Browse Category: Cultural Observations

Astonish Me

I read a riveting Fast Company Co.Design article about Alexey Brodovitch, the long-term art director for Harper’s Bazaar magazine, the other week.  Brodovitch was a pioneer in graphic design who would not be confined by perceived limitations. He was brilliant.

Photo credit: www.fastcodesign.com

By no means am I a fashionista, or even an art expert… so more than Brodovitch’s accolades and accomplishments, I was captivated by his desire to exceed expectations. In fact, he constantly challenged  his colleagues to “Astonish me.” He saw the expected and went beyond that. He wasn’t satisfied with industry standards. Rather than get caught up in the deliverables, he cultivated ‘bold-thinking’ and visioneered something bigger than himself.

The  article transitioned to a business-focus where the author spoke on how Brodovitchian thinking has infiltrated his experience with big and small design firms. It’s a fascinating article. Near the end, he continues with what he feels the difference factor is:

What sets famous, successful brands apart from obscure, struggling ones can be reduced to one fundamental value: ambition. Not the Porsche-driving, Rolex-wearing, eighties kind of ambition, but the kind that says, “We are only going to be here for a while, so why don’t we invest everything we do with real meaning? Why don’t we make every communication we put out there a gift? Why don’t we stop waiting for ‘the perfect opportunity’ and make this one as perfect as it can possibly be? Why don’t we stop making excuses for our mediocrity and use our talents and our influence to make this package, this commercial, this poster something special?”

Solid, right?

Translating this into our own lives…

1. Be present and engaged with my family. Give them my voice and attention — they deserve it.
2. Are my words kind, affirming, and encouraging?
3. How can I be intentional where I am right now (instead of waiting for the ‘perfect opportunity’)?
4. Live in your gifts.

On top of all this, as believers we have another ‘difference factor’: Christ in us, the hope of glory. We don’t have to rely on our own strength to do any of this. We trust in a God who sustains, loves, and provides at all costs.

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How can you astonish someone this week?
Do you have a favorite piece of art? 

 

I Am From

Today I have the honor of having my wife Jen share a part of her story with you. What she shares offers a glimpse into a life that has been captivated by the love of Christ. Not going to lie: it’s moving and quite touching. Hope you enjoy.

Photo credit: Michael Menard (Creative Commons)

I believe that culture is a way of life, grounded in beliefs, attitudes, and perceptions. All of these experiences point to the our greatest need of all… Christ. Through His perfect life, ministry, and death on the cross, He continues to teach me and bless me through the body of Christ. This poem was written nine years ago, and is still a work in progress.

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I Am From

I am from between two worlds
With a family of African Americans and Filipinos
Who view life and its experiences through a wide-angle lense.
My father is Bruce —strong and proud—he believes in education as the great equalizer, but I can see that he grows tired sometimes.
He is tired of carrying the weight of a foreign name,
Who is this “Mason” that we call ourselves?
My mother is Estrellita —a little star who’s light can be seen from Atlanta to Lubang.
She is a small voice, but a relentless one—she believes in the “American Dream”
but is not naïve to its consequences.
She can be whoever the boss needs her to be
But inside she is still “Etey”
She is still a small island with lots of green and little electricity
She is still a country girl,
With big dreams  and a few pesos
Poor in materials, rich in family.

I am from Mom’s extended family that is knit so tightly we are busting from the seams,
A house filled with grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins.
Weekends of food and familiar faces—“you had better bring a pillow because we’re not leaving until the morning”.
Filipino American Association of Rockland, birthday parties, anniversary parties, holidays, graduation parties, and just parties—any excuse to get the family together.
Titos and Titas, Kuyas and Ates, everyone is your relative and it doesn’t matter if you’ve only known them for a minute
A family that is immigrating one person at a time,
Welcomed into a community that you can call “home”.

I am from Dad’s family who has found their sunshine in Texas, their snowdrifts in Denver, and their ambiance in Washington D.C.
Our circuit is built in a different way—the phone rings once a week, right on time,
I always know when it’s Uncle Otis… “How’s my favorite niece?”
“Haha Uncle, I’m your only niece.” Seven cousins, five boys, one baby girl.
A 60th wedding anniversary brings us home to Grandma and Grandpa
Who remind us that humble beginnings have always been what we’ve come back to
Marshall, Texas
where everyone knows your name, your second cousin, and your last boyfriend
A place you can call “home”.

