Consumerism Overload

Lately, I’ve felt the pull of consumerism in a way that I’m not sure I ever have. Or maybe I’m just more aware of it.

But, it’s not just consumerism, it’s appearances, it’s the allure of the new and shiny, it’s American culture. Of course these things aren’t just American, it’s human nature to compare, to desire, to be impatient and opportunistic. All humans struggle with these things. But, somehow I can feel these things more here, they press on my heart more. They reach in and try to rearrange my values and steal my contentment. More than they did in Prague, more than they did before Prague (or perhaps I was just less aware and more numb to them then).

Part of me feels a little like I did on our first trip back to the states after moving to Prague. We got in the airport in New York and suddenly realized everyone around us was speaking English. We walked around unable NOT to eavesdrop on everyone. In Prague, surrounded by Czech speakers we had gotten out of practice at tuning out the background distraction noise of English. We hadn’t been able to understand people around us so we hadn’t needed to tune them out. Back in America we did need to tune them out and our brains were out of practice. That’s a little how I’ve felt lately. I don’t know how to tune out and ignore the commercialism around me anymore.

Bryan and I tend to be very intentional about how we spend our money, we spend money on things we value (people, food, devices that connect us with people, etc). And we have never valued appearances all that much so we don’t spend a lot of money on things like clothes, cars, or our home. And here’s the thing, when we were in Prague I didn’t feel like anyone cared if all of my clothes were hand-me-downs or I didn’t have a car, or my house wasn’t perfectly put together. Here, back in the states I do feel like people care. It’s not necessarily that I feel judgement, but others around me do care a lot about their own appearances, they spend their own money on appearances so they must care about it. There is a cultural value on appearances. And since I don’t always share that value I feel a conflict, and I feel at odds with my culture. Perhaps this is what they mean by culture shock?

Lately I find myself wanting more and more to spend money on appearances and convenience.

I feel it when I go to pick up my son at school and wait in a line of Prius’s and Mercedes.

I feel it when I clean the crumbs off my hand-me-down couch before going over to my mother-in-laws perfectly coordinated and immaculately decorated home.

I loose the struggle when I don’t invite people over for dinner because my house isn’t big enough, clean enough, decorated enough, or just enough.

I feel it when I go to target to get a wedding gift for a friend and leave feeling depressed about the 20+ things I saw that I want (but of course don’t need).

I give into it when I buy my son yet another cheap toy, even though he has plenty of toys strewn all across the family room.

These are mostly things that didn’t weigh on me in Prague, they didn’t tempt me. I didn’t feel these comparisons (or at least not as constantly). My values didn’t conflict with the culture, or at least with the sub-culture I was a part of. And honestly I also just didn’t spend as much time out at restaurants, stores and shopping centers as I do now. And  now I’m struggling.

Part of me is questioning. Perhaps there is more value in appearances then I have previously thought? I value beauty and spending money on appearances is just spending money on beauty… right? Sometimes, I guess.

Part of me is frustrated. I don’t want to change my values just because of my culture having slightly different values. I don’t want to give in to discontent and comparison.

And when it comes down to it our money is very limited and if I choose to start spending more of it on things like clothes and my home what other things will I have to choose not to spend money on?

And that’s really what it comes down to. As much as I may want myself and my house and my family to look like one of the pictures from my pinterest boards when it really comes down to it I’d rather spend my limited money on other things.

But, sometimes I waver. Sometimes I find myself lost in what can only be called coveting. I look around and feel like I don’t have enough, like my appearance isn’t enough, and soon I begin to feel like I, myself, am not enough. I look around and realize that I’m so far behind the rat race that there’s no catching up.

Ugh!

Can I get off? I don’t want to be comparing myself. I don’t want to be constantly reminded of things I don’t have or to hear the implied “should have” that follows. But, I feel like I’m out of practice at ignoring it.

So, does anyone have any suggestions?

Rejoicing in the journey,
Bethany Stedman

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Immigration: Choosing Love Instead of Fear

I don’t often write about political issues. I don’t like politics. I don’t like talking about politics or thinking about politics. It tends to just make me upset. But I’m excited that the Christian synchroblog I used to be a part of is starting up again and I want to jump back in even though this month’s topic is a very political issue.

