Sunday, June 28, 2009

Space Camels

My recent interview with up-and-coming movie director, Mr. Harrison...enjoy...

Are Ethics Subjective?

In about 3 years I will hit the point in my life where I will have spent 1/3 of it in this beautiful, ironic, historic land of Italy. One of the main things I have learned and been stretched in is to 'embrace the grey', cioe', to let go my death grip on the black & white moorings of preconceived notions and uninformed assumptions and to allow myself to float a bit in the grey, mostly calm, but occasionally choppy waters of life in Italy.

A couple of examples might help. I live, mostly, with the value of honesty. I tell the truth. I don't lie - hardly ever. And when I do, I've discovered, it is mostly by omission, by smoothing over or by avoidance, cioe', by not verbalizing my real feelings or opinions. Anyways, if someone asks me a black and white question, I give an honest answer. If someone were to ask me, "Is your car red?", I would say, "No, it is blue." Early on here, as we began purchasing things we discovered there is a bigger difference between debit and credit cards. Whenever we use plastic to pay for something here, they ask, "Carta di credito?" (Credit card?). Well, in the beginning, I answered honestly - no. It isn't. It is a debit card. But what happens if they run our U.S. debit cards is that they don't go through - our pin numbers don't work. However, if we 'lie' and say it is a credit card, they swipe it, we sign it, and the money comes out of our account (after a heavy hit with the exchange rate.) See, no big deal, right? By simply saying, "Yes", when the honest answer is, "No", we avoid hassle and extra minutes in line explaining, "Well, really, it isn't a credit card. It is a debit card but since it is tied to a U.S. bank, if you will just pretend it is a credit card and treat it as such, it will work." This, a time or two, led to calling a supervisor and checking my I.D., etc. It is jusy easier, more efficient, less hassle to not tell the whole truth.

The next example has to do with cars. If you've been here, you KNOW that the streets are narrow, jammed with parked cars, many illegally. Life here requires you know how to parallel park. (For a painfully funny example - and don't ask me to translate the commentary - check this example out - from Ancona.) Occasionally, it is almost necessary to 'bump' the car in front or behind to ensure you can fit into the spot you're aiming for. If I were to bump a car in the U.S. in any way, the 'right' thing to do would be to leave a note, right? Sometimes, when squeezing through a narrow lane 'one' will bump mirrors (which are all designed here to be breakaway mirrors) with another car - again, under 'normal' circumstances - the 'right' thing to do would be to leave a note or at least make sure that there aren't any scratches. But here, it is very normal and seemingly expected.

So, in my head, there is this little battle that goes on concerning this question. Not that I lose sleep over the little examples, but the bigger question makes me wonder. How much of what we call ethics or our moral code is cultural and how much is Biblical? And if we answer Biblical - is or was there a 1st Century moral code that doesn't always fit with ours? By saying, "Ah, we're in Italy so I don't need to explain that this isn't really a credit card..." - are we missing out on something? Are we glossing over a potential conversation. By overlooking the bumps and scratches are we losing something? Are we giving in? Are ethics subjective?

Saturday, June 20, 2009

An Italian Saturday

Maurizio picked Jacob & me up at 9:30 and we headed downtown. We had said we were going to 'fare un tuffo' later so I was dressed in swimsuit and was carrying a towel. He chuckled as we walked toward his car, saying, 'In this weather?'. Oh well.

We parked by the port, in a little-known free-parking area and walked the mile or more to the pet/fish store. The weather was cool, muggy; some grey clouds were blowing in from the east - obviously carrying rain.

We arrived at the store and interrupted the storekeeper from his sales pitch to another customer. Maurizio explained that we were americani who were used to fishing in lakes and rivers but were trying to learn how to fish the Adriatic. He smiled and returned to the man interested in buying a canary. The store was small, kind of run-down and very muggy. Located on an alleyway, the only air that made it in the door was alley air, which reeked of pigeons, mold and stale pizza.

The other customer talked on and on about the kind of canary he wanted and the shop owner was patient, telling him of the various qualities of the birds. The man was insistent - he wanted white and he wanted to be sure it would sing. Back and forth, back and forth they went. Finally, the store owner shifted some cages, closed the door, inserted a mesh separator and caught one of the canaries - a white one. He inspected it to be sure it was of the right gender - it wasn't. I guess the customer wanted white, singer AND of a specific gender. After several more back-and-forths and cage shifting, the customer left and the owner turned to us.

He was very friendly and very knowledgeable. He told us where the best spots were, the three best bait/lure options and even drew diagrams to show us how to arrange the bait. We decided on a bobber/sardine combination. He sold us some equipment and as we left, he said, "I won't tell you 'buona pesca' as that brings bad luck, I'll just say, 'have fun!' "

From there we walked to an ATM (first three didn't work) and then on to a bar/cafe that a friend of Maurizio's runs. They served in the military together. Jacob and I enjoyed a cappuccino and pastry (Jacob with Nutella, mine with vanilla cream) while we heard stories of their service together. I think the guy looks like Rocky.

