Saturday, November 28, 2009

Just One More, Before I Fall Asleep

Dietrich is 3 and 1/6 years old and asks about as many questions every minute (which is normal, as I understand). Most are "why" questions or variations thereof but, sometimes, the combination of the oddity of the question and the oddity of the timing results in some pretty memorable queries, revealing the unique inner-workings of the young mind. Either that, or the kid is doing everything he can think of to keep from going to sleep. Here's our exchange when I stooped down to kiss D's forehead and started his lullaby CD for the second time tonight ...

Dietrich: Daddy, why you have a nose?

Me: Why do I have a nose? Everybody has a nose.

Dietrich: But not spiders?

Me: Uh, no, spiders don't have noses like people, they have a different kind of nose.

Dietrich: And not other bugs?

Me: Good night, Dietrich. Go to sleep.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Belarus Entry #3 - Speaking in Contemporary Language

3 of the 4 members of our team had the privilege of preaching in the Sunday morning and evening services of the Church, which is located on the property of and connected with the seminary where the EAAA conference was held. The brother who had the opportunity to preach in the morning service got quite the earful from the pastor once the service was over. Here's what happened ...

During his introduction, our designated Sunday morning representative emphasized the need to present Christianity, the Bible and the Gospel in contemporary language so that hearers can understand what you're talking about. If you use Christian terms like "Gospel" and "justification" with certain people, and you do not explain them, they will, very likely, not understand what you're talking about. As an example, our brother explained how a certain Pauline word in the passage he was preaching from had negative connotations in the original Greek while the particular Russian word translating the Greek had positive connotations. The contextual meaning is weakened, if not lost altogether, if someone does not explain this fact. This all sounds very simple, logical and obvious, right?

WRONG!!! For at least 15 minutes after the service, the pastor, to put it nicely, gave counsel to our brother, stating that "normal" Russian language is all that is needed, the Bible doesn't need "contemporary" explanation and that he has Bible studies with nonbelievers and they all understand him despite the fact that he doesn't use such newfangled speech when explaining the Bible to them. And just in case we weren't sure how much he disapproved of the idea, he decided to instruct me before the evening service that I should not give an introduction to my sermon if I was going to go on and on about the need for contemporary language and the insufficiencies of "normal" Russian language.

[Note: if you are as confused about such a hard and fast distinction between "contemporary" language and "normal" language, don't worry, so were we. There is no such distinction in modern, spoken Russian, just like there is no such distinction in modern, spoken English. And our guy was not making a hard and fast distinction. He was just stating the apologetically obvious: you should speak truth to your audience in a way that they'll understand. Sure, there are older English words that we don't use anymore and the Russian-speaking world has its equivalent of the King James Bible with its accompanying linguistic antiquities, but there is nothing that makes sense of the pastor's diametrical distinction between "contemporary" and "normal" Russian. It was hard to fathom what he was so upset about.]

Now, this story isn't all that interesting until you understand what happened during the conference in the days following the above incident. You see, the EAAA is made up of the top Evangelical institutions in the the former Soviet Union and they are all doing everything they can to educate, equip and assist the Slavic Church as it strives to reach the countless lost among them. They are all united in doing this in "contemporary" forms and methods, using "contemporary" language and ideas. How do we know this? Because almost all of them told us so, using the same word over and over, during the course of the conference. Normally, this wouldn't be funny; it would just be timely and relevant instruction. But every time a presenter told us about the necessity of doing anything in a "contemporary" way, the 4 of us just lost it. I'm sure it's about as funny to you as it was to those sitting around us. But, let me assure you, it was a hoot and it created an inside joke that should fuel our discussions for months to come.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Belarus Entry #2 - Tongue Twisters For All

One of the members of our Belarus team is a student in the Talbot School of Theology-Kyiv Extension M.A. program (website within months) that the rest of the members of our team are responsible for running. For a class coming up in December he has chosen to read the War Rule, a collection of Qumran texts found among the Dead Sea Scrolls. Before our trip, I overheard this brother trying to name his assignment to another professor at our seminary. He first tried in Russian but the professor was unfamiliar with the texts. So the student then named the assignment in English, but the professor could not understand him. He tried about 5 times to say "War Rule," but that's really hard to say for someone whose main language has no "w" sound and rolls its "r"s instead of dragging them out. It was a tongue twister, for sure.