I’ll be honest, I don’t feel like I have something really helpful to add to the debate. I don’t have a solution for the “immigration problem”. I don’t know all the ins and outs, or all the pros and cons of different suggestions. I don’t have any idea what a Christian policy on immigration should really look like – I’m not sure there really is ONE “Christian policy on immigration”. I am sure that the issue is complex, that there are probably a variety of solutions that would solve a variety of the problems that arise when dealing with immigration. I’m sure that there are a multitude of “right” approaches.

Personally, I don’t want to talk about solutions, or suggestions today. I don’t want to talk about the legality of the issue, or about how it relates to jobs and the economy. I don’t want to talk about the politics of the situation. What I want to talk about is attitude.

As followers of Christ what should our attitude be towards immigrants? I don’t know about you but so often when I hear people talking about the “immigration issue” I hear a lot of negativity and very little love. I hear a lot of prejudice and racism and not a lot of love. I hear a lot of condemnation and not a lot of love. I believe that as Christians we should take a higher approach, a different stance. We should try to understand instead of condemn, to help instead of degrade and to love instead of fear.

I think a lot of the problem comes from fear. People fear immigration and immigrants. They fear the influence that immigrants (both legal and illegal) will have on the American economy, culture, and political system. They believe that we have to protect America and that the protection of America is the ultimate goal and makes any act (including the restriction of civil liberties) justifiable. Out of fear, policies are then made that restrict civil liberties (case in point: Arizona). The restriction of civil liberties due to fear is much more detrimental to America than immigration will ever be.

The truth of the matter is that we are all foreigners and strangers on this earth. The truth of the matter is that our ultimate allegiance is not to a specific country and protecting its way of life. Our ultimate allegiance is not to a specific political or economic system. Our ultimate allegiance IS to Christ Jesus, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and his radical new kingdom.

As Christians, I believe we need to support policies that are not driven by fear, but are instead driven by love and sound reasoning. We need to remember that although we owe America some gratitude and allegiance for the gifts that it provides us with, America is just a nation – nations rise and fall, but our allegiance is to God most High and Him alone. We need to remember that immigrants are our brothers and sisters, even if they look and act differently than we do. They each have unique stories to tell and a no matter how they crossed our boarders, or why they crossed our boarders, God loves them passionately and recklessly and so should we.

Rejoicing in the journey –
Bethany Stedman

Here are the other synchroblog participants posts. Hope you all enjoy the discussion! I know I’m really looking forward to reading through these:

Mike Victorino at Still A Night Owl – ‘Being the Flag
Sonnie Swentson-Forbes at Hey Sonnie – ‘Immigration Stories
Steven Calascione at Eirenikos – ‘The Jealousy of Migration
George Elerick at The Love Revolution – ‘We’re Not Kings or Gods
Liz Dyer at Grace Rules – “Together We Can Make Dreams Come True
Sonnie Swentson at A Piece of My Mind – “Immigration Stories
Matt Stone at Global Christianity – “Is Xenophobia Every Christlike?
Steve Hayes at Khanya – “Christians And The Immigration Issue
Ellen Haroutunian – “Give Me Your Tired, Your Poor, Your Huddled Masses
Beth Stedman – “Immigration: Choosing Love Instead of Fear
Pete Houston at Peter’s Progress – “Of Rape And Refuge
Joshua Seek – “Loving Our Immigrant Brother
Amanda MacInnis at Cheese Wearing Theology – “Christians and Immigration
Sonja Andrews at Calacirian – “You’re Right
Kathy Escobar at Carnival In My Head – “It’s A Lot Easier To Be Against Immigration Reform When You Have Papers
Jonathan Brink – “Immigration Synchroblog
Beth Patterson at Virtual Tea House – “What we resist not only persists but eventually becomes our landlord”

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4th of July: Random Thoughts from an American Expat

My husband and I have lived in Prague for three and a half years now. I have lived in Prague longer than I have lived anywhere else since High School. We love living in Prague, but there are plenty of things we love about America too. Living in a foreign country has given me a totally new perspective on my own native home.

