Invitation

vintage-postcard-invitations1

I had a chance two years ago to see Author Nabeel Qureshi speak about cultural expectations. He shared a very poignant example about how a foreign exchange student came from Saudi Arabia with two suitcases full of gifts. When his roommate asked him if he had family or friends here, he replied that he didn’t know anyone in the United States, but when he was invited to their home, he would be sure to bring a gift as is customary. The worst part of Nabeel’s story is that the student returned home to Saudi Arabia with two suitcases still packed full.

Last week, I wrote about the need for Hospitality in a world full of isolated people who were focused on their technology and relied on iPhones for communication. An article on Bloomberg Business by Bruce Weinstein even coined a term way back in 2007 called “iPhone iSolation.” I think that the author was way ahead of the game. There is something still said for conversation face-to-face. Even our kids are plugged in at the restaurant, in the car, or at home.  Still, the draw of personal contact, communication is present. I was at the car dealership last month to get the oil changed. A lady next to me was actually reading a book, while I crocheted. It was not a normal situation – usually in waiting rooms, everyone seems to be staring down at the glowing screen in their hand. We struck up a conversation about her book and ended up sharing phone numbers and e-mail. I love getting to know people. It’s a joy. One on one communication is falling by the wayside, but the satisfaction of getting to find out more about another person and to make a connection is wonderful. One only has to go and see that more work-related decisions are made over a round of golf or a glass of wine than in the office. There is a sense of ease, a familiarity that allows us to get out of a formal setting and into someone’s personal life.

Now, before you shake your head at me and say something like “Not everyone likes to be everyone’s friend, Mona” or like someone I know says to me in good humor “I have all the friends I need right now. If I meet someone else, I will have to bump someone out on my list of existing friends!” I understand that not everyone likes to strike up random conversations. HOWEVER, most of you reading this article do have a circle of intimate friends and then others in the periphery. What I am asking for is to reach out those in the periphery – get to know them more than just in passing at the water cooler at work, at the kids’ school or soccer game, or even at church.

Human Beings were created to be social. In fact, in the book of Genesis, it states “Then the LORD God said, ‘It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him'” Genesis 2:18 I do think this is one of the reasons so many men become more isolated than women. Women have a natural tendency to be a “helper” to one another. Men do this also, but not as much as us women. We like to socialize, to share stories and to work with one another.

I taught at the State of Oklahoma about Cultural Diversity in November 2015. The class was very diverse in make-up and we had several individuals who had either visited foreign countries or were immigrants. I posed a few questions to the immigrants:

  • When was the last time your colleague asked you about your family or children?
  • When was the last time you received an invitation to share a cup of coffee or tea with someone American?
  • When was the last time you received an invitation to their home?

A man from China raised his hand and his answer made me so very sad. He said that this training was the first time that anyone had asked about his home or family. He had NO invitations to have a cup of tea or coffee – not even at Starbucks or a coffee shop. He has lived here for 8 years and has had NO invitations to come to someone’s home – not even an invitation from his neighbor.

I then asked if he has extended the invitation to others. He smiled and said yes. He said it was a part of his culture to do so but no one has the time to visit him. He stayed after the class and we chatted for a bit (yes, of course I invited him to come and meet my family!). It was one of those things that stays with you. There is a sadness in the world that is caused by us living in bubbles. We drive in our little bubble and wave quickly to neighbors. We come into the office and sit in our little bubble of a desk. We stay in that bubble at lunch with our phones. We then drive back home in the bubble and quickly close the garage door in case a neighbor wants to talk or worse, complain. Why don’t we pop that isolation bubble and go make a new friend or go deeper in a relationship with someone you might be thinking of right now?I think you might be surprised at the blessings you will receive! If you reach out and extend that Invitation to join you in conversation, a cup of coffee or even dinner, let me know how it turns out for you. I think we truly can change our culture one Invite at a time.

 

 

Advertisements

HospitaliTEA

image

Some of my earliest memories are of celebrating Eid in Saudi Arabia. BWe would put on our best clothes, grab sweets and small presents and go from house to house, celebrating with friends. The same traditions continued when I moved to Pakistan and to the United Arab Emirates. People were always coming and going from our home. It was a very warm and welcoming place. My mother, an impeccable hostess, always had tea, fresh snacks and beautiful china ready to go in case someone happened to drop by.

When we moved to the United States, however, these visits were far less frequent. Many Pakistanis came to our home from our community, but we really did not receive invitations to dine at American people’s homes. This sentiment is echoed by others who are foreigners or even are people of other ethnicity who live here.

When I bring it up to people, many look at me wistfully and then tell me that stopping by a friend’s home for a cup of tea went away in the 1950’s. It is old-fashioned and just not done anymore – kind of like writing in cursive or sending a letter with a stamp on it.

