Sep 15, 2008

The Chinese Oikos and the Garage Door

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak at the Chinese Bible Church here in San Diego. I took French in high school and college, which, once again, was not valuable. But who takes Chinese anyway? Fortunately, I had an interpreter.

Whenever I am asked to speak somewhere, whether it be a church or other kind of community organization, it tends to be on one of just a couple of topics. Most often, I introduce audiences to the idea of their "oikos." I plan on writing more extensively about oikos in the next week or two. Most people reading this probably have some idea of the concept and how it works. But, in short, it goes like this:

Oikos is the Greek word meaning "household." In terms of ancient Greek society and in modern sociology, this "household" is not simply your spouse and 2.5 kids that live with you in your domicile. It refers to the people who surround you in your relational world, your circle of influence. One sociologist says your oikos is the group of people you spend an hour or more with or around every day. So for most people, their oikos consists of the people who do live in thier domicile, and also their family or roommates or strangers who move in to your house when you are away for Christmas (subject of another experience I should blog about.) It also consists of coworkers you were most closely with, classmates you see every day, the people who live next door to you. The average person has between 8-15 people in their oikos. For me, about 8 of them are Starbuck's baristas.

Oikos is vital to any society's survival. When people pay attention to their oikos, and work to meet each others needs, society works very well. When people ignore the needs of the people around them, society begins to crumble. Its all about the oikos.

So, to any audience, the concept is received well. Its basically a practical and tangible way to love your neighbor. I have now taught the concept in 3 languages and to people of all ages and backgrounds. It is a great equalizer. You don't get to choose your oikos (maybe your spouse, but that's it.) Therefore, everyone has an oikos and everyone is in someone else's oikos. Its unavoidable.

One person from the Chinese congregation shared with me afterward that he thought the oikos idea would work well in the Chinese community here. He said they basically practice this as a culture anyway and that to actually list our your 8-15 people will just make it even more practical. He was very appreciative.

But then he said something interesting. He asked me how the oikos philosophy is working in my church, since "westerners don't tend to do this very well." It is indeed harder for westerners in many respects because we love our walls.

How many of us really know the people who live next door or across the street or in the neighboring apartment? You may remember that in the terrorist manuals that were found after 9/11, the terrorists were advised to not be too concerned about their American neighbors since typically the neighbors aren't paying any attention and will hardly take the time to get to know you. They should expect to make their plans and build their bombs without much interference from the neighbors. It was a sad commentary.

I read one study that blamed automatic garage door openers for this phenomenon in American culture. It suggested that many years ago, people got to know their neighbors because they were often outside watering the grass with a hose and sitting on the porch to cool off becuase there was no air conditioning in the house. And when people got home from work, they had to get out of their car, and actually go open the garage door by hand. All of that out door time presented opportunity to say hello to neighbors, strike up conversations, invite them over for a bar-b-que etc.

Today, for most Americans, we get to our house, while staying in the car, we click the clicker, drive in the garage, then click the clicker again and get out of the car in our private garage with the door down and go into the house. Our built in sprinklers water the grass automatically, and the air is cleaner and more comfortable in our house. Safe. Away from pesky neighbors that we are suspicious of because they never talk to us.

Kristy and I have been making an effort to actually get to know our neighbors. They are in our oikos and we are committed to getting to know those people. Interestingly, the two families we are actually getting to know are the only two families who spend time outside their home.

Across the street, they water their yard with a hose and they sit in lawn chairs to get out of their hot house since they don't have A/C. The other family has a game room and bar in their garage and are often out there. For the most part, we have been unable to get to know our other neighbors simply because we never ever see them. We are planning to invite them over for dinner. They may call the cops on us, but we'll see.

More on oikos later. But its an interesting experience that has me thinking much more today about how important it is that we are concerned about our own oikos. As a Christ Follower, I think its not an option.

I encourage you this way - do you know who your oikos is?


Sep 11, 2008

Random Thoughts On September 11

Some random thoughts about 9/11, seven years later:

I pay as much attention as I can to the memorials and events commemorating 9/11. Starting at 6:00 am this morning, I watched a rebroadcast of the news events as they happened. It's riveting. I remember exactly what I was doing around my house during each of the events on the timeline. Being on the west coast, it began from the moment I woke up. I clicked on the TV just after the 2nd plane hit the towers. "Something very bad is happening" I said to Kristy. "We're going to have a big war."

Some people today don't think we should show the more graphic events of that day. I know people have very different sensitivities to these things and I respect that. I for one think we should show it more often. Judging by the number of Britney Spears references in our current presidential campaign, I think we need as much reality as possible.

A young man in my ministry in September 2001 made an appointment with me to discuss his distress over the realization that evil actually does exist. Why is this even a question? Reason #2 to show the footage more often.

I spent time contemplating the notion of today being a "solemn day." Solemn. A strange word. Why is the "n" there? Maybe its because I watched all that this morning, but solemn it is indeed. I was emotional a few times today as I prayed for our country.

