Myanmar Cultural Tidbits: A Few Folkways

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I want to share a fun list of some cultural attributes of Myanmar. These things have become comfortable and enjoyable for us, but in returning for a visit to the U.S., I see again how these cultural folkways might seem surprising or amusing to some westerners. (What’s a folkway, you ask? Good question. Folkways are the customs and conventions of daily life. Folkways indicate the cultural ideas about what is rude and what is polite. Cultural norms, by contrast, tend to indicate the culture’s perspective on morality, and what is right and wrong.)

[Disclaimer: the inescapable part of our cultural experiences in Myanmar is that they are heavily defined by the fact that we are foreigners.… Continue Reading

Unfamiliar Soil: A window into cross-cultural work

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This is an essay about working cross-culturally, particularly church planting, and why it is not a short term project. [To note: Frankly, I dislike the term ”church planter” almost as much as I dislike the terms “missionary,” and “missional,” and I wish I didn’t have to use it at all. “Church planting” feels like a marketing catchphrase that has become a means of denoting those who are a few rungs higher on the spirituality ladder. But the topic of overused Christian catchphrases (“love on,” anyone?)  is another grievance for another time.]

First, a personal anecdote to help the conversation: I had lofty aspirations of container gardening when we first arrived in Yangon.… Continue Reading

A Beach where Zebras Roam

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In our Pacific Northwest home, nature was as close as one’s backyard, or as far as a 20-minute drive to a well-wooded park. It didn’t take too much effort to get away from the sight of buildings or even other people, and was not difficult to find places where nature dwarfs humanity. In Yangon, there is no such luxurious way to get a change of pace. In the past year, I can only think of one 30-minute period of time where I could neither see nor hear other human beings.… Continue Reading

Language Learning: Practical ideas, and some reflections

…In which I use a great deal of English to elaborate on learning a little bit of Burmese (Or Myanmar language, if you will. Since the language I am learning is the native tongue of the Burma people group, I will refer to it as Burmese for the remainder of this post. For more on the distinction between Myanmar and Burma, check out this link.)

Language learning is a great way to become childlike.

“Am I ever going to be able to communicate with anyone?” That is probably the question Jim heard most from me last year (followed by, “How is it that you say ‘yesterday’, again?”).… Continue Reading

A Look at Buddhism

 

 

Outside a monastery my friend Sean spoke with our neighbor.

‘We as Buddhists must not kill any living thing. To do that automatically sentences us to hell in our next life.’ ‘Don’t you love to eat meat?’ Asked Sean, ‘Oh, of course, pork is the best!’ ‘How is it that you must not kill, but love to eat meat?’ ‘Well, that’s easy! We don’t kill the animal, we just buy it from the market. Someone else kills it.’ Then Sean responded, ‘So you don’t kill the animal, but you pay the killer.’ ‘Exactly right, we just pay the killer.’

Understanding Buddhism can be confusing.… Continue Reading

Life among the Pagodas

In Myanmar, we literally live among pagodas. They are everywhere. Pagodas or the ruins of pagodas are on top of practically every hill. Buddhists in Myanmar believe that one of the most obvious and permanent ways to secure merit is building a pagoda. The most revered pagodas are said to contain relics of the Buddha from one of his many past lives. Much of Myanmar culture revolves around the pagoda. Every high festival brings crowds to the pagoda. Not a few romantic relationships burgeon under the shadow of a pagoda’s spire.… Continue Reading

I Hated It

I don’t cry easily. But for the first two weeks I visited Burma, I was in a state of continual meltdown.

Within hours of landing in Yangon (Burma’s largest city), I was overwhelmed with depression. Not only was this place so very different from my home (and I might add, over 100 degrees and humid) but it felt hopeless to me; the trash everywhere, the blood-like betelnut* spit all along the sidewalks and in the corners of every stairwell, the smell of sewer in every other city block.… Continue Reading