Those who know me, know that I have a love of all things old. I love Victorian England and all the things that go with it. I like the fussiness of proper manners, correct grammar, and the idea of long dresses with rows of buttons. I like the slower pace of life and even the old European tradition of calling cards and paying calls on friends. If I mention this out in public today, people tell me to go to Wal Mart to get a calling card (as if I am getting ready to call international long distance) or paying calls (no one even knows what it means to pay a call, other than your phone bill at the end of the month).

At my family’s home, there is a long-standing tradition of tea time at 4:00 pm. I have mentioned this in my post about the concept of time in other cultures. This is something I have held onto all my life. Even today, my friends know that around 4:00 pm, there I will be sitting at my kitchen table, drinking a cup of tea. I also know that around the same time daily, I can find my parents doing the same thing across the United States. It’s a tradition and it is so soothing.

Even when I worked full time, I would stop what I was doing and make a quick cup of tea at 4:00 pm. My co-workers began to join me  in this tradition because nearly everyone experiences a mid-day slump around that time. It makes the rest of the day go by so quickly.

A cup of hot tea has that soothing property to it. There is nothing like making a little oasis in the middle of one’s day to STOP everything and just take a small moment out to drink tea. It is a refined tradition and one I love to pass on to my friends. I have had the chance to make real friendships, make a connection and share my home with many. Some of these people I have known for a long time. Others may be people I have just met once or twice.

People are generally surprised at the offer of coming over to my home for a spot of tea. I am met usually with a smile of surprise. It is much more common to get together at Starbucks or somewhere else. Hospitality, along with a cup of tea has also gone by the wayside. When I ask women why that is the case, many tell me that they feel pressure to have their home “just right.” With three children, I find myself wondering when that day might come! I don’t think we have had our home looking “just right” since the day we moved in. If I waited around for that very day, I shudder to think of all the beautiful conversations, the tears of sorrow, the new friendships and renewing of old friends I would have missed out on.

In the Bible, there is mention of hospitality being a part of the new church in Acts. In fact, there is a passage that I think of often “And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts… ~Acts 2:46 So many Christians close off their homes to others, citing one reason after another. Even though I have entertained many people in our home, an invitation in return to come to other people’s homes is still sparse. Is it an indication  of some who are uncomfortable to see our personal life and  living space – to not be able to “come as you are.”

When you come to my home, you will see my daughter’s toys around the fireplace in our living room. You will sometimes see a pile of freshly washed laundry being sorted. You will see my jewelry tools and beads scattered about on the kitchen island. It’s not perfect, but then neither am I. I see this as a sort of ministry (yes, to have a messy home – not dirty, but messy!). I have had women tell me that seeing my house as it is makes them want to invite someone over and not have that pressure to have it looking like a model home.

If we keep wearing masks, we miss out on so many opportunities. There is something freeing about “come as you are.” There is something authentic about people seeing your home with dishes in the sink. There is something genuine about reaching across the table and sharing a plate of cookies with a steaming cup of hot tea.

May we be like the early church share our home with others. May we have open hearts and open invitations to others. May we comfort others as God comforts us. Amen.

 

P.S. Yes, consider this as an open invitation to join me at my house for a cup of tea!

 

Lost in Translation~A New Christian

stele_licinia_amias_terme_67646

If it’s not confusing enough to deal with the English language and its complexities, let’s throw another angle of confusion. Last week, I wrote about how complicated the English language can be to an immigrant. As I was pondering the confusion a brand new country and language can bring, I was also struck by how confusing it was to become a Christian. When people are “cradle Christians,” they seem to take things for granted. As someone new to the Faith, I had tons of questions and it seemed that no one really knew what the answers were.

When my whole family and I were baptized in January of 2007, we were met with great joy from our congregation. For me, however, it opened up a new world. A world that began with getting my own Bible, as none was provided for me. I went to Mardel’s (a Christian store) and began my search. After two hours and forty five minutes, I still did not understand why there were so many different versions of the Bible. I actually panicked because I thought “maybe the Quran was right – there are so many different variations of the Bible here!”

I didn’t realize that all those different Bibles were not variations in the message of the text, but different translations. They are not corrupt nor do they change the meaning or intent of the passage. There is an excellent research article written by James White for the Christian Research Institute, titled “Is your Modern Translation Corrupt?” Mr. White provides parallel passages that challenge those who say that the Bible has been corrupted over time (not just a claim made by Muslims, but others as well). I am impressed by how much research and critical thinking has gone into providing a Christian with multiple views on how a passage has been translated. When you have more than one look at a passage – doesn’t it add to the overall understanding of the passage (and not take away from it, as many claim)?

New International Version
Your word, LORD, is eternal; it stands firm in the heavens. Psalm 119:89

New Living Translation
Your eternal word, O LORD, stands firm in heaven. Psalm 119:89

English Standard Version
Forever, O LORD, your word is firmly fixed in the heavens. Psalm 119:89

New American Standard Bible
Forever, O LORD, Your word is settled in heaven. Psalm 119:89

King James Bible
LAMED. For ever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Psalm 119:89

If you just look at the above, it is interesting how each of the translations say the same thing just in a different way. All reinforce the fact that the word of the Lord.

