Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Things Foreign

I know I promised to post about Rome and it just didn't happen. Here's just a little bit of my post-trip thoughts on being in a foreign country.

I was picked up from the airport back in the states, exhausted, ready to see my family. I was so fat on rich experiences and Italian food that sleep was as welcome as it is after thanksgiving feast. Processing the experience would take some time, but for then, I knew that each day was wonderful and for every moment there and back, I was thankful.

We drove on the same familiar old freeway, and ate the same familiar old food. And it was good. Irvine and surrounding cities in Orange County have come far with the bustling of suburbia and its necessary means for survival: three costume warehouses, for example, occupy large amounts of space within a fifteen mile radius as well as some sort of church on every corner. It's no wonder that the world's number one problem with Christianity is the hypocrisy that taints a dogmatic set of beliefs.
Anyways, these costume stores wouldn't be able to sell so many costumes, thereby sustaining their business, if the market of demand didn't support it. This same image based culture has a billboard every couple miles telling women they are too fat and offering some weird solution on how to solve the problem.
This is the America that bugs me, that gets on my nerves, that makes me embarrassed to be united with one nation NOT under God because the people mostly reject Him, or use Him. Every evening I see the outline of the sun setting, blocked by houses that look the same as mine, occupied by neighbors who aren't safe and see me as equally unsafe. That is to say, they are good, law-abiding citizens, but there remains a barrier which cannot be broken by small talk and so, my soul and their soul remain estranged because of fear. With celebrity worship and postmodernist religions at their highest level of membership than ever before, tolerance is just another way of muddling our minds and becoming more and more isolated with bigotry being no solution. The people need something to unite them, this is in our nature, read Animal Farm... you know what happened to them. And don't even get me started about the corruption of our politicians, level of debt, or waste of tax dollars. This is the America that there is no hope for.

I am, however, an American and, whether by my life or death, this is the country that I swear allegiance to. This is the country whose laws I will obey, the country whose language I speak. This is the country where I received my education Under God, and thereby the country where God has given me citizenship with perspective to my real citizenship in my real home in heaven. This place may no longer be the land of the free and the home of the brave, but I am free. I am brave. What does this have to do with my trip to Rome?

Expectations. While my trip was certainly magical, it was not magical in the way that I thought it would be. When I thought of this foreign country on the plane with their different currencies, customs, traditions, beliefs, and atmospheres, my only point of reference was the place I spent all my life. I knew it was going to be different but again, my only point of reference was mostly American-made films and photographs. We landed and in the hustle and bustle of transportation, settling in, finding a grocery store, bank, and gelato shop, it all felt very normal.
I went on a train through Tuscan countryside... twice. This was the place I dreamed about since the very first travel book I ever opened. It was just as beautiful as I envisioned it. Rome proper too, was just like the pictures. Except for a few things: as in L.A. or NYC, there was trash and grafiti along many of the alley ways and walls. Homeless beggars and many swindlers paced to and fro around many of the popular regions of Rome proper. Like in any metropolis, gypsies worked the subway systems and even gave someone in our own group a run for their money (the gypsy did not succeed in her attempts). Cobblestone streets reminded us daily of the rich history that built this place, old and corrupt, but somehow thriving. Retro-chic vespas would fly by and us Americans would exchange delighted smiles or point it out so everyone saw. Construction is just as loud in foreign places. McDonalds is just more expensive. Tourist trinkets are just as cheasy. Nutella crepes? Well now, those just can't be duplicated.

The truth is, I had forgotten. I had forgotten how beautiful my land is because I got bored by advertisements and storefronts. Beach pictures are not overrated. City life is a window into human condition. My flag represents our incredible, albeit brief, history. Our legacy both good and bad reaches far beyond our shores and influences fashion, enterprise, and even supports foreign economies with our tourists. So much American music was played in their shops, bakeries, coffee houses, and ipods. I was different during my day alone then I was when sharing the community of the rest of my group. Alone, I was just one little American in a sea of people among whom I didn't belong. Together we Americans shared something, kind of like a family... and that was our land. Our land extended hundreds of thousands of miles reaching across all regions including mountains, deserts, valleys, bodies of waters, canyons, ocean peninsulas, high elevations, low elevations, beautiful landscapes, rich soil, and colorful vegetation. Each state brings its own unique personality to the union. California: the golden state. Each metropolis closest to each of our places of origin are similar in some ways and unique in their own... Like Rome.

