Sunday, October 23, 2011

USA Early Observations

Whenever I move to a new country, I like to make some observations after a short time. Maybe interesting, maybe they show my small-mindedness, maybe funny, maybe insightful... fresh perspective is a rare and beautiful thing, and so I observe. I have not been in the USA in 2 years, I haven’t lived here in 4 years. As such, I do feel like I have some new observations, not completely as a foreigner but a bit of an outsider. So here are my return to America observations:

-Everything is bigger in the US, at least compared to Europe. Roads, cars, farms, houses, grocery stores, hamburgers, portions, parking spaces, campuses, and people.

-Choices. So. Many. Choices. I step into a Wal-Mart and I’m awed by the choices, of mostly junk. I walk through a mall, and I’m overwhelmed by all the different ways I can throw away money on things I don’t need. So many choices. I’ve learned in France a little tip for how to find a good restaurant. In general, avoid the places with 10-page menus offering everything from French to Thai to Moroccan cuisine. Go for someplace that specializes in very few things and only offers what they do well. Coming back to the States with an overabundance of choices is a bit intimidating. Did you know that there are currently 67 varieties of Pop-Tarts?

-A tank of gas in the States costs me about $45. In France it's about $90.

-I was driving through Lexington, KY and noticed a church of some sort on nearly every street corner. All over the place. And big churches too. I started eye-balling and guessing some numbers, and I honestly think that there may be more seats in all of the local churches than there are habitants of the city. Someone should do that study. And then reteach the whole concept of “building drives.”

-The current Dodge Chargers are nice-looking cars.

-Mmmmm bacon. If anyone in southern France knows how to buy and prepare bacon in the American fashion, talk to me.

-I love the woods. National Parks. Trails. I hope our country protects them. When I talk to people about visiting the USA, I always direct them to the parks. Very much worth discovering and exploring. I also think that our country is far better visited in smaller towns and cities, local diners, and getting away from the interstate. The same is true of other countries. If you want to come to France, your visit will be infinitely richer by getting away from Paris.

-I love milkshakes. But I have to limit myself to one a day. Two is too many.

-Everyone in the US drives. That’s the way the country is set up: expansive, open, and car-dependent. It’s not bad, not better, just different. But I miss my walking and public transit European home.

-TSA. Cincinnati. Sheesh.

Friday, October 21, 2011

When Cultures Collide - Hiking in a Speedo

So there I was. Hiking through the Smokey Mountains. It was hot out, so I did what any of my French friends would do (well maybe not any...): I took off my pants and hiked in my speedo briefs. Seemed natural. Made sense. Right?

Well after a short time, a group of trail riders passed us on their horses. Four in all. The leader was a 60-something mountain man in a cowboy hat with strong grip on his reins. Following him was an equally aged, equally comfortable-in-the-woods-on-a-horse woman. Then a younger couple in college t-shirts, out for a fun afternoon ride. My friends and I watched and chuckled as each of the four riders passed, looked me in the eyes, slowly gazed downward, then suddenly became infatuated with the treetops. What must they have been thinking?

About three hours later, the riders passed us again on the trail, and their musings over our peculiar hiking attire became evident. The mountain man leader greeted us with a question, “You boys been swimmin’ today?”

“No sir,” we answered, “sure haven’t.”

They passed, and the intrigue continued.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Traipsing through the Woods

I am back from a 3 night backpacking extravaganza with a few of my closest guy friends. We hiked through the Smokey Mountains, slept on the ground, ate protein-packed everything, bathed in ice-cold stream water, and hoisted our food every night to keep it from the bears. On the last morning we awoke and hiked out in a downpour, a fun ending to a great trip away. My favorite bits of the whole thing were our great spiritual discussions on the trail, the complete disconnection from all technology, late-night Rook games inside a tent while winds raged outside, and the fabulous diner breakfast that followed our hike out (biscuits, hash browns, sausage, grits, eggs, and a milkshake). I desperately needed the reconnection with God that came through the beauty of meandering mountain streams and early morning quiet prayer, accompanied by the symphony of nature. The community that I desperately crave everyday of my life was fulfilled by 5 men that know and love me as I do them. Much fun.