I love America more because of the time I’ve spent away from her. I respect America more because of the time I’ve spent away from her. I am embarrassed by America more because of the time I’ve spent away from her. I worry about America less because of the time I’ve spent away from her. My feelings towards my home country are far more diverse, varied, and broad then they ever were before I left.

In some ways living overseas has made me much less nationalistic. People are people no matter where you are. Nations don’t really matter. Nations rise and fall. People are what really matter.

But, living overseas has also made me more patriotic. People may be the same wherever you are, but societies are different. Cultures are different. Those differences can be stunningly beautiful and so incredibly valuable.

Random Things I’ve realized about America/Americans/American culture since living overseas:

  • Americans have the best “can do” attitude in the world. Ok, maybe not in the world, but definitely in contrast to the Czech Republic, where the favorite phrase seems to be “not possible” or “no”. As Americans we value making things happen and we are often willing to think outside the box and compromise in order to make things happen for ourselves and for others. That’s not necessarily the case in the rest of the world. I often miss this kind of positive thinking.
  • Everything is available everywhere all the time. There are localists who would say this is a negative thing, but I have to admit that I really miss this about the states.
  • American news coverage is often self-centered and biased. I knew that before moving, but you realize it anew when you are abroad. When people talk about the latest news here it’s not just what’s going on in their own country its stuff that’s going on all over the world. News will always have biases, but the biases seem less intense in news sources from outside the US.
  • The English language is a beautiful thing and I have learned to appreciate it so much more living in a non-English speaking country.
  • The stereotype about Americans being loud is often and generally true, but this isn’t always a bad thing and there are a lot of other loud people as well. British guys in Prague for a stag party have a tendency to be far louder than any group of Americans.
  • Americans in general are truly friendly people. We smile at people we meet, and we enjoy small talk. Sure, not every American does, but on a whole as a culture we do. This became strikingly clear living in a culture where that is not true.

Ok, so there could definitely be more to this list, but these are the first few things that came to mind.

How about you? Have you traveled outside of the US? If so where to? And did you learn anything about your own culture while there?

Happy 4th of July everyone. I hope your day is filled with fireworks, fresh strawberries, BBQ’s, hanging out with friends and family, and lots of gratitude for the positives and the beauty that is American culture.

Rejoicing in the journey-
Bethany Stedman

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Politics

So, this is an election year and as such I feel like I should join the band wagon and talk about politics a little (yeah, I know I’m joining late in the game, but better late than never, right?). Frankly, I’ve never liked talking about politics – I felt uncomfortable talking about politics. I think that is mostly because I have for most of my life been incredibly uneducated on the issues. I usually just voted whatever my parents or church or friends said I should vote and believed them…something I’m not really proud to admit, but there it is. I think the reason I really wasn’t educated about politics was that I just didn’t care, any time politics came up (which was incredibly rare in my circle) I felt like there wasn’t really a good option, like I didn’t really agree with any of the sides and like I could see good and bad in both and I just didn’t want to have to pick one. In the past I had a few opinions that I did choose a side on but the side I generally leaned towards wasn’t the same side of a lot of the people around me so I usually kept those opinions to myself. Then I moved out of the country…

Ironically, it took me leaving America to start to get educated and care more about the politics happening in America. I remember one of the first larger dinner parties Bryan and I had at our house here in Prague one of the major topics we all discussed was politics. I felt soo uncomfortable and unsure of myself and my opinions – I came face to face with my lack of education in the area of politics and decided then and there that I wanted to become more educated and figure out where I stand on various issues. And I was lucky, my desire to become more educated lined up perfectly with an election year, a year when politics is a hot topic and there’s lots of opportunity to learn.

