Becoming Bilingual

May 22, 2010

I had a great week in Arizona. I’m flying back feeling fortunate to have such gracious friends and fortunate for my calling. It’s interesting for me to travel to places with such a diverse population. Many of the residents and visitors I encountered bounced between English and their native tongue with fluency. There were times when I felt I was the only one who wasn’t bilingual.

Thursday, there were two Japanese women sitting near me during lunch. When ordering and engaging the waitstaff they spoke with polite and calculated skill, choosing their words like sifting jewels from a box of pebbles. Likewise, the ladies at the hotel’s front desk could welcome guests in English and field questions on the phone in Spanish. Smiling all the while.

The diversity made me think of my first non-USAmerican friends. Their names were Risto and Maria, emphasis on the first syllable RI’-sto and MA’-ri-a. They were from Finland, sent by the Helsinki Evangelical Association to work with the large Finnish population found in Palm Beach County Florida. (who knew?) They had two children, were warm hospitable people, and used our church as a base for their ministry.

It was a long time ago and our paths only ran parallel for 7 months, but I remembered something about them as I waded through the various languages and dialects this week. It was their family policy when it came to language. I remembered Risto telling me, “We speak Finnish in our home and English in public.” They considered themselves as courteous guests in our country and felt responsible to speak our language.

Yesterday I read something from So Beautiful, by Leonard Sweet, that braided together several random strands of thought which had been flapping in the breeze of my mind. He said, “Christians need to be bilingual, proficient in both the language of faith and the native language of the culture, but our public voice is the language of the culture.”

The pages of the Old Testament are filled with references of God’s people as strangers and aliens. In the New Testament both Jesus and Paul talk about the tension we live in being residents of one place while being citizens of another kingdom. Unlike Risto’s family, many in our tribe feel no responsibility to learn the language of our culture. We become the spiritual equivalent of the ugly American, expecting people to adapt to our language, customs and traditions. In my opinion, our lingo and jargon are foreign here and should not be not be used in public.

To learn the language is to pour the first footing in building a bridge to the culture around us.


How did I end up here?

Yesterday I checked into my hotel in Sedona, got my bearings, jumped into the pool, and then made my way to the hillside for a wedding rehearsal. It is one of the most spectacular settings for a marriage ceremony I’ve ever witnessed.

As I greeted friends from back home and met new friends I wondered, “How did I end up here?” That question took me down a path of memories.

Erin’s (the bride) parents attended my church in Flushing. She was away at school when they started to get involved. One weekend Erin was home and came to church with her folks. I don’t remember what I was talking about, which isn’t unusual but I showed some photos of a backpacking trip to the Paria Canyon. After the service, the normally reserved young lady approached and began to share with me her love for the southwest. There was an instant connection.

Not long after we met, Erin received an internship very close to our favorite hiking spot. She was a biologist on Lake Powell in Page, AZ. That began a bi-locational lifestyle as she shuttled back and forth between Central Michigan and north central Arizona. Wisely the park service offered her a full time job upon completion of her master’s degree. Enter Craig, another midwestern transplant. It was evident there was more than a spark of friendship. They shared a number of the same passions, hobbies and loves. I won’t pretend to be able to do justice to the rest of their story. You’d have to hear it from them.

Last night at the rehearsal dinner, Erin and Craig were surrounded by family members and friends from the park service. One couple even came from Hawaii to celebrate their union. Delicious food, hilarious stories, and roaring laughter filled the private dining room at Dahl and Di Luca.

It was a night that I left thinking how good it is to be human.

Too often we Christians equate being human with being bad. They are not one in the same. Being human is wonderful. We are united in our; desire to love and be loved, value of loyalty over betrayal, hope of forgiveness rather than receiving revenge. We forget that Jesus not only embraced humanity he embraced being human. He was fully human. Maybe that’s why he loved weddings, dinner with people, and parties. Maybe that’s why we do too.