Our second night we crossed paths with a man and his teenage daughter who were on their fourth night in, backpacking and backwoods camping. I was touched and inspired, and I can't wait to hit the trail with my own kids!

Having fun in the woods, I completely failed to take any photos. Oops.

Today, back in civilization I felt the call back to nature and took Sawyer for a hike along with his uncle. Sawyer is already a fantastic hiker, taking quickly to the trail and loving the exploration.
After our hike in the woods we came to a huge hill that ended in Kentucky Lake. Naturally, I taught my son an important skill that every little boy should know: rolling down the hill.

One last important boyhood skill: rock skipping:
Err, throwing.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Wedding, check!

The wedding is in the books. It was a good one, everyone was beautiful and even the kids shaped up. Was soooo good to see a lot of family in for the event.
Now we're off to relax and enjoy some Americana. Family time. Friend time. Much good to come. But first, 4 days in the woods with some fellas. I'm going off grid. Later y'all!

Congratulations Courtney and Josh!

Monday, October 10, 2011

Pond Jumping

After eating some pizza from a van we have finished packing, handed off keys and responsibility, and we're about to head to the airport. We'll be flying to the USA for a few weeks to visit family, celebrate new family at Court's wedding, and of course indulge in at least a little bit of Americano fun and goodness. We realized this evening that this will be our first ever cross-continental trip that's not accompanied by significant sadness. Usually we're saying goodbye to dear friends and family, if not forever then at least for significant life-altering amounts of time. If we aren't parting forever, we're at least leaving knowing that loved ones will not be there for major upcoming milestones. But this flight will be one of pure joy, we're going to introduce our newest family member to numerous family and friends. We're going to have little responsibility but to visit, laugh, and hopefully relax. Maybe some camping, golf, restaurants, and back-yard play will be involved. Perhaps some trick-or-treating. And we have to say "goodbye" to no one. To our dearest friends in France, of course we'll miss you. This is but a mere jaunt, back in a few weeks! À tout à l'heure (imagine that in Sawyer's voice).

Thanks Ryan, Kimberly, and Hillary for taking on some extra responsibility and keeping everything running smoothly!

Friday, October 7, 2011

All 4 of Us

Full-family photos seem to be kinda rare in our case, so here's one and I thought I'd share.

Thanks to our friend Kimberly for playing amateur photographer for a few minutes!

In our household, the countdown is on. In less than a week Elsie gets to meet her American family for the first time, and Sawyer might get to hit a ball with a baseball bat instead of a spatula or funnoodle. Yet... much to do before then!

Monday, October 3, 2011

Less Members: may not be a bad thing

Today I had coffee with a local pastor. He’s a good friend and someone I really respect and am having a blast getting to know. He said something simple in passing that struck me as interesting and worth sharing.

His church, a local fellowship in Marseille, has 40 members. That’s what he told me. On their little rolodex in the office somewhere, 40 members. 40 people receiving newsletters. 40 people who call themselves members of this particular church. 40 total people, not families. Not too odd. Most evangelical churches in France I would guess hover in the 20-60 range.

But you know what? They average 60+ for Sunday worship (excluding les vacances of course!). Yes, average attendance is higher than membership. It’s not that this church is suddenly on revival and growing so fast the secretary can’t keep up. That’s just how it is.

If you live in the USA and go to church, ask your pastor/secretary/record-keeper sometime the number of members of the church. For most churches, even small ones, I would guess that number to be in the thousands. Now take a visual survey of how many people are in the worship service on Sunday, and do some division. This is a total guess, but I’d say it’s maybe less than 30% of the membership (and feel free to tell me if I’m wrong).

So why does this church in France have less members than attendees when most churches in the USA have vastly more members than weekly attenders? Well in France, having your name on a membership roll doesn’t get you anything. No one would tell their neighbors they attend a church they don’t really attend. Why heap ridicule on yourself? No one identifies themselves as a Christian, especially not an evangelical church-going Christian, unless they really mean it. So in the same way, no one asks to be a member of a church unless they are truly committed in every facet of their lives.