But while we were in Belarus, the four of us had an extended discussion about why "War Rule" is so difficult to say and decided to see how we could make it even more difficult. Granted, our final result is pretty meaningless, but it's pretty hard for even an English-speaking tongue. So, try this out 10 times fast ...

"The role of the real world rural war rule"

But so as not to pick solely on my Slavic-tongued fellows, I have to mention the name of the conference we were attending in Belarus. The organization is acronymed, "EAAA," which, conveniently works in both English and Russian. In English, it stands for the Euro-Asian Accreditation Association. Easy, right? In Russian it reads, "Евро-азиатская Аккредитационная Ассоциация." That likely doesn't mean much to you, so here's the transliteration ...

"Yevro-aziatskaya Akkreditatsionaya Associatsiya"

It's certainly not impossible to say but, in the middle of a sentence, combined with all of the necessary declensions and often surrounded by words that are just as difficult to say, it doesn't always roll off the tongue. Even one of the conference speakers mentioned how difficult it was to say, and he was a Russian-speaker! So, while I certainly topped the charts in mispronounced Russian words during our 5-day trip, I could pronounce sensical and nonsensical English words and phrases with relative ease. In the end, such discussions helped to balance out our respective embarrassment, as well as bringing some much needed levity to a conference whose main focus was that perennial thriller, academic institution accreditation standards.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Belarus Entry #1 - Where To Find Hot Chocolate

Earlier this week, I had a great opportunity with some friends/coworkers (emphasis on the former over the latter) to go to a conference in Minsk, Belarus. There are many, many stories of how repressive Belarus is toward Evangelical Christianity but, fear and trepidation notwithstanding, we had a tiring yet wonderful time and didn't feel any of the infamous repression. I'm sure that was due, in large part, to the fact that one of my coworkers is Belarusian and he made sure that we behaved ourselves. The other factor in play was that the conference was held at an Evangelical seminary and we were there for at least 12 hours a day. That didn't leave much time for shenanigans.

One of the things that we did try to do, when not knee deep in accreditation issues (more on that later), was to find hot chocolate. I had a hankerin' for some on Monday night and so we went searching. We stopped at 2 cafes with no luck (although we did stumble upon the Drama Theater of the Belarusian Army and had great fun imagining said army performing Romeo and Juliet or Swan Lake). That was enough for me. I was ready to settle for some tea. But whereas my desire waned as the night wore on, the hankerin' spread to my compatriots and they didn't want to give up so easily. We looked at 1 or 2 more places before settling on tea (or the wretched coffee for everyone but me) and dessert.

We hit the town the next night, as well, still with no success at finding hot chocolate. With each inquiry and negative reply, my hopes decreased. So, by Wednesday afternoon, just hours before we were to leave, my expectations were at 0%. But as we were leaving the super-huge-mega-market where we were buying our dinner and snacks for the train ride home, it started to pour. A 15-minute walk back to the seminary without umbrellas would have had us soaked until we arrived back in Kyiv the next morning. So we stayed inside for a while and moseyed on up to the cafe/kiosk of the super-huge-mega market. With 0% expectation, what do you think we found? Of course, we did. And it was really good. So, when in Belarus, don't look every imaginable place for the sweet, sweet nectar of the gods. Instead, find your way to the Hippo and enjoy.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Closing the Baseball Book

The New York Yankees won the World Series. I feel like I should either be more happy or more sad about that than I actually am. I could be happy that the Angels ended up losing to the World Champs rather than to the runners-up. Or I could be sad that the Phillies didn't give the Yanks the trouncin' that I'm usually happy to see. But I don't care all that much. Maybe it's because I'm too exhausted from a very busy month at KTS and from spending all of my baseball energy trying to root the Angels into the World Series (feeling extra tired because that energy was expended on behalf of a team that expended their energy trying hard to stay OUT of the World Series). Nonetheless, I have a lot of reasons to be happy about the Angels' '09 season (ALCS performance excluded) and can wait expectantly for things to start up again in April. And, if any Yankees were to shine, I'd want it to be Mariano Rivera and Hideki Matsui. And they did. Brightly. Now I can get back to posts about theology and apologetics.