of intentional research and that He will be faithful in guiding us and helping us discern what we are to learn about our continued work here. There are definitely days when the floor is covered in note cards, and brains are fried, and it is easy to wonder what in the world we are doing. Those are the days we remind ourselves that we are not called to get all these things “right.” We are called to be faithful in asking good questions, to use wisdom in making decisions, and to pray. We are doing our best to navigate all this, but God is the one who will bring His kingdom here in Phayao. And it truly is a joy to have a small part in the unfolding of His plans for the people here. Please continue to pray for this area specifically.

In my world right now, I’m doing a lot of play time. Brynn’s school is out for summer break. She had her finals–and I’m not kidding—and passed Anubaan 1 which is basically Pre-Pre-school. I think her final was compiled of a lot of coloring, letter identification in English and Thai, and tracing letters. She did well and we are so proud of how much she has learned in the last six months. She is now moving on to Anubaan 2, Preschool. She starts Summer School next week for half days. She is really looking forward to seeing her friends again and meeting her new teacher. I have to take a moment to brag on our little Brynn. We’ve been playing a lot of letter identification games in both languages. The Thai language has 44 consonants, and 20+ vowels. The girl knows almost all of her Thai consonants, and about 10 vowels so far! It is absolutely amazing for me to watch her learn two languages. She still has a way to go with speaking Thai, but I can tell that she is understanding so much around her. I know that she yearns to speak and play with her friends in Thai like she does in English. Brynn is such a social little girl and loves her friends. It has been tough on her to not be able to communicate fully with the little girls around her. However, running, jumping, chasing, laughing, dancing, and coloring are universal so she has been blessed with several really fun friends at school. I think she has a had a good break being at home this week, but she was saying today that she was excited to go back to school. She also started a ballet class just down the street. Last Sunday afternoon was her first class and she spent most of it on my lap watching the other girls. I’m praying that she will feel more comfortable this week and that this will be another great place for her to make some friends and learn more Thai. Your prayers are requested about even things as simple as this! 🙂

Little Meg loves her some Barney these days. She always says, “I want Bahney”. I just bought a Barney DVD that is dubbed over in Thai. Oh my goodness, if you think Barney is pretty annoying in English, you should hear it dubbed over. Wow. The girls love it though, so I suffer silently. Meg rarely says her “Rs” so we get a kick out of her saying things like “Bahney” and “My haht (heart)”. She also doesn’t say her “Gs”. So she frequently asks “Where my baby doh?” (Where’d my baby go?). She knows we like it so we hear it a least 100 times a day, and I think we laugh every time. She loves to do “Hohhok”, homework, with Brynn. She loves to hide and then jump out and say “Boo Daddy” or “Boo Mommy”!  But my all time favorite is when she plays with Brynn. She has always called Brynn, “B”.  In fact she just started saying “Ben” not too many weeks ago, “B” is just so much easier! I was sitting in the kitchen the other day and I hear her say, “Boo Bee!” It was hysterical. Of course she has no idea what she is saying, but we love when they play that game and we laugh behind her back every time she yells, “Boo Bee!” Sorry, I just had to share the little things that make my day so funny.

Well, we’ve been here for six months now. I have to admit that it has been a hard six months for me. I have to admit that I’m tired of being in culture shock! I am definitely in a better place now than I was a few months ago, but some days it still all catches up with me. I’m trying to have a sense of humor about it all, and deep down I know “this too shall pass”. I sure hope so because I’m ready to move past it! I think the hardest days are when I see that Brynn is hurting. The other night after throwing an all out fit, she just crawled in my lap, and said “I just miss my cousins”. These are the moments I was not prepared for. These are the moments that I didn’t picture when I was excited that we were finally moving to Thailand. I have been stretched farther than I thought I would be. Our family has been stretched and pushed to difficult points. However, I can say we are enjoying this precious time being together in such a laid back place. We spend a lot of evenings on the floor with Chutes and Ladders and Hi-Ho Cherry-O. Derran and I eat lunch together almost everyday. The rhythm of our days is pretty simple compared to the frenzy of last summer, or the last year for that matter. I’ve heard an ambulance siren maybe three times since I’ve gotten here. I never see airplanes flying overhead. Most of the noise I hear during the day comes from the crickets and locusts in the field behind our house–and we live in the city! I told Derran the other day that sometimes I think the noises outside are so loud, but then I laugh when I think that it is nature that is so loud when I was so used to hearing trains, airplanes, and traffic all night long.  So slowly life is feeling more settled. I would appreciate your prayers for me to be able to find some Thai women to be good friends with. That the Lord will give me patience with myself and with the whole settling in process. PATIENCE!! I need it.

Ok, I’ve totally given you more than an earful! I could go on and on about this transition, but I’ll let you faithful readers off the hook. I will end by saying that your love and prayers for us are valued and needed. We are grateful to all of you that love us so very much and continue to encourage us on the hard days. Thank you for being faithful in prayer for us, our team, and our work here. This experience has given us such a different perspective on prayer. We love hearing about and knowing that so many are praying for us, it truly spurs us on and lightens the load. God bless all of you as you live for Him.