I am from great expectations and lots of room to fail,
A mom who was so expressive it made me cry,
A dad who had the same face for every occasion.
Arguments with mom that would end in a trail of tears and hurt feelings—
“I was never like that to my mother, I had respect”
to
“What is her problem?”
Dad would play the mediator and I would retreat upstairs
He is trying to explain to Mom that “things are different in American culture, kids are different”.
I don’t know who changed, was it me or her?
There were days when I thought that I could never do enough to change his face,
To make him smile,
Should I make better grades? Should I clean my room more often?
I felt the sting of disappointment
I couldn’t see that he had been smiling all along,
on the inside.

I am from “Filipino Time” and “American Time”
Mom said it was customary- “there is no party without the people”
Dad opted for the punctual approach- “it said 7 o’clock on the invitation”
We figured it out some way or another.

I am from the red autumns and sandy snowdrifts of Nyack, New York
A town striped with colors of the nations,
Where my best friends were like a national geographic magazine at best—
from Taiwan, Indonesia, Peru, and India.
Local shops, dead end streets, and sprinklers in the summertime
Then my world became the flip-side—
An unexpected promotion took us to peach trees and pollen clouds,
Suwanee, Georgia
Big business, cookie cutter homes, and a Starbucks on every corner
And we thought we were moving to the country…. HELLO suburbia

I am from memories that I’ve tried to forget
When this thing called “color” started to matter
Where brown was never black enough
But was brown enough to lose the South Pacific
Enough! LOVE is more than enough
Flushed cheeks, sweaty palms, and shifty eyes
Wondering
Why am I so different?

I remember the gentle voice of my teacher when she pulled me outside and into the hall
“Jennifer, do you consider yourself black? Because there is this Black Achievement Award that I wanted to nominate you for…”
Uncomfortable, Awkward
I remember Demetri’s piercing eyes when he looked at me,
he was not pleased, “you’re not really black, you act white.”
Embarrassed, Ashamed
I remember laughing at the lunch table
Talking about the funny things that parents do,
“I think your dad is really white” James said
Stunned, Frustrated
I remember dialogue at dinner tables about stereotypes and a bunch of nothing,
Thankful that God doesn’t view others through our cracked lense.
Redeemed, Restored

I am from two languages,
Tagalog began with Lola and Lolo-
Bringing some of the islands to 37 Laurel Rd.
A sweet sound that makes everything else seem so empty sometimes
It’s hard for me to speak now, but I can understand.
The richness of language
Standard American English–“Your dad speaks so ‘proper’
I used to laugh at his “emptying the receptacles” and careful not to “puncture the membrane”
The language of school, work, all things “American”
The power of words

I am from a window left open for a world to look in
See the scars of imperfection
Warm memories, stinging tears
Difficult moments, trembling laughter
Just a glimpse-do you see me?

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Where are you from?

Reflections Before the Hike

Photo credit: Tom Kulbowski (Creative Commons)

In two days, I will be trekking up to the top of Mt. Toubkal (pictured above). It is the highest peak in the Atlas Mountains, which stretch across three countries in North Africa. Specifically, it’s located in Morocco — which is where I’ll be for a few days. Through a unique opportunity with my work, colleagues around the globe were selected to participate in a trekking adventure to promote a shared purpose and foster team-building. Cool!

On top of that, I plan on personally taking in this experience to soak in the beauty of God’s creation–in a place I will probably never visit again.

Three things that are top-of-mind for me right now…

1. Take risks. I have never hiked/trekked anywhere before. In fact, I’m borrowing all of my brother’s gear, who does these types of things all the time. How does this relate to blogging? Write a post you wouldn’t think you’d normally write. Step out of your box by being vulnerable. In doing so, you’ll encounter both encouragement and criticism–both are needed for growth. Don’t be unique just to be unique–but bring a willingness to leverage popularity, acceptance, and comfort for the sake of the Gospel.

2. Real-time community. It will be neat to see the real-time collaboration happening. During the work-week, we’re spread out over the globe. For 5 days, we’ll be in one location! How does this relate to blogging? Go to a tweet-up and meet up with a local blogger. Spend time with your family. Use social media to enhance community within the local church.

3. Endure. To be honest, I haven’t prepared as much as I should have for this hike. Granted, I’m not trekking Everest. But it will be taxing and I will need to pace myself. How does this relate to blogging? Writing is a practice, which needs to be cultivated. It is a unique privilege we have to share our story and learn from others. Write consistently! Develop of plan and stick to it.  Map out a schedule to avoid burnout.

Due to the “remote-ness”, I will be forced to disconnect to a degree (good thing!). If you think about it, say a prayer for me this week. :)

In my absence, I have three fantastic guest-posts lined up for you on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Friday. Be nice and show them some love!

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Describe a “unique adventure” that you would love to do one day.

The Life of George Mueller

A few months ago, I read about the life of George Mueller. He was best known for his orphan ministry–one that cared for over 10,000 in his lifetime. He never asked anyone directly for money. He was a lifelong servant.