Well, that was quite a while ago now… and frankly I still feel frustrated when talking about politics. Bryan and I have had a number of political conversations together lately which have been really helpful and interesting… it’s nice for me to talk with him about politics because I feel like he isn’t going to judge me when I say stuff and even if he disagrees with me he is still understanding. Really I still don’t know where I stand on some things. I do know that at times I can see good things and bad things in both parties. I do know that in general I care more about the issues and topics that the Democrats focus on (social issues) then the issues the Republicans seem to focus on (moral issues). I do know that my husband considers himself an Independent, who likes some things about Libertarianism, and I know that even though I can agree with him on some levels, our political views don’t totally line up.

I guess you could call me a swing voter…and I actually really like that. The whole idea of voting with a party line never made sense to me, really. I mean neither party completely represents my beliefs and ideals. And I think each election is different and each situation is different and I would rather decide each election what party I think is best fit to have office for the situations of that particular time in history.

So, if you are a swing voter like me and find yourself wanting to know more about politics in general and wanting to be more informed this election then I have some suggestions on sites to check out:

The first is On The Issues. This site helps you find out what all of the candidates (including 3rd party candidates) have to say about different issues. All you need to do is click on the picture of the candidate you want to find out more about and it will tell you their stance on each of the major issues. You can also search by issue and it will tell you what different candidates believe about that issue. It’s a great way to find out more about the candidates and to compare and contrast their opinions on the issues.

The second site I thought was interesting is this google site. It has a list of issues and then has quotes about each candidate that relate to those issues. You can stroll through a number of quotes from the candidates on the issue that you select.

I also found this site, FactCheck.org, helpful. They basically go through all the things that the two major candidates (McCain and Obama) say about each other and make corrections telling you what the facts actually are. I especially liked this page which lists all the major untrue accusations that each candidate has made about the other and telling you why they are incorrect.

EDIT: I just found this site, glassbooth.org. It’s a site where you put in the issues that you care most about and answer some questions and then it tells you what candidate lines up with your beliefs/oppinions most. I thought it was really helpful and encourage you to check it out.

And of course I would suggest you watch the debates as well. Bryan and I have watched all of the major debates so far and even though they have been frustrating to watch at times they have also been pretty informative and have helped us get a better picture of each candidate.

I’d be interested to hear what you all think of the candidates and who you’re rooting for if you don’t mind sharing. I know politics is a sort of taboo topic and many people don’t like saying right out what candidate they support , but if you are open to it I would love to hear your opinions. I also know that some people love talking about politics and can get very heated about it, so, please do share, but let’s keep it civil, ok? Remember that each of the candidates are genuine people trying to do what they think is best, and treat them with respect. And remember that the other readers are also genuine people trying to do what they think is best and they also deserve your respect.

Here is Donald Miller’s http://www.donaldmillerwords.com/  prayer from the Democratic National Convention. This is what I’m praying today as I think about the upcoming elections:

“Father God, This week, as the world looks on, help the leaders in this room create a civil dialogue about our future. We need you, God, as individuals and also as a nation. We need you to protect us from our enemies, but also from ourselves, because we are easily tempted toward apathy. Give us a passion to advance opportunities for the least of these, for widows and orphans, for single moms and children whose fathers have left. Give us the eyes to see them, and the ears to hear them, and hands willing to serve them. Help us serve people, not just causes. And stand up to specific injustices rather than vague notions. Give those in this room who have power, along with those who will meet next week, the courage to work together to finally provide health care to those who don’t have any, and a living wage so families can thrive rather than struggle. Help us figure out how to pay teachers what they deserve and give children an equal opportunity to get a college education. Help us figure out the balance between economic opportunity and corporate gluttony. We have tried to solve these problems ourselves but they are still there. We need your help. Father will you restore our moral standing in the world. A lot of people don’t like us but that’s because they don’t know the heart of the average American. Will you give us favor and forgiveness, along with our allies around the world. Help us be an example of humility and strength once again. Lastly, father, unify us. Even in our diversity help us see how much we have in common. And unify us not just in our ideas and in our sentiments – but in our actions, as we look around and figure out something we can do to help create an America even greater than the one we have come to cherish. God we know that you are good. Thank you for blessing us in so many ways as Americans. I make these requests in the name of your son, Jesus, who gave his own life against the forces of injustice. Let Him be our example. Amen.”

Rejoicing in the journey –
Beth Stedman

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