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A Funeral

03/08/2010

Last week was an odd one. Upon returning from taking Ann’s parents to the airport in Chiang Mai, we found out two of our neighbors had passed away (and we only have 6 houses on our whole street). We did not know one of them very well, though we knew the rest of the family. The other one was the father of our next-door neighbor, who we are really close to. Khun Buu, his father, had lived with them for over 20 years. He died at the age of 79. We were able to be a part of the whole funeral process, and I thought it might be interesting to describe it to you. The majority of the funeral is typical of a northern Thai funeral.

After Khun Buu passed away on Tuesday, the family immediately began setting up for the funeral ceremonies. The schedules for Tuesday thru Friday were basically the same. The days began with the family setting up for the day’s activities at the temple. They would prepare and serve a meal to the deceased by placing a plate of food near the coffin. They also provided lunch for any visitors that stopped by. Then, each night, they would serve visitors supper around 7:00. As people came to eat, the family would invite people to go inside the temple where the coffin lay. Visitors would often offer a flower arrangement with their names on it that would be displayed around the temple. They would also give the family a money offering to help with the funeral costs. The family would then ask visitors to kneel before the coffin and wai (put your hands together in front of your face and bow your head). Then, around 8:00, the more official ceremony would begin.

Here is a picture of where the ceremony happened.

The nightly ceremony consisted of 4 monks chanting (in the Bali language which 99% of the people don’t understand) and the family and visitors sitting nearby, holding their hands together in a wai the entire time. This nightly ceremony is called “suat mon.” The primary function is for the monks to tell the deceased that he/she has passed away. I was told that a person does not know they have passed away until the “suat mon” ceremony has been done. The family and visitors are there to “tham buun” (make merit) on behalf of the deceased. This means making merit in order for the next life to be that much better. At one point during the chanting, each of the 4 monks holds up a blue sign in front of them (you can see them on the right side of the picture above). The 4 signs say, in order: 1) “Go, no return” 2) “Sleep, no awakening” 3) “Rising up, not possible” 4) “Escape, no chance.” After the chanting, one monk would give a short “sermon” before ending the ceremony.

Saturday was the longest and biggest gathering for the funeral proceedings. It began in the morning with one more “suat mon.” People sat around tables that were set up for lunch. After the chanting, one of the monks gave a lengthy sermon. (I have to admit that this was impressive because the sermon was delivered in a chant as well.) The man next to me helped explain the sermon because it was hard for me to follow (both because it was chanting and because it was in the local dialect which I still am not great at). The thrust of the sermon was about the fact that we shouldn’t sweat that a body has died. The flesh is not what matters. The spirit is what matters. Death should not worry us. All people go through the same 4 things: 1) we are born, 2) we grow old, 3) we suffer, and 4) we die. So, the point is to not worry so much about it all. And treat the person next to you well because you ultimately are the same. You both will go through the same 4 phases. No one can avoid it.

After the sermon, the family provided another meal for all the guests. As people ate, they prepared to move the coffin to a new location. Once everyone ate, they loaded the coffin on a flatbed trailer surrounded by flowers. A group of monks held a rope “pulling” the vehicle/coffin while the family walked alongside.  The procession went to a nearby temple that has a crematory.

The procession arrived and walked around the crematory 3 times as everyone else watched from the sitting area. “General” guests sat on one side while “those who have honor” sat on the other. Both groups faced a line of about 25 monks sitting down. The monks then did a short chant. Once finished, “those who have honor” received a new monk robe from the family and then went and placed it in front of one of the monks. Giving a monk a new robe is one way to gain merit on behalf of the deceased.

Finally, the family prepared for the cremation. They walked over to the coffin, ready for the final ceremony. All the guests walked up to the family and offered wood-carved flowers that would be burned up with the coffin. Family members and the lead monk then dipped roses into coconut water and splashed it on the deceased. Coconut water is believed to be the purest of liquids, thus this is a way to “wash” the deceased one last time in order to offer his body up in purity. The coffin was then closed and pushed inside the crematory. Many guests then began to leave, while the family stayed around to watch for a few minutes. We then all began to clean up and get ready to leave.

Later that afternoon, I was invited to a small ceremony at our neighbors’ house. This involved 4 monks sitting in the living room, surrounded by family and close friends. The monks then chanted for about 20 minutes, with the purpose of cleansing the home of the deceased’s spirit. Then later that night, the family made a small fire in front of their gate. This was intended to keep the spirit of the deceased from coming home. They left a plate of food by the fire so he could eat but made sure he knew this was not his home any longer. All the proceedings ended with a dinner for friends and family at the home of our neighbors. This was a time to unwind after a long week.

What stood out the most to us, especially in relation to funerals in the States, was how the family was the host for everyone. They set up for everything. They provided the meals for everyone else. They made sure all the guests were comfortable. They did a great job of making sure everything went smoothly. But, we couldn’t help but wish they had some time to be served in the midst of all their serving.

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Update in Pictures

03/04/2010

Here are various pictures from the past few weeks. Hope you enjoy!

Some pictures from our time with Ann’s parents.

Enjoying some MK, the best restaurant in the eastern hemisphere.

Ann’s Birthday

Ann and her mom put together a Valentine’s party for the kids where they played games, decorated cupcakes, ate snacks, and then took “prom” pictures, of course.


One of the differences with school here is that the kids brush their teeth at school. The other day, the sink wasn’t working at Brynn’s school, and Ann caught Brynn’s class “improvising.”

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Pics just for fun

And a little “ballet” video for your viewing enjoyment