I spent the rest of this morning comforting a deal lady who is dying of cancer. We are making funeral plans and getting her affairs in order. All of us have such affairs. 9-11 did not increase death. One out of every one person dies.

It is shocking to me that we don't have terrorist attacks in our country on a regular basis. I think there are hundreds of heros we will never know or acknowledge.

I want to visit the new memorial at the Pentagon.

I think if I were a family member of someone lost at the World Trade Center, I would be frustrated that there is still no memorial.

The best part about this day is that I think we all go back and care more for each other. People seem to drive better, smile more. Perhaps I'm just more sensitive to it, but it seems like a day where people are more at peace with each other. History has shown that society works better when people take care of people. Everyone has an "oikos," a "household" that consists of the people in your sphere of influence, relational world. 9/11 made each person pay more attention to their oikos, even if for just a few days.

Today is a good day for a renewed perspective on citizenship and the world we live in.


Sep 2, 2008

The Need for Urgent Care

So, my last post, the one where I promised to blog more, was in May.  This year, at least.

I've learned that its hard to keep a blog going when you are, let's say, a bit wordy.  I have several half written posts that never got posted because I was so verbose that I never got to the point I had in mind to begin with and I would have to stop because I had other work to do.

Other work.

I went to the doctor a few weeks ago as I had some kind of cold or flu or something like that going on. My wife went out of town to help her mom and dad with some things and I promised her I would see a doctor if I didn't get well in a couple of days.

I don't like going to doctors generally, but I especially don't like to go when I think I probably just have a cold.  Usually, you can't get an appointment with your regular doctor when you are sick all of a sudden, so you need to go to one of those clinics, often labeled "Urgent Care," where you get well acquainted with your wristwatch.  Be careful not to confuse "Urgent Care" with "Emergency Care," where the long wait is instead measured by a calendar.

The humiliation of going to Urgent Care with merely a cold begins upon arrival.  It starts with the smirk from the nurse receptionist, who considers you just one more in the line of hypochondriacs, and asks you for the reason for the visit.  This time, I responded with a lot of words to try to explain that while perhaps I am simply some kind of blockhead with a cold, there is the possibility that it may be a tumor or some kind of kidney disease, so I just want to do the smart thing and get it checked out.

After the long wait with the others in the post-nasal drip orchestra, extended by boredom due to the lack of up to date news magazines, they finally called my name.  I'm not sure why I have to weigh myself, but after that humiliation, they put me in the little room to wait again.  I always have a dilemma at that point as to whether or not to sit on that medical cushion top table thing with the butcher paper, or to just sit in the chair that is really there for your mom.  This time, I chose the chair.

As I waited for the doctor to come in, I read all the posters on the wall in the exam room.  Much to my shame, in this particular room, they all had a particular message for the patient.  I learned that there's nothing they can do about a cold, and once they determine that you have come to their office for nothing, they will educate you about why you won't be getting any antibiotics or pain killers and that everything you need is at the Rite-Aid right next to your house.  There is no urgency and there will be no care.  They will however make sure to thank you for bringing your germs into the waiting room and ask you for your full copay.

I also noticed this chart called Duration of Cold Symptoms:

I sat there on day 4.  Great.  I hope they don't have a pointer as they point that out to me on the chart.

Finally, the doctor, who is younger than I am, came in and instructed me to get out of the mom chair and up onto the butcher paper.   She took out her instruments and quickly looked in my ears, up my nose and down my throat. She quickly stood back and looked at me, but with a different smirk than the receptionist.

"So, what do you do for a living?" She said rather sternly.

"I'm a pastor" I said with a painful, scratchy throat.

She then took her pointer finger and pointed at my chest and said "You have a profession with no boundaries.  You need to go home and go to bed.  You have a sinus and an ear infection in both ears."

Initially, this was wonderful news!  I would not be the target of medical poster art; I am actually sick!

But what she said to me was truly profound and well, true. In 2007, I never took most of my vacation days.  I was already behind in 2008 and it had been a stressful year.  Its very hard for me to take real time off.  Thanks to my smart phone and wireless Internet, I'm never that far away from my responsibilities. And she was right.  I was sick because I wasn't doing what is right. Instead of treating my body like a temple, I could barely even say I was treating it like a relatively well managed presbyterian youth center.  A spiritual conviction came to me from a doctor who sees too many sick pastors.

I meant this blog to only be a couple of paragraphs, a re-entry into the blogosphere. All this wordiness is to say that this summer, I took some time off.  I had great times with my wife, my parents, and a nephew. I decided to not get around to blogging.

Thanks to the time off however, I'm more focused, with more clear priorities than before, and more ready to be productive. I started this blog as a new year's resolution to be a great ministry tool and personal outlet, along with a resolution to take regular  Sabbaths.  God used that doctor to give me the spiritual "urgent care" I needed to get back on track.

So, I've been back to sabbaths and now, back to blogging.  Looking forward to some much shorter and more regular posts.

And Lost begins in less than 5 months. Just thought I'd mention that...