After that we made our way up to Patrizia's so he could get his haircut. If there was time, I would get one too as it is time. On the way we talked about God's will. Does God withhold gifts sometimes until we've learned a lesson? Does God wait until we're ready sometimes before giving us what we long for? We talked about the importance of being grateful for what we have today instead of being frustrated for what we don't have. This is the stuff that he really loves to talk about and wishes he didn't have to struggle with. I love his raw honesty - it SO sharpens me.

We got to Patrizia's and were greeted as we approached - she yelled through the open door as she finished up a young lady's hair who was getting a 'do' for her birthday. Patrizia introduced her to Maurizio. Awkward. Her miniature Doberman, Ernie, greeted us at the door. Were I a miniature Doberman, I would be angry to have the name 'Ernie'. Give me something to make up for my miniature-ness, you know?

We sat and waited - continued our discussion and joked as Patrizia continued cutting and styling. Maurizio put on his 'smock' and got his hair washed. Somewhere in there, Patrizia took our order and called the nearby bar to have something delivered. While I waited I noticed Jenova's birth announcement on the wall - Italians seem to love postcards - I smiled...I had remembered late in our furlough. Next, Anna called and asked if we could meet up with her family before our church's gathering tomorrow. Then Lilli called and said thanks for the 'postcards' they had received recently. :)

Half-way through Maurizio's haircut - during which he continued to argue with Patrizia, trying to get her to fit me in after him, before the two women already waiting. - the barista arrived with a tray. She put four espressos and a sandwich on the counter and Patrizia called for a coffee break.

I smiled, which reflected in the mirrors all around the room, as we all stopped our activities and stood around sipping our coffee: Patrizia set down her scissors, Maurizio had his smock on, hair clippings on his face and shoulders, one of the clients waiting patiently and the out-of-place American. The moment was so UBER Italian.

We continued on, speaking of horoscopes and Italian marriages and eventually left, after paying the 13 euros for the haircut. We walked the mile+ back to the car as it began to rain. Maurizio dropped us off around 12:30 after we had made arrangements for next week: a dinner on the beach, an appointment to see a villa in the country for sale, a hike down the cliff to fish at sunset along the coast. I greeted my neighbor as we walked in the building and smiled at how different an Italian Saturday can be.

Friday, June 12, 2009

It's been a good furlough...

Well, we're packing up and tying up loose ends here in the heart of Texas. It has been a wonderful couple of weeks here - in between meetings, dinners, preaching and preparing - we've been able to spend lots of good time with Heather's family. Harrison and 'Nana' are on a date right now - lunch and the snake farm. :)

We want to say 'thanks' to all of you who made this a great furlough. Many of you have provided housing, meals, encouragement, a listening ear, a vehicle, gas money, coffee, laughs, affirmation, counsel, rides to/from airports, gifts, books,, if I were a detail person and had kept track...the list would be long.

While nothing like the uber-crazy furlough schedule I remember as a child, we did make it into 10 states, spoke with groups or representatives from eight churches, added a beautiful girl to our family, had a great experience being on campus at Ozark Christian College, saw lots of family and several old friends and were reminded that sometimes (maybe always?) God desires us to embrace the gray ambiguity of his will.

Our church in Ancona has grown a little in number and from the sound of it, a lot in terms of ownership. Our team is spread out - several in the U.S., one getting married. The Crossers are back in Italy, actually moving to Verona today. We leave Sunday morning and fly through Chicago and Munich before landing Monday afternoon in Ancona to what has all the makings of a little jet-lag-fuelled part-ay.

Our intent is to spend the next two (maybe three) years transitioning the leadership of this church to its members. We hope to spend the bulk of our team discipling and training, helping people live, grow and use their gifts in community to build up the Body in Ancona. We SO appreciate your partnership with us in this ministry - whether that be through prayer, financial support or other forms of encouragement. We need you and thank you for your part! We covet your prayers for safety and smooth transitions but if you must choose one thing to pray for - pray for this:

The coming of His Kingdom in Ancona, for the church to rise up, for open doors, for qualitative growth, and for fruit in the work our Father has called us to.

Love like Jesus,

Jason, Heather, Jacob, Haven, Harrison & Jenova (aka Jena-bean; J-Lu; Lucy)

Monday, June 8, 2009

Stories give meaning.

We made our way into the crowded little room around displays of muskets and flags and other historical memorabilia. We maneuvered our strollers around to let other people in as the tour guide kept pausing his presentation of the history of the room. "It was in this room," he continued, "that the women and children hid when the soldiers breached the doors of the church. You can imagine how the husbands and sons, stationed just outside, fought to defend them...but they were outnumbered and lost. The attacking soldiers opened the door to the room, muskets held at the ready and found a room full of women and crying children. They lowered their guns and backed down and allowed them to go free...the only survivors of the attack on the Alamo."

Then he said something interesting. He said, "It is important that you hear and remember the stories of this place for it is the stories that give this place meaning. Without the stories, this is just another wall of another room of an old decrepit church known as The Alamo."