If all this was not confusing enough to the newcomer, there is also a host of “Christianese” that is tossed about. For example, during this time of year, the word “Lent” and how the 40 days from Ash Wednesday don’t really add up to 40 days until Good Friday. or  why the grammatically confusing “He is Risen” or other words that go with Christianity that end in  -ology: doxology, eschatology, etc. Then you have the other words that show up in the title of the Bible books like “Leviticus” and “Deuteronomy.” So strange! When I asked mature Christians about some of these terms, I ended up with looks of confusion on their part as well.

I think that the biggest thing a newcomer to the Christian faith brings is the hunger to learn all that we can about it! I wanted to know all these terms and not just accept them as “it’s just something we’ve always done.” There is a rich tradition in Christian history that allows us to question and even challenge what is presented to us. God gave us a brain to use – the deeper you get into His word, the more riches we find!

I hope you will consider some of these things and help a new Christian along in their faith. I hope that you will learn some of these things for yourself and also take a look at what you believe and WHY you believe it. If you ask God to help you with all these things, you will end up with a faith that is deep and wide.

Lost in Translation

k3714652

It’s not a secret that the English language is hard to grasp. There are grammar rules that differ from the other Latin languages, idioms, cultural variances, and top of all that, there are words with multiple meanings. Right after the attacks of 9/11, my poor father received a notice on his email that it had been monitored and that he needed to explain what his involvement was in a “plot in Pakistan to bring money over to the United States to fund the three in his charge.” Sounds incredibly suspicious doesn’t it?

My dad didn’t know if he should get mad or laugh. The word “PLOT” can have multiple meanings. One is to scheme or plan as in “a plot to topple the king,” which even the Merriam Webster online dictionary doesn’t even use. Another is used by farmers to designate parcels of land for a purpose. Third is used by authors to design a series of events that are critical to their writing, such as the main plot of a book. Fourth is to chart lines, as in plotting a course or to plot coordinates for a straight line. Last is to designate a parcel of land for usage as a unit, usually for real estate purpose. It was this last definition he was using in his e-mail. He had purchased a plot of land a long time ago in Pakistan that had three sections as an investment for his three daughters. These are the three in his charge.

I don’t disagree that it was probably not the best time to leave out details of the “three in his charge” or to use the word “plot” instead of land, but one can easily see how our communication can easily take a wrong turn, especially during emotionally charged situations. The word “run” is similar in its multiple meanings, except that instead of four or five meanings, it has a whopping 177 definitions!

When I teach business communication, it is usually to native English speakers. English was my second, almost third language (I was taught Arabic, English and Urdu almost simultaneously when I was little, living in Saudi Arabia). I try to stress the importance of why we have issues in talking with one another especially in culturally diverse settings. If you add non-verbal (body language), tone, inflection, listening, written (e-mails, text, Instant Messaging), and slang or jargon into the mix, it is an absolute wonder we can understand one another at all!

With the English language changing all the time, communication becomes more difficult even for native speakers. Consider for example, the new speak that the Millennials and Generation Z (yes, we are on the last letter of the alphabet now) are using in texting. If you don’t know what “totes” means (no, not the ones you store or carry stuff in), then you might not understand some of the messages that are being thrown around out there on social media (like, totes cray). There is an article by the Washington Post that just came out in January that addresses the new way to speak. You might want to check it out if you are over the age of 40 – no offense, but just want everyone to be on fleek (yes, that’s a new word too – just not in the dictionary yet).

To help foster good communication, whether it’s with your spouse, teenager or co-worker, we have to start somewhere. Here are a few things to consider from the authors of Crucial Conversations on Stereotypes, Distrust & Bias:

Focus on the Facts. We tend to jump in with an emotional appeal and don’t look critically at the facts surrounding the situation.

Examine the Story. Re-examine the conclusions drawn from the facts. Again, emotions can color the situation and make it seem amplified when it’s really a small issue or something that was overlooked by the other party.

Visibility and Exposure. Reconsider your initial views, and to be open to new information.

Own the Problem. No blaming. Taking accountability for actions is critical for both sides

Follow Up. Sometimes we walk away, thinking things are resolved, but it may just be the other person agreeing to something so the situation will just go away. It is important to follow-up not just for clarity in communication, but also to review and reinforce the relationship.

By doing the suggestions above, we will not only clarify misunderstandings but will be able to lead by example to make a foundation of trust with the other person. Misunderstandings can get cleared up in a new way, with new information that you may not have known about that individual’s background or a different way of speaking.

As for my dad, he is still plotting the course with consideration to the sale of his plot so he can plot another chapter of language communication issues with e-mails…