“How did I end up here?” because of a tangled web of friendships and overlapping circles of interest. And it is a huge privilege to be invited to participate in a defining moment of Erin & Craig’s relationship. It’s a great day to be here. It’s a great day to be human.

What do you give someone who doesn’t have anything?

May 17, 2010

4pm PST

I’m in the town square of Prescott, Arizona. Choosing a bench I pulled out my computer and began to write. In front of me is an old gazebo. Just beyond that there is a life size bronze statue of a cowboy on a horse perched atop a large chunk of granite. The Yavapai County Courthouse is over to the right. And strolling toward me is a panhandler. I seem to be a magnet for such characters so I’m not surprised when his stroll becomes a beeline.

He is dressed in layers ready for anything the elements can throw at him; a yellowed undershirt, a blue plaid flannel, then a down vest, and a gray carhart style barn coat draped over it all. Quite a contrast to the shorts, t-shirt and flip flops I’m wearing.

His eyes were steely blue. His skin was leathery both in color and texture. His hair and beard gray years before they should be. The man also wore a patriotic ball cap. It was the trucker type with a solid black front and netted back. Two images busied the front. The head of a bald eagle emerged from an outline of the United States covered in stars and stripes like the flag.

“Can I play you a song?” was his lead in. “Sure,” I said. He pulled an Ibanez 6-string out of his bag and began to tune. He made a few comments about this being his only means of supporting himself. Having had my share of exchanges like this I knew that was the set up for a more direct pitch that would come later. But instead of leaving at that I began to ask him his story.

  • What’s your name? Jeff
  • What led you to playing music in a park for handouts? He told me he worked for years in construction and landscaping, but was paid under the table. There were no benefits. One day Jeff was having excruciating stomach pains. He was rushed to the hospital which revealed he had colon cancer. They did surgery saving his life but giving him a debt that could never pay back. He lost his job because of his inability to handle the physical labor of it. He lost his apartment because he didn’t have a job. Shortly thereafter he was forced to hit the streets in desperation.
  • Did you grow up in Arizona? No. Jeff grew up on the frozen ponds of Duluth, MN. He loved hockey and showed promise as a boy. Just before junior high school his dad landed a job with a fuel company in Kansas City. The moved proved to be catastrophic for Jeff. Embraced only by the kids on the fringe, he points to that as the beginning of a continuing battle with drugs and alcohol.
  • How did you get there to here? His older brother had come years ago. My new friend said he would come and visit him each spring. Then one day his brother hired him. The story got fuzzy at that point ending with the sad admission that he was fired and now they only see each other once a year…if that.
  • Where’s your family? His wife and daughter are in Florida. He hasn’t seen them in years and has given up hope of ever seeing his daughter again. He also told me they had a son that died when he was six which further complicated their difficult marriage and fueled his addictions. His narrative gave way to tears as he began the song he promised…a song inspired by his son…a song of lament.

Musically he was quite good. When Jeff was finished we chatted for only a few more minutes. He was becoming antsy. It was getting close to the time when a church near the square would be serving dinner. What do you do with all that? I gave him the four dollar bills in my wallet thanking him for his song and story.

This morning, yips of guilt were nipping at my heals. I didn’t give Jeff the plan of salvation. I didn’t say I’d pray for him, not wanting to make a promise I might not keep. I didn’t even take him to a nearby restaurant to feed him. I didn’t do a lot of things that maybe I could have or should have. I only listened. I tried to treat him like a human rather than an interruption. I stopped what I was doing. I looked him in the eye. I did my best to give him some dignity.

Recapturing Newness

I’m still a very unsophisticated traveler. Yesterday I got up just like most Sunday mornings and drove to church. Then there was lunch at home but dinner was gobbled down in the Atlanta airport and finally crawled in bed in Phoenix. I’m not complaining. It was a long but great day. I’m just saying the fact of me being in Flushing one minute and then get into a big metal tube with wings and be thousands of miles away in a few hours, still boggles my mind.