I had dreamed for so long that foreign experience would be life changing and show me a world different from what I had known all my life. While my eyes were opened to those things, the thing that will most stick with me, however, is what I learned as I stepped off the plane and back into the arms of my America. And that is perspective. Italy is beautiful, but so is America. I forgot that. Not that stars and stripes are blinding me from the before mentioned consumerism and corruption of my culture, but that America represents and ideal worth belonging to, and worth fighting for: freedom, and along with that: freedom of religion and enterprise. Bravery, and along with that: the responsibility to stand up to the injustice of the world. I was inspired to a new level of American pride because of my foreign experience and I have Italy to thank for that, for among the rich experiences I had learning about ancient, times, heroes, dictators, sites, and stories, I learned that seeing the world is wonderful and exciting, but seeing my own place for what it is is just as important if not more so. I have dual citizenship right now with America, and Heaven but I know my heart was made for heaven, my body made for America. My mind must understand this world in light of my country and understand my country in light of heaven. Thanks Rome. You were fun. Now back to my America.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Pushed Aside for Now

Project: Blogging, has been sorrowfully pushed aside in my life due to the busyness of life that stringent academia brings. I hope to soon be blogging again about some thoughts and ideas that I have been having or to hopefully share with you some of the other creative writing projects I've been working on.

I don't wish to betray my writing here, but I've been contributing to a private blog with some of my classmates about books that we are reading. It is very fun, and also quite the undertaking. Another creative writing project that I've been working on is all about poetry. Writing poetry all the time every day except for a little sabbath on Sundays. This discipline is already producing in me a keen eye for all different sounds, syllables, and rhythms, ideas, and thoughts.
Anyways, I just wanted to announce those brief updates to keep up with what I'm doing.
On another note:
We just finished our 82nd annual Missions Conference at Biola University. Probably our best yet, we had guests from Africa, New Zealand, and Indonesia speaking and praying for and with us as individuals, as well as a campus dedicated to serving God and dying to self in the unique process of sanctification that the Holy Spirit is working out through the disciples of Christ.
It was truly a blessing to attend and be in the presence of people who have gone before us and whom we can look up to as heroes of the faith and be inspired to faith and good works as acts of obedience before God the Father. Campus became a haven of revival and freedom as Mark Parker led many students through the process of repentance, and Kevin Humble followed up the next day with a charge to commit to positive forward-movement in this process by giving an opportunity for students to make challenging "I will..." statements before the body of Christ at Biola.
I will miss the leaders and their wives that blessed us with their presence this year for Missions Conference 2011!
If you want to be incredibly blessed, watch these amazing videos that Biola generously captured and made available for the rest of the world!
Session 1: (Rev. JFK Mensah)
Session 2: (Mark Parker)
Session 3: (Kevin Humble)
Session 4: (Rev. JFK Mensah)
Session 6 (Mark Parker)

Session 5 (Alumni Missions) and session 7 (Kevin Humble) are hopefully still to come on youtube.
Until then, enjoy!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

More Than A Garden

A beloved friend and I were talking the other day about how creative our Father in heaven is. We were made in his image and so we also thrive on creating, producing, making, and displaying our handiwork. From software, business database, to music, writing and poetry, and art, humans everyday are prodded to create from the very fiber of our beings. It is a lazy generation that would rather indoctrinate us with Glee and video games and the consumer mindset rather than hard work and fruitful rewards.
Anyways, we were saying that we know God is a creative being, now what is to stop him from creating more... or at least more than we could know.
Interestingly God does create things and doesn't have to tell us. For example who did Cain marry? The son of supposed first couple ever was afraid of banishment because of the violence of others... what others? Who made up the entire first generation world? Why would God create others outside the garden since the garden represented eternity? Did he create them after mankind was cursed? Why were Adam and Eve... the chosen ones?
It got me thinking and, while I believe the events of Genesis are true accounts, I also believe that it is important to keep in mind that like every other creation story, Genesis is just that: a story.
The 7-day creation account follows the menorah-structured Hebrew poetry traditions; not to mention that this account was written at least a millennium after it actually happened. The stories were passed down from generation to generation, accurately, but with a specific purpose.

In poetry and stories, themes are important to focus on. There is a point and a purpose to the Hebrew stories and poems and aside from that, we do not need to know what could be out there. God didn't think it important enough for us to know, so as far as we know... we are it.
But... to think playfully, what if heaven is so much bigger than we think?
This clip is pretty funny, and, while I don't think the universe can really be described like this, I also think... why couldn't something like this be plausible? Have a go and watch this short clip:

Go and create something in honor of your Father today!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

It Is Finished... but not really

Creative Mess. This picture describes what I feel like at the end of this semester. This whole semester I was being held at "grade-point" to create, make, produce, write, finish, and for it all to be good. Well I did and now... it's all out of my system only to start back up in a couple of weeks. Such is the creativeness of an academic life with only two and half years behind me. The good news? It makes for a pretty picture... and by pretty, I don't just mean "nice to look at". I also mean good. Really good.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

The Forgotten Day of... Feasting?