As I read through the biography of his life, two things stuck out: He served God and He trusted God.

In fact, the biography actually summed up his life in one sentence:

[The] chief passion and unifying aim of Mueller’s ministry: live a life and lead a ministry in a way that proves God is real, God is trustworthy, God answers prayer.

Wow.

Photo credit: Eliseo Marcato (Creative Commons)

Can my life’s mission statement be pruned into a sentence so powerful as that?

When my biography is written, what sentence will sum up my life?

I know that as I reflect on those questions, I want my answer to be saturated with things that matter (my faith in God, my family, the way I treat others) rather than things that are fleeting and temporary.

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It’s biography time!
Sum up your life in five words. Go!

Never Beyond

I am participating in People of the Second Chance’s Never Beyond Campaign. The NEVER BEYOND Poster Series will feature 25 posters representing well known historical, current and fictional characters who are believed to have harmed society. The campaign will consist of digital and print posters and the full collection will eventually be displayed as a touring art exhibit. Click here to learn more about the initiative.

Everyone deserves a second chance.

Period.

God says his grace is limitless.

I am choosing to believe that today.

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Who would you have a hard time giving a second chance?

LOST and Trust

It took us about a year, but my wife and I finished the LOST series last night. Late to the game, I know. We borrowed the DVDs from friends last year and started pounding through. It was an exhilarating ride and one that I’m sure we’ll revisit (by re-watching) sometime in the future.

One of the things my wife and I enjoyed about the show was that it caused us to think. Modern Family is great, but LOST had us talking about the characters, plot developments, and “what ifs” when we weren’t watching the show. While there are countless things that I can write about after finishing such an exceptional show, one thing stands out–a reoccuring phrase and theme that kept coming out in the show’s dialogue:

TRUST.

Whether it was Jack, Locke, Ben, Jacob, the Man in Black, that word kept circling back around.

“I give you my word.” – Ben

“…If there’s one person on this island I would put my absolute faith in to save us all it would be John Locke.” – Charlie

“I don’t trust myself. How am I supposed to trust you?” – Jack

Just a few of the numerous examples.

These people had to trust one another. They also didn’t know who to trust, and had to put their faith in many things that that weren’t clear and presented further questions.

My faith in God sometimes looks similar.

I may not “see the big picture”. I may not understand what is happening around me. I may not know which direction to take.

Circumstances change. Life’s paths get re-routed. Modifications happen all the time.

I am grateful that, in spite of those things, we have a Father is sovereign and steadfast.

“Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.” (James 1:17)

He is faithful. That will not change. (1 Corinthians 1:9)
He is holy. That will not change. (Isaiah 6:1-3)
He is eternal. That will not change. (Revelation 1:8)

So, I today will chose to trust in the One who is forever constant.

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How can you celebrate the unchanging nature of God today?
Who was your favorite character on LOST? Why?

Radical

Last month, I finished reading Radical by David Platt.

At the book’s core, Platt writes about and exposes one of most influential enemies of authentic Christianty: the American dream.

While the goal of the American dream is to make much of us, the goal of the gospel is to make much of God. (Radical, David Platt)

As a culture, the relentless pursuit of “more” has gotten us so acclimated to what the world has to offer. Radical is a call to action. In the same vein as Chan’s Crazy Love, Platt encourages the reader to think and live differently.

Rather than living out a superficial faith that focuses on the improvement of self, he urges living an unconventional faith that seeks to serve our Father above all else.

Living to the extreme!

While I had mixed feelings about the book (especially when contrasted with the last book I read, The Ragamuffin Gospel), but ultimately I came away with one, important takeway: it is about God.

So often I make _____ about me, when it should be about God.

That blank can be filled in with whatever…. life, work, family, finances, faith.

Masked behind noble intentions, sometimes those “good things” turn into ways I can make myself look better in the eyes of others. Instead of serving God through those avenues, the people pleaser in me unearths it’s ugly head.

Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ. (Galatians 1:10)

If you’re looking for a book to challenge the way you’re living, I’d say give it a shot. It absolutely challenged me.

Photo credit: Len Matthews (Creative Commons)

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What’s the last book you read? Your next one?

Pop Parables Movie Night: 127 Hours

Copyright: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Today I have the pleasure of guest posting over at Pop Parables! Keri runs a slick blog where she writes about relevant stories in pop culture and how God’s truths are interwoven into modern-day culture. Be sure to check out her blog – it’s informative, provocative, and full of encouragement!

Keri asked me to write a “review” of the movie 127 Hours. I watched it with a buddy a couple weeks back and so it was fresh in my mind.

Honestly, I really enjoyed the movie – found it to be gripping, suspenseful, and quite engaging.