This morning I’m drinking coffee on the balcony of a hotel looking through a few palm trees at the mountains across the road. They are sharp and jagged yet inviting. I can make out a handful of path, trails and switchbacks that lead to a handful of homes. My senses are heightened by all the newness. And the day’s early sun gives me glimpses of red rock and tufts of green. I can make out the sagebrush and cacti that dot the landscape. The valley of the sun is painted with subtle color in every direction.

I fear by the end of the week the peaks will look more plain and the scenery will only appear drab and brown. Unfortunately that’s the way things go, isn’t it?

We encounter something new. It quickens our heart, awakens our faculties, calls for our rumination. Whether location, literature or love things have a way of becoming familiar, common and mundane. I don’t think it should be or has to be that way. I don’t think it is an unescapable force like gravity. I think its more like the slow undertow of the ocean on a nice day. We play and appreciate. We laugh and we admire. But when we suddenly become aware of the passing of time, we look up to find ourselves far from the place we started.

When playing in the ocean you have to fight against the pull even on the most glorious of days. That’s what I’m talking about. We have to fight against the ebbing sense of newness, life, and beauty that we once were drawn to that have now become commonplace. If we don’t we become cynical – and I can tell you a thing or two about that.

How do I appreciate what I’ve become accustomed to and find beauty in the ordinary? Take some time to think about these questions:

  • Who are you most alive with?
  • What factors lured you to the place where you live?
  • How did you feel the first time (or the last time) you encountered God?
  • What qualities drew you to the one you love?

Who said you couldn’t?

Softball practice was rained out last night so I picked Ally up a couple hours early and brought her home. She was not so thrilled to hear of my recent simplification…a fast from cable tv and internet. As I started dinner I suggested she paint or do something with the water colors I had nearby. “I can’t,” she said. “What?” “I can’t.” I went on to explain that every kid knows how to sing and dance and draw and paint until someone tells them they can’t. “Who told you you couldn’t?” I asked. “I don’t know I just can’t.”

It made me think of a conversation that happened in the Garden of Eden. Adam and Eve made a choice that effected us all. They decided to look out for their own interests rather than trust God. Then God asked a series of questions with the third one being, “Who told you you were naked?”

We often talk about the Fall bringing sin, blame, and shame to humanity but I think one of the most overlooked tragedies is the accusation of nakedness we are saddled with…“you are lacking…you don’t measure up…you should be embarrassed…you should be inhibited…you’re not at all what you should be…so hide.” Thus the quiet whisper of, “you can’t paint, you can’t sing, you can’t tell a joke or a good story,” robs us of opportunities and steals away our childlike joy.

There was no way I could make Ally try. So just for kicks I put some music on, got the paper, brushes, & paints out and put a mug of water on the table next to them. Then I went about my business. Within seconds she was busy creating a beautiful beach scene with the temperamental art supplies.

When dinner was ready she pushed her project aside. We talked and laughed and ate and cleaned up. Then I took a seat on the couch. I could see my daughter out of the corner of my right eye, seated at my kitchen table working on her water color masterpiece. At some point she got past her artistic nakedness. How? A little encouragement, a little permission, and a few of the raw materials necessary for it to happen. Basically an environment was provided for her creativity to win out over the voice of “you can’t, you shouldn’t, don’t try.”

I haven’t always been good at that…and perhaps I’m still not. But I think we need to give up the engineering metaphor. We need to stop; trying to make our churches run as smooth as a machine, our ministries firing on all cylinders, and looking at our homes as places where everything should fit together like cogs on a wheel.

I don’t think the only reason for all the agricultural images in scripture is because they lived before the industrial age. I think God intended to help His people create environments where the enemy’s accusations would be drowned out by the sounds people who had been freed to experiment and sing and paint and tell stories and try new things.

So you know that thing you’ve been thinking about, dreaming of, and dying to try?