Whether the rumors about Angelina Jolie's refusing to celebrate the day where American pilgrims supposedly try to rewrite history and murder innocent people, are true or not, I think that such a view is sadly misinformed.
For a brief history lesson, the commonwealth was established the first year after the mayflower landed and almost half their people died due to disease and partially because the system was so flawed. It completely collapsed. The feast happened the year after when communism was obliterated and a healthy, free-man bartering system was established, with the help of the English speaking indians who were experts in agriculture. The great thanksgiving feast is just as much a celebration of political freedom as a celebration of religious freedom and prosperity.
Squanto was enslaved by British men and escaped but not before he had become fluent in the language. Wicked men stole a great deal of his free life from him to make him subject to man's oppression and these people; the pilgrims were from that same place. Squanto had every right to hate them but instead helped them and became one of their own because of mercy that he had been shown in his past. Mercy that man shows to another by the power of God changes that man's heart and makes him thankful because someone covered the offense of that which was undeserving.
It is for freedom and for mercy that we celebrate this thanksgiving today. Paul in his epistles tells us numerous times to be always thankful. I think gratitude is really the only way to understand ourselves in light of God and that's why Paul speaks of it so intentionally. The humility of the understanding that we are only as beautiful as we are because of God, only as forgiven as we are because of Christ, and only as happy as we are because of the Spirit of God that has (hopefully) infiltrated every aspect of our lives.
Whether Jolie thinks that about thanksgiving or not, thanksgiving is a confusing and forgotten holiday slipped in between halloween and christmas because people think that they are in control. The pilgrims lost almost half of their people to disease and other factors that first year and even still they gave thanks to God for freedom, prosperity, and friends who come along side the weak. It is because of them and the integrity they had and their willingness to do hard things that made us the America that we are, or at least were for a time.
This holiday means nothing if we can't spend at least ONE day being wholly and completely, selflessly thankful for that which we are not because of that which God is.
I truly hope that you have a joyful thanksgiving full of gratitude and the beauty of the blessing that God has given you!

Thursday, November 11, 2010


Dear Soldiers,
My name is Erica and my daddy taught me that there is no one who deserves more respect in this country than the men and women who sacrifice everything they are and have in service to America which was built on the principles of liberty and justice. It is for these principles, he tells me, that you fight. It is for freedom and justice that you sacrifice, you march, you fly, you die, you fear, you pain, you ache, you sometimes never recover.

This is my thank you letter. It is because of your astonishing bravery that I can sit comfortably on my American couch, enjoy an glass of American lemonade, and type away at my leisure either to complete my American education or to contribute to this silly American phenomenon of blogging.

Thank you for allowing us the luxury of hope. Forgive those of us who turn this hope into daily selfish expectations because we cannot see past ourselves. You are an inspiration of bravery to any of us who hear the stories of death, survival, victory, and defeat. The battles that are fought within our hearts and minds on a daily basis are nothing compared to the battles you fight, but your brave advances into the fray inspire us to do the same with our daily battles and come out the victor.

Your blood spilt, your journey trodden, your weapons fired, your belongings taken, your bellies growling, sleep wanting, your hiding, your longing, your fears faced. I appreciate your sacrifice.

With the love of a proud American,

Friday, October 8, 2010

Cars, Cash, and Communication

I was with my cousin several weeks ago. She is a darling six-year-old girl. She has delicious brown hair with a hint of red, big brown eyes, and a delicately charming personality. We had a lot of "Kiki (my cousin given nickname)-cousin time" because of the events surrounding their visit in which her and I took trips to the park, the pool, the backyard, the front yard, the couch, and kitchen. Our favorite thing to do was to tell stories... morning, noon, and night, if I needed a break from running around all I needed to say was, "do you want to hear a story?" Following this question I had a precious child in my lap twisting my hair around her finger and words pouring out of my mouth about a brave heroine and her magical friends. The imagination of a child is unbelievable, and even if she does not remember all of those stories, she will remember how she felt in my lap and how much love she has for me and I for her. This makes me feel glad about telling them.
Upon getting in the car after the park one time, my cousin said from the backseat, "Kiki, you're so lucky." I smiled and asked why she thought that. She responded, "Kiki, it's because you have a car and a wallet and money and a cell phone! Well, I have a wallet and a little bit of money, but not like you, Kiki."
When I thought about it, I remembered this same feeling in my own childhood self. I would look on adults as lucky to have power and freedom and "grown-up" stuff. I wish I was quicker on the draw, because I would have asked her what she would do if she had those things. Would she move out to California to be with us all the time? Would she go on an adventure? Would she want to drive to see her friends everyday? Would she buy scores of princess dresses and pretend all day long? What is it that she would do with a car and some money and a cell phone?
This made me realize that I use my car, my (little bit of) money, and my cell phone like a boring adult, the kind I never wanted to turn into. I use them all very functionally. My childhood-self would slap my grown-up self if she knew that I wasn't going on drives to see pretty things, or that I wasn't using my phone to communicate with people and encourage, invest and build relationships that I don't have access to in person. If my childhood-self knew that I was just using my computer for homework and facebook, she would be ashamed. So how do I use the incredible things in my life to touch my soul and bring a little thrill everyday. We don't know how good the things we have are because we don't enjoy them, we use them. I pray that I will not simply use the things that God has given me but that I will enjoy them.