Even though I was familiar with the story, I was still captivated the entire time.

You may know the true story (from 2003). You may have seen the previews or the movie. How could a story like that be translated over to the Big Screen?

Here is the one sentence recap as per IMDB:

A mountain climber becomes trapped under a boulder while canyoneering alone near Moab, Utah and resorts to desperate measures in order to survive.

Rather than give you a preview of the post, I’ll encourage you to hop on over and check it out. Be sure to show some love in the comments!

Do you enjoy hiking/camping?

The Core Message of Music

I am participating in a bloggy-go-round of sorts with Keri at Pop Parables and Donald at Project Mathetes on the topic of Christian and Secular music. Below are some of my thoughts…

Music is a wonderful thing. In fact, God can speak magnificently through the melodic whispers of a singer’s voice, the quiet strum of a guitar, and the rolling beat of a djembe drum. Music soothes and comforts; it speaks and inspires. There is something quite special when you experience God’s quiet whisper through song.

On the flip side, it is also safe to say that not all music glorifies God. Lyrics can also spew hatred and lies. Emotions can be evoked that are contrary to the truth laid out in God’s word. When the layers are peeled back in any song, however, something greater is exposed: a story of redemption or one of destruction.

I believe music, at it’s root, points to a need for God.

I think as Christians we try to compartmentalize things so much that we become judgmental towards the other side of the coin. I was that way growing up: the driving thought behind my snobbery was, “Why listen to secular music when there is always a Christian alternative?”

While that was where I was at in high school, I failed to see that, regardless of the type, music expresses the condition of the heart. No matter the artist, lyric, or beat there is a person on the other side pointing toward a need–a need to experience something greater.

In the end, that is how I want my children to understand music. As a parent, I’m in a place of authority right now to filter what my toddlers listen to (no matter how hard they beg, they are not listening to Young Jeezy). It won’t, however, always be like that. Ultimately, I want to teach them the value of words and ideas, and give them the freedom to discover the joys of both the Christian and Secular genres.

Disclaimer: at the moment my girls’ favorite song is “You Belong To Me” by none other than Taylor Swift. I know what you thinking, “You have two girls and a wife. I could have guessed that in less than two seconds.” True. They also like Chris Tomlin and Phil Wickham. Oh yeah, and J-Biebs. Lord, help me with that one!

What are your favorite bands? In what ways does music inspire you?

Photo credit: Inderjit Singh

Celebrate Diversity

Our little family...

One of the most significant memories I have happened when I was on a mission trip to Amsterdam in 2003. During one of our morning group sessions, we were challenged to write down the names of the countries of all the people we had talked to throughout the week. Like many large cities, Amsterdam is swarming with people from all around the world.

After we went around the circle, the total number that the team had talked to far exceeded 100 countries. It was an inspiring revelation to me in that moment that God was the God of all nations.

Fast forward 8 years. Here I am, married with two kids, reminiscing about a time where I felt God showed me something important about his character: He celebrates diversity.

How does that fit into my situation right now? Diversity matters to our family.

Most know (or at least can see from our picture) that my wife and I comes from different ethnic backgrounds. I am half-Dutch, half-Spanish; she is half-African-American, half-Filipino. Thus, our children fit perfectly as spokespeople for the United Colors of Benetton. In this way, we will naturally have to address diversity in our family. We know that one day our children will ask questions, so we want to embrace that even right now.

Here are five ways that we celebrate diversity with our children right now:

1. Be around different people – We want to make it a natural thing that our kids are around different people from different backgrounds. I am thankful that our campus fellowship in college laid the foundation for this so well. It was during those formative years that we learned to participate in and celebrate different cultures.

2. Never talk in absolutes – Eliminate saying things like, “All people from ____ are like this.” In an indirect way, this criticizes and denigrates. We don’t like absolutes in general, so about about we exclude them from this area as well.

3. Get rid of that negative speak – There are certain characteristics (race, physical features, etc.) that people literally have no chance of changing. We want to teach our kids that belittling people is contrary to what our family stands for.

4. Try new things – We love to do new things in general, so I’m grateful this is a natural part of our family functions. We want to participate in new activities, try new foods, and go new places. Our hope is that this will spark curiosity in our children, and let them see first hand that the world is a really big place.

5. Look forward to adoption – Jen and I are certain that the Lord has placed adoption on our hearts as a way to expand our family. As we begin to talk about the subject with our kids in the future, we want them to know that he/she will be a celebrated addition to our family.

In no ways are we/I perfect in this area. Even as the father of a mixed family, I am still learning how to lead in this area. I would love to hear your thoughts. Let’s learn together!

How have you embraced and celebrated diversity in your own life?

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