Who told you you couldn’t?


This last week I turned year older. It started out great. I had the predictable post-midnight phone call from Zack (which still startles me even though I know it’s coming) and an overwhelming number of Facebook birthday wishes. I had lunch with some good friends, a call from Tyler, dinner with Ally, as well as receiving some very special cards, notes, and phone calls. I ended the day thinking not only about how blessed I am but what a breeze 48 seemed to be.

Fast forward three days. I woke up Sunday with a cold that came out of nowhere, I barely had a voice, and as I performed the strenuous activity of brushing my teeth…I had a lower back spasm that just about put me on the floor. I relayed this as I began my message which drew some sympathetic chuckles. Forging ahead I croaked out my sermon like Froggy on the Little Rascals. The first person to approach me after the benediction was a good friend. He shook my hand and said, “Happy birthday. Welcome to middle age.” [insert nervous laughter]

Honestly, this middle-age thing has really gotten into my head. What have I done? What am I doing? Where am I going with the rest of my life?

A therapist friend of mine once told me since we are living longer now it’s not uncommon for someone to have two midlife crises. People may point to me quitting my job at a flagship church in my mid-30’s, moving my family to Michigan with no salary, insurance, people or place to live as my first one. If that’s a crisis…I’m ready for another one.

So this morning I sat down to begin the process of something I’m calling Project: B4-51. It’s more than a list of goals. I started to map out what I’d like to do and what God might have me to do before I turn 51 years old (B4-51). There are four main categories; Vocation (writing and speaking), Education (completing my MA), Family/Relational, and Physical Health.

At the coffee shop, my fingers were flying across the keyboard. I was in the zone. Now at the office, I’m rereading what landed on the page. And I reread it again. Pushing back a thought comes, “There is no way I can pull all this off.” But rather than be discouraged I choose to see that as a good sign. Not only do I need a direction for the next couple years…I need a direction that requires God to show up, for Him to open doors, and for Him to empower me. I need a direction that demands His intervention for me to succeed. We all do.

Hopefully I’ll be brave enough to start sharing the particulars of Project: B4-51 soon.

Birthday Blog

Forty eight years ago today Tom and Joyce Harvey welcomed me, their fourth child into their lives. I joined two brothers who were almost 15 & 14 years old, and a sister that would turn 12 exactly one week later. Usually when someone hears the age difference they respond with “oops!” Needless to say, I’ve taken plenty of teasing over the years about being a mistake but my parents never relented on the fact that I was planned.

I’m not sure if they were telling me the truth or not, but their adherence to the statement made me believe it. That was just one of the many things they did to anchor me and set me on a proper course for life. I don’t think they ever read a book on parenting or discipline. I know they didn’t go to any seminars or workshops. They were common people using common sense and relying an uncommon God.

Two posts ago I talked about needing a new story for my family. I notice I often think and talk about intentionality. But as I reflect on my parents today, they didn’t seem to do anything on purpose…or did they? Supper together at the table every night, church attendance every week, and Sunday afternoon rides every time they felt like it were staples in our schedule.

Of course you know they weren’t perfect. They made plenty of mistakes. They even admitted it a couple times.

They handed me a good name and shaped my identity in spite of their shortcomings. I remember asking the question, “Why?” a number of times in those early adolescent years. “Why couldn’t I do this or that? Why can’t I go here or there?” My dad’s answer was often the same after each question, “Because you are a Harvey.” Translation: you’re different and what may be ok for some is not ok for you…not ok for us.

Both my folks are gone now. My dad passed away suddenly when I was 16. My mom died after a long battle with cancer in 1994. However, their influence continues. And all along the way I have been aware of God’s faithfulness to guide and influence me through other people He’s placed in my life.

My greatest birthday gift is the wealth of people God has put in my life. I am who I am because of my parents, siblings, children, family and close friends. While I’m grateful for that…I am counting on your continued influence because I am not yet who I want to be.